Sunday, September 27, 2009

Roaming in Roma

A new record today - with both our camera and Helen's being pushed to their limits we exhaust all the batteries and accumulate a combined 1261 photos! IN ONE DAY!!!!

When our time in any major centre is limited (and when is it not?) we try to take one of the hop on, hop off bus tours. And today is no exception. We purchased tickets at the stop for St Peter's Square last night that can be used today as well. So once we have got the hotel shuttle in to the station and joined the surprisingly large number of people on the train (for a Sunday!) we alight at the Termini station to join the bus. The one we have tickets for is actually government run, cheaper than the rest and more regular - got to love beauracracy from time to time!

The Trambus Open 110 route takes us close to all the main points of interest within the city. We get our first glimpses of the major attractions from the top open deck of the bus. Rome streets are filled with classic architecture as you might imagine - but the streets are wider than most that we have encountered to date. Got to love the early Romans and their love for planning too! The morning is cool but not cold and the light is perfect for taking architecture photos - clear, sharp outlines against a clear blue sky. Take a look at the link above for all the things we saw - if I try to talk about every one of them on the blog then I fear I might collapse the site!!!

As the bus came around past St Peter's Square and we see the crowds lining for tickets in the warming day, we are glad that we followed that advice we were given and went last night - you know we didn't need to queue at all! So anyone contemplating a visit - do it after 5 pm guys.

After we leavethe station the next stop is at Piazza del Quirinale that is on the highest of the seven hills on which the ancient city of Rome was built. We continue in a circuitous route that takes two hours to complete - about twice as long as any of the others we have been on. The first time we alight from the bus is to go and have a look at the Trevi Fountain. This beautiful construction is too large for us to get the whole thing in one photo - mainly because of the thousand plus people who are crammed into its terraces and the square it faces.

From the crush of people at the fountain, we walk down a few of the back streets, dodging a tour group that seems to have become glued to us, around to Piazza Venezia (named after Cardinal Venezia who in 1455, ordered the construction of his own Palace (Palazzo Venezia) that later became the seat of 'Serenissima' -the Republic of Venice). The Palace was one of the first Renaissance structures in Rome and incorporated the ancient Church of St Marco built in the 4th Century AD. Oh, and quite a bit of the material to build the Palace came from the nearby Colosseum - a common practice then. Yep, some seriously old stuff here!

But as impressive as the palace might seem, it has nothing on the stunning Monument of Victor Emanuel II built between 1855 and 1911 to celebrate the Italian Unification on the southern side of the Piazza. This has to be one of the most majestic monuments we have seen anywhere. Within it now lies the Tomb of the Unknown soldier making it a monument of national significance just like any of these. Mind you, when it was constructed there was a lot of disgruntled people as it necessitated the destruction of a medieval neighbourhood. Still, it revered by most.

The monument is guarded by almost fanatical guards frantically blowing their whistles should any hapless tourist sit on the steps, or appear to eat, drink or even just stay too long. Many people tell me, "don't sit there - there is a bench up the steps" and as we are leaving we find ourselves telling another group who are oblivious as we were to the meaning of the whistles and gesticulations! I won't bore you with all the stats about it - find them here if you want to know! (Yes Hels, I can skip the history lessons sometimes!) Michael climbs to the top level to get some great photos looking out across both the ruins of the ancient Rome, and the newer City.

And as we leave to walk towards the Colosseum, we hug the shaded cool marble of the monument and discover inside a door near the base on one of the sides, the War Memorial museum, filled with interesting stuff - like the 'Chariot' a two man underwater submarine used in WWII against the British Fleet near Gibraltar!

From here we walked between the Forum and the Palataine towards the Colosseum that was looming at the end of the street. Michael kept dashing from one side of the street to the other to take photos of different relict sites. Helen and I on the other hand sauntered along, stopped to listen to a classical guitarist and followed the shade as much as we could. Sure, we are interested in what we see, but Michael is the Ancient History buff amongst us for sure. We stop for a drink and toilet stop at the official visitor centre in the area before we reach the Colosseum. Just as well as there are maybe tens of thousands of people there.

There is a celebration of the arts in Rome at the moment and entry to this monumental museum is free today. We would have to still had to queue for tickets, but Helen has struck up a conversation with a young American guide who is touting for tour guides inside and just as we are about to join the longish queue for those tickets, she takes pity and gives us tickets to get in! Go Hels! And thanks Larena! So, what can we say about the Colosseum? Well, its big. Huge in fact. And so much of it is still standing. In the centre of the arena, the roof over the rooms and alleys beneath (the floor of the arena) has been destroyed allowing us to clearly see the layout below. There were cages, small rooms, alleys connecting them and much larger rooms. Michael will give a detailed lecture on the layout and the purpose when we get back. Advance bookings open now - seriously though, it will take too long to describe all of it here. Want to know more know? Click here.

Next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine that was constructed from masonry taken from other monuments. Beyond that, we can see lots of other ruinous remains, many of which are still the subject of obvious archaelogical investigations.

So after walking about 3 kms once we had alighted from the bus all those hours ago, we decide to call it quits and head back to the hotel. There is a metro stop just across from the Colosseum and it is on our line - yahoo! We meet up with three Germans who are currently working in Rome and staying at the same hotel and we all get the same train back. Back at Rebibia Station we phone the hotel only to find out that on a weekend the courtesy bus begins at 7 pm and its only 5:45 pm so we cross the road to wait for the #447 bus. Our mates tell us that they are working in Rome because the factory where they would normally come to from time to time was destroyed in the earthquake at L'Aquila in April this year.

Too tired to go out for dinner, we phone in Pizza to our motel room after our long day in Rome. Even we can't finish it all and Michael takes the remainder to some very grateful reception staff. Didn't get photos - the batteries needed recharging. Early start again tomorrow for our three hour drive to Florence and for Helen's last day on tour with us.

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