Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
114Trip End May 23, 2008
ˇ GMT +1:00 hour
Rome. If you want to
And so onto the Italian capital. Just like Pisa I doubt this place needs much of an introduction. Pretty much everyone knows it's a place with 2,700 years of history and the place where modern civilisation was founded (you knew that, right?). Having gotten our fill of the Renaissance stuff in Florence we were here to ogle at the legacy left behind by the all-conquering (except the little landmass now called Ireland) Romans, the empire they built and the influence it had over the world's politics, religion, architecture and transportation. So, as you might expect, in terms of historical sights Rome outstrips everywhere else in the country by some way. Along every street there seems to be a 2000+ year old wall, church, monument or pile of rubble. The old adage states that 'Rome wasn't built in a day' and it's true to say also that you need a lot more than a day to see it all. We had 3 whole days (4 nights) at our disposal and, although you could spend weeks getting under the skin of the city, we developed this plan of attack for our time here, the aim being that we'll get to see all of what we wanted to see -
Dave & Meg do Rome - The Plan of Attack
Day 19: Religious Stuff - The Vatican.... "Hello father"
Day 20: Ancient Roman Stuff - The Roman Forum, Colosseum etc... "hail Caesar"
Day 21: General 'Bumming Around' - no pigeons, please.
So without further adieu, and before we leave Rome in the morning for Naples, let us recap the 3 days we spent here and again we'll try keeping it as short, sweet and light-hearted as possible.
Day 19 - September 1st, 2007
Had our first (of many) real Italian cappuccinos over breakfast before spending most of the morning at The Vatican City, taking in the impressive St. Peter's Basilica. As per 'The Plan' above, we intended to go to The Vatican Museums for the afternoon. That didn't work out (it closes early on a Saturday) so we cursed the Pope... only joking Mam... of course we didn't..... we improvised and walked around the city instead, taking in Piazza Novona (some square that's actually rectangular in shape), The Pantheon (old, Roman, big & round), The Trevi Fountain (so many people there that they were the sight, not the fountain), The Spanish Steps (why this is an 'attraction' beats us... plus, no Spaniards). Dropped by the Coloessum in the evening before heading back to the hotel for dinner on the rooftop terrace.
Day 20 - September 2nd, 2007
Spent the day walking around The Roman Forum (a densely packed area of the city littered with Roman ruins older than, a lot older than, most countries) and visiting the Colosseum, all the while trying to imagine what it would have been like to have lived here over 2000 years ago, wear a toga and watch the spectacle in the Colosseum. Came right back to reality in the evening when we organised onward travel (by train, not chariot) to our next stop, Naples, further down the coast.
Day 21 - September 3rd, 2007
Went back to The Vatican Museums. Upon arrival we couldn't believe the length of the queue to get in (2km, we'd estimate), and shortly after (45 minutes or so) we couldn't believe we were actually inside. The museums were as busy as one would expect but truly amazing, topped by the 20 minutes or so we spent staring up at the ceiling of the famous Sistine Chapel where, amidst the endless calls of "No Photo!" I snuck a few pictures (if I go straight to Hell as a result then so be it... and I'll be taking the pictures with me). Spent the evening starting this entry, getting ready for the following days departure to Naples, doing laundry, checking e-mail and realising hey, it's not actually that bad to have turned 32 (see the observations for more).
Warning - History
Right about now I want to include a small bit of history about Rome (and Italy in general). I'm trying to avoid history lessons in this Travelpod (I find people don't really like it and prefer pictures) but in a place like Rome it's sort of impossible to do. This place, and this entry, is dominated by the legacy of the Roman Empire and the Papacy so it's sort of good, in my opinion, to have some sort of understanding as to how they all came to be. So below is a condensed history of Italy/Rome which, if anything, will supplement this entry. If you couldn't be bothered with history and are just happy to read the observations and look at the pictures then by all means skip this paragraph. We'll never know.
507BC to 3rd Century AD - The Roman Empire
The Roman Empire ruled not only Italy, but much of Europe and the Mediterranean. Its golden period was in the 2nd century AD but by the 3rd century AD it was in terminal decline, a decline that coincided with the growth in popularity of Christianity. Trying to prevent the decline of his empire, Emperor Diocletian split it into two parts, the western empire (ruled from Rome) and the eastern empire (ruled from Byzantium, present day Istanbul). But when his successor, Emperor Constantine, moved the capital to Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople, Rome's days were numbered. The western empire finally fell in AD476. BTW, Constantine is the guy who is responsible for making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and thus forever linking Rome to the centre of the Christian world.
3rd Century AD, the Middle ages and beyond
After the fall of the Roman Empire the Pope - based in Rome owing to the fact that St. Peter, the Apostle and first pope, was martyred here in 64AD - became the temporal ruler over much of Italy. Papal, city-state (Florence being one example of a powerful self-governing city-state) and foreign rule (including by Napoleon from 1798-1815) lasted until Italian unification in 1861, shortly after which (1870) Rome was wrested from the papacy to became Italy's undisputed capital.
1890 to 1946 - The Mussolini Years & The creation of The Vatican City
The new rulers set about developing the city into a city worthy of a unified capital. Mussolini took over in 1925, just 6 years after creating the Fascist Party, and in 1929 signed the Lateran Pact with Pope Pius XI, a compromise which forced the Vatican to accept the new unified Italian state. Not wanting to seem like it had an allegiance with any one country, the Vatican sought recognition as a sovereign territory, independent of Italy, together with the key basilicas and papal palaces in Rome. Mussolini granted sovereignty and to this day The Vatican City remains technically independent of Italy. Clearly Mussolini wasn't adept at making good decisions: evoking Rome's imperial past, he embarked on a disastrous invasion of present day Ethiopia and in 1940 entered WWII on the side of the Nazis. Three years later the Allies invaded, the nation rebelled and the King, King Vittorio Emanuele III, had Mussolini arrested. Italy surrendered and Mussolini was killed by Italian partisans in April 1945.
Post WWII - Present
Following the disaster of WWII, the Italians voted out the monarchy and the present Italian republic was declared in 1946. A few scandals on the home front aside, Italy has enjoyed a largely successful post-war period and the country has grown into a modern, industrial nation and a founding member of the European Economic Community.
Day 19 to 21 Observations (September 1st to 3rd 2007)
Now that we've dispensed with the history stuff let's get to our observations from Rome, broken up into their respective days. While I'd much rather do an entry a day, for now at least there just isn't the time. Sorry... but we hope you're following along and enjoying the ride anyway. Don't forget to check out the pictures, some/the best of which you've already seen in thumbnail form. The fact that there are 34 of them shouldn't be a deterrent; it just means we're spending more time on these entries than it takes you to read them.
Day 19 Observations - September 1st, 2007
ˇ 32... ouch
It's was my birthday today. Yep, 32 years ago today the world became a much brighter place. Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me. For 6 weeks or so I'll be 6 numeric years older than Meg. She's mentioned that to me on more than one occasion. I think she thinks it bothers me. She doesn't believe me when I say it doesn't.
ˇ Rome Subway
We have a few observations on the Rome subway, a strange sort of system...... first, it only has two lines (still two more than Dublin has). Second, it's cheap. Third, it's a dark and not a very inviting place to go. Forth, they pipe music down there.... a first time I've ever seen, or heard, that on a subway system. But the main observation has to be the graffiti. We've commented on the graffiti issue in Venice (didn't see much of it in Florence, but it was there) but here on the Rome subway it's taken to a new level. The cars, inside and out, are covered by graffiti. It's so in-your-face that we're left wondering why the authorities don't do something about it.
ˇ Double Cappuccino
Meg drank 2 cappuccinos today. Yep, 2 in the one day. That's a lot for someone who doesn't normally drink coffee. We get an 'Italian breakfast' deal (it's a push calling it breakfast but hey, it's better than nothing) from our hotel that includes a cappuccino and a croissant and when Meg tried it she liked it (with sugar, of course). Not surprising; the Italians sure do know how to make a cappuccino. Now, if they could just sort out those "where is the rest of it?" espressos. BTW, Meg is felling better today. That's good. Obviously. She still has the remnants of her head cold (runny nose, light coughing), but so do I. I'm still coughing up phlegm 11 days after my 24-hour head-cold.
ˇ The most important meal of the day
Speaking of breakfast, the Italians don't do it. Toast and cereal? Nope. A quick stop off in a traditional bar for an espresso, and maybe a pastry, usually suffices. They stand at the counter of the bar (always a brightly lit place, with a chrome counter, a Gaggia coffee machine and a picture of the local football team on the wall), throw back the espresso and take off. Just like that. We kind of linger a bit longer, enjoying our cappuccino and pastry.
ˇ Hold it
You're as likely to find a public toilet in Rome as you are to see the Pope on the subway. We spent ages walking around looking for one, in vain, soon realising our only option was to frequent one the legions of €4-a-cappuccino roadside cafés in order to use their facilities. Meg had a cappuccino (her 2nd of the day, as noted earlier), I had a $9 beer... it was my birthday after all. BTW, Romans seem to be a cleaner lot. When you do find a toilet the chances of it having soap are good... still not great, but better that Florence and Venice (zero chance). Still no obvious way of drying your hands however.
ˇ Q Jumpers
Queue jumpers annoy us. Flag waving, mic-wearing tour guides, with their snaking line of earpiece wearing Lemmings in tow, annoy us even more. Combine the two and you could have issues, like we did today. We were in the queue in St. Peter's Square (BTW, it's also not actually a square, but round) for entrance into St. Peter's Basilica when a tour guide thought she had the divine right to jump the queue by walking up the outside and butting in further up the line. Why? No idea. Being a tour guide doesn't give you priority..... it just makes you stand out in the crowd. Nope, you have to queue with all the others. We couldn't let it pass and felt so much better after throwing her the line "We don't care if you're a tour guide with clients, you have to queue like everyone else". She denied doing it of course and that's when Meg retorted with the classic "this isn't the right place to lie" line. That's my girl. She got a high-five for that one. Thankfully the basilica, once we did get in, was sufficiently big enough to ensure we didn't bump into her again.
ˇ Foot Traffic
Look down on the ground at any of the Rome sights and you'll see shiny, worn paving stones or marble steps. It gives you some indication as to the amount of foot traffic this place must experience. Looks like it could be quite a dangerous place to walk when wet, although we doubt you'd see any Slippery When Wet signs.
We were spun the line by our hotel that they don't offer their guests internet access due to Italian terrorists concerns. What, Travelpod, Facebook and Gmail pose a threat to the safety of the Italian nation? How so, exactly?
If you've just clicked on the link above you're probably wondering what I'm on about when I say hotel? Well, we're actually on a 'budget' floor of a 3 star hotel so we're paying hostel prices for 3 star comforts. Of course our rooms are kept well away from the 'higher calibre' guest rooms but we share the same level of service, reception, bar, and best of all, rooftop terrace. It's just one of the many reasons we found Rome good value.
ˇ Not too hot
We expected to melt in the Roman sun but actually found it quite pleasant. It was warm, but the ever present breeze meant we're not reporting on how unbearably warm the city was. Then again, it is September now, so maybe we shouldn't have been expecting it to be too warm?
Day 20 Observations - September 2nd, 2007
Italians really do take parking to another level. No space? No problem; just squeeze it in anywhere, nose front and up on the path (sidewalk) if you have to. Parking on the junction of two streets is totally acceptable as well, as is parallel/double parking. They do seem to have parking meters and parking signs giving times of the day that parking is permissible, but they just seem to act as a secure base upon which to lock your Piaggio or Vespa. BTW, they are also allowed to park on bridges over here. Just another detail we picked up on when in Florence.
What is it with Italians lack of patience in traffic jams? Rather than wait to get through the jam with all the other motorists in the same predicament they seem to prefer to sit there holding the horn for minutes on end. Maybe their cabins are soundproofed but to the folks on the street it almost, just almost, makes you want to scream. That coupled with the mopeds and almost endless Police & ambulance sirens, makes Italy one noisy place.
ˇ Well rested
Between Friday (our first night in the city) and Saturday night (my birthday) we managed to bank 21 hours sleep. Not bad, if you can get it.
ˇ All You Need, When You Need It
They have Spar stores (convenience stores for you Canadians) over here, just like at home. But unlike at home you can get a litre of wine for €1. You can get it cheaper, but we have standards.
Day 21 Observations - September 3rd, 2007
ˇ Last day of Holidays
Today marks the last day of Meg's holidays... were she to be going back to school that is. Yep, all those little Canadians she misses so much will all be ready for their first day of the school year which begins tomorrow. Have a good year guys, and rest assured, there is one Madame Byrne, a.k.a Mademoiselle, over here thinking of you all.
Whether the genuine article or imitation knock-offs from your local friendly hawker, everyone has Dolce & Cabanna sunglasses. It seems like the welding mask, 'big-enough-for-a-NASA-astronaut' style is all the rage, and in this part of the world at least it seems you're nobody without them. BTW, we noticed this in France as well.
This is another thing we noticed in France but has been taken to another level in Italy. There are Smart cars everywhere. You know them stupid, Fisher Price looking run-arounds? (Google 'Smart Car' if you don't know what I'm talking about). What's the point in buying something like that? I mean, economy aside, it makes a Toyota Yaris (an Echo in Canada) look luxurious. Do Smart car owners really think they are smart? We wonder. They certainly don't look it. Ingeniously named fortwo, there is also a bigger Smart car called, you guessed it, forfour. I've only seen one of them and it prompted me to ask the same "Why?" question I ask every time I see the fortwo.
ˇ Clean again
We did laundry today. Well, we didn't do it... the nice little Indian man with the bright smile in the Laundromat did it for us while we enjoyed our last pasta dish, litre of house wine and tiramisu in Rome. He got our custom because he didn't try to rip us off, unlike the first guy (another Indian... sensing a trend here?). They came back smelling like a Swiss mountain breeze... and we should know. BTW, it is the first time since leaving Ireland on August 14th that we've done laundry. Now, you're probably thinking we're a smelly pair. Well, not really. The bags we have are big for a reason..... and don't even bother trying to tell us we wear the same clothes in every picture.
ˇ Dust Blankets
We can only imagine this is how it was back in Roman times as well. At first glance Rome didn't strike us as a dusty city, but it's really noticeable on cars, nearly all of which have a light layer of dust covering them. I guess it's only to be expected in a city with endless piles of historic rubble. It makes you realise how bad for your respiratory system Rome must be.
ˇ We're rich
Well, not really. But we did check our e-mail today and noticed that thanks to 1) Me being born 32 years and 2 days ago, and 2) people's generosity, that we're that bit richer. But it's not all about money. Nope, I got numerous e-cards wishing me happy birthday as well. Thanks guys... if you happened to send me an e-card and I haven't replied personally by the time you read this then I'm not as nice a person as my parents would have you believe. Btw, special thanks to those who sent us money... we got a few days of the trip, a meal or two and a few train tickets on your generosity. You know who you are and as always are much loved.