I'm really happy that I chose to stay on in Rome – there is just so much to do and see and no that I have a few extra days I can take it a bit easier and get lost a bit. It's very easy to get lost in this city – there are so many narrow, winding streets with little shops. And the big attractions are often hard to find because you may have to walk right around something trying to find the entry point into the street because they all close in each other! But then, bam! You can see this amazing building in front of you. Sometimes you have no idea that you are walking right past a beautiful building until you look up – then you see the marble work on the roof or a spire or something. It can totally catch you by surprise.
Yesterday I contacted the various companies I needed to by email to try and sort out the credit card issue. It's thoroughly frustrating and of course has to happen when I am overseas and in a difficult position to be able to do anything about it. However, I have to remember the mantra – I'm safe, I'm well and I'm being looked after. And I am supremely thankful that my big drama that I had to call mum and dad about is about a credit card and nothing to do with a hospital. Let's hope it remains that way! I still have to wait and see if this can all be sorted but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
In any case, I haven't let it stop m enjoying my time in Rome. Yesterday after contacting all the different companies, I made my way to the ancient Roman Pantheon. I have moved to a new hostel that is closer so I've been able to enjoy walking to places more. The Pantheon is particularly impressive because it is largely intact. It was first commissioned by Agrippa and then rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian in about 126 AD and dedicated to the Roman pagan gods. In the 7th century AD is was turned into a Christian Church and today is still an active Catholic Church that has masses.
When I went, there was a large amount of scaffolding on the right side as I think they are restoring some parts of it, but when you walk inside it is a huge dome style building. It is very beautiful and less ornate than many of the other churches one finds in Rome. It has a number of famous people buried there – the artist Rafael for starters, as well as Victor Emmanuele – the first king of Italy.
Once again, this major tourist attraction was very busy. Honestly, I would hate to be in Rome in the summer – if it is this crowded in the off season, it must be unbearable in the high season. In any case, I was able to get a quiet moment in one of the pews. I like to just sit in these places for a time and look around – in this case I found it particularly fascinating to see the blend of classical architecture that are often associated with paganism used alongside all the Christian motifs.
The rest of the afternoon was spent getting caught up in the crowds and kind of just wandering around, see where the streets would take me. All sorts of vendors were out in full force, selling souvenirs and food and there were lots of artists selling their wares. I am totally in awe of the spray-paint artists – what they can do is amazing. I wish I could have bought a picture and taken it home, but I would have no way of carrying it. In any case, they are often in Melbourne. I will have to pay more attention when I see one.
Today I spent the morning at a small museum that houses the Ara Pacis monument. This is an amazing monument that was commissioned by the Roman senate in honour of Augustus Caesar's triumphs in 13 BC and is a celebration of the so called Pax Augustus (the age of Augustan peace) . This idea of peace is one that scholars have studied for a very long time and one that I spent a lot of time on last Semester at uni. To a modern mindset, peace seems to be incompatible with war, but in the time of Augustus when this idea (mainly through propaganda) was being cultivated, war was inseparable with peace. I could re-write my essays for you on this idea, however I'm on holidays so just take my word for it – the idea works when you look at the historical context and the motives and results of war.
After having spent so long studying one particular monument it was nice to actually see it in the flesh. It's actually smaller than I expected and some parts of it have not survived. However, we know what was on those parts from other primary documents. I've included a few pictures to show the beauty of this monument.
Various parts of the monument
It was simply a stunning day today – blue skies and sunny so I made my way to the very impressive Piazza Navona nearby. There I found a huge kind of fete going on, with rides and gift stalls and all sorts of fun things. It was a kind of post-Christmas Christmas market except not so cold! There was lots to see so I spent a long time just perusing the various stalls and repeating 'No, grazie' to the constant 'Bella! Bella! You buy this? A beautiful item for a beautiful lady!'
There was a Chinese lady who as painting people's names in a really colourful, expressive way. I've always wanted my name done like this so I had one done. It's really beautiful – I can't wait to put it up in my room when I get home. In the background there was a piano accordion playing – whenever I think of Italy I will always remember the sound of these things – they are everywhere, including on the trains!
There were also guys walking around making animals noises (I kid you not) and expecting to get paid for this “talent”! It was honestly the most annoying thing ever – I felt like punching the guy who kept up this high pitched mewing of a strangled cat. But it was lots of fun being there and I enjoyed myself a lot.
One good thing about being at this new hostel is that it is close to a supermarket – thank goodness. It is good in two ways – it is so much cheaper to buy food for meals this way and it is also a lot healthier. The only food you can buy when you're out is pizza, panini, gelati or nutella crepes. I can't tell you how guilty I feel with all the crap that I'm eating on this trip. The only place I was able to find healthy food while I've been out during the way was London. Perhaps I was naïve in thinking that I could shape up on this trip with all the walking I've been doing. I'm sure that yes, the hours spent walking every day are great, but they are fast being outdone by the European cuisine. When I get home, it's vegetables and jogging.
Just to finish up this post, I have few observations about Rome so far. First of all, if I was to write a book about this place, I'd call it “Coffee and Cigarettes”. This seems to be the staple diet of so many of the Italians I see around the place. Honestly, if I get lung cancer in later life, I'm putting it down to the time I spent here. The amount of smoke in the air is amazing – everywhere you walk, you're inhaling someone's cigarette. In Australia, smoking just isn't really that cool (apart from perhaps a few years at high school when you're young and stupid) and there is a huge health movement against it. I must say I've never been happier that we can't smoke in enclosed places anymore in Melbourne and we don't have a smoking culture. My clothes smell of smoke and it totally dries your throat and eyes.
Also, it seems that lots of Italians love to walk really, really, really s l o w l y and then stop right in the centre of the footpath and have a conversation where their hands fly around. And they all link arms!! Even the guys. It can be hard to try to get from A to B without being clothes-lined by their arms. It's actually really funny because I have been learning all about Italians throughout the year from my Italian friends and I am seeing things that I've been told about. One of the things my friends told me was Italians, when they are friends and are talking to each other, have their faces really close to each other. Well today on the train, there was this group of teenage boys and I swear their faces were an inch from each others as they chatted with the dramatic hand gestures. I had to smile. So many things I've been told about I am now seeing! There are lots of other things I have noticed and I'll put a few in each post.
And finally, good coffee!