When in Rome

If you aren't blown away by the beauty of Rome,
there's probably no hope for you
I wasn't sure about Rome. A good friend told me he'd first gone to Rome under protest. Why go there, he'd grumbled. It's a dirty, pickpocket-infested city filled with rogues and charlatans! But like him, I loved it from the moment I arrived, ambling along the streets, surrounded both by history and the vibrancy of life.

The airport train was easy and the notorious Number Sixty-Four bus a crammed, sweaty, lurching, but thankfully quick, ride followed by a short walk to our apartment. Our windows overlooked the Via Della Vetrina, a narrow, cobbled lane near Piazza Navona. We dumped our bags and within half an hour were listening to the rush of the Trevi Fountain. We returned via a slightly braver route, in the direction of the Pantheon.

Everything was unreal for me. We were actually walking the streets of Rome and then we were threading our way out to a cobbled square with the... um, well, there was the Pantheon. There it was. Right there.

I barely noticed the people inside. I don't think I've ever seen such a phenomenally beautiful building. It's so old, and so perfect. I realised that if I hadn't been blown away by the architecture here, there'd be no hope for me anywhere. I tried to take some photos but couldn't do it justice, so we stood in silence and just looked.

There were food markets everywhere on the way home, with delicious food of all sorts on display but we kept it simple with pasta and sauce, plus some breakfast stuff, and biscotti as a treat. It's pretty nice to be able to make your own dinner from local produce.

We decided that an early visit to St. Peter's should be top of the list, so the next morning we headed there quietly, with golden morning sun highlighting old stonework and green leaves. Only a few people were approaching the square, and inside St. Peter's it was cool and hushed, softy lit through high windows.

One again, the architecture was grand, but there was an undercurrent I hadn't expected here. I struggle with religion. The amount of wealth, oppression and censorship, the horrific abuse or outright murder done in the name of religion is sickening. Are the good things offered enough to cancel that out? We were in the very seat of power of the Roman Catholic Church and I couldn't ignore what this place represented, both good and bad.

At one point, a procession of priests filed past. They were all from different countries but somehow looked the same. All men, all fixed in their beliefs, all carrying the enormous might of the church. If you had another faith, or were the victim of abuse or persecution here, what justice could you expect?

St. Peter's was stunning and gorgeous, but held a power that left me a little afraid. I do wonder what Jesus might have thought if he saw it.

Mornings are the best time
Welcome In
The entry into St. Peter's took my breath away
What an awe-inspiring place
Everywhere we looked
It's a man's world, it seems
These flowers taking hold were actually a relief to see after we left the overpowering majesty of St' Peter's
Back home, we made some lunch then went out again to find the Spanish Steps, the streets slowly making sense as we got our bearings. The day was now above thirty degrees, so we ate shaded by the trees in the Borghese Gardens, and had some chilled fruit tea we'd made. Rome has clean, fresh drinking water flowing from thousands of public fonts in the city, but the tea added an extra zing.

It was a nice place for lunch, apart from one tout who kept trying to give us flowers. I mean, this guy just wasn't getting the message. He kept trying to put flowers in A's hand. I have limited patience and after the fifth, "No thank you" I just pointed down the path and said, "go away". He really didn't like that at all, but it got rid of him. We then watched him pester various other groups with the same result. He really needed to try a new technique.

Eager to stay out of the heat, we headed down to Piazza Del Popolo and checked out a Da Vinci exhibition which had various inventions of his, built as working models. It was intriguing enough, but we left feeling more like we'd lost twenty-seven Euro, rather than gained anything special.

Public Gardens
With big spikes in the way
The Tiber was cool and shaded for our walk back. Rowers zoomed along midstream in defiance of the heat. Dinner was delicious pasta and sauce with a few greens on top. I never knew the taste of tomatoes could be so rich! We tried to walk it off by returning to the Trevi Fountain in the evening, but it was a zoo. The mornings are definitely the best time to be out.

We were due to meet our friend K about two-thirty the next afternoon. So we could take advantage of the morning, we’d planned an early walk to Tiber Island and the botanic gardens. The island was nice, but the entrance to the gardens eluded us. We headed back for a rethink and then stupidly decided to go up on Gianicolo to see the midday cannon that's been fired by Papal decree each day since 1847. However, by eleven o'clock it was easily thirty-five degrees, so we pushed the eject button on that experience, then attempted to get into the gardens again. Some high fences with big spikes on top said otherwise and the gates were further away than our enthusiasm would carry us.
The buses in Rome are useful, and cheap to get around in. They're also sweltering hot and good old Number sixty-four was packed. By the time we'd ridden the short way to Termini station we had sweat trickling off us and coating our palms as we tried to hold on. The heat, plus the impressive size of K's suitcase, made taking a taxi back a wise choice. It wasn't that much more than the bus, and it was cool!

It was great to see K and catch up on her news. Conversation continued in the evening over delicious pizza and salad. That's nothing, said K, You wait until Naples. The best pizza's are from Naples.

More on pizza in Naples, next post.

We'd booked ourselves on a tour to the Colosseum for the next morning. It's better than going under your own steam. Our guide Cecelia was cool. She knew her subject and was enthusiastic about it too. She took us on a great trip around the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.

Our new-fangled camera has one of those panorama settings. Very handy for ancient stadium shots, so here's one of an ancient stadium.
After following Cecelia around for three hours in the sun we were happy but fried, so found some shade and entertained ourselves people-watching. It's crazy to me the fascination people have with how they look and the influence social pressure has now. Everywhere, young people primped and posed, the ruined temples merely a backdrop for their narcissism.

There was only one thing we could do to offset the self-absorbed hordes and that was leave to eat some gelato.

Wanna buy a Hat?
Be happy in your work
Spectator Sport
Better to be the watcher than a participant
Lots of Arches
Those Romans did like a good arch
Just food for Crows
Not much left
Worship Me!
Look at me, in front of this... wherever it is
A Backdrop to Narcissism
That one does not show my spectacular beauty well enough. Do it again!
Token Shot
There were so many temples, I just picked one
K and I were interested in seeing the catacombs. Rome is famous for them, and we thought it would be a cooler option after getting cooked in the Colosseum. We picked St. Callistix since access seemed pretty easy. We walked to the bus stop along the track of the Circus Maximus, where chariots had thundered.

The gardens at St. Callisto were unexpectedly beautiful. Being a caver for many years I felt quite at home in the dim passages beneath, walking through narrow corridors in the cool and dark. We saw only a fraction of the half-million burial niches there. The bones were removed but it was easy to imagine the dead waiting hidden for a thousand years, as the world above them moved on.

The continuation of history is fascinating to me. To see the ruins of old Rome and know that for centuries much of it was buried, or torn down and forgotten by successive conquerors. To have been so influential in the ancient world and then collapse is something I can't get my head around. It's a reminder that nothing's forever. Apparently thousands of cartloads of marble were taken from the colosseum to build St. Peter's. I wonder what will have changed and been torn down, another thousand years from now.

The bus back to town was late, packed, and stifling hot when it turned up. We didn't take the connecting one but walked back from Piazza Venezia instead. Dinner was quickly made and sleep followed soon after.

The next morning was our last full day in Rome, but A was happy to relax, so K and I took ourselves to Castel Sant'Angelo and had a great time, wandering around the battlements and inside the passages. Climbing the ramp through the core and over the central pit, I could sense it's original purpose as Hadrian's tomb. A few popes had had a go at it too, building opulent apartments. In the evening we had a last look at the Spanish Steps, complete with its attendant self-absorbed selfies. I got up early the next morning before our train to Naples to see the Pantheon one last time in the morning light.

Well, I've reached the end of this post and there are so many other photos I'd love to share, so I will, in one final gallery. Have a flick through them. This city has made such an impression on me in so many ways. I've never been to such a vibrant, beautiful and ancient place. Rome is timeless and has been there for so long, that it doesn't need to make any excuses.

Hopefully we'll be back.

Steampunk Angel
Not a new thing
Fabulous Shoes
Ah, yes
Morning Smoke
Piazza Navona in the morning is a good place to go and think
Is anybody in there?
Divine inspiration comes from the most unexpected places, these days
No Fun
Everyone else is out having a good time. This sucks
Learning faster now about comfortable travel, we booked a taxi to the station and were soon wizzing towards Naples at 300km/h. We’d read a few cautionary tales about Naples, but how bad could it be, really?
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