A fine line between style and travel.

Roma (part 1)

First, I am Soooo sorry about the long silence. We’ve been waking up early, and coming home late most nights. Plus we haven’t had internet in some of our locations. And I started a new game on my Nintendo DS, which has preoccupied me. I know, excuses! Here is a bit of an update.

Roma!

Our hotel was quite a distance from the city centre, but was modern and ran a shuttle to the local train station. Alas, the shuttle service wasn’t actually very convenient. On our first day we asked for a ride but we were told it was unavailable by the girls at the desk. and watched it pull up as we exited the lobby. The following morning, we asked if we could catch the first service and were told to wait outside. As we piled onto the full bus, and they asked our room numbers, we were reprimanded for not having a reservation as the bus was fully booked. Luckily, some people didn’t turn up and we got the ride anyway. Incidentally, there was also a Japanese couple who had been told the same thing as us.

We also tried to book the bus to pick us up that evening (10.15pm).

Pretty, but stupid girl at the desk: “Oh, we usually don’t do that. You should just call us.”

Us: “We tried that last night, but there isn’t a working pay phone at the station.”

PbSGaFD “Ok, we’ll write it in, but you can’t be late!” This last bit is particularly stressed.

That night, we got to our station at 10, and waited until 10.30. No bus. We caught the metro bus. When we questioned the guy at the front desk, he pulled out the reserve schedule only to see a piece of paper had been stapled onto the sheet, covering our reservation. “Oops, didn’t see it,” he says with a chuckle. Yea buddy, real funny when you’re stuck at a station in a foreign city!

Rome was beautiful though. It was clean in comparison to the southern Italian towns, which was enough to win me straight away! Naples had Rubbish piling up on every street corner. “We use too much” our Naples guide explained, as he gave us another ‘fresca’ water bottle each despite D and I always carrying our own.

Our first stop in Rome was the Santa Maria degli Angeli, a church which featured a Galileo exhibit. This was not on our “places to see in Rome“ list, and we were pleasantly surprised to see the ‘science and religion’ exhibit. The church had a giant pendulum and a hole in the ceiling which shone onto the time of day on the floor.

Outside the Basilica

A sculpture inside.

Foro Trajano

Vittorio Emanuele Monument. Solid, stark white marble. Locals tend not to like it and call it the wedding cake or typewriter.

The next day we travelled to Vatican city, the line for the museum was huge, so we opted to book tickets later in the week, and visited the rest that day.  St Pietro was huge!

One major factor that irked me, the entire time we were in Rome and later Paris, was the inconsiderate tourists.  Entering most of the churches women are asked to dress respectfully- knee length skirts and no bare shoulders. I came prepared with a scarf to wrap around myself. In the queue to enter the security were checking for appropriate dress and pulling aside those that didn’t meet standard. A lot of women bought ‘Roma’ scarfs from street merchants to cover up, but one woman approached me and asked for my scarf on the promise she would give it back once past the guards. Erm- NO! A) the point is to remain appropriate the entire time inside. B) I think the guards are smarter than that, and likely would kick both of us out. C) If you were too stupid to come prepared, and too cheap to buy a scarf, I see no point to help you.

The other pet peeve I had was the number of people using flash when specifically asked not too. After all, a lot of the shots would be ruined by flash, taking away the atmosphere of the places. And it was completely rude, the museum asked for no flash for a reason.

Vatican City

Inside St Peters.

The Museum for Pope John Paul II

When we finished exploring the Vatican, we walked to  Castel sant’Angelo. It had a giant spiral stairwell/ramp leading to a courtyard and galleries. The view from the top was particularly good too.

D and I purchased a Roma pass for the duration of our stay. This allowed free public transport for 3 days, 2 free museum entries and reduced price for the other museums. At Eu25 each, it was easy to get our moneys worth, as Sant Angelo Castle was $8 and the Colosseum was $12, and we definitely spent more than $5 on transport. We then got reduced entry to everything else.

We attempted to find a back alley tourist-free restaurant to eat lunch in- but this was virtually impossible. Instead, we settled for one of better value places and I was able to eavesdrop on the Brits and Americans eating near us.  Food in Rome wasn’t as good as the rest of Italy, lots of small cafes near main streets and attractions water food down for Brits and Americans.  Food was much pricier, and finding cheap local haunts was folly- apparently Romans don’t eat out in Rome.

From there we walked to Piazza Navona to see Bernini sculptures, Trevi Fountain, which was crowded beyond belief, the Pantheon which was full of disrespectful tourists, and the Spanish Staircase which had the pushiest street merchants. I know we are part of the problem, but these sites would have been much more spectacular if it weren’t for the crowds of tourists.

Sant'Agnese in Agone in Piazza Navona

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini

The Pantheon, the bottom two meters are missing so I could get a tourist free photo.

Trevi Fountain. Also the scene of the main picture up top, where I am one of Many tourists.

Street merchants and beggars are everywhere. It is easy to lose patience with them and question their authenticity. Street beggar women appear to have a ‘uniform’. Dark colours, and full coverage- long skirts and headscarves, kneeling in prayer with a cup and note scrawled on cardboard. Around churches are the disfigured beggars, missing limbs or with golfball sized lumps on their heads.

Street merchants are at least doing something for you money, but frustrated me with their pushiness. The rose sellers were the worst. We encountered one nice merchant outside Trevi fountain, who took a photo of us on our camera for free. When D gave him a euro, he insisted on taking a Polaroid of us- his trade. Outside the Spanish stairs, we hit a very pushy rose-seller. He and his mates crowded the fountain at the bottom of the stairs and didn’t take no for an answer. They thrust a rose into my hand, saying ‘Is a gift’ then talked to Darren about how pretty his lady was. D and I made it clear we didn’t want roses and tried walking away, but he insisted I take it. “Three is good luck!” he repeated, throwing another two into my hands, “some money now?”. No, but I may kick you in the nuts.

We came across a Michael Jackson busker at the Piazza del Popolo, who was rather unique.  He had three costume changes (jackets), and managed to get a small donation from us where others failed.

Piazza del Popolo

D had booked an underground tour of the Colosseum, which was really cool as we had access to areas usually closed off. We saw the underground area where the gladiators and animals waited for their turn. The underground area was actually two storey, with elevator style systems operated by slaves.  On the second level, animal cages were opened and final preparations made before releasing performers to the stage.  We also went to the top, and got a better view of the Forum (ruins next to the Colosseum) which is also off limits usually.

Colosseum underground.

Arco di Costantino from the top of the Colosseum.

The Colosseum- we were under that staged area.

Next we headed into the Forum and Mons Palatinus, a large area of Roman ruins. Here’s some helpful advice- don’t forget to grab a map like we did. Actually I wanted to find a map, but as they we couldn’t see where they were immediately, D insisted we would be fine.  The forum is a big place. Take water and snacks, because it is a big dry place- luckily with a few drinking fountains around.

A race or games track in the ruins.

The Forum

Stay tuned for the end of Rome and our brief stay in Turin.

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