Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rome Wasn't Toured in a Day

I’d hired a driver/guide.

I’d argued with myself over this for weeks, trying to find a way to do everything I wanted on a reasonable amount of money. Honestly, there was no way, so I did it on an unreasonable amount, and hired a damn driver/guide.

The ship docked in Civitavecchia (“old city”), which is about an hour outside of Rome. The driver/guide met me outside the ship to drive me into Rome and give me a full day tour of the place. Happily, a nice couple I’d met on the ship, Brian and Judy, needed a ride into town as well, so they joined me for the first half of the tour. It gave me some company, and a bit of a break on the price.

So, Rudy picks us up at about 8:00 a.m. and we’re off to Rome. There will be all sorts of photos. Right now (and, honestly, the room is rocking now, but I can’t say whether that’s the after-effects of the cruise or the more immediate after-effects of the wine), this morning seems like a hell of a long time ago, and I really can’t believe we did all of it.

We started off at the Pantheon, which was mostly empty and largely awesome. One of the themes of this tour was that the Ancient Romans were amazing engineers, and all you have to do is look at the dome on this thing and think, “yeah, they really had their engineering shit together.” The building is also beautiful. No, that’s not the word. I’m not sure what the word is. There may not be a word. Here’s a few sentences: You can look at the dome at St. Peter’s Basilica (and I did, a few hours later), and it’s beautiful in its gradeur. It’s elegant and beautifully decorated, and it reflects the use of all the best decorative materials used by the best artist/architect of the time, all to the end of making you look up at it and marvel at the glory of God. And then you can look at the dome of the Pantheon. And there’s no gold on it at all, and the pattern in the ceiling is pretty much simple, although it’s pleasing to the eye in a very happy symmetrical geometrical sense. But it’s freaking open at the top; they’ve engineered it with a big old hole in the middle. Through which you can see sky. And the sun shines through it brightening a single patch on the wall like Indiana Jones is going to use it to tell him where to dig for the Ark of the Covenant. And they built the damn thing something like 1500 years ago and it’s still so undeniably powerful in its simplistic appearance and truly awe-inspiring design. And I was standing there right under it. I actually wiped away a tear (and hoped my friends didn’t notice).

And then Rudy took us over to the Trevi Fountain (fed by one of three still-functioning aqueducts). We snapped pictures and tasted the water. I reached in my pocket and unobtrusively plinked a small coin in. (I even said “plink” as I tossed it off, and a moment later, it made that exact sound.) We also saw the Spanish Steps.

Then it was over to the Colosseum. There are a bunch of Roman ruins in the area – really, a lot. I’m actually impressed at how much of it is still preserved – but we pretty much did a drive-by here. Guide then left us to walk around the Colosseum ourselves.

There are dudes dressed in Roman gladiator garb posted at various places around the Colosseum. They seem to be there to just pose in your tourist photos. As we happened by a group of them, one came over to us and, from the way we happened to be grouped at the moment, erroneously guessed that I was with Brian and that Judy was the single one. So he goes right up to her and asks if she’s single. No, she explains, she’s with Brian. Gladiator then realizes that he has it wrong. He turns to me and says “Single?” I can’t imagine this interaction is going to end without him trying to pose with me in a stupid photo, but don’t really have a way out of it, so I say, “yes.” He walks over to me, leans in to my ear, and says …


He walks away, and the three of us start laughing.

We finish with the Colosseum, and Rudy takes us to Brian and Judy’s hotel. We say our goodbyes, and then I’m off with Rudy to Palatine Hill, a view of Circus Maximus, and, oh yeah, the Vatican.

There’s a lunch break before the Vatican, at some tiny little restaurant Rudy recommends, where I’m served what is probably the best pasta I’ve ever eaten.

THEN we go to the Vatican. OK, tip: get a guide. Book your reservation for the museums in advance and get a damn guide. They’re pretty informative, can show you what to see in the massive museums, and will save you hours and hours of waiting in line.

Fact I had never really processed: The Vatican has a massive museum. The Church collected tons of ancient art – not just Roman; there’s loads of Greek and Egyptian stuff too.

Fact I had never really known: The leaders of the Church weren’t into religious art. Which is to say, they were quite into it for its value in conveying religious stories to the illiterate masses – but when it came to the art that Popes just liked to look at, they went with the Classical ideal.

Thought I’m Certain The Church Would Never Go For: You know, it would really speed traffic in the Sistene Chapel if they’d just load everyone in those buggies like they have at the Haunted Mansion (at Disneyland). They could lean back so you’d stare at the ceiling without bumping into other people; and they could slowly pass in front of the Final Judgment so folks don’t block it. OK, yeah, they’d have to take the buggies out when the College of Cardinals is meeting in there, but still...

Yes, He Really Was That Good: You’re not allowed to take photos in the Sistene Chapel, and that’s really ok, because no photo I’ve ever seen of it comes close to capturing the 3D effect of that ceiling. I’ve heard about it and seen photos, but the photos always seemed flat. But stand there (or ride by in a buggy), and interact with it, and, damn. Also? The Pieta is, like, beyond art.

After the Vatican, Rudy took me to a spot where there was a nice view of Rome, and then brought me to my hotel.

I was wiped. Let me be clear on this: I’d had four hours of sleep and eight hours of touring; it was a pretty full day.

While checking in, I met another American who was also travelling alone. He was on his way back from Iraq – not a soldier, but an employee of one of the military support contractors. With the military pulling out at the end of the year, it’s time for the support contractors to head home, and this guy had just arrived in Rome from Iraq (via Dubai). We decided to pool our vast combined knowledge of Rome (and the Italian language) and attack this place together tomorrow. The hotel is right by the ruins, so we’re going to give them a closer look.

Our temporary partnership was cemented at dinner tonight. We found a restaurant nearby – open terrace dining (the weather is pretty nice) – and shared some appetizers, a pizza, some nummy desserts, and a decent bottle of chianti. (Actually, it was a quite decent bottle – dude said he would buy me dinner, so I said I’d buy the wine, and I didn’t want to be all cheap.) We didn’t entirely finish it (it had been tasting really good on the second glass, but was going downhill when we got near the bottom).

I have to say that, when thinking back on the cough drop I had in Nice, my first dinner in Italy was substantially better than my first dinner in France.

1 comment:

peg said...

Me to husband: "[You] just went to the Vatican!"

Husband: "Hope she was wearing pants!"