All roads lead to Rome

Trip Start May 22, 2005
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Trip End Aug 09, 2005


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Friday, July 1, 2005

June 26
Venice was beautiful, but at last we were on our way to Rome, the "Eternal City". We stopped mid-day in Ancona, which is a port city where some people caught ferries for Greece. We cut across Italy from the east to the west, and enjoyed some lovely scenery. Arriving in Rome around 6 p.m. we were thrilled to discover that our cabin at this campsite was air-conditioned and had a little fridge. We picked up some groceries for the week and had a nice dinner at the campsite restaurant.

June 27
Our first day in Rome was hot right from the start. After making our way into the historic centre we headed to the Palatine Hill, where the elite of ancient Rome made their homes. We got a good tip from our Busabout guide as the entrance ticket to the Palatine Hill also included the Colosseum, and the line to buy tickets at the Colosseum was at least a half hour long. So we had a nice morning not fighting crowds and enjoying the ancient city from a beautiful vantage point. We then entered the Colosseum, which is quite an awesome sight. We were pleasantly surprised at how much of the ruin still exists, even though it was used as a marble quarry in more recent times! We managed to get some lovely pictures even though the building itself was under some restoration (as is every single monument we have seen in Europe). We walked from the Colosseum through the old forums which are nearby and saw the stone which marked the centre of the old Roman Empire. We continued walking and saw the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, which is also known as the "wedding cake" building because it has many levels in white marble. Next we visited the Pantheon, whose dome is still a marvel of engineering (2000 years later). Our last stop of this very long day was the Piazza Navona, where Bernini's famous Fountain of the Four Rivers is located. With our minds reeling from all the sites, we made it back to our room and enjoyed the simple pleasures of air-conditioning and delicious sandwiches.

June 28
We made our way early to Vatican City and visited St. Peter's Basilica, where Kevin did not have to wear an orange shawl (K: but chose to, anyway). This is another truly awesome structure, and was almost offensive to traditional Christian ideals, considering how many people were suffering and dying while the Church built its monuments. They were setting up for the holiday of St. Peter and St. Paul, which was taking place the next day and is a holiday in Rome only. Kevin remarked that we must be getting in good shape if we can walk across a country in only a half hour, but we all know how well Kevin understands geography. Our plan was to go next to the Vatican Museums, but by the time we finished in the Basilica the line to enter was literally one mile long and growing. Some people said the wait would be about two hours, so we changed our plans and headed for the southern part of the city. We visited the Non-Catholic Cemetery, which contains the pyramid of Caius Cestius, the graves of Keats and Shelley, and also the grave of one of Rebecca's distant relatives who died in Rome. Unfortunately the one employee of the cemetery was home sick (the day before a holiday) and we could not access a map. After searching for the grave for more than an hour we paid our respects to Keats and Shelley and went off in search of Rome's catacombs. After getting as lost as we have been all trip and walking around in 35 degree heat for 2 hours, we found what we were looking for. The Catacombs of Saint Callisto are the largest in Rome of the 60 Christian and Jewish catacombs. These particular catacombs once housed 500,000 people, including the popes of the 3rd century and Saint Cecilia. Although Kevin was instructed not to take pictures, he broke the rules and paid for his indiscretions by having ghouls fly at him (see picture). After another long, exhausting day we made it back to our cabin and the AC.

June 29
Today we decided to go to Pompeii. From Rome we had to take the train 2 hours to Naples and then a second train 40 minutes to the ancient city. We arrived around noon and were instantly amazed by the immensity of the site and the amount of preservation. Although about one-quarter of the city is still unexcavated the buildings and streets that are available to the public tell the tale about how the ancient Romans lived. There are laundry buildings, ancient temples, private homes and gardens, brothels, bakeries, and quite an amazing amphitheatre. It is hard to describe being in a city that seems ready to come back to life and for four hours we simply wandered and absorbed the atmosphere. On our way out we visited the Villa of the Mysteries, which is famous for the beautiful frescoes on the walls of the entrance rooms. We then caught the train back to Naples (the first mode of transport that we had to sprint for!) and found our way to the National Archaeological Musuem, whose title makes it sound great and comprehensive. However, after paying full admission (no student discounts in Italy) we were disappointed and frustrated to find that about 15 of the 22 galleries were closed due to lack of staff. It was also shamefully dirty (Hello? Jani King, Italy?) and we wondered where our admission was going, until we happened upon the money-burning gallery, which was open (just kidding). One highlight was the incredible Alexander the Great mosaic, which was discovered and removed from Pompeii. The size of this mosaic, and the fact that it used to be on someone's floor, was astounding. Attempting to get from Naples back to Rome was ridiculously frustrating, but going into detail would be sour grapes, and sour grapes don't make a fine wine, so we'll move on. After starting the day at 7 a.m., we got back to our campsite a few minutes before midnight, exhausted but satisfied with the journey.

June 30
After learning our lesson about Vatican City line ups, we got there at about 7:45 a.m. We got in an already long line, waited about an hour, and then discovered that this line was only for tour groups. We, along with dozens of others who had made this mistake, were then forced to get in the mile-long line that had formed. Kevin of course had a few words for the Vatican guard who refused to budge (Hello? Forgiveness, anyone?), pointing out that the only sign advising of the two different lines was at the entrance and didn't the Vatican have a few bucks for more signs? The people in the "right line" with us were a father and son from Austrailia, and were very nice and easy to talk to, and this helped the time pass. After waiting an hour and a half (plus the other hour), we were finally in and put the mornings' frustrations behind us so as to be ready for more frustration. (That pretty much sums up travelling in Italy -- frustration). The Vatican had many beautiful antiquities and works of art, so many, in fact, that many of them were displayed in ways preventing a good look. Also, although we calculated that the Vatican Museum makes about 75000 to 100 000 euros per day on admissions, they apparently are above hiring a cleaner to dust off the statuary, and some ancient Greek marbles literally had a half inch of dust on them which you could see on the top, looking from twelve feet below. We were disillusioned at the lack of concern for the priceless works of art which the Vatican should maybe give back to the countries it stole them from. The Sistine Chapel was everything we had hoped for, except that the room was packed with hundreds of people all pushing and elbowing, and it was hard to just relax and enjoy Michelangelo's efforts. After a long morning, we walked along the river past the Castel Sant'Angelo to the Spanish Steps, which were quite amazing and offered a beautiful view of the city. The next day we were leaving for Florence and, as we had seen much of Rome, we retired early.
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Comments

shmerica
shmerica on

GHOULS
That catacombs picture creeped my out. Eek.

lfalk
lfalk on

Re: GHOULS
I concur.

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