20.09.2011 - 25.09.2011 28 °C
There are about a million airlines that fly around Europe so it is not too difficult to get where you want to go, however what you may be saving in convenience you might be losing in quality. We had booked EasyJet for our flight to Rome and they are strict with their baggage allowances. Booking online you are allowed to pre-pay for overweight luggage so we pre-empted three kilos at a cost of $27. Wearing our heaviest clothes we had to once again rise with the sparrows to make it to the airport for our flight. Doing a sneak test on the scales before the counter opened we realised we were actually underweight (the bags not us) and so in the middle of the airport, suitcases were opened, shoes came off and thongs were put back on aaaaaahhhhh that’s better. EasyJet has a policy of free seating so you can imagine when they finally let you board the pushing and shoving that has come to be expected of our fellow European travellers. We are wise to them now and have a system of ‘phasing out’ any wannabe pusher innerers.
Arriving in Rome was so exciting, especially for me, for as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with Italy. Maybe it’s because of primary school when we had our weekly Italian lesson with Signora Porter and she would teach us the numbers, colours, days of the week and sometimes even tell us to ‘Shut your Bocas!”. Good times, good times. Just being in the airport terminal made me all giggly and silly and we had both been here before. Adam was last in Rome in 1993 and me in 2008. The shuttle bus was our gig and we were dropped off at Piazza Cavour on the Vatican side of the river and began the long, unknown walk to Campo De Fiori to meet Amadeo (Armadillo as Adam liked to call him) at our apartment. I say unknown because apart from a dodgy Lonely Planet map we only knew the general direction, so began a zig zag, long way around path to Il Campo stopping regularly to ask for directions. Thank God we were staying in a well-known area.
Accommodation in Rome is expensive, no ifs buts or maybes however if you’re resourceful (like us) there are bargains to be found. We knew where we wanted to stay, knowledge is the key, and so had found a studio flat in the centro storico (historical centre) for 500 euro (about $675 Australian) for five nights. We were going to be living like real Romans, how exciting. Campo De Fiori is marketplace by day and pub by night and right smack bang in a great part of Rome. Our apartment was one of the ‘streets’ running off Il Campo. Rome is littered with Piazzas, around each corner, behind every building. They are open areas where the streets and lanes meet, lined with cobblestones they range from enormous and grand to small and simple. The Romans zip around in scooters, smart cars and baby buses and beep you to please move as they race past you down the lanes. It seems so natural to have a car so close you can reach in and steer or scooters breathing down your neck. No one gets aggressive and the only time you really have to watch yourself is crossing major roads even at pedestrian crossings. Taking your life in your hands is what I like to call it.
Piazza Navona was one of our first stops and there is good reason for that. Navona is one of the bigger piazzas in Rome. It is a long oval shape and has a magnificent fountain in the centre. The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, created by Bernini in 1651, takes centre stage and depicts the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Plate rivers through grand marble figures in each of the four corners. Its size is only surpassed by the detail in the statues, each toenail and muscle tendon is clearly seen and you can only marvel at the work involved. At either end of the Piazza, there are two other smaller but just as ornate fountains. Around the edge of the Piazza, along the cobblestones, are restaurants and almost a market set up with everything from paintings to umbrellas to buskers to kid’s toys being spruiked. It is a vibrant and exciting part of Rome and was part of our daily routine. In the streets just behind the piazza are more restaurants and this is the area we ate every night. Unlike all the other countries we have visited Italian is the ONLY food you can eat, they don’t cross breed here, and so it was a choice of pasta, pizza, risotto and of course gelato which was fine by us. The back lanes were noisy and busy and a hive of activity, the perfect place to spend a few hours every night people watching.
We had decided we wanted to do all the ‘touristy stuff’ early on and just get it done so that we then had whole days to just ‘be’, which meant our first full day we were off to the Vatican. September is a super busy time in Rome and no matter where you are you are never, ever, ever alone and so we wanted to get an early start and avoid long queues. The Vatican City is the smallest country in the world and covers a mere 0.44 sq km. St Peter’s Basilica takes pride of place as you approach and when viewed from above, along with St Peter’s Square, takes the shape of a keyhole. It is the largest church in the world and requires you to dress appropriately, no singlets even for men, pass through a metal detector and have your bags checked. Once inside though you are free to roam, in most areas, and take your time to inhale it all. Looking up you see the massive central dome (120m) standing over St Peters Tomb, which is underground. The decoration is ornate and sumptuous but yet the colours also seem to make it subtle. Last time I was here you could walk under the church and view the tombs of all the past popes however this time, not sure why, we were unable to go down under the church. Michelangelo’s masterpiece ‘Pieta’ lies to the right of the main entrance and is lit so beautifully it almost looks human instead of stone. People are generally respectful and wander around quietly snapping pictures and bumping into others because they are too busy looking up instead of where they are going, we are all guilty of it. Religious or not, Catholic or not, St Peter’s is a masterpiece of architecture and reverence and one cannot help but feel blessed while visiting. It truly has a special aura to it.
The square outside is enormous and has an obelisk in the centre which was used by Emperor Nero as a turning post for the chariot races in his circus. It is lined with Doric columns and during July and August and special events you can see Benny (Pope Benedict) give mass at the top of the square, tickets are free, bargain! After strolling through St Peter’s we hustled around to the Vatican Museum and queued for forty minutes before finally getting through the door. We have both been through the museum before and were only interested, this time, in going straight through to the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel is the last stop before exiting and you are able to take shortcuts to it if you wish. The Museum is enormous and is brimming with amazing pieces of art, both paintings and sculptures; even the ceiling and walls are works of art. The barrel vaulted ceilings are almost mosaics with some having a three dimensional effect. It was literally packed wall to wall with people and so even though we only had one stop it took us a while to get there, waiting for tour groups to move or reaching bottle necked doorways. We were both grateful we had visited the museum before because to try to see it for the first time with all those people was enough to bust my fufu valve. I was ‘getting irritable’ as it was just trying to reach the Sistine Chapel.
Aahh The Sistine Chapel, the pride of the Vatican, was originally built in 1484 for Pope Sixtus IV; hence the name Sistine. However Michelangelo was commissioned by Julius II to decorate it in 1508. It took him four years to paint ‘Genesis’, you know the finger of God painting, and then twenty-two years later he returned and painted ‘The Last Judgement’ on the end wall. The rest of the chapel is full of Botticelli and other Italian painters. You are not allowed to take photos and it feels that the chapel is buried deep within the walls of the museum. It is not very big, probably only about twelve metres across and thirty metres long (guesstimate). The only seating is along the side walls and you have to be lucky to grab that, we were lucky. Time passes while you just sit and stare. Stare at the wall and attempt to interpret all Michelangelo was trying to say in his Final Judgement. Stare at the ceiling in awe of the masterpiece that lay above you. Stare at the beauty in all of the paintings that look like they were only painted yesterday and are looking straight at you. Stare at the sneaky people trying to take photos while the guards aren’t looking.
As beautiful as it all was it felt pretty good to hit sunlight again and have our own space. The rest of the day was spent just cruising. Rome is the kind of place where you can happily wander aimlessly, looking up and around, for hours. The architecture and the ambience just take hold and keep a sense of wonder around every corner. We would stand at intersections and decide which direction looked more interesting and that was all that would dictate our way. Italians have coffee standing up, meaning that they don’t sit at cafes the way we do; it’s like a quick hit drug for them. Entering a café you simply order your poison at the little register and they yell your order to the barista who does his magic and then you stand at the bench and quickly but appreciatively absorb the magic that is Italian coffee. It’s these little things about Italy that I just love. Coffee is water and rightly so with the sensational way it’s brewed.
Our second full day was Colosseum Day or Colosseo as it is named on the maps. The Colosseum was a decent but easy twenty minute walk for us and once again something we had both done before. In saying that though, NOTHING takes away from the pure grandeur (I swear I am running out of adjectives) that is the Colosseum. This magnificent structure was built in 72AD and is officially named the Flavian Ampitheatre. It took ten years to build and those industrious Romans even had canvas awnings to cover the roof with in bad or extremely hot weather; just like closing the roof at the Australian Open. It definitely shows its signs of aging but if I looked that good after 1900 years then I would consider myself one very very lucky chick. Walking towards the Colosseum it almost seems a mirage shimmering against the horizon and then the closer you get the lower your jaw drops. As you stroll past the Romans dressed as dodgy looking centurions fossicking for you to pay them for a photo, you are also approached by tour guides, ‘you speak the English, I have tour for you’. We vetoed all tours and decided it was DIY time and joined the queue. However for first timers to the Colosseum we would both highly recommend the tours as they definitely give a more intimate perspective and history. The queue moved fairly quickly and we were inside and stopped off for an audio guide and then just………….took it in. That’s all you can really do, is just walk and stop and look, then repeat. There is a partial wooden platform covering what were the underground caverns where the animals were held. You can’t walk down there but are able to see how it all worked. Being such a large place, the crowds don’t really bother you once you are inside and it is easy to take your time. The Colosseum looks out over the rest of the Forum and almost overwhelms you to know that this structure is so old, which seems like such an inadequate word. Imagining the lions, gladiators, cheering crowd and ominous emperors is not so hard once you are standing where they once stood. Out of all the ‘old places’ we have seen the Colosseum is easily one of the most impressive, even for the second time. I can’t wait to see how I feel after the third and fourth (hint, hint).
The Trevi Fountain is another Italian or Roman tourist destination. The Trevi Fountain is an enormous fountain set up against a building in what is comparatively a small piazza. The word trevi means ‘three roads’, ‘tre’ meaning three and ‘vie’ meaning roads. The ironic thing though is that there are actually five roads leading into the piazza. Anyway you know when you have arrived because you meet a wall of people. The Trevi Fountain depicts Neptune (Roman mythology) being led by the Triton horses. It is a marvel to observe, so clean and white and spectacular. The theory is that you throw a coin over your shoulder and it ensures your return to Rome. Entering the piazza, on any day at any time, you realise you will have to complete this ritual with about 500 other people. The tiered area around the fountain allows for a lot of people however you still have to squeeze your way down to the edge. We threw our coins hoping that a two euro will give a better chance than a two center, fingers crossed.
The rest of our days were filled with wandering, prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches, pastas and wine for dinner, gelato and being woken up in our Roman flat by the impatient mother across the lane, preparing the children for school perhaps. We had decided though we really wanted some significant monument time to ourselves and so rose early our last two mornings to get to Fontana Quattro dei Fiumi before anyone else did and to be in Piazza Navona without the crowds. Our other early morning was spent hiking over to the Trevi Fountain to have it to ourselves. Arriving at the Trevi around 7.15am meant we only had to share it with five other people. We threw another coin, just a two center and then sat down to just enjoy the moment before crowds started building. The next minute, the cleaning crew arrived and we were ushered up to the top tier where we could sit and watch. The slow methodical way with which they vacuumed up people’s wishes and dreams was relaxing and solemn. We were thankful we had arrived so early because by the time the cleaning was complete more and more people had arrived taking away the quiet of the fountain. On average three thousand euro per day is collected, which is just over $4000 Australian dollars.
Rome is expensive, noisy and busy but there is nowhere else like it. Referred to as Caput Mundi, ‘centre of the world’, it is the epicentre of history and has a plethora of moments to just absorb. Hours can be spent in a café, or sitting on the edge of a fountain watching the crowds. We spent our lunchtimes in Campo de Fiori, watching the fruit sellers spruiking their wares and the Africans attempting to sell their counterfeit designer handbags (weird I know) to female passerbys.
Our last early morning was our trip to the airport to catch our flight. We had organised a shuttle and were not feeling very confident on it arriving and were making contingency plans. Luckily he showed, better late than never, and we were now seeing crazy driving from a different perspective. The other girl in the shuttle actually asked us to put our seat belts on as she was getting frightened. We checked into our flight, hitting our baggage allowance dead on, yeehaa, and were ready to go to Malta.
Rome is one of the greatest cities in the world, at least the ones I have been to. Bidding Buon Giurno and Ciao to others makes you feel like one of them and that gave a great feeling. I absolutely will be going back for a third, fourth and fifth time.