Hi all, here is the update I meant to type in Venice, however because internet access in that city was crazy expensive, I decided to wait until I had cheaper internet access. Said internet has been located here in Slovenia, whose low prices are a relief after the high prices of Venice. I wish I could tell you that I’ll have a Venice update soon, but I’m not really sure how soon I’ll be able to get to it. Please be aware that the keyboards here in Slovenia are the strangest ones yet, so there may be more errors than usual. Anyways, here is Rome.
I spent four days in Rome and walked the length of the city many times over. I can confirm that Rome’s notorious traffic is for real and the only rule on the streets seems to be the rule of no harm, no foul. As long as a driver doesn’t hit anyone else, (and likewise a pedestrian doesn’t get hit) all is well. You have to be assertive (and a bit courageous) as a pedestrian when crossing the street, or you’ll be stuck on the curb for awhile. I once saw a guy driving a scooter with one arm while weaving in and out of traffic, talking on his cell phone and doing the stereotypical Italian hand gestures with the other arm. Crazy as this might be, I’m told southern Italy is even worse.
On my first full day in Rome I started out at the Colosseum. To skip the lines I had a Roma Pass, which is not as good as the Paris Museum Pass, but is still worthwhile if you’re going to visit a lot of places. I got to walk past the long lines at the Colosseum and go straight in. Even after 2,000 years of neglect and decay, the Colosseum is still an impressive sight. I walked all around the lower and upper areas and looked down into the lower levels, where many thousands of gladiators, martyrs and criminals spent their last few hours before rising to the stadium floor to die. After the Colosseum I went over to the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill, which are directly next to the Colosseum. Both are a graveyard of sections of buildings, broken columns and require a little imagination to reconstruct the old scene. When I finally finished with the area I went over to the Borghese Gallery, which is an art museum. The museum is by reservation only, and while it is not very big, it has a good collection of paintings and sculptures by Bernini. Moving on, I went over to Piazza del Popolo, a major square in Rome that used to be the north entry area into the old city. On the square there was a police expo celebrating the 160th anniversary of the Rome Police Department (I think) and they were showing off various police vehicles from over the past 100 years or so. Among them was a police Ferrari, which I thought only existed in video games, but apparently is real. I don’t know what it is used for or where you would put an arrested person in it, but maybe it just impresses criminals into surrendering. There was also a little police smart car and even a police segway. To finish the day I went over to the Spanish Steps, which is a large staircase leading up to an old obelisk and church that is popular gathering spot for both locals and tourist.
On day two I paid a visit to the Roma National Museum, which is near Termini train station. The museum has an extensive collection of Roman artifacts, and has an old bronze sculpture of a boxer that I really liked. After the museum I took a bus over to Castel Sant Angelo which used to be a mausoleum for a Roman emperor but got renovated and turned into a fort. The fort later got a bridge connecting it directly to the Vatican so that the pope could quickly escape to it whenever Rome was getting raided by barbarians. The fort has some good views of the city from the top and is a short walk from Vatican City, which is where I was going next. I walked over to St Peter’s Basilica and took a quick look around before walking to the north side of Vatican City, which is where the entrance to the Vatican Museum is. I had been told that if you don’t have reservations for the museum you should go in the afternoon, and I think that really is the winning strategy. I arrived at about 2:30 and spent only five minutes in line. Apparently the Vatican experiences a morning rush each day, partly because almost all the guides tell people to show up early. Like a giant herd of sheep, everyone comes in the morning and the lines are crazy long. If you have reservations it’s not a problem, but if you want to save a few euros you should come after 1:00pm. The Vatican Museum is somewhat like the Louvre in Paris, in that it has tons of artwork, but unlike the Louvre it is sort of small, so everyone is packed into narrow corridors and you sometimes have to muscle your way through the tour groups to get better views of things. There are also several points where you can take a shortcut straight to the Sistine Chapel, but I wanted to get the most out of my entry fee and saw the entire thing. Sadly, there is no photography allowed in the Sistine Chapel, though I did see some people trying to sneak photos past the guards. After the chapel I went straight into St Peter’s using a passageway that’s supposed to just be for tour groups, but no one was checking. St Peter’s is the largest cathedral in the world, and even has markers on the floor to show where other cathedrals would end if you stuck them inside (just to rub it in). Because of the size, it can be a bit tricky to photograph. I didn’t see the pope, so I never got to challenge him to a Reformation Rematch (he must have known I was there). After leaving the cathedral I looked around St Peter’s square for awhile and then took a bus back towards my hostel. I got most of the way back, but my bus was brought to a halt by a few thousands protesters on bicycles, who I’m guessing were protesting that Rome is not very friendly to cyclists. It looked like they weren’t going anywhere for awhile, so I walked the rest of the way back (and of course, it started to rain). Thus ended day two.
Day three started with me checking out a few churches and then I went down to the Circus Maximus, which is near the Colosseum. There’s almost nothing there; it’s really just an open field shaped like a chariot racecourse. I wasn’t expecting much of anything, but I still left a bit disappointed. Walking north, I moved to Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome, which has a few museums on it as well as the Victor Emmanuel monument. I went up to the top of the monument, which actually has good, though slightly obstructed views of the city. When I came down from the top of the monument, I was looking for a toilet when I came across what I call the “Chandelier Church” up on the hill (I’ll let you guess what its most prominent interior features were). After checking out the church and finding the toilet I was looking for, I walked down the steps of the Victor Emmanuel monument to the bottom. The monument commemorates Italian unification and the nation’s first king, and it has the largest statue of a guy on a horse in the world. The king’s mustache is just over five feet long. Apparently the monument is not entirely popular with locals and because it is made out of really white marble it gets dirty easily from Rome’s pollution and requires frequent and expensive cleaning. Near the bottom of the monument is Trajan’s column, which tells the story of Emperor Trajan’s military campaign in a slowly rising spiral. I then walked over to the Trevi Fountain, which was overrun with tourists but cool nonetheless. From there I went over to the Pantheon and spent some time there. The Pantheon is the best preserved Roman building in Rome, since it remained in use after Rome fell and never got cannibalized for stone like the Colosseum. It’s also free and has a great ambiance about it. When I finished with the Pantheon I took a quick look over at nearby Piazza Noavona to wrap up the day.
On day four I walked more than any other day so far on my trip. I had already seen all the big sights that I wanted to see, so I didn’t have much of a plan for the day. I visited quite a few squares like Campo di Fiori and Piazza Navona and also walked along the Tiber River at a few points. Along the Tiber I came to the August mausoleum, which is sort of like Castel Sant Angelo except is never got renovated and is in a state of disrepair. Next to it is the Arc Pacis building, which was the first new building in Rome since the 1930s and holds the old Roman alter of peace. From there I went north to Piazza de Popolo, which was now devoid of the police expo. It was raining until the early afternoon that day, so I ate my lunch under the old city gate there. After eating I walked down Via del Corso, a major street lined with expensive shops that leads to the Victor Emmanuel monument. I got sidetracked at the Marcus Aurelius column, which is like Trajan’s Column, but is much more worn out. Nearby it is an old Egyptian obelisk in front of a government building, and after that I went into the church of Sant Ignazio, which I call the Temple of Darkness, because it is so poorly lit. Rome has a church every 100 yards in any given direction, so I ended up seeing quite a few of them that day. South of the church I wound up back at the Tiber River and I checked out the small island on it. The Tiber River does not seem to have as much importance to Rome as the Seine does to Paris or the Thames to London, in terms of sightseeing. It is really more just something you have to cross to get to sights on the western side of the river. I found myself back by the Circus Maximus and decided to check out the church of San Giovanni Laterno in the southeast part of Rome, and along the way there I saw some protesters, but I wasn’t sure what the protest was about. The church is definitely worth the walk (or, you can reach it much more easily by metro) and used to serve as the primary cathedral in Rome until St Peter’s was built. The inside has large statues of the twelve apostles in the main section and feels like a hall of fame. Close to the church there is also a building which houses a set of stairs that supposedly Jesus climbed in Jerusalem. You’re only allowed to climb them on your knees, and I opted to walk up to the top using a parallel set of stairs. When I left the building I took the metro back to my hostel where I ate and rested a little before doing a night walk to cap off my time in Rome. I saw a lot of the sights like the Pantheon and Trevi fountain lit up, which was really nice and a great way to end my time in the city.
As I said, I am typing this update in Slovenia. Later today I leave for Croatia, where hopefully I will have the chance to type updates covering Venice and Slovenia.