Wednesday, 17 August 2011


Very tired by the time we got into Rome Central Station from the airport. It was late, and we had got up very early. Emerged from the station and were met by an enthusiastic taxi driver who showed us his taxi photo ID. Had our bags into the car before we could think about it and drove us to our hotel Only trouble was he was not a proper taxi driver, he was an overcharging conjuror, who proceeded to make any money we gave him turn into notes of a lesser value. Assuming we had made a mistake in the orange street light, we gave him the correct money again – twice! He made off with a tidy profit from the exchange, while quick-thinking Anna grabbed the numberplate and wrote it down. We reported them to the police the next day, and put it down to being so tired, and worked out a few strategies to protect ourselves better in future.

Next morning we took a rather round-about route to the Colosseum, finding many streets which were not marked on our map. Sandy insists we were not lost, it’s just that the GPS, the map and the street signs all showed different street names! Anyway, eventually the magnificent Colosseum peeped through one of the narrow alleyways and we made a beeline for it - to be met with a 10m drop down to the monument, and an 800m walk to find the way down. Anna was by now getting just a wee bit pissed off with Sandy’s navigation but was very pleased to find a WC on the way down as they are few and far between.

As a blood-sports arena, it apparently was well used, with around 2000 people killed in the inauguration ceremonies, plus maybe 5 times as many wild animals according to meticulous records kept by scribes. The combatants and victims were mainly slaves, prisoners of war and criminals. An estimated total of 500,000 deaths have been attributed to the various gladiatorial venues in the Roman Empire. The few Romans who became gladiators did it for short periods, mainly to clear up debts with the money thrown into the ring from the crowd.

We then got a guided tour of the adjacent roman site containing the original Senate building, unbelievably still in use, the temple of the Vestal Virgins, and a dozen or so other temples, monasteries, palaces and administrative centres in various states of repair, ruin or excavation. Apparently Rome is having a lot of difficulty putting in their third underground line because they keep bumping into significant archaeological finds. The largest of the palaces was around 60 hectares, the remains of which underlie a significant portion of downtown Rome.

Next day was an even slower start as we took time to catch up with ourselves,(clothes washing email booking ahead and fixing a suitcase handle mostly) before venturing to St Peters Basilica at the Vatican. Missed the climb to the top, but we were a bit overwhelmed by the violent crucifixion and martyrdom themes in Christianity as graphically portrayed in the catholic churches. However I was very taken with the marvelous marble design work on the floors and walls.

The 'Wedding Cake' or 'Typewriter', a very large monument to unification of Italy in the late Ninteenth Century, stands out from all over the city, so we had to pay a visit, if only to see how big it really is.

On the other hand Trevi Fountain is a real joy to see, and drew a large crowd during the evening.

We took a long walk back to the Pantheon, a 2nd century Roman construction which still survives in the form of a very impressive Christian church, which unfortunately had just closed. On the way we marvelled at a series of spray-can artists producing finely detailed and realistic paintings in the space of around 4 minutes in front of an appreciative audience, and sold seconds later for 10 Euros. Working with amazing speed, precision, a gas mask, 20 colours and an armoury of at least a dozen specific techniques, they produced paintings on several different themes. Did not think they would travel well.

We returned to the Pantheon next day to see the interior – well worth the visit –a massive dome with a hole to the sky for light, made of pumice stone so as not to be too heavy for the circular marble walls – a testament to the skill of roman architecture.

We also went to see an exhibition of recreations of Leonardo Da Vinci’s machines. It was significantly different to the one which travelled to Adelaide a few years ago, with one which was amazingly close to a current hang glider, except that the pilot was expected to flap the wings. His tank/armoured personnel carrier however, suffered the same limitations as the Daleks of Dr Who – works great if the ground is very flat.

It became a race against time in the narrow and confusing alleyways of the old city, as we had an early afternoon train to catch to Pisa. Rescued by a taxi we collected our bags and made it onto the train with a good 2 minutes to spare, having almost missed it courtesy of the obscure prepayment system at the station café getting some lunch, and having to get to the furthest carriage of the long train. We were assisted at the last minute by a young man who grabbed our bags and hauled them up the steps and into the train unasked and then expected to be paid for his help. As our tour guide had said - in Italy they have German prices and Greek wages so not surprising that there are many trying to make money any way they can and probably a helpful service to those who actually want it.

Love Sandy & Anna

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