Holiday: Rome (June 23 - June 27)

19 July 2006


A Blue Perspective: Holiday: Rome (June 23 - June 27)

By my calculations I nearly died about ... 7 times in Rome. This was mainly due to the lack of any road markings whatosever, the optional nature of traffic lights, and the general insanity of the drivers. In fact, I'd say that Rome more closely resembles a Nascar track than an actual city.

We'd taken another train from Venice to Rome, however this time we weren't caught in the middle of any more union disputes, so it was a much smoother ride. It was made even more amiable by a lovely couple of Mormonians from the Mormonian heartland – Utah – who we got talking to. It was such a pleasant conversation I could be forgiven for not noticing they were Mormonians. The four hour trip flew by, and we were soon stepping onto the platform at Termini, Rome's main train station. The station was clean, modern, sparkling and odour free. Totally the opposite of the street outside. I would probably vote Rome the stinkiest city on our tour; maybe there's just nothing you can do with an old city's sewerage system. However, the streets were also filthy withy grime and trash, which made for an uncomfortable suitcase trundle to our uber-funky hostel.

The Yellow Hostel was our only real hostel stay on the entire trip, and it was quite an experience. Everyone else felt slightly younger than we did, probably hovering around the 22-year-old mark, but that wasn't too alienating. We watched quite a few of the World Cup matches there, and because it had such international clientelle there was always vocal support for every side (maybe a little too vocal in the case of some enthusiastic Argentinian cheergirls who managed to send me deaf). Hell, even the Americans were getting into it, even though none of them had any idea what actually goes on in real football. The dorm room we stayed in was pretty high traffic – a new roommate every morning – so we got to talk with people from all over the globe. Or at least Rick got to talk with them, I got to sleep. Dorm room traffic was made even higher by some of our roommates' more uhhhh ... liberal sleeping arrangements. I'll just say that I can't think of anything more romantic than interrupting the 3AM slumber of four complete strangers with the groaning springs of a top bunk for two straight hours.

As a city, I didn't really enjoy Rome, but as a tourist attraction, it's spectacular. In Melbourne the closest we get to ancient ruins is when they re-concrete the pavement, but the age and history of Rome is visible at every step: monuments, statues, churches, halls. Most apartment blocks were made before Australia was discovered.

In opposition to a few of the places we went, the iconic landmarks of Rome were even more impressive in the flesh than they are on film. The Colloseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain; they're all beautiful, and something you have to experience for yourself. I think we went to the Trevi Fountain at least four times, and you have to visit it at night, when it takes on a whole new aspect.

I don't think we took the subway once in Rome, so we got a good view of the Roman streets as we walked around. On the first day we decided it would be a good idea to visit the Stadio Olimpico, AS Roma's homeground. We found a stadium, but I'm not sure it was the stadium, because neither of us watch much Serie A. On the bus ride home we got off at some random stop and found ourselves in Villa Borghese, an immense parkland. On a sweltering day it was a laboured stroll through the trees, but enjoyable nonetheless, and by pure chance we ended up at the Galleria Nazionale d'arte Moderna which houses some interesting pieces of modern art. Lucio Fontana caught my eye in particular with his interesting challenges to the traditional 2 dimensional constraints of the canvas.

Surprise of the trip goes to a moment at the Colloseum, as we were walking up from the Circus Maximus. It started off as a dull thumping in the distance, but quickly resolved itself into hard and cheesy euro trance beats as a series of flatbed trucks rolled around the corner. Atop said trucks were bondage-gear-clad muscle men, sailors, drag queens, bikers, and more feathers than you'd find at a chicken farm. Sort of like a mini gay love parade. We stopped to take in the campness of it all and were nearly overrun by the one of the fattest men I'd ever seen, astride one of the smallest motorbikes I'd ever seen. Combined with the fact he was topless, it was like a mountain of caramel pudding with wheels. I'm so annoyed I didn't get a photo.

But, without a doubt, the ultimate highlight of Rome was the Vatican. The Yellow Hostel runs tours of the Vatican, supposedly four hours long but ours ended up at six – no complaints here though. Rad Tad was our tour guide, and in true Yellow fashion he offered up a "Dude, where's my basilica" perpsective of the holy city; that didn't stop it from being entertaining though, he's right on the level of backpacking hostelees and managed to keep it interesting throughout.

To get into the Vatican buildings it was a one and a half hour queue around four city blocks. Next time I'll remember to bring my hat. Once inside, you just get lost. It's so immense, if Tad wasn't there I don't think we would have found any of the major attractions. The tour focused mainly on the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, but on the way we got commentary on some of the statuary which inspired Michelangelo, and also passed through the Hall of Maps – an impressive cartographic endeavour by one of the 16th Century popes. I was also rather chuffed to see one of Arnaldo Pomodoro's Sfera con sfera sculptures in one of the outdoor courtyards.

After Tad's 20 minute explanation of the intricacies and politics behind the Sistine Chapel, when we finally got in it was a bit underwhelming. There's an undeniable artistry in the actual frescoes, but as an experience it's a bit hard to appreciate. The room is very dark, to preserve the painting, and there's only so many minutes you can crane your neck upwards before doing some serious muscle damage. After seeing Michelangelo's glorious work in fine detail in countless art books, squinting at the ceiling was a little disappointing. On the wall of the Sistine Chapel, though, is one of his more accessible works – The Last Judgment – which I'd never encountered before. Because of its proximity it was far easier to appreciate, and it definitely trumped the ceiling for me in terms of grandeur.

A short walk from the Chapel is the famed St. Peter's Basilica. It's monolithic. The sheer size of it just makes you stand agape, looking to the heavens when you enter; as I assume was its intent. There's so much inside you could easily spend a few hours there, but Tad took us through the high points. Some crazy Australian bloke had unfortunately ruined the experience of the Pieta by attacking it with a hammer, thereby causing it to be put behind security glass, but even from a distance Michelangelo's incredible ability to work with marble was evident; Mary and her son are like human figures encased in a thin veneer of marble.

There's a host of other statuary inside the basilica, but Bernini's four surrounding the main dais are the most prominent. Longinus, wielder of the spear that killed Jesus, was probably the most accomplished, and was probably the only one that Bernini himself actually created.

The centrepiece of the Basilica is another of Bernini's works, the immense papal altar. This black bronze structure almost seems out of place in a house of God. It struck me more as something which some dark wizard from a Tolkein epic would use to conjure minions from the pits of hell, rather than a place you'd give sacrament. But hey, I'm not Catholic.

The dome, or cupola, of St. Peter's is probably its most famous external feature. At 42 metres in diameter it's one of the largest unsupported structures in the world, and they still can't figure out how Michelangelo did it. No building in Rome can be higher than the cupola, so it's a great place to get a view of the city. Rick and I were in a hurry to catch the all important Italy vs. Australia World Cup match, so we basically ran up the 300-odd stairs of the cupola. On the inside of the dome, the floor of St.Peter's looks acrawl with ants and up close you can fully appreciate the artwork on the inside of the cupola, which is almost indistinguishable from the ground. On the outside, you get spectacular views across all of Rome. Still, we had somewhere else to be.

It was Australia's first time in the World Cup finals for over 30 years, and we'd made it into the second round for the first time ever, so anything from here on in was making history. We'd picked a pub called "Trinity College" as a likely haven for Australian supporters, but I don't think we could have been anymore wrong. Rick and I were the only two aussies in there, so we had to muffle our excitement as Cahill made his way into the box or Bresciano fired one across the face of goal.

We should have won. Italy should have been out of the World Cup. But we just couldn't do it against ten men. A 93rd-minute penalty is probably the most heartbreaking way to lose a game, but we can be proud of how far we got against the World champions and just try to better ourselves in four years time. Needless to say we stepped out quietly as the Italians erupted around us. Not a great way to end a stay, but it was the one we had.



  1. 1/3

    Lachlan Hardy commented on 21 July 2006 @ 12:46

    Great story, Cam. I'm really enjoying your travelling tales :)

  2. 2/3

    Charlie Law commented on 22 July 2006 @ 04:28

    He he,

    Had a similar experience to yourself in the Yellow Hostel. What a place, shared a mixed room with 12 people who were coming and going all night. Itís definitely not the place to go for a good nights sleep.

    Those Italian's are mad for their Web Development, did you notice that in every Chapel you go into theirs engravings on the wall "DOM". Advanced or what.

  3. 3/3

    The Man in Blue commented on 22 July 2006 @ 07:26

    You are such a geek Charlie.

    I love it :D

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