The Ides of March 2017:
A few days ago I took a moment to reflect on how many places I have been in the last year and the answer is A WHOLE LOT. It hasn't been until now where I could really sit down and process all of the places I have been and what I have experienced. It's funny how some cities or places end up being pivotal to the direction your life goes. Sometimes it's on purpose and others its purely serendipitous. Rome is the latter for me. It ignited a fire in me in 2005 that has yet to go out but rather blaze brighter than ever before. This March I was back in Rome 12 years later but visiting on my own.
I've traveled a lot but very rarely to I go to places on my own. I personally like to share the experience of new things, monuments, fun food etc. My visit to Rome turned out to be a solo adventure and ironically it was what I needed at that moment. I admire those brave travel bloggers trotting around the globe from place to place on their own. It's freeing and exhilarating but I did miss having someone to share each new discovery with. So now I will share it with you!
I stayed near the Vatican in a nice shared Airbnb and made friends with some traveling German students. Initially, I thought I was out of the center and far from things but after some exploring I realized I was just a short walk from where I wanted to be. This was an area I had not visited much in my previous visits so I was keen to wander around. To anyone who wants to see Rome without the crowds, just have a late night walk. Everything is so peaceful, there is almost no one around and you can take time to enjoy the monuments. It's like having the ancient world's city all to yourself. Rome can be daunting and busy during the day but also intimate and romantic at night. It wants to get to know you as much as you want to get to know her.
On my first night out, I spent a good 40 minutes just observing the Vatican facade as it was lit up against the clear night sky. There was almost no one around at 9pm. The Swiss Guards were even nice enough to let me peek behind them at an awesome ceiling. [Sadly that picture was lost :( ]
My late night walks didn't stop there. I made it to Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain and the Forum, not to mention my magical walk along the Tiber to Trastevere neighborhood on my last night.
On my second night, I befriended an American traveler and we decided to explore the city together. After braving the most obscure options on the menu for dinner [the idea was to try something that we had no idea what it could be] we made it further into the center and stumbled upon a hole in the wall karaoke. Now, I have done karaoke in various countries and it's always a unique experience. This time, we were the only English speakers in the entire place (there were a total of 10 people there anyway, it was intimate to say the least) I spoke Spanish with my lame Italian accent and was able to communicate more or less through laughs, typical phrases and shots of tequila. Here was the only place I have sang Total Eclipse of the Heart with Italian backup singers [fedoras and scarves included]. It was a trip.
After the karaoke performance, we wandered into Piazza Navona and later to Trevi Fountain in the middle of the night. There were about 5 people there. Seeing the fountain on its own in silence, just hearing the rushing water is an experience. In 2005 I saw Trevi Fountain for the first time, I was convinced then that I would never return and this Europe trip was a one time thing. Twelve years later I sat in front of it on my own with a random friend I had made that night. This was a good moment that acted as reminder that if you want something badly enough and don't stop, it can happen. You can live your European travel dream, it might just take some time.
The next day I set out to find some less touristy places to explore. Like most ancient cities, Rome is brimming with cool corners that are simply overlooked because of sensory overload. There is just too much to take in and to see in one trip unless you're there for an entire month. This was my fourth visit to Rome so now I could really go off the beaten path.
This 17th century Augustinian library is nestled in the heart of Rome in the least conspicuous corner. (Opened 1604). If you're not paying attention you will pass it by without even noticing. It took me a few minutes to accept that Google Maps was sending me into this small doorway. Inside it is like every old library I have ever imagined. You can pop in for free and have a look around however it is still a working library and people are inside researching. If you're a bibliophile like I am, you'll love it. Your inner Belle will be just as giddy as when the Beast gave her the library.
San Luigi dei Francesi (ALERT: Original Caravaggio wall painting!)
Just around the corned from the library, less than 300 meters walking is this church. Dating from 1589, it houses a Caravaggio wall painting. I had only seen his canvas paintings in museums, this was truly remarkable and takes your breath away. Also not to mention, the mesmerizing Baroque ceiling painting. I probably stood there 30 minutes, minimum.
Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini
I have been to a lot of spooky places ( I seek them out too, I'm a nerd like that) but this crypt, wow...It was definitely one of the eeriest places I have ever been. The visit starts with an extensive museum tour giving history of the Capuchin monks, the church and their relationship with Rome. At the end you get to walk down this ominous small hallway to the single most strange place I have ever seen. If you'd like to have an involuntary existential crisis in Rome, visit this. The entire crypt is decorated with (wait for it...) HUMAN BONES. Is it cool? Yes. Is it morbid? Yes. Does looking at it make you feel like a fool about stressing over small things because your pelvis one day could be a chandelier? YES. Femurs, metatarsals, skulls... all 206 options used for decoration. The history goes that a monk in who was in hiding for years in the crypt took the liberty to deconstruct the skeletons and repurpose (such a hipster) them for his swanky crypt decor. You cannot take pictures so here is an approved one:
This visit was only 4 days but was enough to rediscover places I had only passed before and explore the side streets I had longed to wander since I was 18. I lost quite a bit of photos from this visit due to a backup error but I salvaged a few to share here luckily.
Do you have any favorite hidden corners in Rome? I still have dozens to share but that's for another post ;)