Monday, 6 October 2014

roma - really old things and carbs

I have to admit I wasn't entirely sure about Rome to begin with.

Looking out across Rome

It might have been because I arrived super late at night and every taxi driver at the airport tried to rip me off before I finally managed to find one who would charge me the going rate, which was still exorbitant for my tight budget! It might have been that the next day I got lost a lot trying to find things, walking halfway down the Spanish steps before I even realised that's what they were. It could have been that I spoke too soon in my Athens blog about someone knowing I'm headed to the worlds great monuments and deciding that would be a perfect time to cover them in scaffolding. Unfortunately the Trevi Fountain is under complete works so you can barely see it, even with the walkway over it. They have a bit where you can throw your coins that has a faded picture behind it...not really the same! The fountain at the Spanish steps was also covered and so was the church at the top. My first approach to the Colosseum yielded yet more scaffolding and at that point I was convinced there was a conspiracy.
Luckily I don't let my experiences be marred by these sorts of things and Rome managed to redeem itself when I met some of the best people of my trip at my hostel, The Yellow, and then had an amazing Colosseum tour.
I spent my first day getting lost, as mentioned, but I manage to cover a large chunk of the city on foot. I wouldn't say it was all parts of the city that I necessarily wanted to see, but getting off the beaten track is good right?
First up (I mean after getting lost a few times already and paying for water because I stupidly didn't realise those weren't leaky fire hydrants, but free water fountains...) was the construction site that is the current state of the Trevi Fountain, not quite how I imagined it but I ate some delicious gelato nearby and people watched, which is always good.

Not so impressive as it could have been..

Not everyone gets to walk over the Trevi Fountain...right?

I even got my finger in this one

Fake fountain you can throw your coins in

Why not?

This was also my first exposure to the current favourite street selling item of Rome, the selfie stick. Basically you can put your phone on the end of the extendable stick to take a selfie, with or without others in it. I was dubious at first and couldn't figure out how it worked. Sure you can extend the stick so your selfie photo can be more than just your face, and even include friends and still showcase where your are...but how on earth does it take the photo?! It's not like your arm extends that far...or the whole thing would be redundant. I'll leave you pondering that mystery for now and come back to it later when I got sucked in..

Deliciousness before my eyes

Deliciousness about to enter my tummy

Charming side streets

Restaurants lining the alleys between major landmarks
So as mentioned, I wasn't really sure about Rome just yet, but when by some miracle I walked into the square with the Pantheon, I finally felt like I had arrived. The fountain, the people milling around, the famous architecture of the church, the people eating pasta and pizza in the piazza surrounding it all, it suddenly felt very real that I was in Rome, in Italy, living a dream in real time. I almost could have cried. Instead I just sat and took it all in, and was lucky enough to have a double bass and guiatrist busking, and then an accordian player, to add to the ambiance.


Having a moment

Mr Grump

Inside the Pantheon
Next up was the Piazza Navona, which felt weirdly familiar because I've been to the Venetian in Las Vegas and there is a square that sort of looks like it with fake sky roof. I walked along the river to the Piazza del Popolo and through some gardens before coming down the Spanish steps. Then I got lost (again) for about an hour, and started to feel super ill, so it was back to the hostel which was unfortunately about 45 minutes walk away from where I ended up. Not so happy when I got back!

In the Piazza Novana


This reminded me of Vegas....

Looking down on the Piazza Del Popolo

What's that? OH the Spanish steps!
Thus far I had managed to meet no one since I had arrived late the night before and been out all day exploring, and I was only in a 4 bed dorm where no one seemed to be. It was strange after spending all my time in Greece with Jess! However, I've always harped on to everyone about how much fun you can have travelling alone and meeting people and so I pulled myself together and headed down to the hostel bar. Cue awkward buy drink and walk around pretending I'm looking for someone I know when really I am trying to suss out who might be ok with me being the weirdo who walks up and asks to join them. I've always found the vibe in hostels in Europe a lot less friendly than in South East Asia (I know I know, broken record), not necessarily because people are any less nice or friendly, I just think sometimes the atmosphere is a bit different. But not to be defeated I picked a table and asked if I could join them. Best decision!! It turned out there were some other solo travellers in the group and a few who knew each other, hailing from Australia, England and Germany, and they were all willing to have a chat which turned into several more drinks and a not so clear head the next morning...
On the recommendation of my cousin I had called the Colosseum directly and organised a tour of the underground and upper level. These areas have only been available to the public for the past couple of years, and only on this specific tour which can only be booked through the call centre in advance. Since I am a slacker and only called the day I got to Rome I nearly missed out but luckily was squeezed into the 9.30am tour the next day. It was 100% worth it though and this and the people I met are my highlights of Rome.

This part didn't have scaffolding! :D

Looking across where the floor of the arena would have been

Standing out where the floor of the arena would have been


And me again

The tour was lead by a qualified archaeologist who was able to impart her vast knowledge about the Colosseum. We started by heading out on to a platform recently built over one end of the underground to show what it would have been like when the arena floor was still there. Pub quiz fact for you - I learned the the word arena comes from the Colosseum, since arena is Latin for sand, which was what covered the battle ground there. I actually learnt so much on this tour, all about how the Colosseum came to be, what the area was like before, the people of ancient Rome and what happened there. Seriously recommend it!

Next we headed underground. You don't get to go too far in but we saw the canals and rooms where they used to keep the boats they used for plays about battles before they built the all the rooms and elevator shafts and the permanent floor. It was fascinating to see where the poles would have been for the pulley system that operated the elevators to lift the animals and gladiators up into the arena, so hard to imagine that was real life and not just a movie. Our guide reminded us that although it is light and airy down there now, at the time it would have been hot from the fires and the heat of the animals and men, and likely smelled disgusting too! Imagine being a slave down in that for hours at a time...

Looking out from under the platform we were just on

One of the holes where a pole and pulley system would have been

Where the water could come in

It looks light now but it would have been oppressively dark with the platform above

Where a pulley system would have been

After that it was up to the highest point you can go to now, which is one level above where the general admission ticket gets you. The Colosseum extended a few floors above this even, two more than you can see today, and again, it is hard to imagine the rows and rows of seats and the Colosseum as a white colour, since it was covered in marble, and with a retractable roof.

Somehow my non-panoramic camera managed this..

Looking down from the highest point you can get to. You can clearly see the elevator shafts

Me at the top of the Colosseum!

The tour lasted an hour and a half and we were then free to explore all the other areas. It was great to be in a small group of about 20 people maximum to go to the extra areas of the Colosseum and learn so much as well, even if so much of it is hard to take in, like the sheer number of animals and men that died there, sometimes numbering in the thousands in just one day. Not an experience I will forget anytime soon!

Back on the main level...I couldn't take enough photos to show how awesome it was

Hard to imagine the rows and rows of seats that would have spread at least 2 levels higher

The outside, showing how only the inner ring is still whole

Looking down from a hill nearby

When I left the Colosseum I was almost instantly accosted by more selfie stick sellers and this time I decided to find out a bit more about how it all works. You actually bluetooth your phone to this little remote (which will probably break fairly soon). I had seen some photos on Facebook with other people using them and it looked awesome to be able to get everyone in a picture and still show the background, or not have to constantly ask people to take a photo of you (I ended up with several photos of fingers) when you're by yourself. Sooooo.....I bought one. I wouldn't necessarily say I got sucked in...probably not something I really need but it provided a lot of amusement later on that night and I managed to bargain them down to a third of the asking price. I congratulated myself with delicious pasta.

In the Roman Forum. I found it hard to imagine things as they would have been because it was all in such ruins

The Wedding Cake - or National Monument

Sheeps cheese and black pepper. Nom nom nom.

That night I met up with the people from the night before and we went out for a huge group dinner and spent the night in the hostel bar, which has a club in the underground part later on. So much fun and I only wish I could have had longer with these guys!

Rome Lads

So we might have passed this around for a bit and taken about 100 photos...

Luckily I've narrowed it down

To a few favourites

The following day was my last full day and I spent it ticking off the final thing on my Rome list, the Vatican and the Vatican museums. There was something smugly satisfying about walking past the ridiculously huge line that started over a street away from the museum entrance and presenting my pre-booked online ticket to walk right in.

I have to say I wasn't overly impressed with the museums though. Maybe I am just museumed out, or it didn't suit my usual quick walk through because it was so jam packed with people I kept getting stuck in various hallways and rooms. I drove my brother crazy at the Lourve in Paris when I wandered all over it and was done while he was still in the first exhibition area! I like to go to museums, but I don't spend hours looking at everything. The Sistine Chapel was a highlight of course, and the audio guide was useful for that at least, but I left feeling like I'd spent a lot of money just to see that and the rest of the time be a bit crushed! Once in a lifetime though right?

I do admit theses were amazing, as this blurry picture shows

This was not even a packed hallway...

I enjoyed the wholely painted rooms more than the artifacts

Nearly there! No sneaky photos obtained unfortunately

The Vatican city itself was interesting but there wasn't really anything happening there and being by myself meant I sort of just looked at it and was done. I would have been better off coming the day before to see the Pope do his Sunday address but since I had my Colosseum tour booked that didn't work out. I did climb the dome of St Peters Basicalla which gave an awesome view. Then I had some of the best pizza I had in Rome sitting on the steps of a takeaway place.

No Pope today

Inside the Basillica

View from the top of the dome

Amazing pizza for cheap - about 3 euros

These little pizza places are awesome to get food on the go for a good price

It was back to the hostel and a sad goodbye to those of the group who hadn't left yet, before dinner of more delicious pasta with a couple of Canadian girls that had joined us the night before. And finally had tiramisu which was AMAZING and I wish I could just eat bowls and bowls of that.

I took a picture before I devoured it

So overall I did end up really enjoying Rome, mostly for the people I met, the Colosseum tour, and all the carb-loaded food I ate! I probably wouldn't rush back unless the Rome Lads were all there again though. It was great to see other sights I have heard so much about and seen pictures of, but now I just want really want to do more of Italy! I'm not such a big city person and I think if I could get out into the countryside a bit it would be amazing, so that's still on the bucket list...


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