The Retirees Go Abroad – Amazing Pompeii and the Opera

 

We had decided that we would visit the ruins of Pompeii rather than the nearby Ostia Antica (which we were assured was just as impressive as Pompeii) even though it was some 3 hours by bus to get to Pompeii. Pompeii is something of legend. A Roman town destroyed by a volcano in 79AD leaving an intact record of life at that time for all generations to see.

This was a full day and we had to be at our rendezvous Enjoy Rome by 7.30am. We had on a previous day searched out the offices of Enjoy Rome and it was a good thing we did. It was located in a house near Terminii Rail station but due to a large tree the sign identifying it was obscured. It took us an hour to locate it and then identify the easiest route for our Wednesday trip. So through good planning we arrived a Terminii for breakfast and were able to make our rendezvous with 15 minutes to spare. There were 17 of us on the bus plus guide and driver. The bus trip took 3 hours broken by a stop at Monte Cassino a spot that should have been well known to the Americans with us because of the battles with the Germans during WW2 to liberate Italy and the bombing of the Abbey of Monte Cassino.

Our guide was an Ecuadorian immigrant who basically marshalled us and introduced us to our Pompeiian guide Andrew (anglicised version of his name I guess). We were equipped with radio and given strict instructions on when to return for the bus and then set free.

“The eruption of Vesuvius killed the city’s inhabitants and buried it under tons of ash. Evidence for the destruction originally came from a surviving letter by Pliny the Younger, who saw the eruption from a distance and described the death of his uncle Pliny the Elder, an admiral of the Roman fleet, who tried to rescue citizens. The site was lost for about 1,500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later by Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1748.” (Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pompeii)

Our tour started with a short history lesson as we walked along a modern path past some of the ruins to the entry through the Gladiator Barracks (which looks more like a college square with the barracks along one side and a portico along another. Andrew was of the view that it is unlikely that Gladiators lived and trained here and that it was more likely an assembly area for the theatre and the “barracks” storerooms/prop rooms for the theatre. From here we moved into the large theatre which was remarkable as it demonstrated the transition from an auditorium with a pit to an auditorium with a pit and stage.

 

We exited onto an area that looked like the sort of exercise track we have today only used by Fred Flintstone (everything in stone) – running track etc. beside the ruins of a Greek (yes Greek) church. Now I may not get this exactly correct but by my reckoning this was the Temple of Isis and from there we moved onto one of the minor roads in the city to visit a “modern brothel” (modern in the sense that language was no barrier – you pointed to a picture on the wall displaying the type of transaction you wished to conduct and believe me they were all portrayed, a bit faded with time but legible). Now the sex industry must have been a big business as there were quite a few buildings dedicated to this purpose and they seemed to be landmarked by large phalluses and scrotums in stone in the footpath and walls of buildings. I was tempted to suggest Biggus Dickus was one of the proprietors, but resisted. (Since visiting Pompeii I have seen a BBC documentary on Pompeii and they put a different interpretation on the graphics on the brothel walls and the numerous phalluses around the city)

Throughout the ruins were water fountains. Our Bus guide warned us about drinking the water from these fountains but as though he knew the challenge had been made Andrew made a point of drinking form a fountain and inviting us to do likewise.

We made our way into the Forum. Andrew pointed out that this was not only the political hub of the city but the community hub as well with a temple to Zeus, a fish market, granary and store. Here we also saw the first of the human casts made by the volcanic ash. It was here that we became aware that there were 5 Aussies out of the 17 member tour and two were from Mt Gravatt.

We visited the central baths, the House of the Vettii, and the house of the Faun with Andrew. He pointed out that small business existed even then showing us a BBQ with residence attached where the proprietor would sell BBQ products (the start of the “lamb sandwich”) and the family live in one or two rooms behind. He pointed out the difference between commercial and domestic dwellings and the “green” credentials of the houses each with their own cistern for catching rain water. The House of the Faun is the largest of the homes in Pompeii, built during the 2 nd. century BC, and most impressive private residences in Pompeii. It is one of the most luxurious aristocratic houses from the Roman republic, and reflects this period better than most archaeological evidence found even in Rome itself The House of the Faun was named for the bronze statue of the dancing faun located, on a basin for catching rainwater. It also has many features such as floor murals and decorations to establish its opulence. (The BBC programme challenged this also showing an even grander ruin)

The baths were also fascinating as they showed just how ingenious these people were at finding solutions to providing services much the same as we enjoy today. They also had an understanding of “feng shui” with how they designed their living spaces. For instance in one house the largest room was a type of family room which encompassed dining and relaxation whilst the bedrooms were functional – just for sleeping. There were centre courts for light breeze and catching rain for the water cistern. (The BBC presenter made the point that there were no drains in the baths and that the water, although hot, was probably rancid with piss and sweat)

Although this tour was for two and one half hours, time passed very quickly and we found ourselves outside a renovated building (probably the only one) turned into a modern café and rest room. Andrew gave instructions to those hearty individuals who wanted to explore more on their own and bid us adieu.

Although the roads were paved time had made them fairly rough. The uneven roads, the heat of the day and the tedium of looking at piles of stone meant we did not seek to go beyond where tourists go but rather to look in more detail at things we had seen with Andrew. We went back to the forum and made our own way through the Temples of Jupiter, Apollo, and Venus down to Marina Gate. Here we ended our tour of the ruins and made our way to the Hotel Vittoria for a cup of coffee and a chat with our Australian comrades.

With the return of the bus we boarded for the return journey. Again we stopped at Monte Cassino and our bus tour guide relayed the story about the bombing of the Abbey. This was the site of 4 major battles both to liberate Italy but also to tie up German resources for the D Day landings. There were Americans, British, Ghurkha, New Zealand, Free French and Moroccan troops involved and the bombing of the Abbey turned out to be a complete blunder. The allies thought the Germans were using the Abbey for spotting when in fact they were not. The Allies sent over 140 planes to bomb the crap out of the Abbey which they did and then the German’s occupied the bombed site. There were 4 battles to push Hitler’s Tenth Army back to Rome.

After this stop we settled in for the journey home during which Kerry spotted some interesting buildings and monuments snapping pictures on the way.

Finally home around 9.00pm and the lights of the Jolly Pizza were still burning. Another enjoyable repast and off to bed. I have the early signs of a cold and we know that tomorrow we go to the opera returning home around 11.00 o’clock and having to get up at 5.00 am for an early start to the airport.

Next day was spent relaxing in our hotel room until late in the afternoon when we travelled into Terminii to visit Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo (closed Mondays). After having visited Pompeii this was dramatic with statuary, jewellery, frescos and architecture from that time. Well worth the visit and it closes later in the evening so no excuses for not going. If you cannot visit then visit the web site: http://archeoroma.beniculturali.it/en/museums/national-roman-museum-palazzo-massimo-alle-terme.

After the museum we went to the Teatro Dell’Opera Di Roma. Now I am not a fan of the opera but I do enjoy certain arias sung well. This was a performance of Rigoletto by some of the current best in Italy and was best quality. I was not feeling like being at the Opera but the performance was certainly worthwhile. I suggest that before visiting any opera that you research the story otherwise you will be lost in all the theatrics.

So ends the tale of our visit to Rome. We arrived home safely and the journey by bus was quite tolerable – better than 4 times the cost by taxi; we are pensioners now.

The Retirees Go Abroad – Finding the Pantheon

 

Kerry has got through the night and her headache has passed. Once again another bright sunny day but our passes have expired. However we have learned the mechanics of the bus and metro and have some idea of the layout of the old city so fearless and undaunted by hot weather we plan to visit the Pantheon, but before doing so to visit the Prison of St Peter and Vittoriano.

However we started the day by visiting a fashion market just off Via Cavour, the name of which I can give but it exact location I have not recorded so unfortunately readers you may have to explore and find this one yourselves. Hidden in a very plain, and for Rome an undistinguished building was Mercato Monti Urban Market, a small alternate studio of individual designers and makers of alternate fashions. One was Eliodoro Benelli (also alternate – batted for the other team) who makes jewellery with fabric. We also spotted some of Rome” Bridges and journeyed to an island in the river Isola Tiberina. One bridge sits behind another destroyed bridge and the other includes a flood warning device; a hole and when the river starts to fill the hole it is time to leave Rome. Exploring the major building on the island we found ourselves in the maternity ward of a local hospital. We just walked in off the street and there we were in the queue for new mothers. We backed out very quickly.

It was a brief visit to Mercato Monti Urban Market fortunately. It seemed very popular based on the number of visitors whilst we were there.

We returned to the task at hand – finding the Prison of St Peter. He is said to have been crucified upside down as he did not wish to try and emulate the crucifixion of his Lord. Carcere Di san Pietro (Mamertino) can be found between the Arch of Septimus Severus and Vittoriano in a minor street marked on my map in size 2 font so it cannot be read (even with a magnifying glass) by the elderly. So once again you may have to do some research to find this but the two landmarks should fix it pretty clearly for you.

Our Omnia card gained us free entry and a tour of the Prison. You may recall that I passed comment in an earlier blog that I thought the Omnia Pass may have been a business project of the Vatican. Well here is where I felt this confirmed. The tour was almost a sales pitch for Christianity and a rededication to the faith. Very little about the building itself, its occupant and the fate of St Peter.

According to tradition, the prison was constructed around 640-616 BC, by Ancus Marcius. It was originally created as a cistern for a spring in the floor of the second lower level. Prisoners were lowered through an opening into the lower dungeon. For more on the history of this prison I suggest you visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamertine_Prison.

It has been a cistern, a place of detention before execution, then a prison, then a church. What a mix. By the way Romans did not have prisons. There was no sentence for custodial terms under Roman law so if you ended up in Mamertine you were going to die.

There was a part of the tour where images of rocks spoke to us about the history but the remainder was far more to do with spiritual matters and whilst I had no objection to this presentation it was not what either of us expected nor wanted.

We walked back toward Via Dei Fori Imperiall and found the junction stairs to Vittoriano and its war museum. The Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II) or “Il Vittoriano” is a monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy and contains the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We were not interested in going through the museum we were interested in the building itself. I suspect the museum would be very interesting historically but there is only so much history to put into a holiday. It was lunch time so we went upstairs to the restaurant on what we thought was the roof only to find another few stories above accessed by an external elevator with a queue. So we grabbed some lunch. It was extremely hot and the Italians thought they had this beat by using a water mist injector on their fans. Maybe it worked we don’t know as we did not get the benefit but one table of tourists found the negative when the water line broke and they got a shower instead of a mist.

So we caught the elevator along with plenty of other sweating tourists and got to the roof viewing platform. We were now on top of Rome. In the photos you will see a hole being dug below the Vittoriano. These excavations can take place anywhere as the whole city sits atop ruins of civilisations going back thousands of years.

We then decided to find the Pantheon. This took us on foot through some more of Rome’s little streets and Piazzas. On the way we encountered another dirty edifice hiding a beautiful church. Clearly one of the bishops this church ended up a Pope as the Papal insignia appears on the face of it and inside is just indescribable from the point of view that this is just one of many and yet it is remarkable. I just cannot understand how so much money could be spent on these monuments to the institution and the man rather than the purpose.

The Pantheon popped up before us unexpectedly. We were so used to being lost that it surprised us to find our target. This is unusual in that is somewhat plain. The Pantheon, commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD) and rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian about 126 AD is circular with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns (eight in the first rank and two groups of four behind) under a pediment. A rectangular vestibule links the porch to the rotunda, which is under a coffered concrete dome, with a central opening (oculus) to the sky. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43.3 metres (142 ft.). It is one of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a Roman Catholic Church dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs” but informally known as “Santa Maria Rotonda”. The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza della Rotonda. To read more visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheon,_Rome.the Piazza was alive with tourists so finding somewhere to sit in the shade and rest the feet was quite a challenge.Litter lay everywhere and weeds grew through cracks in the fence and paving. Entry was free and it was quite chaotic with tourists bumping and clicking all around.

In this building is the tomb of that famous Renaissance artist Raphael.

Fatigue set in and we made our way to the Metro and then to the Jolly Pizza for a warm meal a bottle of water and then to sleep.

The Retirees Go Abroad – Closed Mondays

 

We have been really blessed with the weather. Overnight it has been very gusty with storms in some places but the wind has cleared the clouds leaving an azure blue sky and a throbbing Sun promising another warm day.

Breakfast has been the same all week – cereal (corn flakes or corn flakes), juice, sugary pastries, bread and ham, bread and condiments, a toast type biscuit, coffee (or at least it was advertised as such) and tea. Not a lot to choose from but we are travelling on a budget and we will make up for choice during the day. Even so the biscuits pack easily into your back pack and are tasty to fill in during the day. So each day we have grabbed some packets of these biscuits and a bottle of water (don’t forget the water fountains in Rome).

Our plan today was to visit two museums at Repubblica; Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo and Museo Nazionale Romano Terme Di Dioclezino. The National Roman Museum is a museum, with several branches in separate buildings throughout the city of Rome, Italy. We were looking to visit the two at Repubblica – The Baths of Diocletian, which currently houses the Epigraphic and the Proto-historic sections of the modern Museum, while the main collection of Ancient Art which is currently housed in the nearby Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. For more on the National Museums of Roman a visit to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Roman_Museum will be helpful.

We caught the bus and metro as usual alighting at Repubblica (the next stop from Terminii). Once again directions by street sign was hopeless. The most obvious entrance to one of the Museums appeared to be a church. How did I know it was a church – it had a bloody great big cross and a beggar out front (the beggar was the giveaway). The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs (Bascilica Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri) is a church built inside the Baths of Diocletian in the Piazza della Repubblica. When we entered the first thing I saw was this sign “Shorts not permitted”. Well of course I was in shorts, so Kerry ventured on.

As I stood beside the front door a tour group came through the door and some of the men were in shorts like me. One fellow immediately engaged the tour guide in conversation and from the gestures it concerned the shorts he was wearing and the sign greeting them as they entered. The tour guide was trying to explain presumably why she did not warn them when a girl probably in her early twenties wearing a pair of shorts that rode up her arse, exposing the cheeks of her bum entered the church. The tour guide pointed her out and although I don’t understand German/Dutch (which ever), she seemed to be identifying that the sign referred to those types of shorts. With that she called to this young woman who when turning displayed the pockets of her shorts hanging below the leg of the shorts and a very large “camel toe” in the crotch of her shorts. She was oriental and did not understand German/Dutch/Italian or English and continued to walk into the church oblivious of the sign and probably quite proud to display her arse and camel toe. It always happens when you have not got the camera ready.

By the time I had witnessed this short pantomime, Kerry had returned speaking about the glory of the church. I asked her if she had observed the “shelia with the camel toe” but she had no idea what I was talking about so we moved on to find the museums.

We decided on the direction to walk based on our tourist map (they are all sooo vague) and ended walking around the block (in sight of the Terminii station – I reckon I could throw a ball from one to the other station) to find the gate to Museo Nazionale Romano Terme Di Dioclezino (the Baths of Diocletian) closed on Mondays. So we moved on to stumble across Museo Nazionale Romano – Palasso Massimo just across the road – closed on Mondays. Aargh!

What do we do now? Consult the map! Map in hand we moved along Via Nazionale to be harassed by a street vendor selling tickets to an Opera. We took the leaflet with plans to visit the theatre presenting the show to see if we wanted to book tickets – only 30 euros each. We consult the map. Change of plan let’s find the main Opera theatre for Rome. We are standing on the corner of Via Nazionale and Via Firenze when we come to this momentous decision and where is the Opera – the intersection of Via Torino, Via Del Viminali and Via Firenze walking distance from Terminii and in the path to Museo Nazionale Romano – Palasso Massimo. So we walk around to Teatro Dell’Opera Di Roma and Rigoletto is opening on October 21, the night before we fly out of Rome. Perfect so we enquire about the tickets at the ticket office. Sure thing we can have tickets starting price up in the nose bleeds is 85 euros, to 150 euros in the boxes. We settle for 2 seats in the right wing on the floor of the theatre. All I can think is that my Dad (a great fan of opera) would be so jealous.

Stumped as to what else I want to do that day Kerry slips in the “shopping expedition”. She has found a shopping tour to a designer outlet. I will give you the web site but here is what it says:

“At Castel Romano Designer Outlet, you can find your favourite designer brands at up to 70% off, all year round. Our beautiful setting, cafes and restaurants, children’s play area, parking and more than 140 boutiques, we offer something for everyone. We have a wide range of stores, ranging from iconic fashion brands like Valentino, Roberto Cavalli, Lacoste and Michael Kors to athletic labels, like Nike and Adidas, and casual favourites, like Guess and Diesel.”

“Castel Romano Designer Outlet, is located just 25 km from the centre of Rome, in the heart of Agro Pontino. It is close to the Tyrrhenian coastline, making it the perfect destination in summer for a day of sun, sea and shopping. The Castel Romano roundtrip shuttle bus service runs every day from the city centre of Rome. ” And it is just 13 euros. As I said I will share the web site so here it is: http://www.mcarthurglen.com/it/castel-romano-designer-outlet/en/

Well the trip takes about an hour and if you have tired feet and a bountiful wallet (or in my case a tight fist on the wallet) then for 13 euros each it provides an interesting trip through the Rome that does not excite tourists – the commercial districts. We arrived and it felt like we had gone to a shopping village on the Gold Coast except they spoke Italian. Even the developer seemed un-Italian – McArthur Glen. It certainly has everything to cure you of a shopping itch and some nice eateries as well. So we idled away the afternoon and I got some interesting shots of some of the street furniture.

On the trip home Kerry was determined to get a photo of a building with a heliport on it as it also appeared to have a huge solar panel beside the heliport. I got the giggles and she got her photo.


She also scratched her itch.

The Retirees Go Abroad – the Mother Church

We awoke to another bright and hot day. The weather had been unusually warm but each morning had started with a chill in the air with the day becoming warm by 10.00 am and hot by 2.00 pm. As we were planning a day out doors we packed our water bottle and our hats grabbed our Omnia tickets (yellow for the sight-seeing bus and red for the monuments and public transport). The back pack Kerry had bought in Bakewell (a village in Derbyshire) served us well holding all our needs including provisions from the breakfast table to provide snacks throughout the day. Biscuit and honey!
As usual we caught the bus to Anangina car-parking and bus/metro station. It is hard to describe this place and to take photos as everyone rushes past makes you feel like such an obvious tourist and dick. So I can only offer two snaps one showing the bus stops and buses of one section and part of the everyday market (clothing mainly) at Anangina.
After the ride on the Metro to San Giovanni we walked around to the Mother Church. This is St John’s Lateran. The first home to the Pope of Roma. Before the Vatican and before Avignon and the Holy See, the Pope lived and preached here. Emperor Constantine established the first Christian church on this site hence the Romans consider this the Mother Church the seat of the popes as bishops of Rome from which all other Christian churches have developed. As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, it ranks above all other churches in the Catholic Church, including St. Peter’s Basilica. For that reason, unlike all other Roman Basilicas, it holds the title of Arch basilica.
“The arch basilica stands over the remains of the Castra Nova equitum singularium, the ‘new fort’ of the imperial cavalry bodyguard. The fort was established by Septimius Severus in AD 193. Following the victory of Constantine I over Maxentius (for whom the Equites singulares augusti had fought) at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. …………The Lateran Palace fell into the hands of the emperor when Constantine I married his second wife Fausta, sister of Maxentius. Known by that time as the “Domus Faustae”, the Lateran Palace was eventually given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine. The actual date of the gift is unknown but scholars believe it had to have been during the pontificate of Pope Miltiades, in time to host a synod of bishops in 313AD.
The arch basilica is located outside of the boundaries of Vatican City proper, although within the city of Rome. However, it enjoys extraterritorial status as one of the properties of the Holy See. This is also the case with several other buildings, following the resolution of the Roman Question with the signing of the Lateran Treaty.” (Source Wikipedia)
The front doors are the original doors to the roman “Domus Faustae” and they are huge. In the portico or patio to the church is a statue of Constantine which comes from the original Domus Faustae. Inside the church is opulent without being garish like St Peter’s. The graceful baldacchino over the high altar, which looks out of place in its present surroundings, dates from 1369 and contains the statues of St. Peter and Saint Paul, now in the cloisters from the original palace. Throughout the church are many confessionals each marked with the language spoken by the priest taking the confession. In one I was able to capture the priest and an unknown person having an aside outside the confessional. I like to think the priest has stopped to give his bets to his bookie.
The throne in the Church can only be sat upon by the Pope.
On the square in front of the Lateran Palace is the largest standing obelisk in the world, known as the Lateran Obelisk (weight estimated at 455 tons). It was commissioned by pharaoh Thutmose III and erected by Thutmose IV before the great Karnak temple of Thebes, Egypt. Intended by Constantine I to be shipped to Constantinople, the very preoccupied Constantius II had it shipped instead to Rome, where it was re-erected in the Circus Maximus in 357. At some time it broke and was buried under the Circus. In the 16th century it was located and dug up, and Sixtus V had it re-erected on a new pedestal on August 3, 1588 on its present site.
Whilst viewing the church we spoke to an arch deacon of the church who encouraged us to visit two lesser known churches one dedicated to St Lazlo and the other St Alphonsus. As it turned out the latter was just up the road (about 30 minutes walk). The Church of Alphonsus on the Esquiline contains an icon (strange indeed – icons are a creature of the eastern orthodox church and prevalent in Russia). The icon was stolen from a church in Crete in the 15th century and brought to Rome where it has been known as “The Virgin of Perpetual Help”.
Just up the road, Via Merulana, is The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. It is the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome. There are 25 other churches in Rome dedicated to Mary, but the greater size of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major justifies the adjective by which it is distinguished from the other 25. According to the 1929 Lateran Treaty, the basilica located in Italian territory is owned by the Holy See and enjoys extraterritorial status similar to that of foreign embassies.
Our goal had been to visit the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. Our short visit to the Lateran Palace had taken up the whole morning. Such is the depth of history in this town.


The Retirees Go Abroad – the Colosseum and Palatine Hill

 

Our goal that day had been to visit the Colosseum and Palatine Hill so after some uncertainty about where to catch the “yellow bus” and brushing off numerous street vendors, we found our way to what I think is seen as the embodiment of Rome, the Colosseum. Colosseo to the Romans this enormous stone structure can be found between Via Claudia, Via S Gregorio, Via Labicana, and Via Fori Imperiall. This was an extremely hot day and in the low season so we were not prepared for a queue 200 metres long (once you get inside to buy your tickets the queue breaks from two into 8 and is another 100 metres long). This is where you appreciates the queue jumping ability given to Omnia pass holders. Even so by the time you get inside you want to pee and there is a queue into the portable dunnies which have a smell as long as the queues. Fellas it’s like the football you have to fight off the women to get to sit on the pot because they all want to use our pans.

Once you have finished the call of nature you go to get your audio guide. Don’t bother! The audio guide spots are poorly marked on your guide map and once you do find them on your stroll around you usually have gone the wrong way because there is no guidance as to the direction to follow. Anyway this does not detract from the breathtaking engineering used by the Romans at a time before hydraulic cranes and computer design. Unfortunately the Popes saw fit to raid this monument for stone to build their own monuments so the southern wall is a mixture of building materials and all the wooden seats have long since disappeared but even the ruin is remarkable.

“The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in 70 AD, and was completed in 80 AD under his successor and heir Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96). These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius).” (Wikipedia)

The construction was financed by booty from the invasion of Judea. The structure is 50 metres tall and capable of holding 75,000 people. I had seen an article on the plane from Brisbane and had quite a lot of knowledge about the way the arena operated (National Geographic) and some of the controversy about the sails that were operated by a garrison of sailors to provide shade over the patrons. So seeing the myriad of corridors underneath the floor of the arena only brought questions as to the truth of how the staging operated. Whatever is the truth, either story is miraculous for 2,000 year old technology. By the way, the arena was covered in sand and the latin for sand is arena. The Online Etymology Dictionary says “from Latin harena “place of combat,” originally “sand, sandy place,” perhaps from Etruscan”.

We found a place in the shade and pulled out the bits from the breakfast table to substitute for lunch.

We then moved across to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. Here are the ruins of Rome from the times of Vespasian and Flavius.

The Palatine Hill is one of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city. According to Roman mythology, the Palatine Hill was the location of the cave, where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf that kept them alive. Later they killed their great-uncle (who had seized the throne from their grandfather), and they both decided to build a new city of their own on the banks of the River Tiber. However, they had a violent argument with each other and in the end Romulus killed his twin brother Remus. This is how “Rome” got its name – from Romulus.

You get some great views from the Colosseum particularly of the triumphal arch which formed part of the Roman road to the forum. Your Omnia pass gets you in here ahead of the queues also. Once inside the first thing you encounter is the arch of Titus a 1st-century honorific arch. It was constructed in c. 82 AD by the Roman Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus to commemorate Titus’ victories, including the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. You can imagine the cohorts of Legionnaires marching through these arches to the raucous applause of the citizens of Rome.

You then follow a bit of a rough trail down to the Forum passing the Basilica of Maxentius, the Temple of Romulus, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina and the ancient cemetery, another basilica and another temple until you reach the forum. There is not a lot to see and you need to exercise your imagination to envisage a community meeting place that changed regularly with changes in Rome itself. At this point the sun, the rough path underfoot and the fact we were largely looking at piles of stones took its toll on Kerry. From here on I was travelling solo.

I continued along the path shown as the “visitor’s route” to the Curia and the Arch of Septimius Severus. The white marble Arch at the northwest end of the Roman Forum is a triumphal arch dedicated in AD 203 to commemorate victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, in the two campaigns against the Parthians of 194/195 and 197-199. These arches have weathered time very well. Moving around the visitor’s route I then passed the ruins of the Temple of Saturn and the Capitoline Hill. Behind these ruins were further ruins of Temples from different eras. One of the largest footprints was the Basilica of Julia initially dedicated in 46 BC by Julius Caesar, with building costs paid from the spoils of the Gallic War, and was completed by Augustus, who named the building after his adoptive father.

Standing in the distance I could see three columns with everything around them in rubble. These are the remnants of the Temple of Vesta (vestal virgins) and behind that the gardens of the House of Vestals.

I caught up with Kerry and we moved back to the Arch of Titus and climbed Palatine Hill to Domus Flavia, also known as The Flavian Palace. This is a part of the vast residential complex of the Roman Emperors on the Palatine Hill in Rome. It was completed in 92 AD in the reign of Titus Flavius Domitianus, more commonly known as the Emperor Domitian. The Flavian Palace was more commonly used for purposes of state, while the Domus Augustana, an enormous, lavishly ornamented palace south of the Flavian Palace, was the Emperor’s primary residence. Vast is an understatement. This residence once covered the entire hill top. The site is so big that any photo would only give you a small view of ruins making up the whole.

The sun had beaten both of us so we called it quits to head home on the yellow bus. It was after 6.00pm so the yellow bus was not operating. We set off on foot to find our Metro home. In doing so we crossed paths with an unknown church but we were struck by the size of it. It must have once been a significant part of the community but its condition shows what being just one of many churches leads to. Then we passed Vittoriano, a monument to the Unknown Soldier. It is very Roman in its design. It also serves as a museum. We put this on our list to revisit.

That night Kerry was stricken with a violent headache – probably sunstroke – went to bed as soon as we got home. Here is my photo record of the Colosseum.

 

 

The Retirees Go Abroad – Museo Nazioanale Di Castel Sant’Angelo

Unfortunately lunch was a bit disappointing but the afternoon held the promise of a visit to the Castel Sant’Angelo now a museum.
Part of the benefits of the Omnia pass is the use of the Roma Christiana Bus tour for 3 days. This is your usual “red bus” or open top bus tour of the major attractions in the city only this time the bus is painted yellow. So we boarded the bus to do the tour and finish at stop 1 to visit the castle. The tour, as with all such tours, gave us a good understanding of where things were and the distances between them.
Arriving back at the castle we were at first taken back by the shape which is a large circular tower with a further tower inside it. Castel Sant’Angelo (English: Castle of the Holy Angel), is a towering cylindrical building in Parco Adriano, Rome, Italy. It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum.
Entering the castle the usual Italian thing happens – you realise there is little guidance about how to view the building or what it is you are viewing. So we followed our noses and ended up in a corridor inside the centre tower going up the middle of the tower. De je vu! This was very much like the Keep (tower) in Windsor Castle except it did not have a cannon pointed at you as you climbed the stairs. We saw the passage the Popes could use to evacuate the Vatican and hide out in the castle and we crossed over what appeared to be a means of securing the inner tower by drawing up the bridge.
We came out onto a deck serving as a patio between administrative rooms and the Popes apartment. Here was a large sculpture of an angel (if the Pope was staying here he needed an angel to protect him). This was once the tallest building in Rome and the views from the castle were pretty spectacular. On this level there is a café with grape vines growing over it. It looked very pleasant and after a nature call I found Kerry had made a friend (see its photo). As you would expect the Papal apartment was well adorned and they had a bloody big money box for all their jewels.
We continued to climb leaving aside the myriad of side passages through the various rooms of the papal apartments until we came to the roof deck with a colossal avenging angel hanging above us. In medieval times this platform would have given a commanding view of the whole of Rome. We could clearly see Victtorio which we visit later in our trip. You can see the Basilica, the river, in fact all around.
We walked down a different path to exit the castle. This was more like the “tradesman” with a wide path for deliveries. Between the inner tower and the outer tower we found a section of paving which had been dated back to Hadrian’s time.
After seeing the castle we decided to walk along the river again to see what we can see. We passed the Courts and poked our heads in and a friendly guard allowed us to poke in a bit further but no photos allowed.
Back on the footpath we noticed that it is not all smooth sailing for all Romans – some still live pretty rough.
As we strolled along we came across a service station Italian style – two bowsers and the cashier – that’s it.
Finally we arrived at Ponte Cavour and the modern fountain of Henri Cartier- Bresson where we rested our tired feet and slaked our thirst with water. By the way a tip for all travellers. When in Rome you will pass public fountains just running and spilling over the footpath. These are perfectly safe and you should fill up your water bottle at the fountain whenever you can.
Rested, we walked up Via Tomacelli into Via Condotti on our way back to the Spanish Steps. On our Vatican tour the guide had tipped us off that we can identify the date of things by papal insignia and she gave the example of the three bees for the Barberini pope and the fountain at the Spanish Steps. Sure enough when we inspected here was the insignia. We had been walking all day but according to Kerry we had to climb the Spanish Steps. Why? Because!
So we did. We climbed the steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, and we realised that behind the scaffolding was the Trinità dei Monti church dominating the top of the stairs. We went inside and found the choir was singing so we sat to listen. They were signing in French which struck me as strange then the priest got up and he too spoke in French. We had stumbled across a French church in Rome. As we left the Church we were struck by the pretty sunset. I have shared here the best of my photos of the sunset.
Below the church reminded me of Montmartre with the artists scattered around. We found two pretty sketches of things we have seen bartered heavily with the artist and purchased same. At the top of the stairs we found a plaque stating that the monumental stairway of 135 steps was built with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi, in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy, and the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France, to the Holy See in Palazzo Monaldeschi located below. That made it clear why this area was so “French”.
As the sunset indicates once again we were in the city after sunset with no particular plans for dinner. However close by was an alfresco restaurant on the roof of a building and because we were at the top of the Spanish Steps we could walk across a bridge to the Restaurant. The night air was cool after an unexpectedly and unseasonably warm day, so sitting on top of Rome with a cool breeze a glass of wine and pizza seemed even closer to heaven than in the Basilica. There we met briefly a couple form Florida on a brief holiday getting away from the kids. We shared the evening and atmosphere agreeing that getting the Italians to do anything was like herding cats.
We ended the evening with a trip on the Metro and the bus back to the hotel. The lights of the Jolly Pizza were still burning but we were tried and in need of a rest. So ended day 2.

The Retirees Go Abroad – The Vatican City

The Vatican City
Before relating our visit to this most unusual palace state I thought it best to give a general background to what is the Vatican. Here is what Wikipedia says:
“Vatican City State, a walled enclave within the city of Rome, with an area of approximately 44 hectares (110 acres), and a population of 842, is the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world by both area and population.
It is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state ruled by the Bishop of Rome—the Pope. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergy of various national origins. Since the return of the Popes from Avignon in 1377, they have generally resided at the Apostolic Palace within what is now Vatican City, although at times residing instead in the Quirinal Palace in Rome or elsewhere.
Vatican City is distinct from the Holy See which dates back to early Christianity and is the main episcopal see of 1.2 billion Latin and Eastern Catholic adherents around the globe. The independent city-state, on the other hand, came into existence in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy, which spoke of it as a new creation, not as a vestige of the much larger Papal States (756–1870), which had previously encompassed much of central Italy. According to the terms of the treaty, the Holy See has “full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction” over the city-state.
Within Vatican City are cultural sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. The unique economy of Vatican City is supported financially by the sale of postage stamps and tourist mementos, fees for admission to museums, and the sale of publications.
Popes gradually came to have a secular role as governors of regions near Rome. They ruled the Papal States, which covered a large portion of the Italian peninsula, for more than a thousand years until the mid-19th century, when all the territory belonging to the papacy was seized by the newly created Kingdom of Italy.
For most of this time the popes did not live at the Vatican. The Lateran Palace, on the opposite side of Rome was their habitual residence for about a thousand years. From 1309 to 1377, they lived at Avignon in France. On their return to Rome they chose to live at the Vatican. They moved to the Quirinal Palace after work on it was completed under Pope Paul V (1605–1621), but on the capture of Rome in 1870 retired to the Vatican, and what had been their residence became that of the King of Italy.” (Source Wikipedia)
We travelled by Metro to Ottaviano on the A Line, this being the closest Metro stop for the Vatican. Arriving about 9.00am, we headed directly down Via Ottaviano to take us to St Peter’s Basilica and the meeting point for the Omnia office to pick up the tour. However we were intercepted by a street vendor offering guided tours of the Vatican. Now our Omnia pass got us into the City with an audio guide without having to wait in line but the deal being offered seemed far better. We were able to agree a discount in the cost of the tour and changed course into Via Germanico and the offices of Maya Tours. Whilst waiting for the guide I checked out the entry into the City and even at that hour the queue ran from the entrance in Viale Vaticano into Via Leone IV around the corner almost to Via Vespasino (a long way).
Our group was about 17 strong and we were supplied with head-sets and our guide Debra (a very Roman lady despite her name) had a microphone so that we could all hear her commentary and you knew when you lost sound that you had also lost your group. Entrance went very smoothly. Despite it being low season there was still quite a crush of people. Having Debra to guide us into the City was so easy. If we had gone it alone with our audio tour I am certain our stress levels would have accelerated. Italians are hopeless at organising themselves and the confusion at the entry was enough to confirm this (Debra later admitted this was a true statement).
Our first stop was outside the new entrance where Debra briefed us for our visit to the Pinecone Courtyard. The dome of the Basilica could be seen in the distance and the Papal rooms could be seen behind scaffolding. Debra challenged us to spot the chimney from which the white/black smoke emanated for papal elections. Of course there is not one. A special stove is brought into the Sistine Chapel as no one wants to poke a hole through Michelangelo’s ceiling.
The Pinecone Courtyard is a large court which served as a recreational area for the Popes and clergy. Each Pope set about filling it with some monument for his aggrandisement (my view) to the detriment of other cultures (of course the Popes are not the only leaders to have pillaged from the defeated). Below are a series of photos showing the courtyard. One of the more miraculous (again in my view) was the globe in the centre of the courtyard. Passing from the courtyard into the museums we went through a smaller courtyard called the Octagonal Courtyard displaying statutes from all periods but there was one in particular that Debra wanted us to see which she stated was a favourite of Michelangelo, Laocoön and His Sons excavated in Rome in 1506 by a farmer who then donated it to the Pope It shows the Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus being attacked by sea serpents. It is said that Laocoön was a Trojan priest of Poseidon who was killed with both his sons after attempting to expose the ruse of the Trojan Horse by striking it with a spear. My picture of it does not do it justice as the sculpture is very dramatic when seen in real life.
Another sculpture of note is the Belvedere Torso which Debra said so influenced Michelangelo that he gave everyone in his Last Judgment a “six pack”. The Belvedere Torso is a fragment of a nude male statue, signed prominently on the front of the base by “Apollonios, son of Nestor, Athenian” and is now believed to be a copy from the 1st century BC or AD of an older statue, which probably dated to the early 2nd century BC. Wikipedia notes “The contorted pose of the torso and musculature were highly influential on late Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque artists, including Michelangelo and Raphael. Michelangelo’s admiration of the Torso was widely known in his lifetime, to the extent that the Torso gained the sobriquet, “The School of Michelangelo”. Personally I found it difficult to admire such a broken piece of what it once was to be as awed as Debra.
I have included some other photos of things I saw (too many to mention them all) but I was impressed by the red porphyry Sarcophagus of Constantina that was once house the body of Constantina, daughter of Constantine the Great (died 354), and a similar sarcophagus for her mother and the giant statues of Hercules in bronze.
Then followed the Tapestry Gallery. These tapestries were enormous. Ilaria Marsili writes in a blog http://www.ilariamarsilirometours.com/blog/the-gallery-of-the-tapestries-in-the-vatican the following:
“It’s a 75 meter long gallery with a splendidly vault decorated in trompe d’oeil executed in 1789.
On the walls are displayed tapestries belonging to two different periods and manufactures:
On the left wall there are tapestries woven in Rome by the Barberini workshop and commemorating important moments in the life of the Barberini pope Urban VIII.
On the left wall the important tapestries woven in the 16th century by the workshop of Pieter van Aelst, the best in Europe during the renaissance period, based on cartoons by the pupils of Raphael
and depicting episodes from the life of Jesus. Particularly worth of notice are the Adoration of the Magi, the massacre of the Innocents and the Resurrection of Christ. The last one is one of the best example of ‘moving perspective in the history of art, and the best executed on a tapestry.”
I agree with Ilaria, the tapestry “the Resurrection of Christ” is amazing. As you walk past it the eyes of Christ follow you and the slab in front of the cave appears to move so that it is always pointing toward you. My photos certainly do not do these tapestries justice.
From there we went onto the Gallery of Maps. Pope Gregory XIII was both an astronomer and astrologer and as such was interested in terrestrial mapping as well as astrological mapping. According to Debra he ordered this Gallery to be constructed so that when he passed through he would travel from the north to the south of Italy (or visa versa depending which way he was going). I have provided you with pictures of the ceiling of the gallery rather than the maps as you can see the maps any time but unless you visit the Vatican you will not see the ceiling of the Gallery. “The galley was commissioned in 1580 by Pope Gregory XIII as part of other artistic works commissioned by the Pope to decorate the Vatican. It took Danti three years (1580–1583) to complete the 40 panels of the 120 m long gallery. (Source Wikipedia)
There are much more extensive museums in the Vatican than the few I have outlined but without spending every day of a week in there I could not hope to remember anything I saw.
In the Pinecone Courtyard Debra had by reference to various display panels outlined what we would see in the Sistine Chapel. No photos could be taken and we were allowed 5 minutes to walk through. She spent some time explaining how Michelangelo agreed to paint the ceiling (remember he was a sculptor) and of the interplay with Raphael. She also discussed how he came at the end of his life to paint the Last Judgment.
I have found that Wikipedia has a most readable description of many of the things I observed and as I cannot remember the statistics given by the guide (I don’t think she gave us too many) I have resorted to that source so that my memory is not tried for its inaccuracy.
“The chapel is a high rectangular building, for which absolute measurements are hard to ascertain, as available measurements are for the interior: 40.9 metres (134 ft.) long by 13.4 metres (44 ft.) wide, the dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as given in the Old Testament.
Its exterior is unadorned by architectural or decorative details, as is common in many of the Medieval and Renaissance churches of Italy. It has no exterior façade or exterior processional doorways, as the ingress has always been from internal rooms within the Apostolic Palace (Papal Palace), and the exterior can be seen only from nearby windows and light-wells in the palace.
The ceiling of the chapel is a flattened barrel vault springing from a course that encircles the walls at the level of the springing of the window arches. The barrel vault was originally painted brilliant-blue and dotted with gold stars, to the design of Piermatteo Lauro de’ Manfredi da Amelia. This was entirely replaced when Michelangelo came to work on the ceiling in 1508.
Of the present scheme of frescos, the earliest part is that of the side walls. They are divided into three main tiers. The central tier of the walls has two cycles of paintings, which complement each other, The Life of Moses and The Life of Christ. They were commissioned in 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV and executed by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Cosimo Roselli and their workshops. Beneath the cycles of The Life of Moses and The Life of Christ, the lower level of the walls is decorated with frescoed hangings in silver and gold. Above the narrative frescos, the upper tier is divided into two zones. At the lower level of the windows is a Gallery of Popes painted at the same time as the Lives. Around the arched tops of the windows are areas known as the lunettes which contain the Ancestors of Christ, painted by Michelangelo as part of the scheme for the ceiling.
The ceiling was commissioned by Pope Julius II and painted by Michelangelo between 1508 to 1512. The commission was originally to paint the twelve apostles on the triangular pendentives which support the vault; however, Michelangelo demanded a free hand in the pictorial content of the scheme. He painted a series of nine pictures showing God’s Creation of the World, God’s Relationship with Mankind, and Mankind’s Fall from God’s Grace. On the large pendentives he painted twelve Biblical and Classical men and women who prophesied that God would send Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind, and around the upper parts of the windows, the Ancestors of Christ.”
Debra our guide informed us that if you look closely at the face of the Prophet Izaiah Michelangelo used Julius’s face to influence him to give him the free hand he wanted. But the angels on Izaiah’s shoulder are making the Turkish sign for “Up you pal” (the finger) as the artists statement of his opinion of Julius. I looked but without my glasses and with the ceiling 3 stories above me I could not see it.
“In 1515, Raphael was commissioned by Pope Leo X to design a series of ten tapestries to hang around the lower tier of the walls. The tapestries depict events from the Life of St. Peter and the Life of St. Paul, the founders of the Christian Church in Rome, as described in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Work began in mid-1515. Due to their large size, manufacture of the hangings was carried out in Brussels, and took four years under the hands of the weavers in the shop of Pieter van Aelst. Raphael’s tapestries were looted during the Sack of Rome in 1527 and were either burnt for their precious metal content or were scattered around Europe. In the late 20th century, a set was reassembled from several further sets that had been made after the first set, and displayed again in the Sistine Chapel in 1983. The tapestries continue in use at occasional ceremonies of particular importance. The full-size preparatory cartoons for seven of the ten tapestries are known as the Raphael Cartoons and are in London.

This was disrupted by a further commission to Michelangelo to decorate the wall above the altar with The Last Judgment, 1537–1541. The painting of this scene necessitated the obliteration of two episodes from the Lives, the Nativity of Jesus and the Finding of Moses; several of the Popes and two sets of Ancestors.”
Debra stated that the artist by this timing knew the end of his life was near and he made some important statements in his painting. One was to show all figures naked as that is how we are born and that is how we pass into heaven. According to Debra Carafa put up quite a stink but until Michelangelo died the figures remained naked. The genitalia in the fresco were later covered by the artist Daniele da Volterra, whom history remembers by the derogatory nickname “Il Braghettone” (“the breeches-painter”).
“The Pope’s Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena said “it was most disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully, and that it was no work for a papal chapel but rather for the public baths and taverns,” In response Michelangelo worked da Cesena’s semblance into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld. It is said that when he complained to the Pope, the pontiff responded that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, so the portrait would have to remain. Michelangelo also painted his own portrait, on the flayed skin held by St Bartholomew.”
At this point in the tour we were offered to stay and view the other museums or proceed onto the Basilica. At this point the tour had run for 2.5 hours and we had had enough so we proceeded to St Peter’s. This is truly enormous. Built to be the centre of Christianity for the world it is completely awe inspiring. I will leave you to view my pictures which barely touch the surface of what makes up this temple. We finished our tour with a visit to the crypt where many of the past Popes have been laid to rest. On departing we had our first glimpse of the Swiss Guards in their traditional costume. These blokes are serious guards of the Pope and there are some 130 odd of them. In addition the Vatican has its own Police force again about 130 of them.
As we left we took photos of the grand entrance (St. Peter’s Square) which strangely Mussolini built for the Pope following the signing of the Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican. Time to return to Via Germanico collect our Omnia passes and grab some lunch.

The Retirees Go Abroad – Roma, the Eternal City.

I arrived home (Long Eaton) on October 13 after the Long Commute back to Australia to prepare for our trip to Roma in 3 days time.

However before travelling, there is time for a little more renovation then the morning working bee at the church. A few minutes to pack then we are on the bus to the airport, picked up our Euros at the airport which we had booked on line then through security and having breakfast at the airport. That simple.

The flight was uneventful and arriving at the airport was surprising because it was so small. Ryanair tends to use the secondary airports. The main international airport Leonardo da Vinci International Airport is Italy’s chief airport and is commonly known as “Fiumicino Airport”, as it is located within the nearby Commune of Fiumicino, south-west of Rome. However we flew into Rome Ciampino Airport which is a joint civilian and military airport. It is commonly referred to as “Ciampino Airport”, as it is located beside Ciampino, south-east of Rome. Collected our luggage and then went out to find a way of getting to our hotel. Hello what’s this? A chauffeur with a notice board reading “Senor and Senora Young”. That us Kerry cries. What a pleasant surprise. No worrying about how to get there just jump on board the chauffeur driven van and we are there at the hotel.

We booked in and thanked the receptionist for sending the chauffeur. “No Senor we did not send the chauffeur perhaps the agency”. The penny drops. Kerry looks at me and says she must have booked it with our flight. Later we check and sure enough for a little extra we had booked the chauffeur. Well worth the cost.

Now a little bit of history courtesy of Wikipedia to set the scene.

“Rome is the capital of Italy and also of the Province of Rome and of the region of Lazio. With 2.9 million residents in 1,285.3 km2 (496.3 sq. mi), it is also the country’s largest and most populated commune and fourth-most populous city in the European Union by population within city limits. The urban area of Rome extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of around 3.8 million. Between 3.2 and 4.2 million people live in Rome metropolitan area. The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, within Lazio (Latium), along the shores of Tiber River. Vatican City is an independent country within the city boundaries of Rome, the only existing example of a country within a city: for this reason Rome has been often defined as capital of two states.

Rome’s history spans more than two and a half thousand years, since its legendary founding in 753 BC. Rome is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe. It is referred to as “The Eternal City” (Latin: Roma Aeterna), a central notion in ancient Roman culture. In the ancient world it was successively the capital city of the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and is regarded as one of the birthplaces of Western civilization. Since the 1st century AD, Rome has been considered the seat of the Papacy and in the 8th century it became the capital of the Papal States, which lasted until 1870. In 1871 Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, and in 1946 that of the Italian Republic.

After the Middle Ages, almost all the popes since Nicholas V (1422–55) pursued coherently along four hundred years an architectonic and urbanistic program aimed to make of the city the world`s artistic and cultural centre. Due to that, Rome became first one of the major centres of the Italian Renaissance along with Florence, and then the birthplace of Baroque style. Famous artists and architects, such as – to name just a few – Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini, made the city the centre of their activity, creating masterpieces like St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, Raphael Rooms and St. Peter’s Square.”

So after 2,500 years of history I was excited that in one place I might see pieces of those parts which influenced the Western world as we know it today. Even with this knowledge I was surprised (both pleasantly and not so pleasantly) with what we discovered.

Now the hotel was not what we expected. When booking the hotel we knew that it was 3 star but we did not ask what the standard of a star might be. The hotel looked uninviting with rubbish bins at the front spilling onto the road part of the road did not have kerb and channel and parts of it looked abandoned. From reception we were told to find our room we had to go outside up a flight of stairs through the door and our room was 101. A little unusual but we did this and got lost because the door looked for all the world to be a service door not the entrance to a set of hotel rooms.

The building containing the hotel is built in a “U” shape and has a deck between the two small towers, a ramp at the open end going down to the bus stop and a wall and covered walkway at the other end making the bottom of the “U”. We walked out onto the deck but could not find any door that would give entrance to the hotel. Ultimately we tried the service door and “Voila” we found the room. The room was basic like a prison cell is basic (the air conditioning does not work until the ambient temperature is unbearable), the shower leaked, the floor tiled throughout and the furniture spartan.

Now to travel to the old city of Rome we had to catch a bus to the Metro then into Rome. It is a bit like living at Redland Bay catching a bus to Carindale and then into the city. After a few times this became routine and we would travel with the Italians going to and from work each day.

On the positive side the cost to use the bus, train, tram and the Metro (all on the one ticket) was 1.50 euro per 100 minutes (we needed about 20 minutes on a good day and 1 hour on a bad day to get into Rome). The bus stopped immediately outside the hotel except on Domenica (Sunday) when we had to walk down to the main road about 500 metres away. There is a trick to all this. Don’t catch the bus to Grotto Celoni but catch the one to Anangina but it is hard to tell when both buses are a 507 and the bus destination is shown as Anangina even though it is going to Grotto Celoni. So on our first attempt we ended up at Grotto Celoni and had to catch the 511 back to Anangina.

When you get to Anagina, after witnessing the most fluid abuse of road rules by every driver on the road, you arrive at a bus station that must collect people from miles around as there are row upon row of stops and the enterprising Italians have set up a market which operates from 5.30am (when the Metro opens) to God only knows what time (it seems to vary) but you know when they have left because every bit of packaging and rubbish lies scattered around. On top of this is the car parking which never seems empty and in fact is supplemented by the illegal use of road side gateways and double parking. There was even a burnt out van there which seemed to the Italians no more unusual than the thousands of people making their way to the Metro.

There are only two Metro lines. The A line from Anangina (Yes we were at the end of the line in the south) and Battistini in the north and the B line from – well we did not use it much but it generally runs east west intersecting with the A line at Terminii (which is also a bus station and Rail head).

There was the ever present para military Carabinieri, the local Polizi, then someone else in uniform all carrying guns and walking around importantly. Even more ever present were the beggars and the street sellers (it felt like Nadi in Fiji). Some definitely would not take no for an answer.

Our first trip into the city was to collect our Omnia passes. If travelling to Rome these are well worth looking into. I suspect this is actually owned and operated by the Vatican because at one site we got a sales pitch for Christianity. Have a look on the web site http://www.romeandvaticanpass.com.

There are two collection points and because we were unfamiliar with Rome we chose the one closest to us at Piazza San Giovanni as it seemed easier than the other at the Vatican. Well of course it wasn’t. After taking the bus to the Grotto instead of Anangina we went the wrong way many times before understanding how street directions work in Rome. The collection point was inside a door unmarked with any identification but next door to the “mother church” St John’s Lateran. We probably spent an hour trying to locate this place and when I said to the guy at the office “well we passed the first test – we found you” I got a surly grin and he launched into explaining how the passes operated.

We decided that our official visit would start the next day as the passes are for 3 days and once you start using them (even if it is a minute to midnight) that counts as your first day. We knew that there was very little to go back to at the hotel, so we took to the Metro and made our way to the Spanish Steps (we will talk more about these later). Crowds of tourist awaited us (and this was the low season) and we wandered in the general direction of the river just to see what we could see. In this area the roads are unofficial malls but of course the cars and scooters did not stop weaving their way through pedestrians. From Piazza Spagna we strolled down Via Condotti into Via Tomacelli where, to Kerry’s delight, we found the Magnum Shop. Here they take an ordinary magnum ice cream and make it decadent. Words cannot describe the result so I will leave it to the photos.

After tasting the delights of the Magnum shop we continued our stroll down to Ponte Cavour. The sun was setting and we took photos and decided it was time to make our way home. However we could not go back the way we came we had to go a different way. With the benefit of a street map I can say that we got lost but saw the Palace Borghese, some other Piazzas, some other churches, missed the Fontana de Trevi, and stumbled upon the Metro in Piazza Barberini. I doubt we could ever find that path again. It was now passed 8.00pm and no dinner yet.

So we returned to our hotel along with the thousands of workers going home (yes even at this hour the Metro was packed) and experienced an attempted pick pocketing in the Metro. These were kids. One blocked my way and whilst I tried to push past him the other sought to lift my wallet. I was lucky and they failed but the lesson is not to carry a wallet in a pocket and be aware that pick pockets are there you just don’t realise it until too late. When we reached the bus station at Anagina the traffic was horrendous and the bus crawled its way back to our hotel.

We arrived back at the hotel around 9.00pm not having any plans about dinner. In fact I thought we were going to bed hungry. But like a star in the night the lights of the Jolly Pizza shone brightly at us as we walked up the ramp to the back of the hotel. The Jolly Pizza is a crude little eatery which serves good tasty food at reasonable prices and has a nonchalant atmosphere (basically they ignore you except when serving you and they carry on with the life of making and delivering large numbers of pizzas ordered by telephone). My first attempt at ordering was a shambles. We ended up sharing a pasta dish and finishing with two nutella crepes instead of one. Oh well at least we were not hungry and this little gem was to become a regular place to eat. After returning we fitted into the routine and appeared to be accepted as part of the furniture.

So that was our first day. We learnt a lot. Took some pictures. Planned the next few days adventures and then off to bed.