Friday, 11 May 2012

When in Rome...

We both woke up pretty haggard, the whooshing noise from next door nearly drove us to the point of insanity, we were woken up though by knocking on the door, they go through the whole level of cabins and wake everyone up. It was 6.30am, figured we must be a bit early and we were. Got our stuff all organized, stoked to say that I have now discovered the perfect way to pack my pack, and it all goes in super nicely.
Arrived in Ancona at 7.30am, ½ an hour early, we shared a taxi to the train station with two people from Canada and I checked in but my train wasn’t till 3pm, Kendall had just made it to catch hers to Perusia. I looked up on the board and there was a train at 8.25am to Roma, so I asked her about that and she swapped my booking, the 8.25am train was cheaper than the 3pm one but she couldn’t refund me any money cause I paid online so just upgraded me to 1st class instead.
The weather is overcast and a little drizzly, I haven’t looked at the long range forecast for Roma just yet but fingers crossed my good luck with weather continues.
Have had my phrase book out all of yesterday and today trying to get my head around the lingo, it’s not too hard to learn the basics though so hopefully after a few weeks I’ll have a bit of Italian in my repertoire.
So I’m on my way to Rome, my hostel is only 10 mins away from the train station so will be easy to find.

The Yellow Hostel is the place to stay if you are backpacking through Italy, its clean, cheap and the atmosphere is great, the whole bottom floor is a pub that has great coffee and cheap drinks.
Shared my room with 2 guys from Toronto (Ben & Jordan), 2 girls from Argentina (Pam &b Mary – this was her new nick name cause no one could say her real one, and 1 girl from I’m not sure where (she didn’t really talk much).
As I got into Rome way earlier than I had planned I headed out for a walk to see where I would end up, was so great cause I’d turn a corner and bam there was the Trevi Fountain, then another corner and there was the Pantheon, also a huge white building built in the 1880’s as a tribute to the first Italian King, it’s a bit OTT for the first king, cause its gigantic and I spoke an Italian guy and he said it was just a monument about nothing ha.
From the monument for the first king, you could see the Colosseum which was awesome an unexpected cause I didn’t really know the layout of the city at this stage so today was full of wee surprises.
The Trevi Fountain was spectacular, just as wonderful as I had imagined it to be, only problem is the crowds, it was jam packed full of tourists and it was so hard to get to the front for a decent photo. The Pantheon was wonderful too, but again it was so crowded, can’t imagine what it would be like in the middle of peak season!
After walking for about 5 hours I headed back to the hostel and went out for dinner with the boys, just across the street was a restaurant and we all got a different kind of pasta and shared it around, so yum.
Back at the hostel we enjoyed the super cheap drinks, 2 euro for a glass of wine, and these glasses were filled to the top, not your standard pour in NZ.
Down in the basement of the hostel is another room, the door to it has a sign that says ‘Push to Party’, so we went inside and there were table set up in the middle and everyone playing Beer Pong, a drinking game of which I will be bringing back to NZ.

Enjoyed a lengthy sleep in this morning, then headed out to visit the Vatican, gathered I needed to exercise so I walked the length of Rome (only about an hour) to get there. Was real easy to find a tour, definitely worth doing, cost me 40 Euros and that included the entry fee of 15 Euros. Our tour guide was a young American girl who knew everything about Rome and the Vatican, including all the art and stories, she was fantastic.
We were taken through the Vatican Museums where we saw amazing sculptures, tapestries and paintings. The most beautiful of all the rooms was this skinny but super long room and the ceiling was covered in wonderfully colourful paintings all with gold frames.
It was hard not to think of the wealth in that Vatican, at some points when we were told the value of some items you couldn’t help but think of those poor catholic countries around the world that donate so much money to the church but themselves don’t have anything and this place is just dripping in gold. For example there is this type of red marble that is in all the floors and there are sarcophagi and statures made of this stuff, however it is worth 1000 euros per square centimetre.
After the museums of course was the Sistine Chapel, for some reason I thought it was going to be bigger, but no matter the size it was stunning and would love to have one of them in my house ha.
There were heaps of people in there, but our guide said that today was really quiet, they have guards in there stopping people from taking photos and telling people to be quiet, constantly clapping and sushing everyone. Considering that Michelangelo was not a painter, he did a bloody good job, the way the paintings came out of the ceiling was just genius.  
Lastly was St Peter’s Basilica, I think this was where I noticed the wealth of the Vatican the most, it was beautiful and huge. As soon as you walk in the doors, on the left is the famous statue by Michelangelo of Mary holding the crucified Jesus, then keep walking and you come across the tomb of Pope John Paul II, his resting place for a few more years until he becomes a saint.
Creepy side of things, there are tombs of other popes that are made of glass and their bodies are coated in either wax, bronze or other metals. Funny side of things, they were all dress in red cloaks & hats with white fluffy trim, sound familiar, yea reminded me of santa.
Walked out into St Peter’s square, there were a few hundred seats all set up ready for the Pope’s weekly address the following morning, then found myself a post office. Thought I may as well take advantage of the novelty of sending a postcard from the Vatican seeing as they have their own separate postal system from Italy and our guide said that it was way more reliable than the Italian postal system
On the way back to the hostel had my first gelato, pistachio flavoured, and for dinner went to a pizza place on the corner by the hostel that the guys recommended to me. They have a huge cabinet full of all the different kinds of pizza that you can imagine, then you pick which one you want a slice from and how big, they weigh it and then you pay for what you get based on that.
Absolutely wrecked from walking for 7 hours I was keen on just hitting the hay but Pam & Mary told me about a free night walking tour they were going on at 9pm, so when in Rome I went along and was so glad that I did.
We went to 6 piazza’s around Rome, the most stunning ones lit up at night, we went to many that I had been to before including the Trevi fountain, but they do look even more wonderful at night, we also went to the Spanish Steps which I hadn’t managed to get to during my walks around.
At the Trevi our guide said to check out the top right window above the fountain, it had been bricked in and painted to look like a window and the room behind the window is sealed shut and has been since the fountain was built.
Apparently as the story goes, a member of the family that built the fountain was pushed from the window and they found his body amongst the rubble of the fountain. The pope declared that it was a suicide even though his fingernails were bent back and there were signs of struggle on his body. Afterwards there were constant sightings of his ghost in the window from which he fell, so they took the window out, bricked it up and sealed the room forever.
The boys and I took the bus back to the hostel as the tour finished on the other side of town.

Had two plans for today, do the Colosseum in the morning then head out to the Old Port in the afternoon.
Sticking to my plan of trying to walk everywhere as much as possible to burn off the amount of pasta and pizza I’m eating, off I went to the Colosseum.
Found myself a tour, 27 Euros, included entry to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, and also the tour for both.
It is such a magnificent structure, even just from the outside you can imagine 75,000 people queuing to get in how brilliant it would have looked when it was finished in 80AD. Back then it was completely made of limestone, with marble for the seats of the 1st class. Today it has tar seal paving and some reconstruction done after a few earthquakes is in red thin brick.
Once inside it opens up to this incredible stadium, you can imagine it packed full of people yelling for their favourite gladiator and watching the slaughter unfold. They only flooded the Colosseum in the first year that it was finished cause at that stage they hadn’t built the underneath rooms for the animals and gladiators to wait, so they had the room to fill it will water and have naval battles.
When Rome was unoccupied for 1400 years, the Colosseum was not cared for at all, and the various metal pins that held the blocks of stone together were stolen by the few remaining people in the city and sold. Therefore it became very unstable and would easily fall down in Earthquakes, when the pope began to rebuild Rome he took the stone from the Colosseum and palace next door and build parts of the Vatican City with it instead of rebuilding.
After our tour we had an hour to kill before the tour of the Roman Forum began, so I cruised around the Colosseum checking everything out in more detail.
Our guide for the Roman forum was an Italian guy with a thick Scottish/Italian accent, was really hard to listen to.
The group for this tour was way too big, it was about 5-6 of the smaller Colosseum tours combined, so roughly about 60 people in the group, it was just silly. It took forever for everyone to get to where he was to talk about the next bit and at times I nearly ditched the group to do my own thing, but in the end I just stuck next to the guide up the front and it wasn’t too bad.
The Roman Forum is all the old ruins of the palace where all the emperors apart from 2 lived, its really hard to imagine the size of this palace. It was 5 stories high, with each story about 25 feet tall, and it stretched from the Colosseum to where the Roma Termini train station now sits, something like 14 acres of building alone.
This palace had a chariot racing track inside it, with a big balcony for the emperor to sit and watch with his 6 vestal virgins.
It was about 2pm by the time I had gone through all the ruins so thought I’d better get on my way to go see this Old Roman Port, I knew the Metro stop to go to to then catch an overland train to the port, but once I got there I realised that I had left my lonely planet at the hostel and did not write down the name of this place. Tried asking a lady that worked at the train station but she barely spoke English and had no clue as to what I was talking about so I just headed back to the hostel where I fell asleep for the rest of the afternoon.
The boys and I went out for dinner again to another restaurant down the road, by far the best food I have had so far in Italy, Spag Bol, it was epic.

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