Sunday, October 28, 2007

La Dolce Vita

My mission to conquer Europe by mini break continues!

I know I am starting to sound like a broken record when I do these blogs about the cities I visit. I realise that I proclaim each one as incredible and beautiful and one of my favourites. But Rome really was one of my favourites! Where to begin...

We spent the first day exploring the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Both are amazing beyond description, and the fact you are walking down the same road as Caesar, or looking at the spot where Mark Antony said 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen...' is almost too much to comprehend. The Colosseum is for the most part amazing well preserved, and those parts that are not we have the Vatican to thank for. We took about a million photos, which don't do it justice, but here are a few:

But I personally was more taken by the Roman forum, where you were literally wandering through the remains of the heart of the Roman Republic and then Empire. This was where the remains of the temples, courts and government administration building were. Even in the remains, I couldn't believe how sophisticated it was. They had drainage, toilets, taps, beautiful and complex buildings, posh suburbs, bad suburbs, a Senate... all thousands of years ago. You just can't help but be amazed by how advanced they were.

The next day we went to the Vatican. It was a must do, although I'm not sure why as neither of us are religious, let alone Catholic. But there you g0. We made the mistake of almost going on a guided tour with an extremely over bearing American guide, but bailed after the Piazza as we realised we didn't want to ave to keep answering questions like on a quiz show the whole tour.

The Vatican is stunning and I particularly liked the Piazza, with its beautiful columns and statues of the Saints looking down upon you. Shame that half the stone that built it was looted from the Colosseum. St Peters itself was very over the top, as you would expect, and so while I was taken aback by the sheer ostentatiousness of it all, it didn't inspire any particularly spiritual feeling in me.

We also went to the Vatican Museum, which is where, after what seems like an endless series of decorous passages and hallways and rooms, you finally, finally, get to see the Sistine Chapel. Yes it was amazing, if you were able to block out the hundreds of whispering people crammed in next to you and the fact you were being hassled by narky security guards.

The next days was devoted to the Pantheon and the squares of Campo de' Fiori and the Piazza Navona. The Pantheon, sounding like a broken record again, was incredible and I could not believe how well preserved it was. The Piazza was also beautiful but unfortunately, its primary attraction, Bernini's fountain of the Four Rivers, was closed for renovation. (And no, I did not see Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon, who reportedly were in the very same area on the same day. Damn.)

Another favourite was San Clemente. There were countless churches and they were all very impressive, but this one is particularly interesting as it was the site of pagan worship, early Christian worship when the religion was still prohibited and then a proper church was built when Christianity gained dominance. From the church you descended down into this amazingly complex network of underground passageways which had been carved out over the centuries, which featured a pagan temples and ancient frescoes and the graves of early Christian saints. It was dank and mysterious, and fascinating.

And of course, the amazing Trevi Fountain (or Fontana de Trevi - shame that the retaurant on Pirie Street doesn't do its namesake justice!):

And finally a special culinary mention. All the food was of a generally high standard (as you would expect), but if you are ever going to Rome, I recommend the Taverna Dei Fiori Imperiali on Via Madonna dei Monti for the Italian culinary experience of your life. Seriously, write the name down! I cannot rave about that place enough (and thanks to Ma and Pa Chalke for the recommendation).

Even though we saw most of the major sites, there is so much in Rome that you feel you have barely scratched the surface. The only downside to an otherwise fantastic trip was an air traffic controller strike on the day of our departure which lead to us having to stay another night in the tiny town outside Rome where Ryanair flew from, Ciampino, and paying a totally exorbitant price to get the only room left in the hotel.

Curse you Ryanair and your oh so irresistible prices but oh so shitty customer service!