Right now, most of us are stuck indoors waiting for the world to calm down. Or maybe we are frantically running amok buying out all the toilet paper for some reason. Either way, it’s likely that we’re all feeling a little bit of panic right now over whether or not we (or someone we love) will catch viral plague. Or perhaps we’re even worried over the thought of not being able to properly wipe our bums. The world has experienced many bouts of mass hysteria in its numerous cycles around the sun. Choosing just one to write about while I sit at home waiting to play Animal Crossing and trying not to think about if Idris Elba is okay is no small feat. I figure, why not go with one that is least likely to repeat itself as an epidemic event on a global scale in present day? Unless you think we are at risk for regicide conspiracies, cult black masses, conniving leagues of witches, and a whole lot of poison–than maybe close your browser and find something else to distract yourself with because the notoriety of the famous French witch La Voisin might be even more panic inducing for you.
Today is our last day in Florence and I think we’re all good and stuffed with Art History now! We started our day with the usual espresso (make that like 4 espresso) and croissant while we planned our attack route of as much of Florence as we could squeeze in. One of the first places we wanted to hit up today was the Piazzale de Michaelangelo so we could get our panoramic view of the city. It was fairly quiet today as it was in the low 60’s and overcast with wind–didn’t seem like many people were up for venturing out. To us, we knew it could be way, way worse outside (like -50 degrees worse, Hi Minnesota) so we made it work. We were able to take in the view without much interruption from other fellow tourists.
Next, we took a tour bus up to visit the site of Fiesole–now a spot up in the hills overlooking Florence with tons of villas I’d kill to own one day. Back in yesteryears, however, Fiesole used to be a sassy little Etruscan stronghold that struggled to resist the Romans as long as it could, getting sacked and razed by those imperial scoundrels and then again by the Byzantines and lastly by Florence itself, which squashed Fiesole into submission and used it as a quarry. The site still consists of well preserved Roman ruins, especially an amphitheater, but our tour bus only stopped and allowed us 20 minutes to get off–a laughably short time just long enough to find a bathroom and walk back.
It was pretty cold up in the mountains anyway and we were starting to eye up those Firenze scarves every kiosk was selling, so we didn’t exactly mind heading back down and off to our next stop. Before we met up at the Pitti Palace, we grabbed an Italian style hotdog for lunch.
Now on to the Pitti Palace (still free–I love Cultural Week), the largest museum in Florence. It’s a Renaissance building that was originally constructed (mostly) by a fellow banker and friend of The Medici, Luca Pitti. After he died before it had been completed, one of his descendants Eleanora and wife to Grand Duke Cosimo I de’Medici (Descendent from Lorenzo “the Magnificent” Medici on his mother’s side and Caterina Sfroza on his father’s–fanning myself here.) took over the palace.
The Medici Family eventually all moved in and expanded the structure as well as including the Boboli Gardens which you can catch a small glimpse of below:
Once all The Medici died out, the palace passed to the Hapsburg-Lorraine line and became Holy Roman Emperor Francis I’s new treasure trove. Things got fun for a bit when Napoleon showed up, and then it eventually fell into the hands of the Savoy House and was finally donated to Florence by King Victor Emmanuel III where it is now an art museum, costume gallery/fashion exhibit, treasure room, and royal apartment wing.
By the time we managed to claw our way out of exhibits of animal-inspired dresses by famous fashion designers, rooms filled with with all kinds of treasures I started to feel like Aladdin in the Cave of Wonders, and rooms lined with paintings entirely reminiscent of Versailles–we realized we were losing daylight fast. We knew we had just enough time to make one more stop, the big one in Florence.
On our way, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio–the oldest bridge in Florence supposedly first built during Roman times and rebuilt subsequently after continuous flooding when the Arno kept destroying it. It’s extremely cool to walk along the merchant shops and see the clearly Medieval influence in their build. Most of the shops were jewelers or gold sellers so we spent a considerable amount of time gawking at the displays wishing that we were Medici so that we could be able to afford such purchases and start our own treasure room back home!
And finally, we found him:
On the menu for dinner tonight was the Bistecca Florentine, a cuisine speciality. It was amazingly juicy and the sear was perfection–I’m definitely down with steak the Florence way. It came with a salad which consisted of fresh tomato, artichoke, corn, and olives and I have honestly never had better. We also had Tuscan bread dipped in olive oil but that goes without saying.
Tomorrow we hit the canals, see you in Venice!
The first thing one notices when stepping off the train tracks and into Florence is that it is quite a bit more young looking than Rome. I have to say, it took me a bit to re-adjust to the era change like I similarly do when I’m in a specific History headspace when writing–I found myself yearning for those crumbling ancient ruins and was mildly resentful that I couldn’t keep enjoying my petty Roman Emperors and the marks of their shenanigans all over Rome. But, of course, Florence is every bit as magical in its own way.
The city was made famous by a handful of powerful figures–a few of them having been a part of the House of Medici, the noble and influential family which held sway in Florence for centuries. They were bankers and became wealthy enough to exert their control in governance. While ruling Florence, they also spent their exuberant wealth on the arts, becoming the prime patrons of some of the most famous artists of the Italian Renaissance. This included the likes of Michaelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, and Leonardo da Vinci–so thanks a lot, guys! Florence is also the city of famous scientist and astronomer, Galileo Galilei, as well as noted writer Dante Alighieri of The Inferno. And let us not also forget our often misrepresented and criminally referenced Niccolo Machiavelli of The Prince fame. It is readily accepted that because of these later two,among other works of the era, the Florentine dialect became what we know of today as Italian. Okay, add birthplace of the modern Italian language to Florence’s moniker too, I guess.
Since half of our day was spent traveling to Florence, we missed out on a large portion of touring time and opted to jump in immediately with all of the above historical figures by paying them a visit at the Basilica of Santa Croce where most of these famous men are entombed.
Similar to the feeling I had when walking among the catacombs of the Vatican, I could feel an energy in this room too–but instead of power, I felt the weight and force of creativity each of these men possessed–be it in writing, painting/sculpting, scientific discoveries, or political pursuits. I felt minuscule in a much different way, with that sense of having not quite accomplished enough in my own passions to be able to stand confidently among them. The rest of the intrigue for Santa Croce is in its museums and religious paintings!
After we were finished paying a visit to some of Florence’s most famous residents, we decided to try free walking it to the Doumo since we could see it poking out above the buildings. On the way, we learned that the Museo Nazionale del Bargello was still open for another hour, so we stopped in quick (it’s still free!) We learned after the fact that the Bargello used to be a prison and that many executions were carried out in the courtyard. The same courtyard I flounced around in with my camera with a merry smile on my face because I assumed it was some stuffy rich guy’s Medieval castle.
Today it is an art museum and houses sculptures from Michaelangelo, Donatello, Cellini, Bernini, and Verrocchio. I’m not very good about taking pictures of artwork, preferring to enjoy them in person as much as I can–but I am nothing if not predictable, and I couldn’t leave without recording these:
By the time we made it to The Duomo it was getting dark and we just missed seeing the Statue of David by a few minutes. We’ll try and catch him again tomorrow.
Oh, and of course, on the menu for today:
For tomorrow, we continue with another day in Florence where we will attempt to tackle David, seek out the Medici, and find me some ruins to explore!
Today is the day we force my mother to atone for her sins which include waking my brother and I up for school by turning on the lights and leaving them on for over 10 years and for never understanding any of our obscure movie references. My mom always likes to say she is a good Catholic girl (I’m laughing along with the rest of you who know her well, don’t worry) so it was particularly exciting to continue her pilgrimage from last year where she received mass at Notre Dame to stepping into the Vatican itself–the holy capital of the Catholic Church and residence of the Pope.
We took an Uber since it looked like a bit too much of a walk to the Vatican City first thing in the morning sans coffee, so we enjoyed a pleasant little ride with our driver who told us about Queen Margherita when we passed the US Embassy. The location used to be the residence of her and her husband King Umberto according to our driver, and the famous margherita pizza was named after her because she had requested pizza in the colors of the Italian flag–basil, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. How true this is, I’m not exactly sure–but it certainly sounded cool to hear on International Women’s Day!
We planned in advance and booked a skip the line guided tour which we were very thankful for having done, because even though we are not visiting during the peak season (which we heard can see up to 28,000 people in one day–yikes) it was still very busy and the lines outside were incredibly long. Before getting started, however, we quickly filled up with a quick breakfast Italian style–espresso and a hazelnut croissant!
Our tour guide for the Vatican was a stylish and sassy Italian woman named Alessandra who is everything I want to be in the next 20 years. She got a degree in history and spends her free time leading tourists through a whirlwind romp of the Vatican museums cracking jokes and dishing on the sex lives of Raphael and Cleopatra to name a few, stopping for 10 minute espresso breaks, dodging Sistine Chapels guards so she can break the silence rules like a devil-may-care rebel, and topping the whole tour off by waving us into the Vatican so she could go get herself a bottle of wine. She’s my new role model. I need to get my dual-Italian citizenship so I can live that kind of hardcore history life.
Once inside, there is a fountain with fresh spring water that has been blessed by Pope Francis himself. I took a drink hoping to gain immortality or something, so that remains to be seen if it worked or not. See you in the year always and forever.
Next we toured around in the Vactican museums, ogling Medieval paintings with lapis lazuli and getting a crash course in refresher Christian history. Alessandra routinely opened the floor to questions to see if any of us knew the answers, and I got to show off a little if any of it overlapped with any prior knowledge I already had like why Peter was crucified (he wasn’t Roman, Caracalla was a douche and a half but at least he made everyone Roman and thus rendering crucification moot) or why he was buried upside down (because he didn’t believe he was worthy to die in the same way Jesus did, especially given that he had denied him). Or what led Constantine the Great to converting himself and subsequently the Roman Empire to Christianity (he had a vision, yo!). Other new tidbits we learned, however, included poor San Lorenzo who was executed via BBQ and is now the patron saint of cooks–but hey at least he gets to live on in eternity in paintings sporting a halo and the very grill that killed him.
Then we walked through the cartography room which was positively my favorite–I’ve always been a huge fan of maps, especially ones which have been painted to take up entire walls, and can easily spend hours inspecting every detail and location. My brain likes to visualize historical events by points of interest as well, so looking at a huge map for more than 10 minutes ends up turning into a History of the World for me. If there wasn’t tons of people packed along the halls and Alessandra wasn’t also eager to get her afternoon espresso dose, I could have spent all day there. Essentially, every region of the Italian Papal States and their territories were represented on those walls with a compass–and served as an early precursor to Google Maps.
Next, we made our way to the Sistine Chapel–the legendary commission of Michaelangelo which served as a back and forth headache between the church and artist integrity. Michaelangelo wasn’t about to go into that forced modesty thing and put any fig leaves over any private parts, and there is certainly many of that to go around in the chapel–which, unfortunately, I can’t show you. No pictures are allowed to be taken–which didn’t stop people from trying and prompted Alessandra to bark at them to cut it out and to not use flash because it can damage the art work (Seriously, she’s a hero). Suffice it to say, the Sistine Chapel is an experience everyone should have at one point in their life and I am unable to show you any of it here so you better get out there and make plans to see it for yourself!
We had to say goodbye to Alessandra (wine awaited, I understand) and so we headed on into the church of the Vatican and–holy opulence–the place is so massive and so grand, I definitely understood how different Christian sects in history rose up and started to complain about that (more on that later).
After I was done staring slack-jawed at the altar, we turned around and headed into the catacombs where we could spot the tomb of Peter (THE Peter, you know, Jesus’ numbero uno bro supreme, The Rock, the first Pope, etc. etc.) That was a wild experience. Unfortunately, another instance where pictures were absolutely not allowed but I will forever have his tomb seared into my brain. Among the catacombs are many other great Popes as well, the whole place felt like it was teeming with power and historical remanence.
After looking at all those centuries old dead guys, we got super hungry and had to stop for a quick lunch before hitting Rome up again and chasing down the remainder of The Forums.
By the time we got to The Forums it was 5pm our time and they were unfortunately closed. Bummersville. We decided to walk up the small portion that happened to still be open and free and that’s when I started to notice the Stations of the Cross as we walked and realized, “We’re not in Ancient Rome anymore.”
At the top of the Palatine Hill is a church dedicated to Bonaventura–a Franciscan and philosopher–as well as a monastery where another famous Saint Leonard of Port Maurice resided. As with all things unplanned, we stumbled upon this little church and happened into a small, intimate tour with a volunteer who was excited to show us around the church and tell us more about its history. We learned that Saint Leonard was responsible for saving the Colosseum from further destruction when he consecrated it as a church. There is a glass mosaic dedicated to this event inside the chapel as well as a holy relic of Bonaventura himself. We were able to go inside and tour a little bit of the church itself and see where the friars who still live there today hang out.
Franciscans may live modestly, but I’m pretty sure they have the best view of them all. I might have to give up my dream of becoming Alessandra one day and instead live the life of a tranquil friar in Rome.
In fact, I thought a lot about what it would be like to live here–what it must feel like to walk into a building called home with old, chiseled Latin in the doorframe. To start the day with a morning jog around the Circus Maximus, or to drink espresso with book in hand on a rooftop garden overlooking a piazza below. What does it feel like to walk down a street every day and witness the time lapse of multiple centuries down a single block?
Before getting dinner and tucking in for the night where we’ll head to Florence in the morning, we tried to visit the Mouth of Truth but suffered the same problem as The Forum. It was closed. Apparently, Truth only has a certain window of time to be evaluated. Either way, I blame Audrey Hepburn for this somehow.
For dinner, we feasted on linguine with seafood and lobster–look at this insanity!
And finished it off with delicious tiramisu from Pompi!
I’m seriously contemplating hanging it all up and staying here forever, guys, just so I can eat tiramisu and gelato for eternity and bask in the glory of Roman History.
3 days was certainly not enough, but hey–Florence awaits!
Today is a brand new day in Rome and I woke up determined to tackle as much as I could. Unfortunately, my dad didn’t feel like getting up for another few hours–my mom likes to say this is because “he’s old.” We eventually made our way without a cornetto and cafe’–too late in the day now to justify ordering one as lunch menus were being put out on the sidewalk instead. We decided to try and continue our tour of the Palatine Hill area where we left off at the Colosseum yesterday. We made the mistake of wandering into The Forum with our ticket while still on empty stomachs, and I put in a very hangry mile before I insisted we stop and eat something instead. We’ll be back to The Forum to finish it out tomorrow–it’s all free!
Among the ruins of aqueducts and living quarters lies the ancient seat of the Roman Empire. The Senate and birth of The Republic resided here too as well as temples built during the old kingdom (including the remnants of the Vestal Virgin house where the women inside were tasked with keeping the flame of Rome lit). We managed to spot the Circus Maximus from afar–picture chariot races and, well, mass Christian persecutions because Nero is a terrible person.
With my tummy grumbling, it was 2pm when we finally made it back up to living civilization and turned off on the corner to visit Angelino–a restaurant I had the pleasure of experiencing the last time I was in Rome. We grabbed a table outside on the terrace where we could look out at more remains of the old Forum as we ate. We ordered a specialty ‘Angelino’ antipasti for the table and I got myself a plate of Cacio e Pepe as I’m determined to make my way through dishes of Roman cuisine!
Oh, and since it is technically winter here in Rome (but as I reside in the polar vortex of Minnesota, I find this distinction laughable) we were told to get hot chocolate here as the Italian version is much better than anything we have back home in America. And, I’ll say right now having tried some in Rome, much better than Angelina’s in Paris (which was fantastic too) but this stuff is no joke.
With pasta and chocolate in my belly, my body was able to momentarily forget that I hadn’t had the required 5 cups of coffee I typically consume in the morning to start my day, and we were on our way again!
Since we had the evening free, I proposed a small walking touring to some other historical spots not far from our hotel before we ate some more. (Most of the day spent in Rome seems to be dedicated to killing time before the next meal here because the food IS SO GOOD. 😘👌🏼) I took us back through the alley past the Trevi Fountain and off in the direction I thought The Pantheon to be located.
It wasn’t far before the telltale sign of Corinthian columns jutting up to the sky confirmed that we had stumbled upon Hadrian’s other famous contribution to Roman history aside from his walls in the UK to his deification of boytoy Antinous–The Pantheon. It’s a Roman Temple which was built over a much older one that had presumably been destroyed in a fire and was filled with statues of the Roman gods–supposedly dedicated to all of them which is highly unusual if true, as most temples had a single deity to worship to at the time. Much more of a personal touch assured to be more successful if you’re begging Mars specifically to come down and gut your neighbor Vinnius for eating up all your garum sauce.
Inside, however, The Pantheon is much different than what the old Romans had been used to. Sometime in the 7th century, the Byzantine Emperor gave it away to the Pope in Rome at the time and he converted it into a church. Now you can find crucifixes and altars inside as well as other Christian iconography. Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy, is also entombed inside.
Also on the list of Classical Roman things that have since been turned into Christian churches are the remains of the bathhouse of Emperor Nero. I had them marked on my map and when we walked by them, I got a good long chuckle when I saw what had eventually become of them. There is a great irony here for a man who had once blamed the fires in Rome and summarily executed a group of people who now had the sweetest revenge on his legacy–building a church on what little remained of his bathhouse ruins. Now we were on the hunt for dinner and famous gelato (another recommendation from Ileana!)
Not far from the statue was a restaurant we were all but ushered into by the friendly servers, and I was finally able to try some fried artichoke the Jewish way and chicken Saltimbocca the Roman way!
And last but not least, some gelato from Frigidarium. The greatest tragedy yet is knowing that nothing like it exists even remarkably similar to it back home.
Alright, now to fall into the blissful tranquility of a sugary coma. Tomorrow, we see if my mother says a naughty word at The Vatican like she “accidentally” managed at Notre Dame.
I’ve wanted to visit The Eternal City since I was old enough to think–when my days were filled with old Hollywood sandal-flicks and my first books consisted of illustrated Biblical scenes with bad guys wearing plume-y galea helmets. Growing up Italian-American, there is a sense of worship-fullness when it comes to Rome–it was the seat of the Roman Empire for centuries and, in generalized terms, my motherland. Rome was where the idea of an Italian was truly born (Quite literally with the Congress of Vienna and in 1871, Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy) and it’s history my own. I wanted to be Roman and feel the experience of thousands of years of living in one place in time all around me. In 2016, due to a sudden change in travel plans, I had only enough time in Rome to stand and marvel in front of The Coliseum and to take a quick walk to the Trevi Fountain before hopping into our rental car and cruising to the airport to fly back home. I’m excited to say that I will soon find myself back in less than a week. For, as they say, all roads lead to Rome–including my own.
”Here was Rome indeed at last; and such a Rome as no one can image in its full and awful grandeur! We wandered out upon the Appian Way, and then went on, through miles of ruined tombs and broken walls, with here and there a desolate uninhabited house: past the Circus of Romulus, where the course of the chariots, the stations of the judges, competitors, and spectators, are yet as plainly to be seen as in old time: past the tomb of Cecilia Metella: past all inclosure, hedge, or stake, wall or fence: away upon the open Campagna, where on that side of Rome, nothing is to be beheld but Ruin. Except where the distant Apennines bound the view upon the left, the whole wide prospect is one field of ruin. Broken aqueducts, left in the most picturesque and beautiful clusters of arches; broken temples; broken tombs. A desert of decay, somber and desolate beyond all expression; and with a history in every stone that strews the ground.” – Charles Dickens 
So where does the idea that ‘All Roads Lead to Rome‘ come from, anyway? It’s an idiom that’s been passed down from generation to generation essentially meaning–doesn’t really matter how you do it, everything will arrive to the same conclusion. How inspired was this phrase and is there any truth to it?
If we go back far enough, we find the idea appearing in Medieval writings from Chaucer to theologians. Appearing nothing more than a stray observation by French theologian/poet Alain deLille in the 12th century: “Mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam” or for those not fluent in dead languages, “A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome.”  And, of course, Chaucer being a poet of renown was sure to take inspiration in his work as well to include a mention of the Roman city–
And god wot, that in alle thise langages,
and in many mo, han thise conclusiouns ben suffisantly lerned and
taught, and yit by diverse rewles, right as diverse pathes leden
diverse folk the righte wey to Rome
-Geoffrey Chaucer, Treatise on the Astrolabe 
But even here, it seems the idea of roads leading to Rome is similar, in a sense, to my own experience that there is simply a calling to the city–one that many of us–as lovers of History, or food, or vibrant culture, or awe-inspiring art–cannot resist. And even through its long life–from kingdoms to republics, to empires and upheavals, from religious institutions to repeating the order of things all over again in tandem–as history has shown us, there has always been a sense of desire to reclaim the city as one’s own.
However, there may be some truth to the phrase as from Cassius Dio , Plutarch , Seutonius, and Tacitus–we do learn of a column that was commissioned by Augustus Caesar to serve as the convergence point of the Roman Empire. A point where all roads began from and all distances there-in were measured by it, linking the network of the Empire together like a spiderweb. So, in a sense, all roads in the Roman Empire certainly did lead back to Rome.
All roads pointed towards the Imperial City, and started from its Milliarium Aureum. 
Either way, I’m pleased to share that my journey once again leads me back to the beating heart of Italy. As with my other travels, I’ll be updating my blog daily with pictures and tidbits so stick around and hit that follow button if you want to keep up with my quick romp through Rome, Florence, and Venice–typically posted at unreasonable hours, of course.
And as the saying goes, I hope that one day, dear reader, your road leads you to Rome as well.
Fact Check it, yo!
 Cosmo, L. (2017). Rome: Poetic Guide to the Love City of Romulus. Lulu Press.
 Alain de Lille, Liber parabolarum (c. 1202AD)
 Geoffrey Chaucer: A Treatise on the Astrolabe (c. 1391 AD)
 “Now all this was done later in commemoration of the event; but at the time of which we are speaking he was chosen commissioner of all the highways in the neighbourhood of Rome, and in this capacity set up the golden mile-stone, as it was called, and appointed men from the number of the ex-praetors, each with two lictors, to attend to the actual construction of the roads.” – Cassius Dio, Book 54, paragraph 8, line 4.
 “With the remark, then, that he had bought an old house and wished to show its defects to the vendors, he went away, and passing through what was called the house of Tiberius, went down into the forum, to where a gilded column stood, at which all the roads that intersect Italy terminate.” – Plutarch
 Schaff, P. The Ante-nicene fathers / the apostolic fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. (1993). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
“Always be the Best, my boy, the bravest,
and hold your head high above the others.”
–Homer II VI 247, Glaucus tells Diomedes his father’s words of advice.
These words inspired Cicero and, were said, to have motivated Alexander the Great. An ancient lofty quote such as this would have probably been tattooed on calves, penciled on to school notebooks, or stickered on the bumper of a car if it were to remain as popular today. #BringBackGlaucus
Fact Check it, yo!
 Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician, Anthony Everitt.
 Harries, Byron. “’Strange Meeting’: Diomedes and Glaucus in ‘Iliad’ 6.” Greece & Rome, vol. 40, no. 2, 1993, pp. 133–146. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/643154.