St. Peter's Square

Rome Journal

Rome, one of the oldest capital cities in the world has captured the imagination and hearts of people for many millennium and this, being the celebration for the end of the second and beginning of the third it seemed apt for me to visit this city.

Thursday, October 19th, 2000

Working near the airport certainly does have its advantages as I started my journey by leaving my car and work early to catch a taxi to the airport. A short (but expensive) time later I arrived at the airport to join the queue for my flight. After sorting that out I picked up some money at one of the many local currency exchange agents I passed through security into the large mall that is the departure lounge at Gatwick (North or South, both are large malls). It was a busy day for me, it has been for quite some time now since I have been put into the position that I am the sole support for a number of projects that have been developed over the past 3-4 years. This is the first opportunity I will have had in quite some time to get away and, perhaps, relax a bit, though if it is anything like any other time I go away, most likely I will be busy both night and day.

Eventually the gate of our flight was revealed and I made my way to the final area prior to boarding where once again we waited for a few minutes before boarding the flight. I really do like the new interiors on the British Airways flights which now are completely in dark-blue leather (yes, even “economy” or, the more politically correct, “Euro Traveller” class) which seems to make the seats much more comfortable.

Flying over the south-east coast of England, we passed over Brighton in surprisingly clear skies, surprisingly that is, for this time of year though today was largely sunny but very cool. The lights of Brighton faded behind us as we crossed the channel to begin our long trip across Europe. Not much was visible as we passed over the “continent” only occasional splashes of the lights of small towns. Even though it was night I do enjoy sitting by the window since it means that I normally will not have to get up during the flight to let others in or out of their seats.

Arriving in Rome, the plane pulled into its gate well away from the main terminal so we disembarked and got onto buses for the trip. It was very warm, humid and terribly cramped on the bus. As I had no luggage except for the backpack I took with me on the plane (intentionally) I was able to proceed directly through customs (though I had to go back since I had not noticed the customs officer actually in one of the booths where non-EU passport holders had to report) and then face the confusion that is Leonardo da Vinci (Fiumicino).

I knew I had to get to the train station to catch the train into “Termini”, the main train station in Rome (near to which I was to be staying). Asking the first information person they said something about “go up a few floors that way” with little regard to the fact that there was neither stairs, elevator or escalator any where in the direction he had pointed. To add to the confusion the signs to the train station pointed down. So I followed the signs and doubted my decision and returned to the airport to try to follow the directions given me. Satisfying my doubts by talking to a second information person (again, with a smattering of English) I proceeded up the escalators I eventually found at the extreme end of the airport and then crossed across the service roads and followed a series of corridors for quite some distance before finally coming the train station.

The train station is quite small with only five or six platforms one of which had the train I needed sitting at it so I quickly managed to feed my credit card into a machine to get a one-way ticket to Termini. Rushing to the train, I found my way into the very new looking train and found a seat beside a window. I was not the only English person on board, there were quite a large number of students and tourists on the train (this was the expensive, express train to Termini). Very bright, the seats were a bit uncomfortable and I waited for quite a few minutes before the train eventually left the airport. Having a window seat did not really help all that much as it was pitch black outside and I saw not much of anything. Despite it being an express train listing only Termini as it's stops, we stopped nonetheless at another train station before finally arriving at the extreme far end of the Termini train station. I walked along the platform all the way to the main concourse of the station and found it interesting to note that each track seemed to end at different points along the platform, ostensibly to keep pedestrian traffic at a minimum at most places on the platform. The station is very well used with many rooms all along the platforms, some of which I passed with three or four porters smoking, relaxing and watching football (soccer). Very European station with tile and a lot of dirt from many years of use.

I passed through the terminal onto the street to be confronted with a large intersection. I was able to walk from there to the hotel for which I had an address and an accurate map from my guidebook. I must say I am a bit worried as I had to walk through the equivalent of a back alley to get to the hotel, passing by many pizza places and even what looks like an abandoned church (cathedral in most people's books). The place has the sort of dirty look to it as I have seen in many European cities with many older buildings but a surprising number of new cars.

The hotel looks quite dodgy from the outside – just a single door (and LARGE hotel sign) off the “alley”, though I had no problem with my hotel voucher from the travel agent, given a room on the 3rd floor (understanding, of course, that this is Europe so that is the fourth story, the main floor being the ground floor and the one above the 1st floor). I was quite tired but managed to climb my way up to the room, which is depressingly small. Basically furnished with a small, narrow, single bed, beside which is a small bed-side table, a wardrobe, a small bureau containing four drawers, a small TV (on top of the bureau) and a small bathroom attached beside the tall, narrow, window. The bathroom is quite amusing being extremely narrow with a small shower area at the far end (with only a curtain to separate it from the rest of the bathroom, using gravity to, hopefully, drain water into the small drain in the floor). The air-conditioning unit is permanently detached from a power outlet (with a knife, by the look of it) immediately below the tall, narrow window looking out over a small, cobbled, back alley.

The television shows quite a few channels but only two in English - CNN and BBC, which is fair enough, I shall try out my understanding on the Italian channels. Late now though, must go to bed as it is a big day tomorrow, my first day here.

Friday, October 20th, 2000

7:30 I began my day with a somewhat cold shower (with little, if any, water involved coming from the small shower head spitting out a fine mist of water that is ice-cold by the time it hits the bottom of the shower, regardless of how hot it starts with out of the piping) and staggered down to breakfast which is included with the room. The breakfast room is separated from the main desk area with a black iron gate and is in quite a large room (in two parts - separated by a single step) with a tile floor (which seems to be standard in the hotel - and marble on the stairs). The breakfast was quite basic being just a basket of fresh buns along with juice (along with coffee or tea, if you want it). They did also throw in danish which was sort of a croissant covered with a thin layer of sugar.

I left the hotel, continuing down the cobbled “alley” from the hotel that passes by a small school which was just being filled with children as I passed. I continued down and joined up with the main street (that passes the main train terminal I visited last night). I crossed the streets a few times which is quite interesting. I was warned in the various tour guides to be “brave” about crossing the street and watch the traffic then cross in an opening, staring down any motorists that would wish to mow you down. I typically jay-walk anyway so this way of crossing the street is not entirely unknown to me. The number of mopeds around is quite unbelievable and the way they weave in and out of traffic is quite heart-stopping. It is just as well that I did not rent a car while here, I can see it would be a problem finding places to park and getting around would be interesting.

The Colosseum (and the Arch of Constantine)

I made my way to see the Colosseum – which emerged from the street as I passed over a small hill. It is quite spectacular. What was surprising to me was the fact that it is right beside a rather large area of ruins with a small temple (complete with large stone pillars) on a hill directly beside the Colosseum. I was early – there were no crowds and the building had not yet opened so I walked around, noting that there were many palm and other tropical trees around. The souvenir merchants had just started up (“no postcards, thank you”) when the main gate finally opened at 9. I had to have a guided tour so I signed up for the tour that began half an hour later. I took the time to walk into the main hall and ogle the architecture. They had a long cat-walk suspended above the hollow rooms beneath the original floor leading to a large wooden stage at the one end which I learned later was used for a concert earlier in the year.

Inside the Colosseum

To see the ruins of the building is quite something and to consider that the place is about 2,000 years old and still, relatively speaking, standing I was the only one in the tour with an archaeologist guide who spoke quite a bit of English (though there were some points where it got a bit difficult). He indicated that normally he guides around 50 people at a time so I was quite lucky, taking the opportunity to ask all sorts of questions and learn a lot about the area and how the building was used. He indicated one of the ends of the building where they had re-created a portion of the senator's section of the auditorium. Each of the senator's seats was often carved with the owner's name (chiselled over any previous owner's name). The seats were divided into a series of sections according to social status (with slaves and prostitutes in the highest section and nobles and the general public in the sections between them and the senators). None of the seats were ever paid for, being seen as a political means to keep the public happy though tickets were required they were distributed at no cost. Below the floor of the auditorium, which was added after the original building was completed, there are two levels of corridors and rooms that housed the animals and provided a corridor for the gladiators to walk the distance of the auditorium so they could appear at the far end of the building during the opening ceremonies. Evidently the opening ceremonies lasted for about 80 days and some of the early days (before the floor was excavated to add the catacombs) they evidently did flood the floor to hold mock sea battles. When metal was scarce and the Colosseum already decaying into ruin the populace removed many of the metal bars that were used to hold the massive stone blocks of the walls in place, chiselling away at the stone and leaving holes where the metal used to be.

The Forum Area (Looking East)

I left the Colosseum to see that many more souvenir stands had popped up along with a lot more people – I had picked the best time to visit the building. Wandering around for a few minutes, the best thing I thought to do next was to walk across to see the ruins that I had seen beside the Colosseum earlier in the morning. This was the forum area and I was surprised to hear that entrance was at no cost. Walking up a small incline I looked out through an old archway onto a large area with ruins everywhere I looked - fallen columns, half-built walls, full built walls, buildings, and lots of grass between. I followed the path around, stopping briefly in the small museum housed in an old temple which had an exhibit about a series of burials they had uncovered in the area which had told them a lot about the lives of those that lived here. Walking around the corner, through a small grove of olive trees (they are all around here) I entered into the ruins of the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius which is really quite spectacular even though only the huge arches of the main building remain. The crowds in the whole of this area were quite large but I was able to wander around to the various sites, stopping to read what I was seeing in my guidebook: the Temple of Romulus, the House of the Vestal Virgins, the Regia, the Temple of Vestra, etc. At one end of the ruins they had built a replica of the Roman Senate building - the Curia - which was quite impressive if a bit different than what I remember seeing in movies. A large rectangular building with an extremely high ceiling and a few small steps leading from all sides down to a middle, speaking floor, I would guess (the acoustics were awful!).

The Forum Area (West Side)

Leading up from the far end of the Forum area, I clambered over many large stones and followed the crowd up to the street (Via del Consolazione) and passed through a few narrow streets (narrowly avoiding cars eager to use the street as much as large number of pedestrians) to the Piazza del Campidoglio which was designed by Michelangelo and is flanked by the Capitoline Museum and the Palazzo Senatorio at the one end with a large number of stairs leading to a busy street below. This whole area is pedestrian only, which is just as well as there were a large number of tourists, including myself, staring up at the splendour around us. In the heat and light of the sun it was truly magnificent.


I continued down the Cordonata staircase (also designed by Michelangelo though he seemed to like to kill people as they are viciously sloped downwards with each step about 2-3 feet wide) to the Via del Theatro di Marcello. Around to the Piazza Venezia I saw the massive monument built in recognition of Italy's first king (the Victor Emmanuel Monument) which looks a lot like a government building because of it's sheer size. The monument is comprised of a series of steps leading up to a small fountain flanked by two oil lamps, above which is a massive colonnade and all of this covered with massive decorative carving with horses, men, chariots, etc.

Piazza Venezia (Victor Emmanuel Monument)

I sat with my back to this watching the traffic go by as I ate a small, toasted sandwich that I had picked up from a local street vendor (evidently all sandwiches you buy are toasted - all of which are also made with VERY fresh ingredients like the cheese and brushetta smoked ham that I had). The sun was very hot so I eventually got up and walked across the street (dodging the traffic along the way) to see the ruins of Trajan's Forum with a large number of columns all around. The column of Trajan is covered with a spiral pattern of intricate carvings of people going through their regular work towers over the area with a statue of St. Peter at the top.

The Trevi Fountain

From Trajan's Forum I passed through a series of small streets, getting slightly lost and confused a few times, to eventually make it to the Piazza di Trevi which contains the Trevi Fountain. I was not the only one to have found this place as there were many tourists around. The water was astoundingly clean looking and the statues incredibly detailed with winged horses and men running naked amongst the rocks. I took a quick picture and moved on through one of the small, narrow streets leading away. The streets were all pedestrian only and I passed many gelati and pizza stalls. The pizza you can buy as slices from long thin versions of the dish in many different styles. A lot of the flavours seem to be very simple and everything seems very fresh (VERY good, of course). Eventually I found the Pantheon which seemed to spring up at me after turning a corner in an alley-way.

The Pantheon (and Nearby Cafes)

Looking extremely dismal and decayed (though intact) from the outside, the Pantheon was anything but on the inside. A massive round room with a small opening in the very centre of the very high dome letting in the only light in the whole room. Surrounded by a series of memorials, not least of which the Tomb of Raphael (the most impressive of the lot). The marble floor is magnificent and the impressiveness of the building is incredible. I just sat on one of the benches around the edges of the temple and looked up for quite a few minutes, in awe. The artwork around the room is simply one masterpiece after another.

Inside the Pantheon

Leaving the tourists inside behind I returned once again to the front f the Pantheon past the fountain and large sidewalk cafés just outside and slipped down a side street (grabbing a gelati as I walked by – they seem to like flavour a bit more advanced than I am used to, I stuck to various wild berries and a not-so-sweet cream flavour, not my favourite though – they also insist on you having multiple flavours). I continued along through the narrow streets again and arrived at Piazza Navona which a massive (pedestrian only), long and narrow square with three fountains (one at each end and in the middle). There were a large number of tourists there with cafes all around and many pigeons. I stopped for a minute to finish my gelati, watching someone selling cheap wind-up toys beside the largest fountain. They seem to be just about everywhere selling these things, not exactly something I would want as a souvenir (hey I bought this cheap “Made in Tiawan” wind up doll in Rome, isn't it great!).

Piazza Navona

Heading south from Navona I passed through a small street market selling books and calendars. Passing through I crossed another busy street (dodging the mopeds) and eventually found the Campo de' Fiori which is a small market selling food. I wandered around looking at the wonderful fresh wild mushrooms, meat, many different types of pasta and fresh fruit and vegetable. They were just packing up and I had nothing I needed to buy so I continued on until I hit the Tiber (river). It was much quieter as I walked along the river, with not a lot of traffic alongside. I passed a few policeman carrying automatic weapons but this seems to be pretty normal here and no one seems to mind. It could be just the area or building I was near.

The Tiber (St. Peter's in the Distance)

I continued along the walkway to the side of the river, actually a bit above the river as it is at the bottom of a stone-lined trench with small bike and runner paths immediately beside. I looked down on all this, stopping a few times to enjoy the view – an old bridge here, a small island packed with old buildings there.

I eventually found my way to the Circus Maximus area, the Via Dei Cerchi (Via Del Circo Massimo), which is massive to say the least. There are no ruins to speak of any more in this area – it is one large park but you can really get an idea of the scale of Rome's largest stadium. It took quite some time to walk the length of it along the gravel path after which I collapsed for a few minutes on a bench at the far end. I had been walking for quite some time and I took this opportunity to sit and watch some Japanese tourists (young ladies you understand) walk by before I eventually dragged myself up onto my feet and head back towards the Colosseum, back towards the hotel.

Circus Maximus from the Palatine

Well, I would have made it except for the fact that I passed by the Palatine which are the remains of a massive Roman villa. I could not resist, despite having to pay to get in, the visit. Approaching from the south-east corner I passed through a large park with enormous exotic trees (olive and others) following a winding path past some of the ruins of the base of the villa to eventually come to the remains of the impressive stadium (NOTHING like Circus Maximus, of course). Evidently it was here that they trained horses and the like though there is what is thought to the ruins of the emperor's box on the one side. It is hard to visualise how this building (or buildings) would have looked during their day so massive is the scale. Everywhere I looked there were the outlines (and ruins) of walls and courtyards. Walking off to the side I passed through a series of wonderfully maintained gardens and eventually came to a small garden building overlooking the ruins of the forum area I had visited earlier in the day. Palatine is on one of the four hills in the Colosseum area with the ruins in one of the valleys between, immediately beside the Palatine. It really did help me to appreciate the scale of the whole area and provided quite a view (and quite quiet with no where near as many tourists). A quiet stroll through the rest of the park (admiring the various trees and other plant life, though few flowers) past a wonderful fountain which was a mass of moss with water seeming to drip out of it from many points at once – continuing to a small museum which described how the site was discovered and what was here even BEFORE the Romans. It was quite surprising for me to learn that there is still remains of a previous civilisation in Rome because the location of the city was so important for transportation and food (on the river, fortification afforded by the hills and other landscape, nearness to the ocean, etc).

I staggered back down the hill to the main entrance and wandered back to the Colosseum, picking up a few t-shirts before returning to the hotel. No restaurants seem to be open early in the evening, closing then re-opening at about 8 every night so I relaxed in my room for an hour or so before getting the recommendation of the front desk manager to a good local restaurant. I wandered down the “alley”, passing down a series of steps I had not noticed before and across the street, down a narrow road before I found this small restaurant I had been recommended to. It was a charming meal, with only myself and four other people being served (though many others passed by into a far room which I never did find out about, a bar? A club?). The owner was very cheerful (except, it seems, when his wife was there) and was extremely patient, bringing me my brushetta with fresh parmesan starter, then my mushroom ravioli main course (I did not realise I was supposed to order another dish until later). The dessert he brought out on a tray for my selection (with obvious pride) so I chose a VERY strong flavoured cream layered crispy cake of sorts. I should have chosen the seafood for my meal, as it turns out, since they specialised in it (looking at the various shellfish as I left the restaurant). Though small, the diner was quite pleasant.

I managed to make it back to the hotel (crawling up the stairs) sleep is overdue…long overdue…hope tomorrow is not nearly as hectic.

Saturday, October 21st, 2000

Another early day (as per any day, it seems, when I am holiday). As I was going to head off to the other side of the city (well, the core area at least) I decided to take public transport, a bus. There are “subways” (or an “underground” depending on the term you want to use, here it is called the “Metropolitana”, denoted with big “M” signs) however I wanted to stay above ground to actually see a bit of the city as I passed through it.

After making my way back to Termini, where I had arrived the other day, I had quite some trouble finding the place I was to pick up the bus I wanted, wandering around in big circles until I finally figured out that the stop wasn't even at the terminal but another block away. Evidently you cannot get tickets on the buses during the day so I also had to pick up some tickets from a local newsagent (they don't have tickets for sale at the “information booth” for the bus either, nor are there any machines to buy bus tickets from in this massive bus terminal area). I suppose it is a bit of a consolation that the bus tickets were VERY cheap…I only had to wait a few minutes at the bus stop before finally getting on the bus (using the back doors for some reason). I manually validated my ticket and grabbed a seat right beside the right side window at the back (so I could see the buildings and not other vehicles as we went down the street).

We passed through a lot of the city though not really past a lot of historical buildings though we did pass many shops. The traffic was quite light I think partly because it was so early in the morning.

Eventually we passed over the river and through a traffic tunnel before we were let off in what looked like the middle of nowhere. Following the crowd I wandered around a corner and could see, not half a block away, the edge of the colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro). There were a lot of people and I found it a bit odd, but I got into a line in front of one of the numerous metal detectors that were surrounding the massive square, within the colonnade structure itself (sheltered from any rain, I am sure). I was passed a program and it turns out that because of the year 2000 celebrations they were having a special service (“Giubileo Dei Doratori Di Sangue” (as I have noted). I did not want to interrupt so I walked around the outside of the square instead.

Piazza San Pietro

St. Peter's is truly an impressive sight, with the massive circular clear space that is the Piazza in front of it. The colonnade that surrounds the square is incredibly high with classical columns and all around the top of the columns are a series of statues. St. Peter's itself sits magnificently dominating the far end of the square, opposite the main open part of the colonnade which opens to the street leading down to the river, several blocks distant. Today is was rapidly filling with people, with many buses parked along the street emptying people to attend the ceremony.

Continuing around the square, I walked along the outer, sheer stone, walls of the Vatican museum area itself where I joined what I had to assume was the queue to get into the museum. There were a large number of people lined up on the pavement (sidewalk) around the outside so I could only assume…

I was quite disappointed to learn that the museum was only open a few short hours on Saturday so I was anxious to get inside, as was most others in the line. We eventually wound our way (trying desperately to ignore some people that seemed to think that lines were not for them as they simply stepped in front of us) around the final corner to see a magnificent massive arch carved into the face of the wall off to our right as we entered through a new smaller entrance on the left. After the crush of the line, the open space of the reception area was quite a relief though this proved to be short lived as I made my way to the ticket. Once again I had to join a queue to enter, passing through a metal detector in the process then up a very long escalator into the museum area.

The Vatican Museum - Impressive Entrance (Exit)

As my time was limited I immediately started making my way to the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms (Loggia). This, as it turns out, was a very smart move. I was not the only one to think of this plan of action so everyone essentially followed the same path, though I attempted to stop and enjoy, as often as I could, what I could see around me. There were many tours also being conducted by private groups within the museum clustered here and there throughout each long, narrow, hall as I passed through. The first hall was filled with classical sculpture which was quite nice noting much of the great details of the work. I also noted that the museum itself, as I was to find throughout, is actually part of the display, in this first hall there were numerous mosaics in the floor as well as fantastic reliefs in the archways. After passing through this “Gallery of the Candelabra” I entered the dimly lit “Gallery of Tapestries” which were very impressive. It is very strange to think how old many of the tapestries are and how good a shape they are in. I was lucky that many people very quickly passed through this hall so I was able to appreciate some of the work in a bit less crowded manner.

Continuing through the tapestries I entered the “Gallery of Maps” which was truly spectacular with all surfaces from marble floor to ceiling covered with guilt and painting. Looking from the entrance to the far side was a vast distance of pure decoration (and masses of people, of course). The maps themselves are painted on the walls, evidently created for a particular pope early in the Vatican's history to map out the lands owned by the church. The detail was quite spectacular in the maps but the detail on the ceiling, just as ancillary works, surely surpassed even this. A series of many, many, paintings were separated by gold braiding and decoration. Quite something.

Continuing through the map gallery we turned to the left and were guided into the Rafael Rooms which are a series of rooms decorated by the famous artist who was the resident artist in the Vatican for quite some number of years. Each room is decorated with his paintings on all walls and the, often vaulted, ceilings. The rooms are not large and each does have a small write-up (in English also, hurrah!) so that you can better appreciate what you are seeing. I must admit that I think this was second only to the Sistine Chapel in my visit. To walk from one wonderful room into another is truly unbelievable. The detail and craftsmanship was quite something, with composition and story-telling foremost in importance. I have always admired the romance and yet realism of Raphael's work and this only served to reinforce this impression.

Moving onwards I skipped the “modern religious art” (it is a whole other wing and, by this time, it was getting very close to closing time) section and continued into the queue to enter the Sistine Chapel (being warned in writing and about 10 different languages about not being allowed to use photography of ANY kind and to be quiet in the Chapel). Entering the chapel was quite overwhelming first in the beauty of the chapel itself and second in the shear number of people that were present. In the chapel which must have measured about 20 m by about 100 m there must have been well over 1,000 people. I quickly made my way to the far side of the chapel looking around for a few minutes before someone left a space on the side benches then I could sit down. I spent most of my time in the Chapel looking at the ceiling (which is to be expected, I suppose) as the walls were not quite as wonderful. They really have done a wonderful job with the restoration as the colours are incredibly vivid. I made use of my pocket binoculars to get a close look at many aspects of the ceilings though I was also attracted to the “Last Judgement” mural that Michelangelo also did on one wall. Not the most pleasant of subjects it is so intricate I could not help but look at it for quite some time.

Part of the experience, I am sure, it to be aware of the importance and significance of what I was looking at. It really is quite humbling in many ways and yet it seemed to give me a sense of serenity at the same time, looking at this masterful work from the past.

Getting out of the Chapel was quite depressing after the magnificence of the surroundings as all people had to exit through a single doorway (one person at a time) which led to a terrific crush to get out (I let myself be pushed through). It did not help that the same exit was also used as a disabled entrance (yes, in the opposite direction than you wanted to go through it). This really did detract from the experience somewhat though I tried to make the most of the situation to look around me a bit more…

Leaving the Sistine Chapel was really an anti-climax as the exhibits effectively ended at that point with the return to the main entrance being through the library portion of the museum (largely a number of sealed and locked wooden cabinets). I made my way out of the museum, stopping briefly to send some postcards from the Vatican post office (though I suspect they will arrive at their destination many weeks from now) before finally exiting out of the arch I had seen when we first entered the museum.

I continued back around the wall only to find that St. Peter's was still quite busy, though the service had ended, to get into the basilica itself (a line was snaking it's way through to the far side of the square from the main doors - quite a distance!) so I headed down the Via de Conciliazione back towards the river. There were many people boarding buses to return from whence they came, including many bands and people dressed up in medieval costume (for some reason I have yet to explain).

I gave up on walking for a few minutes since I had been on my feet since I got off the bus at something like 9:00 this morning so I found a small café a block away from the street and sat down for lunch. It was a small place but I did manage to help myself to a small pizza (tomato and mozzarella only) and a wonderful salad (which had a massive hunk of FRESH mozzarella with it, larger than the rest of the salad anyway!). Gelati finished off the meal and I continued down to the Tiber and off to the left to head to the Castel Sant'Angelo. It is a funny looking structure, a large circular-shaped building with sheer walls and a typical-looking castle structure on the top.

Entering at the street level, I had to walk all around the circumference of the castle to buy my ticket then I went down a few steps and was in the centre of the castle itself, looking at models of how the castle looked when it was first built. I continued up along a long spiral ramp inside the structure itself, paved with cobbles, before emerging at the top. This seems to be the only purpose of the bottom portion of the structure. I wandered through a few exhibits and quickly learned that there is not a lot of historical information about the castle inside but it is mostly made up of modern art exhibits on various topics. I wandered around looking at the various exhibits but really trying to get a look at the building itself and, of course, viewing out of the windows which afforded quite a view of the city in all directions. Much of the castle was open to the outside so the wind also cooled me down somewhat from the heat of the day. The topmost room was probably the most spectacular as a room with a wonderfully painted ceiling, again, in classical style. Evidently the structure was originally designed as a mausoleum but eventually served as a residence of the pope in times of political instability (including a special tunnel connecting it with the Vatican).

The Tiber from Sant'Angelo

From the castle I was able to look across the bridge immediately in front – the Porte Sant'Angelo – with statues of 10 saints on it.

Leaving the castle, I continued back to St. Peter's then headed once again to the right along the Vatican museum but left the area and continued to the Via Cola di Rienzo which I was informed was the best place to purchase food stuffs. As I walked along I first came across a small market accessed through a doorway off the street it was a large warehouse full of a large number of fresh vegetable and meat sellers though I was interested in the smaller stalls against the walls which were selling various pasta and meats. I spent quite a lot of money buying some of the best I could find: parmesan, Bruschetta, egg pasta, etc. I also picked up some wine grapes (call me strange, I just like their flavour - ended up eating them for the rest of the day and well into tonight). Later I visited a few wonderful shops full of people that were selling a large assortment of goods that are very hard to find. The cheese and seafood shops were quite something…too bad I could not take any more with me…

Piazza Del Popolo

I continued down past the many more food emporiums and clothing stores and eventually across the river to the Piazza Del Popolo where I relaxed for a few minutes, watching the people lounging around in every possible corner (sitting on railings CAN'T be good for you), walking onwards through the largely pedestrian side-streets, eventually finding the Piazza Di Spagna. This is the square containing the Spanish steps and, it seems, the main population of Rome at this point in time. I managed to clamber up the steps about half way and found a seat, watching people for a while. I did not really see a lot of the structure of the steps themselves, other than general, simply because they were enveloped with people. I suppose on a Saturday night…A few policeman were blowing their whistles to attempt to get people to not block the main paths along the steps (I suppose, with the number of tourists, speaking would not necessarily have accomplished the same thing).

The Spanish Steps (Piazza Di Spagna)

Eventually I made my way to the top of the steps where the crowd was a bit thinner and a number of portrait painters were plying their trade before I headed down the street and began my long trek back to the hotel. I eventually decided to walk though the long and rather steep hills did make for slow going.

I did see a bit of an odd thing along the way though, as I passed there was an American couple who had collared a small Italian girl and were shouting about the girl having picked their pockets. The louder American lady was screaming about how the girl's father should be ashamed about the “bad press” this would give the city to other Americans. Quite a scene (the girl was crying and screaming also), lots of onlookers, I just walked on by…it was being dealt with…Though I must admit after that I have been quite careful with watching who is around me while walking along the streets. This particular area was not as populated as the other areas I had visited earlier.

I got back at the hotel in a reasonable amount of time, collapsing onto the bed. But, as I am in the city I decided to go for a show that I had seen advertised at the hotel. It was a bit of a tourist thing, I am sure, but it was a small concert performed in a local church of a series of well-known opera arias. I thought this might be a nice diversion so I put on my somewhat less-than-fantastic fancy dress (there is only so much you can get into a back-pack) and headed out to attempt to find the venue. Well, the map they included was not quite as good as I would have liked and I ended up walking around for about an hour (up and down the same street) before I finally found the church only to find that they had sold out of tickets but I could get a ticket standing and since I was there…I stood. Actually, I ended up with the best view of all as I was able to stand at the back of the church (which was not that large anyway, though quite impressive with a large vaulted ceiling) leaning against the far wall right in the centre of the main aisle, with an uninterrupted view of the “stage”. Part of the “touristy” nature of the show was that they performed in classical dress so the ladies had the large hipped dresses and the men were in tuxes. They had a small 5-6 piece string orchestra and two singers (a mezzo-soprano and a soprano, though the mezzo seemed to want to be a soprano though-out). The singers alternated between duets and solos, in turn (and even a piece without any singing, for a change). It was quite a nice, light performance, executed very well in the small church setting (though I could always hear the cars on the busy street just on the other side of the massive oak door I was leaning on).

After this light entertainment I returned to the hotel and gorged myself on grapes…that is my dinner…Hope I do not “have to” walk too much tomorrow…

Sunday, October 22nd, 2000

I won't say it. But, it was NOT a very late morning, in fact exactly opposite. Ok, it was YET ANOTHER early morning, this time I had a purpose: I wanted to get into St. Peter's since I had not been in yesterday and I had only this last day to get in.

Catching the bus this morning it was VERY crowded, as might be expected on a Sunday, so I had to stand for the trip. Getting out at the same stop as yesterday, I once again rounded the corner to see that there was an even bigger gathering in the square today so figured that I would attend the gathering and then go into the basilica after the service was over, after all, how long could the service be?

After getting through the metal detectors I was handed a rather colourful scarf commemorating the millennium and a book that turned out to be the order of service…in Italian of course (though a bit of English…). They had set up a large number of seats in front of the church (immediately in front of the church was a covered area with an alter underneath which I had seen yesterday and the stage on either side of that were a series of ball-park style seating and a two stages in front of each). Sitting down, I made myself comfortable and noticed that the stages had a series of dancers from various countries performing dances from their culture. This went on for about an hour before the grand entrance: Yes, the pope walked through the middle door of St. Peter's and down then around to the front of the alter, to great applause of course. He is getting quite old but was clearly visible from where I sat (now in the middle of a massive throng of people completely filling St. Peter's Square and going back into the street leading into the Square, I was lucky to be sitting, most people around were standing). I would guess that at least 60,000 possibly as many as 100,000 were present for the service.

Can you Spot the Pope (Wearing Bright Rouge)?

It turns out that I was actually attending a millennium mass so I followed the program along in the book and tried to understand as much as I could as we went along though, not being Roman Catholic, much of it was alien to me (a bit spooky when everyone spoke automatically in response to certain words spoken by the pope…). It was an interesting experience. One of the readings was in English but the rest was held in Italian though the pope also did, as part of his statement of appreciation for missionaries, talk in English for a few minutes. The ceremony was quite good, with the release of a large number of balloons right near the end, with the pope getting into what was effectively a golf cart and being driven around the outside of the square, waving all the way. By the way, no, I did not take part in communion, I tried, as much as possible, to respect the beliefs of those that were there and did not make light of any aspect of the ceremony.

At many points throughout the two-hour (plus the one hour “warm up” act I described previously) we were waving the scarves that had been given to us. It made for quite a view from where I was sitting to look out across the sea of people to see the scarves waving largely in unison. The ceremony was also shown simultaneously on two massive television screens on either side of the square itself (VERY big screens) and, I am sure, broadcast on Vatican TV (which I can get in the hotel).

After the ceremony I waited for the majority of the crowd to leave before I joined what turned out to be a rather large queue to get into the basilica (longer than the one I avoided yesterday!). The crowd was really quite something as I got closer to the church. It turns out that most of the crowd was actually in line to go through the “holy door” which is only opened during holy years, if I had not wanted to go through this door I could have avoided the 15-minute line and walked straight in, but since I only found out about this right when we were there, I stayed in the line! Many of the crowd were a bit edgy and I found quite rude…Oh well.

Entering the church was really something. I have never ever been in a church anything like it before, the sheer scale is mind-boggling, the few monuments that are present around the outside walls are as huge as the space itself. I stood at the back looking straight down the church towards the alter for quite some minutes just trying to take it all in. The massive crowd piling through the holy door was easily swallowed up whole by the space. They had no pews or chairs set up though the one section of confessionals was doing quite a brisk business (with signs outside each indicating the language it was to be conducted in). Looking up at the alter is it something else to think that it is 136 meters high, really awe-inspiring.

I wandered around the perimeter, stopping to admire each monument and area in turn. An incredible experience.

I avoided the queue for the “grotto” (underground graves) and headed out the front door and back through the queue entering the church to find the entry to the climb to the dome, the “Cupola”. Feeling ambitious, I bought the ticket where I had to climb up to the base of the dome instead of catching an elevator (though the price difference, at less that 20p is not really anything). I needed the sense of accomplishment and exercise, I told myself. Passing by the line for the elevator, I proceeded up the spiral ramp interspersed with very occasional steps, all the way up to the base of the dome where we entered back into the church itself and were able to look back down on the alter from above (albeit through wire screens). I am glad I am not afraid of heights or this may have done me in…

Cupola - Walking Ticket ("senza ascensore" - "without elevator")

Continuing upwards, there were a few hundred more steps to go, so we made our way along the often narrow walkways up to the top of the dome. At times the walkway was incredibly slanted and we had to hold ourselves up by leaning on one wall. Eventually, after a short traffic jam, we emerged at the top and were able to grab a breath of fresh air after the stuffy walkway. The view was quite something. I was able to see most of the places I have visited this weekend. We were also better able to get a view of the Vatican area itself which is largely invisible as you walk around at ground level. The Vatican area is, of course, surrounded by walls but inside there are a lot of gardens (and parking spaces for people that work/live here), and it is quite serene but immediately outside is the Rome city centre. Quite a contrast and very much evident from the top of the dome. Of course the best view was looking out into St. Peter's Square and beyond. The scale is something else and you can really appreciate it from this height.

Looking back to the Dome from the Roof of St. Peter's

Behind the Apostles on the Roof of St. Peter's

St. Peter's Square from Above

Vatican Museum from Above

Vatican City from Above (behind St. Peter's)

I was finally able to make my way down, having to make my way through yet another line before I could make my way down the stairs, but, once there, it was MUCH quicker than going up (though I was a bit dizzy when I finally got to the bottom!). The bottom of the stairs let me out into the church again so I had a final look before heading out, briefly noticing the, if anything, larger queue to get into the church than when I had entered.

I returned to catch the bus back but I was very annoyed because I was not able to buy a ticket for the bus before I got on board and, because it was so crowded, could not do so even then. So, dodging the fare, I returned to the hotel as I had a final thing I was off to do: Another spot 'o opera…

My Unused Ticket I Bought Later for This Bus Trip

Dressing up again, I headed back to Termini to catch the Metropolitan underground. This subway is quite limited in comparison to cities such as London in that it only has two lines that essentially cross the city in a cross-shape (crossing at Termini). Entering the underground station, I attempted to figure out the ticket machine, helpfully offered advice from a Roman (he-he) behind me in the line. I eventually was able to make my way to the appropriate platform to catch the train to the fairly remote part of the city I was visiting (compared to what I had visited so far this weekend). The station was a bit better than most underground stations I had been in, it seemed to be a lot larger and a lot less crowded than I am used to.

Eventually the VERY spacious trains arrived (with a strange amount of free space down the middle of each carriage with no places to hang on to…hum…) and I caught the train for a few stops before leaving. I emerged in a fairly residential area, only having fairly general directions to where I had to go to get to the theatre. After wandering around a bit, I found a busier street that looked promising, and after walking a few blocks, spotted the theatre. I walked in and picked up my ticket, about an hour before the performance was to start (no trouble with using English, picking up my ticket from a lady in a small, very informal, booth near the door, selling tickets out of (what looked like) a raffle ticket book (scrolling the seat number on the back). I was WAY too early to sit around so I headed back onto the street and found a local bar where I managed to get a Coke and a Gelati (VERY expensive compared to others, and not as nice, but hey, beggars can't be choosers!).

Wandering back to the theatre, I picked up a libretto (which was, thankfully, in both Italian and English, along with a bit of music also) and sat down for a bit of a read before the show. I learned that this particular company was made up of fairly famous singers and musicians from Italy who believed in bringing opera to the masses so provided shows, like this one I was attending, at relatively low cost and using a minimum of overhead (read: theatre and sets), yet provided first rate quality of content. After listening for a while I could certainly agree, after the performance began. By the way, the opera was Verdi's Rigoletto. Despite the not-exactly-first-rate surroundings, many people were dressed up quite a lot and we all had a wonderful time, the orchestra and the singing was quite impressive. A simple opera but performed very well.

After the performance, I made my way, along with many others, back to the subway and returned to Termini for the last time this trip. It was around about 8:00, the opera had started quite early at 5:00.

I was not in the mood to do much more taxing, it has been a LONG weekend. I noticed that the hotel actually had a terrace so I climbed the stairs and was surprised to find a large open area on the roof with seating, lights and even a bar (all closed at this time of night on a Sunday). It offered a great view of this area of the city, being able to make out the Colosseum, about 5 blocks distant. A great way to end this weekend…

After climbing back down the main floor I headed off down the street to a rather nice looking pizza place I had noticed a few nights ago with seats on the pavement (sidewalk) and a very limited menu (sometimes a sign of good things…). I waited for quite some time before they finally noticed me waiting for a table (I was in a VERY relaxed mood), but eventually, sitting down I enjoyed an extremely relaxing (if not inexpensive) meal, helping myself to Bruschetta (really like the stuff) with fresh slices of parmesan and covered with olive oil (HEAVEN!), followed by a prawn risotto (love it) and then a very tender beef tenderloin in a pepper sauce. I was tempted into a tiramisu for desert, though I knew I shouldn't since I have to get up early to get to the airport tomorrow…but what the heck! My dinner lasted a few hours, I just relaxed, looking outside at the traffic as it went by and not really thinking about much at all…

Later, I walked back to the hotel in a round about way, passing by the church nearby I had earlier though abandoned but it turns out I could only see the back part of the church which has fence around it, around the front it was the main entrance which was open for business as normal. I took my time heading back to the hotel, not terribly anxious to leave this city in a hurry.

Monday, October 23rd, 2000

This morning was very early as I had to get to the airport for about 6 am, so I dragged myself out of bed and did the remainder of my packing before I headed down to wait for the cab. I was hoping I would be able to catch public transport but nothing is running at this time of the morning so I was forced to catch a cab however, considering how much I have spent this weekend, I certainly can afford it since the price is about 6-7 times what I would have paid by train.

The cab was a bit early so we quickly got underway. I learned early into the trip that it was going to be interesting as the driver consistently passed through stop signs and red lights though, admittedly, the ones he did “stop for” he ended up being about half way through the intersection before he stopped. This seemed to be pretty typical of drivers here though since all others I saw did the same thing (!). He was also a maniac tearing down the back streets, passing through 40 km/hr zones at 80 and hitting about 160-180 on the main road into the airport. Quite an experience so early in the morning (seat belt fastened securely, hold onto handle on door…).

Dropping me off at the airport, I found my airline and checked in with little fuss (though I had to check my backpack since I was now carrying a plastic bag full of groceries!). We waited a little while before boarding but the flight was uneventful as we passed up the west coast of Italy into, eventually, France and across the channel back to England.

Today was a busy day with my catching a taxi from the airport directly to work and working a full day. I think I shall sleep well tonight.

I am quite happy with all that I saw in Rome during my visit. I am sure I missed a lot, I will have to return. The funny thing is that when I was there I did not feel like I had missed much only when I had continued to read through the various travel literature I have did I realise how much more I can see. I think that the reason I felt I had seen so much when I was there was that despite the fact that Rome is a large city it is still very personal, and intimate, all the streets are relatively small, there are so many hills you very rarely see the true scope of the city so, perhaps, you can't see what you are missing. I kind of like not having seen absolutely everything: leaving a few things left over as an excuse to return. And this I would very much like to do, perhaps to get a bit more into the culture now that I have seen a large portion of the history and architecture, though, even so, I feel that I have experienced some of that in the welcome I experienced at the hotel and various restaurants…A warm place both in temperature and temperament.