The ship was due to dock at 10:30AM. In anticipation of this, we set our alarms for 8:30, giving us time to have a shower, eat breakfast, and ease into the big day that lay ahead. Instead, at 8:29AM, the internal PA system blasted out that the ship was making it’s approach to the port, and that it was time to vacate the rooms. I was certain that it wasn’t meant to arrive for another two hours, but I could hear all the people outside in the corridors moving around. I got dressed, found an outside deck, and looked to see with my own eyes just how close we were.
We weren’t, there was a hazy outline of mountains in the distance, and the ship was still sailing full steam ahead. The announcements continued on the PA system, but we went on with our original plan, showering, and going to the common area to eat our breakfast. And, at a little after 10:30AM , we were reunited with Gunter, and on the road for Rome from the port town of Civitavecchia.
We decided to take a detour to see some ancient ruins in Ostia Antica. We fought our way through the intense traffic, all the way from Civitavecchia. Stop signs were up for interpretation, as were the dividing lines separating the two lanes of traffic – I won’t even talk about the interpretation of the speed limits. After more than two weeks in the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, this was a hard re-entry to reality.
It was a stressful 90-minute drive, but we made it to Ostia Antica ruins, only to learn the hard way that they are closed on Mondays – and today was indeed a Monday. Off to Rome, it would seem.
We found a basic camper site, LPG s.r.l, on the south-eastern edges of Rome. It was €18/night (plus €2/pax council tax). We weren’t quite parked mirror-mirror, but there wasn’t a lot of separation/space/privacy between sites.
The key feature was a tramway that would take us in to central Rome less than 200m from the front gate. It wasn’t a pleasant experience arriving in central Rome, surrounded by garbage, graffiti, and large groups of immigrants and beggars. Our tram was not something that many other tourists would catch, since it went out to the southern suburbs, and stopped short of the main station. As we walked from there towards the colosseum, we were quite aware of the eyes that were watching us. I knew that nothing was going to happen, and it was just a case of people watching other people, but as a first impression on a city known for pick-pocketing and mugging of tourists, it wasn’t a great way to start.
The Flavian Amphitheatre, as it was officially known, is colossal – though, the name was derived from a statue of Colossus that stood nearby. Boom, quick fact to blow your mind. Regardless of the name, or the origin of the name, this amphitheatre is enormous. The biggest amphitheatre ever built, the Colosseum is more than 50m high, and stretches to nearly 200m on its longer axis (it is elliptical). Also, I need to learn to use a wide-angle lens better…
We bought tickets, €12, and paid to join an English tour group, €5. Without some form of guide, it’s difficult to get any real meaning of the site, as it’s essentially a ruin – there is little to no information inside. Wandering around before the guided tour, I was surprised to see the use of bricks and concrete, as I thought it was all made from marble and sandstone. Standing inside, it seemed larger than it did from the outside, and I would have assumed that it would have seated more than the estimated 65,000 people. It felt larger than the AT&T stadium in San Francisco.
The tour went over the facts, and tried to paint a picture that brought the ruins back to life. Detailing the gladiatorial battles, and other events that took place on the floor of the arena. It explained the rules of the battles, as well as the mechanics of the floor, which used elevators to safely (for the handlers) move angry animals to the arena floor.
It was impressive, but eventually we felt the need to move on to see more of Rome. Our Colosseum tickets included entrance to the Roman Forum/Palantine Hill, but it really needed more than the 90-minutes we had before it closed. We tried to see the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth), but it was hidden behind a fence, which closed at 7PM. We walked without any real direction towards the historic centre, being amazed by how many ruins and buildings of significance were strewn amongst the city.
Alter of the Fatherland
We came around a corner, and this gargantuan building came into view. It was shining brilliant white marble, topped with enormous chariots and countless columns, and set upon an equally epic staircase. Neither of us knew what this building was, so we had to search on our maps.
It turned out to be a monument to Italy’s first king, as well as for those fallen in World War I. We now understood why it looked so impressive – it was less than 100 years old. There is a view platform from the top, but it was already closed by the time we arrived – on all three evenings that we passed by.
Not long after the sun had set, and the pink hues had disappeared from the white buildings, we finally stopped for dinner. Risa found a small pasta restaurant called Pasta Chef. It was a simple affair, feeling more like a hipster take-away than a traditional restaurant, with clean lines, and open spaces. But, it had glowing reviews, and the pasta was cheap.
I got a carbonara and Risa had a tomato based one (the name evades me). As has always been the case in Italy, the quality and texture of the pasta is nothing like home. It’s soft, delicate and a little chewy. My sauce was intensely rich – maybe a little too rich, if I’m honest – and it lasted less than a few minutes as I greedily shovelled it into my mouth.
I didn’t know much about Rome, but even I had heard of the Trevi Fountain. Risa said it looked beautiful at night time, and I’d read that it was a little quieter there in the evenings, too. So, after dinner, we did our best to navigate through the twisted alleys of the Historic Centre.
The density of souvenir shops started increasing, as did the gelati and tourist restaurants – as did the crowds. We knew we were getting close. When we finally turned a corner, and got our first view of the fountain, it was in between uncountable selfie-stick hawking touts, and exponentially more tourists. It felt like we were on Oxford Street, fighting through masses of distracted shoppers. I was beginning to miss the serenity of Sardinia and Corsica.
We fought our way through the crowds, dodging selfie-sticks that were swinging around wildly, making our way to the front of the fountain. It was hard to relax and enjoy the beauty of the fountain with so much noise, and jostling for position. Once we’d had enough, trying to leave was just as difficult, pushing our way between people, being stopped to take photos for people that didn’t have selfie-sticks, and dodging the sticks of those that had them – I’m not sure which is worse. And then, once all that was done, we were surrounded all the street sellers, selling selfie sticks, hats, sunglasses (had they been there all day? Or just don’t understand the reason people buy them), annoying kids toys that squish and make a noise, and those spinner toys. Maybe we needed to wait until after midnight.
We got home late last night, so we were slower than usual to get started this morning. It was nearing lunch-time by the time we left the caravan park and got on the tram to town.
Continuing with the places that I’d heard of, but not yet visited, we went to Spanish Steps. Like the Trevi Fountain last night, it was crowded with people taking photos of themselves, and people selling accessories to enable people to take photos of themselves. I didn’t understand the reference to eating gelato on the steps until afterwards, either – a scene from some movie that I haven’t seen.
The steps are elegant, and the water from the fountain was refreshingly cold, but I’m not quite sure what the fuss is about them.
The view from the top of the stairs, as well as from inside Trinita dei Monti were more impressive for me. Inside it was a rich medley of colourful marble, gilded carvings, and an uncountable number of frescos occupying anywhere that wasn’t covered in marble or gilding.
We walked across the river towards Vatican City, and we realised that we were no longer surrounded by graffiti and garbage. This part of Rome was clean, and I’d actually use the word beautiful. It felt like a nice European city, instead of a chaotic slum – OK, slum is a little critical, but the parts we’d seen weren’t particularly nice.
Country number seven! We didn’t have time for a full visit, but we just thought we’d come have a quick glance. We managed our way through the frontline of hawkers selling tours and tickets to the museum, trying to convince us that it was not possible to enter St Peter’s Square – it is, they were lying, or just very unknowledgeable.
But, walking into the square/plaza was a shock! I’d heard that the St. Peter’s Basilica was busy, and that queues were to be expected, but the queue stretched the entirety of the perimeter of the colonnade surrounding the square. There must have been at least 1000 people standing in the heat and sunshine, waiting for their chance to enter. This put me off somewhat, but at least I was going to be prepared tomorrow when we return – full post here – Euro Road Trip – Vatican City.
Walking back into the Historic Centre, we started ticking of more famous sites, starting with Navona Plaza. This was another nice part of Rome, with colourful buildings free of graffiti. There were also more fountains, with even more incredible sculptures. It’s starting to reach peak-sculpture for me. We kept walking.
I’d heard the name, and I’d seen pictures of the exterior, which looked like an Ancient Greek temple. I hadn’t however seen pictures of the interior, and when we stepped in side to what looked like the inside of a UFO – well, I was stunned. The room was enormous, with an enormous opening at the top, and without any internal supports to clutter the internal space. It’s getting harder and harder to impress me, but I was blown away.
We continued on foot, as the main sites in Rome are all, pretty much, within walking distance. This gave us a chance to see a street dedicated to selling clothes the Pope wears – it could be for other religious persons, but this was the description I was given.
We also saw the hand of the Spanish man who brought Christianity to Japan – Francisco Xavier. For some reason this is a popular thing to see for Japanese tourists, which I find surprising given how few are Christian. Still, the Chiesa del Gesu was pretty inside – as just about every church we’ve stepped foot in in Rome has been.
Roman Forum and Palantino
These two sets of ruins are said to be the most impressive site, after the Colosseum, in Rome. The ticket is included with the Colosseum, and they are next to each other. We skipped it last night, as it was a little late by the time we’d arrived. Well, by the time we arrived tonight, after all the detours we’d taken, was right about the same – 6PM. To make things worse, I’d lost my ticket from yesterday, so I’d have to buy another.
I ended up taking Risa’s ticket, as I really wanted to quickly see the ruins, while she went and relaxed in a café nearby. I didn’t have much time before they closed – they suggest 3hrs, I had 1hr – so I raced around the area as quickly and efficiently as I could.
These ruins are most certainly ruins. It’s hard to bring them to life, with most of them being little more than the outline of the floor. There were a few columns that had been stood up, as well as the remains of more substantial walls, but it really required imagination to get a sense of how this area once looked. I have seen illustrations of the area, and still it was hard for me to bring it together in my mind.
It was an enormous complex, and I’m certain that there huge swathes that I missed in my rushed visit. It felt a shame to not give this site the attention it requires, but at the same time, it was difficult to feel the attraction.
We ended up catching the sun set from nearly the same place we saw it yesterday, watching the Colosseum glow pink in the last rays of the day, while the forum was already shrouded in darkness.
Since we were in the same place as last night, and because we enjoyed the meal last night – and it was cheap – we returned once again to Pasta Chef for another of their dishes from the short, but classic (and cheap) menu.
We’d booked our tickets for the Vatican Museum yesterday, and our plan for the day involved visiting the museum, followed by St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s a huge, huge complex, and I’ve squeezed it into it’s own post here – Euro Road Trip – Vatican City.
From The Vatican, we caught a bus to Campidoglio Hill for another sunset view over the Roman Forum. This is the same place we’d watched the Colosseum glowing pink last night. This time I brought the drone, and with the grounds now being empty, I didn’t have to worry about flying over people. It was beautiful, and it was worth the effort of carrying it around all day – thankfully it’s quite light/small.
We were happy with our quick stay in Rome, ticking off most of the main sights. It’s a must visit location, however, it’s not somewhere that really caught our hearts. Tomorrow we head south towards Naples, and all the pizza.