Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Italy by Rail - North to South (Part 9): Celebrity-Spotting in Rome, and Releasing the Inner Lizzie McGuire!!

- Dec. 30-31, 2017, Saturday-Sunday.

- Rome is an endless goldmine of historical wealth. With just one and a half days left in Rome, there were still a few important things that we had not yet covered. Fortunately, Rome is quite compact and taking care of the items we had missed the couple of days in our Rome bucket list was be a breeze.

- On our last full day in Rome, we hurriedly took a cab to one of the most well-known fountains: the Trevi Fountain. We took a cab since the nearest metro station (Spagna or Barberini) was not directly in front of the fountain, and we wanted to get there before the crowd decides to hog up all the space. Traffic was still asleep and the roads were still clear that early morning, so it did not take long for us to arrive. Thankfully, only around ten people were there when we arrived. (Normally, it would've been difficult to squeeze and move around, as seen in other tourist photos online.)
Hey now, hey now....
....this is what dreams are made of!!
- The Trevi Fountain was built in the 1600s to the 1700s with the statue of Oceanus in the middle. It is one of the largest Baroque fountain in Rome, and is located at the intersection of three streets (tre+vie = Trevi!) There is also a practice of throwing three coins with the right hand over the left shoulder: the first coin was to make sure that you'll go back to Rome, the second coin was to ensure love, and the third, marriage. Well, I wanted to save my money and didn't throw any coins at all (I heard around 3000 euros worth of coins are thrown to the fountain everyday, and the money is used to help the needy.) Instead of throwing money to the fountain, I just ran to one side of the fountain and took a video of myself singing/reenacting "What Dreams Are Made Of" from the Lizzie McGuire the Movie. I liked the movie when I watched it more than a decade ago, mainly because it showed a good part of Italy apart from telling the story of Lizzie McGuire's (played by Hilary Duff) field trip to Rome with her high school class and her misadventures through Italian showbiz: particularly, going between Italian pop singers Paolo and Isabelle. The song's main theme song - "What Dreams are Made Of" - is also one of the songs that had a significant part of my youth. (Had to do it without my family seeing me because I didn't want to be judged. Haha.) By the way, there is a replica of this fountain outside the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., USA (click here to see the replica.)

From the side.
I like the way the sculptures cheeks are puffed up (because he was blowing the shell-horn.)
- From the fountain I went uphill (leaving my mom and sister behind since they wanted to rest instead) to visit the facade of the Quirinal Palace, which is one of the official residences of Italy's president. It has existed since the 1500s, and served as the home of many popes, kings, and of course, presidents. Visits to the palace are allowed but must be reserved around a week prior. Since this Quirinal Palace wasn't a big priority compared to the other more important landmarks (like the Colosseum,) I did not bother reserving a ticket to see the interior of the palace. However, if only I had more time in Rome, I would surely have done that.

Outside the Quirinal Palace.
A perfect and candid shot of the flag of Italy.
Guards outside the palace.
They were friendly guards. I asked them for directions.
- We walked along the streets of gloomy early-morning Rome, until we reached Piazza Barberini, a 16th-century piazza with the beautiful Triton fountain as its centerpiece. However, there was not much to see at the piazza; it was just on the way to our next stop - the Capuchin Crypt. The crypt, along Via Venetto near Piazza Barberini, is located under the easily-overlooked Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini (Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins.) The church, built in the 1600s, holds a rather grotesque secret. The crypt under the church is not like any other, as it has the bones of the Capuchin friars arranged in decorative ways in the 6 small chapels. There is a museum that explains the Capuchin way of life, but the most mind-boggling is the actual crypt. It is said that the Capuchin monks brought hundreds of dead friars when they came to the church and made the church their new home. One friar, Fr. Michael of Bergamo, was the "architect" of the bony chapels of the crypt. (Sadly, photography is not allowed inside, so I'm attaching a photo from Google instead to give you an idea.) The design of the crypt is said to remind people of the passage of time. Also, the crypt is just a short straight hallway, with the staff at the ticket booth at the end of the short dark hallway. There is also ambient chanting, but not the "creepy" kind, so going through the crypt wasn't as bad and scary as I initially thought. The catacombs I visited in France was longer, darker, and creepier (click here to see Les Catacombes de Paris.) This one, however, was more decorative.

Passed by Piazza Barberini; this is Triton Fountain.
Outside the church that houses the Capuchin Crypt.
Photo from Atlas Obscura (click here for more photos and information.)
Photo from Atlas Obscura (click here for more photos and information.)
Inside the church above the crypt (photography is allowed here.)
The logo.
The secrets hide inside this easily-overlooked church.
- To lighten up the mood, we walked towards another famous open space, the Spanish Steps and the Piazza di Spagna at the bottom of the steps. Going there directly, one would have to go to ride the metro to Spagna metro station. This area has the word "Spanish" in it because it used to house the former Spanish Embassy in around the 1700s.

Halfway down the stairs.
Spanish...."step." Get it? (Please laugh.)
It was too crowded when we arrived, but between this or the Trevi Fountain, I'd prioritize the Trevi Fountain like what we did.

- A few blocks away is the Piazza del Popolo (nearest metro station is Flaminio-Piazza del Popolo,) or the people's square, named after the 15th-century Santa Maria del Popolo Church (which was being renovated when we went there.) There are two other churches right across each other that sort of serve as gateways to the piazza: Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto. The piazza has an Egyptian obelisk in the middle, which was supposed to be the obelisk of Ramesses II. To be honest, photos and videos of this piazza make it seem like the biggest piazza ever, but once I was there, it did not look thaaaaat big - it was still spacious though.

Piazza del Popolo, the church at the right side that's being renovated is the Santa Maria del Popolo Church.

Left: Santa Maria in Montesanto, right: Santa Maria dei Miracoli.
A better view of Porta del Popolo (center) and the under-renovation Santa Maria del Popolo. 
Inside Santa Maria dei Miracoli.
The obelisk and the two churches, view from Porta del Popolo.
- To end the morning, we rode the train back to our hotel since we finished everything that we had to do, well, mostly. I was excited to explore that afternoon, since I now had the chance to discover other places in downtown Rome.

- Just a short 10-minute walk way from Roman Termini is another recognizable piazza - Piazza della Repubblica (it has its own metro station, Repubblica metro station.) Apart from its semi-circle walls, this 19th-century piazza is also known from being in front of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs (Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri), a 16th-century Baroque Church. Despite the nice visit, I was mildly annoyed by the people who wanted to ask for my signature for a petition; tip: DO NOT entertain these people and it is a common warning in various tourists sites and blogs that these people may also try to rob you by masquerading as advocates of whatever cause. (If you wish to advocate for something, you may do so in a more productive way, right?)

Piazza della Repubblica.
16th century church with a long name.
Inside the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri.
A modern statue of Galileo Galilei.
Remnants of the Diocletian Baths at the back of the church.
The baths covered a large area, apparently.
More remnants of the baths.
- Just behind the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs is one of the branches of the National Roman Museum. What's common between the basilica and the museum is that both of them contain parts of the old Diocletian baths, which is a public bath that opened in the 4th century AD. However, the museum is also historical: it has been around since the late 1800s. This branch of the National Roman Museum exhibits mainly ancient Roman archaeological artifacts. This museum was actually not part of our itinerary, but since we had nothing better to do, and since it was located conveniently near Piazza della Repubblica, my mom and I decided to go in; no regrets at all!! Apart from the main artifacts, the main exhibit of this museum would be the remnants of the Diocletian baths. These Roman baths are not just simple public pools, but they were equipped with hot and cold baths like today's modern bath houses, spas, or hamams.

The Persian god Mithra has a cult following in ancient Rome (just like the Egyptian goddess Isis.)
Courtyard from the second floor.
Ancient Roman spells.
How heavy could this be!!
Demeter (Ceres) and other goddesses.
The peaceful cloisters. A photoshoot here would have been nice too.
Mars and Venus.
A peculiar artwork (both 2D and 3D) by a priest.
Angry mask.
The cat wouldn't go away until after I took a photo of it.
Diocletian baths at the back of the museum.
It would've been a large ancient "spa."

Just imagine how many people would come and congregate here.
Exhibition galleries indoors.
This mosaic floor (a big one!!) with the image of Hercules had to be imported from another part of Rome.
- After visiting the museum, we called it a day and fixed our things that night for our afternoon flight out of Rome the day after. While the Roman trip was over for my family - I still had last two places to cover: two of the great churches within Rome.

- On my last morning in Rome, I was greeted with a pleasant morning surprise. Since I woke up earlier than my family as the rest of the family did not want to accompany me to the two churches, I prepared myself and had an earlier breakfast. Upon entering the breakfast hall, I halted and had to look twice to make sure that my eyes were not playing tricks on me. As a person who is known for seeing and saying hello to the wrong people - because with the sheer number of people I know I am bound to see other people who can be their dopplegangers anywhere - I really had to double check if the person I saw was who I thought he was. In the middle of the breakfast hall was Filipino celebrity Xian Lim eating with his mom and grandmother. Now I don't usually "care" much about celebrities, but I really just found it amusing that I saw a local Filipino celebrity in the middle of a foreign land: more conveniently, in our hotel's breakfast hall. I went back to the room to tell my mom (who likes looking at celebrities,) who was still slowly doing her morning rituals. I returned to the breakfast hall to eat, and less than 5 minutes later, my mom was also there, fully prepared. This was the fastest that I've seen my mom prepare herself in the morning. Anyway, after seeing the actor up close, my mom went back to our room while I stayed and continued to eat. Just to keep up with the amusement of seeing a Filipino celebrity outside the country, I mustered up the courage to have a photo taken with him - because don't usually do that unless it's a celebrity that I really really (really) idolize. I also got to have a short chat with Xian Lim; he seemed nice. I got to be his travel agent for a short while too since it was his first day in Rome and wanted to ask for recommendations on where to go.

Xian Lim: "Take Sir Que's classes. He needs students." (OK he didn't actually say that but yes I do need students in my classes huhu.)
- I left the hotel after my brief encounter with Xian Lim, and went on with my adventure. Just across the Termini Station is one of the major basilicas not only of Italy but the world: Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. This church was built starting the 5th century AD, and because of different natural calamities and several expansions to the original structure, the church that can be seen today was only finished in the mid-1700s. This is also the largest Marian church in Italy.

Papal door of the church.
There was a small altar at the back.
This is definitely a well-ornamented church.
Main altar.
- Several blocks away (and I think I should've taken the train from Termini metro station to San Giovanni metro station instead,) is the Basilica San Giovanni in Laterano (Archbasilica of St. John in Lateran.) Almost similar to the Santa Maria Maggiore, the original church was built in the 4th century but finished in the mid-1700s. The church is known for having big/life-size sculptures of the apostles. This is also the oldest public church in Rome.

Basilica San Giovanni in Laterano.
It doesn't look too old.
I like how there is always an effort to decorate churches and make them colorful.

Not sure if I find this angel cute or creepy.
Church choir.
- Seeing the time, I hurried back to the hotel and made it to the check-out time. With our heavy luggage (and heavy hearts) we left our hotel and rode the Leonardo Express train to Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport. It goes directly from Termini to the airport; the tracks of the airport express train are at the far end of the station (or you my simply follow the arrows to the airport express train.)

da Vinci's "Vitruvian man" at the airport.
Bocca della Verita at the airport. Wasn't able to see the actual one in downtown Rome, so for now, this would have to do.
- Finally, it was time for us to come back to Manila after half a month in Europe. While I was glad that I could go home after day in and day out of the happy stresses of traveling, I really wanted to rest every part of my body. Despite some unfavorable experiences during the trip, I would say that I made the most out of our time in both countries. My only regret, perhaps, was not having enough time to spend in some places like Naples, or see other parts of both France and Italy like Marseilles, Normandy, Sardinia and Sicily. Perhaps, these are just some reasons to go back in the future!!

- Please don't forget to ready about my other Eurotrip adventures during the holidays here:

France: Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here Part 4 here!!

Italy: Part 1 here, Part 2 herePart 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here, Part 6 here, Part 7 here, and Part 8 here!!