RtW Day 42: First Week in Rome
I know that it's been a while since my last update and that even that one was kinda lame, so I'll try to be thorough. Even if you don't read this one though, I'm sure you'll like the pictures :-)
The POP INN Hostel
I'd heard horrible things about Rome. Pickpocketting was incredibly common, and that some people actually had their bags slashed open by thieves on vespas as they drove through piazzas. It was enough to have me seriously worried about how I was going to get to my hostel and so I made sure to book a place really close to Roma Termini, the central station. As it turns out though, Rome really isn't that scary and while pickpocketing is pretty common, simple precautions and taking care not to trust anyone certainly helps.
My hostel was pretty damn awesome. Free bottle of wine in my room along with some post cards and a common room with a big LCD TV to watch movies with fellow travellers. The bed was horribly uncomfortable and the bathroom pretty dodgy, but the staff were too fabulous to let any of that get in the way. If you find yourself in Rome, I muchly recommend them.
The Day I Circumnavigated the Vatican
Since my Father had expressed little interest in seeing any of the "religious stuff", I made sure to hit the Vatican first for my independent touring. I woke up at a leisurely hour, hopped on the metro and over to Ottovani station and found my way south to Piazza San Pietro where, as expected I saw the stupidly long line for the Vatican museum. I knew I'd be in that line at some point this week, but not today.
Piazza San Pietro is pretty amazing and the pictures I've taken just can't do it justice. If there's anything I would recommend for travellers to cities like Rome, it's a wide-angle lens. Hell, go fish-eye if you can... there's just too much to fit in a shot and not enough space in the frame.
When I tired of staring at the church and watching nuns talk on cell phones, I checked out my map and decided that the Travestere would be the next best destination... sadly, they don't have a subway line going there so it was going to be a considerable walk (I don't trust buses).
Here's where it gets a bit insane though. I made one simple mistake and as a result ended up going all the way around the Vatican coming right back to the beginning on the other side of the square... at which point I freaked out and realised I'd burnt roughly an hour and half walking around the walls of the smallest country in the world. After recomposing myself, I realised that I had a long way to go and not a hell of a lot of time to do it so I pushed on.
I didn't know where I was going really. General direction, yes, but my map book didn't have famous landmarks on it, just their Italian names and the streets surrounding them. I stumbled onto the Fontanone on Gianicolo Hill, host to the most panoramic view of the city. Really, it was awesome. As the afternoon bled into evening, I saw flocks of birds fly in chaotic sweeps through the air over Travestere in the distance. I was close, I could see where I wanted to be... but it would take me another hour before I found myself in the Yaletown-esque village. It's really quite pretty there; lots of shops, cafés and restaurants with kids playing football in the streets and people walking their dogs while eating gelato.
I strolled in the direction of "home" and despite the pain in my knees and feet, I was determined to walk all the way. It was dark now, but the map made it look like it was just another hour to get to where I needed to be... not so much.
The Ruins at Night
Rome is full of barriers. In most cases, it's a wall from some old palace that's been maintained over the century, or a moat around another monument, or in this unfortunate case, a huge iron fence erected around the ruins to keep people out at night. So there I was, the rather large expanse of ruins between myself and the hostel and so yet again, I found myself walking around something very big for the second time in the same day. It took a very long time, but I got some alright-looking shots through the iron bars. (it's amazing what you can get with a steady hand and a hypershot option your camera)
As I came around the Northeast corner of my latest obstacle, I ran into the awesome Roman Colosseum, backlit by yellow flood lights against the night sky. It was here that I almost gave up and took the Metro home, but by then it was too late, I was too close to give up now. Besides, I was hungry (having not eaten anything but a croissant and an orange juice for breakfast) and there had to be something tasty between here and the central station.
And so I kept walking. Knees aching and feet burning though, I found a decent restaurant where I refuelled before making the final trip home on foot. Big day, lots of pain, but lots and lots of great pictures.
Given the previous day's discoveries and the corresponding pain, the rest of the week was pretty relaxed. I did a lot of "recon", looking around Rome to see what was where so I could be a decent tour guide for my Dad when he arrived on Sunday. The only major expeditions I went on were to the Protestant Graveyard and the Vatican Museum.
The Protestant Cemetery and Cat Sanctuary
If you have more than a few days in Rome, a nice place to visit is the final resting place of some of the world's most famous artists and activists: The Protestant Cemetery. In a little well-kept spot on the south end of the city core, you'll find the graves of famous folks like Keats and Shelly as well as a number of people famous enough to be mentioned on Wikipedia's coverage of the site, but not famous enough for me to know who they are. The site also doubles as a cat sanctuary. As you walk through the graveyard, friendly felines lounge about on gravestones keeping their favourite dead people company, and sometimes they'll come nudge at you for some attention. It was a most peaceful and relaxing place to spend some time.
The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
Everyone says the same thing about the Vatican: be there early. How early, is always a debate but clearly, I wasn't early enough 'cause by the time I got there, I was looking at about 2hours of waiting... and wait I did, because there was no way I was leaving Rome without seeing the Sistine Chapel.
However, after 2hours in line, you're finally permitted entry into the museum which is packed with all sorts of art and historic artifacts and about 10,000 slow-moving people. Sure, you can skip right onto the Sistine Chapel, but once there, you can't go back so you either move at a snail's pace through the museum or skip it all and see the chapel immediately. I chose the former... big mistake.
Most of the museum is pretty unimpressive really. For the most part, the Vatican is filled with the results of Papal self-importance over the last 1500years or so. There's a courtyard built for Pope Something XII and features these mediocre-looking statues etc. There's also an extremely large collection of Roman busts including those of both mortals and pagan gods. I 12' high statue of Herakles is part of the collection, as is a marble sculpture of a 30-breasted woman. Really not worth the 2hours or so I was herded through with the 10,000 spectators.
And then, at last, I met the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's famous work. To be honest, I don't remember much of it. I was so tired, shaking from hunger and pain in my legs and feet from standing for so long that I really didn't care what was on the wall, I just wanted to get out of that mob. The chapel is quite pretty, but I'm sorry to say that I can't really say more than that. Lesson learnt: avoid stupidly long lines and eat well before visiting important monuments.
The Communist Rally
Toward the end of the week, I was tired and decided to take it easy. For my last day at Pop INN, I just hung around the river, took some pictures and lounged around my favourite seat in Rome. I'll have a picture later.
I moved to a nicer hotel on Saturday though so that when my Dad arrived on Sunday, I wouldn't have to pick him up and move my stuff at the same time. I sat down, paid 17€ (!!) for 24hours of internet and pretty much vegged-out for a while and let my body recover... but I couldn't ignore the noise from outside. Someone had a megaphone and there was music and cheering coming from the street below. I set my laptop to download Veronica Mars, put on some warmer clothes and walked out into the parade...
On October 20th, Rome was the site of a national rally for the Communist Party of Italy. People had come from all over the country to march from Piazza Republica to this really big public square on the Southeast side of the city. The crowd was massive, in the tens of thousands, flags everywhere, System of a Down's "Toxicity" blasting from mobile speakers and of course battalions of pamphlet distributors. There were also a number of vendors selling tshirts with notable leftist visionaries and anti-globalisation slogans. The irony of their presence at a Communist rally was not lost on me.
It's also worth noting here that unlike typical anti-globalisation events in North America, the participants were not only 100% non-violent, but not a single member of the group wore a mask or hid their face in any way. The crowd was a healthy mix of ages from kids as young as 2 to little old ladies. People were friendly and helpful in explaining to me what exactly what was going on: Apparently, way back in July, the Communist parties (yes, there's 2 in Italy) who make up only 10% of the government, posted a call to all supporters to meet on the streets of Rome to protest for a more labour-oriented government. As is tradition, those who support the Communist Party responded to the call and showed up by the thousands from around the country.
I followed the parade along the route and was treated to a tour of some of the lesser-visited parts of the city. We found our way to a big public park where a stage had been erected and more vendors had set up. I left the party and went looking for ice cream.
My Dad's here now, and we've already had a full day of sightseeing, but since it's 2am and we've got another big day ahead of us tomorrow, I just don't have time to post about it. I'll post more later I guess but for now, I'm sure the above will suffice for an update ;-)