Rome

IMG_6141 (640x480)Whilst there were loads of truly fascinating things to see (especially for a history nerd like me), I was really quite glad to only have a few days in Rome. Not just because of the temperature hovering between 40 and 45 degrees, but because I was getting quite sick of enormous cities that you already know a tonne about. By that stage I’d learned that it is the small, unknown places with plenty to discover that I really enjoyed. Nonetheless, the feeling that you have to see all the famous things (almost like you have to tick off the to do list) was not totally unjustified. I was still glad too see the Colosseum  the Trevi Fountain, The Vatican, eat really average, overrated pasta and pizza by the Spanish Steps

One of the parts I most enjoyed was being able to see what (to me, being a kiwi from young little New Zealand) were ludicrously old buildings and structures, in amongst the new and modern. From the weird and unexpected sensation of realising the Colosseum is in fact smack bang in the middle of the city, surrounded by traffic, to being surprised to turn a corner and be confronted by an aquaduct. I only wish I had the archaeological architectural knowledge to be able to look at neighboring buildings and be able to determine just how far apart they were constructed.IMG_5936

The Pantheon

IMG_6602Not only is the Pantheon a fabulous attraction to see, but hunting it down is a glorious adventure in and of itself. To find it, I made my way through winding alleyways, through the Piazza Novana and past the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. All of which a beautiful destinations on their own.IMG_6599

After my visit, walking alongside the building I looked down and noticed how far below the current ground level the actual foundations were, which really added to my sense of awe over the age of many of the buildings in the surrounding areas.IMG_6648

365. “St Harriet”

IMG_6556 (480x640)My first attempt at the Vatican was a definite failure. As it turns out, one does not simply visit the Vatican on a whim in the middle of summer whilst wearing a summer dress. I got myself a modesty scarf and decided to chance it (the lines weren’t too long by then). But alas, I was still deemed too slutty and denied entrance.

Round two was much more successful, this time I managed to be appropriately covered, but in some kind of divine revenge for even thinking I could enter with my knees bared, it was a 40 degree day. I don’t think I’ve ever been in anything more than 38, and even then I was feeling faint. Conveniently, there were enormous crowds on my arrival too. Standing in a gigantic line that went all the way around the courtyard (the line kind of wiggled around so as many people were in the shade as possible) it was going to be at least a few hours of incredibly slow movement. I was not fortunate enough to be one of the ones in the shade either.

About the stage where my vision was getting blurry and I had long since run out of water (tourism in that heat is just exhausting), a nice old woman came along to pitch the “skip the line tour.” I’d already been haggled multiple times for those tours and had written them all off as totally unnecessary expenditure. But by that stage I was already thinking about quitting on the Vatican and finding the nearest establishment that could put ice and water in a glass and give it to me. This woman told me that for €25 I could skip the line, go straight in and have a guided tour and I thought bugger it, I didn’t come on holiday to spend two hours in what felt like an inescapable sauna. I got her down to €20 and off we went. Sadly my feeling of relief was very short lived. First we had to go in to a nearby shop and sign up (they have to register names as a group apparently). Waiting around happened. Then we went back outside (at least we were in the shade) where the tour started with an incredibly long winded explanation of the history of the Vatican and the square out front. More waiting around happened. We did get to sneak round the back and get photos with the Swiss guard in their hilarious Uniforms, which was possibly one of the only perks. Then we were back out front again, more waiting, in to another shop to pay (you guessed it, more waiting), more “history” and explanations and finally we went around to the museum entrance. I would say it was probably almost an hour and a half before we were actually looking at anything inside the Vatican, and it was an enormous ruse so the tour guide could keep adding more and more people. Worst of all, when we got to the Museum entrance there were no lines whatsoever, and by then I was really annoyed at myself for not doing a bit of research.IMG_6553 (480x640)

Like the thousands of people queuing out front, I had no idea that if you just go via the museums there’s almost no line, it spits you out at St Peter’s Basilica, and the museums/Sistine Chapel are where all the good stuff is anyway. The guide was also fairly useless, rushing us through when there were loads of things to see, and she only really knew about the few key things that she stopped to explain, and couldn’t answer basic questions about other things. For instance, when I asked what the enormous and rather out of place modern sculpture smack-bang in the middle of the courtyard above the Sistine Chapel was, she didn’t even have the decency to make something up! It’s quite the noticeable eyesore, looking like a giant, gold poké-ball. You’d think someone going past it twice a day would have some idea. Especially when they are meant to be an expert in the subject.IMG_6431 (480x640) IMG_6430 (640x480)

So I wound up paying some serious 40-degree-heat-induced foreigner/idiot tax. I will never again do one of the “skip the line” tours or turn up at something ridiculously famous in the peak of the tourist season without doing my research!

On the bright side though, whilst waiting for far too long out the front, the guide pointed out the names of the saints around the Colonades that matched those in the group. Apparently the one pictured above is Saint Harriet. Sounds fairly dubious and I haven’t been able to verify if that is actually true (the closest I’ve found is that it could be St Hilarion or St Hyacinth) but I don’t really care, I’m just going to assume that it’s true as it was probably the only interesting thing I learned on the tour. Ignorance is bliss.IMG_6557 (640x480)

364. Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore

IMG_6381 (640x480)Of the 26 Churches dedicated to Mary in Rome, apparently the Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest. Makes you wonder how many churches there are for everyone else if there are already 26 for Mary! I guess they don’t call it Roman Catholic for nothing.

The Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore is apparently so special it enjoys extraterritorial status (like an embassy) and is patrolled by guards of the Vatican. It was fairly majestic and marvelous, as far as churches go, with loads of excellent frescoes. And a good thing I came prepared with my modesty scarf. The Crypt of the Nativity was quite a site also, (practically all covered in gold). It is a huge tourist draw card as it is said to contain wood from Jesus Christ’s Crib. I’d be well imressed to find out exactly how they verified that one, given Jesus didn’t become Jesus Christ Superstar until he just about carked it. Nonetheless, I was right up in there getting my touristy photos too!

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Jesus’ Crib has been on Extreme Makeover: Religion Edition

363. Triton, My Favourite Roman Fountain

IMG_6355 (480x640)There were tonnes of them, but being a little more understated and demure, in my opinion Triton was the best.

A marvelous way to turn the ordinary (dispensing water to the citizens) into something quite spectacular! There were loads of more functional looking taps on the sides of the road, looking as though they were still straight from the aquaducts, but they were quite old and rusty looking, often smelling a bit funny and giving the impression that by 2012 standards the water quality was fairly dubious.

Some of the contenders:IMG_6586 (480x640) IMG_6581 (640x480) IMG_6331 (640x480) IMG_6351 (640x480) (640x480)IMG_6035 (480x640) IMG_6212 (640x480)

362. The Spanish Steps

IMG_6350 (480x640)I took a very lovely stroll after dinner (Pizza, of course) to the famed Spanish Steps. Having only a couple of nights in Rome, I had been doing laps of the city on one of the tourist buses, so it was really nice to be able to go for a walk. In the peak of summer (it had gotten to about 35 degrees in the afternoon), it was about 10 or 11pm by the time I was comfortable with a big walk through the city! It also took about that long before I could handle a warm meal, let alone before the restaurants of the Mediterranean were serving dinner!IMG_6346 (480x640)

Walking through town I decided that if anyone plans to do any walking whatsoever through Rome, they shouldn’t bother going out of their way to find a particular fountain, because they are just everywhere. I also really enjoyed the mix of ruins, glorious churches, fountains, and more modern buildings all over the show. IMG_6351 (640x480)

The Spanish steps were quite the magical experience. Even though by that stage my dislike of anywhere thronging with tourists was really massive, I didn’t really mind all the people around. Most were just sitting on the steps, drinking some wine, chatting away, and there were all kinds of Spanish guitar playing buskers making for a very romantic atmostphere, not to mention the beautiful lights.

Apparently they are the biggest flight of steps in Europe, but at 138 stairs I think maybe it is meant to be the widest.

This was occasion number two where someone almost violently grabbed my arm and demanded I take a photo of them (no need for pleasantries, apparently). I don’t know what it is about me but I guess I must have looked like the opposite of whatever tourists in Rome think a thief looks like, as it happened many more times and each time I was just as surprised at how rude people could be when asking for a favour. Or perhaps I was just more annoyed because I had such a short amount of time to get to all the places I wanted to go and I was always in a hurry. It wasn’t until the third time it happened that I decided I would just zoom right in on their eye, or miss the attraction behind, hand them back their camera and walk away before they had a chance to look at the photo. Serves you bloody right for being a rude bastard!IMG_6345 (640x480)

361. The Palatine and Forum

IMG_6095 (640x480) StitchThe ruins on the Palatine Hill (which included the old Roman Forum) were a really great “outdoor museum.” It was so much fun to walk around and imagine what life was like in Roman times, and everything that had occurred there. It definitely struck me as a bit of a shame that it all looks so dilapidated. Obviously, being ruins, it is not the most aesthetically please area to have in the city centre, but mostly i felt they could have done quite a lot with it to really help fuel the imagination (illustrations of what it used to be like, information to read), rather than looking like they’ve only begrudgingly left it there because it is a World Heritage Site.

I really enjoyed walking around in the late afternoon (once the heat became bearable), taking it all in. It was like walking through a beautiful park, only with a ridiculous amount of fascinating history! Sadly late afternoon meant they came along and kicked me out fairly promptly.

360. The Colosseum

colosseum RomeIn some ways the Colusseum was completely what I expected, in others it was really the opposite. Overall, I think it was less exciting than I imagined, largely because it had the Paris factor – you’ve seen so many pictures of it everywhere that it doesn’t feel particularly new, different, magnificent or surprisng. It was once again like looking at a giant postcard. The thing that did surprise me, though, was that it was smack bang in the centre of the city. You literally turn a corner and there it is, right in front of you. It was like any other building in an inner city block, without any kind of entrance or parking and barely space around it like you’d expect with an enormous landmark like that. It felt all very “Get in, get out, you’ve seen what you came here for.”

Although from another perspective, that is part of what makes the Colosseum so special – ever since the times when it was actually in use it has been there in the centre of the city, with Roman life going on around it. At various points, it was so normal that it practically became a quarry, as people begun to tear it down so as to use the materials it was made of. However, it is nice to know that from when it was completed in 80AD to today it has always been seen as a magnificent building and worth keeping around.

When I showed up I had already read online that a ticket for the Colosseum is also a ticket for the Palatine and Forum, and you can buy them at either entrance. So I headed to the Palatine and Forum entrance where there was no line, and then shot back over to the Colosseum where it seemed like there were thousands of people lining up in sweltering heat. It felt very good to breeze past all the suckers straight to the entrance!

359. Trevi Fountain

IMG_6035 (480x640)One of the most famous fountains in the world, according to legend if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain you are guaranteed a return to Rome. According to wikipedia, an estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy. I probably would have been more inclined to partake in the tradition on that basis, than a local legend, or hollywood myths of romance!

On the topic of Hollywood myths, I had the impression that perhaps it would be found on a popular thoroughfare where you’d get a great view of it, having seen movies where actors just stumble across it. In actual fact, it takes up almost the entire square it is found on, and is a bit of a treck through little alley ways to find. Not that that means it is difficult, being such a big tourist attractions.

My Trevi Fountain experience was also absolutely nothing like ‘La Dolce Vita’ as it was absolutely swarming people all trying to take their photos and throw their coins.  Nothing like a bunch of tourists elbowing you left right and centre to get their perfect photo to ruin the magic. That and being borderline assaulted with people aggressively demanding I take photos for them.