Day 50 Rome

It was a rather dull and overcast morning here in Rome, and the weather seemed to reflect the mood of the commuters who shared the crammed bus with us into the city. There was no lively chatter or conviviality – in fact everyone looked a little glum. As we made our way through the suburbs into the city centre, I felt that their lack of bonhomie echoed the mood of the city. As yesterday, I was struck by the sense of decay. Buildings looked drab, and in need of a good coat of paint. Rubbish sat on the streets, overflowing from bins. Graffitti was everywhere. And yet, as we approached the city centre, we started seeing amazing monuments to the city’s past – the city walls, huge Roman columns, the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill. I wondered how much the country’s dire economic situation had to do with this apparent lack of pride, and reflected on what would happen to the UK once we left Europe – certainly the economic predictions for the next decade post Brexit aren’t too encouraging.
As we got off our bus, and headed to the rendezvous point for our Vatican City tour, it started to drizzle and the light was monochromatic – a good morning to be indoors. We met our guide for the morning, an American lady from Chicago, and recognised a few of our group from the day before at the Colosseum. Within five minutes or so, I realised that this was going to be a trial for me. Howard and myself usually avoid this sort of tour group like the plague, but with only two days to see Rome, and an even greater dislike of queuing, we thought that this would be the best way to see the Vatican City. We were all handed out earplugs and microphone sets so that we could hear the guide, and then my worst fears were realised, as she brought out from her bag a flag on a long telescopic pole! Then it started – an incessant rambling commentary that went on, and on, and on, and on! The tour was supposed to last two hours – but from start to finish it was exactly three and a half! Talk about getting our moneys worth! Howard glimpsed at me from time to time, partly to give me a sympathetic smile, and often just to check that I wasn’t going stir crazy. That being said, the Vatican Museum, and gardens, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica were pretty amazing – I just would have loved to have wandered around on my own, rather than have a constant chatter in my ear. Sometimes, less is more, and the information overload did nothing for my appreciation of the place. The other thing that immediately strikes you as you enter the Vatican City, which is actually a sovereign state in it’s own right, the world’s smallest in fact – is the enormous contrast from the capital around it. This is a place of immense wealth and stunning treasures. It’s antiquities are well maintained and beautifully presented. The buildings ooze grandeur. The place is spotless. It positively shouts majesty! Yet it’s city walls only extend three kilometres in perimeter, the total area is 110 acres and the population is only around 1,000. Inside the museum, some of the greatest artworks reside – stunning Roman statues, beautiful tapestries, and of course, Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It was all pretty amazing – I just could have done without the running commentary in my ear!
As we came out into St. Peter’s Square – the light took on an almost sepia tone. We then walked down to the River Tiber, crossing one of the bridges, making our way back into the city. Up until this point, I had been luke-warm about this ‘eternal city’. But as we veered slightly off the main tourist trail, we stumbled across the most vibrant part of the city we had experienced so far – charming little backstreets and alleyways – where there were real locals, rather than people attempting to sell tourist tat, or begging for money. We stumbled across a little cafe, full of students and not a tourist in site – it was a gem. Yesterday, by the Colosseum, we had paid 17 euros for two coffees and a cake, today we paid 20 for two coffees, two lunches of pasta and a cake, and it was delicious. Much more like the Rome we had been hoping to see. Moving on, we came across a gorgeous square, with two stunning fountains, and lively bars and cafes round about it.
We set off to find the Trevi Fountain, one of those ‘must-do’ tourist sites in Rome, and en route came across a row of shops we christened ‘Bishops R Us’. These shops had to be seen to be believed – selling what looked liked Bishop’s, Cardinal’s and Papal robes along with other religious paraphernalia – only in Rome! Then suddenly everything changed. We came across a Square which was preparing to stage a political demonstration – with banners and stage all set up – not so unusual, since it is the general election on Sunday. Crowds had begun to gather, and so had the police. But as we walked to an adjoining Square, groups of opposing supporters were gathering, shouting and letting off red smoke. At this point, all hell let loose – sirens blared, vans pouring out riot police appeared – it was like a repeat of Barcelona a few days before. I started talking to a policeman, asking the way to the Trevi, but at that point a shout came out on his radio, and he threw on his helmet and went into action. It was at this moment that Howard and I decided to take a rain check on the Trevi Fountain, and grab a taxi back to the hotel. It was ten euros well spent. For some reason we seem to be encountering civil unrest on this tour!
So tomorrow we leave Rome. We have mixed feelings about the place. Initially it appeared rather grim, like a city in recession – but latterly we saw another side to it, a much more positive and vibrant aspect. I am very happy to have visited, but will be relieved to have a break from cities for a while, and see some of the countryside that Italy has to offer. Hopefully the drive out of the city will be less stressful than our drive in!

2 thoughts on “Day 50 Rome

  1. Well done for finding the real Rome away from the tourist crowds. The girls and I stayed in an artistic quarter just off the main drag to the Colloseum and it was full of unique galleries, tiny food shops and cafe/bars. That’s definitely the way to enjoy a city by being where the locals hang out.

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