Published: July 12th 2010June 12th 2010
Big, jaw-dropping and echoing with historical machismo, the Colosseum still dazzles centuries later.
June 9-12, 2010.
With 44 World Heritage Sites strewn across the country, Italy can lay claim to being the planet's treasure attic, in whatever sense of the word.
The country is filled with such exquisiteness all throughout that you can spend a month in, say, Rome and still not exhaust all the city has to offer. The capital is not the Eternal City for nothing. It's a city that served as the seat of a powerful empire, and stood witness to numerous pivotal points in history. As such, various sites within its borders have gone on to modern times still carrying the weight and prestige of its grand history. And tourists come in droves.
Refined and gritty in equal doses, Italy's charms will definitely bowl you over for some time until, just like your grandpa's attic, its less endearing qualities soon get under your skin. Traffic grinds to a halt at rush hour, organized crime continues to provide headache for the police, immigration issues still haunt certain regions, and petty thieves proliferate as pockets of poverty greets unsuspecting visitors who come armed with nothing but the oh-so romantic version of the country that features prominently in Hollywood and
Toss a coin and make a wish!
glossy travel publications.
Nevertheless, Italy justifiably retains its status as il bel paese
. Its richness is a smorgasbord for all senses and with such iconic sights like the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain at the backyard of Rome, it's hard not to be mesmerized. Sure, they're tourist traps but they're drawing visitors by the busloads for a reason: they provide a great glimpse of the grandeur of Roman architecture and history.
If it's all becoming too much of ancient culture to bear, take a break amongst the many cafaterias that line narrow alleyway and have a quick slice of pizza and a sip of espresso while sucking in the scenery: mimes that won't pose for a picture without a few euros in return; aprons featuring the statue of David's lower part; a young couple with their faces dug deep into a guidebook; and a woman precariously cruising the streets on a scooter. Then cap off your meal with a gelato
bought from that man who barely speaks English, almost giving you two cones of tiramisu-flavored ice cream instead of two scoops
And if by some miracle you tire of Rome, you can always get out
Roaming in Rome
Exploring a narrow alleyway in Rome
of the city and explore the rest of Europe's "boot." Florence, Pisa, Venice... you get the picture.
After an hour's flight from Vienna, we landed at the Rome International Airport early morning of June 9. This time, pooped from the grind of backpacking, we hired a private van to take us to our hostel east of Termini.
The hostel didn't have airconditioning units or electric fans, which exacerbated the already stifling summer heat. The upside was that it was atmospheric and located at a busy neighborhood so it wasn't hard to soak up on the Roman atmosphere. A cafeteria stood next door, where patrons gathered on evenings and chatted in Italian while having a smoke, dinner and a drink of wine. Not far off is a pizzeria run by a friendly woman who cheerily takes orders from customers. She didn't mind that we never understood each other; she was just, as the staff of SM Hypermarket says, happy to serve. At the back of the hotel are a couple of houses where the scent of freshly cooked fish whiff through the air while a plump woman beats a rug at the terrace.
Still reeling from exhaustion, we
A River Runs through It
Afternoon view of Florence from a hilltop
spent the first day sleeping before hitting it off in the supermarket in the afternoon. We bought prepared meals, which we later ate for dinner at the hotel's veranda. We also toured a little bit in the streets nearby, meeting a number of fellow Filipinos, who surprisingly compose a considerable portion of Rome's immigrant population.
Next morning, we were on our usual business, touring as much of Rome as we can on board a hop-on-hop-off bus. Stops included the Vatican City, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, and the Trevi Fountain, before having a late lunch. In the evening, while we were having dinner, a Filipino driver whom we met earlier volunteered to drive us to Pisa for a day trip.
So we were northbound the next day. Much has been said about the beauty of Pisa beyond the Piazza del Miracoli
but without much time on our hands, we couldn't get past the obligatory photo ops with the Leaning Tower, where there were throngs of tourists in Italian football jerseys and painted with the Italian colors on their faces (it was the start of the World Cup). A few hours later,
In-Between Romantic Trips
Gondolas docked while waiting for romance-minded passenges
our Filipino guide took us to a hilltop overlooking Florence, whose beauty seemed to have popped out of one of those paintings displayed all throughout the streets.
In the evening, upon returning to Rome, our guide toured us some more to some of Rome's other parts before we decided to call it a day.
Early the next day, we went on our way to Venice, where our week-long Mediterranean cruise would start. It was beautiful day with colorful houses lining up at the bank of the canals. The iconic gondolas carrying men in striped shirts plied through the narrow waterways., theater masks displayed prominently on street stalls, and large seagulls flew too close to the ground for comfort.
It took an hour before the cruise's service bus arrived and when it did, it finally signaled a change in our pace.
There are more photos below