Peregrination Vignettes

Walking around Rome

Rome is hot and humid. And hilly. I under-estimated how hot and how hilly. My first visit to Rome was a brief stop to visit my cousin between the airport and Termini train station before going up to Soriano nel Cimino for a week’s stay. My cousin lived in the Aventine part of Rome, so I decided to walk to Termini. It’s not very far when looking at a map.  I completely misjudged the heat, humidity, and hills.  It hadn’t not occurred to me that the “Seven Hills of Rome” means the place is not flat.  I got tangled up with the Esquiline Hill.

I climbed up the hill, then couldn’t find a way down the other side. Retreated back the way I had come. And eventually made it around the hill, and was on my merry way. I didn’t give a thought to what was up there; I had a train to catch. Compared to Rome, Soriano nel Cimino was blessedly cool. I did daytrip back down to Rome to go on a guided tour of Tivoli.

About eight months after that trip, I did another trip to Rome – this time to see Rome. I planned it for May thinking it would be cool then. Not so. I got sun-burned my first day. Sigh. For my trip, I had decided to focus on Ancient Rome. Then I decided to include Vatican City, just for good measure — but that was the only church I was planning to visit – St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

I also decided to visit the Pantheon – no self-respecting architect can skip that. I had no clue that it had been converted into a church. So that was two churches. By that time I had noticed that there are churches everywhere in Rome. And they are open to the public. And they are filled with incredible art and sculpture. Seriously. Even the most unassuming looking place from the outside hides incredible art and beauty in it’s interior. And it’s nice art, sculpture, carvings, details – not even specifically evoking religious themes many times. And they are cool inside, literally. And many provide seating. It became my way to escape the heat, rest a bit, take a break, sneak eat a snack, and peruse my map — sit in a church.

Then I started trying to find churches worth visiting. I perused my guide book, my maps, and the internet (on my phone). And got smitten with St. Peter’s chains. No clue why. I’m not particularly religious. My cousin, who I was staying with, let me read a book about the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, which I managed to read half of while I was visiting. No book on Rome or St. Peter’s is complete without mentioning St. Peter or Michelangelo. And of course, St. Peter’s chains – which were conveniently stored in Rome – can be seen by the public at San Pietro in Vincoli. On top of Esquiline Hill. My nemesis. (And Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of Moses with horns is there, too.)

So up the hill, I trudged again. I walked around it scoping it out, deciding how best to climb it. And ended up going up the same way I did the first trip. I’m sure there’s alternatives, but they escaped me. Anyway, I eventually found myself staring at St. Peter’s chains. I felt disappointed. I guess I expected something bigger or more complicated or stronger looking or something. I dunno. But they just looked inadequate. I gave Moses a quick gawk. Sat down and rested a bit. Then scurried off to the next thing on my list.

Escaping the heat by venturing into churches became a solid habit by the end of my trip. Though not all churches have seating – most did, but I’d get surprised every now and then. Some of the other churches that I visited: Santa Sabina, San Luigi del Francesi, Santa della Vittoria, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, and Santa Maria in Trastevere. I added Trastevere and Janiculum (Gianicolo) to my trip itinerary. And toured the big synagogue in the Jewish Quarter.

The synagogue does tours. No wandering in. They have a cellar stuffed full of amazing stuff – incredible Torah scroll covers for large Torah scrolls, old Chumashim that are amazing in terms of the art and binding, and coverings. And super creative fancy artistic menorahs – way nicer than the minimalist modern affairs you mostly see today. And miniature Torah scrolls. The tour includes an audio that covers the history of the Jewish Quarter in Rome.

There are other ways to beat the heat: drinking fountains. Rome has potable drinking fountains everywhere. No need to buy bottled water. Just refill the bottle you’ve got when it gets empty. I found that if I started watching for a fountain when I had about an inch of water remaining in my bottle, I would find a fountain at the right time for refilling. Rome’s public drinking fountains provide tasty water.

And, of course, parks with shady trees for beating the heat.  Some parks even have great views.  Sometimes, a shady bench is hard to get.  But none-the-less, I bench-tested a handful of Rome’s public parks. Rome has a surprising amount of leafy green space. Nolli’s map of Rome gave no hint of how much green space there is to enjoy.

Esquiline wasn’t the only one of Rome’s hills that I climbed. Somehow other hills didn’t seem such a struggle. I climbed up to the top of quite a few: Capitoline, Palatine, Aventine (which is actually two hills – I did both), and Janiculum (though it is not one of the traditional Seven Hills of Rome). Going up Janiculum was an adventure, and really appealing – definitely my favorite. Since I stayed in the Aventine, I mostly missed the north parts of Rome. About day four or five of my trip, I stumbled into the bookstore at the Colosseum, where I bought a copy of “Secret Rome”. And added a whole bunch of things to see to my list, which I didn’t have time to see. Trip three. Someday.

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