I actually had the nerve to say this after an hour at the Coliseum on Monday. After a long day of traveling from Berlin and trying to navigate my way to the hotel in Rome to meet up with Michelle and her mom, I was exhausted, hot, and done with rubbing elbows with other tourists. The second I said this out loud however, it was cause for me to pause and reflect on what exactly I was doing here. I was concerned that I had lost that initial excitement and awe one experiences when traveling to a place for the first time. I had been to Rome before and thought that maybe I was becoming desensitized to all the sights, smells, and experiences that make travel such a rewarding experience for me. Any doubts I had about traveling however were gone by that night after we had an amazing meal at Osteria De Nerone, a little restaurant located near the Coliseum that I had been to years earlier with my mom. The food was excellent, the service was charming, or perhaps it was just the wine, regardless, by the end of the night I was once again feeling excitement and awe at being in the eternal city. In fact, it didn’t take long for me to remember why Rome is still one of my favorite places on earth.
On Tuesday we headed into Assissi, a hilltop city in Umbria, located about two hours from Rome by train. Though it was cloudy and rainy throughout the day, I absolutely loved Assisi. It’s claim to fame is it is the home of St. Francis; patron saint of animals.
A son of a wealthy businessman, in the early 13th century St. Francis denounced material items and declared himself to be a servant of God alone. Popular among other young men at the time, Francis’ followers soon formed the Franciscan Monks and were eventually given approval by the Pope. Though the main draw when visiting the town is to visit the Basilica, there are many other highlights one should consider when wandering the narrow cobblestone alleys that make up this delightful hilltown.
We took the bus to the top of the town and started our exploration in a little neighborhood that is built around an ancient Roman Arena. From this vantage point we were also privied to a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside dotted with fig trees, oak trees, grape and olive trees. We eventually found our way into the church of San Rufino where St. Francis was baptized. The church, built in the 12ht century in the neoclassical style, was built on top of a roman church that existed during the 9th century. The glass tiles along the floor allow you to walk over these ruins and take in all the different layers of history.
We continued to explore the town, hopping in and out of little gift stores selling religious items as varied as rosary beads to bobble heads of St. Francis.
One of the most interesting things we came across was the Church of Santa Stefano; a basic, no frills roman church that was the pinnacle point of one of the miracles associated with St. Francis. Legend has it that on the day St. Francis died, October 3rd, 1226, the bells of the church spontaneously rang.
At around 2pm we our way to a great little restuarant located just up the hill from the Bascillica; Locanda del Podesta. We treated ourselves to a fantastic lunch of umbrian sausages and stringozzi cacio e pepe (local umbrian pasta with cheese and black pasta). A sinple glass of the house red and I was in heaven. This heavenly, post meal euphoria was just what I needed before entering into , af the Basilica of St. Francis.
The Basilica is one of the more interesting churches I have been to in Europe. Built after St. Francis’ death, the church is a three-tiered monument to his life and the faith of of the Franciscan monks.
Under the lower basilica one can find the tomb of St. Francis, along with a relics chapel that houses his robe and his chalice. Both the lower and upper basilica’s are ordained with Renaissance art that, among other things, depicts many scenes from the life of St. Francis.
By 6pm, we were back on the train making our way to Rome.
Tuesday evening we ventured out to the Trastevere neighborhood which runs along the Tiber river. Young, hip, and loudly Italian, the neighborhood comes alive at night. Filled with cafes and live music, we happily strolled and explored the narrow alley ways till we came across a cute little wine and cheese shop where we had a late night snack of fresh buffalo mozzarella, ham, and of course, vino. Not even 48 hours in Rome and I already felt like we were living the Dolce Vita.
Earlier today we made our way to the Villa Borghese Gallery and admired the work of Bernini’s life like sculptures. Afterwards, we scrapped our plans to go and rent bikes along the Appian Way and just decided to stroll through the streets of Rome, visiting the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Piazza Navona. Standing outside the Pantheon, we witnessed a protest of union workers and briefly showed our support by cheering along. We then had another delightful meal of pasta and wine at a place called Armondo’s, down a side street away from all the tourists.
Though my time in Rome was short, and my initial enthusiasm was waning, I can say with all certainty that Rome; the eternal city, with all its catholic pageantry, ancient ruins, and loud and lively people, will forever be my home away from home. Rome was the first city I have ever visited outside of the United States, and though I have been to many interesting and one might say “exotic” places since that inaugural trip, Rome is the only city that has truly stolen my heart. I could die happily in this place, though there is much more traveling to do before then, for tomorrow we are off to Cinque Terre bright and early.
More pictures to follow, I am having difficulty uploading.