Ness' Italian trip report

Old Jan 11th, 2008, 02:39 PM
  #21  
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Day Fourteen - Roma!

Today was our mega sightseeing day in scorching Rome. Our strategy was simple - go for broke today so we could afford to be leisurely later on. With the wedding on the third day in Rome, we had even more limitations on time.

We started our day by finding a little cafe bar near the B&B where we could use the breakfast vouchers we'd been given by Lorenza. In Italy, a typical breakfast is cappuccino and cornetto. We ordered these up at the bar and I watched the barista as she poured the two coffees into shallow cups and I selected two cornettos from the display on the counter - a crema and a chocolate. The coffee here is excellent, and I love how it is made lukewarm or "skullable". I can see why most Italians order and drink their coffee at the bar, because it is quick and easy to drink and much harder to sit and nurse a lukewarm cappuccino. The cornetto crema was delicious, filled with custard, freshly baked and still warm from the oven.

From here, we walked back toward Trastevere's main drag to get in a cab. It was not very often that we resorted to taxis in Europe, but on this particular morning, we had an appointment at the Australian Embassy which was right over the other side of Rome, in order to finalise some paperwork for the wedding. We were to meet with our translator Daniela there.

As it turned out, our taxi ride to the Embassy was one of the highlights of our first day in Rome - what better way to lay our eyes on the riches of the ancient city, than in a car driven by a big haired Roman goddess, the Italian rock CD cranked up to LOUD, speeding and weaving in and out of non-existent traffic lanes and getting up close and personal with monuments such as the Colosseum, the Forum area and the Campidoglio.

The curly haired driving supremo raced through the cobblestone streets, honking her horn and jostling for position at the traffic lights. Many near misses with motorini later, we finally pulled up at the embassy where we waited out the front for Daniela to arrive. We then went through the first part of what would be a tedious paperwork exercise, completing declarations. It was kind of strange being in there, surrounded by familiar posters and federal government campaigns.
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Old Jan 11th, 2008, 04:40 PM
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I am very much enjoying this portion of your trip report - definitely making me Romesick again! I also love Florence. There simply is never enough time . . . or enough room in the luggage.

Looking forward to more . . .

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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 06:06 AM
  #23  
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LCBoniti - I too am Romesick! Definitely the highlight of my European jaunt. Glad you are enjoying the report!
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 06:07 AM
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Daniela was a hoot - a small, husky voiced, chain smoking, sportscar driving and cleavage flashing dynamo. Completely stylish, probably in her 50s and clad head to toe in black.

She called us a cab afterwards as we figured we had time to squeeze a spot of sightseeing before we were due for our second appointment - more declarations at the registry office.

The second cab ride was much more sedate, and I asked the driver to drop us off as close to the Pantheon as we could get. We thought we would start Rome by seeing one of her oldest buildings and one of the world's most remarkable. The Pantheon is located in the Piazza della Rotunda and from the outside - crumbling and quite nondescript, save for some imposing corinthian columns at its entrance. However, once inside, this building reveals one of the great wonders of engineering. It has been standing for around 2000 years, which is just incredible. It was constructed in AD120 by Emperor Hadrian and houses a collection of tombs, including Raphael's. But the feature that is completely stunning is the concrete dome - the largest reinforced dome ever built.

Light spills into the circular building via an oculus at the top, 9 metres wide. There are many interesting facts about this building - such as the fact that when it rains the water just falls inside and drains away through many holes in the floor and that Bernini was given permission to melt down the bronze ceiling for use in his fabulous baldachin which sits over the alter in St Peter's. This really was a great place to begin exploring Rome.

Bernini's Elefantino sculpture was nearby so we headed there next. In these parts of Rome everything is quite close together. We tended to stumble on things very quickly that otherwise (on the map) seemed much further away. In contrast, in Paris everything looked closer, but tended to take us a lot longer to reach. I think it has to do with the nature of Rome's higgeldy piggeldy streets as opposed to Paris' long stately boulevardes. Elefantino is in the Piazza della Minerva and is one of the cutest sculptures in Rome - very unusual - of an elephant carrying an obelisk on its back.

It was also off this piazza, that we decided to enter the Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, not a scheduled stop, but we went in there because we were on its doorstep, and it houses an early Michelangelo sculpture. Throughout, there were many little confessional booths in full operation, which is one of the few churches in Rome where I saw that happening. The Michelangelo statue Christ Bearing the Cross is next to the altar, and has bronze drapery features. At the back of the church we came across the tomb of Fra Angelico, and seeing we'd been to see where he'd lived his life it was a nice touch to come full circle and see where his final resting place was.
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 07:09 AM
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Great report! I am looking forward to the rest!
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 07:21 AM
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This is a great trip report. I'm looking forward to reading more.

Congratulations on your marriage.
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 07:24 AM
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Thanks for the detailed report.
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 01:07 PM
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Thanks everyone! This trip report represents my memories of the trip, and I wanted to keep it alive in the detail. Each day I took time out to write in my journal, and typing and editing them all up back home has taken me several months. I'm glad people are reading and enjoying... here comes the next part...
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 01:09 PM
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We continued on our way south, moving closer to the destination of our next wedding appointment. We weren't far from Chiesa del Gesu, the Jesuit church, a place I was eager to visit because its descriptions in guidebooks had always sounded interesting, worth it alone to see the rich, over the top decoration inside.

I will definitely remember it, as it was amazing, and appears to drip with gilding and precious stones everywhere you look. One section - the Cappella di Sant'Ignazio was spectacular, crowned with the largest solid piece of lapis lazuli in the world.

We lingered here for some time as there was a lot to take in. One of the more curious items in the church was the hand of St Francis Xavier, preserved in a little glass box.

Our time was almost up, so we headed a bit more quickly down toward the town hall, where we would be completing our declaration in front of an official.

By now it was extremely hot, with no breeze as respite, and as we soon discovered, many government and public buildings in Italy aren't air conditioned! The experience here was interesting, just seeing the chaos and jumbled approach to red tape. For example, although we had an appointment, we had to wait with many other couples and family groups outside a locked door. Every now and then someone would emerge with a piece of paper and there would be a clamour for their attention.

Daniela, heaven help her, took charge of the situation and got through this door of mystery and managed to drag out this old guy, with an extremely bad comb over, brown suit and the worst eczema I'd ever seen to attend to our piece of paper.

We were taken down to a little office where papers were piled everywhere, and computerised systems seemed non-existent. Here, we sat and waited as this guy painstakingly scratched out our details on a dog eared and smudged form. Once done, we were presented with this piece of paper, upon which were scrawled the details of our marriage, that we would have to present to the officiating mayor on the big day.
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 02:04 PM
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Love your report! Wonderful reading, thanks for sharing.
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 03:28 PM
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Hello There,
I have really enjoyed your reports on all the places you visited. I am planning our trip to follow yours! There is a gap I can't seem to find. I am interested in your trip from Paris to Florence. I see you mention that you drove down. What route did you follow?

We are New Zealanders and are planning a trip in March.

Hope to see more about your experiences.
Cheers
Dee
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 09:49 PM
  #32  
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Hi Dee,

Paris - Florence was mostly the Kumuka group tour part of the trip. I have trip reports for them too, so can post them after Italy's finished. The route was Paris - Interlaken - Geneva - Annecy - Nice - Pisa - Prato - Florence.
My favourite bits of the trip though were definitely the parts we did on our own, but because this was our first overseas trip we weren't sure which type of travelling we preferred, so we tried both!
If you have any questions as I post along the way, please feel free to ask (the planning stage is very exciting) and you are getting closer to your departure date...
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 09:53 PM
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Thus released from such appointments, we were free to continue with our sightseeing. Another bonus then presented itself - as we stood outside the town hall and decided the best way to get to the forum area, we looked across the road and saw the Bocca della Verita - Mouth of Truth and the Chiesa de Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

We dutifully lined up (the queue was actually quite short) for our turn and I placed my hand in the mouth, a la Audrey Hepburn in the movie Roman Holiday. Rod snapped a picture and then we went into the decrepit but beautiful medieval church for a look around. It was constructed in the 8th century by Hadrian and had been altered many times over the centuries. Part of it was closed for what seemed like long overdue renovation but the most interesting feature is the mosaic floor made from Cosmati inlaid marble and detailed and very beautiful with its constellation patterning.

We then made plans to go to the Colosseum. A couple of factors were against us - it was stiflingly hot, we were already quite tired from the morning's hectic schedule and we knew the crush of crowds would be huge by this middle part of the day.

Once we'd arrived, we followed the hot tip of purchasing a combined ticket from the Palatine Hill office, however, there were no credit card facilities there and we were a long way from an ATM. Thus dispirited, we wandered back through the streets, until finally lucking on a bancomat. The extra walking really brought down our mood and put extra stress on our already sore feet.

But bravely we went back to the ticket office. As we did, we looked at the Colosseum, the massive structure that it is, with streams of modern traffic pouring around the outside of it and wondered at it still standing, and wondering how much more of the pollution and attention it could withstand into the future.

We decided not to explore the Forum area in detail, heading instead straight for the Colosseum. Today was not an ideal day for us to try and make monuments out of ruins using our guidebook alone! On the way to the ancient arena, we passed a team of archaeologists, working away at a sectioned off part of the hill and the imposing Arch of Tito. Though the place was packed, our pre-purchased ticket certainly enabled us to move through the queues much more quickly, bypassing the huge cash desk queue entirely.

We walked slowly around the arena on both levels, taking our time and taking in the views. A light rain was starting to fall, bringing with it some respite from the scorching temperature. After being inside the Colosseum, I actually think the best views of it are from the street, where it is at a complete juxtaposition with modern life.
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 11:01 PM
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Will wait to hear about the Paris to Florence bit. We started travelling shortly after we got married (both only 20) and we have recently celebrated 25 happy years together much of which has been spent travelling, talking about travelling or as you say the exciting part of planning. We did a tour the first time we went overseas and have never done so again. We been to Europe but this our first time in Paris and Rome so we are very excited.
Looking forward to hearing more.
Cheers
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Old Jan 13th, 2008, 05:53 AM
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Hi Ness -

I also felt that the Colosseum from the outside was even more impressive than the inside, especially at dusk when most of the crowds are gone.

Excellent trip report.
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Old Jan 13th, 2008, 11:03 AM
  #36  
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LCBoniti: I have this fantastic shot of the Colosseum with traffic snaking past it and it's one of my favourites - just an amazing structure to see still standing.

Dee: It is worth the wait definitely to get back over and see the amazing Paris and Rome. I enjoyed both places but Italy completely won me over. If you are looking for accommodation then I would highly recommend Arco del lauro in Trastevere, Lorenza was amazing and so helpful during our stay there.

And now, back to the report...
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Old Jan 13th, 2008, 11:12 AM
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We walked north from here, hungry and looking for someplace to eat, but not liking anything on offer. At one place we sat down and prepared to look at menus but when they were brought they were covered in clip art and covered in plastic and written entirely in English and proclaiming "Recommended by Rick Steves!"

As we looked around we really did see at least three family groups, all toting Rick Steves guidebooks. I never wanted to be a snob when travelling, but I just felt it was worth it to keep walking until we found places that were more of locals' places. So we kept walking.

It's hard to believe you are in Italy when you are completely surrounded by other travellers - there were lots of Americans in Rome at that particular time of year we travelled and we even managed to consistently cross paths with other Australians frequently on our travels, although less so in Rome!

The volume of tourists was fine and didn't bother us overly, but it really was nicer to try and experience more of the local culture, like we did on our first night in Trastevere, especially when dining out.

As we walked on, we came to the Piazza san Pietro in Vincoli. Yet another bonus. A church I had wanted to visit and our path had led us right to it. This church is notable for a couple of things. Firstly, a display of chains which bound St Peter. Constructed in the 5th century, the church was built specifically to house these religious relics. The chains were used when St Peter was imprisoned in the Carcere Mamertino and they are now displayed under the altar. The other reason for visiting is another Michelangelo work - this time a monumental sculpture of Moses flanked by Leah and Rachel. The work was originally intended for Pope Julius' tomb.

Well impressed at our effort of visiting four different churches on our wanderings, we decided to ignore the aching feet and press on for Termini where we could go and purchase our train tickets for upcoming legs of our travels, to Assisi and then on to Venice. It was easy to find and buy the tickets and they were much cheaper than we'd anticipated.

From Termini we decided to give the feet a break and experience the Roman train system. We rode the train from Termini to Spagna, from which we thought we would walk to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. Because it was raining lightly, there were less people milling about on the steps that enabled us to get a couple of good photos.

The steps run down to the Piazza di Spagna that is usually full of tourists and local youths. Off the Piazza is one of the city's most exclusive designer fashion shopping streets (Via dei Condotti). At the base of the steps is an unusual fountain called the Barcaccia that was designed Bernini's father. It dates from 1627 and is a bit of fun - and depicts a sinking boat that has sprung several leaks. With the crowds were the opportunistic cardboard bandits and other vendors - though they were annoying, you simply had to marvel at the opportunistic spirit here.

When it rains, they pop up with umbrellas for sale. When it is hot, they have mini hand held fans and cold drinks on offer. For large queues in the sun they offer fold up hats and fans. Then there are the guys with the random trinkets and junk - toys, roses, postcards and scarves...The list really does go on.
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Old Jan 14th, 2008, 02:25 AM
  #38  
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Next we walked toward the Fontana di Trevi, following a few signs that had been put up but walking in the vague direction and knowing we would eventually chance upon it.

You hear the water and the noise of the crowd first but it is every bit as beautiful as you imagine, despite the crowds. The fountain is a giant baroque work that springs from the facade of a building, designed by Nicola Salvi and wonderfully over the top. It features Neptune's chariot, being led by Tritons with sea horses and interestingly, the water comes from one of Rome's oldest aqueducts. It is one of those places that just proclaim "Rome!" And we were instantly reminded of the fountain scene in the famous film La Dolce Vita. We didn't stay long, but we promised to try and see the fountain again at night, when it is illuminated and takes on another feel altogether.

From here we walked on to Piazza Navona, this time seriously in search of food. Though you are tired and footsore walking in Rome (the cobblestones take their toll after a while) everything around is just magic - from the shop windows, to the scenes of life sprouting from cafes, windows and doorways to the constant buzz of scooters and action everywhere.

Piazza Navona is completed touristed but its important artworks will always attract the crowds and viewing the fountains here in the Piazza was one of my favourite things. There are three fountains here, the most notable of which is Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi). Alas, the incredible piece was swathed in scaffolding as it was undergoing restoration work, but there was still plenty to see here.

The Piazza used to be one of Rome's busiest marketplaces, and before that, a place where Roman games were conducted. Now it caters mostly to the tourists. Artists set up their easels in the centre, sellers and performers scamper up and down seeking the tourist dollar and the perimeter is lined with cafes and ristorantes all with spruiking waiters ready to entice people in.

Bernini's rival Borromini designed the church facade (Chiesa di Sant'Agnese in Agone) opposite the Fountain of the Four Rivers and I love the fact that these two architects are forever faced off in the Piazza through these two works.

The other two fountains here are the Fontana del Moro featuring tritons and a dolphin and at the other end, the Fontana del Nettuno - a wonderful piece featuring Neptune fighting sea monsters.

It was only about four o'clock, far too early for dinner, so we were happy that we ran into some of the people we'd met on the tour. They were still continuing on the next part of the Kumuka tour so filled us in on all the gossip from the bus - the addition of a new group, the new tour guide etc.
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Old Jan 14th, 2008, 02:35 AM
  #39  
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Eventually we wandered off down one of the alleyways that lead off the Piazza. We walked up and down while I had my radar working overtime - trying to find someplace that looked decent, not too touristy, not too much of a rip off.

Finally we chose a place with little tables on the cobblestones, blue and white checked cloths and a craggy faced old waiter. We ordered an antipasti plate of vegetables to share, I had the saltimbocca and Rod ordered a veal dish. The saltimbocca was absolutely delicious - but unfortunately our contorni of broccoli was quite overcooked. The meal cost 44.70 euros - quite expensive for what it was, but we WERE ravenous and the saltimbocca WAS good, so we thought we came out even on that score.

We grabbed gelatis each from Blue Ice and walked back into the Piazza where we again caught up with some of the group. They were on their way to a pub to meet Coco for drinks, but we declined the invitation because we were at that stage pretty tired, and keen to get back to the B&B. Because we had to switch rooms, we thought we might need to allow a bit more time. We actually walked all the way back to Trastevere, impressive effort given where we'd been during the day.

I collapsed for a power nap, while Rod went off to the laundromat to give our clothes a much needed wash. A great first day in Rome - absolute power sightseeing, but we were looking forward to day two in Rome, because the whole day was reserved for the treasures of the Vatican.
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Old Jan 14th, 2008, 07:59 AM
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Ness, I enjoyed your first day in Rome. It sounded much like our first day in Rome last year so I can relate to your "power sightseeing". I can't wait to hear about your day two.
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