Friday, August 1, 2008

Roma - 1st impressions

Being ever-forgetful, it is an absolute MUST that I document my travel experience for the past month. Otherwise, I'd be scrolling through my travel photos 10 years from now, and wonder "Emmm where's this place huh??" Actually, even now, I've forgotten some of the names of the 1,001 churches we visited..oops.

I arrived in Rome early in the morning on 29 Jun 08. It's a small crowded airport and it took yonks to clear the customs. Being a "patient" gal, I waited almost 5 hours for my travel companion ("Mr Irish") to arrive from Dublin. According to him, there weren't any other better timings for Ryanair! Crap! I was worried about the general safety of travelling alone to the hostel, so I opted to wait for Mr Irish. My other travel companion ("Ms Rehau") who flew from Germany, reached Rome slightly after me, at one of Rome's bus terminal, and had made her way to the hostel herself. I should have done the same! Anyway, fortunately I had a novel on hand, so the 4-5 hours' wait became bearable.

Mr Irish met Ms Rehau for the first time at the hostel (Alessandro Downtown Hostel). I know both of them, but they don't know each other. Yeah, it's always nice to make friends. Lol. Casting jet-laggedness aside (yesh, I'm the only one who took an international 12 hour flight), we trooped down to find a nice place for lunch.

Had our first Roman lunch at a nearby pizzeria. The pizza was ok, though Mr Irish wasn't too enthused about the large pieces of ham, cuz they're normally sliced into tiny pieces in pizzas back home. The spaghetti is a tad bland. Oh well, what do I expect from tomato basil spaghetti anyway?

Having filled our tummies, we "metro-ed" down to the Spanish Steps. The metro's quite a no-brainer to use, primarily because, it doesn't go to many destinations. The Spanish Steps used to be a hangout for artists' model wannabes in the 19th century. Not sure why it's named Spanish Steps though. We faced our first throngs of tourists there.

Definitely not channelling the model-wannabe look. In fact, it's the look of "I'm sweating buckets in this freaking hot weather".

Crowning the Spanish steps is the Trinita dei Monti, which is a very tiny church, compared to the opulent monstrosities that would greet us in the subsequent days to come.

Stopped by the Fontana di Trevi, a lovely, baroque fountain teeming with fishes (nope, I jest, obviously with tourists). Apparently it took 30 years to complete--Best!! As per tradition, each of us tossed a coin into the fountain (probably into the coffers of the Roma municipal), to guarantee our return to Rome (preferrably a free return ticket. Lol.).

The Pantheon

Next we walked to the Pantheon (no nearby metro stations). Those who read Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons" will know that the protagonist, Robert Langdon and his female sidekick (forgot her name) went to the Pantheon in search of the assasin. It turned out to be the wrong location because Raphael's (the famous artist) remains was move d to the Pantheon, his original tomb being somewhere else. An inscription on Raphael's tomb by a bishop reads, "Living, great Nature feared he might outvie Her works, and dying, fears herself may die". Very moving, and definitely apt, for a renowned artist of Raphael's calibre.

Anyway, the architectural marvel about the Pantheon is its dimensions - its diameter is exactly equal to its height, and there is a gaping hole in the dome, from which sunshine or rain enters. The floor is said to be slightly convex (though it doesn't feel like it), to allow rainwater to drain into the in-built drain holes around the circumference of the floor. This is the first tourist attraction where we purchased audio guides. We soon realised that it's pretty hard to concentrate on hearing what was said compared to following a visual guide book instead. Hence we took to purchasing guide books for most of the major cathedrals and museums we visited subsequently (which makes for a very heavy luggage to drag around).

Possibly the most photographed hole-in-a-dome ever. Don't ask me what's the hole for.

My "Rough Guides to Rome" recommended a really swell gelateria, where we had our first gelato in Italy here. Melon, strawberry, lime, tiramisu, etc, etc.. Yummy!

I reckon the gelaterias in Italy are bound to enjoy a roaring trade in summer, as the gelato inevitably became a major staple in our diet (and many other perspiring tourists') in Italy. Truly a cool respite from the sweltering heat!

Sweltering heat aside, Rome's cobbled pavements, ubiquitous Roman architecture, baroque fountains contributes to a quaintly charming first impression of Rome. But that's just me though.

Charmed, but jet-lagged traveller on the loose

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