Italy (Part I) - Roma
Okay then. I'm sitting down to write all of this a second time, as for some stupid reason, my pda thought it'd be a good idea to trash the 1000+ words that I'd already written. Not very impressed. So, if it seems a little out of sequence, that’s why.
Anyway, I arrived into Roma's least accessible airport, and almost immediately ran into the "hey, I can’t speak Italian..." problem. Pretty much was because there was an exit that said 'EU citizens', and no other. Trying to get help from a guard who couldn't speak much English was fun. But, I made it eventually.
Before I go too much further, I should explain that Roma is what the proper (as in Italian) name for Rome is. Everyone else (as in not Italians) seems to have it wrong - not sure why. I mean, why do we call it something different to the locals? I canunderstand if its something unpronounceable, but, really...
Anyway, back to it. I made it into the central train station, where I met up with Matt (who's over on holidays for 5 weeks). He pretty much warned me straight way about pick pockets - he nearly got done when he arrived. They apparently work in groups of about 5, and distract you while they rob you. What a great welcome to a new city... Headed to our hostel Rome Backpackers, which was in the middle of the city, which is definitely a good thing. Pretty cool hostel, staffed by a mad, mad South African chick called Dom. A few too many beds, but cool nonetheless. A lot of cool people there - when I walked in, they were all playing drinking games... :)
Anyway, on the first full day there, headed out for a walking tour of Roma. Saw the Colloseum (cool, but not as big as I expected), the Palatine hills (ruins of really old palaces, where the big shots of ancient Rome lived), the Roman Forums (ruins of ancient forums (big meeting places), including Caesar's forum), the Momumento Vittorio Emanuele II (big white ugly thing, but a good view from the top), Mussolini's office window (ugly building, but fairly impressive (due to the history)), the Pantheon (really cool), and the Trevi fountain (wow!). Fairly long walk - over 5 hours, but really cool. It was led by a crazy yank, but one who definitely knew his stuff.
After walking for so long, we planned to just have an early night, but then someone told us that there was a pub crawl on that night... That only cost €1... With quite a few free drinks... Well, lets just say, we didn't get to bed early... Though, I must admit, it turned into an 'interesting' night - at the last bar, when it was about time to leave, I looked around for Matt, or even anyone else from the hostel... Only thing was, they'd already left, taking the keys with them. I headed back to the hostel, hoping to find someone, or find the hostel door magically unlocked. So, I ended up sleeping, sitting out the front of the hostel, between the inner (locked) door, and the outer door. Which was all well and good until I found out that a (transvestite?) prostitute was using it as her 'place of business'. S/he tried to bring a 'client' in, and tried to convince him that behind the door, about 3 metres away from me, was a good idea. That’s the point that not knowing Italian was really bad - its hard to tell someone to sod off if you can’t speak the same language. Luckily, about 5am, one of the guys from the hostel left to go and catch his plane, so I didn't have to spend all night there. Definitely an 'interesting' night...
Another day, we joined up with another Aussie from the hostel, Amy, and headed down to Pompeii. Pompeii (for the seriously historically ignorant), is an ancient Roman city that was completely covered when Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Really, its lots of ruins, which gets kinda boring after a while, but its good, cos its exactly the way it was, nearly 2000 years ago. It was lost to sight (cos of the ash), so it hasn't been lived in, and constantly rebuilt and upgraded like other cities have. One of the most popular buildings there was a brothel - it had pictures above each of the rooms saying what was 'on offer' inside. Another interesting bit was the plaster casts of some of the people who had lived there - they'd just found the 'hollows' where people had died (most likely from gas poisoning), and then been covered with ash.
But after a few hours of that, we kinda got over it - its just ruined buildings after all. So, we headed back to Naples (which was on the way back to Roma anyway), and wandered around for a few hours, just to check out the place. I'm not sure if it was just the area we were in, or what, but it seemed pretty dirty and rundown. But, Amy and I had a good time exploring random little alley ways, just getting a feel for the place. In a way, it kind of reminded me of India - everyone living in high rise apartments - nothing like Australia with the house on the quarter acre block.
While we were there - we thought we'd check out a restaurant that the lonely planet guide book said had 'the best pizza in Naples, and therefore the world'. Minor problem being that we couldn't find it - even with the (badly drawn) map in the book. So, we ended up in a little tiny place that was definitely a locals place - not aimed at tourists at all, and had deep-fried, stuffed pizza. Interesting, but not that exciting.
Otherwise, the only other thing we really did in Roma was to visit Vatican City. We just happened to go on the day when the pope gave his first address in a few months. Quite interesting, but not that exciting. We couldn't understand the vast majority of what was said. It was funny to see people going wild when they first saw the Pope, and all the odd ceremonies that the Catholics have. But, now I can say I've had an audience with the Pope . After that, we went on a tour of the Vatican Museum (pretty cool), the Sistine Chapel (wow!), and St Peter's Basilica (very cool, huge, and very impressive). We had a pretty small group - as in the guide, Matt, and me. So, it was pretty personalised. He definitely knew his stuff too - he pointed out one or two in each room, and explained stuff about them, but he also knew about other ones that I asked about. Very cool tour.