Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Roman Vacation

We found a cheap apartment just outside Rome which was nice but increased travel time. The good news was we didn’t have to drive. Drivers in Italy push insane European driving to new heights. Just when you think you have seen it all, someone does something else. You think the North American drivers are pushy and sometimes rude? A red light here may mean stop to some or simply a challenge to work on their Mario gaming skills to others. Signaling someone behind you that you will be merging into their lane is unnecessary because they can’t see your rear bumper anyhow.

Motorcycles are above the law, needing neither to stop nor follow lines on the road. They can ride between lanes. They can come up in front of traffic at a red light and scoot on through. They can merge into your lane and out again without even looking to see if you noticed and usually not one but many do this at a time. They are never-ending ribbons that wave through traffic; ribbons that you mustn’t hit but you never quite know where they will blow. It adds a unique challenge to the driving task.

Our travel time into Rome without a car was about half an hour…after we figured out the multiple trains, subways and buses to take. Prior to that, it varied to up to two hours. It was all good, though. When you are on vacation, time isn’t really important. We have nowhere to be at any particular time so if it takes two hours, we just get to see more interesting places.

We visited the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill on day one. The Colosseum was anticlimactic. We had seen so many already and the audioguide in Nimes, France really couldn’t be beat. This was just review. Palatine Hill is where the Roman Emperors lived. Each one built another palace to try to outdo the one before. There isn’t much left of these today but the Hill is quite lovely. The Forum was my favourite part. Just walking down the stones that the emperors and Romans had trod so many centuries earlier was quite a thrill. We saw the burial memorial to Julius Caesar. His assassination took place elsewhere in the city as the senate was meeting at an alternate location that day.

The best part was the Hall of the Vestal Virgins. They were charged with keeping the “home fire” of Rome burning. This tradition had come from a time when fire was hard to come by. The earlier Romans (pre-Empire) lived in huts and kept a central fire tended 24/7. This tradition had been saved even though Rome was now greater than its collection of tribal huts. The virgins were interesting too. They were selected at around 6 years old and had to live in this location for thirty years. They were not allowed to have sex and if they were faithful to their task they would receive a huge dowry at the end. If not, they were tied to a funeral car and paraded through town, then taken to a crypt and buried alive. It wasn’t completely heartless though. They were given a lamp and a loaf of bread before they went into the crypt. Seems like a bit of an incentive to stay true to the cause to me but apparently several didn’t make it.

We visited many churches which were just over the top amazing. The ceilings and walls were still painted and the statues were exquisite. We saw Saint Theresa in Ecstasy by Bernini. He even had a hole in the ceiling so light would shine down on the statue. It was great. We saw the Pantheon where the empress Marguerita is buried. She’s the one who gave her name to the pizza. We saw the first church named after Saint Mary.

We did both of Rick’s walks around town. They were excellent and the high point of our time in the city. We found the admission prices had gone up significantly and some of the museums were not worth the price. The Trajan Market museum was nothing but a couple of videos, really. The rest of it you could see from the outside. That cost the family 22 Euros WITH the Roma Pass. The Capitoline Museums cost the family 40 Euros after the 18% discount with Roma Pass and while it was good, it didn’t have the bang of the Vatican. Kids didn’t get discounts and with the admissions being so high it left a bitter taste in our mouths. We found the statues and architecture outside were just as interesting. The Roma Pass was 25 Euros each and while it was worth it because of the transportation included, it really didn’t pay after the first two sights. Paris was much cheaper with a family.

The fountains and monuments on the streets of Rome are eye candy. We saw the Trevi fountain and made our wish while throwing a coin over our shoulder. It was built right on the side of a palace. Imagine having that water sound in your home all day. I wonder what it would look like on our house? We saw the Four Rivers fountain by Bernini. Each statue around the fountain represented a major river on one of the four known continents at the time. There was the Ganges, the Nile, the Danube and the Rio do la Plata. Heard of the Rio? It’s in Uruguay. We saw the Victor Emmanuel Monument, built to celebrate the unification of Italy in the late 1800’s. They took a long time to unify. Portugal got to it around 1100. At any rate, the monument is huge and white and looks like a poorly matched denture in amongst the faded grandeur of the real pearls. It is quite a controversial piece and while it is fantastic in its own right, it borders on tacky and boastful rather than glorious. Then again, how do you top the amazing historical monuments of an empire to celebrate bringing a country together? We sat on the Spanish Steps with the hordes of teenagers, lovers or otherwise. We ate at the first McDonalds in Italy.

And of course, we visited the Vatican and Saint Peter’s Basilica. We’ll save those for another blog.


maryanncart@shaw.ca said...

Great pictures, of family, too! Your blog is starting to sound a bit like Rick could use your help! Love Mom