2006-01-09: Roads are leading home

All roads have led to Rome. Think about it, 7 months ago I had no dream or ambition to come live in or even visit Europe. Now I've seen a larger part of the world. I'm ready to return to my nice quiet little corner. Even so, there are still things to enjoy here in Italy.

This house had an entry cost

But the garden is free

This thing was big!

The beginning of yesterday was easy. Midday travel meant nothing for the morning and little in the afternoon at the destination. There was the usual round of angst at arriving at a city to find no information booths, no help maps, an insufficient metro system (two little lines, fine for Lille but not Rome) and a bus system that is all over the place. While the journey to the hotel may have been easier if I had researched it all in the beginning (sometime outside in the cold and dark on the Internet - but why when tourism booths give you that information?) Edyta and I managed to get to our hotel. We then walked around a big park, past the zoo (entry fee so we didn't go in), past a villa/museum (entry fee so we didn't go in), along the old Roman wall and to Pincio, a lookout over the famed Piazza del Popolo. Romes' city of romance feel comes from seeing the endless stream of couples sitting on the walls necking. This was on a cold night in the middle of winter, I imagine in summer the lines of couples kissing is two or three deep before you get to the garden edge. There was a nice atmosphere in the night as people rode around four person bikes (or most of the teenagers just seemed to race and crash them). We had set off to reach Via Veneto, an exclusive shopping street but after a long walk we somehow came right back to the hotel on the same road we left. Giving up on the map we had been given we tried a different route, only to end up in the above mentioned park.

Someone knocked Rome down in a day

For the next day we returned to the train station to get on the city sightseeing bus (actually a different company, one that had a logo "We sell tickets on the bus", but at the station sent you off to a booth to get tickets). On the way we saw someone slide of his scooter. I'm sure it is a common sight here, the people on scooters just try to squeeze into any gap they can find, and try to make one when one isn't there. The man was okay, he just picked up his scooter, looked at the scratches on it and pulled it to the side.

Everyone takes this photo

Our bus drove around a few streets and landmarks that meant nothing to us (and our audio guide wasn't working so we didn't hear anything about them either). We turned one corner to see old ruins on either side of the road and the Colluseum at the end of the street. We got off here and walked the outside of the Colluseum and into the old temple district. It was early and there were few tourists about and it was quite peaceful walking about. There were no guide signs but we did 'attach' ourselves to a couple of guided tours to pick up bits here and there. That is good because I would have walked right past the site of the shrine to Julius Caesar without knowing what it was meant to be (it just looks like a blackened rock). Breakfast had been simple and didn't even provide any meat so by now Edyta was needing food. We bought a hot sandwich (which was good as the morning was cold) and returned past the Forum to the Colluseum looking for some better photo angles. We had to pass another African selling the bags (Gucci knock-offs) that were all over Florence and I could see Edyta's eyes tracking the bags. So could the seller, for he immediately said the now repetitive opening line of '50% off today'. Someone should teach these people sales techniques. We didn't go into the Colluseum or the Palatino, as both required an entry fee.

The Grandest thing in Rome

We rejoined our tour bus and next stopped over the river at St Peters Cathederal and the entrance to the Vatican City. We entered into the Cathedral (after going through a standard security screening process, how much biological damage to metal detectors do the body?) and found a line to stand in. This was a line to climb lots of steps up some dome, of which Edyta didn't want to climb steps, I didn't know the dome and it had an entry fee, so we moved on. We entered a free museum where the tombs of Popes are on display, including the rather crowded one of John Paul II. It was hard to get to a position to take a photo (and it felt strange being able to take photos after so many churches tell us not too). After the museum we found free entry into St Peters itself. This is another of the truly massive churches. This church is probably a lot brighter than many other of the big churches we've been in, though it is still decorated floor to ceiling in large and expensive artwork.

Ben Hur anyone?

The Popes palace

The Popes weekend place

It was now mid-afternoon and in our search of the Sistine Chapel we had left the Vatican. A man handing out leaflets for a nearby restaurant told us the Chapel was closed but I suspected this may have been said just to get us to stop and eat. We walked down the street a bit further and found the Chapel still wasn't in sight so we stopped to eat at a restaurant. During our meal we were given an amusing display of the antics of the bag sellers. A whole tribe of African men arrived wearing all of their hand-bags. They plied the crowd a bit but then lined up, store to store, to display their identical wares on the ground (diversity is the key to business success?). Suddenly they all grabbed their items and moved around the corner, standing in a big pack and looking back down the road. A police patrol car drove by slowly, an officer watching the Africans. After the cops were past the men set up again but only a few minutes later repeated the same procedure as the same car came by again. Edyta was a little annoyed by this as she was willing to try to buy a bag from one of them. Having finished lunch (and managing to pay, an extra difficult job in Italian restaurants) we left to find the Sistine Chapel. We found it had closed hours ago, as already told to us. We returned past the Africans to see the same ritual was going on. They had just been disturbed by the police so I took Edyta over to a permanent stall selling the same items. Here she could touch the goods and decide that she didn't want one of the bags after all. They are poor quality for knock-offs. We did the souvenir shop walk back to the bus, watching groups of Africans heads twitching left and right like a group of meerkats. We also noted that each of the stalls selling the bags seemed to be a congregation point for the Africans, or more like a central distribution point for their goods.

This place was huge

We had one last stop planned in Rome. We got off and found the Trevi fountain. This was meant to be a magnificent fountain, Edyta imagined it in the centre of a big plaza, with ruins of Rome visible on one side, the churches somewhere on another side and a ring of out door cafes with people sipping cafe latte and enjoying a whole range of cakes. Instead it was a magnificent fountain (but not the best we've seen) tucked onto the back of an old church in a tiny plaza filled with tourists hogging any vantage point and Pakistanis try to 'give' any woman a rose (and then maybe expect a donation in return). In the space of a few minutes we had three people try to give Edyta a rose, enough that I was giving a curt 'The lady doesn't _want_ any roses' to any vendor that approached.

This fountain was a let down

We left the fountain and went off to find the Pantheon, a stop I wanted to make. We came across a building that had a sign about the Pantheon next to it. This had ruined pillars on the front but had been completely blocked off. This was a bit puzzling to me as I had thought the Pantheon something more like the Acropolis. Checking the map I discovered we were only half-way. When we arrived at the real Pantheon I was a little disappointed. The building was big and round, but some stupid Christian from God knows when had converted it into a church. Honestly, there would be more interesting and varied things to look at in Europe if the Christians had never arrived (though then it would likely be some Islamic temple). Most of the tourists were taking more interest of some television filming occurring with a nearby obelisk as a backdrop. It involved Asians, or those Mexican looking Italians, or wherever those people were from.

In any case we'd had enough of the sights for the day and caught the tour bus on to Via Veneto. The street didn't have many shops on it for its fame. There was the American embassy on the corner. The start and end of the street were marked by a Lamborghini and Ferrari car store. We walked back around the park to our hotel. Several times we tried to cross the road but this was a daunting and dangerous affair. The Italians have no lane markings and rarely have pedestrian crossings. Zebra style crossings are just ignored so don't stride out onto one of those. There is always a steady stream of traffic but luckily most of it is one-way.

For the end of the day we had a nice meal (mostly because I'd forgotten to take an extra 50 euro note with us during the day and so we had money to burn). Then it was time to throw out some more beloved items of clothing before the return journey (too bloody early) to Heathrow tomorrow.