Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Summer of Fun: Rome, Italy

Read Summer of Fun here, and Italy Part One.

28 May
I wasn't in a rush to depart Florence for Rome, so I shouldered my backpack, grabbing a coffee and a croissant before jumping on the train back to Roma Termini. I had low expectations of Rome and to be honest, my expectations remained relatively unchanged.

You know when something happens and it may not necessarily be that person or that place's fault, but the memory tars it forever? Well, that happened in Rome. I'll get to that later.

If you're going to be in Rome for a few days, I recommend getting a Roma Pass. For me, it turned out to be a waste of money but if you'll be there a few days and you won't be in shitty mood, then the Roma Pass saves you both time and money. It gives you unlimited rides on the public transport system (something I didn't use because no damn bus ever arrived) and between 1 and 3 entries into attractions or museums.

My bad mood began with a dreadful lunch. After the amazing food of Florence, I was already starting to wonder why I'd left. No matter, I studied my map and decided to see one of the greatest archeological sites in the world: the Colosseum.

Forgive me, please, but by this time I had spent 3 weeks looking at ruins. Ruins in Greece. Ruins and ancient sites in Egypt. By the time I made it to Rome, I had Ruin Fatigue. So I perhaps wasn't as wowed as I could have been and worked on mustering up my enthusiasm. With my Roma Pass I was able to skip the queue, had a humorous conversation with some school children in the line that went along the lines of: "Do you speak English?" "Yes." "Oh wow! What's your name? Where are you from!!" "My name is Sasha and I'm from Australia, what's your name?" before I emerged blinking into the sunlight of the ruins of the Colosseum. 


I spent some time here taking happy snaps in the bright sun, before I left and started wandering down the street. On the way, I passed a gorgeous looking fruit stall in front of another ruin, and I bought myself some grapes. Grapes because they make me think of royalty, being hand fed grapes. Each grape was about the size of a ping pong ball, they were enormous. I'm talking at length about grapes because it was a good thing that happened to me that day.

I continued wandering, and bought an overpriced bruschetta. As an aside, I've always pronounced it "broo-shet-ta", thinking I was being delightfully posh and correct. Nope. "Broo-sket-ta", people. Broo-sket-ta. After waiting for a bus for what felt like an age, I gave up and walked back to the hostel, where things began to fall apart.

I checked into my room in silence as no one looked up to say hello and I logged onto the wifi to check my social media and email.


Um…what?

We're sorry, but your flight will not be operated.

This has to be some kind of spam. I punched in the booking code and sure enough: my flight in 2 days time from Rome - Split, Croatia had been cancelled.

I panicked, as I am wont to do, and raced downstairs to use the computer. Someone else was taking an age on it and after a quick chat I discerned that they too had had their flight by Vueling cancelled. That'll teach me for buying a £50 flight through a company I'd never heard of, I thought. It was finally my turn to use the computer and I searched for other options. I complained long and loudly to anyone who would listen. I looked at the ferry to Split which had been my original idea, but because of the last minute nature of the booking this was now up to around £180 including initial train to get there.

In the end, I found the cheapest flight to be £225 from Rome to Split in the afternoon of the 30th.

Fuck.
Fuck. 
FUUUUUUUUUCK.

What a waste of money. I opted to have my Vueling flight refunded instead of credited. Looking up Vueling reviews, I discovered they have a horrendous track record, and I vowed to not only never use them again, but proclaim at every available opportunity that no one should ever use them.

Let this be a lesson to you all.

I had been intending to have a night out on the town run by the hostel that night, but I got my money back and went to bed early.

29 May
I woke up adamant to have a fresh start and to see if Rome could change my mind about it today. It worked a little bit, and Rome did redeem itself as the day went on. I had a gentle plan of action but first things first: breakfast. I had read that you can tell an authentic Italian coffee house if all the locals are standing by the counter, gulping down an espresso and generally in a hurry. I was walking on my way to the Pantheon when I spied down a side street a cafe with quite a few people. On approach, I saw the counter was three people deep with locals throwing back espressos. Perfect! I thought, and ordered myself a cappuccino (because 'mocha' never translated well), a croissant and another sweet.

I was not disappointed. The coffee was almost good enough to turn me into a proper coffee drinker, and the pastries gave me a little moment. This put me in good stead for the day and so I continued on my way to find the Pantheon.

I had not intended to visit the Trevi Fountain because I knew it was under construction, but I stumbled across it's beautiful scaffolding none-the-less. The fountain is famous for its statues and traditionally if you throw a coin in you will be blessed with returning one day to the Eternal City that is Rome. 

The Pantheon was situated in the middle of a busy, built up square and its ancient structure seemed strangely out of place in its modern and close knit surrounds. I marvelled that it was free to enter, and spent quite a bit of time inside looking at the gorgeous artworks, statues, ceilings and elaborate floor. This is ok, I thought. Rome is doing ok today.


I consulted Google maps and realised I had already walked half the way to Vatican City. I continued on and on, until I crossed a bridge and could see St Peter's Basilica rising on the horizon. As I approached, salespeople on both sides tried to sell me tours; I walked straight past each one. When I arrived at the gate, the line was enormous. I stood, taking photos of the exterior, wondering what my next plan of action was when a gentleman approached me, wanting to sell me a tour.
"I don't trust you," I said. "Explain to me what you have."
He laughed, said he understood and whipped out a pamphlet. 

"If you line up here, you'll be waiting about 3 hours," he explained, and proceeded to go through all the options. Needless to say, I crumbled and chose the most expensive tour that walked us through the 'Museum', the Sistine Chapel and the direct entry into St Peter's Basilica. I demanded to know how many people were going to be joining me on the tour as I was certain I was going to hand over my money and never see anything for it. 

In the end, it was an excellent tour. He gave me student price (hooray for looking like a child!), and I joined a group of approximately 20 people. We rounded the high walls surrounded the Vatican City, joking that we were quite literally circumnavigating a country. We grabbed our headsets, and set off through the museum. 

It's not every day you can walk around a whole country.

The museum isn't so much a museum as an incredible collection of artwork and sculptures, ceiling paintings and elaborate tile-art that Pope's of ages past would collect and display here, at first for their own private pleasure but eventually opening it up to the people. Some of my favourites included the 3D ceiling paintings, the giant Greek sculptures and the ancient maps of Italy that adorned one of the corridors. It's amazing how, without aerial views, they were able to create such intricate and accurate maps.


Our next stop was the Sistine Chapel. We were told to put away our cameras, cover our shoulders, and be silent. We stepped through the door to see floor to ceiling paintings on the walls, and the famous ceiling and front wall by Michelangelo. Our guide had described to us some interesting things to look out for in the paintings, including:
  • Michelangelo was basically dared to paint the ceiling. He was a sculptor, not a painter, and his contemporaries didn't think he could do it. It took him 4 years and cost his most of his eyesight from the paint splashing into his eyes.
  • On the ceiling, see how the figures are quite small on one end and become bigger by the other. This is because, when Michelangelo began painting, he didn't realise that the figures would be so difficult to see from the ground, so he started making them bigger.
  • On The Last Judgement, he painted himself into the old man shedding his skin
SILENCE, a voice in a microphone boomed. SILENCIA.

I was startled out of my reverie. I had shuffled, along with about 500 other people, from one side of the room to the other, looking up and down and sideways. There was supposed to be complete silence in here, and the guards were not shy about shouting about it. A woman walked past me with her phone  looking suspiciously like it was filming the ceiling, and I could see the screen light reflecting on her hand.

It was time to leave the Chapel. It was interesting, but the amount of people and the shouting guards detracted from the experience. The tour was over and, skipping the queue, we were able to enter St Peter's Basilica.

Now. Here, my breath was taken away. I hadn't known what to expect - I think I had expected to feel like this entering the Sistine Chapel, which in hindsight and in comparison was completely underwhelming. I don't have words to describe the beauty inside the Basilica. Small windows in the ceiling let shafts of light filter down. Enormous, Roman lettering encircled the tops of the walls; candles were lit and the place held a lovely sense of hush, despite the amount of people. I spent quite some time in here, wandering slowly, patting the foot of St Peter for luck, and most especially - looking up. 


Feeling quite satisfied that I had gotten the most out of The Vatican, it was time to depart. On my walk back to the hostel, I grabbed some food, some more gelato and saw two nuns posing, taking photos of each other in front of a monument. I decided that I was ready to leave Rome, and so had a lovely dinner with my hostel roommates (lasagna, this time!) before having an early night - ready to fly to Croatia the next day.


***
Perhaps if I had visited Rome first, and then Florence, I wouldn't have been so jaded. The busy streets, the hawkers, the selfie stick sellers and the scarf sellers, the busy streets and the poor food and customer service soured me. Adding to the mix my flight debacle and I was unfairly judgemental of Rome, The Eternal City.

However, Italy has not seen the last of me. I've yet to return to Florence, and say hello to Venice and Cinque Terre. I have so much more pasta and pizza to consume and gelato to devour and artwork to admore.

Til next time, Italy, ciao, but for now I am off to Croatia…


xxx

Inside the ancient Colosseum, where I imagined the Gladiators waging battle
with tigers and bears.
3D ceiling painting inside the Vatican. 
The Basilica was truly beautiful.