Monday, September 14, 2009

Italy Day 1 - 27th August 2009

Getting into Rome airport just after noon and being to our city centre hotel a short time later, gave us plenty of time to take the shuttle and be on the streets of The Eternal City by mid afternoon.

Of course I can only speak for myself on these blog posts but my senses were overloaded when I stepped off that bus. Everything was just so different from anything I'd ever experienced before and I was like the proverbial kid in the candy store as I wanted to go everywhere and see everything on that first half day.

Thankfully the first place on our 'list' was only a hundred yards from where we'd been dropped off. This was the Basilica Di Santa Maria In Cosmedin, a minor 6th century Basilica not far from the banks of the River Tiber.

Because it WAS so close to the shuttle dropoff and pickup point and had that very distinctive tower, it made it easy to use as a marker for getting back there again. For me though, the main reason for wanting to visit the Basilica was to see La Bocca Della Verita, a 1st century marble carving of a man-like face which from the Middle Ages was thought to be a sort of lie detector as if you put your hand in the mouth and told a lie, you'd lose your hand. This sculpture and its lie detecting properties were seen by most people in the 1953 movie, Roman Holiday, when Gregory Peck pretended to lose his hand when with Katherine Hepburn. He just lost his heart instead. Awwwwwww.

As a fan of the movie, it was cool to see it myself and coming just a few minutes after getting off the shuttle, it was a gentle introduction to sightseeing in Rome.

There was a long line of people waiting to be photographed with their hands in the 'mouth' and as I didn't fancy the idea of sticking my hand inside it anyway, I was happy to take this photo and move on. Plenty more places to see, you know !!

The only other place we wanted to visit that first late afternoon was the Piazza Venezia but to get there, we passed so many stunning statues, buildings and streets that we got a wonderful taste of what we'd see over the following 2 days in Rome.

Actually, for anyone wanting to use these blog posts to get some help for their own trips to Rome/Italy, I can say that even for oldies like me, Rome is a very 'walkable' city and it's just as well it is. Driving in Rome is like playing Russian Roulette - but potentially more lethal. Statistics show you are 50 times more likely to have an accident in Rome than in any other capital city in the world and this includes Paris ! There are lots of articles you can find to explain this so I'll not go into the reasons here but basically, Italian drivers are crazy. Mind you, walking comes with its own problems and as many of the roads in Rome are as wide as 6 lane highways (well you needed wide roads when out for a spin in your chariot remember) and have no crossing points, you REALLY have to watch out for yourself.

Even a pedestrian crossing offers little safety as the cars and motorbikes will still zoom past you on both sides as they only regard the couple of inches covered by your feet as the no drive zone. Remember too that these drivers will be talking on their phones, arguing with a driver near them, eating a slice of pizza or just in a hurry to get to point B. So YOU need to look out for THEM as the reverse just ain't gonna happen. To them, you're simply a moving target in their daily game of 'kill the tourist'

Anyway like I said, despite the need to have 360 degree vision at all times, Rome is very 'walkable'. On this first day, or what was left of it, we walked to the Piazza Venezia and passed the magnificent Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, a relatively new monument to honour Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. It was started in 1911 and completed in 1935 but such is the power of Rome, that it seems to fit in perfectly with buildings 2,000 years older.

That's the thing about Rome, or at least the part that we had mapped out for our time there. Everywhere you look there are magnificent ruins, some needing a lot of imagination to 'see' them in their original state and others, many others, almost perfectly complete. It's like a gigantic building site but you're never sure what is going up and what is slowly coming down.

Another thing we noticed was the lack of traffic on most of the wide streets. I've not looked it up but I have to assume Rome has some sort of advanced congestion charge which unlike in London, is so severe that few can afford to drive around the city centre. So despite what I said earlier about taking your life in your hands when crossing roads, this is only because the drivers that ARE on the roads, are the creme de la creme of tourist killers ! The Top Guns, Italian style.

There are plenty of places where you can have a rest in tranquil surroundings. This is a Good Thing as the heat of an Italian Summer can kill you. When you are as unfit as I am, this is a serious concern so you need to pace yourself when sightseeing and so always try and take advantage of any oasis of peace and calm.

You also need to take plenty of water onboard and thankfully this is not a problem anywhere in Italy as in every town and city, there are numerous water fountains providing free, refreshing drinking water for the weary and dry mouthed tourist. Just carry a water bottle with you and get cool, clean refills every time you pass one of these fountains.

Walking down a street leading away from the Piazza Venezia, we found a restaurant and I had my first Italian lasagne and also got my first indication that eating was going to be the biggest cost on this trip. A simple lasagne and a can of coke was about 15 euros so work that out in your own currency. It was the same all over Italy although in the less touristy locations, it might drop to 11 euros.

To make a comparison, two of us have just had a Leeds pub carvery lunch of 3 types of meat, veggies, Yorkshire pudding, new potatoes and 2 cokes all for less than 10 euros.

But "que sera, sera" and "when in Rome" and all that good stuff and we had loads of excellent meals in Italy. After this first one, we headed back to the shuttle pickup point and were driven back to the Rome Sheraton after a very long and eventful day that will last long in the memory.

Yes even mine although I may need to watch Roman Holiday again !!


Daphne said...

"It's like a gigantic building site but you're never sure what is going up and what is slowly coming down." - a perfect description! I just loved that first bell-tower in your photo - - I didn't know then that Italy is just full of them, all very old and very beautiful!

jay said...

Oooh, it does look nice!

I was going to quote that same line as Daphne! It's a good one! Instead I shall do this one instead: 'To them, you're simply a moving target in their daily game of 'kill the tourist'

Hahaha! Very good! And I can imagine how hairy it must be.

Just one last thing - do you mean to tell me that it's safe to drink the water you find lying around in the streets? I mean, seriously, you don't have to drink bottled water in Italy?

Daphne said...

Jay - I hope Silverback doesn't mind me jumping in and answering this one but the water in Italy is safe to drink everywhere except on trains, apparently: the Rome drinking water fountains with Acqua Potabile on them are perfectly safe and really useful. And the toilets in garages etc put ours completely to shame - - beautifully clean, almost all of them.

Jennyta said...

Sounds wonderful. We found it scary enough driving in Florence, so I'm vry pleased we didn't attempt it in Rome!

Debby said...

Of course you know I only read part of this blog....

You know I'd be feeling all the stone there!!!

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