Monday, June 27, 2011

Matt does Rome.


Day 1

We started the day a bit late, some days it's just hard to get out of the tent. We made coffee and "fruitcake pancakes" again, this time with eggs…they still were awful. Luckily the package is empty now.

After futzing about for what seemed like hours, we headed out to catch the shuttle bus to vatican city. After a quick word of advise from our tenting neighbours, we paid 4€ each for a day pass on the transit system, grabbed the bus, then the underground and finally legged it for Saint Peter's Basilica.

Well now, this was interesting. In all the places we've been thus far, I've never experienced the pushy sales tactics employed by the tour guides here. After saying no to about a dozen "guides" just on the walk to St. Peter's, we were finally suckered in by a british guy. Oh well, we were walked over to hear the companies guide talk about what we'd see on the tour. The girl leading the tour was pleasant and seemed to know here stuff, so we went along with it. The price wasn't too bad either.

We started by leaving the square and headed around the corner to wait in a line. Eventually the line leads to the entrance into the vatican museum. JEBUS, you could visit this place all day for a month and not see it all. There is something silly like 7 MILES of galleries in this place and it's extremely easy to get lost in. We proved this after the tour ended in the sistine chapel and tried our way back. More on that later though.

Back to the tour. After entering into the building, getting our audio gear and heading up to a courtyard, we entered into the building and proceeded to browse through the map room, the hall where Raphael's tapestries hang, Nero's bath (why is this here?), and many more nooks and crannies full of marble statues. What a place, everything, and I mean everything is either gilded with gold or painted. It seemed like every inch of any ceiling was covered in frescoes depicting one scene or another from the Bible.

Finally we were herded into the Sistine Chapel. I stealthy snuck my camera into my pocket and started video taping (very Bond, I know). Much to my amusement, as the guards dealt with the other tourists with a chorus of "NO FOTO!" and "SHHHH" followed by clapping. I happily looked around, awkwardly leaning so the camera would see the paintings. On the subject of the paintings, our guide was quite knowledgeable, she was able to jog my memory of things I apparently already knew. Funniest of which is the pants painted on Gods bottom after Michelangelo died. I guess something remains of the 4 years of art classes in high school. I'm still not sure on the paintings - yes they're nice, but I think it's overhyped. Too noisy, too busy, and a bit like the stained glass found in the cathedrals over here. You need something to see the distant parts with any detail.

After we said goodbye to our tourguide, we headed for St. Peters Cathedral (Basilica!!! says Liz). Asking guards along the way how to get there, we were forced to exit the museum, down a really neat double helix staircase and ended back out on the street. Making the best of the situation we headed back to the square and hopped as much of the que as we could. A few minutres later we were funneled into the crypt below the church (where Pope JP2 was "housed", he has since been exhumed to fulfil a beatification ritual...). It was filled with wacky people gawking and wailing, we rushed through the Empire-like area (btw Benny the 16th really does look like Palpatine) and up into the church. Our luck being what it is, it was time for evening mass and the more interesting things in the chuch were sealed off. So after a short visit we left and headed to the Vatican Post office to send some postcards home (apparently the Rome postal service is sh*t and it's advised to use the more expensive and reliable Vatican service).

It was getting late in the day and we were hungry, so we hunted down a small place, had a slice of pizza and headed down the street out of St. Peter's. Being just before Easter, there were statues displayed along the boulavard depicting Jesus's death... remind me again why it's called good friday? I'd be having a very bad day if that was me. Anyway, we walked down to the river, crossed, found a wine bar and enjoyed a bottle while the sun dipped to the horizon.

We arrived back at the campsite to find a family of French people and thier giant Tacoma camper truck parked next to us...Damn. Early the next morning (around 6am) the father would start up this monstrosity and let it idle for 20minutes. Who does that?

Day 2

After being woken early by the aforementioned neighbour, we headed into the city again. Direction forum. Still not having mastered the public transit system, we got off at the wrong stop on the bus and had to walk a bit to the metro. Eventually finding it, we exited near the forum. Feeling peckish we walked towards neo-classical "typewriter" building and found a place for a coffee and a bite to eat. That over with, we started to explore the ruins of the forum. Luckily for us, it was Rome week and all the public attractions were free! The free part being great for us...and everybody else.

It was busy. The forum and the area around it is massive. We spent hours walking through the ruins on either side of the road that lead to the coliseum. Liz being the fantastic and knowledgable tourguide she is, walked me through the entire site and was able to tell me interesting things about most of the area. What surprised me was the use of brick and cement (SERIOUSLY HOW DID WE FORGET HOW TO MAKE THE STUFF!!!) When you see the exposed inner walls of the buildings, it's no wonder that many of these are still standing today. Anyway, the forum is vast; so vastly vast that if you were to stand at one end and see a sign that says "you are here", it would literally blow your mind. So instead of describing it, I'll refer you to wiki. Go there now....and then come back, we need your viewership to pay the bills.

After a few hours, we decided to head down to the coliseum. It was besieged by preteens and their keepers, so we opted to sit and have lunch and look at it instead (we've seen quite a few of the arenas in our travels and decided it would be ok to give the insides of this one a miss). What a silly idea to sit and eat near there, overpriced and under ripe. Oh well, we live and learn. After a nice break we headed back into the forum, to see the upper parts that we had missed. Again, struck speechless with the scale of the place, it still hits me now just trying to describe it, so I won't. Go read wiki. And wait for the pictures.

Having seen the forum and the surrounding areas, we legged it for the city itself. On the agenda was the pantheon, Trevi fountain, and the spanish steps. Now, i think that we've been a little spoiled with our adventure so far. Most attractions we've seen have been empty or nearly empty of tourists at the time we've been there. Not these three; preteens, handlers, hawkers and the all too common fat slack jawed tourist with some part of skin hanging out that shouldn't be. At the pantheon (btw, i'm ridiculously annoyed that it's a church inside) there was hardly room to move around the street, we entered, saw that it was a church, took a look around and left. The spanish steps are well, steps, for climbing they serve there purpose well. I'm not sure the attraction to them by tourists. OK I get that they are a huge set of steps, and the sun hits them nicely for sunbathing, other than that, I mean the view from above them is much nicer. Any way, fed up with the tourists we moved on and wandered to the Trevi Fountain. Along the way we passed a million obelisks, some left in there original state, some placed with crosses on top by the church (kind of a conflict of religions going on there).The Trevi Fountain is astonishing, even through the sea of tourists that crowd the area, it slaps you in the face with it's baroque design. All the rage when the fountain was commissioned. It was built between 1732 and 1762, with the original architect dieing half way through construction. The backdrop for the fountain is the neo classical Palazzo Poli, it was given it's facade specifically for the fountain, after it ha the central portion demolished to make way for it. Nice.

We finished the day with a walk through the shopping district in search of some summer wear, shorts and t-shirts in hand we headed back to the campsite for the night.

Day 3

We spent day 3 like day 2, wondering around the ruins of old rome and then exploring the cities small streets. Our first stop this time was the baths, another huge complex, unfortunately for us, much of it was fenced off, owing to restoration work and threat of collapse The sections we were able to get into were constructed of brick and concrete, and mostly still intact. Although the roofs had cave in, in some. Being spring, the grounds were bright green and the smell of oranges ripening was in the air. The area was littered with fruit trees and signs saying do not pick the fruit.

After the baths area, we headed in search of a small bag to use as a day carry bag, this led us to an amazing outdoor market. It was a covered, endless maze of hawkers and real vendors selling anything from used clothing to rip-off sunglasses and bags (the best quality ripoffs to boot!). After browsing every stall in the market, with liz getting annoyed at my indecision, I found a small army surplus unit...little did i know it's th exact same bag i have at home.

The bag job done, we finished the day off with a walk up the spanish steps as the sun set. As we came down we found a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition and couldn't pass it up. It was a neat place, full of models of Leonardo's creations that the public could tinker with. It was fun, like being at the science center on a smaller scale.

The day over, we grabbed some food and headed back to camp. Rome had been fun, but it was time to move on.

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