Day 1 (San Pietro in Vincoli, Trajan's Column, P. Mattei [Lianne's Turtle Fountain], the Tiber)
Rome Travel Blog› entry 1 of 2 › view all entries
April 19th, 2009 – by: meelg
We arrive to a rainy day in Italy from sunny Tel Aviv, which wasn't too bad. On the Leonardo DaVinci express train to Rome's termini station I thought "hey now we can shower with wanton abandon! (Well, probably not in those words) We're suffering an ongoing drought in the Holy Land, so people patriotically try to keep their showers short.
Unfortunately, Italy suffers from something lots of countries have a problem with: ugly airport surroundings. The first thing people see upon first riding out of many of the world's international airports are slums/factories/waste sites. Italy is the same.
But that didn't spoil anything! I had been released from 3 years of army service 3 weeks before so even the graffitied overpasses looked fresh and appealing. And so we get to the Borromeo Hotel on Cavour st., drop off our bags, saw that the skies have cleared a little so out we go!
First we go down the street and up an alley that has probably looked like that since the middle ages and into the Cathedral of San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in chains). Apparently this tucked-away building is very central chapel to Christians as it houses the relic of chains that bound St. Peter while he was held in Jerusalem. We saw it in its reliquary below the altar.
Although appreciating the importance of this relic, I had come to see something else: Michaelangelo's Moses! It was huge! It is much bigger than either Lianne or myself imagined, and even more beautiful.
I tried taking pictures with my camera but the lighting was awful. The flash made it look like the magnificent statue was in some cave, and the long exposure gave me nothing but blurry pics. Frustrated, I was ready to leave with what I got when suddenly I hear a coin clink and the entire monument suddenly lit up with floodlights! People frantically started snapping pics and I couldn't figure out what happened until I noticed a little toll machine to the side that took money for 30 seconds of lighting! So being the moocher that I am, I took as many pics as I could and got some good pics on someone else's dime.
From the Basilica, we headed down Cavour to Via dei Fori Imperiali and towards Trajan's Column. All I knew Trajan was what my father told me, which is that he was the guy who brought Rome to it's greatest extent, and that he would've expanded more had it not been for, you guessed it, the Jews! Anyway, I loved it. A towering pillar with a frieze winding around it, it was a lucky break that such a fantastic piece survived earthquakes, wars, and everything else for almost 2000 years. Lianne, on the other hand, thought that Emperor Trajan might have had some masculinity issues.
Heading west, we walk past the monument of Victor Emanuel long enough to snap a couple of pics and cross Piazza Venezia. It was crazy! Cars coming from all directions at full speed with no traffic supervision! I can't believe we made it through alive.
After crossing the Piazza of Violent Death, Lianne and I wandered through some quiet old streets of medieval Rome headed for a place she had been to as a child. We found it eventually, it was the little fountain of turtles in Piazza Mattei. It is a nice little piazza, surrounded all around by old stone buildings and far from the noise of traffic not 500 meters from where we were. We stopped for a few minutes and continued wandering around the neighborhood until we ended up in the old Jewish ghetto. And the only way we knew that was by walking past the mezuzzah of a hole-in-the-wall sitting room, where there were old Jewish men passing the time in conversation. We found the Great Synagogue of Rome, which had closed to visitors for the day. But on the gate was hung a large poster of Gilad Shalit, the soldier abducted by terrorists in 2006 and Ron Arad, the officer missing since 1986.
Incidentally, at the 4 corners of the synagogue are stationed Carabinieri officers 24 hours a day. All of them, surprisingly enough, pretty vigilant. I know, as a former soldier, how hard that is to do!
Strolling past the synagogue, we turned back eastwards along Lungotevere De' Cenci. We pass Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island) and pause at the Ponte Fabricio to look at the eroded herms of Janus, the Roman god of gates, beginnings, and endings. The bridge, which is the oldest bridge in Rome still in use and in its original state, crosses from the northern bank of the Tiber to the island. The brilliance of Roman engineering was truly amazing, the bridge looked like it might have been built in the 20th century but was actually built in 62 B.C!
After that, Lianne insisted that I stick my hand into the Mouth of Truth, a stone carving of a manlike face that nobody knows for sure where it's from exactly, and who it's supposed to be.
Fortunately the church was closed, so we headed back to the hotel and had an Italian dinner at a Japanese restaurant.
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