Roma, Roma, Roma!

Trip Start May 25, 2008
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Trip End Jul 04, 2008


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Sunday, June 22, 2008

What to see first in a place like this? The mighty Colosseum of course! Another reasonably early start in order for us to fit in what Trafalgar had in store for us....our local guide from Rome met us at the coach outside our hotel, and explained as much as she could about the sights & ruins we saw along the way.
The camera had a mind of its' own by now, and was madly snapping out of both sides of the coach, not knowing which places me might never see again!
The Colosseum (built around 70 AD!) is such a vast & involved structure.....it takes a bit to get your head around, and it requires one to observe it from many different angles to get a glimpse of what this place must have been like in its' heyday, when over 50000 people filled it to capacity! (stats very from 50000 to 80000!)...picture the MCG but with a tiny area in comparison on which the contests were held.
We walked down a portion of the original cobbled stone road to gain access to the grounds! Walking as a group, among many other sight-seers of course, you couldn't help but stare in wonder at everything we passed, until we found ourselves on the second level, via modern elevators. Our guide took us to an excellent vantage point, overlooking the remains of the arena floor, and proceeded to relate some great history involving this huge and important part of ancient Rome.
We were then given a little free time to roam (pardon the pun) the place ourslves....a truly amazing place alright. Once back outside on ground level, we were able to have photos taken with locals dressed as ancient gladiators (for a few euro each of course!)...a bit of fun for the girls. We bought an excellent book/DVD combo from one of quite a few stalls outside the entrance to the building itself, which goes right into the history of Rome & the Vatican, complete with gradual transparent pages depicting what each ruin probably looked like, ancient versus present-day...quite clever and fascinating. 
Our coach collected us, only to deliver us nearby the Pantheon...we were struck at the sheer size of the columns supporting the building at the front, especially when standing directly under the massive portico looking up at the inside supports of the roof! A service was underway inside (being a Sunday we were there), so we were unable to actually go inside the place....a little disappointing but there was so much to see, the feeling lasted only about a minute! 
We bussed it to Vatican City, where we wandered like Brown's cows, into St Peter's Square in time to join the hordes awaiting the 12 midday blessing by none other than the Pontiff himself (must have heard we were dropping by!). Just the great curved structure surrounding the 'square' (more like a huge elliptical shape), with 4 x rows of mighty columns supporting it was enough to make you draw breath as you entered the place.....that, plus the larger-than-life St Peter's Basilica positioned smack bang in the centre, at the far end! Off to one side was the multi-storey building from which the Pope said his piece from a window of the second top floor (red 'welcoming mat' hung out the window to give us a clue).
Seriously though, the sense of anticipation from the crowd which by now seemed to fill the square (no mean feat) was evident...it reminded me of crowds at a large outdoor concert, or one of those soccer cup finals...people wore various coloured garb obviously identifying their particular group, some held huge banners 5m long, many chanted, all clapped & yelled...it was something to behold, until it instantly became silent once Papa started speaking!
Some elected to join the queue to walk thru the Basilica, whilst others stayed for the whole address (given in several languages), and still others including ourselves chose to escape the very hot sun (at least mid-30s with little or no breeze) to seek lunch. An air-conditioned restaurant not far outside the wide entrance-way to the square looked just the thing, and we were happy to sit after being on our feet for a while.
After eating, we walked up the long 'avenue' which forms the approach to the square, crossed the road at the end, and were looking over an edge at the Tiber River flowing past us, quite shallow in parts & fairly wide (the edge of the river is defined by walls on each side). There were many & varied stalls forming a small market which stretched for a couple of hundred metres along this one edge of the river until limited by the ancient 'Papal fort'. I finally succumbed to one of the hundreds of very black, non-European hawkers (who seem to appear out of nowhere at just about every major tourist stop across Europe), and bought myself a cheap straw Panama-style hat to keep at least some of the sun off..this was summer after all and it felt every bit as hot as our summers back in Australia!
Soon it was time for us to meet our coach for the trip back to our inner-city hotel for a rest around 3pm.
Meeting time at 5.30pm came around very quickly and we all boarded once more, bound for the famous Trevi fountain! A truly lovely setting, featuring marvellous scultures over which flowed the broad waters of the fountain, fronted by the large pond, the floor of which was covered with coins from all around the world! Our tour director demonstrated the procedure for supposedly ensuring a traveller will return to Roma, by gently tossing a coin over his shoulder while facing away from the fountain itself......bear in mind, this spot is another of those popular places everyone wants to see, so at this time of year, the crowds were thick...but we all found our own little space at the water's edge to be able to do our bit to hopefully confirm our future return to this amazing city.
We were all dressed for dinner (shorts & thongs) in the heat, and we walked until we reached one of Rome's famous meeting points...the Piazza Navona.......our Trafalgar tour director had a good working relationship with the owner of what he assured us was the nicest eatery on the Piazza, Tre Scalini, which just happened to adjoin the shop of a close relative of his, which was a Tartufo joint....sorry, The Tartufo joint (heavenly Italian ice-cream & chocolate dessert)....the one everyone makes a beeline for when at the Piazza! Having enjoyed our 5-course Italian meal (fantastic!), we relaxed a little more with some medicinal vino.
While seated during dinner, and even before that, buskers (I use that term loosely, as many of them sounded excellent!) of different types entertained the crowds from various vantage points....one such fellow, dressed for the part, belted out Opera to the accompaniment of his trusty portable cd player, and we all thought he was marvellous...he even had his own cd for sale, which many of us took advantage of...it just really added to the atmosphere of the Piazza, with many tourists simply walking thru the place throwing coins in his basket as well. There were also guitarists, and others we saw across the large open Piazza. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable end to a magical day for us.
 
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