Rome-ing around

I apologise for that post title, but it had to be done.

A rare occurence this morning as I awoke to the sound of my alarm going off. I normally wake up a good few minutes beforehand. Mind, I don’t normally sleep on an airport floor one night, followed by an evening of sangria-gargling. I’d set the alarm early so that I could hopefully get somewhere near the front of the queue at the Vatican Museums.

Trying not to wake the roomies, I clambered into clothes and grabbed my bag. On the way out, I picked up another breakfast bag from reception and headed for the Metro. There are two stops for the Vatican – Ottaviano “San Pietro” and Cipro “Musei Vaticani”. The former indicates that it’s more for the Basilica end and is there I got off the previous day. Today I disembarked at Cipro and followed the signs for the museum. Well, for a while. Then the signs vanished so I followed my nose and the crowds.

The museums open at 8:45 and I reached the large, imposing wall a little after 8:00. Already the queue stretched out of sight and round a corner. Ah well. I was in the frame of mind to wait now, so I did. Memories of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi came swimming back as little Oriental ladies puttered around trying to sell things to tourists… and then run and hide behind them like panicked hens whenever a police car drove past (Alpha Romeos, naturally – this is Italy).

At around 8:30, the queue started to move with impressive speed. I was glad I’d come early. By 8:50 I was pretty close to the front. Close enough, in fact, to see the sign which said “Guided Tours Only”. And the other queue at the opposite side of the doors for the unguided tourists. Which was roughly 2 1/2 hours long.


You’d think with the wealth of the Catholic church behind it, the Vatican could splash out on a couple of extra flipping signs to let you know what queue you’re about to join. The Metro stations mentioned will take you to one of the queues each – Ottaviano to the lone tourist one, and Cipro to the Guided Tours one. The actual doors are pretty much slap in the middle and that’s where the information telling you which to join is. You won’t see this information unless you arrive stupidly early (I’ve been told 7:00 by some people) so it would help if there was more information. I’m English. I see a queue and I join it. Sometimes even if I don’t have any intention of queueing for anything when I get there. It’s what English people do.

Ah well, it just seemed that I wouldn’t be giving my 12 Euros to the Pope today. I’m sure he could manage without it. I also wasn’t going to fork out the fees requested for a guided tour so I could jump to the other (now almost empty) line. Instead, I pulled out my already-battered tourist map and headed south towards a slightly out-of-town area and some parkland to find some of the other touristy sights and clock up more mileage on my well-worn sandals.

I located the Porta San Pancrazio, Fonte Acana Paolo, Monumento a Garibaldi (nice biscuits) and Faro al Granicolo – a bizarrely-located lighthouse the foot of which was scattered with empty beer bottles and smelled of stale pee. Nice.

From there I worked my way down to the side of the Fiume Tevere (the river which runs through Rome) and strolled along the bank to Isola, popping up the stairs en route to see the Piazza Trilussa and Piazza G. Belli. At Isola – an island in the middle covered with bars and cafes – I crossed to the easterm section of the city and into the area with probably more ruins than any other.

As well as the Sinagoga and the Teatro Marcello with its beautiful 3-column structure standing separate from the rest of the building, I walked past the Arco di Giano and Santa Maria in Cosmedin; the S. Gregorio Magno; the Santi Giovani e Paulo; and the magnificent Arco di Constantino near the entrance to the Palatino.

There’s a separate post for today with a whacking tip in it for you regarding the Colosseum – very useful if you intend to visit it! Wait, don’t go yet – read it when you’re finished this! Patience…

The Palatine Hill and attached Roman Forum take a while to walk around and really reequire a guide or guidebook so you know what you’re looking at. Even the brief notes in the Lonely Planet section are a useful reference as there are very few signs anywhere.

After baking myself in the sun and getting annoyed at selfish tourists who wouldn’t get out of my way when I was wanting to take pictures, I walked across the piazza to what is probably the larget tourist draw in Rome proper – the Colosseum. Scaffolding holds some of the structure up and somehow I expected it to be bigger but it’s still a hugely iconic figure set in a natural “bowl” in the city’s geography.

It took me two minutes to whizz through the left hand “ticket holders only” queue and inside. The arena floor is gone, revealing the network of tunnels and rooms underneath where animails and combatants would have been kept. It’s interesting to see, but a shame as it means you can’t pace the “stage” and pretend to be a Gladiator. Actually, that’s probably for the best.

Very few of the original seating areas are still visible, so you have to use your imagination to picture the scene all those centuries ago. Still, the fact that any of this 2000-year-old structure is still standing is testament to the fact that none of the builders’ descendants went on to work for Wimpey or Barratt Homes.

Back up the hill I found a supermarket close to the hostel and grabbed some cheap pizza, chocolate and milk for lunch. Then I popped my head down for a quick nap… and woke five hours later. The last two nights really caught up!

Another international night on the roof followed with SPaniards, Mexicans, Americans, Aussies, Swiss and myself holding fort for the civilised part of the world. Italian beer and wine were swilled, pizza ciao’d down (see what I did there?) and the sun set before I decided I needed to finish that nap and headed for bed.

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