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Looking around Do you know that kids show 'Go outside' with the woman and her collie in the biplane? I took her message very much to heart.

Living La Vita Roma: Part 2

ITALY | Wednesday, 1 July 2015 | Views [260]

The next day we were so hot we spent most of it just shut up in the apartment, trying to keep the cool air in. There was a TV with a DVD player in the main bedroom and we searched for something to watch. But all they had were tourism DVDs. I looked through the stack anyway, I might have even opened a few just out of pure curiosity, or maybe fate, and out of one fell season one of The Office (the original, not the American remake). Neither of us had seen it before but we’d always meant to watch it. We must have re-watched it at least 4 times during those 5 days. Just desperate not to go outside between the hours of 12 and 3. Lying there on the bed watching The Office is one of my fondest memories of Rome, and since I was pretty sure that avoiding the midday sun whilst lounging around doing nothing is the epitome of the Roman lifestyle, I didn’t feel bad about skipping some museums or churches to do it.

But we couldn’t waste the whole day. So we went to the colosseum. We didn’t make the same mistakes as Florence, this time we booked tickets before, as I did for the Vatican the following day and the Borghese gallery for later in the week. That way we avoided the huge queue of tourists lining up to get in. The heat was even worse today and I very much regretted not bringing a hat. The Colosseum on the outside is exactly as you’d expect, except with more scaffolding. But on the inside it seems much smaller. I overhead some tour guide say it could hold 75,000 though I didn’t believe it. I remember thinking, I’ve been to arenas bigger than this before, but then I don’t think the size is what makes it special. It was pretty crammed inside, since most places are off limits, you just walk around the middle bit. It’s actual name, according to signs and more tour guides (seriously, never pay for a tour guide, just eavesdrop), is the Flavian Amphitheatre, but it’s called the Colosseum because of a giant statue of Colossus that used to be nearby.

The ticket to the colosseum also includes entrance to the Forum and the Palatine hill. Honestly these are better than going inside the Colosseum. The view from the top is amazing. The crumbling villas hinting at their original grandeur, now being reclaimed by nature is stirring. But, me being me, I was mostly hot and tired and would have preferred a bit more sitting down and reflecting on something, rather than walking around like I was late for a bus. By this time it was 6pm and the Roman Forum was closing. You could reuse your ticket tomorrow to come back and see the rest of it, but we never did.

Because the next day we went to the Vatican. Even though we were staying 5 minutes away, the entrance is on the opposite side of the walls. We walked through St Peter’s square and saw the huge queue of people trying to get into the basilica snaking around the square, as they were slowly baked in the sun. The Vatican doesn’t open until 12pm so there is no way to avoid the heat. We took a giant umbrella to shade us but in the end we didn’t use it, just because it was unwieldy and then we had to put it in the cloakroom when we finally made it inside. The walk is shadeless because the wall casts shadows on the inside at this time of day. We thought we were late, since our ticket said 12:30 but there wasn’t much a queue and they didn’t mind about the time that strictly. After we got to the main entrance, we turned left, as the sign said ‘La Capella Sistina’ was that way. And it was this way, eventually. The only way to get to the chapel is to walk through everything else in the museum, which is clever I suppose, and makes sure you get value for money at least. But most people only want to see the chapel, and in their rush they create a hot, pushy current that drags you along. To stop is to risk being trampled. I lost my friend within the first five minutes.

First you go through a small garden with alcoves full of Roman or Greek statues, in one Perseus holds Medusa’s head triumphantly; a popular scene. Then its corridor after corridor of art. The first room is statues, and bits of statues. Severed heads and bits of arms and feet. The next few are full of huge tapestries. One, I think, depicted Herod’s slaughter of the Innocents. It was graphic. Roman soldiers pull babies from the arms of wailing mothers. One is about to stab a child, holding his face and pushing him onto the ground. The next is the hallway of maps. The maps are old, antique looking and cover the entire walls. Their beautiful and interesting but I was distracted by the intricate detail of the ceiling. It was astounding. You could stare at it for a year and not see everything. I looked at the security guard with jealousy. Perhaps I should be a security guard in a museum. I’d love that job, except working so close to all those tourists who I judge to not to appreciate the exhibitions enough.

The next rooms were full of frescos and most if not all were part of Le Stanze Raffaello. I don’t remember the names to each room but one stuck out to me: La Sala di Constantino. On a central wall is a painting of an almost empty marble room. All that’s in the room is a golden altar piece of Jesus Crucified and on the floor is a shattered roman statue, lying in pieces. The painting was so good, the shading so accurate, I could swear it was actually there, in its chunks of alabaster. It was profoundly moving, not because of the religious connotations but the power of the seemingly simple image. It captivated me. If I remember rightly after that you walk along a weirdly boarded up terrace thing that overlooks a carpark. Then you reach the start of the contemporary art, and the air conditioning. A few Matisse’s hang in this room. I had never seen a real Matisse before, I remember learning about him in textiles class at high school. Most of the contemporary art had a religious theme, and by that I mean pain, gore and confusion.

After this, there were some stairs and then finally, the Sistine Chapel. A security guard gave out plasticy looking cloaks for bare shouldered women and herded us in. Never in my life have I seen human beings so resemble sheep. The Chapel is a long rectangular room with a decorated wooden parting cutting it unequally in half. People were crammed into one half and then guided into the next like sheep herded into pens. There loud whispers of every language melted into bleating. A security guard’s angry voice over the intercom shushed us and commanded silenzio that never came. I was so taken aback by this spectacle it was a good five minutes before I looked up. And then it took me another five minutes to actually find the recognisable ‘Creation of Adam’. There’s actually several panels, all depicting a different day of the creation story. Still I must admit I was drawn to Adam and the tantalising way the fingers don’t quite touch. Now I think of it this is the only painting of actually God I’ve ever seen. I heard that this was the first, that Michelangelo single-handedly created the image of God. I sat and looked at it all for a good 20 minutes before I gave up. The stuffy heat, the people, the pushing and the angry security guards continually shouting ‘no foto’, ‘silenzio’, ‘per favore, no foto’ got too much. After that I walked through the rest of the museum, and then sat out in the gardens to draw. But, without my hat, the heat beat down on the top of my head until I felt dizzy with heatstroke and decided to go home. The rest of the afternoon was spent eating ice lollies on the sofa.

Night time in Rome is the only time when the heat doesn’t kill you. You can stroll more leisurely, take everything in. And the best place to do this is along the river. The heat gets so bad in the summer that nightclubs are uninhabitable and instead they line the Tevere with bars and dance floors. Down the steps onto the banks there are cocktails bars and gin bars, karaoke bars and stalls selling food, and all sorts. There was a DVD stall flogging Italian versions of films and I almost brought one, though for the life of me I can’t remember what it was. It gets busy, but it’s still a nice place to wander around on the cool Roman nights. You can follow the river along to Trastevere, the trendy part of Rome, home to delicious restaurants and cool bars. It’s also pretty busy, but the atmosphere is jovial, if touristy. We ate a restaurant, full to the brim of people inside and out, ate divine deep fried courgette flowers, a Roman delicacy, and were serenaded by a band of accordions.

There’s very few things better than eating a huge delicious dinner when you travel, and Rome prides itself on being the epicentre of all good food on earth. The waiters are experts, or at least they think they are, and their recommendations are gospel. But honestly, trust them, all Roman food is good but they know what’s best. Eating dinner is my favourite past time when I travel. Most evenings whilst we were in Rome we found a place the perfect place to eat and strolled along the river. On our first night though, our search for food took us on a wild goose chase up towards a wooded park and a tiny road that was such a sharp bend you couldn’t see the cars coming at you until they were right in front of you. It’s good to look around for a local place but, at least ask locals for recommendations of where is good (or use google) otherwise you’ll be walking for hours and end up in the middle of nowhere, with an empty stomach. That was the night I decided me and my friend should spend a few hours apart in the day time. Our idea of exploring a place were very different. My friend just wanted to walk and see where she ended up, but I wanted to make sure I actually saw something, and to spend a good few hours just sitting down. I swear she was part camel, she’d just walk and walk and walk for hours. But I was worried our time apart had backfired a little on her part. She was resentful and started to become more distant and difficult.

Tags: roma, rome, sistine chapel, tivere, trastivere, vatican city, vatican museum

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