Europe 2012 (vii) : Rome, Vatican City, Tuscany

Friday, 30 August 2013

Out of the train window as we headed down south. It got noticeably warmer and greener.
We got to our hotel in the late afternoon which was a tiny place on Via Frattina. The lift was so cramped that you could only fit three people in it at a time, and the stairs were the steep and narrow kind, but were really softly carpeted. So the whole place had that kind of homely cosy feel (: Immediately after we put down our bags, we went out to explore with our tour guide in the evening.
Evan (our tour guide who runs English tours in Rome he's American btw) brought us to this gelateria while we were walking and we had THE BEST AFFOGATO EVER. It's like an espresso shot with zabaione gelato oh my god it is like heaven.
The Trevi fountain!
Evan pointed out that the floor right outside of the Pantheon was sloped. He said that this is because before these cobblestones were laid down, the ground was just dirt. They had to find a way to drain the rain water off so that it wouldn't flood, and over time the slope got steeper and steeper until it feels like the Pantheon is sinking. It was so strange because for a moment I was puzzled that there was a time before the cobblestones. I mean, to me, cobblestone is already very old, and when he started talking about the time before the cobblestones, when the ground was just dirt, I was a bit mindblown for a second. I couldn't even remember what came before horse-drawn carriages.
I think what I enjoyed most about seeing the city was Evan telling us stories about what these places were like in the past. For example in the Pantheon, he said, "look up at that one square over there" on the dome ceiling. He said that originally, it wasn't this dull brown colour, it was bright gold. Okay, now imagine that square bright gold and shimmering, and now spread it all over the entire ceiling. BOOM. Amazing. It was like being enveloped in a giant sparkly globe.
Oh, then he said that the Pantheon is best experienced at closing hour when everyone is leaving. When you're the last to leave, and you turn around, it's like you have the whole place to yourself. Then he made us do it. The staff were all like, "we're closing! We're closing", and we just kept nodding and surreptitiously hanging at the back of the group, trying to stall omg. But it was pretty cool. 
What I miss most about Rome, to this day, is the ice cold water you get that around the city that flows out of these things. Apparently the water is from the Roman aqueducts built like forever ago, but still works (?) The water tastes wonderful, especially if you've been walking under the hot sun for the day.
Piazza Navona
Evan then brought us up to the roof top of this hotel to watch the setting sun over the skyline of St Peter's Basilica - it was so warm and glorious
Then we went to go eat at this place called Bir and Fud near the river where they served, you guessed it, beer and food. 
The next day we went to experience the ruins in Rome (ie. the Roman Forum and the Colosseum) It's kinda sad that I don't remember much from this day because I remember hearing very interesting stories but I seriously can't remember much.
What I do remember, though, is entering the Colosseum through one of those arches, and up the stairs. It was like I was in a movie hah. And after climbing more stairs, it opens up to this:
The word "arena" comes from the Latin "harena" which means the sand which absorbs blood, because the Romans used to watch these gladiator/animal fights where people died/bled as their entertainment, and the bottom of the arena had to be filled with sand to soak up the blood.
And then it was Vatican city time - smallest country in the entire world. Oh haha, I just remembered this story. We met our tour guide, Lauren, who is also American (same tour group as Evan) outside of the Vatican, and she was holding a cup of coffee. My mom said, "would you like to finish that before we go in?" and Lauren laughed and said "no, it's not mine. It's for my ex-boyfriend. He's one of the guards at the Vatican" because they were like friends and stuff. I have no idea why I find this so amusing.
Lauren showed us this sphere sculpture on display at the courtyard of the Vatican and she said "oh, it's usually spinning, I don't know why it's not spinning today." Then she went to go ask one of the guards on duty if we could spin it, AND THEN WE WENT TO SPIN IT. I think I have a video of this.
It's said that this mosaic tiled Medusa on the floor turns whoever looks at it into stone. Look what happened to Bill Clinton.
Sunlight filtering in through St Peter's Basilica. We also went to see the Sistine Chapel but they didn't allow photography oh well. It was impressive though.
We went on a day trip out of Rome to Tuscany on a food and wine tour. If you think Singapore is hot, try being in the Tuscan sun. It's like being baked alive.
Our tour guide Dario said we were going to Montepulciano. And the entire time I was thinking, why does that place sound so familiar? And then I realised.
Yup. It's where they filmed New Moon.
Dario kinda looks like Charlie from Numb3rs. Oh during this lunch, the woman was explaining in Italian about the wine, and Dario was translating. She would ramble on in Italian really passionately about wine for about five minutes and all he would says is, "so, uh, this wine is made from a special kind of grape." Then an Australian woman on the tour sitting next to us muttered, "I think she said more than that." Hahah, it reminded me of that scene in Lost In Translation.

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The best gelato I have had in my entire life from the gelateria down the road from our hotel. Pistacchio and lampone to cool off after Tuscany.


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