Monday, April 30, 2007

Rome: The Eternal City of Waiting (Italy)

They say that it takes a lifetime to see everything in Rome, so we knew that we could barely scratch the surface but we were determined to hit the ground running and see as much as we could. We arrived at our guesthouse in the funky Trastevere district of Rome around lunchtime, and immediately set to work helping the owner (Sylvie) carry some big charis up the thousand stairs to the roof-top terrace. While recovering on the roof-top, Sylive gave us a bird's-eye introduction to Rome, a sight she doesn't normally share with her guests.

We then headed off to the Roman Forum, and then to the Collosseum. After taking in the exterior, we joined the end of the 90 minute queue to get inside. However we were very quickly set upon by someone offering to get us stright inside, and give us a guided tour, followed by a guided tour of the Paletine Hill. Remembering all the stories of con men fleecing tourists, we decided it couldn't possibly happen to us, and handed over the money. It turned out to be an excellent decision, and we discovered that the guided walking tours were a fantastic way to see Rome's major sites in a short period of time.

Despite the claim that all the guides were native English speakers, our guide for the Colosseum was an Italian guy who spoke like a machine gun and didn't quite know when to stop with the stories, but was very entertaining nonetheless. Then we were taken up the Palentine Hill and back to the Roman Forum by "Geoff from Georrrrrrrgia". It was bizarre to learn about Roman architecture from a cross between a modern-day cowboy and Indiana Jones. We had dinner at a restaurant near out guesthouse in Trastevere, which is a great old part of Rome, filled with picture-perfect twisting alleyways, shuttered windows and ivy-covered buildings.

The next morning we got up early to find that on Sunday mornings Rome either goes to church or just sleeps in! We wandered the streets for an hour before we found somewhere open for breakfast and Simon accidentally ordered a jam tart and a chocolate chip biscuit - that's what you get for attempting to order the unknown! Karina went for the safe option of a cheese and ham croissant, and Simon is very pleased that at least espresso is the same in all languages!

We walked over to the allegedly amazing Italian shoe market, to find that it doesn't open on Sundays, so instead we went to the big flea market, which only opens on Sundays. Karina came out with a "genuine" Gucci handbag, that she had bargained down to almost half price - she paid about AU$25! Determined to track down the famous pear and blue cheese pizza that we'd heard about, we combed the streets of Trastevere for the resturant, and then we waited 15mins for a table. When we finally sat down, we were told they didn't have any pizzas (our Italian didn't stretch to finding out why)!

That evening we joined with another walking tour - a twilight visit to some of the sites on the streets of Rome. We visited the church Michaelanglo had his funeral in, the smallest church in Rome (an exact copy of St Peter's Bascillica), the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the best gelati in Rome. We ended the day with dinner at a cool winebar and a fantastic meal including buffalo mozzarella.

We liked our last guide - a young, charasmatic Italian-American guy named Alex - so much that we decided to do his Vatican tour the next morning. Unfortunately, Alex was having a very bad day at work. After arriving late and obviously already a little frazzled by whatever had delayed him, he took us and the group to join the entrance line - normally about an hour long at this time of the morning. We had to walk almost back to St Peter's to find the end of the queue, which was the longest Alex had ever seen it in his 4 years of tours. After four hours of waiting in the rain, dealing with pushy tour groups, dangerous umbrellas and frustrated visitors, we all finally made it inside (just after 1pm).

Somehow Alex managed to maintain his good humour and enthusiasm - despite having to cancel a lunch date with his wife - and gave us a fantastic tour of the Vatican museum, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basicalla.

Since we had a 5:30pm train to catch, and our luggage was still at our guest house, Alex put us in a taxi after the tour finished. We flew across Rome - our plans for the afternoon in tatters - grabbed our bags and collapsed on to the train for Naples, glad to finally be off our feet. Two days will never be enough to see Rome, but if you must try, make sure you don't go near a national holiday!

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