Just as the wheels of the aircraft made contact with the asphalt tarmac, I could’ve sworn I heard the soft notes of “This is What Dreams are Made Of” begin to play from some unidentified source. And by the time we reached this final destination of Rome, I’m sure even Lizzie McGuire would agree—we had been living the ultimate dream.
If I could describe the city of Rome in one word, it would be dense. Dense with art; dense with history; dense with architecture and people and culture and life. While it wasn’t necessarily my personal favorite destination during our two-week adventures, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as the must-see location for someone who could only choose to visit one European city. Florence may have the best museums and collections of fine art, Venice may be the most enchantingly unique with its watery passageways, and Paris may be the most posh and classy metropolis known to man, but Rome?
Rome has it all.
Like our rentals in the other cities, the apartment in Rome just happened to be right outside a famous tourist attraction. But while the legendary Trevi Fountain sat just outside the living room window, I quickly realized that bumping into my Paolo and becoming a famous celebrity was never meant to be… The entire structure was under intense construction, which left disappointed visitors to settle for obscured snapshots of the exposed portions of the façade from a make-shift walkway.
I didn’t want to be Lizzie anyway.
The majority of our time in the historical city was spent in full-out exploration. And—as we soon discovered wandering through the streets forever thick with people, vendors, and curiosities of every kind—it was almost impossible to go a block without running into some random chunk of ancient ruins. Forget the Pantheon. Forget the Coliseum. Strewn all about Rome like discarded pieces of shrapnel are bits of millennium-old remains of buildings and monuments along with other miscellaneous parts of crumbling architecture.
Occasionally my nose would be buried in the creases of my tourist map and I’d practically trip over one of these random Classical artifacts.
And that’s Rome for you.
Of course while we were there, we couldn’t help but do all those typical touristy things… We visited the Coliseum. We climbed the Spanish Steps. We wandered through the ancient Forum. And we tried that classic, char-crusted pizza at a local diner where the giant pies measured larger than our faces.
All of these things, of course, were amazing. But then again, I knew they would be. Yet there was one popular Roman destination, however, that left an even greater impression on me than I ever could’ve expected.
That place was the Vatican.
Before visiting Rome, I knew about this Catholic capital, but to me it hardly registered as more than “the place where the Pope lives.” It wasn’t until we arrived in the world’s smallest country that I really began to comprehend it as a grand and expansive masterpiece.
St. Peter’s Basilica—the world’s largest church and most impressive piece of Renaissance architecture known to man—took center stage, of course. Its immense size alone is enough to bring a person to an awestruck, jowl-dropped state. Combine that with its magnificent columned façade, marvelously-crafted interior, and lavish sculptural decoration, and suddenly the Catholic shrine is more than just an overwhelming structure of worship—it’s a work of pure artistry. And apparently, the place is home to a few items of great importance as well…nothing too special, though…just a few dusty relics, Michelangelo’s marble Pieta, and the crusty remains of that one fisherman apostle Peter…
But what I discovered was that beyond the walls of that Catholic shrine lies far more than I ever had imagined. The Vatican museums—more like an extensive labyrinth of elaborately decorated rooms and hallways—rest behind the basilica’s mighty walls and boast of some of the world’s most celebrated sculptures and paintings. But just when you think you’ve seen everything that makes up the definition of pure beauty, you arrive at the Sistine Chapel in all its breathtaking glory. Upon entrance, there is nothing more a person can do than simply pause, breathe, and stare unblinking at the majesty of that ceiling. I remember picturing young Mike strapped up there in his self-fashioned apparatus—painstakingly maneuvering every brushstroke for four straight years to create the beloved masterpiece.
Michelangelo or Da Vinci? No comparison.
Before we knew it, our fairytale spring break adventures were coming to a rapid close. We had seen so many things and had been so many places in such a brief period of time—and not without a great physical toll either. By the end, all of us were tired, weary, and on the cusp of some grappling sickness. I’m pretty sure Carla was even coming down with a serious case of the consumption, and I was worried that if we would’ve gone even a day more, we would’ve had a cadaver on our hands…
But regardless of our weakened frames and exhausted souls, the approach to the end of our trip was melancholy to say the least. Though sapped of every last ounce of energy, the thought of boarding the plane one last time had us all in dismal states.
I hoisted that bursting pink backpack of mine closer and closer to security until it was time for us to go our separate ways. Once more, I was wrapped up in that sweet, perfumed mother’s embrace—a hug I’d come to cherish and would have to wait one month more before receiving again. Carla said goodbye. Mom said goodbye. I said goodbye.
I set my backpack on the conveyer belt.
Then I smiled to myself…this is what dreams are made of.