DISCOVERING EUROPE PART V – ROME: LA CITTÁ ETERNA

It’s now towards September 2009 and I am coming to the end of my first visit to Finland. After nearly 3 months of enjoying the near endless summer nights and having been around to some great places already, it was only a few weeks until I had to head back home to the other side of the world! Lots of things had been ticked off my list, and there was plenty more I wanted to do, but one place I had wanted to be sure to visit was Rome! (posts about my return to Finland in the winter will follow soon!)

Arrivo

Now, 5 days in Rome might not sound like too long and, while there’s certainly lots to do, it’s more a city that you are constantly experiencing. In terms of “landmarks”, the whole city is on offer, not just certain places. The first thing I noticed, besides the surprising efficiency of the Metro (showing how much Sydney needs to get ITS shit together!), is how preserved the historical architecture of Rome is, starting with the imperial era towers lining the train line to Termini from the airport. The classical architecture is so ornate and expressive; the buildings weren’t just a place to be, but also told stories with murals and sculptures. Nowhere is this more clear than the Colosseum, the Forum and Trajan’s Market.

While we wanted to see the Colosseum, we had been told that while it’s beautiful, there probably isn’t much need to go inside as you can see most of that from the outside. Granted, it’s probably not quite the same as being in there, but we felt justified not paying and waiting endlessly as the classic stadium, despite its age, could be better than some of the best today. Besides, the people watching was amazing here as well, it was hard to not sit on the grass and watch the many “Gladiators” and other performers mingling with (hassling) the other tourists.

The Colosseum, as well as the Forum and Trajan’s Market give you a lot of food for thought. Imagine what it would have looked like back then. 2,000 years and more ago, this was the greatest civilisation on Earth, the engineering and architecture are still amazing achievements and visualising it as it was is almost better than seeing it how it is now.

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Il Piazze e Fontane

Now, our hotel in Flaminio, near the Tridente area (which includes the Spanish Steps) was pretty nice and VERY decorative, but there’s only so much that a room like that, with such poor water pressure can offer. So we figured, the best way to see a lot of Rome would be to see as many of the Piazza’s and their fountains as we could, because we would be able to see everything in between. Which turns out was a good strategy!

Rome’s particularly easy to walk around, plus, for Summer (as an Australian) it wasn’t particularly hot either. But with that, that means people are out… All of the people! And taking in the Roman fountains simply cannot be done without first seeing La Fontana di Trevi. Now we got particularly lucky the times we went (okay we walked past on day 1, but figured we’d come back since it was 15 deep to the fountain!) as the sky was clear and the people were mostly elsewhere (probably). So on this occasion, we were pretty well rewarded with being able to experience the fountain without an immense crowd.

A more beautiful symbol of the classical
Nothing more symbolic of Rome’s dramatic, Renaissance days than the Fontana di Trevi

Dodging through the crowds and street hawkers, there is a sense of true history which almost overloads the senses. The many piazzas and their fountains are like oasis’ where you can sit and relax after a nice relaxing walk through the very relaxed, car-less streets… So yes, it’s relaxed. My particular favourite was the Piazza Navona and Fontana dei Fiumi. It’s busy, but you never feel claustrophobic or lacking for space and water flowing from the three fountains (particularly Fiumi) add a natural feel, even though absolutely everything is made of carved rock!

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Il Vaticano e il Pantheon

Now of course, Rome is nothing, if not the capital of the Catholic church (well technically not, since Vatican City is it’s own country… but it is IN Rome afterall) and I would have felt regret for the rest of my life for not seeing it myself! At this time, I was leaning towards a life without Religion, but I thought I might have a bit of a religious re-awakening at the Vatican. I won’t lie, the Vatican is amazing and the effort to be a monument to faith is evident… But for me, it felt very superficial, triumphalist and ostentatious for a faith built on humility and material sacrifice… Flip-side of the coin, It’s not the same for most others and I can understand the deep connection they would feel to this place and can appreciate its significance to them, but for me it was more its architectural beauty and cultural importance.

St Peter’s Square is an open and inviting place, and the many Saints atop the surrounding walls beckon you in, although one seemed rather unhappy with their situation…

why you do dis
Look, a distraction! “Bird, Why you do dis??”

Entering the Basilica, under the seemingly playful watch of the Swiss Guard, you are walking into an immense, ornate and stunning space. Between the people praying, taking photos and admiring the artworks, you realise the absolutely enourmous scale of what is one, giant room! While I may not feel a real, spiritual connection with the place, I am still amazed at the achievement of its construction and design.

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Next up is the Pantheon, including a walk past the Castel Sant’Angelo (why did I not take any photos? By the way, no snap-happy smart phones back then! Had only so much memory in cameras…). This is by far the most amazing building in all of Rome. It was built almost 2,000 years ago, and yet it seems like something you’d see built around the time of the renaissance. If there’s one building I would always remember seeing, it will definitely be the Pantheon.

Pantheon lunch Pantheon sky

Roma di notte

The Pantheon was also a pretty good destination for dinner. At night, it’s transformed into a focal point for all the surrounding restaurants. While it’s just a building, it commands attention and you can’t help but steal a glance while you take the next bite of a disappointing boscaiola. People sit at the columns eating desserts, reading books and having conversations. Rome at night is still busy with tourists, but there is a quiet, almost sense of restful calm over the city at night. And walking through the streets to our hotel at night, the main landmarks under lights take on a very different, but equally amazing character. This is certainly a time and place where you want to be travelling with someone!

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Partenza

While I did genuinely enjoy my time in Rome, I feel that if you want a true Italian experience, then you need to leave the cities such as Rome behind and head to the smaller towns and villages. It is a bit of a tourist trap, but I would still love to see Florence, Naples, Milan and La Spezia and see what they have to offer as major cities. Regardless, the big thing that hits you is its connection to history. Italy has one of, if not the most, rich and influential history, covering the Ancient, Middle-Age, Renaissance and Modern eras.

One of the last things we did was to go to the Vittoriano, or the “Typewriter”, thanks to its shape (as you see on the cover image). This has the museum of flags, a war museum and you see, through all of the eras, just how significant war has been on Italy. But when you reach the rooftop (if you choose to pay the 25 euros!) you can look out over the city and see for yourself how connected to history it is, with the Colosseum sitting among the many newer and more modern buildings. This is a sight I think I can leave you all with, as I left with it from my time here.

Rome from Typewriter

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