May 10, 2010 § 1 Comment
Sorry for the lack of updates, we’ve been having a couple of weeks of more intense lessons. Then we flew off to Rome for the best holiday I’ve had since I came here.
As you’d know we’ve already visited the other major cities (Florence, Milan, Venice, etc), but there is truly, truly, no place like Rome. Attempting to describe it would fall deathly short of the true experience of being there, but I shall try my best.
Italy is a country where all the major cities are designed around tourism. Italy lives and breathes tourism. You cannot walk around the major areas of its cities without being caught in what is obviously designed and catered for tourists. All the times we’ve been in Italy we’ve been in the key tourist areas, so I can safely say that the ratio of tourists to locals ratio I encounter every day is probably more than 10:1.
Every where I’ve been in Italy I’ve felt like I’m stuck in a permanent tourist trap. No where in the world have I visited where I am in constant doubt about being ripped off and wondering where the locals actually eat/shop/etc.
Being generally skeptical about everything, I would say it had a dulling effect on most of my Italian experiences to date. Venice was a bunch of islands that got famous, Pisa had a a ridiculous little leaning tower that was unduly underwhelming, Como was a bunch of boring lakeside towns that are only famous because George Clooney owns a house there…. Florence had a lot of art that I couldn’t really appreciate. I’m sorry if I’m being uncultured but I personally can only see THAT many renditions of a ‘Madonna and Child’ and pre-Renaissance religious paintings so many times.
I remember complaining to Eldon (the most cultured of us all, on exchange in the UK) that I couldn’t really enjoy myself because there were so many tourists and it just totally affected my mood and receptiveness to everything. With a shrug he had replied that ‘you just have to be here for the reason you are here and ignore the factors that stop you from enjoying the experience’.
I didn’t really have a chance to apply it till I came to Rome.
Rome, while no less touristy than any other Italian city, is a city I didn’t mind being ripped off in. Well, almost. I’m not much of a art person. But I’m definitely a lot of a history person. And Rome was like my dream playground with its Roman ruins, of which I’ve exhausted so little of and want so very much to go back for more. But let’s start with the Vatican City and the Museum. We queued 3 hours just to get in. Three hours. And we were there at 9.30am too.
The Vatican Museum and its’ endless ceilings of elaborate frescos that bring about Stendhal syndrome. The Sistine Chapel (no photos allowed, though that stopped few people) with Michelangelo’s indisputably superior craftsmanship was definitely the epic highlight of the museum (museum is an inappropriate term. It was more like strolling through an endless mansion). Yes. I have to use the word ‘epic’. I cannot, right now or possibly ever, find an appropriate enough description of what it felt like to stand in the Sistine Chapel and gaze reverently upon the work of a master. I have seen many works of art throughout Italy. But no other work of art in Italy or even this world, I dare reckon, will ever top just looking at the precision and majesty of those frescos in the Sistine Chapel.
This, my dear readers, is not a painting. It is a tremendous mosaic piece. Mosaic. Yes you heard that right. Thousands upon thousands of little mosaic pieces. Overhearing one of the tour guides, they did it this way because they wanted it to ‘last forever. You can take photos of it, use flash, have the sun shine on it, and it will never fade.’
The famous Trevi fountain. It is said that if you stand backwards and throw in a coin, it ensures your return to Rome. Didn’t do it. There were literally flocks and throngs and all other usable words to describe large masses of humans there. But I promise myself that I will return to Rome.
Now we move along to my favourite part. The Roman ruins.
This is the road leading up the Colosseum. It’s closed on Sundays so you can take a lovely, leisurely stroll and view the Roman Forum and the Trajan’s Market which flank either sides of the road, juxtaposed with newer, modern buildings. It’s really bizarre gazing upon the structures of Rome and how they co-exist in the same space. Buildings were built around and on top of Old Rome, the city is a mishmash of it’s own colorful, diverse history.
I had some time in this place alone on our last day in Rome. Jun Hua and Becky had gone off to an Edward Hopper exhibition, and I went to the Trajan’s Market on Via dei Fori Imperiali (which is now a museum too) for a William Klein photography exhibition. The curators had cleverly distributed Klein’s prints among the other museum exhibits, so it was a pretty enjoyable, quiet morning stroll in the largely empty structure while it drizzled outside. It was nice to be in an empty museum. Coming here isn’t one of the main tourist activities, there are so many other bigger sites to see in Rome for the regular tour group traveler. So it was a real pleasure to be able to take my time and savor the experience on my own.
Still and dark hallways that must’ve used to bustle with so much life and activity. It was slightly creepy walking through these parts on my own. The vastness of those dark empty chambers were unsettling. (I don’t like the dark very much.)
I stood in this little street for a while just imagining what life must have been like back then. From this angle your view of the rest of Rome is non-existent. The great thing about Rome is that all the buildings are short. There’s nothing to obscure your view or disrupt the feeling that you’ve been transported back in time.
And so we move on the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
Truly beautiful grounds. Palatine Hill is important to Rome for many reasons. Augustus lived here, Rome was purportedly born on this hill, and more. Visiting Rome has increased my desire to brush up on my knowledge of early civilization and the early Greek and Roman myths just so I can appreciate everything better.
Moving on to the great Roman Colosseum…
The Colosseum is pretty magnificent, and gets the most attention by its sheer size. The flat ground you see is where the original flooring was (wooden planks). The labyrinth-like structure you see below is actually a rather ingenious backstage that they used for all sorts of morbid entertainment gimmicks (ie. using a pulley to bring up a palm tree as an obstruction, or haul up a bear, etc). The descriptions we read made it sound like a real-life Playstation game. It also mentioned that ‘hardly any gladiator made it to the age of 30, which was about the average age of Romans in that period’.
And that’s about all I can put down in words. Rome is a place you have to see, taste and experience for yourself. (This city definitely has the best gelato!) There are more snapshots in the entry below, but for now there is so much more to Rome that I have yet to see, so many more sites to visit. I’d like to go back again and see Pompeii as well, though that’s closer to Naples.
The next trip out will be in a couple of weeks to Amsterdam/Rotterdam for the European Design Conference. Van Gogh and Anne Frank Museums there for me. Among other interesting things. Can’t wait can’t wait.
I’d just leave you with some parting shots for now. I’d try not to be lazy and update more regularly. I’ve a backlog of some photos to clear from other mini escapades.
May 9, 2010 § Leave a Comment
More talk in the later entry – though there is so much to Rome that words alone cannot satisfyingly describe the experience of just being there.