All roads lead to Rome. Except when you’re on a train from Siena, that is, and then you have to change trains at some station I’ve forgotten the name of with a mere 4 minutes between your train arriving and the other one leaving in which to figure out what platform your train is supposed to be leaving from and get there, pronto! As they say.
After we got there we managed to find our way from the main station to our hostel, which was rather ideally located but less ideally appointed than previous accommodation. In other words, don’t stay at Ciao Bella. I had specifically chosen this hostel because a) I couldn’t afford a hotel; b) it was central, and c) it offered towel hire. Two out of three is not good enough! Apparently the washing machine had broken down and there would be no towels until 1pm the next day. I fixed the hostel staff with what was possibly my best ever withering glare, and was furnished with an extra sheet for my trouble. When in Rome… I figured it would at least make a good toga if it wasn’t exactly a towel… It also came in very handy for covering myself with to protect myself from the dirty blanket…
So. Not the best start to life in Rome. It was also a lot busier than Venice, with its boats, and Siena, with its pedestrian areas. Poor Rachael was not used to cars (and trucks and buses) bearing down on her from the opposite direction, and had a few near misses!
Anyway, let’s concentrate on the beauties of Rome, of which there are many. Firstly, we were staying very close to the Trevi Fountain. While my photos look gorgeous I don’t think they can really do it justice, the fountain was really breathtakingly beautiful. Which is why you get a full four photos of it:
Trevi by day
Amusingly (and a little distressingly), two days before our visit someone had thrown red dye in the fountain (much as the students do with that one down Riccarton Road) and turned the whole thing red. There was still a little red staining at the waterline, but apart from that the fountain looked unscathed. I did toss a few pennies into the fountain although at that stage I wasn’t sure I wanted to return to Rome!
Mental note – films I must watch/rewatch to do with Rome: Roman Holiday, Three Coins in the Fountain, La Dolce Vita, Gladiator
Then it was on to the most recognisable of Rome’s landmarks:
We went on a tour, which had the bonus of skipping the queues and we learned a lot we wouldn’t otherwise have known. Like the fact that all the holes in the Colosseum were because at one point the blocks were held together with bronze pins. At one stage people chipped into the stones and removed all of the bronze. But it’s ok because the building manages to stand up just fine without them.
That was day one in Rome. For dinner we went to a pub around the corner from the hostel and ate very rustic-looking (but delicious) homemade gnocchi. I like gnocchi. Actually I think I just like saying it: gnocchi, gnocchi, gnocchi!
Day two we ended up taking at a much calmer pace – deciding on the catacombs, we took the metro and then a bus out to the Via Appia Antica (the Appian Way), which is in the countryside right outside Rome, surrounded by beautiful and expensive villas, both modern and ancient (and even the more modern buildings have scraps of ancient marble incorporated into them), and lined with crumbling tombs. We saw the remains of a Roman bath that had once been part of a private villa complex (imagine having a bathroom big enough for hot, cool and tepid baths, steam room, sauna, massage room, changing rooms, etc etc…).
The road was very peaceful and quiet, with the odd car passing us, people on bikes, people walking dogs, and some tourists like us. We walked for about an hour and a half up the road and then turned back to head in the direction of the catacombs. We went into the catacomb of Saint Sebastian. No photos were allowed in there, so you will have to rely on my description. The catacombs were massive. You can only go in with a guide, and I soon understood why as passages went off in all directions, left, right, up and down. Everywhere there were niches carved into the walls that once held bodies, and some rooms held more elaborate tomb-like structures. Early Christian symbols were carved into some of the inscriptions that survived there. Also in the catacombs were the immaculately preserved remains of some earlier pagan tombs, complete with brightly coloured frescoes inside. These were only discovered last century.
The catacombs were much less creepy than the Parisian catacombs owing to the absence of actual skeletons. However near the end of the tour all of the lights went out and we had to climb out by torchlight. I was fine but there was a rather irate Englishman who I guess never got over a childhood fear of the dark!
By the time we got out of the catacombs we were running rather late to get to the hotel where we were to meet the Contiki tour group. We hopped back on the bus and then back on the metro, and it is on the metro that the great tragedy of this tour occurred. Behold the promised fourth picture of the Trevi Fountain:
Observe the gorgeous hat upon the head of the squinty-looking girl in the foreground. The gorgeous, handspun, handknit merino hat. This hat was upon the head of said girl as she sat on the metro. After she got off the metro, it was not.
I know I am very lucky this was the worst thing to happen to me while I was away (as you will see in future posts), but I am still grieving! Hopefully I still have enough yarn to make another.
Day Three in Rome was spent at the Vatican.
The Swiss Guard are all young and hot, I swear, despite the silly uniforms. They are actually highly trained in martial arts and the use of those pike thingies they carry around. So don’t mess with them.
This was just cute.
The view from Saint Peter’s dome.
We went into the Vatican museums, which as promised were impossibly difficult to navigate, and saw the Sistine Chapel, which as promised was rather impressive.
We had dinner at a fantastic place where a man and a woman sang opera and various Italian songs through dinner. Cheesy but good, and a nice chance to start getting to know our fellow tour members. And that was Rome.