Today(YES! Today; we're all caught up!), we started off our day with a walking tour of not-so-touristy Rome. A group of very dedicated CouchSurfers/tour guides puts on a free tour every single day here. As has been typical with CouchSurfing-related experiences, we absolutely loved it and learned a lot we never would have out of guidebooks or through wandering.
One place we visited was Rome's Rose Garden. For some inexplicable reason, it closes after June. I cannot imagine why they wouldn't want people to access the roses while they're lovely and in bloom, but se la vie! An interesting bit of info our CS guide, Alessandro, shared with us: the tradition in Italy used to be to bury the dead inside a church or temple. This was most common among the influential, wealthy, and/or famous. Jewish people were never allowed to be entombed in those places during this time, so the rose garden actually sits atop an old Jewish cemetery.
We dropped by a ridge for a lovely view of Rome. There is a better one coming later! Alessandro was super knowledge; we quizzed him about all kinds of things regarding Rome, ancient and current. He had vast swaths of knowledge to draw from as the only thing we could really stump him on was the names of some plants and animals, but mostly because he didn't know the English words for them.
This is a column in one of the basilicas we visited. It was unique as all the columns were exactly alike. This signifies either a very ancient building or a very modern one. (Ancient in this case.) "In between" one will often have mismatched columns, having taken them from other structures for reuse. One he pointed this out, we saw it everywhere. The line where the column changes style actually indicates where a roof or floor used to be.
Italy has two sovereign nations within its borders: Vatican City, seat of the pope and the Catholic Church, as well as Malta, the smallest state in the world. It actually has its own currency (it also uses the Euro), stamps, and everything. The only thing it lacks is inhabitants. It has now become essentially an exclusive country club for well-to-do folks. Entry is not possible, but there is a hole in the door you can peep through. Tall green shrubs border a concrete walkway with the far-off Basilica of St. Peter in the precise middle. It was the best peephole view I've ever seen! I wasn't able to capture it very well with my camera, though, so here's their mailbox instead.
This plaque is posted in what was once the Jewish ghetto of Rome, where Jews were once confined and forced to live within. It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, continually inhabited Jewish communities in Europe. A fish market once stood here. The plaque declares that any fish larger than the plaque must have its head delivered to the government as a tax. The head, at the time, was considered the most delectable part of the fish and only the nobility was permitted to dine on the largest of them.
Kelly and I agree that this is the single most incredible thing we saw during our walking tour. In the Palazzo Spada, through the glass that surrounded an office on either was, was this hidden little treasure. The artist Borromini and mathematicians collaborated to produce this piece of art. It looks to be about 50 meters long when, in fact, it is only 8. The statue at the end is only 60 centimeters tall. The floor slopes up, the ceiling down, and the pillars become smaller to trick the eye into believing it is much grander than it was.
We dropped by a restaurant called Tastevere after the tour was over on the recommendation of our guide. For 6 Euro, we got a plate of bread drizzled with olive oil and the plate you see below. It is full of artisanal foods - meats, cheeses, spreads, figs, and even stuffed zucchini flowers!
Our smiles never got smaller! It was super delicious and priced very well! In the picture, you can see our fellows travelers, Elena from Mexico City and Julian from Columbia. Unfortunately Alessandro had to run, so he wasn't able to join us for this part.
After we finished a fabulous lunch, we headed up to a park recommended by Alessandro with Julian. The tree-lined lane just looked wonderful and relaxing. Don't worry, the cars you see are parked!
The reason for the hike up to the park is that it features the best view of Rome in the city. The sun was quite bright, but it was quite a panorama to take in! Many buildings in Rome such as the Coliseum, the Parthenon, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Church of Sant Angelo are recognizable enough that they can be picked out when you're looking at the horizon.
We parted ways with Julian to visit the Basilica San Clemente. This isn't a highlighted attraction in Rome, but I think I found it even more fascinating than the Coliseum! The basilica itself was built during the Middle Ages, but what is really interesting is what in underneath the basilica. The have excavated two floors of buildings - essentially, one building was build on another on another on another! Below is another fourth century basilica. Below that lays a pagans sanctuary used by the followers of Mithras and some old Roman apartments. Mithras once competed with Christianity as a widespread religion in the area, being favored by gladiators and warriors. It was very secretive and seemed to use animal sacrifice in some rituals, but very little is actually known. It does not exist today and little of the faith was actually ever recorded. Unfortunately, pictures were once again not allowed.
Our last stop of the day was the Gelateria Fassi. It is the world's oldest continually operating ice creamery, so I could not resist! The business, initially specializing in the sale of beer and ice in 1880, eventually turned to gelato in 1902 and has been homemaking it ever since. It was not the best gelato we've had, but it was still very good and a great value! The trip was worth it for the historical significance alone. Below, you'll find me posing with ice cream making supplies from 1932.
Rome, fortunately, has many lovely water fountains that are very convenient for thirsty people to take a quick drink, slash themselves with water, or fill a water bottle. We've been seeing them throughout Italy, but most commonly in Rome. Until we watched our guide, a local, we didn't realize the potential. Notice Kelly dutifully ensuring we have water.
Now, notice Kelly blocking the spout so it squirts out like a traditional drinking fountain. How cool! We saw the hole, but never realized its purpose! Elena told us about a game she likes to play with her friend - when they see a fountain, they race up to it and try to get each other wet. The first one to accomplish that goal wins. And let me tell you, if you really plug the spout, the drinking fountain part will shoot up to 10 feet, depending on the fountain! I may have to ambush Kelly tomorrow. (Here's to hoping he doesn't read this right away!)
I imagine we'll be grabbing a little dinner within the next hour and kicking back, ensuring we're prepared for our final day in Rome then the journey to Switzerland the following day. For those of you tracking, no luck on a CS host so far in Switzerland. :( We're thinking of Marburg, Germany after that and we actually do have a host for at least a couple of days! Hooray!