vatican

our last day in rome and rick is holed up in the hotel with a swollen ankle. he twisted it a couple of days ago and then compounded the problem by the amount of walking we had to do in pompei.

i’m off to vatican city and an organized tour with angeltours. unfortunaley we left this to the last day as it is near our hotel, we should have checked it out earlier as all of the things we were looking for in the way of shopping were just a short walk or metro trip away. vatican city is a walled compound, they like to call it a country but it is really a walled fortress, then and now. though it is quite old, the inner city does not have a particularly old or even medieval feel about it. shops and cafes abound and everyone is there to make a buck, the average cost is generally more than in rome proper.

my first real experience when i entered one of the gates to the city (or tried) was to encounter one of pope’s guards, dressed in some blue concoction with black floppy hat and jack boots. i did not really want to enter at that point, just take a picure of his cutesy outfit and some of the buildings; this guy had other plans! immediately he is yelling at me to get out; as i’m not really in i figure he’s got it wrong so continue to take pactures of him and his buddy (the one picking his nose in the photos) and some of the buildings. but now the guy is irate and starts to approach me, ‘senore blah, blah, blah’. so i back up a foot so as not to be in his territory and take some more pictures. he’s still not happy and comes closer, so i tell him to (‘please leave’…usually spelled differently and ending in off) and he does. we give each other a roman hand signal and go our separate ways.

after walking around the parts of the city taking pictures of st. peters square and further around the perimeter trying to get shots of the dome i discover a set of stairs that look like they’ll give me a better view…nope! but i did discover the pope’s personal railway and viaduct jutting off from the walls…ah poverty!

lunch on a bench outside the wall, pizza, a ball of risotto and cheese (delicious) and soda, all the while watching the beggers work, some of them appear to be in terrible shape. most people pass them by. i decided to give one woman some change and some of my pizza when i left, only to discover her basket was adorned with pictures of the pope…i guess she’s still hoping.

time for the tour. our guide is a young irish guys with a degree in art history as are most of the guides in the company, others have background in history and archeology.

the tour takes about 4 hours and covers brief history of the vatican, a tour through the vatican museum stopping only for the highlights as it is second only to the louvre in size and impossible to cover it adequately in a short tour. the items we see are impressive and include marble statues, many of them with their wee wee’s chopped off or have had a fig leaf added.as one of the popes had hang ups…when they buried him they lopped of his legs (what goes around comes around.) the tapestries, wall paintings and ceilings are all incredible. interesting there are several items that provide optical illusions including one of the tapestries which maintains the same view as you move past it.

the next stop is what i came to see, the sistine chapel. it is surprisingly smaller than i expected but overwhelming in the intensity of the paintings. the colours are quite intense since it was cleaned a few years back. ironically all of the paintings are copyrighted by fuji film who paid for the cleaning so you have a bunch of guards either shushing you or screaming at people to put their cameras away, in no uncertain terms. these guys remind me of old images of the kgb and just about as friendly. it always surprises me that most religious organizations have real sob’s keeping everybody in order. regardless i got a lot of pictures taken surreptiously of course. next stop st. peters. big, bigger, biggest! this place is monstrous in scale, so large that you would need a fish eye lens to try capture a panoramic view inside. i took a few pictures in raw and hope they turn out as the program i have does not deal with the format. i was surprised to find several dead popes in glass coffins waiting for saint hood, including john paul ii and the guy who lost his legs. though it would have been an awesome sight, i decided against going to the top of the dome (it was a grey rainy day) and another 7 euros over and above the 14 i paid to get in on top of the tour cost of 25 euros.

back to the hotel and pick up rick for our last dinner in rome. i’m still searching for something for my son and thought i’d get a second opinion on some of the clothes i’d seen near the vat city. sore ankle and all i dragged him along to no avail, we could’nt find anything we were 100% sure of.

as you’ve probably guessed, rome, in fact italy has not been as enjoyable as we’d hoped for. our last meal was good, however the service was so poor we ended having to go find someone to pay the bill.

buona notte.

roma day 3

we’re feeling done in and agree that we’ll put the brakes on today. We limit our activities to a visit to the main station to make all our reservations to naples (pompei) florence and venice. I probably sound like a whinger by now, but we are getting frustrated too often by the total indifference to us as customers and to the endless runaround we are facing. Italy is the only country we’ve experienced this in, almost like they feel like they’ve got the whole tourist thing sewn up and so don’t have to bother offering any kind of concern for the customer. You get the feeling that tourists, for the locals, are just one big nuisance (which is probably true, but it’s clearly the tourists fueling the economy around here, not to mention providing naive victims for the endless scamming that is a constant.)

Today we lined up at the national (domestic) travel section for italian rail where the sign claims everyone speaks english… not! or more correctly, not for us. After being shuffled to two different agents (“no inglese! no inglese! go ‘dere!” – pointing vaguely off in another direction) we finally get someone willing to help us in english — only to overhear the previous two agents speaking english to other customers! Complaining does no good as they smile, offer some inanities and walk away. There are several profanities on the tip of my tongue and i must admit that i no longer hold them back if the the service is not suitable (am i turning into ‘the ugly canadian’ ?!?) They don’t care and i’m getting that way.

After escaping from the station we decide we’ll do a little shopping but have difficulty finding stores until we return to piazza popolo for lunch and discover via de corso which was a major road in caesar’s time and is still in use. There are lots of stores but nothing we want to buy.

On our way back to the hotel we stroll through many fascinating streets with no shortage of character or restaurants. The architecture is almost uniform in design but colour and age distinguish them and provide a rich background to our walk. We stop for a glass of wine in piazza narvona, an old roman circus with some marvelous fountains, which unfortunately like the trevi are under wraps for maintenance. The centre of the circus is full of small scale painters and portrait artists.

our final event for the day is a visit to a very modern museum containing a very ancient structure (the “ars pacis” or arch of peace) as well as a modern art display.

a glass of wine, a nap and dinner near the termini station.

buona notte.

roma day 2

it is our second day or first full day in rome. We’re up late and have a great breakfast at the hotel as part of the price. We head back to termini station intending to transfer to the b line, however the crowds are so intense at termini, that after two trains we decide to hike to the hop-on-hop-off bus as an easier option.

Our first stop is the the forum and adjoining palatine hill. It is spectacular, both as an historic monument and more so as a display of the size and obvious power of imperial rome. These guys did not fool around when it came to erecting buildings to match their egos. It has an obvious beauty and the feel of an era that we all know from our history lessons, making it easy to imagine the goings on in the various buildings and temples.

There are a lot of people here, mostly italian and finding anything resembling a clear guide in english is next to hopeless. Many of the monuments have little or no information attached to them so we spend a great deal of time trying to decide what it is we’re looking at. Unfortunately we don’t get to see some items as they are not well enough marked and the guidebook we picked up seems to function with a randomness only comprehensible (perhaps) to italians. Regardless, it is fantastic site to visit. I have too many pictures to share.

Following the forum and palatine area (where the bigwigs built their palaces and temples) we headed off to see the coliseum. This place is gimungous and worth visiting if only to see the scale of it all. Again too many tourists, apparently mostly italian (fortunately our roma pass lets us walk past a very long ticket line and directly into the site) who likely come from the country to see the capital. There are also a lot of americans, of course, and it doesn’t help our disposition any that everywhere we go we also get mistaken for americans (shoulda attached those canadian flags to our packs, i guess!)

After the coliseum we decide we’re in need of food and water, which we get, for a price… a very steep price by a bunch of razzle dazzle (baffle them with bullshit) artists at a nearby kiosk. Lesson: never buy from a place without a price list. We paid 14 euro for two sandwiches, but another 13 for cokes and potato chips! (That’s roughly $40 for two lousy sandwiches, pops and chips.)

Following lunch we decide to hop on the bus and head back to the vicinity of the trevi fountain and pantheon which we find rather easily. The trevi is a beautiful monument, alas it had a huge crane and men running all over doing some kind of work. With luck it will be operating before we leave. Next stop the pantheon, an amazing and intact building from ancient rome. the floor tiles the condition and the engineering are a marvel considering the age. Next stop, the spanish steps again to get a photo as i didn’t have my camera the previous night. Interesting…i guess (touristos – like us – by the thousands everywhere.) We head for the hotel and a nap before heading out to dinner.

We thought something near the vatican would be happy and asked the desk for a recommendation, and of course! he knew vito who was a waiter at quite a nice restaurant and off we went. Vito was there to greet us and find a table as the place was packed, we think we are the only non italians there. Before we knew what was happening a plate of flat bread is delivered and shortly thereafter we had about a half dozen plates of anti pasta . some of the items were more than everyone else was getting and much more expensive choices. As an example we had a large serving of buffalo cheese which was excellent and a large ball of mascarpone cheese. (we noticed the locals got a small ball with their pancetta) we had a bottle of water and a bottle of chianti ruffino which was quite good. For our main course rick had the largest steak i’ve ever seen and which cost way more than the menu said as they charged by the gram! I had fettacinii with mushroom , excellent and so simple.

The desserts were delicious and vito gave us a free(?) liquor made from lemon…magnifico! It was a special meal and was truly excellent, however we were taken, as we had no way of controlling what was being delivered or the choices for the antipasta and so resigned ourselves to enjoying an authentic italian meal regardless of the cost.

one of the things we are certain of in italy is the structure of kickbacks, bribes or payoffs, whatever you want to call them they are epidemic, even the desk clerk gets a cut by the taxi for calling them or the taxi driver gets paid for delivering a customer to the hotel. everyone is out to screw you, particularly if you are a foreigner. It is leaving a bad taste with us and we’re not sure how we feel about rome at this point…but we’re not enjoying it as much as we expected. The social hierarchy is very evident and i found it distressing the way those subject to others, like the junior waiters, etc. are bullied (you can’t say asked) to do things.

buona notte

roma

we’ve arrived! after much trepidation, our arrival is a non-event. everything we’d heard about the rome train station (termini) was a red herring; gypsys, pickpockts, con-artists etc – we experienced not one of them only the total indifference of the employees at the tourist office, and railway employees who gave us the wrong directions and a bit of forshadowing to the attitude towards tourists on our first day.

checking into our supposedly 4 star hotel is less than expected. the neighbourhood is great but the room, though well appointed is less than expected and our view of the alley and wall of adjoining building has pissed me off. a former palazzo, we are obviously in the servants quarters, however the amenities and bathroom are above average. the attitude at the front desk was “what the f….. do you want and why are you bothering me”

after a quick shower we’re off to see the sites. our first encounter takes our breath away as we do not know what to expect, before us are the gates to the borghese gardens and palace and to our right an archway dating to god knows when. we enter through the arch and discover marvelous churches, statues, fountains and a state-of-the-technology helicopter, along with martial art experts and an obelisk from eygpytian times – all sharing the same square. so this is rome! after a short tour of the plaza popolo we decide it would be wise to take an orientation tour, and do a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to see the major sites and get an idea of the city. fantastic! ancient rome is much bigger than expected, it covers and area as large as downtown vancouver or more. we hopped off the bus at the forum but tweedle dum (moi) has forgetten his pass in his bag (back at the hotel) so we did not walk through the ruins yet. i will post pictures as soon as i can but not for a few days as the hotel only has a single computer with very lowspeed internet access.

afer a full day of sights we returned to the hotel for a brief r&r before heading out to dinner. 8 p.m. – take the subway to the spanish steps and stroll through the area looking for a restaurant. we chose a lower priced one on a typical roman street and sit down outside. our waiter(?) could not give a damn about us and it showed. his service sucked and his attitude left us quite cold to rome. fortunately we had a couple of french women sitting next to us and i was able to strike up a conversation for a while. our food was ok, high on the mediocre scale. two bottles of wine helped make it through, that and the company of our other neighbours, a young dutch couple who were camping in rome (literally) for 13 euro per night. we chatted for quite a while and ending up enjoying the evening regardless of the service. we also learned that the subway shuts down at 11:30 on sunday so we had time to change tack and skip the trevi fountain tonight, instead we headed back to the metro to get back in time ,instead of walking home.

buona notte

yes we are alive!

technology has failed us since leaving austria, actually it failed us before we left austria.

i have been saving the daily write ups and will post at our next hotel, hopefully.

in the meantime we have been in rome for 4 days and just returned from a trip to pompei which was awesome to say the least.

we are either the biggest marks on the planet or terribly naive, but we have been had by everyone from the hotel, restaurants and little old men in naples. crime prevails in italy with kick backs for everyone and we are the bank. we actually no longer trust anyone to be of help here in rome…hopefully better in florence and venice.

more later.

buono notte