So the first thing I noticed about Rome, as we were riding the taxi from the airport, was this: every bad thing people say about the drivers in Rome is totally and completely true. Fast, crazy, aggressive. Boston drivers have *nothing* on Rome drivers. Traffic lights and lane markings are a good idea but not mandatory -- the cars pretty much go where they want, when they want. And yet somehow it seems to work; I didn't see a single accident while we were there. There are tons of motorcycles and scooters, and I saw a good number of bikes, too. Which makes a lot of sense, because parking looked to be nearly impossible, and most of the streets in the city center are tiny and twisty.
The second thing I noticed, also on that taxi ride, is that you almost can't turn around without seeing a cool building: a ruin, a church, a palazzo, a fountain. The churches, particularly, were everywhere, and almost all of them looked to be at least a few hundred years old. And more often than not, there's be a cute little piazza out front, or a few crumbling columns and arches in the back -- churches in Rome are often built on the sites of ancient temples, and sometimes they hadn't finished falling down yet.
We visited all the usual sites, starting with the Pantheon because it was near our hotel and at the top of my list of "buildings I must visit" -- not just in Rome but in the entire world. And it did not disappoint, although that was the first of two really rainy days, so I didn't get the effect of the sunbeam through the oculus. Our hotel was in the Campo dei Fiori area, which is near Piazza Navona and the Ghetto. This was an excellent place to stay: walking distance to almost everything, lots of restaurants and shops nearby, lively without being overwhelmingly noisy. I'd recommend the neighborhood to anyone visiting Rome who wants an urban setting. I also had my first truly excellent meal for dinner that night, a plate of Spaghetti Bolognaise that was to die for. We walked around in the rain, took pictures, drank in the architecture, and finally crashed around midnight.
Our second day was the Vatican, first the museum and then St. Peter's. The museum was crazy crowded; it was hard to appreciate it properly (although I'm sure my experience was colored by the fact that it poured rain all day, and this was right after the pickpocket got me) while trying to squeeze through and around the mobs that gathered in almost every gallery and inching our way to the Sistine Chapel, which is at the end of the museum. It was cool to see the Sistine in person, but that ceiling is awfully far away -- one of the guidebooks recmmended binoculars, which would definitely have been helpful. Still, it was pretty cool to see Michelangelo's Last Judgement in person -- the scale is much larger than I expected. Also overwhelming: St. Peter's. Nothing prepares you for the scale of that building. Pictures just can't convey how huge it is, and how richly decorated. (We tried, though, and I'll post them soon.) We had thought about climbing up to the dome, but by the time we finished looking around, it was well past lunchtime, and we were both distracted and wanting to get back to the hotel to deal with wallet-related things. So we did that, and then we headed to the Campo dei Fiori, where we camped out in a cafe in front of the Palazzo Farnese (another Michelangelo creation) with coffee and snacks. And that's where I'll have to leave off for now, because it's way past my jet lag bedtime. ;) More later, hopefully pictures soon.