As I mentioned in my first post, my intent for this long-term travel adventure is to reach far flung and out of the way destinations. I will grant that Rome does not fall in that category. However, from Canada one has to connect somewhere to fly to Johannesburg, and I decided to take a couple of days in Rome, both because I had never been, and because I wanted to visit some friends near Naples.
I know this will sound strange coming from someone who decided go travelling full-time, but I really wasn’t in a mood for tourism. The weeks spent sorting out the practicalities of my life and putting everything on hold had been very busy. Just as an example, to say farewell to a few friends and family members, I had spent the last week in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and near Quebec City (right after returning from New York City). I would have taken any desert island over Rome at that point.
As they say, “When in Rome, do like the Romans”. I would have loved to, but I had trouble finding any Romans in Rome! The touristic circuit is certainly not where they are. But even away from the main attractions, I mostly saw foreigners trying to sells their services as guides and tourists, lots and lots of tourists. Apart from two Russians who had breakfast next to me and, in my rough estimate, drank around 200 euros worth of Champagne between 9:30 and 10:15 in the morning, most tourists were not very entertaining. Here’s what they looked like.
In front of the Colosseum.
The Trevi Fountain.
The Spanish Steps. They don’t look like they are having much fun, do they?
Despite my lazy mood, I did spend a couple of days walking around Rome and I did have a few very pleasant surprises. One of them was the trees of Rome. I don’t know anything about trees and I certainly couldn’t tell you what kind of trees they are, but they are amazing. Like giant umbrellas bringing sharp contrasts of vivid greens over the white marble of statues and the grey stones of old buildings.
As is often the case in old European cities with an Imperial past, you can walk around randomly and suddenly, where you expected to find nothing, go through a door and see something magnificent, like this.
One site I enjoyed visiting – possibly because the number of visitors was very reasonable – was the Altare della Patria (Alter of the Fatherland). Built over the course of about fifty years in an inconceivable succession of bureaucratic infighting, bankrupting cost overruns and the death from old age of all members of the original management team, it honours the founder of the modern Nation of Italy, King Victor-Emmanuel II. It also houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a national museum, where I learned that all of Rome was under the political control of the Pope as late as 1870. In that year, France withdrew it’s protection of the Holy See upon the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and the Italian State attacked the Swiss Guard with five infantry divisions which, not surprisingly, was sufficient to get the job done. The monument was always controversial, as its construction involved the demolition of many medieval buildings. It is a little over the top, but I must admit I was awestruck by the scale. None of these pictures do it any justice.
The facade. Right at the top of the first set of stairs is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Even looking at the equestrian statue of the King from the base of the monument one does not realize the size of it.
I’ll try and post something about my short visit to the Vatican later today. Driving from Cape Town to Springbok today. At that rate, the blog should be up-to-date before the end of the week.