Thursday, October 22, 2009

Good morning Rome; good morning rain.

Good morning Rome; good morning rain.

As I headed to the streets the ne'er do wells were already selling umbrellas, though the rain was still more than a few minutes off. Umbrella? Only six euro. Wouldn't you like one? Six euro – please. Lets try two! Three. Three euro, for an umbrella that might last a few hours? Hmm, as enticing as that sounds, I think I'd rather keep my money, put on my rain coat, and throw the Tilly hat onto my head, and be just as protected, thank you very much.

I made my way to the grocery store for some more juice, and breakfast twinkies. Well, not twinkies; I had the Kinder variety again. You may recall I talking about their goodness when I was in Paris. Well here they had to coconut variety. And as I have made it my mission to try all things Kinder (having nothing but the basic toy-filled eggs back home) I thought it would make a lovely morning meal.

Then the rain came. Ever so light at first, making one believe it might just be a passing trickle, but the further you walked, the more you began to realize there would be no end. Stopping on a street corner, I felt hard drops fall upon my wide brimmed hat. My first thought was that the rain was only heavy right here, and when I reached the other side of the road, it would return to its light sprikely self. This was not to be, but it was the hope that got me through that road crossing.

I have heard tales of boarder crossings, with people hidden in the back of trucks loaded with fresh fish to disguise their presence. I have heard of checkpoints needing to be snuck around, and people in the back of 4x4s blazing across the desert, chased by armed soldiers – the only escape, an invisible line some seventy meters away, marking international boundaries. I have heard these stories, and I now scoff. Scoff is what I do, because no such crossing is as daring, nor requires more courage, than simply trying to make it from one side of the road to the other, here – in Rome.

In Paris I may have remarked, pejoratively, about the French drivers. That was wrong of me, and I apologize. I am sorry French, you are not bad drivers. In fact you are wonderful drivers. So wonderful indeed that I think we should host a parade right through the middle of Paris announcing to the world how wonderful the drivers are there. Why stop there? Give every citizen over the age of eleven their very own automobile! That is how wonderful the drivers in France are!

The Romans, however (I know, I know, they're Italians – but I am not well learned enough to make this claim upon the entire country.) are not such great drivers. They want to kill you – they try to kill you – and in all likelihood, they will kill you. Every minute you spend on the streets of Rome threatens to shorten your lifespan significantly. And if you're Catholic, maybe you're o.k. with that – after all, the Pope is right around the corner, but otherwise – just watch yourself. Because they've heard you'll be in town, and they're gunning for you.

Zebra crossings mean nothing here. In fact, it's not so much that they don't wait long at them, it's that they don't wait at all. Waiting would require slowing down. And if you happen to have one drivers who is from out of country, not used to these new rules yet, fear not for a bike will weave its way through the now honking traffic, perplexed why some driver would have the gal to stop during the hours between, oh 00:01 and 23:59. 24:00 exactly? That time can be used for safe passage. This bike? It will hit you instead, then back up, and just to make up for its limited size, run you over again.

The Romans see the middle of the streets as their parking spaces, as well as the mouths of intersections. They will fit their vehicle anywhere, and then another will come in and cram in beside. How they ever get out of these spaces, I don't know. And if they never get out, or destroy themselves in the process? All the better. One less predator on the road.

But Rome isn't always fun and games, defying death and staring danger in the face. No – it's also ruins. Lots and lots of ruins. Lots and lots of very old ruins. But we'll get to those in a moment. There are some pretty things too.

There are some buildings in Rome. And they're nice. Some come with a twist, others are just what they appear to be. I'll even tell you the names of some of these fantastic places. Let me just go grab my map – now somewhat translucent, soaked through with rain. Water – the downfall of any and all newsprint maps.

First up was the Repubblica, which I'm sure is lovely under good weather conditions. Anyway, I think it's just shopping. Who needs that. Still, it was alright for a half circle kind of thing. Then I walked through a long tunnel which took me far out of my way. But that was alright, because I joined up with a large Asian tour group. While I normally dislike group tours, if they're walking somewhere, odds are there's something good at the end of it. And there was:

Fontana di Trevi. Of all the things I saw today this fountain was the most impressive. There's not much else to say about it. It was a pretty fountain. It had blue water. I took pictures. Then I moved on – still, most impressive thing I saw today.

Umbrella only five euro?

Please – I didn't want one before it was raining, now that it is raining, and I'm dressed for it I certainly don't want one. Plus, five euro? No thanks pal.

Onward to the Monumento a Vitorio Emanuele II. Now this was a pretty nifty looking thing, with lots of stairs you could climb (but not sit on, otherwise the on duty guards, and soliders at the top, would yell at you.) It claims to be the tomb of the unknown solider. But it's more than that. At the top level, you can walk around and get a good view of the city, taking in the sights, and snapping away pictures like the ferocious little monkey that you are. So many pictures that you know you'll never look at, and won't do anything with – but when provided an opportunity to look at a city from a relatively above position, none can refuse.

And then you see a little door, so in you go. Welcome to the free museum. It's full of books, and paintings, and swords, and field guns, and other war related things. Some statues as well. And best of all? Free – although signs try and tell you that because it was free, you should help out by throwing some coin into the box. But the way I see it, if it's free, it's free – and that's that. Plus, I'm sure they make enough from their 0.50 euro per pee fee as it is.

There are all number of stairs to walk down inside the building. But why bother walking down the slippery steps outside when you can walk down the ones inside? Plus there's a gift shop here.

Of course, reaching the gift shop you notice that all the construction outside, has effectively closed off the entrance at the main level. You are instructed to climb all the way back to the top, and then climb all the way back down again. Very good.

There's also an elevator you can pay seven euro to take to the real roof and look at... the city? From a little higher up. But really – no one takes it.

So passing from there, I made my way to the Roman Forum, and looked at the ruins. Ah yes, the ruins. You see, Rome is like Paris. In Paris every few steps you take gets you to another big impressive building, and you think to yourself, wow – there's a big impressive building. But there are so many that you stop caring. In the end though, it's these buildings that make Paris the beautiful city that it is. In Rome you walk and every few minutes stop and think, wow there are some ruins. And then you walk on and think, there are some more ruins. The thing is – here, they're not big beautiful ruins. They're just ruins. Old rock. Great. Good for it. They were neat the first few times you saw them, but a column is a column, and the foundation of a building is never anything more than the foundation of a building.

I feel the ire of museum guards everywhere as I write these words – but a museum guard is always a little bit of a prat, isn't he? (or her – no gendering here.) They're standing there with that smug look of intimidation on their face, daring you to touch something, ready to pounce whenever you look like you're about to get too close. They have this look of disdain when you enter and leave a room to fast. As if you don't really appreciate how wonderful it is to be near something so rare, so old, so valued. But you don't appreciate it – you don't care – because it's nothing more than something old, and without worth. Every now and then you see a piece worth stopping at, and there are the big named exhibits that you just have to see, because the world is telling you to – so back off museum guard, I don't care about your stinking old pieces, and that's that. You can keep your crumby old stuff. If it was so great, it would probably be in the private collection of some crazed billionaire by now, anyway! Smug little ... ... ...

Some of that hostility may have been building up over the past few weeks.

And that's what Roman ruins are.

An archway here, some columns there, more foundation, rocks that to you are just rocks. I get it – it's the Forum. That means something. I read Sophie's World, I'm down with that. But still, it's just rocks. And yes, the Colosseum, I know – it's the Starry Night of the Roman city. But you know what? It's not so great.

Maybe it's the rain keeping me honest (the sun makes me love everything, I'm finding) but it's not so great. It's a circle. I get it. But I think walking past Yankee Stadium would mean more to me. Heck, this place doesn't even have a retractable roof.

So, Colosseum, not all that impressive. And you know what – I'm not the only one to think so, otherwise the people who lived here however long ago wouldn't have started tearing at apart for brick! And then you walk to that one spot where every picture seems to have been taken of it, where the broken sides become a part of the artistic design, as if it was always intended to be that way.

Alright – maybe you're not so bad after all. Maybe, if it ever stops raining, I might even take a little tour through your innards. But that would require a dry day so I could read while standing in your god awful line.

And that was that. That was the Ancient city of Rome. Done, and done. There are a few other parts of Rome – the Vatican for example (which isn't Rome at all) and the western/central area where the other big old buildings stand. Something about a big concrete roof that no one knows how it was made? Sounds good to me.

But that's exploration for tomorrow. I've spent my four and a half, five hours, in the rain thank you very much. And sure, it may not have been a long day of exploration, but I can't do everything today – otherwise how would i fill the next few days?

Then I'll be on to Florence. Well, I will be if I can ever figure out the Italian name for that city – because no train goes to “Florence” in the ticket machine. Oh mighty internets, please show me the way! Grabbing the names of Venice, and Milan wouldn't hurt either.

Umbrella, only six euro?

Please! Look at me. I'm soaked. The hat and jacket do nothing. Why would I want an umbrella now? What – I'm afraid I'm going to get wet? Already there son. Already there. And look, I know I'm sweet, but it's not 'cause I'm made of sugar. I'll deal with this aggressive humidity and be just fine, thank you very much.

I wonder what John Clark, and his second squad – headed by Ding – are up to now? I should go find out.

Oh – post note – you may recall those walking tour cards I talked about in Paris? Well I found two of them today – shoved in my rain jackets pocket. Which had soaked through. Now if anything speaks for the durability of the cards it's this: They are not destroyed. Everything else in my pockets is now ruined, but the cards are still intact. And my rain jacket? I keep it in a stuff sack. How these cards are not crumpled, torn, and otherwise damaged is beyond me. So – if you were considering getting them before, but worried about how they'd hold up – worry no more. Honestly, I'm impressed.

They're not quite as magical as Australian or New Zealand money, but they'll hold up just as well as your passport will.

... ... ...

Well, it got better then, didn't it?

Rain cleared up. Even saw a little sliver of blue amongst the plethora of grey. This called for an investigation. So, I checked my now dry, and a little bit crumbly, map of Rome and looked for all the areas that I probably wouldn't get to over the next two days. And then I looked at what ones I could hit in a circular route from my hostels doorstep. Surprisingly, there were quite a few things that I had written off.

Off I wen... Honk!

Right, walking in Rome. Not quite safe. How could I have forgotten already?

I first walked past Porta Pia, and not for the first time today, marveled at the number of armed military personal and guards that seem to patrol this city. Is there something special about today, or are they always zipping about the roads in their covered vehicles, and standing ominously on the corners?

More such armed men were seen at Palazzo Margherita, and again at Villa Medici. Though shown as a delightful three dimensional image on my map, Villa Medici seemed to be part of a gated community, and being gated there was no way to get to it, or see it. Still, it wasn't a total loss, for it put me close to my next stop: Piazza Mignanelli.

This was the place where all the tourists rush. Well, the ones who know about it anyway. I didn't really see it mentioned anywhere, but once you're there you can feel the presence of those just like you (which is probably more of a turn off, than a reason to head there.) This is also the area where people will draw those giant headed cartoon pictures of you – the same type of picture who if someone else drew it, you'd be mad at them for a week, for making such fun of you – but because you're sitting on a stool, and they have a canvas, all of a sudden it becomes something worth paying for.

This is also the place where people will try to get you to put your finger through string. Not unlike Paris. Do not put your finger in the string – I once again remind you. This guy ain't no chump. Who would do that anyway?

So why do people come here? Good question. The reason is the view overlooking the city. Not the ancient city, not the pretty city, just the city. And what a view it is. It's unpretentious, it's full of life, and you can see for miles and miles and miles. Despite the little stands selling sandwiches, and hot dogs, and other such things – it really is one of the nicest places I've seen thus far in Rome.

On the return journey, I made my way past Fontana de Tritone, gave a little shrug, and then beelined it for The Yellow.

One stop was made. To get a jug of iced tea. And shampoo. Success!


  1. Florence = Firenze
    Venice = Venezia
    Milan = Milano

    (The Pope speaks free to the audience on Wed and Sunday mornings....I know how you like free stuff!! Me Too.)

    Another free hint: Free-Flick

    Have fun and keep writing....

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Your wrong, the colosseum did have a retractable roof.

  4. In my opinion what makes Paris so extraordinarly beautiful (in conjunction with the architecture) is the proportion of the width of the streets to the height of the buildings.

  5. Hey, I found your blog by searching for Departures TV show and Google lead me here and I am enjoying following your travels, even though I am a bit late finding it. (I was also late hearing about Departures too). I laughed out loud at a few parts of your travels...drooling on the, I'm with you here my friend as I am a huge sleep drooler as well...and the guy with the bags at one of the hostels who would wake you up with the rustling noises. My friend in university had a roommate who would do exactly the same thing, rummage around in plastic grocery bags at 5:00 am for about an hour and a half. I am also looking forward to your thoughts on Germany as my wife and I spent a week in the Munich area in June 2011, and we loved every minute of it. Nice to see that you are a fellow canuck too.


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