Chewing my keyboard

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The interesting bit

Anyway, that summarised I can get on with discussing Rome which was significantly more interesting than either Frascati or (to the lay reader, at least) the intricate details of a conference on an ESA earth monitoring satellite that hasn't been launched yet ... or even me oohing and ahhiing over Hollywood interpretations of clothing worn during the 15th and 16th centuries by ladies of 'the night' in Italian cities.

It is recommended in various guides that you don't try to cover all of Rome in a day and, well, TBH I'd agree. It's just in my case I'm used to walking for 7-8 hours straight, I was on my own and I didn't really have much choice (only being there for a day).

Hence, I organised my day as follows:

8:11 am - leave hotel. The hotel was the Astoria Garden just to one side of the Stazione Termini (central station). It apparently has an tropical garden but although I kind of saw it through the glass window in the breakfast room, I was barely in the hotel and it is March. It was really cold the first day but by the time I left Italy it had warmed up to British May-type temperatures. Hotel is recommended for niceness although their breakfast was dreadful. The central station was nowhere as impressive as Milan's station (which was built by Mussolini, apparently, and an excellent example of fascist architecture). In fact, so confused was I by what the architect was thinking of that I photographed it. Maybe he (or she) was thinking "Hmmm, Rome is full of spectacular buildings so I think I'll create something that looks like a fan heater. That's confuse them"... or maybe not.

8:30 am - am very impressed by 2 domed buildings, a tall pillar (like Nelson's column in Trafalgar square), some Roman ruins, a distant glimpse of the Colosseum and this all occurring in the same square (Piazza). I got very excited, especially by what I thought was a large fascist architecture art gallery since it resembled Milan station (in fact, it's actually a monument built in 1911 called Emanuelle II monument and now contains some military museums. The Italian Intelligence chap shot in Iraq :( was apparently lying in state here whilst I was there although I didn't go into the monument. You can see people laying flowers in the first picture). I cannot explain how much I loved this monument. It is splendid in an overbearing way. I adored it, I photographed it at least 7 times. I practically expired of pleasure just looking at it. I couldn't take my eyes off it. I just wanted to uproot it somehow, pack it in my case, take it home and have its children. I loved it *that* much. AHEM...

8:50 am or so - reach the St. Angel bridge. As you can see from this photo, the sun is now rising properly casting a warm glow on the bridge. The view of the St. Angel castle is wonderful. I can't tell you much about this castle; I didn't have time to go into it and my guidebook got lost with my luggage (Alitalia baggage handling - booo! Hiss! Shame! Resign!) :( This bridge had some really kick ass statues like this one of several naked men falling over a horse (I think that's what they're doing - perhaps I don't want to know... I do like the Italian fondness for depictly the nude male form publically. It's very inspiring for purely artistic reasons (cough)).

9:00 am - I reach St. Paul's Basilica and Vatican city. I've crossed the whole of my map of central Rome in the space of an hour. I bought some postcards on the way for friends and sit at the point on the photo on a bench to write them out using a pen purchased from a souvenir shop just to the left of this photo. It's still very cold because it's early and the sky is clear and my hands get progressively stiffer, more chapped and more painful.

10:00 am - I have walked back across the bridge to the post office where I post the postcards in the box marked Estera (abroad). I am very glad I have an Italian phrasebook or they would have ended up in the wrong box and would never have got there :(

11:00 am - I walk to St. Paul's Basilica. My hands are turning purple/orange/blue so I buy silk-lined navy blue leather gloves from a shop on the street going to the Basilica - I work out the price and they're cheap by UK prices. At the time, I think the Basilica is the entrance to Vatican City (I assume it's a walled city and this entrance is the front gate). The square in front of the Basilica is massive. There are lots of columns and some mega-sized fountains (I took photos but I haven't uploaded them). After entering through an x-ray machine (like in an airport), I walk to the Basilica cupola queue accidently. I meet a Brit whose on holiday who tells me that the Sistine Chapel is in the Vatican museum and he gave up due to the size of the queues. I walk around the square in front of St. Pauls and walk a couple of streets to the end of the queue. It stretches around the museum walls for probably 1/2 a km (! and this is March. In summer it would be h*ll, esp. as it's now getting quite hot by 11 am and everything is pretty white). I find the Sistine Chapel closes at 12:20 am and think I won't get to see it.

11:30 am - the queue moves fast - I enter the Vatican museum. Don't do what I did and rush through the Vatican museum to get to the Sistine Chapel before it closes and to see as much as possible in a short space of time. There are many treasures there. Stuff you'd have to pay £15 a throw to see in UK is just stacked about in back rooms like it's commonplace. I paid 8 EURO to get in as a student under 26 (bring a passport or driving licence) and it's normally only 12.50 EURO and it's amazing. I missed all the 7ft high marble statues of Egyptian goddesses in the antiquities museum section :( There were at least 5 museums that were closed when I was there. Walking constantly I saw the picture gallery and main rooms in 2 hours and I could have spent hours rather than minutes in each one.

11:40 am - I enter lots of corridors like this. The first one I think is the Sistine Chapel and I take several photos. Despite peering intently at the ceiling I can't see the picture of Adam and God reaching fingers towards each other (the famous fresco by Michaelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel) and belatedly realise this isn't the Sistine Chapel.

11:50 am - I enter the Raphael rooms. These were frescoed floor to ceiling by Raphael and his students and were previously the living quarters of the Pope. They are amazing and the rooms quite large. The picture hopefully gives some indication of the scale and there were many adjoining (and crowded) rooms like this with many pictures. Sadly, I was only able to glance at each of the many frescos. I feel sad I cannot read the signs or study each fresco in more depth but I must carry on walking to get to the Sistine chapel before it closes.

12:00 am - enter the gallery of Modern religious art. Stuck on one dingy wall somewhere is casually located a Van Gogh (there was apparently a Matisse - I must have missed it or it wasn't on display; I tried to glance, at least, at everything :( )! Many of the artists, however, I don't recognise. There are several enormous (like 2-3 m high plus) religious statues like the Madonna in a large back room with stained glass windows.

12:10 am - enter the Sistine Chapel. After all the other stuff, it's really not *that* impressive above and beyond the rest of the things - I don't get what the big deal is about the Sistine Chapel except that the ceiling is high and it took 4 years for Michaelangelo to do but then, the Basilica has higher curved domes that have been done in an illusionist style so even that isn't *that* special although Michaelangelo was about 200 years before I suspect the Basilica domes were done since Illusionalism was Baroque (I think). I feel a bit sorry for the people who took the Sistine Chapel express route, missing the Raphael rooms, etc. You are not allowed to take photos despite the fact you can photograph (or even video) everything else which is weird. I covertly take one with my flash off - I suspect they are afraid of damaging the frescoes with flashes. This is naughty but everyone else is taking photos and keep getting shouted at - the photograph is thus a bit blurred.

I walk more casually through lots of other corridors filled with cool opulent stuff like this globe. I can see the Vatican gardens through the windows of these corridors (I take photos - not uploaded). The corridors go on for a very long way - they are all gold leaf, frescos, embossed huge wooden doors, marble... It is terribly extravagant and not particularly subtle - it's frightfully vulgar really.

12:30 - I leave via this spiral staircase which is famous in of itself and was built in 1930s. The queue has gone despite the fact the museum closes at 15:20. I'm unsure whether it's because the last entry is at lunch or it's because everyone was queuing for the Sistine Chapel. I walk around the museum, see some souvenir shops, first entertain the prospect of getting myself a 1/2 m marble statue of 'David' (in Florence, not Rome) but it's too expensive, pass back through the metal detector ensemble and enter the basilica. I am blown away... It is apparently the biggest cathedral in the world and I can quite see this. This is a small side nave. The scale is incredible. I feel the urge to drop onto my knees and wonder how many people have done so, sensing the presence of the Almighty and clinically, I realise that they are not sensing the presence of the almighty, they are feeling the force of an agglomeration of centuries old human power. It is just a manifestation, a brute force demonstration to anyone watching of human political, social (and in the case of the Roman Empire stuff to come later, military) power.

~1 pm - pass these chappies on the way out. Resist the urge to shout "Nice leggings, mate" incase they speak any English. I wonder how much they get paid to stand about wearing that.

2:00 pm - I am making my way back to the station where I know I can locate decent food. I am going to buy baguettes and make sandwiches in the hotel with cheese. Later I give up and purchase a sandwich from an Illy coffee bar in the station. I take a detour to view the Pantheon. At the time I don't know what the Pantheon is but it appears to be something to do with the golden rectangle and a dome, and the photo of the inside in the guidebook looks interesting. It is apparently a Roman temple from 126 AD that was reconsecrated as a Catholic church. It has a hole in the domed roof. I can't believe how old it is and still standing! This really impresses me, although the inside is pretty good too.

3-3:30 pm - sandwich eaten I return to the Emanuelle II monument area and decide to do some 'Ancient Rome'. I see this and still have little idea what exactly it is but I think it's some sort of fort. Not sure what period - my guidebook got lost with my luggage and Google isn't necessarily helping because some of the descriptions don't have pictures.

I head in the direction of the Colosseum along a road lined with ruins. It's now late afternoon and the misty light looks really interesting over the ruins at one side of the road. Apparently this is the Forum of Augustus (built by the Emperor Augustus, dontya know... Sometime between 100 BC and 100AD I guess).

3:45 pm - reach the Colosseum. It's in pretty good shape - it's hard to believe it's been here since 76 AD or suchlike. It's a ripoff to get in 10 EURO and there isn't much inside apart from it being a ruin. I decide that it is 'The Colosseum' and I am on my own (so it's about £6 of my money which isn't *that* bad) so I go in. I go up to the first floor and try to imagine myself wandering about in a stolla and sandals. I mentally put the ruin back together and try to visualise sitting up there listening to the roar of the crowds, the blood, the shouting, chariot races, etc. I'm unsure if women were allowed in the Colosseum though.

Since I've paid 10 EURO I spend 1/2 an hour or so wandering around the ring on the 1st floor photographing things. I photograph this arch which reminds me of the front cover of my copy of the Song for Arbonne. The sun is setting casting everything in a golden light (sadly, my camera wasn't too keen on it and everything kept going pink). I photograph some carved stones extracted from the ruins and displayed inside.

4:20 pm - I leave the Colosseum. Outside near where this picture is taken, a man is playing a piece of music that I know but don't know what it is on the accordian. I take a video so I can capture the moment - the gentle sound and increasingly strong frosty nip of the wind, the golden light, the Colosseum, the beeping of horns and the accordian.

I walk up a hill towards the arch of Titus (there are 3 arches and I only have names for 2). I am trying to get into the area with the ruins. I walk up a hill and see people moving about but I can't get through a fence. I eventually end up at a chapel and come back down to find the gates are closing to the garden around the Forum de Augustus ruins (I missed the gate). I walk back towards the Emanuelle monument passing a church and a ruin with 4 maps on the side showing the expansion of the Roman Empire.

4:45 pm - I try to reconstruct the size of the forums in this area with my mind using the available pillars and ruins. I am overawed by the size and scale of the public buildings that must have been here in classical times. The centre of ancient Rome was of modern proportions (although the population was, of course, smaller). For some reason, I never imagined this. There is kilometres of this stuff. I can imagine the sweep of buildings even just from the pieces exposed between the Colosseum and the Emanuelle monument. I walk up the hill behind the Emanuelle monument for a birds eye look at the largest ruined area. It's now getting quite cold and my feet hurt; my ballerina shoes have been worn lose by walking.

5pm - I walk to the main city museum behind the Emanuelle monument on the top of the hill. It's beginning to get dark and I'm getting cold. I photograph Rome from the top of the hill at sunset. Next to the museum I see this statue which I know to be famous (and it's in several of the souvenir shops); compared to most of the stuff in Rome, it's small, discreet and easy to miss.

I return to the hotel.

The next morning, I realised I'd missed the famous Trevi fountain so I hiked back about 8:00 am before my train went at 10:30 am to Frascati (or Tor Vergata station - it's next to ESRIN and about 2 km from Frascati). Given the size of everything else, I assumed it would be terrifyingly large (some of the architecture was so not-human-proportioned that I found being in its company rather scary. It loomed in a way that made me feel it was trying to force me into the floor by force of presence and I kept wanting to run) but it wasn't. It was just a bit out of place given the size of the square.

On the way back, I saw some election posters for the regional elections. This one amused me. I think it's saying to vote for 'Buona Politica' (the good politician?) as opposed to Belusconi's Forzi Italia party (which isn't good!!!!). There were some ones for the Italian communist party elsewhere (I forgot where so couldn't take a photo) which I *think* said they wanted to not sign the EU constitution but my Italian, as I say, is not much beyond "Good morning" and "Excuse me". Although I can guess other stuff from GCSE Spanish, again, it's not really designed for the intricacies of Italian domestic politics.

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