Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rome in March

click on any photo for larger image
The Disputation of the Sacrament by Raphael
I'm tempted to leave the title as "Rome - under construction," because it is such a work in progress. We just don't find this depth of history (literally) in America. Rome truly has thousands of years, and layers, of history. Trying to build another branch of the subway is so much more than planning and government approvals; history is uncovered with every shovelful, and, to their credit, this history is valued.

Traveling to Rome

We took the train from Ulverston to Manchester Airport. It's such a luxury (for us) to be able to do this, with only a ten-minute walk to the station. Walking through town with our wheelie suitcases, clickety-click, clickety-click, clickety-click, over the curbs and cobblestones, everyone must have known the Yanks were traveling. We were glad that Hal had reserved train seats, as it got very crowded. Many people were standing in the aisles for the second half of the two-hour train ride.

At the terminal, the consumer excess of duty-free shops (DFS) confronted us. These are not shops lining the sides of the terminal mall: they ARE the terminal mall. We had to walk amidst the goods to get to our gate. Once through the gauntlet of DFS, we hurried to our gate, only to discover there were no vendors in this part of the terminal. No water, no food. Toilets, yes. Between the doors to mens and womens was a sign marked, "Cleaners Sluice." Interesting. Too bad I didn't have the camera with me.

Our layover in Zurich was too short. With more traffic than gates, our plane parked in nowhereland; we climbed down portable stairs, and took a bus to the terminal. Our passports were stamped by a grouchy Swiss customs official who reprimanded me for not standing behind the line. Camel provided a lovely Smoking Lounge (right). Such a thoughtful and caring company.
We arrived at our departure gate on the far side of the airport with boarding already in progress. Whew!

At Rome airport (already inside the EU), no customs! We waited for 90 minutes at carousel 9 for our luggage. Suitcases came and suitcases went. No red suitcase for me; no green suitcase for Hal. We thought we were traveling light, but the maximum carryon size for this flight was smaller than we expected, so we had to check our little suitcases. Too bad for us, because now they were lost! Woe was us! Customer service suggested we try carousel 11 before we filed a claim. Reunion with our luggage was sweet.

Our nonstop train into the center of Rome had compartments, just like in old movies. We walked two blocks to Hotel Morgana, home for the next three nights. Nice hotel: good buffet breakfast, comfortable bed, small room with en-suite (attached) bath; English-speaking staff. Our room (left) overlooked a central courtyard (right) - not pretty, but interesting with wash hung several stories up.

The hotel elevators were incredibly tiny 2- and 3-person contraptions. Luggage optional. I couldn't resist a photo (left).

The weather was about 10 degrees (C) warmer than Ulverston. High 50s (F)-low 60s. Trees were in bloom; lemon and orange trees lined the streets. We loved seeing trees on top of buildings. No rain. No snow. No coats needed during the day, though it got chilly after the sun went down.

The desk clerk recommended only one restaurant, Nuovo Stella (right). We thought it must be a relative's establishment, but decided they were right: the food was good and the waiter attentive. We ate dinner there every night, and he remembered us after the first night.

St. Patrick's Day in Rome

We took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Rome, sitting on top in the open air, with headphones for the guided tour. I was moving about, taking photos, and my headphones were disconnected half the time, so I missed much of the commentary. It was St. Patrick's Day. We saw a mob of footballers on a pub crawl: "12 pubs in 12 hours," proclaimed their green t-shirts. The bus drove past the Pope speaking to a small crowd at St. Peter's (left), with big-screen TVs for the masses. Apparently he was apologizing, in his way, to Irish Catholics for the priest-sexual-abuse scandal. Later that day, the Brazilian priest scandal was breaking news. When will the Vatican take action? And when will the victims find justice?

We ate lunch at an outside cafe in the sun. Even though we'd been warned about the prices, we had to find out for ourselves. Lunch cost as much as supper the night before. For an afternoon treat, we tried a bar that advertised "crepes." I'm a sucker for crepes. Big mistake. Our travel guidebook warned against "bars," but again, we had to try it. One capuccino, one tea, and a crepe were 23 euros. Our dinner last night was only 27 euros for fettucine alfredo, pizza, water, and a small bottle of wine. Sheesh.

Nearly every block contained a building with a madonna plaque or painting.

I watched men laying cobblestones for a new piazza. Such an old trade being practiced in modern times.

Forum and Colisseum

The Roman Forum was overwhelming. So much to see; so many ruins; so many emperors making monuments to themselves! Oddly, Caesar's tomb (right) was the smallest and humblest of them all. A wreath hung on it, noting the Ides of March.

There were so many ruins to explore.

At first the Colisseum seemed like so many other sports arenas, with rows upon rows of tiered seating.
We came to notice the center section, site of the action. More fascinating, however, were the hallways below the arena (above right is a partial floor with lower hallways exposed; below is a closeup of the lower hallways).

Imagine waiting your turn to fight. Was it dark and damp? What else shared your cell? Vermin? Large creatures? Was it noisy with roaring and stamping of feet, and cries of pain? The odor must have been overpowering, with sweat and excrement, and mold.

Vatican Museum

The last day we took the English-language Vatican Museum tour, viewing a small portion of the Church's wealth. Hal reserved our tickets in advance. The lines for non-ticketholders was around the block - hours long.
Our guide began with an admonition to her English and American charges "to be pushy" when necessary. Italians don't queue and neither should we. We're too polite for our own good! The painted ceilings, such as these at left, appeared 3-dimensional with frames, but it was all done with paint. Trompe l'oil. Trick of the eye.
An ancient Greek marble statue of Laocoon and His Sons (being strangled by sea serpents) .

My favorite painting was The School of Athens, illustrating the reconciliation of philosophy and astrology with theology. Details are shown left and right. Plato (in red) and Aristotle are the center of attention. Raphael inserted Michelangelo's portrait into the painting, depicting Heraclitus in brown garments. At right, Euclid or Archimedes demonstrates the compass to his students. The figure in blue, lying on the steps, may be Socrates with his cup of hemlock.
At right is the spiraling staircase of the Vatican Museum.

I think it took 2 hours in room after room of amazing paintings and tapestries and ceiling/wall art before we reached the Sistine Chapel. By then we were suffering from art overload, and the ceiling seemed like just another "nice" work. Photography was not allowed there. I'm sure there wasn't time for the guide to show us everything, but we didn't see the Pieta; Hal glimpsed the statue of David down a hallway. We missed St. Peter's Basilica, because we couldn't look at anything more. Fresh air and food were needed.

Afternoon Stroll

The afternoon was more leisurely, wandering about the city. Trevi Fountain (above) was noticeably cooler than surrounding areas. The Pantheon (left), world's largest unreinforced concrete building, built in 126 A.D. has a 25-foot-diameter oculus (hole) in the dome; precipitation can fall through, but drains on the slanted floor below. I'm not doing it justice for it is a remarkable building which has withstood numerous earthquakes and wars. Navorna Piazza (right) was an interesting mix of sculpture, gardens, outdoor cafes and street artists.

We saw 2 of the 8 ancient Egyptian obelisks (left) in Rome. Passing carabinieri HQ (state police), I was oblivious to a group of high-ranking officials strolling down the street, but did see the motorcade following. On right is the Ponte Vittorio Emmanuele II over the Tiber River.

We saw curbside petrol stations, acres of parked motorcycles and scooters, dangerous speeding bicycles, and lots of homeless people. This plastic-wrapped cocoon contained a man on a sofa.

Our last afternoon in Rome, we did a crazy thing: hopped on the metro during rush hour. The doors opened to a crush of people. I squeezed on, with Hal behind pushing me farther in. We didn't think another body could get on, but 5 more people jumped on after us. Most people took our sardineness agreeably. But when the train swerved suddenly, and Hal nearly fell on a small woman, she was not amused.

I loved the earth-toned buildings and shuttered windows, the balconies, the plants. And the weather. I can't wait to return, having thrown my coin in Trevi Fountain.

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