But of course she looks old.
17.03.2017 - 19.03.2017 16 °C
Friday morning we were up at sparrow fart. A series of clever moves planned by Cath found us waiting for the bus at 7:00am. From there it was a quick trip to Arezzo and then all aboard the train to Rome. The main station in Rome, Teminali, is really quite large and can be daunting to the first time visitor. Although we were initially overwhelmed, it actually turned out to be quite easy to negotiate. We boarded a metro train for our suburb, Trastevere and then a short tram ride dropped us off almost at our street, a gorgeous cobbled road leading to a piazza with the mandatory church overlooking it. The street was lined with small cafes, bars and restaurants and whilst we waited for our Airbnb host to arrive we had a light lunch and a couple of very nice vino bianco directly across the street from our apartment. We had already been madly pointing out various landmarks to each other, whilst on the train and after depositing our belongings at our apartment, we headed off to explore nearby, and not so nearby landmarks.
As we were situated on the west side of the river, the Arno, was our first port of call. Crossing that, we were immediately immersed in ancient roman ruins and artefacts. Rome is at once very ancient and not so, as there are numerous buildings covering the various epochs. However the predominant eras seem to be either Ancient Rome or 16th - 18th century. An accumulation of dirt and dust pervades all, but rather than creating a feeling of forlorn detritus, it gives one the sense of being in the company of an old lady. There is a gentility and acceptance about her that belies the steely determination to succeed that has given it the title of the eternal city. As for us two spring chickens, we were positively delighted as one discovery led us on to another, until without realising it we had walked all the way into the city centre. The Forum rose impressively before us, only to be superceded by the glorious Colosseum, which we had tickets to see the next day. No matter, we were kids in a lolly shop and nothing could stop us. After these two wonderful spectacles, we headed off to see the Pantheon, which we had somehow missed. We must confess that we were sidetracked by coming across an Irish Pub and it being St Patrick's Day, we felt it our duty to pop in for a quick pint of Guinness. The national monument; Altare della Patria is also an epic piece of work, which took our breath away.
We looked at each other, drew a deep breath and agreed that we just had to see the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain before heading home. As it turns out, collecting those two was a great deal more strenuous than we had foreseen. False paths, slow google maps directions and the bane of all tourists - other tourists and Romans out enjoying the traditional Passieggata, conspired to foil our plans. Nevertheless we eventually found ourselves in front of the Trevi Fountain, along with 2000 other tourists. It is a marvellous construction, however the amassed throng made it rather difficult to appreciate. And bear in mind, we are not here in the tourist season. We can only imagine what it must be like then and we have no intention of joining in the undoubted chaos! After the fountain we struggled on, with increasingly aching feet and legs, until at last we arrived at the Spanish Steps. We were fortunate, insofar as there weren't too many interlopers, perhaps no more than a couple of hundred, such that we were able to sit and reflect for a while. How odd that the Spanish Steps were built as the result of a competition, financed by a bequest from a french diplomat, to connect the Bourbon Spanish embassy and the Trinita dei Monti, under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France?
We finally turned for home via the Metro, having walked over 17 kilometres. No wonder we felt weary!
We awoke Saturday morning with plans of getting away early and beating the crowds to the Colosseum but were somewhat slowed down by a stop at the cafe on the corner for coffee and croissants filled with pistachio butter, as recommended by our host. We had found a new delight and vowed to return the following morning for a repeat performance, Cath already considering how she is to source such a product on the road and at home. Cath had promised Ian that we would not be walking close to 17km, after our previous performance and with the aid of the trusty public transport app we were on the tram on our way to spend a day in Ancient Rome. Pre-purchasing tickets turned out to have been a very sensible idea and before long we were inside the Colosseum, awed by the size of it and a bit saddened by the awareness of the vicious and violent history held here. Our mood was lightened by frequent recitations from Monty Python's Life of Brian and we moved on to discover the Forum, Cath a little disappointed not to have been offered some otters noses!
It seems we were not quite early enough to have beaten the hordes lined up to go into the Forum and Palatine Hill, the line snaked down the hill and and around the corner and as everyone appeared to also have pre purchased tickets we decided a quick visit to the Pantheon would do before lunch and then off to the Sistine Chapel for the afternoon. It turned out that the Pantheon was a bit tricky to find and before long we had covered more miles than planned and Ian's feet and Cath's hip were suffering from overuse again. Finally we staggered down the tiny winding alleys to arrive at the magnificence of the Pantheon. A bit of a rest and check of the map, saw us heading back to Trastevere for lunch and then on for the afternoon's activities. Now it seemed that this was a sensible solution but we got lost. The Romans may have built long straight roads leading to Rome but once they got there they built a mishmash of streets that are almost impossible to navigate, so it was that we walked further than planned and finally with a very unhappy set of feet and legs we were back to the Cantina Ripa for lunch and wine.
We left our run a little late for the booked 3 o'clock session at the Vatican Museums and were a bit anxious that we would miss out altogether, our anxiety only heightened when the change of trams at Valle Guillia led us to a tram that must have been at least 100 years old. We rattled and bumped up the hill, back across the river and finally to the Vatican walls, all the while planning our excuses for being late. It turned out we need not have bothered with excuses, as we entered the ticketing area, Cath approached the desk, showed the email confirmation of pre purchased tickets and started making our excuses when with a rather Gallic shrug the ticket clerk said, "It is no matter", handed over the tickets and off we went.
Now it has to be said that neither of us are fond of religious art, seeming as it is almost entirely populated with long suffering wretches, with miserable countenances, but the colour and exquisite detail of the artworks adorning the entrance to the Vatican Museum are undeniable. It was therefore quite disturbing to be treated to what can only be described as the Vatican's version of running with the bulls at Pamplona. The starter's gun goes off at the entrance to a long hallway, segmented by glass doorways into small galleria and away we go! Ten wide by a hundred deep, the tourists have to jostle, elbow and generally jockey for position, all the while keeping a sharp eye out for laggards goggling and taking selfies, clearly oblivious to the obstacle they create. Months of travelling however, prepared us and in no time we were weaving in and out, sidestepping, feinting left and going right, until Ian attempting to perform a blind turn, bounced off a rather large heifer, eliciting a disapproving groan from Cath. We did manage at last to get into some clear space ahead of the bulk of the herd and were then able to enjoy the spectacle at a more leisurely pace. Our intention though, was to see the Sistine Chapel and so we trotted on relatively quickly, noting various pained expressions on both the artworks and visitors faces....
At last we were finally ushered into the Sistine Chapel and sure enough it was very impressive. That is, to see 500 people crammed into a small room, being harangued by a few guards to keep quiet, one assumes so as not to wake up the pope. The ceiling is admittedly very beautiful; "Michelangelo should be congratulated for doing all that wonderful work on his back" said Cath. Ian was thinking of other professions that work from a similar perspective... We weren't given a great deal of time to appreciate the wonderful work though, as we had to make way for the next flood of tourists and so soon found ourselves on the move and in no time spat out the other end. It was our intention to go on to see St. Peter's basilica next, however sadly that meant leaving the Vatican and walking a long distance around the outer walls to the other side before re-entering again. It was too much though and we decided to retire for the day with over 15 kilometres walking completed.
We had by this time perfected the utilisation of the tram system and so were able to get back to our apartment with only one change of tram. We felt, quite justly, that we had earned a treat and purchased a delightful bottle of red which we imbibed back at the apartment whilst we talked over the day's events and our planned dinner at the trattoria on the corner. Suitably fortified, we essayed forth once again and sat down to what was to turn out one of the best meals of our trip, all the owners choice, menu a giorni[i]. The trattoria was a real find, clearly Nonna was running the show, with Papa trying to avoid being told off, son and grandson scurrying around to obey orders and finally a wandering maestro with Ian's favourite instrument (NOT), the piano accordion, in tow. Luckily we ha arrived just in time, as before long there was a line of regular customers standing in the piazza waiting for a table. We chose a delightful [i]vino bianco to accompany the first half of the meal and a possibly foolish, but also delightful bottle of vino rosso to accompany the second half. With a very kindly bestowed Limoncello, served with a cuddle for Cath by Nonna, we found ourselves wandering out the door replete, if no longer discreet.
Sunday found us unsurprisingly seedy, but we knew we could overcome our discomfort if we could just get to the Basilica. Unfortunately, although we made it back to the Vatican in time to hear the thunderous applause for the pope, it was past standing room only and they couldn't fit us in. Sadly we had to head off for home disappointed. The train trip back to Arezzo and the subsequent bus journey afforded us a welcome opportunity to snooze, which we happily took, arriving to our Tuscan home Lucignano at around 9:00pm.