Monday, October 30, 2006

Monday, 30th October – Rome

Well, today started fairly badly, improved slowly but finished up very pleasant.

We got up early to head out for a big day in Rome. As we emerged from our room, there was a man in a suit waiting for us, saying he was very sorry they had made a mistake they should not have put us in that room. He didn’t seem to know the whole story of our multiple room changes so we filled him in. He promised us a much better room but said there were builders arriving today to convert the room we were in into an office, so we didn’t think we had much choice. So we walked to the new room which turned out to be the smelly room from yesterday! At that point we said forget it, we will find somewhere else to stay (and a few other things) and suddenly it was all OK, we could stay in the room we were in, the office would wait. A very dodgy operation, it seems, but this room is quite comfortable, and it would cost us half a day to find somewhere else & move so we stayed. But we worried all day whether our belongings would still be in the room when we got back (they were).

We were still laughing (or maybe it was hysteria) when we finally headed out for our somewhat shortened day of sightseeing. We planned to do the “Caesar shuffle” as Rick calls it – a day in ancient Rome. So we started at Palatine Hill, where the palaces of the Roman emperors used to be, and also the site of the earliest settlements in Rome. We were not willing to spend €9 on a guide book, and there were no maps or signs or information of any kind. Much of the site was closed for maintenance, so we wandered around for a while, with no idea what we were looking at, and gave up.

The Roman Forum is one of the most famous ruins in the world, and with all the movies, books and even Shakespeare, it was really exciting to actually be there. Unfortunately we weren’t the only ones who thought that, and it was absolutely packed. And really hot! And the audio guide was really boring! We grumbled for a while, then found a shady corner, cooled down (literally and metaphorically), gave up on the audio guide and decided to ignore the crowds and try to get a feel for what it was like during the glory days of Rome. In the end we enjoyed our walk in the footsteps of the past.

Right next to the Forum is the Colosseum. We found it easier than the forum to imagine it in its heyday - full of cheering crowds, blood sports, lions, slaves and gladiators. It’s such a familiar building, it is a thrill just to be there. We lingered for quite a while, just trying to cement the images into our memories.

Next stop was Capitol Hill, location of the government in Roman times and still today. The main attraction was the views you get over the Forum, and when we got there it was late afternoon and the light was just right. Rick showed us a short-cut from there to the top of the Victor Emanuel Monument (the huge, white building that dominates the Rome skyline) for great views of Rome.

We walked down the hill to the Pantheon, a remarkably well preserved Roman building and a marvel of Roman architecture. We would have been impressed with it on its own account, but were particularly interested because it was the dome which inspired Brunelleschi in his design of the Duomo in Florence – the first dome to be built in 1,000 years. In fact you can see a small square hole in the Pantheon ceiling where Brunelleschi was allowed to remove some material to analyse it.

By now it was getting quite dark, and we soon found ourselves on Piazza Navona. Sadly the Fountain of the Four Rivers was covered with scaffolding, but the Piazza itself, which is quite large (it used to be a race track and is still shaped like one) was buzzing with street artists, buskers, hawkers, tourists and cafes. Quite a lively scene. We pressed on towards the Trevi Fountain. It is unusual for such a large fountain because the square it is in is small and no roads lead directly to it, so you just wander along small lanes and then, suddenly, there it is in all its magnificence (and a few thousand tourists too – at least 6 deep all around the fountain). We managed to manoeuvre our way to a good viewpoint and then sat in awe and just watched – the fountain and the people.

Our feet were telling us they had had enough for one day, but we had to get to the Spanish Steps. We walked past some very smart shops, and classy restaurants till the crowds told us we had arrived. Again a lively, energetic atmosphere, with people just enjoying themselves, and sitting on the steps people-watching. We had been recommended to go to a restaurant nearby, so we obeyed – and were very glad we did. They do an antipasto buffet which is fabulous, so we piled our plates high and had a very agreeable meal to end the day.

We were very relieved to find our room intact when we returned, so the day ended up on a much more positive note, and we are looking forward to our last 2 days in Rome.