Sunday, September 11, 2011

Exploring the Must-Sees

I was determined to make the most of our first full day in Rome, so we were up early and on the shuttle to the city centre at 9am. The shuttle dropped us off near Vatican City but we had decided to start the day at the Colosseum, the furthest point from the Vatican, and work our way backwards. With this in mind, it was straight to the Metro, which we figured out quickly with our wealth of Metro knowledge. We can’t say we didn’t learn anything on this trip!

There is a Metro stop directly outside the Colosseum so as you make your way out of the station the building fills your only vision of the outside world until you’re in the open and it’s sitting there, comfortably, across the road. To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed. After the initial wow-moment of actually being in its presence, it’s not as overwhelming or empowered as the Parthenon or the Pont du Gard.

We had heard that since we are now into the Autumn months, the queues were much shorter and we didn’t need to buy ludicrously expensive skip-the-queue tickets before we went. What we didn’t realize though was that we had arrived before the Colosseum was even open, so not only was there a queue wanting to be first inside, that queue was massive, wrapping around part of the building. We circled it, and peered through the ancient gates that pierce the building at regular intervals. Maybe not as effective as circling from the inside, but we got a decent view of what went on in there. Some gates had no flooring left, and you could see the ancient tunnels once used to lead wild animals and gladiators into the arena.

We perused the Roman equivalent of the Arc de Triomphe nearby and fended off sweet talking gladiators who wanted our money in exchange for a photo. I’m not sure how many gladiators had tattoos and spoke perfect English, but the gladiators did their best to charm anyone they could (“Hey big boy, want a picture?”, “Hey nice legs, want a sexy photo?”, “Hey darkness, where you from, want a souvenir?”).

It was near the gladiators that my shoe broke. The gold sandals I bought from home lasted until Barcelona, when I bought some nice black ones for 10 Euro. In only 7 weeks of travelling, almost all the black had worn off, the soles were half their thickness and more of a ‘cross section of a shoe’ than a functioning form of footwear, and that morning the edge of one heel had started flapping around. We were aware that these sandals would not stretch much further so we already had shoe shopping in mind when the bit that joined top to bottom between my big toe and second toe, came away completely. Courtney got all Man-vs-Wild on it and used his keys to pierce to bottom of the shoe, threading the broken piece through and knotting it underneath. A much snugger fit, but a functioning shoe, at least temporarily.

The nearby entrance to the Roman Forums and Palatine Hill was just as queue-heavy as the Colosseum, so we kept going and eventually found ourselves at the Monument to Vittorio Emmanuel II. This huge building was very impressive, complete with guards, flaming altars and gilded statues, and that was just the front steps. We climbed the stupid number of stairs to get inside and followed the signs to the panoramic view. You can take an elevator to the very top for 7 Euro, but the free view you get not far below is amazing enough. From there, you could see all of Rome – Colosseum, St Peter’s Basilica and everything in between. We also got a birds eye view of the Roman Forums so we felt less of a need to go back there when the queue would be shorter.

It was a short walk through narrower and quieter streets to the Trevi Fountain so we rested in the shade there for a minute before descending on Burger King for a well earned fatty lunch. It was while sat at Burger King that I skimmed the Lonely Planet City Guide we had for Rome, and it was the city guide that led us back a bit to taste “possibly the best Gelato in Rome”. Real, honest, natural Gelato made my craftsmen rather than machines, and it was amazing. We ate it as we wandered towards the Cappuchin Crypt we had read about, with a detour to buy 2 pairs of 5 Euro sandals at an outlet store.

Getting into the Cappuchin Crypt wasn’t as easy as just walking there however – first it was closed for siesta so we used the time to do the mandatory Hard Rock CafĂ© stop. When it did open we were sent away to find a cheap souvenir shop that would sell me a scarf to cover my shoulders. 3 Euros later, we were happy to find the entry fee wasn’t the advertised 7 Euros but a donation of 1 Euro. The Cappuchin Crypt is basically a series of rooms off a church where Cappuchin Monks wanted themselves and their families to be buried so badly they ran out of room. What results is several rooms of ornate decoration – except the decoration are made from pieces of human skeletons.

Most of the rooms feature several monk skeletons, whose bones remain intact and bodies still cloaked. Some of the skeletons aren’t even clean, resembling some sort of creepy bog body, and one had it’s tongue poking out. Around the standing or lying robed skeletons, arches, flowers, decorations and even lamps are made out of millions of human bones. It wasn’t as big or as full as I expected, but the whole thing was well worth a scarf and a Euro, a bit creepy and very cool.

With not long to go before the last shuttle back to camp, we made one last attempt at crossing off a must-see – the Spanish Steps. To get there we walked through an area of town full of designer brand stores and Victoria Beckham look-alikes and then came across the steps from the top. Despite having explained to Courts that they were basically ‘just steps’, I actually really liked the Spanish Steps. They’re way bigger than I expected, with multiple tiers and landing-like piazzas, plenty of sun and plenty of shade and a fountain at the bottom. I could imagine myself sitting on them, writing away, gossiping with friends or just watching the world go by.

With a detour to see the staircase at Louis Vuitton made of LCD screens and a Carrefour Express for drinks, we made our way to the nearby Spagna Metro stop and back to the stop by the Vatican to get the last shuttle home. The day was long but it didn’t feel busy – we didn’t actually have a plan beyond the Colosseum, just a vague idea of things we wanted to see over the three days and a wandering nature that always seems to find us cool things to see. It was nice though, to find a little bit of the travelling spirit we had been lacking lately.