Friday, 17 June 2011

When in Rome....................

We were told the temperatures would rise the further south we went. As we left Venice heading for Rome early in the morning you could already feel the heat in the sun. The bus is air conditioned so it very pleasant however the cold and flu are doing the far so good. The problem was I was in the last seat but one and the sick ones are gravitating to the back of the bus to get away from everyone. That's OK as long as you are not at the back. So there was coughing and spluttering behind me all the way to Rome so I have my fingers crossed the bugs weren't flying my way.

It was a long haul through to Rome but there was some lovely scenery along the way. Beautiful homes just as you imagine in the midst of row upon row of grape vines. At one of our highway stops Ambrogio our tour driver who is a lovely and very funny Italian man said that the hotel has a swimming pool. I thought he might be joking. We were pleasantly surprised to see a lovely looking hotel and even more surprised to see the wonderful rooms that are up to the Hilton standard. Even better I can choose which king size bed I sleep in tonight.

The pool was a bonus. 3O metres and 8 lanes 93.75 metres deep) and surrounded by deck chairs. It was so hot that there really was nothing better to do than go for a swim....only problem was that there is normally about an hour before we get bags delivered to the room. So nothing better to do than to visit the bar, wait for bags (and togs)  then swim!

The hotel provides a free shuttle service into central Rome so armed with a map, Marlyse and I set off to explore the Eternal City. Most others were going out on an optional excursion for a Roman dinner ......pass. It was extremely hot and bustling in the centre of Rome. Traffic everywhere and in some ways worse than Athens, less scooters but more cars and more crazy Italian drivers. ...we have often heard "it’s just the Italian way" used as an excuse for most things.

Any visitor to Rome MUST visit the infamous Fontana dei Trevi( Trevi Fountain) so after a few wrong turns we finally made it the same time at least 1500 were visiting it too. Its 18th century enormous baroque stonework ruled over by a large statue of Neptune. It is said if you toss a coin over your left shoulder into the fountain (without looking back) it will ensure that you will someday return to Rome. Apparently some 3000 Euros are thrown into the fountain every day. The Polizia are there blowing on their whistles if so much as you think like you are going to put your hand in the water! The whistles are constantly being blown! We were going to have dinner out but the heat was such that we settled on a gelato instead and sat on a bench and watched Rome and its people go by.

It was an early start for our sightseeing this morning and that was so that we could beat the crowds. Believe me the crowds needed beating. We had a very good local guide who used every opportunity to explain really interesting things along the way. First stop off was Vatican City which felt very special to enter the smallest city in the world at 44 square kms with a population of 800.

When each Pope commissions a new part, building or structure in the City that Popes crown and crest is included. The entrance we went through (into the museum) was commissioned by the last Pope John Paul II and this was high above the entrance door. Security was tight and all bags were x-rayed. We had been given a very interesting background into the history of how the Vatican was established as it is today. The museum is enormous and you could spend all day there but we saw an excellent selection from statues to tapestry to mosaics and paintings.

Bottle you would expect!

We moved on through into the Sistine Chapel. A man I had talked to on the shuttle bus going from Cambridge to Lake Karapiro for the World Rowing Champs had recently finished a tour with Cosmos ...part of Globus family of brands. When I asked him what the highlight of his tour was he had replied the Sistine Chapel. All I can say was I understand why!

Our guide allowed us some time to be overwhelmed by the paintings in this famous landmark. If that wasn't enough she began a wonderful story about Michelangelo and the progress of the paintings. How he did it, why he started where he started and why the paintings change in form and how they know all of these facts was woven into an amazing (almost gripping) story that had me listening to the guides every word and soaking up the history like a sponge. When the first part of his painting was revealed (nobody was allowed to see the progress) everyone loved it except the master himself. The forms were quite small and from the ground some of the intricate nature of them was lost. The other two thirds of the chapel ceiling have body forms that are much more pronounced and the figures are larger with a 3rd dimension illusion.

The guide was  passionate about the history and keen to share her knowledge with us. She explained how Michelangelo was asked much later to return and paint the end wall where there are over 400 faces and the symbolic parts of it. It includes a self-portrait of Michelangelo (and why he did that) and also what he painted to represent the difficulties the Pope was giving him at the time. It was really a very moving experience and one I shall not forget.

From there we moved into St Peters Basilica....all too much in one day. It was another structure of such historical significance. I have never seen so many nuns and priests in one place at the same time and at one point we had to stand to one side for a cardinal and his entourage that was passing by to view a tomb. The size of the sculptures, lettering, mosaics were designed to ensure that people felt that they were not in some enormous building (which it is) but rather was designed to give a sense that it was a small and welcoming basilica. We exited into monumental St Peters Square and were told that the Pope had been there the day before for some kind of celebration. Many on the tour visited the official Vatican gift shop where items purchased (yes much more than rosary beads) could be left to be blessed (not by the Pope- he had more important things to do that day) and delivered to the hotel that evening.

Time for a group photo arranged by a professional will be interesting to see how that turns out!

If that wasn't enough we then joined the throngs of people to visit the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. While I don't know what the temperature was my guess was well above 30. Thankfully we sailed through as we had a group booking and we were told the queue line was over 2 hours. However for those people the wait in the hot sun is worthwhile...we were just glad we didn't have to. The Colosseum is a crumbling oval bulk but is the greatest monument in ancient Rome and it is not too hard to be impressed with its size, its majesty and its ability to conjure up the cruel games that were played out for the pleasure of the Roman masses. Some time spent looking at the structure of this awe inspiring venue will soon have you struck by at the knowledge of masonry of this time and the sheer amount of man power needed to build it in its day.

While walking through the Roman Forum there were archaeologists in action as there are apparently all over Rome. As Rome fell on the many occasions into a crumbling mess the rubble was levelled and Rome rebuilt on top. So there is still so much history to be discovered in the pain staking methodical process used by the archaeologists. Although the Forum consists mostly of ruins scattered confusingly around a sun baked terrain it represents almost 1000 years of Roman power that preceded the legendary decadence of the later Roman emperors.

Back at the hotel early afternoon and another swim. The refreshing water and after a long sightseeing session (we left the hotel at 7.15am this morning) was very welcome. The guide told us that the bidet is best used for soaking the feet in cold water and that we must try it! I was great! After a time to relax 3 of us decided to go back into the city and visit the 4 things that most of the tour group were doing as an option that afternoon...but on our own and at our own pace. An Italian meal was also on the agenda. So back on the shuttle at 4pm with map we went.

On our way to the 18th century monumental baroque staircase Scala di Spagna ( Spanish Steps)  the traffic was stopped by a large number of Polizia in cars  and those on bikes sped past at a great pace whistles blowing . All was revealed when we think it must have been the President (large entourage and cavalcade - Italian flags on the car) or someone equally important went past and then all returned to normal. Our guide this morning had said that traffic stoppages are common ....sometimes because it is the Presidents lunchtime!!

We stopped off again at the Trevi Fountain to be doubly sure we will return!!! Heading off to the Pantheon first built in 27BC but it has been rebuilt several times since. The present structure is the result of a reconstruction by the Emperor Hadrian early second century AD. The Pantheon is in Paizza della Rotonda named so for the obelisk fountain in the middle of the square. It is in a wonderful state of preservation and it is here that we see a small band playing and decided to stop for our Italian dinner ...bruschetta, Margarita pizza and wine. 

After a short walk through the lovely Piazza Navona, a beautiful square, unspoiled by new buildings and traffic. The shape stems from the Stadium of Domitian whose ruins lie beneath and chariot races were once held there.  Again a fountain (Berninis Fountain of the Four Rivers) is in the centre along with artists displaying their pieces of work. Marlyse bought a piece from one artist who signed it on the spot. Some of the oldest streets in Rome surround Piazza Novona.

 It had been a hectic day on our feet so we moved swiftly to catch the 7.15 shuttle. Safely on board we rounded the first corner and ran smack into the start of a political demonstration. They came down the steps close to Capitoline Hill in their 100’s and staged a sit down on the road right in front of our bus and all the other traffic. As I was sitting in the front seat I had a wonderful view but at times it was getting quite heated in good Italian fashion. Lots of passion, arm waving and gesticulations from both the demonstrators and those stuck in the traffic who had jumped out of their cars to complain. The Polizia were quite quick on the scene in full riot gear but did not spring into action in the hope it was going to remain a "peaceful" sit in- on the road. There we sat for some 30 mins and eventually the poor shuttle bus driver had to reverse for some 200 metres to the sound of a resounding cheer of all 42 of us (full) on the bus when we were moving again.

So a quick use of the bidet for foot soaking, a repack of the bag and its off to Tuscany ( stop off in Florence for leather shopping ......oops sightseeing) tomorrow.

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