Rome-ing the Eternal City
Trip Start Oct 07, 2008
31Trip End Dec 10, 2008
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Mostly intact, we popped out at the train station and took a few minutes to realise that all the swarms of people we could see were heading to St Peter's for the Pope's weekly public appearance at Mass - due, by pure luck, to start in half an hour
Foiled in our initial attempts to obtain a map, we just wandered for several hours through marble halls full of stunning Greek and Roman sculpture, rooms with gilded ceilings and brilliant frescoes, halls full of tapestries and ancient maps, more sculptures, and courtyards full of tour groups and yet more sculptures. Among them, several really stood out, particularly the 500-year-old Laocoon sculpture, frozen in his anguished death throes and so realistic he almost seems to breathe. We carried on through the stunning, vividly coloured Raphael rooms, past an exhibition of 'modern' religious art that somehow looked clumsy and childlike beside the smooth perfection of the earlier sculptures, and then, finally, to the Sistine Chapel.
The Chapel really is everything you imagine it to be and more - despite the presence of stern guards shushing everyone at regular intervals, the room buzzed with excitement
After that, the remaining treasures of the Vatican Museum seemed somewhat lack-lustre by comparison, and we hardly took in the ancient globes, elborate ceilings and inlaid wood as we made our way out, senses still reeling from the sublime beauty of Michaelangelo's vision. We headed back down the double-helix staircase and out into the bright sunshine, where we promptly had to fight off street hawkers with restaurant brochures ("You no come my restaurant? You breaka my heart!"), and vendors selling tiny replica statues, rosaries, postcards and Pope t-shirts. We had hoped to go back into St Peter's Cathedral to see Michaelangelo's Pieta statue again, arguably the most beautiful piece of art in the world, but the Pope's address was still finishing off and guards in the bright striped Swiss uniform patrolled the entrance to St Peters. We did catch a glimpse of the Pope over the thousands of bobbing heads in the square, but it hardly seemed a fair trade - we would much rather have seen the Pieta
We decided to make the most of the stunning, blue-sky day and walk to the Colosseum, via the statue-lined bridges and winding streets of Rome. We stopped in at a little cafe for a rich, strong cafe latte, checked out a little art gallery selling oil paintings, and haggled for touristy Christmas presents at an outdoor market. We got fairly lost for a while en route to the Colosseum thanks to our free but poorly photocopied map from the cruise ship, but it was a beautiful day and we stumbled across a beautiful riverside walkway and a collection of Roman ruins we had never seen before. We eventually asked some passing Japanese tourists for directions (they always have maps!) and found our way to the ever-spectacular Colosseum. A wee stop for photos and some chocolate-rum gelato, and it was back to the Metro.
Arriving at the Termini, we discovered our train was about to leave and booked it at a run all the way to the other side of the sprawling train station before collapsing in our seats just in time, sweaty and breathless as the train pulled away. Back on the boat, luxury ensued in the form of another fabulous dinner, a live comedy show in the theatre, and another evening hot tub - life is tough! We realized at some point that we had forgotten to stop by Trevi fountain and throw in a coin, but that aside, we definitely plan to head back to Rome some day.
All our best from Italy,
Dan and Gabes