In June 2012, I had the pleasure of gracing Italy and all its bountiful pleasures with spectacular scenery. Most notably, we first stopped off in the capital Rome to take in the entire vista of heritage, food and also the rich art culture which was behind every corner.
We arrived to Rome late in the evening (around 8pm) from our stopover in Dubai on Emirate airlines. From the plane we could see the dusk skies with the sun just about to set in the horizon. The landscape reminded me a lot of Melbourne with the bronzed land parched by the sun and country farmsteads lining the land as were landed. Rome airport is quite dated and not exactly and airport which you would want to spend a lengthy time in. We could see other flights from South America land at the same time too. Apart from the long passport control queues, we faced a dilemma of how to travel into the city proper. There is a train service but would make stops along the way and end up in Termini station – and with our luggage it was not ideal, especially at night. We settled upon taking a private shuttle bus service into town, where you are delivered to you hotel doorstop (that was the plan anyway). We set off from the airport and pass through some countryside and then emerged into the city metropolitan area. The residential properties reminded me exactly like houses owned by Italians here in Melbourne, Australia. The concrete columns, vegetable gardens and metal fencing – for a second it was a moment of déjàvu.
After some other paying tourists were dropped off their hotel, we started to head into the vicinity of our hotel. Our hotel was located 10 blocks from termini station and we had been warned that at night the surrounding areas are notorious for pick pocketers and just shady people giving naive tourists a hard time. We were not far away, then suddenly our driver mentions to us to get out and walk, due to the traffic jam we were in and the fact that many streets are one way only. Our faces dropped and faced with this predicament, left the taxi and took refuge in a hotel across the road. As we had never been to Italy before, we freaked out and called the hotel to come find us at the location where we were. With our luggage and the cobblestoned streets, it is a challenge for rolling luggage (as we found out).
A little embarrassed and weary, the hotel representative came and chaperoned us to the hotel in the dark of night, passing some fancy eateries along the way. Upon arrival to the hotel we were warmly greeted and ushered to the old fashioned style lift. And when I mean old fashioned, this was the type with the metal mesh and required the two manual doors to be closed, before you could go up. Our room was more than accommodating and even included framed baroque artworks with tasteful decor. Out the window we could see other residents across the courtyard, with random cats jumping from balcony to balcony. The residents in Rome seem to live on top of each other, as though space is a luxury.
The following days after we settled in ,were inspiring to say the least. We went to all the major touristy places (as one would do) and also get off the beaten track and explore the various alleyway shops and sights. I vividly recall the moment we walked into the forecourt of the Trevi fountain. On the way there it was narrow streets and commercial shops, bounded by heritage buildings and we wondered ‘is this the right direction’, as the space appeared lacking for such a grand water feature. Then wham in one go the Trevi fountain comes into sight. Such a spectacle and elaborate designs within the fountain are memorable. We had seen that the fountain was undergoing a restoration phase, funded by as I recall the Italian design house ‘Fendi’.
With the economic crisis still reeling in Europe, the municipal forms of government seemed to have sought the funds from fashion design houses, in return for advertising material being allowed in close proximity to the famous locations around Rome. Nether-the-less in light of the economic issues the streets are well maintained and feel alive with the rich history at every turn. We didn’t really travel outside of the Rome metropolitan area proper (due to time constraints of four days) but this was sufficient to feel the flavour of the city and the local culture. We ventured to the nearby pantheon, with its unique skylight and moody feel inside, with impressive artwork around the inside walls. The unique part of Rome is that you talk a stroll around the streets and simply walk into such opulent and character packed landmarks with little or no cost. The alley ways have quirky shops and unfortunately some have taken the opportunity to graffiti on buildings around – not to a major extent. One notable sight was “I was born to love you” graffitied on to a roman wall. Illegal this may be, I did appreciate the thought of what was written especially in the climate of Italy being under social pressures of the economic crisis.
Of course in Rome a visit to the Vatican is a must (that alone is another blog post), but the Spanish steps with the people chilling out and watching the city pass by with the various gelato shops scattered around is unique.
When you think Rome, the first thing many people think about is the Colosseum. The ventured in the morning to see the obligatory landmark in the historical section of the city. We thought we arrived at a time sparing the hordes of tourists, but appears that a convoy of tour buses beat us to it! After braving the long queues to get in, we roamed around inside to take in the sheer scale and think about the many stories that the walls could tell if they had a chance. Part of the inside arena flooring has been recreated with modern-day timber, to give tourists an idea of what it looked like and showing how the labyrinth below would have worked. Tourists are free to roam all around the entire radius of the structure at their leisure. Spectacular yes, but after one and bit hours, we took our leave to visit the nearby war memorial – passing the ancient roman forum area along the way.
You could be forgiven to think that this white marble war memorial was a seat of parliament of other major significance, but this was solely to remember the Italian lives which perished in the early 20th century wars in Europe. Stern military guard monitor the entrance to the huge structure and many tourists were stopped for bringing in food and for wearing in appropriate attire (e.g. not covered their shoulders). The view from the top of the memorial building is spectacular – the vista of the roman city is amazing and you can see all the way past Vatican City and admire the sheer scale of the environs.
Continuing on, our map alluded to a majestic piazza close by called ‘Piazza Navona’. Strolling through the street leading into the piazza, we were greeted by various artists showcasing their various artworks in various mediums. The spectacular vista of the piazza soon came into focus as we ventured closer. The fountains which are grand and opulent dot the piazza and the artists located in the centre add to the feeling of the rich culture and curiosity. Quaint cafes and restaurants line the perimeter of the piazza, with bougavilleas and assortment of coloured planting varieties complementing the infrastructure of the area. Passing the noticeable Brazilian embassy (you can spot their Brazilian flag waving around a fair distance away, you eye is drawn to the works of the artists showcased on easels and other props around the area. The artworks generally reflect the Italian landscape, but varies from portraiture, baroque style art and other contemporary style oil paintings. The opportunity to pick up such great art at relatively accessible prices as too much to resist. I just went for some small prints due to the travels we had upcoming. The artists all show that their talents with many painting in front of curious tourists right in the piazza. Viewing them in action is truly mesmerizing and challenges my idea of the human capacity. I must say that the piazza was a highlight of the trip, more so than the Colosseum and even Trevi fountain – for being more relaxed, authentic and the space to explore around.
These were just some of the amazing sights witnessed and experienced in the enduring city of Rome. There’s that well used saying that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ certainly applies with its intricacies of art, architecture and lavish style appearance making it an infectious place to visit. Apart from annoying lingering pickpocketers (which are spotted with distinction from others), I highly recommend a visit. Ideally next time I’d like to spend more time in the city but I guess once you pull on a string, it leaves you wanting more and more.