I have to be honest with you, Rome wasn’t that great. At least not for me. Don’t get me wrong, it had its moments, as well as thin crust pizza so thin that it could better be described as a large cracker with toppings. Just the way I like it. But mostly, Rome was a crowded, very touristy city, with some old and amazing artefacts, and quite a few guys dressed up as Roman soldiers who charged you $5 Euros to get your picture taken with them. Not exactly the romantic city I had envisioned.
The trip started with us being picked up by the guy (American/Aussie) whose apartment we were renting. The first words out of his mouth were, “Jesus Christ, what took you so long!” Nice. On our ride to the apartment, he went on to describe just how awful Rome was, and just how worse it had gotten since they “let in the towel heads”. The guy was a modern day Archie Bunker minus the irony.
Upon exiting his 4x4 (in Rome ?), we were greeted by the smell of cat urine and a mould infestation the likes of which I’ve never seen and hope to never see again. We spent the first night choking and praying to the god of toxic mould disease not to take us before we had maxed out our credit card! The next day we opened up all of the doors and windows, bought some spray cleaner with bleach, and promised ourselves never again to use a website that did not include reviews.
But again, it did have its moments.
One of those moments came one evening after a full day of being herded through Rome’s finest. I had decided to get out and clear my lungs, and had decided to do it by taking a walk up the long hill that our apartment rested on. Being American, this in itself was a magnanimous decision for me. Atop the hill sat a small café that served drinks and assorted pastries. So there I stood, drinking my Italian coffee, looking out over Rome, and watching the sun set in about forty-five seconds. All while I listened to Metallica. I couldn’t tell you why I was listening to Metallica. A little pent up frustration perhaps? Or maybe I was just hoping that the music might travel through my ears and, quite literally, shake the fungus loose from my lungs. Either way, I stood watching the sun set over Rome while Wherever I May Roam pounded in my head. And then I noticed him. An Italian guy, standing just to my left, and giving me the “I like to rock too” head nod. He made his way over and asked what I was listening to. I asked the same. Turned out he was listening to a band that he had discovered only about a year and a half ago, but which he had fallen in love with. That band was U2 (cue the angel choir and beam of light), and thus began a good conversation. It turned out that the man’s actual name was Amadeo Dylan. Can you imagine that? Mozart and Bob Dylan all in one name? Then, during the course of the conversation, the heavens actually split open and the man asked me my top five. I had met a brother. It was a good conversation. God bless you Amadeo, wherever you may roam.
On Saturday, after being totally disappointed with the city of Rome (and the Vatican praise band, which left a lot to be desired), we decided to rent a car and drive up the Italian coast, and quite possibly over to the city of Assisi. There was no real reason to go to Assisi, except that I would be able to slip it into sermons for the rest of my life, and that would make me deep and well traveled. I have to tell you, like leaving London and seeing the rest of England, the Italian countryside is nothing at all like Rome. It is beautiful, charming, and everything you think the Italian countryside is going to be like. At one point we were driving along when we saw a sign for a restaurant that pointed down a small road that led into the forest. We were ready for lunch, so we decided to check it out. After several bends we eventually came out into a clearing where there was a beach, a castle, and a small Italian seafood restaurant. And while I can’t say that I will ever again order the seafood ravioli, the atmosphere more than made up for what was a little too authentic seafood dish for me.
Further into the drive we stopped at some Etruscan tombs which had been discovered in the 60’s. There were about fifteen of them, each with a set of steps that led down into a tomb, each one designed and decorated differently, but each one basically having been painted with a white background, and red designs. These tombs were about 500 years older than the city of Rome, which meant that they dated back to around 500 B.C. I’ve said before that I’m a bit of a history and archeology geek, and these things made my day.
Further up the coast we stopped for cannolis and to let Olyvia play in the town park a bit. She loved it and even made a little friend who couldn’t speak English, but who could go down the slide on her own which Lyvie found both very exciting and impressive.
To backtrack a bit, we did spend Easter morning in St. Peter’s square with, I’m guessing, several hundred thousand other pilgrims. It was ok. Not nearly the inspirational moment I thought it would be. Jamie bought prayer beads from the money changers standing outside the square, and Olyvia walked around and engaged those who were not being otherwise engaged by the Vatican worship band or the Pope. Later in the week we stood in the two hour line to get into the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel. We were then herded another two hours through hallways, past priceless art, through tiny sixteenth century doorways, all with the goal of, in the words of Robin Williams, smelling the Sistine Chapel and looking up that that ceiling. Well, sadly, the Sistine Chapel smells like the sweat of about five hundred people all of which are crammed into a tiny little space where they’re constantly being told to be quiet and to not use any flashes. Any hopes of a serine moment were the hopes of a naïve tourist. Namely me.
On the other hand, St. Peter’s Basilica was amazing. I don’t know that it’s as ornate as Westminster Abbey, but the sheer size of it blew me away. The one thing I found a bit odd, and that Jamie found a bit freakish, were the former Popes that were still there lying in State. Their bodies had been preserved, mummified I suppose, and they were scattered throughout the Basilica in glass coffins. I’m not sure about that and, as a protestant, found it a bit weird. But outside of that, St. Peter’s was amazing.
One of the highlights about Rome itself was definitely the Forum. For some reason the Forum isn’t all that popular, which means that it’s also not that crowded, which I find a bit weird considering the fact that it is the oldest part of Rome and is, quite literally, the original part of the City. It is a small valley full of ruins. One of the interesting things about this area of the city is that another, slightly newer forum lies just across the street. These two forums were originally connected and were one area until Mussolini decided that he needed a big street to parade his military down, and so decided to build it right through these old ruins. Thankfully Italy has since that time come to its senses and begun to reclaim this area. In fact, from what I understand, this road may eventually be permanently shut down.
Driving in Rome is a bit crazy. Not only is the traffic a little out of control, but so are the streets. Whoever said that Roman roads are straight has never been to Rome. These things are all over the place. They’re a bit like London actually. And, to make matters worse, all of the street names are in Italian. So here we are, trying to somehow navigate our way through Rome, and at the same time trying to call out street names to figure out where we are on the map. “Via Giacinta Pezzana!” By the time you’d get it, along with the other three street names out, you were long past the intersection. Jamie and I are pretty good at navigation. We’re both pretty good map readers and she has a natural sense of direction, but we found Rome to be the hardest city, by far, to navigate.
More to come…