Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bella Roma

The Engineer and I awoke on a perfectly warm, sunny spring Rome morning.  Ready and fresh for our sightseeing of the Ancient City. 

Except I didn’t really feel like sightseeing.  In fact, I sort of loathe sightseeing.  Mostly because I don't like annoying people and tourists generally fall into that category.

I used to be all into it:  museums, churches, and historical forts.  But now?  When I go to a new city my favorite thing to do is eat and watch people. 

However, one cannot go to Rome without going to the Coliseum.  Or the Vatican.

So we did all that.  Blah blah blah.

I won’t lie, they are pretty impressive and you should do them when you go to Rome.  And luckily I found a pretty cool way to see them.

However, there were some mistakes that of course cost you money and time.  Like an open-top bus tour.  Not that it was a waste of lots of time or money, but they never seem as worth it when you are on them.  Especially when you listen to the headphones and it’s clear that some guy has just hit ‘translate this page’ into a computer and a computer generated voice barks out the historical facts.  With the wrong emphasis on words, so that ‘The gladiators fought at the Coliseum’ turns to “The gladIATORS fought AT THE coloseeUM’. 

Then we thought it best to skip the live tour guide by getting an audio guide at the Coliseum. Why why why do I always think this is a good idea?  There has only been one time when this was a good idea and that was at the Tower of London.  The British male voice is so good when he describes the room Anne Boleyn sat in before her execution.  It even has the drumbeats that lead you down the stairs.

You’d think they could get creative with the coliseum.  Have the sounds of beasts eating gladiators.  But no.  Some boring British guy drones on about the construction of rocks.  At least being in the Coliseum was extremely cool.

The Engineer and I tagged on to a tour of the Forum because we could tell the guide was really good.  The Engineer told me to stay at the back so she wouldn’t notice me, but I can’t help just wanting to go to the front. 

It turned out to be a free tour in order to sell tours of the Vatican, so it was totally okay that I ditched the Engineer at the back and got up close with all the other nerds.

And that is how I chose my tour of the Vatican.  We attempted to go by ourselves.  The moment you come out of the station you are bombarded with tour guides trying to sell their tours  - it’s really confusing.  I put a small deposit on one tour; only to discover my bus tour had one for cheaper, and then the guide from the day before had the most expensive tour of them all.  But I thought better to have a good tour guide than to pay money for a bad tour guide.

And you need a tour guide. 

I can’t believe I thought we could go by ourselves.  I mean, you totally can, but then you miss out on all the fun facts that our guidebook (and limited art history knowledge) can tell us.

Like the reason Michelangelo was asked to paint the Sistine Chapel.  Or how he did it. And why you can’t take photos in there (not because flash will ruin it – although that is a reason – but because a Japanese television company paid for the fourteen year restoration and now own rights to all the images).  Everyone takes photos though.  I did.  Without a flash.  The Japanese are rich enough I feel.

Or that Raphael painted himself into each of his paintings.  And you can always tell who he is because he is the only one looking at you.

Our tour turned into a four-hour art history lesson that was, get this, interesting.  I loved my Canadian tour guide and all the things she told us!  So when in Rome, check out Romaround Tours for some excellent insights into this amazing city.

The coolest thing we did though, was take a 3-hour ‘Roman Holiday’ vintage Vespa tour at night. 

I surprised the Engineer at a nice restaurant when two vintage Vespas showed up to whisk us around Rome.  It hadn’t occurred to me at the time of the booking, but maybe riding behind an Italian man on a Vespa might not exactly be up the Engineer’s alley. 

They each assured us it was safe and that we simply had to sit and keep our hands on our knees.  ‘No touching’, said the Engineer’s driver.  Done.

Basically, you ride around Rome at night and check out all the cool sites sans the annoying tourists.  Lucky for us, it’s Easter weekend so the Coliseum and St. Peter’s were all lit up and pretty.

They showed us more than just the norm though.  We found original Ancient Roman cobbles where you can see the groove of ancient wheels, or the Malta keyhole that when you peer through shows an archway of hedges with the dome of St. Peter’s glowing at the end – very Secret Garden like, and the coffee house all Italians head to in the evening (where we had a coffee so strong it could strip paint.  My driver told me it wasn’t strong.  I told him I drink Tim Horton’s double double) or the quiet church that retains its appearance from the Middle Ages (no Renaissance art here, it’s all-simple inside) where Italians were gathering among the Dominican monks to welcome in Good Friday.  Well, I don’t know if welcome is the right word.  There was a closed curtain and they were all waiting until midnight for something to happen.  I’m not boned up enough in my Catholic to know what.  But it was really cool.  Especially as it was built on an ancient temple, parts of which you can still see.

Our drivers told us that Romans recycle.  They recycled stone and marble from ancient bathhouses for ‘modern’ churches.  Or they recycled the other Coliseum (yes, there is one) for people to live in (or on one level of).  Sure Romans, that’s recycling.  Where I come from its just beer cans and cereal boxes.

Again if you come to Rome, I highly recommend this tour.  Ideally, it for girls.  Or that’s what the Engineer’s guide told him.  He said it’s usually only women who want to ride behind a sexy Italian.  The driver said ‘she picked it right?’  But the Engineer is definitely man enough.  He didn’t have to hold on to his driver once.  Even though he did have to borrow his coat.

So that was our whirlwind Rome.  I threw my coin in to Trevi Fountain, so I am sure to return. 

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