Monthly Archives: October 2007

Rome — First Impressions Part 2

Rome, Day One

Exhausted as we were, we couldn’t wait to go out and explore a bit. From our trusty map, we knew that most of the sights weren’t that far as the crow flies, so we decided to head towards the Colosseum.

We crossed the Ponte Testaccio (one of the seven main bridges that link one side of the Tiber to the other) and walked for a while along the Lungotevere Testaccio to Via Marmorata. This is a broad avenue that hugs the Tiber delimited from the river by a chest-high wall, and tall trees. On the other side, housing complexes (I hesitate to call them apartment buildings as we know them here in Canada) side-by-side, with tall windows, some closed with rolling outside blinds. It’s very quiet, with little traffic, but on each side of the street, every inch is lined with cars. The cars are small, and brands we don’t see often in our country: Lancia, Fiat, Peugeot, Opel, and, of course, dozens upon dozens of SmartCars.

The water of the Tiber is a cloudy jade green, with lots of current. It’s not really a pretty river here, caged at it is between high walls. We walk to the Ponte Sublicio turn onto Via Marmorata. Surprisingly, because I never thought of Rome as tropical, palm trees and bamboo grow along pine and a tree that resembles maple. But it’s the pines, here, that take our breath away. They are majestic and incredibly beautiful against blue sky. Throughout our trip, we saw them everywhere, and could not tire of them.
tn_pa_sanpaolo.JPG
We walked down Marmorata to Piazza San Paolo which, we learned later from experience, is one of the traffic hubs in Rome. It’s a major metro stop, a train station, an important stop for buses, and somewhat of a roundabout for cars. Even on Sunday, it was pretty busy. We promptly got lost, a fact that would happen more times than we cared to count during our month there. “Lost” when you’re on holiday and exploring isn’t a big thing. We sort of roamed for a while, then I went to a newspaper stand and asked directions to the Colosseum. I nearly burst out laughing: for a moment, the man had to orient himself before he could point us in the right direction. We walked along the Viale della Piramide Cestia, leaving behind most of the traffic (especially in the direction of the airport) then Viale Aventino, its name taken from the smallest of Rome’s seven hills, the Aventino (40 meter high), which led us to the Circo Massimo, built around 600BC. The Circo, where Romans use to race their chariots in daredevil races (remember Ben Hur?) is HUGE, certainly half a kilometer long (1,875 roman feet). The length of a race was seven circuits. With seats all around, it could accommodate from 150,000 to 385,000 spectators. That’s more than some of our stadia here!

tn_colosseum.JPGThe Via di San Gregorio led us to the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, as we walked along the Forii Imperiali and part of the Foro Romano. Seeing the Colosseum rise as we approached it, and rise, and rise, until it is truly colossal, was an awe-inspiring experience. In spite of the hundreds of tourist roaming around the Piazza del Colosseo, or maybe because of it, its size is imposing; you feel the weight of the years here, but also the sheer genius of those architects and builders who raised a monument that lasted over a thousand years. It is 50 meters (164 feet) high and its total circumference is 545 meters (1,790 feet).

We gaped for an hour, then decided to stop for a bite to eat then return to the apartment, by then having walked several kilometers. Later, I sat on the balcony, and listened to the sounds that were to become familiar after a month: car traffic, honks, people’s voices echoing up, and the clanking sound of pans as supper was prepared. The sky was clear, the air redolent of cooking smells and the particular scent that is Rome, indescribable but oh so recognizable.

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Rome — First Impressions Part 1

Since we were to stay in Rome for a month, we took an apartment for the duration. We wanted somewhere away from the main tourist area, but close enough that we didn’t waste a lot of time in transit back and forth. After some research, I found an apartment in Trastevere (literally — across the Tiber) close to Viale Trastevere.

We had our instructions: from the airport, go to Fiumicino Train Station, take the local train to Trastevere Station, then up Viale Trastevere to the apartment. After a quick call to our landlord so she could meet us there (she warns us there’s a flea market going on around the apartment) we take the train.

Wanting to take the train is an experience in itself. It’s Sunday morning and the station is half-full, but it’s a small station, with three train tracks that end there. There are no indications in English, anywhere. Where there are signs, they are so obscure as to be barely intelligible. There is an information counter but there is a line-up and I know our train must leave soon. The ticket office is also open, with a line-up. Right beside the ticket office is a man sitting behind a dais with Express written on the front, coins and a billing pad in front of him. I take my courage in hand, go to him, and ask in my heavily accented Italian:

“Stazione Trastevere?”

“Cinque cinquanta.”

“Due bliggliette, per favore.”

The man, all without looking at me, writes up a ticket, takes my money (11 euros), and dismisses me.

Now I have a ticket (I’m not even sure it’s a legal one) but I have no idea which binario (track) to go to. I squeeze in between some people at the info counter, and ask my question:

“Il binario per Stazione Trastevere?”

Without looking at me, she points to the leftmost track. By this time, I’m beginning to think that Romans don’t really like tourists. (They don’t –more on that later– but it wasn’t the case here. By observing many salespeople, I noticed they are this way with pretty much everyone.)
Three minutes later, the train is announced — in Italian. It rolls in. I goggle. Up to head level, there is not one inch of the train that doesn’t sport graffiti. Large, in color or in black, some of them even cover the windows.

Ironically, since the trip ends at the Fiumicino Station, where the airport is located, the train isn’t set up for travelers with big suitcases. The train is two-story, with lanes so narrow no suitcase will fit. We carry them by the handle but have to place them on a seat because there is no stowage space. I begin to think that most tourists do not take the train but some other form of transportation. (Later in the month, I surmised that the local train to Fara Sabina, which we took, was a commuter train)

We arrive at Stazione Trastevere around 12pm, pretty much exhausted at that point. We’ve been up for more than 30 hours and are looking forward to dumping the luggage and taking a shower. The apartment is only three blocks from the station, so we decide to walk. I don’t have the energy to negotiate a taxi or figure out the bus system.

We walk up Viale Trastevere, dragging our luggage behind us and shortly after, we enter into mayhem. Our landlord had warned us about the flea market. What we had failed to comprehend was that the market took place on two streets a block down from Viale Trastevere, but that it also over time had spilled out and up to the avenue. Those didn’t have tables or booths, though. They were mainly gypsies sitting on the sidewalk with a cloth in front of them, with wares they could have found in garbage bins: used shoes, CDs with broken covers, necklaces missing some of their fake stones, broken or well-loved toys. Regardless, hordes of people stop and check out their wares; I even see money changing hands.

To our tired brain, the sight of all these people is bewildering and astonishing. Navigating a suitcase through there is so difficult we end up walking in the street. Once we find our street, we get confused by the numbering system of the building, and end up almost getting lost among the booths of the real flea market, which is more crowded than anything I’ve ever seen. Vendors yell the price of their wares, buyers dig through a mountain of stuff, sometimes three or four deep. The noise is almost deafening, and the sun, hot in a deep blue sky, is hot. We’re wilting.

Finally we spy a face we think might be our landlord, waiting for us behind a grill metal door. Eureka, we found it!

In Rome — First Impressions Part 2, my next post, follow us on our first trek into the City and some commentary on what we –blearily– see.

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Technical problems, travelling, et al.

For those who visit my blog regularly, many apologies. It appears that it wasn’t accessible for a whole month. There’s an explanation for it, I promise.

On 8 September, I left for Rome (Italy, not the US, where there are actually 10 States who have a town called Rome) for a month. Came back last Sunday.

During that time, I made it a point not to access the internet, except for basic email to parents and friends, and the odd online reservation to museums. Big mistake.

A few days before I left, I had to change my server’s username; I thought everything was fine, but it appears the changes took only after I left for Europe. Hence disabling my blog.

Well, it’s fine now, and I’m back. I had a wonderful holiday and over the next weeks will discuss my experiences and of course add pertinent photos. Rome is an incredible place, where ancient times compete with 21st century technology. It was exhilarating, humbling, and sometimes disappointing. I was able to experience some of the culture since I was there a month and we rented an apartment, much more I think than if we had traveled through the country. The apartment was in a less “touristy” place than the center of Rome and gave us a glimpse of how people lived day-to-day. I’ll be talking about that.

I’ll also be talking about the incredible sights, the mix of ancient, old, and new, and how conflicting it looked for the Romans. Again, those are only impressions and they stem from my own culture. I may be way off base.

If any of you, my readers, are Italian or of Italian background, I’d love your opinions and rebuttals on what I’ll write. The only way you can learn about another culture is through exchange of ideas.

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