The Inside of the Colosseum
The Colosseum and the catacombs from the inside.
The flight to Rome was on time, non eventful and nothing special to report (which is a good thing), other than some fantastic views over Geneva (recognisable from the water spout, even at 35,000 feet) and the Alps. Stunning.
I had been to Rome before when I was Inter-railing, a life-time ago (see The Best £3.50 Ever Spent
and Back to Rome
), and one memory was how magnificent the Italian train stations could be. Upon landing at Rome Airport, it seemed that that also applied to their airports. It just seemed wrong arriving on an EasyJet flight from Luton to an airport like that (and we saw a Ryanair plane parked-up). That said, they had given us the furthest possible baggage reclaim to trek to.
From the taxi ride, we could soon see what an absolutely exquisite city Rome is, but there is one thing that we can't stand about it, which is going to be a common theme in this blog, and started right at the airport. The moment we came out of the secure area and headed for the taxi rank we were mobbed by 'officials' (according to their badges at least) to help us find a taxi. All of them were trying
The Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum from the viewpoint.
to persuade us to go with them in a completely different direction to what was indicated by the signs. Ignoring them, we found a queue of taxis at the rank to take us into Rome for a €48 fixed cost.
Another thing we saw from the taxi is that the traffic in Rome is an insane, manic free for all. If there are any rules of the road, no one takes the slightest notice of them. It's not helped by the fact that the roads seem to have no road markings, be it give-way lines (that would be ignored anyway) or even lines separating lanes of traffic. I suppose the city officials decided that if everyone is just going to disregard the road markings, then why bother painting them (although we have subsequently discovered that they don't pain any lines as they a prone to melting in the heat).
We had pre-booked a tour of the Colosseum, so once we had left our bags at the hotel, we headed there. Central Rome isn't actually that big and you can get around most of it by foot - provided you have a death wish or the confidence and assertiveness
St Peter's Basilica
St Peters Basilica and the river from the Ponte Cavour bridge.
to cross the roads. The traffic doesn't stop at pedestrian crossings, but will usually swerve round most of the pedestrians.
As well as the traffic to avoid, there were the street sellers who flocked to the main tourist areas, with the Colosseum being at the top of their list. "No, I don't want any useless tat!" "No, I don't want a selfie-stick!" "I know it's hot but for the 100th time, no, I don't want a fan or a bottle of water or a hat or another bottle or water!" "No, I don’t want that fold open salad bowl, although that does look quite cool (but I won't tell him that!)" "Oh good, they've found an American who might actually be interested."
Next there were more 'officials', who seemed to think that we would happily pay for a tour, despite having already paid for one when we pre-booked. Some of them were really quite aggressive and tried to make out that they were officially sanctioned with their "Official Tour Guide" badges.
We stuck to our guns and eventually managed to navigate our way through a level of chaos that even Luton Airport would be ashamed of, to
The Castel Sant'Angelo
The river and the Castle Sant'Angelo at night.
eventually find which of the many intertwined queues was the one that we needed to join.
Talking of guns, there were soldiers and police everywhere, all of them armed. Apparently it was the day before the Italian National Day and the area leading up to the Colosseum was clearly going to be the centre of all the celebrations. Security was obviously high, not just here but all over the city.
The tour was fantastic, but it was almost impossible to understand what the guide was saying. We all had little radios and earphones, which helped, but he spoke at a million miles an hour and the sound quality was not that great. It also wasn't helped by us constantly crashing into and getting mixed up other tours that were coming from all directions. It was critical to keep an eye on the flag that the guide is carrying to help you follow him through the seething mass of people.
Whilst still it is spectacular and impossible to comprehend that it has stood for 2,000 years, huge parts of the Colosseum had sadly collapsed, and then much of it was then used to build other things. Some parts
The Trevi Fountain
Trying to miss the crowds for the Trevi Fountain at night.
of what is left has been reconstructed or reinforced to prevent any more of it collapsing.
I hate to say it, but it was really handy to have seen the film Gladiator, as that brought much of what the guide was saying to life, for example the wooden floor with the trap-doors that were used to release tigers and the like into the arena from the catacombs underneath.
Sadly, the catacombs were not included in our ticket and nor was the upper levels of the Colosseum. However, what was included, which we didn't know until we chanced our luck, was entry to the nearby Roman Forum. For a substantial period, this was the main centre of Roman life, with arches, temples, courts, a house of the Vestal Virgins and the Roman shopping centre known as the Trajan's Markets. This is also an excellent viewpoint that was worth a climb up to.
In the evening, I decided that I would walk to the river near the Vatican for some dusk and night pictures, whilst the others relaxed with some drinks. I was not disappointed as it is an absolutely stunning location. In fact there were a huge number
The view of the Alps from 35,000 feet.
of other sad photographers there, all of us with our tripods trying to fit around each other. I started at a bridge over-looking the river towards St Peter's, where it was particularly busy. I then headed down to the side of the river as there were a number of different possibilities with a number of different views. Definitely worth the walk.
The space on each side of the river is wide enough to be a road. In fact I am sure that it is exactly where James Bond and a henchman had a high-speed chase in the movie Spectre before James Bond eventually drove into the air and crashed his beautiful, expensive car into the river.
Because of all my messing around with photographs it was nearly 10.00pm before we went for our evening meal. We had checked the Italian tipping etiquette in a guidebook and apparently it is not generally necessary to tip for meals, but, from the moment we asked for the bill the waiter started making it extremely clear that he was expecting a tip. So much so that he eventually ensured that we were determined not to leave one, which resulted in a torrent of abuse as we were leaving.
Before we went back to the hotel we walked to the famous Trevi Fountain, which was nearby. It was beyond busy and impossible to get anywhere near, although we did manage to squeeze ourselves close enough to throw some coins into it, which is the custom. Apparently, if you throw a coin into this fountain then it is guaranteed that you will return to Rome, which is no bad thing. Apparently around €3,000 worth of coins is removed from the fountain every week.
As we were leaving there was a sudden wave of cheering and applause. We looked to see what was happening and there was a man on his knees, proposing to his girlfriend. Obviously the romantic spot of Rome.
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