First Days in Rome

by Aysha Griffin on March 23, 2017

Piazza Venezia, Rome

Piazza Venezia in the heart of Rome

From our apartment on Viale di Trastevere, the Number 8 tram (across the street) takes us to its end at Piazza Venezia in just 10 minutes, and we are in the heart of the Centro Historico.

The tram and bus systems are easy, especially with Google Maps (you can download an offline version to use if you don’t get a local Sim Card or use roaming). SEE BELOW FOR PHONE AND TRANSPORT CARD INFO.

While any guide book (like Rick Steves’ Rome and Lonely Planet Rome) gives detailed information, history and significance of each site, I am after the feeling, and am frequently overwhelmed.

A short walk and we come upon Chiesa di Gesú, the first Jesuit church to be built in Rome. The outside is plain but the inside a Baroque spectacle. Besides all the gold adornments, statuary, and paintings of heaven, hell, saints and such, the soaring ceiling is a complex masterpiece of trompe l’oeil… 3-D at its best, (and earliest… remember, perspective had only recently been discovered in the early Renaissance with the use of mirrors) convincing the viewer (er, faithful adherent) that you’re looking deeply into a vibrantly real scenes.

Chiesa del Gesú

Chiesa del Gesú – panel of America. Each of the continents are depicted. Note the indigenous regal woman killing what looks to be a bear.

part of ceiling of Gesú Church in mirror

part of ceiling of Gesú Church as seen in a long mirror.

Then came the Pantheon, considered the most influential building in art history. From the back, it’s a big, round rough-brick exterior, but from the front, with its Greek-style portico, it is magnificent.

Pantheon from Piazza della Rotonda, continuously a gathering place for 2,000 years.

The Pantheon from Piazza della Rotonda, continuously a gathering place for 2,000 years.

As I walked beneath the portico (dating from Emperor Hadian, 120 A.D.) to enter the main temple, I was stopped… not by the crowds or surprisingly few security guards, but by a sense of its magnificence. A visceral “wow!” I stood at the doorway for a minute or more, unable to move, just sensing the age, perfect symmetry and extraordinary connection through time and space to the countless millions of famous and “regular” lives that had also stood in this awesome place.

Piazza Navona, Bernini, Baroque style.

Piazza Navona was once the site of a vast stadium and racetrack, now surrounded by Baroque buildings. The fountain (Fontana del Moro) was remodeled in 1653 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, credited with creating the Baroque style.

Amid the crowds of tourists, busy Romans, the vast cadre of unemployed youth (I’m told there is a 40% unemployment rate) hanging out in the piazzas, especially in the evenings, I can still find for myself a sense of connection to the past that is both extraordinarily familiar and wildly unexpected. Ahh, Rome!

More soon, and please leave your comments and share this blog. Thanks!

Notes on Telephone and Transport

I went to the Vodaphone office and bought a Sim card and 4 months of service for 40€. I can’t say exactly how many calls and data it includes but I was assured it would be sufficient. WhatsApp (text messaging and audio calls) remains my Mexico cell phone number (essentially an ID) and is the way most popular means of communication all over Europe, as it is free. So, if you are traveling in Europe and have a smart phone, you should setup (and understand) WhatsApp beforehand. If you have a carrier contract, you can likely add on an international roaming package but be sure you understand the costs.

I bought a monthly pass (38€), based on the calendar month, at a Tobacco shop. It includes trams, buses and metro. However, due to the lack of government – I mean, really, Italians consider themselves without an official government at the moment – no one is enforcing using a ticket or pass on the trams or buses. I’m told you need one for the Metro, but individual tickets can be purchased for 1€ on site. With trams being so easy and fast, I’ve not yet figured out the buses or Metro, but Google map directions are invaluable in getting from point A to B. 


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bonnie March 25, 2017 at 3:09 pm

Aysha , your photos & descriptions are wonderful. Tell me more about simm card. Aren’t our iPhone’s locked ? Sometimes I buy a breaking bad toss phone? Paris my little pomme frite?

Aysha Griffin March 25, 2017 at 5:03 pm

Hi Bonnie! Thanks for your comment. More photos and words to come.

About your iPhone. They are all, to my knowledge, unlocked. But if you have a contract with AT&T, Verizon, etc. you should check with them as they have their own policies and often offer “deals” for international travel, as they have agreements with cell phone carriers in other countries. There may be something like a $2 a day usage fee when in France and, if so, it would make more sense to activate that for a couple of weeks than getting a local Sim card. Find out what calls and data would be included. I’d think you’d mostly want access to Facebook and WhatsApp.

The phone number you use(d) to set up you WhatsApp account can be kept and used all over the world. Your friends just need to have it in their address book as one of your numbers. Best to connect when in your normal service area with those people you want to communicate with while traveling. Then, with any cell service, you can share texts, photos and even voice via WhatsApp. Even if you don’t have cell service, you can use WhatsApp anywhere there is wifi.

I hope this answered your question… Let me know, my crepe chocolate.

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