Monday, 24 June 2013


By Sanne

We decided to take the motorway all the way to Rome. It ended up costing us 27 euros in toll fees + a 60 euro fine for forgetting to get a ticket at one toll booth. It says on the fine we have to pay within 15 days. We have no intentions of doing that.

We usually prefer to take the smaller roads and stay as far away from motorways as we can but on this occasion we thought it would be easier and more hassle-free as Rome is a big city and from our experience signage in Italy can cause more confusion than guidance. Apart from the cost it was a good decision as it delivered us on the doorstep of our campground on the outskirts of the city centre without getting lost once. We had tried to find a host on couch surfing but I am developing a growing feeling that as a couple you are not as ‘desirable’ as if you were a single girl looking for a couch. This is evident from some of the male hosts who in their profile write things like: “I don’t have a very big apartment so I will have to share my bed with the guest. This is why I prefer girls.” Yeah, you can keep your bed to yourself mate. The requests we sent out were either met with no reply at all or a short: “Sorry, I can’t.” So, the undesirables had to find a place to stay in a city known for its overpriced accommodation. So, as the povos we are, we ended up staying at a campground. Apart from the reasonable price it also had the advantage that we wouldn’t have to navigate Rome inner city traffic as this campground was just off the ring road but with good public transport connections to the city. I really hate these kind of ‘Family Resort Campgrounds’ and this one was also trying to target the younger clientele so you had a weird mix of families and young party seekers in one place. Then there were also a whole bunch of Harley riders still hanging about from the weekend’s celebration of the 110 year anniversary. Right next to the campsite was a massive building site where the workers started their day at 6am so peaceful and quaint it was not. But what did we care, we were there purely for the close proximity to Rome and the following day we went to see the Eternal City with our own eyes for the very first time.

We made it to Vatican City. At first we walked past the Vatican Museum which hosts the famous Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo. That has got to be the longest queue I have EVER seen in my entire life! It was getting close to half a kilometre long, and supposedly you can stand in it for up to 4 hours! For these reasons Mark and I unanimously agreed that we had lived 30 odd years without seeing the Sistine Chapel – we could easily live another 30 without seeing it. Life is definitely too short for queues like that. Instead we joined another queue! This one was for the St Peter’s Cathedral and by Vatican City standards ultra-short. We were in it for just under an hour before we entered the church. At the entrance you go through a security checkpoint like in an airport and after that the women visitors get their outfit checked to see if they are appropriately dressed to enter. Luckily I knew the conservative dress code of Catholic Cathedrals (covered knees and shoulders) but I was surprised to see how many girls didn’t. Loads of them were turned away. And the thing is, this is after they have stood in a queue for an hour. Bummer. The rest of us who got the dress code memo were free to enter the church, which were lucky because: Wow! Now that’s a church. And I am an atheist, we both are. But despite what religious or non-religious belief you have you cannot help but to be impressed by the sheer magnitude and splendour of this place. We even got to join a sermon in one of the chapels of the cathedral where I tried to get Mark (the once-good Catholic boy) to go and have communion but he refused. So we just sat and listened to the choir of boys and girls who sang a song so beautiful that it almost made me all “Go, God!” If it wasn’t for all that other crap that the Catholic Church stands for (sorry Sandra!).

After the church we walked into the old part of Rome and passed by the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. Especially the Trevi Fountain, which was made famous in the movie La Dolce Vita, I have always wanted to see. We very quickly realised that Rome has got to be probably the city with 1. The most historic landmarks, and 2. Probably because of that it has an obscene number of tourists and by the sound of it, most of them American. The Trevi Fountain was beyond impressive but completely surrounded by people and every couple of minutes a police whistle would cut through the air because some people sticking their feet in the water. Apparently you can get a big fine for doing this. I knew that unless we were there at 4.30am there would always be lots of people there but I wanted to see it at night so we decided to come back another day to take some photos and to do the obligatory coin-throw.

The next day we visited one of the most famous sites in Rome: The Colosseum. Built in 70 AD it is the largest amphitheatre in the world (it could hold up to 70,000 spectators) and was the centre of entertainment during the Roman Empire. The entertainment included gladiatorial contests, extravagant plays such as mock sea battles, executions and the hunting and slaying of wild animals. Something for everyone! The brutality of these ‘animal hunts’ was frankly astonishing. The public’s thirst for blood even more so. The Romans would bring back exotic animals from places they had conquered, animals such as bears, lions, leopards, even rhinoceroses and elephants. They then would be placed in the arena together with hunters, so-called Bestiarii and the blood shed would start. In one day thousands of animals would be slaughtered. During the inauguration of the Colosseum over 9,000 animals were killed. This was a way for the emperor to show his wealth and power and to show the Roman power of the whole human and animal world.
The Bestiarii or hunters were either voluntary or prisoners condemned to death by the wild beast. The latter would be thrown into the arena naked and with no weapons and have wild animals set upon them – an ancient death sentence.

The next day was a very special day indeed – it was Mark’s birthday. We took a train into the city and enjoyed just wandering around the streets, eating gelato (oh so good) and in the evening we went to a neighbourhood less touristy called Trastevere which had lots of quaint little streets where we had pizza and pasta at a little restaurant. After this we walked to the Trevi Fountain to find twice the amount of people from the other day but it was evening and it was spectacular. It is without a doubt the most beautiful fountain in the world. It ought to be – it took 30 years to build! It was completed in 1762 and is the largest baroque fountain in Rome. A traditional legend holds that if a visitor throws a coin in the fountain, they are sure to return to Rome. Of course we had to join in on this tradition but we threw a whole bunch of coins in so only god knows what that will bring! Apparently an estimated 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day!

Walking back towards the metro station we came across a huge archaeological digging site/ruin in a middle of a city square. It was just there and clearly had been since the Roman Empire. The city was continuing its busy life around it and these ruins seemed so naturally part of the city although it was so far removed from present time. For me that encapsulated Rome for me; where the past meets the present and the two manage to co-inhabit the same space.  Rome, truly the eternal city.  

St Peter's Square

This sculpture was made by Michelangelo

Me crossing myself with holy burns!

Some Vatican guards in very colourful attire

One of the many bridges in Rome

Me with the Vatican in the background

Castel Sant'Angelo

We saw these guys all over the city...there's clearly some kind of 
trick going on but we never did find out the secret!

The Spanish Steps

The one and only - Colosseum 

Inside the walls

The Arch of Constantine


The Roman Forum


Alter of the Fatherland

The Trevi Fountain

Mark throwing in a coin

We were not alone!

Ancient ruins in the middle of the city

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