Monday, September 3, 2012

Notte Emozionanti, Giorni Belli (Exciting Nights, Beautiful Days)

Let me start off by simply stating: wow Rome is absolutely AMAZING! I love it here. I could definitely see myself living here at some point in my life later. It is a wonderful place.

So I shall start off my story from Friday: On this fine day I got the chance to meet Andy Steves, the CEO of Weekend Student Adventures (WSA). WSA is a study abroad student travel company that helps students go on fun trips to various locations throughout Europe for a great price and with lots of fun people. I'm already booked to go with them to the Swiss Alps and stay in a hostel on the side of the mountain with only other people who book through WSA and it is going to be absolutely amazing! I may potentially sign up for a trip to Budapest as well where I can go caving and sit in a natural hot spring-fueled underground jacuzzi. These trips sound absolutely wonderful.

As a way for students to get a feel for the trips, Andy Steves himself lead us on a free walking tour through our area of Rome, then a 15 Euro dinner, which I'll get into more detail about soon, and finally out to a riverside club.

First, the tour! We started off walking to the East of our apartments to a very touristy piazza called Campo dei Fiori, or Field of Flowers, where there are always hundreds of people. I managed to capture the sunlight hitting the buildings during dusk in this photo. In the middle is a statue of a very controversial man who I believe to be Galileo. He believed that the Earth revolved around the Sun and therefore was deemed a heretic and was burned at the stake in this very location. This piazza is always very cool to go hang out at! During the day it is an open-air market where I can get all kinds of goods at decent prices and at night the bar scene really gets going down here.
Campo dei Fiori
After Campo dei Fiori came la Piazza Navona, where several amazing statues are laid within the middle of a large oval. This oval track was in fact originally used for chariot races! At the far end, where all the lights are are a bunch of little shops selling a variety of items, but primarily art. They have some absolutely spectacular paintings available for sale in this square.
Piazza Navona
To the west lay the Pantheon, the most glorious church I have ever seen. It is one enormous room with a massive domed sphere. In the middle of the sphere there is a really big hole that is left open despite any weather than may come through: even rain, snow, or hail. Supposedly they burn enough candles inside of this room to cause most of the liquid to melt and potentially evaporate before reaching the ground, but I'm not sure I believe that one. It definitely seems like it needs a lot of upkeep :P Additionally, Andy taught us that the columns in front of the building were made in Egypt I believe and then shipped out to here where they realized that they were a little bit to short. Upon realizing this, they said to hell with it and modified the structure of the building to make it work with the shorter columns, using only man and horsepower to raise them. It is absolutely amazing what the Roman Empire was capable of!

Right after the Pantheon came our wonderful dinner! Andy got us a deal at a restaurant where he was good friends with the owner: 15 Euro for a 4 course meal and unlimited wine as well as a specialty dessert wine at the end of the night! The first picture includes some of the cool guys I mentioned in my last post: Jacob, Eric, and Alex. Yep, I'm wearing my infamous fidora that I got at my cousin Jimmy's wedding because it was Blues Brothers themed :D Hardly ever take it off. Thanks Jimbo!

From left to right: Jacob, Eric, Me, Alex
Turns out that Andy reserved the ENTIRE indoor section of the restaurant. This picture sort of gives a feel for it, but probably shows less than half the people at dinner that night. My seat was straight in the back, where the hole in the crowd was. What a time! Everyone got pretty toasty at dinner after having a few glasses of wine hahahah :)

Large group at dinner!
This next photo is the specialty dessert wine that I mentioned before. It was so delicious,having a sweet raspberry flavor to it. Mmmmmmm :) The waiter called it "sexy wine" and the name stuck for the rest of the evening! If you want to try and find it, it said Fragolini on the bottle.

Fragolini "Sexy Wine"
 After dinner, the whole group made its way down to a club directly on the river called the Tiber River, or in Italian it is often referred to as Il Lungotevere (Long Tiber). This next picture is a shot of Alex being a goofball with the river reflecting some lights directly behind him as we wait for the club to get going. Clearly, he had plenty of wine :P

Alex.... LOL
This next shot gives you an even better view of the beauty of the Tiber River, reflecting the light from this bridge.

Il Lungotevere
In Italy, the nightlife gets going pretty late, but when it does, it really gets going! This here shows that even Italians love to photobomb hahahah!

As the party really got going, I went pretty wild just bouncing up and down to the music literally 3 feet away from the speaker at the front. This girl from John Cabot, McKayla, joined me in my energetic bunny hopping, so I let her wear my hat for a bit. The Italian club, ironically enough, played a bunch of American techno all night. Didn't hear a single word of Italian come through those speakers.

A couple of the other girls from John Cabot also really got into the dancing when they weren't being creeped on by local Italian guys. I really feel bad for the single study abroad students because the ratio was horrible due to an insane influx of old local dudes. To me, it didn't matter though because I just rocked out hard to the music by myself all night long, even making friends with some of the locals who were impressed by my mad dancing skillz :D

The party's bumping!
 Sunday night Alex, Jacob, Bobby, Eric and I decided to go check out the Vatican. We weren't able to get inside, but here's a couple sweet nighttime shots of it so you can get a glimpse. I'll definitely have to return another time to see the Sistine Chapel and learn more about this place!

Vatican City

Closer up
Upon leaving the Vatican, we meandered about for a bit, noticing this sweet statue of the Romulus and Remus suckling one of the wolves that raised them. How cute! If you don't know the story of the founding of Rome, it's a worthwhile read. Definitely look it up!

Romulus and Remus
Finally, this brings us to today, Monday! Being as I have no class yet, ( I only have class Tuesday and Thursday w00t w00t ) I decided that I would get up bright and early (9am) and go get some exercise in. First I worked out chest, triceps, and abs for an hour. Feeling thoroughly beat, I felt the urge to go on a run and explore the city some more. My little run ended up stretching from a local jog into a 2 hour long exploration session during which I saw (but didn't have my camera for pictures until I remembered my iPhone can take them) many wonderful places.

View Larger Map

First, I started at my apartment in Trastevere. Next I ran to Campo dei Fiori and then up to Piazza Navona. From there I followed Andy Steves' tour path to the Pantheon. After that, I continued over to the Trevi Fountain and then all the way down to il Vittoriano, the Colosseum, and all around the Roman Forum. Then I changed my direction to North and made my way all the way up to the Spanish Steps. I decided to start heading back home, so I went West to the Vatican city, and then found a massive hill.

Deciding to head up the anonymous, hill I came upon an little bench resting on a remarkably person-less grassy knoll. This is remarkable given that Rome is literally packed with people at every corner. It was really nice to find some peace and quiet away from the city for a short time where I could stretch and think about things for a bit. I will certainly return here and read my book some other time. The main reason that it is so abandoned is that this spot is quite a bit of a hike to get to, but it is well worth it when needing alone time.

My Secret Spot

In my attempt to figure out where the hell I was I hiked up to the top of this massive hill only to find out that it is Gianicolo Hill, also conveniently the same name as my apartment complex, Gianicolo Apartment. Here is a picture of the glorious monument at the top of the hill paying tribute to the war heroes and the General that lead them in their fight for independence. I'll get to that story soon.

Gianicolo Monument
 First, I'd like to show you the view from the top of Gianicolo Hill. It is a view of what seems to be almost the entirety of Rome. Wow it was absolutely BEAUTIFUL today. Possibly the most beautiful sight I've seen since being in Rome.
The view from the top of Gianicolo Hill
This next photo was some really cool looking fountain that I passed as I meandered about Gianicolo Hill. It's just another "unimportant" structure in Rome that doesn't get any fame despite its epic appearance. No wonder Rome is called the Eternal City.

Gianicolo Fountain
As I continued my exploration of Gianicolo Hill I came across this Mausoleum, where they house the bodies of the soldiers who fought against the French for Independence in 1849. The story goes that the Garibaldi, the general leading an outnumbered, encircled, and besieged Italian Republic force against the French invaders managed to hold out against all odds for an entire month. The defenders fought fiercely and tenaciously right up to the bitter end, with the sole aim of affirming the right of Rome and Italy to enjoy liberty and democracy. The bloodiest fighting took place on Gianicolo Hill. The French troops eventually broke through the last line of Garibaldi's defense, forcing a truce between the two forces. However, Garibaldi refused the surrender and left Rome with his wife and a sizable band of soldiers and patriots, beginning his legendary retreat towards Venice. This Mausoleum holds the remains of all those who died for Rome to become the capitol of Italy, including drummer-boys as young as 11.

Gianicolo Mausoleum
Thus, these signs are posted all about Gianicolo Hill: Roma o Morte. This means Rome or Death! That is true commitment to one's country and it really reverberated with me. I definitely feel for the Romans and upon learning about that story, felt humbled as I finished my walk about Gianicolo Hill.

Roma o Morte (Rome or Death)
I finally got back home and decided to make myself a big ol' salad of spinach, tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, carrots, and salami. I made my own dressing from oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and this other garlic and pepperoncini herb. Delicious! I also enjoyed a small Estonian beer with my salad as well as some grapes. The fruit in the picture is in fact a pomegranate that I picked at the secret spot  that I sat at earlier in the day. Unfortunately, it wasn't ripe :(

After skyping my parents and Sloan, I made some dinner for my roommate, Eric, and myself before Eric joined me in going to a free Muay Thai class. 

I didn't really know what to expect going in, but it was definitely the hardest workout that I have done in several months. By the end of it, my entire upper body was sore, but I could throw a respectable cross, jab, and hook punch. I never knew how much effort it would be, particularly given my lifting and running earlier in the day, but now I know. I am completely and utterly exhausted at this point. As a reward I went down to a local Gelateria and bought myself a massive Gelato. Mmmmmmmmm :)

Thanks for reading all the way to the end of my latest update!
Good night, talk to you soon!

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