Sun 22 Jun 2003
Rome was a fantastic experience and a great way to finish our holiday. Unfortunately in Rome people speak Italian though, so any of the communication skills learned from Spain or France were lost here. The good news is that the Romans really don't seem to mind speaking English and, unlike the Parisians, seem to even prefer it over bad Italian.
Our trip from Madrid to Rome was rather tiring. The metro journey in Madrid to the airport involved several swapping of trains and because Janelle's ankle was still rather sore at that stage, it was a rather unpleasant experience. In the end we did make it though as you probably already guessed and booked into our hotel around 5 in the evening. The hotel's elevator was little more than a closet on a pulley and could barely fit us with our bags. The room was probably our nicest of the whole holidays, also the most expensive, but that was to be expected in Italy. Having checked in and refreshed ourselves somewhat, we felt the need to have some pizza and see some sights. A walking tour taking in the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Piazza Nuovo worked out well for us, being relatively close to our accommodation. The real highlight of the evening was on our walk back though, when we saw a rather large police escort driving right past us. Who do you think we saw but the POPE himself comfortably being whizzed off in the direction of the Vatican. Even more entertaining was the busfull of cardinals following right behind! Who would have thought we would get to see all this on our first night in town
The attractions in Rome are unrivalled by any of the other places we had visited. Essentially trying to cover 2500 years in 2.5 days is no mean feat! Naturally, we didn't try that and settled for the major attractions only. Our first full day we spent in the vicinity of the Vatican and St Peter's. St. Peter's Basilica was rather amusing to enter, as the Vatican is very strict about dress code. There are 'dress police' positioned at several points while entering and we saw many people getting turned back for wearing skimpy clothing like shorts, singlets and such. We knew of this beforehand so weren't caught out.. As you can imagine, there are stalls aplenty in the area selling very cheap long pants and shawls to cover up for the visit. Having passed the dress-police the Basilica was a rather enjoyable place to visit. For one it was nice and shady compared to the heat that was beginning to develop outside.
Next stop was the Sistine Chapel and the walk on the way there was quite draining indeed in the scorching sun! The staff letting people in to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel didn't seem to care so much about dress-code, although the sign still said such things weren't allowed. Visiting the Chapel is a rather tedious exercise of being guided through a cattle-grid of sorts from one room to the next in shuffle mode the whole way waiting as the cue progresses. As such, the whole thing does take quite a while. Fortunately, it was well worth it and seeing the beautiful ceiling was a remarkable experience.
After our visit there, we decided we would give the Colosseum a go as well the same day. We knew it would close an hour before sunset, so wouldn't have much time, but decided to give it a go anyway. We ended up having about 45 minutes to walk around, which proved more than enough really, considering all you can really do is walk around inside it! Unfortunately, we didn't realize until 3PM the next day that the Colosseum ticket also gave us entry to the Palatine Hill (which has a lot of ruins, etc.) till 12PM the next day.. grrr..
As a result we skipped the Palatine hill the next day completely and settled for the Roman Forum instead, where the ruins of temples and government buildings are located. Entry there was free, so nothing to grumble about really! One particularly nice feature of Rome is also the water fountains that are located in many parts of town. They are constantly flowing and the water coming out is beautiful to drink. Wandering around the Roman Forum, there are water fountains everywhere, which is rather fortunate considering how hot it gets among those ruins!
A lot of our second day was spent visiting old churches and some of the beautiful artworks within. A visit to the Spanish Steps was also squeezed in before lunch and after lunch we went to the Pantheon again to get a look inside. It is a remarkable building to be inside with the circular hole in the ceiling casting a beautiful ring of light on different parts of the wall at different times of the day. In the evening we wandered down to the Travastere area, which has a lot of restaurants scattered around. We ended up in a rather nice wine bar eating some foccaccia and antipasto - a great way to end the day.
On our last morning in Rome we had one more thing that we wanted to visit - the Santa Maria del Popolo church, which has a couple of rather remarkable Caravaggio paintings within. Because it was a Sunday, there was of course mass going on when we got there. After waiting around for 20 minutes or so though, we got a chance to wander around inside. Supposedly this church was built on the spot that Nero was buried. There used to be a grand oak tree growing over his grave and considering he was such a disliked emperor, no one really liked the error. Some saint then had a vision to fell the tree and build a church there, the result being Santa Maria del Popolo (Saint Maria of the People).
After that visit, our holiday had come to an end.. nothing else left to do but pack our bags and head back to Melbourne, where the weather has been a true shock getting down to under 4 °C in the mornings.. brrrr.