10 – 14 April: Roma, ItalyContinued from part 3.1: Rome (Pompeii & Vatican City).
Day 3: Colosseo, Forum Romano, Fori Imperiali, (not having any money), Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti, Villa Borghese
We are up early and after a hearty breakfast, we set out in an attempt to miss the crowds at the Colosseo and surrounding historical sites. The metro lines are packed with people on their way to work and we are shoved into an already overfull cart, bulldozing the people in front of us deeper into the mix as the press of bodies from behind intensifies. We arrive well ahead of the tourist crowds, and are rewarded with almost an hour of tranquillity in the stunning ruins of the Colosseum. The sheer size of what remains today is simply magnificent and we walk through the two upper levels of the old building constantly amazed at what Rome built in its hey-day.
From the Colosseum we walk past the Arch of Constantine towards the Roman Forum, where we whiz past the lines of people waiting outside (as we’ve bought tickets that allow access to most of Rome’s historical sites). Though impressive, the ruins of Rome eventually all start to look very similar and, after having lunch in the shade of a few trees, we decide to go in search of something a little more modern.
As we stroll through the streets of Rome on our way to the Imperial Forum, we happen to pass by the Vittoriano Complex, where there is a Salvador Dali exhibition on show. Dali is one of my all-time favourite artists, and after seeing two of his works in Venice, I insist on returning to the exhibition before we depart the city. We then continue on our original quest. The Imperial Forum is an amazing and imposing building, with many statues and a lot of small details. It seems that once could stand and stare at it for ever and a day, and still find something new in the façade.
After feeling a little indecisive as to where to head next, we sit down under some great trees in front of the Piazza Venezia and watch a street artist using cardboard strips, rumpled up newspaper and spray-paint create a beautiful image of the Colosseum at twilight. Finally we settle on a (rather boring) plan. Our three friends will return to the flat for some much-needed rest, while Francois and I make our way to Termini station. The Cash Passport onto which we have loaded all our foreign currency has been giving us some problems, and we’re hoping to find a ForEx branch that can help.
We arrive at the station and approach a foreign exchange desk and explain our problem. The gentleman explains that he can’t help us with the Cash Passport, but that we should be able to withdraw money from the account through their service. Hope flickers brightly, but the transaction is denied and we’re left wanting. He suggests we visit a bank branch, and in broken English and with a few gestures we head in the general direction we think he was pointing at. No one in the branch understands a word of English, but to their credit they do figure out that we would like to withdraw some money and point us (very helpfully) in the direction of their ATM. As we already know that the card doesn’t work at ATM’s, we head straight out and I’m sure we leave them quite perplexed. In a desperate attempt we decide to bite the bullet and to make an international call using a pay-phone and my credit card, in the hopes that we will be able to contact the help desk. We seem to be too blonde to figure out how to manage this though, and after smsing our families in South Africa it dawns on Francois that, if we can find an internet cafe, he should be able to reset his pin from his online profile. We stumble into an internet cafe not a block from Termini station and within a few minutes, Francois says that he thinks the problem should be solved. We head to the nearest ATM and stand in front of it with trepidation. We are down to our last 10 Euros, with more than three weeks left in Europe, and the money in my account has all been earmarked for accommodation and car rental payments. He completes the transaction, and the sweet, sweet sound of an ATM counting out cash rings in our ears. I have never been as happy in my life as at that moment!
We sms the three stay-at-home-stooges to meet up with us at Termini station, from where we set out to the Spanish steps. The steps were never high on my “things to see in Rome” list, and true to my expectations they are overcrowded and overall a little disappointing. The view from the hill behind the steps is, however, amazing. We head into the Villa Borghese gardens and thoroughly envy the people zooming around on their Segways. Day seven of walking almost everywhere is finally taking its toll on our feet and bodies and, though we wish otherwise, we are spent and absolutely tired.
As we head back to our ‘home’, we stop in the neighborhood close to the Vatican to visit the market we saw on our first day here, as well as going into the Storia & Magia shop. It’s an amazing fantasy shop with exquisite jewelery and is absolutely every geek’s fantasy come true. They stock everything from Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Harry Potter to Firefly and then some paraphernalia. I decide there and then that I will definitely have to visit Rome again, even if it is just to return to this shop! I buy a gorgeous silver dragon ring and grin like a little four year old all the way back home, where we spend another evening of storytelling, great food and (surprisingly) good wine.
Day 4: Capuchin Crypts, Fontana di Trevi, the Dali exhibit, and a night on Campo de’ Fiori
I have a somewhat unusual fascination with the macabre, and the Capuchin Crypts fell right into this category. This was very high on my must-see list for Rome, so after having breakfast and finally finishing with all the washing, we set out to find the crypts.
For those of you who are not familiar with the crypts – a fair warning. The crypts contain the bones of roughly 4000 skeletons, believed to have been Capuchin friars. From the Wikipedia page:
“Described by Frommer’s as “one of the most horrifying images in all of Christendom”, large numbers of the bones are nailed to the walls in intricate patterns, many are piled high among countless others, while others hang from the ceiling as light fixtures.”
Please skip the photos below if this does not sound like your cup of tea.
The woman who welcomes us is witty and handles the funny characters who enter the crypts in such a deft way. I fall in love with her at once, and more than once we struggle to contain our mirth as she tries to make it clear to some other groups of tourists that no photos are allowed. The crypts are eerily small and intimate, with low-hanging ceiling ornamentations and intricate designs all made from various parts of the human skeleton. It’s the creepiest, most wonderful experience! The forms of the ornamentations and wall decorations are exquisite and, for as long as you forget that they are skeletal parts, it’s really astonishing. The realisation does however soon settle in that you are looking at human remains and, try as one might, it sets my scalp a-prickle and a shiver down my back.
We leave the crypts behind and head deeper into Rome on our way to the Trevi Fountain. It’s another cold and rainy day in Rome, but despite that the fountain is packed with tourists snapping away and enjoying the view of the magnificent statues. We get a few scoops of gelato from a nearby shop, and sit on the steps directly in front of the fountain enjoying our sweet treats like children.
From the fountain we head to the Pantheon, stopping over at the Church of St. Ignatius on the way. The pantheon is a super structure and again it’s incredible to think on how old these buildings actually are. Once inside, a lot of natural light is allowed to enter through a massive hole at the top of the dome, and the rain gently drifts down to the marble floor below (which is slanted slightly down and to the side to allow the water to drain). The art and historical significance entombed in this building is amazing!
After revelling in the weird and wonderful all morning, three of us decide to submerge ourselves in Dali’s surrealism whilst the remaining two head home to catch up on some sleep. The exhibition encompasses a range of different mediums, including a video installation and lavish costumes that Dali had designed for him and his wife for the Venice carnival. Also showing is a digitally remastered and rendered animated short film that he worked on for Walt Disney. I lose myself in the paintings and magnificence of his works and I have no idea how long we spend there. When we do finally leave, we head back into the cold rain that seems to insist on staying. We go home and have dinner together, making plans for the evening.
The day we checked into the flat, the owner showed us the areas that have a reputation for their night-life, and we decide to take the weather on and spend an evening in Campo de’ Fiori. We take the last metro train to the stop at the Colosseum and walk to the square, which is filled with bars and students. Finally we find a spot with reasonably priced beer and a table open inside, and we settle in. Our pitcher of beer soon runs out, and the next round is a pitcher of a very strong cocktail. Luckily there are five of us, but as we head home later that night (in the rain) we sing Afrikaans folk songs all the way to the night bus’s stop at the Colosseum. What a great evening! Tomorrow we collect a rental car from Termini station and head out to Florence.
Continues in part 4 with our trip through the Tuscan countryside towards Florence, Italy. You can find more of our photos from Rome here.