...Do As The Tourists Do
20.04.2016 - 20.04.2016 26 °C
It's the end of the first day on our trip, and we are currently in the heart of Rome, Italy. We are exhausted. We've been up since sunrise, when the light streamed through our bedroom window, and returned to the same room just an hour ago. It's been a busy day but the aches and pains are totally worth it.
We landed last night in Rome Airport, Fiumicino after a short evening flight from Gatwick airport. The view over the Alps at sunset was absolutely breath-taking. We then endured a taxi ride to our temporary "home" with a geriatric driver who had to stop for a quick map reading and call to our host (for directions) before we arrived here. We are on the 4th floor of a residential block of flats, literally a stone-throw away from The Vatican's northern walls. Besides the confusion of address, the place is really nice - though, our lift in is not for anyone with a disposition of avoiding small spaces. We have a spacious double room - though one bed has been allocated as sofa/dumping ground - with a small balcony and bathroom. We also have shared kitchen facilities with the more permanent residents of the accommodation. All in all, its clean, very secure, and comes with wi-fi. What more could we ask for?
Our first task today was finding food, having not eaten since Gatwick the afternoon before. With a budget in mind, we aimed to find a supermarket or mini-mart where we could prepare for several of today's meals and avoid spending city prices. We stumbled upon a small delicatessen on Via Leone IV with a counter full of fresh breads, cheeses, meats and olives. It was a feast for the eyes. For EU6 we walked away with several bread rolls, slices of proscuttio, soft cheese, and a tomato, two pears and bananas, We then found a cafe and had a swift double espresso (with several sugars). 10EU spent and breakfast, lunch and snacks sorted.
It was a beautiful sunny day and we made our way to the nearest landmark - The Vatican. The first thing you're greeted with is a 20m high stone wall and just a glimpse of the tallest buildings inside. There were hundreds - no, thousands - of tourists. And robed, God's people. We arrived at the north-wing entrance of St Peter's Square to queues of people. Unsure what exactly they were queueing for (and knowing very well we didn't have a ticket!) we continued to walk round to the Eastern Entrance, where you could view St. Peter's Basilica in its glory, basking in the morning sun. After a quick bag check, and taking several photos of the surrounding architecture, it occurred to us that the queues were not moving quite as expected. We were in the middle of debating our next move - queuing up for, we were not quite sure what, or moving on - when a British couple approached us asking if we needed tickets. Apparently they had received more than they had applied for, so we were welcome to them. Of course, we were surprised when we discovered that the tickets were for an audience with The Pope.
Now, we would consider ourselves atheist, perhaps humanist, and perhaps spiritual but not religious. So agreeing to spend our morning in the presence of genuine pilgrims from all over the world and the Catholic community may appear to be a strange thing to do. However, we are the kind of people who would embrace a new experience, especially one that had been offered to us by a sheer right-place-right-time opportunity; and besides, we have respect for the current Pope and his position on modern society. So, we found ourselves a central seated spot in St Peter's Square and waited for the man of the hour.
It was certainly experience; from the role-call of every church and religious community responded with whoops and cheers from the audience, to Pope Francis gliding through the crowd on the back of his "Popemobile", waving and kissing babies; classic statues as the back-drop for digital screens, and the multi-lingual service offering translation to everyone in attendance. It's certainly a well-rehearsed and well-respected part of Vatican Life.
After our English-speaking blessing, we took this as a good sign for our future travels and decided to walk to our next destination ahead of the crowds. Just a short walk east of St Peter's Basilica is Castel Sant'Angelo - Mausoleum of Hadrian. Our host had recommended this spot as a great vantage point for the city. We arrived mid-morning, when the entrance was very quiet, and made our way round to the very top. Whilst the view isn't quite as impressive as, say, Sacré-Cœur Basilica's view of Paris, it was still an impressive spot to behold the city from. We used the opportunity to capture the sights in glorious midday sun; unfortunately, our attention spans were shortening by the minute and we skipped the historical details to find a shaded spot for lunch,
After assembling our sandwiches, and a short escape from our Solomon boots in the shade of the Caster Sant'Angelo grounds, we followed the River Tiber to the Palazzo di Giustizia and across the Umberto I Bridge towards Piazza Navona. Like Paris and London, Rome also has a large river flowing through its centre. But, unfortunately, The Tiber lacks the charm of both the former; emerald green water, with grassy banks and moss-covered walkways, and only the occasional fisherman in sight. It's not an appealing place to stroll nor take respite from the surrounding city.
Piazza Navona was another trap, for both sun and tourists. A rectangular "square" with not just one, but two water fountains of varying grandeur, surrounded by expensive restaurants with white liinen tables and eager waiters. For us, it was a moment for shade and photographic delight, but we soon grew tired of the competition from other visitors and headed in search for a cold treat - Gelato.
To be continued...