Saturday, October 27, 2007

Travelog(ue) X: Roman Roundup

Pickpockets notwithstanding, we had a terrific time in Rome. Sadly, I must say that our hotel there, near the Porta Maggiore, is the only place we stayed for which I cannot provide an unqualified recommendation. The room was clean and quit spacious, but given the price and the season, the location was a bit remote, and the breakfast was slightly subpar. It's only real problem, though, was the lift. We were three floors up from the lobby, and the lift (the stairs, for some reason, didn't go to the
lobby) took one minute and forty-five seconds to go from the lobby to our floor. On the plus side, it only took a minute and twenty-five seconds to come down. The lift also had a habit of stopping on occasion, just because, though it would generally start up again when you pushed your floor button again. Anyway, the view from the window was nice enough, and there was even a balcony.

Apparently, it's impossible to go to Rome and not make fun of the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II. Most people think it's extremely ugly and tacky, but I think that it's extremely tacky and only moderately ugly. I guess I grade on a curve.

You need to plan at least a day to explore ruins in Rome. Fortunately, the VEII monument is very close to the forum, so you can point and laugh in passing. All that pointing and laughing will take it out of you, though, so stop and have a cappuccino before descending into the bowels of Ancient Rome.

Someone who sat next to us on the train from Florence said that the great thing about Rome is that you're walking on things that people have walked on for four thousand years. I didn't bother to check whether his timeline was right. I thought he was a bit pompous. He told us that he and his wife "work so that they can travel." I guess that's a lot more fun than working so that you can pay your kids' tuition, but I sometimes think that people who overly romanticize travel are simply unhappy at home. I'm sure I've said that before. I spend a lot of time wondering whether I'm repeating myself here, but in the long run, I never really worry about it. In any case, how ever many years they've been there, and how ever many people have walked on them, the ruins are extremely impressive and beautiful.

One of the displays posted near the forum said that excavation, etc. is an ongoing business. We saw a bunch of students doing some digging. Apparently, once they've gotten everything dug up, then they'll decide how much they need to keep. I regard this as an internal matter. Why did Constantinople get the works? It's nobody's business but the Turks, people.

After spending a while wandering through the forum, we headed over to the Colosseum. It's really big. You might even say colossal. We had great weather while we were in Italy. We always have great weather when we go on vacation. (I'm pretty sure I've said that before, but I am not worrying about it. See how consistent I am?)

You have to buy a ticket to enter the Colosseum, but the same ticket also gives you admission to the Palantine Hill, which is not far away. You get some of the best views of Rome from up on the hill.

There is also a good deal of interesting vegetation there, including orange trees and olive trees, both with fruit. It would have been easy to pick and take out an orange, and I really, really wanted to. But of course, I didn't. It would also have been easy to pick and take out a handful of olives, and I really, really wanted to.

The day after we saw the ruins, etc., we went to the Vatican Museums. B&c insisted that we get there early, so we waited in a very long line for over an hour before the opening time. Then the line moved pretty quickly because the Vatican Museums are huge and can hold many people. The line to get to the entrance passes right by this.

I will have more to say later about the Disneyfication of Italy, especially Venice, but for now, I'll just point out that it was highly appropriate to pass that poster outside the entrance. The Vatican Museums are not so much like other museums where people mill about in various parts. They're much more like a ride at Disneyland where everyone takes the same route past the same artworks. You can, of course, stop to linger in the Modern art section when you spot Dali's Annunciation, but everyone else will march right on by on their way to the promised land: the Sistine Chapel. Near the entrance to the ride museum, there's a cool ramp that doesn't seem to be used. I think they rent it out to roller derby teams on weeknights, but I'm not sure.

Despite being in the Vatican, all along the way, you'll see a good deal of pagan imagery.

When you get to the Sistine Chapel, it is both pointless and forbidden to take pictures, but many people still do. The guards are quite aggressive with the "No photo!" but they are only intermittently successful. While we were there, one guard kept sneaking through the crowd so that he could creep up on someone with his or her camera pointed at the ceiling and say "No photo!" loudly in his or her ear. People were nonplussed by this behavior, but I found it funny.

Wherever you are in Rome, it's easy to get around with their splendid public transit system. For 11 euros, you can get a three day pass good for the subway and all the buses. This is a terrific deal. The buses go everywhere. And most of them have no pickpockets.

The subways are clean, fast, and frequent. The signage is, for the most part, very easy to understand. Here's what you see on the doors.

The lower right sign pretty clearly means "No executions, even on weekends." I was almost certain that the upper left sign meant "Please do not give birth on the subway," but then I read the caption, and I understood it was a warning against using appoggiaturas while singing on the subway. As it happened, I was humming a bit haphazardly, and an argument erupted on the train. My accuser denounced my apparent appoggiaturas, but a defender stepped forward to claim that they were clearly acciaccaturas. The argument was about to come to blows until I apologetically muttered "Rubato." Both men glared at me, but I had given them a means of saving face. Italians arguing over ornamentation is just so over.

The guidebook said that the Spanish Steps is where people go to be seen and to hook up. I didn't see any hooking up, but there is no shortage of beautiful people trying to be seen anywhere in Rome.

Sometimes the beautiful people are out helping their girlfriends shop for shoes, though. The Romans have really taken metrosexuality to a bit of an extreme, but I suppose that, too, is an internal matter. Even old New York was once New Amsterdam, after all.

If you really want to be seen, you take a job with the Italian lottery.

It's an open question whether those suits are beautiful, but they certainly can't be missed.

Whenever I travel abroad, I try my best to visit the local supermarkets (and at least one laundromat). The supermarkets in Italy were terrific, but so, too, were the open markets. We found this one by chance when we were coming back to the hotel to get warmer clothing on Saturday. The prices were very reasonable there, and it was all locals shopping.

The open market at the Campo di Fiori also gets locals, but it is somewhat more of a tourist attraction.

But the prices were not unreasonable, for the most part. I especially liked the Holstein espresso makers, but we did not acquire one.

I did acquire some porcini flavored bouillon cubes, and a cheap device for cutting vegetables into spirals. Mostly I just salivated, though.

I am a sucker for window gardens.

On our last day in Rome, we walked down to the small island in the middle of the Tibur. There is not much there except for a hospital. But the river itself is pretty.

Somewhere not far from the river we had the best meal we had in all of Rome. It was a late lunch, and I started with the marinated eggplant (melanzane marinate) and then had some green gnocchi in a gorgonzola sauce. We also shared a liter of wine, of course. If you're going to be in Rome, let me know, and I'll give you the address. Un giorno senza gorgonzola e como un giorno senza sole. I probably didn't say that right, but I don't speak Italian.

I went to Rome without a list of things that needed to be seen. B&c had a list, and I went along with his list as far as possible, but mostly I just wanted to enjoy the city, and I very much did. I'm aware how little of the city I saw, but it's always a good thing to know that if you go back, you'll still be exploring. Some day -- when the exchange rate's better -- I would like to go back with a small group of friends and share an apartment for a fortnight or a month. I acknowledge that the list of places where I'd like to do that is quite long, but a boy can dream.

1 comment:

Will said...

Tickets for the Colosseum and the Palatine are new since I was there last--about a dozen years ago. I loved every minute in Rome, boy-watching my way from one end of it to the other.

There were two gorgeous boys on the train back from Ostia Antica with their girlfriends--the girls on one bench seat and the boys opposite. One boy dozed off with his head on the other's shoulder, a kind of physical contact common amoung young men in Italy--a meltingly beautiful sight.

Italiand call the VEII monument "Il Confetto"--The Wedding Cake.

Glad you're having so good a time--e buon ritorno!