27 March 2013

marching around Rome, Italy

It only took a couple of hours on the train to get to Rome.  My hostel wasn't far from the station so I grabbed some tea and headed there to settle in and research some tours online.

Tuesday, 5th March I caught the metro over to the Vatican City area and wandered around and lunched until it was time to meet my tour group.  Then I left the country.  We only got to walk around the Vatican museum and courtyards.  Unfortunately, due to the previous Pope resigning, the Sistine Chapel closed just as my tour started so they could make preparations for the process of electing a new Pope.  Therefore, I didn't get to go into it and all I saw of it was a close up of the unimpressive outer side wall from one of the windows from the museum.  Each Pope has his own emblem and the emblem in the photo below is the one that represents the papal vacancy.  Does that mean I visited a country with no leadership??  Three hours of walking around viewing the type of art I'm not so interested in with a guide I found irritating to listen to and I had had more than plenty of the Vatican.

My Wednesday activity was how I spent most of my time in the city--wandering.  I had my map of Rome and chose some places that were highlighted as touristic places to see.  I went to visit Trevi fountain which is quite impressive for a fountain and I liked the more waterfall aspect of it rather than the typical spurting up water types.  I also visited the Spanish Steps and then wandered randomly until I got sick of being drenched and retreated to the hostel.  I spent each night chilling at the hostel organising myself for the next day, surfing the web and reading.  Since it rained quite a bit during my stay in Rome I was happy to relax in the warm, dry place.

Thursday morning, hoping for no rain, I went to do my tour of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.  Our guide was interesting, full of information and stories.  The Romans were a crazy bunch.  Their entertainment a bit gruesome for my liking.  Fascinating to hear the stories though and see the remains of where such things took place.  WE could see cells where prisoners would have been kept and small cubicals along the centre where it was likely that a new "contestant" entered the show via trap doors.  They've rebuilt some of the arena flooring to show where it was and give a snippet of visual.  We also saw where the emperor would have sat to see the show and heard the "thumbs up, thumbs down" myth.  Our guide told us they believed the soul was in the thumbs so "spare him" was signaled as a fist with the thumb protected inside.  The opposite was signaled as an open palm; the soul 'freed'.  It would also have been easier to differentiate between the two from a distance.  It was all about the entertainment level really and if it was an entertaining fight the gladiators were often spared.  Gladiators were mostly barbarians (foreigners) and easily identified by beards--the Romans being a clean shaven bunch.  But some Romans from the massive poor and struggling to survive social group chose to be gladiators.  They grew beards so it never looked like the regular Julius was down there risking his life to entertain and they could more easily imagine it was just some lesser being.  The gladiators were trained at schools in one fighting style and usually unevenly matched for a higher level of entertainment.  There was wealth and fame for those who fought well and survived many fights.

Outside the Colosseum we saw the Arch of Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome.  This arch was built quite fast compared to other structures due to the fact that Constantine had bits and pieces pulled from other monuments to construct his arch; saving both time and money on the artwork.  We then walked along the Sacred Way, one of the oldest and major Roman roads, and entered the Roman Forum where we could still see traces of the layout and remaining structures.  We heard how events in history used and changed what we could see--most of which I don't specifically remember.  We also climbed Palatine Hill which is the hill believed to be where Romulos began Rome.  There was also some more remnants of fantastic buildings up there.  After my tour I decided to go and find the Pantheon.  I passed a few plazas on the way and snapped photos here and there.  The Pantheon is an unusual circular building that was built as a temple for all the Roman gods but has since been converted into a Catholic church.  It has an impressive marble floor and of course wallpapered with typical biblical paintings.  From there I wandered back to the Spanish Steps with the intention of climbing them.  However, when I arrived I did so at the top, so I walked down them instead. I stopped for a late lunch/early tea before catching the metro back to the hostel.

Friday was my prebooked day trip out of Rome so I was up rather early and off to Plaza del Popolo.  The guide we had was super informative--not sure how he stored all that information.  He shared with us throughout the day not only about the actual places we went to see but also things we saw along the way and a bit of random history.  He was full of stories which I think makes it much easier to listen to.  I was thrilled to discover as we headed toward Pompeii that they'd started the summer season routine that week.  I thought I was going to miss out on one of the activities that drew me to pick this tour.  So instead of just going to a museum, our fist stop was the infamous Mt Vesuvius.  We drove up as far as we could go and then made the 20 minute climb to the crater.  I was buzzing just to be walking on an active volcano which was good because it dulled my disappointment about the low thick cloud that kept us from seeing anything except the volcanic dirt beneath our feet.  I never saw the crater even though I stood right next to it.  The cloud was also very moist as my fringe soaked up a stack of it just by being in it.

We then went to Naples for pizza; the place where pizza originated.  The pizza choices were the classic ones and very simple.  That seems to be the case for Italian food.  A few quality ingredients that blend well.  We heard the story of the margherita that was made for the queen who insisted on trying this raved about peasant dish.  A new pizza was created especially for her with Italian patriotism--red (tomato) white (buffalo mozzarella) and green (oregano).  I had prosciutto and mozzarella (ham and cheese with no tomato sauce) and it was delicious.  Such delicious simplicity.   Then we went to the main attraction of the day being the ruins of Pompeii so well preserved by the destructive blast of Mt Vesuvius in A.D.79. Pliny the Younger, a man on a nearby island saw a cloud like an umbrella tree and that the earth shook and that the top of the mountain blew off.  Small pebbles fell over Pompeii and those who were wise enough left.  Day two after the eruption had volcanic gases blowing over the city while the ash and rocks continued to fall.  Most of the residents were killed and buried where they were.  Because the ruins there were quite in tact compared to what I'd seen in the previous days, I had to keep reminding myself that these were actually older than Rome. There is a huge city of ruins there too.  We saw such a small part but it also poured rain on us so I was content not to wander around much longer.  We saw there an ancient gladiator school, theatres, shops, brothel, temples and a stash of found and collected items including some plaster casts from real human molds that would probably still contain their bones.

Upon returning from my day trip I readied myself for my mid-morning departure for the airport to farewell Italy and jump countries.

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