A Roman Holiday

Trip Start Oct 18, 2006
Trip End Oct 19, 2007

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Arriving into Roma at 9.40am, after very little sleep due to the worst overnight train experience- l stumbled out and made my way very cautiously clutching my bag to my front to my hostel (Yellow) which was four blocks from the Termini train station. I checked in and starred a little overwhelmed at the list of "must sees" for day 1! Luckily l had managed to get my hands on American author Rick Stevens Rome guide which was my saviour for the day. He suggested doing a trip called the 'Caesar Shuffle,' so that is what l did.
I walked past souvenir shops, little markets dotted with Ciao Bella t-shirts, little coliseum sculptures and Italia or Roma bags. I made my way to St Peter's in Chains church- which supposedly houses St Peters chains and houses Michelangelo's Moss- a mammoth altar. This man really is the master of sculpture! I then walked and saw my first view of the Coliseum, took photos from the outside and then made my way to Palentine Hill ticket office (which is supposed to save you the queue at the Coliseum). As l walked between these two Ancient Rome structures l walked beside the Arch of Constantine- which marks one of the greatest turning points in history- the military coup that made Christianity mainstream. In A.D. 312, Emperor Constantine defeated his rival Maxentius in one crucial battle, and Constantine became sole Emperor and promptly legalized Christianity. So of course l had to stop and ponder this arch for awhile and all that it represented for my own life.
I then made my way through a little of Palentine hill an found a beautiful rose garden with an amazing view stretching over Ancient Rome- with the Coliseum to the right and the Roman Forum below me and Capitol Hill to my left. It definitely helped put some of the Ancient city into perspective.
I then made my way back to tour through the Coloseum, having discovered at the Palentine Hill ticket office that it was National Culture week in Italy- which meant everything was free!! Except of course the Vatican. Boy was l soooo happy and saved so much money for the next two days! If you can time your visit to Italy during this week you will save yourself a lot of Euros! Built in AD 80 the Coloseum represents Rome at its grandest and when killing became a spectator sport, the Romans wanted to share the fun with as many people as possible. Reading my guide book of what went on in this place almost made me sick to my stomach. How such acts of brutality were seen as entertainment is beyond me! Of course l took photos of myself with my thumbs up- a sign that the opponent should live- while thumbs down was to die. I didn't spend too long there as l had much to see in one day, but after visiting l do now want to watch "Gladiator."
I then made my way through the Roman Forum with history all around me- soaring above my head in the shape of pillars and arcs. And artwork laying at my feet would have had to have been the most beautiful rubble l have ever seen- it all totally blew my mind! At one stage l was sitting on a former piece of some column or temple with amazing engravings under my bottom! I couldn't believe l was sitting on something l thought should be behind glass in a museum somewhere! Walking through the Forum on the rocky path of the Via Sacra in the heat took me a good two hours as l learnt from my trusty guidebook what each piece of rubble represented in history. The forum was the political, religious and commercial cener of the city and these few acres of land became the center of the civilised world. I tried hard to imagine the once gleaming white buildings topped with golden roofs and pople walking around in toga's and chariots racing through the Via Sacra. I viewed the Arch of Titus, the massive Basilicia of Constantine as l walked upon the same large basalt stone that Casear Auguszus walked along over 2,000 years ago to the Forum's main square. Rome was born right here were l was standing- as according to the strange legend of the twin brothers Romulus (Rome) and Remus who were orphaned in infancy and raised by a she-wolf on top of the Palentine! Growing up, they fought hard to get dates and so they attacked the nearby Sabine tribe and kidnapped their women. After they made peace, this once marshy valley became the meeting place and then the trading centre for the scattered tribe on the surrounding hillsides. Their story fascinated me, and obviously others who decided to make artwork of the wolf with the suckling baby twins underneath- one of the most disturbing sculptures l viewed at the Capitol hill museum later! I passed the Temple of Julius Caesar and countless other important temples and basilica's and palace ruins. The house and beautiful remaining grounds of the Vestal Virgins is what captured me the most though. The two pools and numerous beautiful sculptures that still remained of this place, where once the six vestal virgins lived who were chosen from Noble families before they reached the age of 10 and served a 30 year term of chastity (aged 10-40).....perhaps that is where they got that saying that life begins at 40! If they found any that were no longer virgins, she was strapped to a funeral car, paraded through the streets of the Forum, taken to a crypt, given a loaf of bread and a lamp and buried alive!! Quite a choice between fates!
Next l visited the Mammertine Prison- which once held Saint Peter and Paul and was where l stood amazed as l viewed the column where Peter was once chained to and viewed the upside down cross commemorating Peter's upside-down crucifixion. I stood in silence for several moments in the cold, damp and mouldy prison basement and just through of what this man did in his life and all he endured. Feeling slightly overwhelmed, l become even more so waiting walking around the Capitol Hill museum and viewing Michelangelo's magnificent Renaissance square. I then made my way to the Pantheon and had some of the best reputed gelato in Rome. I had over 150 flavours to choose from and l ended up choosing a strange combination of cappuccino and strawberry, which was sooooo good and was only 2 Euro! A bargain...l love how cheap all things l love are in Italy...coffee, pizza, pasta and ice cream!!
Tired and rather hungry despite the gelato l quickly made my way to the very beautiful and very crowded Trevi fountain and tossed a coin over my shoulder to ensure l would one day return again to this amazing city and country! I then walked to the also very crowded Spanish steps where l posed for photos with roses a passing by salesman just gave me!! I then hurried to our hostel where l met up with Sarah (my NZ friend) and an Australian girl called Mel and we went and met up with Ryan- a New Zealand Catholic friend of Sarah's who was our tour guide for the next two days in Rome! He lives in Rome and works as a tour guide there- so we caught the end of his night tour around Rome running late as l wanted to get more slices of the amazing pizza l had discovered 4 doors from our hostel. It was a fun and interesting tour and we got to do it for free...once again l love Cultural week in Italy and friends of friends! We went out with Ryan and some of his friends for dinner in a very crowded and nice pasta restaurant where l ate a great Brushette, home-made gnocchi and poured wine out of painted ceramic vases. It was a great dinner after an amazing but tiring day in Rome!
On my second day in Rome Sarah and l decided to visit the nearby National Museum where my guide book once again explained the story behind what seemed like thousands of bust heads. It was great though- l felt like l learnt all of Rome's political history in an hour! We then headed to where the original Roman baths belonged- now a huge and lovely church called the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli and listened to the organist playing. The acoustics where amazing in that huge church! We then walked past some of the most beautiful fountains l have ever seen- l would seriously be quite content just walking around Rome and discovering one beautiful fountain after another!
But l had a bus to catch- an hour long ride standing up the whole way to the Catacomby of San Callisto- the burial place mostly for Christians whose graves spanned over 600 kms!!! Of course our tour was a limited one, but a very interesting one taken by a cute old Italian/English speaking Priest. I was surprised with how small some of the Catacombs for adults were and it was interesting to see the remaining paintings on and around some of the catacombs- where l learnt that the fish symbol was used because the first letter of the words "Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Saviour," spelt "fish" in Greek. SO that now explains the Christian fish symbol everyone seems to have on their cars! The Catacombs were definitely worth the day trip there and back- though l was a little disappointed as l didn't get to see any actual bones...but l would see plentiful the next morning!
After a long day of commuting and sightseeing, we tried to meet Ryan and go visit his English speaking Catholic Church beside the river that runs through Rome but we couldn't seem to be able to find it anywhere. So we ended up sitting by a fountain opposite the mouth of truth and walking along side the river and onto the small island in the middle of it watching the sunset over Rome. We then somehow managed to find ourselves in the lovely Old Jewish Quarter where we found and followed the sound of Indian sounding live music and banging of cymbals and singing coming from an apartment building. An old man playing and banging a small pair of cymbals with all his might looked out of the window down to us on the street below and motioned for us to come the join the festivities. I was curious but we had to move on but l got a very funny photo of him playing and singing in the apartment window to us! We then found our way back to the one place l didn't particularly like in Roma- the Largo Argentina- or Sacred Area- where an excavated put housed some of the oldest ruins in Rome and today is a refuge for over 250 cats! Julius Caesar was also assassinated near here. We somehow managed to bump into Ryan an hour later, where we went out for coffee at a book shop and discussed Catholic traditions versus Christian. All hungry after a big day Ryan took us to one of the best pizzerias in Rome where we lined up for over 45minutes trying not to get run over by passing scooters rushing past and watching the locals just walk up and get in straight away! But the wait was worth it- we managed to somehow get a table outside situated in a small laneway where people walked past and l ate the best pizza l have ever had....and Ryan paid for us all!! Loving this vacation! Afterwards we walked to and had a drink at the very famous Campo de Fiori (place to be in Rome at night)....where Ryan told us a story of how one night at around 2am a game of soccer started up in the Campo where all of Rome seemed to join in and it got so rowdy that Police had to come with gas bombs and all!! Somehow we ended up at a Irish Pub....as all backpackers seem too!
Our third and last day in Rome was the busiest yet! As the saying goes- no time to rest for the wicked! Us three girls spent the early morning visiting the Capuccin Crypt- where below a church this crypt houses the bones of more than 4,000 monks all artistically arranged into Chandeliers, borders and goodness knows what else! It was one of the strangest most disturbing places l have ever visited! It left me with Goosebumps all over and Mel left not feeling that well! Its definitely a must see, though you cannot take photos so you will have to visit it for yourself to experience the spine chilling effect it has on people!
Next we visited the Mouth of Truth- made famous in "A Roman Holiday" starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Sarah told us that once people could have their hands cut off by a man behind the mouths cement wall who decided (with no knowledge as to the truth) whether or jot the person was guilty of the crime they were being accused of. We of course put our hands rather nervously in to the mouth with over 20 Japanese tourists we had raced against there staring at us mimicking the scene from A Roman Holiday. We then ran past the Circus Maximus- where Ben Hur would have once rode his Chariot in the races held in this now large park which still holds the outline of the original track- though now people jog and run around it rather than race chariots!
We made our way to the Vatican where joined Ryan and his Vatican tour for the rest of the morning (for free of course...though still had to pay the 10 Euro student entry fee). Whilst lining up for the tour in the boiling hot sun luckily l had brought my umbrella...always being prepared for any sort of weather being a Melbourne girl and us girls all stood underneath it while we ate some of the best gelato in Rome sold across the road from where the Vatican massive queue stands. Finally reaching the entrance to the Vatican us girls raced each other up the famous spiral stairway (which amazingly has both and up and a down) and once l got to the top l realised that l didn't exactly know what to expect from this other country l had now crossed into for a couple of hours! But l was completely blown away by the Raphael rooms, the amazing map gallery with its incredibly ceiling and the hall of tapestries where the tapestries were so elaborate and perfectly crafted l thought they were paintings! Ofcourse at the end of Ryan tour we got to see the famous Sistine Chapel were l just sat and starred at the Last Judgement and ceiling al painted by the quite simply amazing Michelangelo! To describe it in one word- captivating- l just could not stop starring in the 20 minutes l was there. I couldn't call it beautiful (but many others do) but for some reason it captured me and l could not pull my eyes away from the walls and ceilings surrounding me. Alas, we had to hurry and reach St. Peter's Basilica which l unfortunately barely remember seeing anything more than a flash or blur of as Sarah and l quite literally slid in our thongs around the whole Basilica in less than 3 minutes! My feet so tired after my three days walking in Rome and due to the smooth marble flooring and our thongs we decided the quickest was to get around without slipping over was to slide. So that's what we did! I slid around the Basilica at what felt like the speed of sound- much to the dismay of those around us who just starred at us tow crazy girls- probably thinking we were annoying tourists spoiling the holiness and serenity of the place- which l think we probably were! But we only had 45 minutes to be on a train- and in the mean time had a metro to catch and had to still pick up our bags from our hostel and get to the train station! I can safely say l have never run so much in my life as l did in those 45 minutes. We made it to our train with 2 minutes to spare which took us across Italy onto our next adventure- to Italian port town of Ancona.
Roma did capture, amaze and transfix me. Its history and sheer beauty left me wear and exaughsted yet still wanting more. I loved the take-away pizza four doors from my hostel, the amazing gelato on every street corner, the streets lined and buzzing with motorbikes, the fact that there was water, churches, ruins and fountains around every corner. And of course that fact that l was in Italy- surrounded by all things Italian! My time in Roma was once again a most enjoyable whirlwind l hope l never forget! Ciao Bella!!! Ciao Roma!!

(Tip- stay near Termini train station to be close to metro and train, but check out and research accomodation there very carefully as dangerous place. The Yellow hostel was great!! Definetly reccomend. Also l would allow 3 days minimum in Rome to see all the sights- you need one day for the Vatican and St Peters and need to check its opening times as l think it is closed on Sundays and Wednesdays. Go on cultural week to save yourself money! Check out hostelworld guide to Rome as good one day itinery base a tips on eating and buy Rick Stevens Rome book to avoid costly tours when you can do it all yourself for alot less money and at your own pace).

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