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Published: June 17th 2010
A woman I knew once went to Rome for a holiday. She kept going back. Almost every time she had holidays she and her husband used to jump on a flight and go to Rome. She did mix it up a little and go to other places in Italy as well, side trips really though. They just loved the city. I was one of the people who used to suggest that maybe, just maybe there are other cities that deserve her attention. I might not be quite so definite now. It is a pretty special place and a city that is definitely very difficult to consume at one sitting.
We spent a week in Rome. Rather than stay in the city itself we decided to find a place a little outside and travel in. Due to the great skill and judgement of the member of this team who does this sort of thing we found an apartment in a small-ish village, Morlupo, to the North-East of Rome. It was as country as you will find, I suspect, in a 30 km radius from the centre. With the advent of the high season, and its prices, affecting most places, this apartment
cost just a couple of euros a night more than a tent site in a campground for the two of us and our vehicle. It was a lovely place. Fully self-contained, with internet access included, a TV that picked up cable and plenty of room. We could walk to the supermarket and other shops but the local train station wasn't that well serviced so we needed to drive about 16 kms to a station that had services every 15 mins or so. The total trip into Rome from our apartment normally took between 30 and 45 minutes.
For anyone who has ever studied ancient history, Rome is pretty special. While it is pretty close to 45 years ago that I paid some - perhaps not always enough - attention to the subject, I was still keen to have a look around and to walk where Caesar, Pompey, Sulla, Tiberius, Augustus, Nero, Cicero and company had walked a couple of thousand years ago. I freely admit that you have to get your imagination going to do this effectively but it was a lot of fun. We visited the normal sites - the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Forum and various bits
of the archaelogical diggings associated - in the first two days. It took us a while to get around and to try to work out what we were actually looking at. In some areas, the places are well signposted but in others it is not so good. Much of the signage, as you would expect, is in Italian and, while you can come across English translations, they are not that common. You can buy guide books which are handy and, of course, there are plenty of guides about who will show what they want to for a fee.
We took a guided tour of the Colosseum. It wasn't expensive but it also wasn't worth much, partly I suppose because we heard nothing new. We also took a tour of the Palatine Hill. This was thrown in with the Colosseum tour, which by the way allowed us to jump over the reasonably long queue. Over 60 people in the group but an excellent guide who was able to bring the place alive, not just for us but for the large numbers of 20 something US college students who are starting to flood Italy on their vacations. Nice people most of
them, can be loud.
I didn't expect that we would be able to walk through the actual places where the Caesars and their various mates had lived but I didn't appreciate the extent of destruction of ancient Rome by those that followed. The Goths arrived in the late 400s AD and sacked the place and that did some damage but the real problem was that the palaces of the emperors and others who lived on the Palatine Hill were used as a giant quarry for those that populated Rome for the following centuries. There was a lot of nice stone there after all. The Romans apparently used up, or more properly created some beautiful things out of, the only known supply of porphyry in the world. They used it all up. Nice sculptures though. We were told that porphyry - a deep red type of marble that came from Egypt - is the most valuable stone in the world and getting up there with the precious metals.
The result was that other people built houses all over the area and kept doing so over the centuries. Eventually, we have a situation where the hill grew over the old
places. New houses were built on top of old and so on. It is now progressively being dug up to expose more and more of the old Roman villas and palaces. They have done some excellent work on some buildings and it appears that the intention is to do more. There are certainly a lot of archaelogical areas being worked on and in a few years there will be even more to see. It appears that they intend to bring some of the sites back to a state that will allow people to really appreciate the opulent lifestyle that the Romans, or at least those in charge, developed for themselves. That would be something to see.
Rome has much more to offer than the ancient stuff of course. The art galleries and museums are all over the place. We spotted that there was a Caravaggio Exhibition on near the Quirinale. We didn't drop in and try to see the President, who is housed there, but there did seem to be a great many more people trying to see the Caravaggio Exhibition than to see the Pres's place. On the first day we swung past, the line was over 500
Because it was consecrated as a church
metres snaking down the hill in the hot sun. We made big plans and were there at opening time the next morning. This time the line was out of sight down the hill, around the corner and on.
The first time we walked away from the Caravaggio queue we headed for an exhibition featuring the work of the Barbizon school and Monet, and through the Impressionists to Renoir. Some of the paintings of Monet are excellent and enjoyable. Some of his later works where he spent some years trying to paint the best possible water lily leave a bit to be desired as far as I am concerned. It was good to see how he had influenced others and how they influenced him. An enjoyable few hours.
On the second occasion when the Cara queue looked unendurable we, reluctantly, decided to give him a miss and went to have a look at Edward Hopper instead. No queues here but well worth a wait if there had been one. A very good exhibition presented with a bit of style and innovation. We both enjoyed most of Hopper's work and it was definitely a worthwhile way to spend a few
Having mastered the metro system over the first couple of days we weren't walking quite as many kms as we have done in the past. Just a nice little 10-15 a day without counting indoor distances. The metro system in Rome is very good. They do have some of the more spectacularly painted trains you will see but the service is good and cheap. It is not just the trains that are the targets of graffiti artists. Every possible piece of space is covered, everywhere. Some of it shows reasonable talent. Some is just the standard rubbish and should be painted over quickly.
There are various themes you could follow on a visit to Rome. The religious one is an obvious candidate. We weren't into this as much as others but we had to make a visit to the Vatican. For a start they have a lot of the good stuff. A lot of the marble that left the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill now covers the surfaces of the Vatican. A lot of the statues were 'recycled' there, including a great deal of the porphyry. We were told that a possible new porphyry mine has
Victor Emmanuel's place in the traffic
been discovered and this is causing some concern to the Vatican. The value of their porphyry collection may drop and that will apparently be an issue.
The Vatican Museum is immense. We were told that a person who spent a minute in front of every exhibit would take 15 years to go through the entire place. We entered and followed the signs to the Sistine Chapel. We had high hopes of the Chapel and figured that what we came across along the way may just do the job for us. We did walk for a long time and we did move through a lot of galleries and rooms. They have some high priced material here. Everyone, it seems, wants to have their material exhibited in the Vatican or, perhaps, the Vatican just likes to have a bit of every master's work. Whatever. It was very good. Your neck is going to feel the strain looking up at the beautiful ceilings and you never have enough eyes to see everything that is on the walls. Everywhere you look there is another of those old masters on a wall. The place is amazing.
We worked our way through following the
Anita Ekberg would turn this lot on
signs. There is room after room. You come across a place with a beautiful ceiling, tapestry or paintings all over the walls and, in your ignorance, wonder is this it? But finally we made it to the Chapel and there is no mistaking it. No photos here, although all over the place, cameras were surreptitiously clicking away. It was the people who had not worked out how to switch their flash off that gave their game away. Instructions and directions were given continuously by the attendants and by pre-recorded voices but none of it did much to stem the flow. Not completely clear why the restriction is in place. You have upwards of 500 people in the place all talking, sitting around and staring. It wasn't as though there was a particularly devotional atmosphere. A few photos didn't really seem to matter.
Now I know that Michelangelo spent much time lying on his back painting this ceiling. No roller for him and definitely no extendable wand. And I know that it is one of the great things to see but this place left me disappointed. Perhaps I expected too much. Perhaps we have seen too much of this stuff.
Perhaps we had seen a lot of wonderful things before we made it there and perhaps we didn't spend enough time but the Sistine Chapel was very good, but not great. Sorry.
There were times walking through the Vatican Museum that I wondered what they really thought they were up to. How does all this fit with what I understand of Christianity and the principles on which it is supposedly based? But most of it would not be here if some Popes and Cardinals had not pillaged, bought and stole art works or, more charitably, if many, many generous donors had not had a high level of faith - along with a desire to buy their way into heaven.
The Vatican is well worth a visit and, if you are even slightly that way inclined, a lot more time than we gave it.
I mentioned last post that the food in cafes and the like in Italy was not really up to what I had expected. The very day we posted we headed off to a large shopping centre well away from the tourist areas. Not the one that is the largest in Italy, but perhaps the
second largest. I was much impressed with the indicators that showed where the empty parking spots are in the parcheggio. It doesn't take much to impress me though. You could drive your car in and the light would change from green to red. And if you straightened up you could make it have a small conniption. Fun. To find a spot to park simply look for the little green light above the bay.
We had lunch in a cafe/ristorante in this place. The service was good - with the obligatory surly waiter but lovely waitress if I can use sexist language for a moment to ensure that there is a proper description - but the pasta and pizza were excellent. I have since attempted to replicate the pasta sauce - zucchini, onion, a little garlic and a lot of olive oil. I added eggplant. Cooked the daylights out of it all and mixed it through some pasta and it came up well, if I do say so myself. We can't replicate the pizza, no oven at all, but it would be pretty straightforward. A pizza base, well made and hot. A lot of rocket, sliced bamboo shoots scattered about,
olives and mushrooms with fetta cheese. As good as it gets.
I can well imagine that you could visit Rome again and again and see new things each time, delving more deeply into the city. We might but this visit to the city has been excellent. We might just return.
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