Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How to Change a Life

I'm not going to assert that Barcelona was disappointing. On the contrary, it was a lot of fun, a thoroughly enjoyable trip. Evidently it was supposed to be a "life-changing" experience, though, and that it just wasn't. Maybe if you're the type that organizes weekend trips around bars and getting drunk, Barcelona is the place to be. I don't necessarily subscribe to that method of travel... oh well. Then again, the guide to Bruges told me not to spend any money on chocolate (and spend it on beer instead) and that I didn't care about the Michaelangelo sculpture in the cathedral. So perhaps I just don't fit into the "backpack across Europe" stereotype either.

So far, Rome has been the closest thing to "life-changing" that I've seen. It was a Bad Idea to attempt to see all of it in a day, that's for sure. How do you do Rome in a day? Simple: skip the Fountain of Trevi, the Pantheon, the Circus Maximus and Old Appian Way, the Capitoline Museums, and the Vatican Museum. Clearly, that's not idea. So, in the spirit of the multitude of travel guides that I've relied on thus far, here's my advice on seeing Rome.

Before you arrive, you'll need to consider where to stay. There are three things you want in a hotel: location, quality, and value. Pick any two. You will not be able to find a cheap and decent hotel in the city center. For that matter, you will probably not be able to find a cheap hotel at all, regardless of quality, in the city center.

Don't try to see the Eternal City in anything less than three and a half days. Arrive one day in the afternoon or evening, and don't rush out to any of the premiere destinations that day. Instead, get some coffee or gelato, wander by the Fountain of Trevi, or do anything else that doesn't demand a huge investment of sightseeing effort.

The next day, wake up early enough to get in line for the Colosseum the second it opens. The line for the Colosseum is enormously long, though it moves faster than you might think. Gawk at the men who have the best jobs in all of Rome: the costumed gladiators who point their swords in the right direction to get in line. Once you're inside, have fun archaeologing it up. The ticket costs eleven Euros, and don't bother trying to get a student discount unless you're a student who lives in an EU country. That doesn't include taking classes in an EU college if you're not a citizen. If the eleven Euros doesn't seem quite worth it once you've gotten there, I sort of agree. For pure ruin potential, Pompeii is much better and a Euro cheaper. Luckily, that ticket also allows you admission up the Palatine Hill and the gardens and ruins there. You'll see the Roman Forum below you; don't be tempted to see that today. Spend a little quality time on the Palatine: after you've walked around the Colosseum and up the Palatine, the gardens are an excellent place to relax. Eat. Now go a bit to the south, and see even more of the ancient landmarks, like the Circus Maximus and the Old Appian Way.

Next day, devote the entire thing to the heart of the ancient city. Start with the Roman Forum, and see the temples, the Arch of Septimus, the New Senate House, and the original SPQR arch. If you can, try and stumble upon a guided tour. I managed to find one that was at once free and extremely informative.

I'm a bit of a Roman history/culture geek, and even I learned some things about how ancient Rome worked. For instance, the reason the Christians were persecuted in Rome wasn't because of their belief in Jesus. On the contrary, the Romans were the most religiously tolerant empire until the Mongols, twelve centuries later. The persecution only came when they refused to bow before the image of the God-Emperor Julius Caesar. The tour guide likened this to JFK in America: an extremely popular leader who was killed. What if his successor, Lyndon Johnson, built a temple to JFK in the National Mall near the Capitol building and made the entire country pay their respects to him as a god?

See the rest of the Forum. Eat. Now walk up the next hill, the Capitoline, and spend the rest of the day in the museums there. You can see ancient artwork and statue dating back from Etruscan times.

Last day, see the Vatican. If you're of a religious (ie, Catholic) bent, go to a Mass here; you'll need a special pass that you can only get a few days beforehand. I don't know how to go about that. The Basilica itself is too touristy, with a line almost as long as the Colosseum to get in and half of it roped off at any give point. But it's still impressive. Be sure to see the Pieta. Go see the treasury, which showcases the immense power and wealth of the early church, located in the basilica itself. Gawk at crystal monstrances and cloth of gold vestments. Afterwards, climb the steps or take the elevator to the dome. Finally, see the grotto, with tombs of most popes since 1300. Eat. Devote the rest of the day to the Vatican Museum, which is supposed to be really impressive. Just be sure to make sure it's open. Specifically, don't go on Sunday, unless it's the last Sunday of the month. Get there before about 2 pm; otherwise you might not be let in.

Now have some more coffee or gelato, and you're done!

Currently listening: "Oh Comely," Neutral Milk Hotel

1 comment:

Zach said...

I just wanted to say (I suppose it's a late comment) that I was able to get into a mass without a pass. A friend and I just walked into the Basilica around 5pm (I think it was a thursday) and sat down, no questions asked, no charge.