18.01.2013 - 18.01.2013
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.
Ben and the girls have been giving me some time to acclimatize to my new life here in Europe so I have been excused from regular chores and writing the blog till I am ready. Sleep is now coming readily and I am more refreshed so I can now assume the usual routine. However, I am out of practice in writing and will need to put on my reporter-rubbernecker-observer hat, taking lessons from my daughters on how best to convey our experiences. Bear with me as I try to get into the groove.
It was a day of sunshine and wind, for which we were thankful after yesterday’s rain and hail. We took the bus to Piazza Venezia, which is home to the Victor Emmanuel II monument, as it seemed to be a good jumping off place for our walk about the city. The monument itself, made of white marble, is massive and dominates the square. We wondered who this Victor guy was, not being up on our Italian history – we surmised he was an important fellow, given the dimensions of the monument (size DOES matter). Later in the day, the Pantheon gave us the answer: he was the first king of Italy, reigning from 1861 to 1878. The structure actually houses many corridors that display the Italian flag of several military regiments; each flag comes with a chronology of sorts that denotes the battles of which it was a part. (This was the first time we had seen such a concept regarding the flag.) The monument, although impressive, has not always been viewed favourably by the Italians, being known by its nicknames of the 'typewriter' or 'wedding cake.’
Next, we traversed the streets above the Roman Forum, avoiding the fee to walk among the ruins. It seemed sufficient to walk above them and look down. There are so many old columns, statues and other Roman masonry about that we found some discarded Corinthian column tops in use as ashtrays. I guess it’s hard not to take it for granted when there’s so much of it about. The walk soon lead us to the Coliseum, impressive anytime but stunning with a blue sky backdrop in the Italian sunshine. The building dates back to the first century and owes its current look to earthquakes, fires and those who used it as a quarry for building materials. It has traded its gladiators for hawkers and its persecuted, for tourists. We circled the coliseum and meandered through the Roman streets for other sites.
We heard pizza and gelato calling us from small ristorantes en route to the Trevi Fountain. It was thick crust this time, my favourite! There are many pizza varieties here, some with the usual salami, pepperoni, mushrooms and peppers; others, sporting broccoli, tuna, potatoes and, believe it or not, even french fries. Hannah and I chose a middle-of-the-road ‘spinachi’ while Ben had the ‘porci’ (see, you DO know some Italian). Abby was a cheap date, with aqua only, as she wasn’t hungry.
The Trevi Fountain was a highlight. It too was bathed in sunlight and proved a great spot for warming ourselves after the walk in the wind. Ben and I had seen it twenty years ago but, at that time, the water had been shut off for repairs. We had thrown in our coins to honour the tradition that if you perform this act, you will see Rome again, but we weren’t sure at the time if it would work without the water. It seems it has but perhaps that’s why it took us twenty years to return! (It’s much better with water flowing, by the way.)
The last two sites of the day were the Spanish Steps, which were a bit ho-hum (guess we should have seen them after the fountain) and the Pantheon. The latter was truly magnificent, with enough marble to satisfy anyone, Italian or otherwise. The Pantheon has been in use since its beginnings in the second century, first as a temple and, subsequently, as a church. The large dome and other architectural aspects are amazing samples of Roman building expertise. The interior of marble was added later and accentuates the building perfectly. It houses the tombs of the first and second kings of Italy as well as the painter Rafael, with whom we are all well familiar by now. We were intrigued by the inscription on Rafael’s tomb: "Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die."
This day has reminded me of how much I need to get back into the habit of walking; I have been a bit sedentary since leaving Europe. And speaking of habits, one does see a lot of nuns in these parts. Not that that is unexpected, mind you, this being Rome. Priests as well, and the odd monk too. In fact, there was an interesting encounter today between Hannah and a robed monk: he fixated on her hair while her eyes were drawn to his robes. Both eyed the other curiously and frankly as they passed in the street. Rome also offers lots of opportunities to purchase calendars with either Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict on them; and we even saw a calendar with handsome young priests, a different one for each month of the year, dressed attractively in their black garb. That last one is just a bit much, and I wonder at its authenticity. One intriguing street had a few shops that sold religious articles. Now, it’s not uncommon to find stores selling statues and other religious objects for tourists and the faithful but these shops’ customers would have been the clergy and churches. The wares were large statues for church alcoves, gold chalices, tabernacles, ciborium and monstrances, among other articles (and if you know what all these words are, you are most definitely Catholic). There were also a couple of shops dedicated solely to religious ware for nuns and priests. It was very interesting and something I had never thought of, but where else would they buy such articles? Not eBay surely?
Riding back on the bus, we observed that there was often only standing room left. You would think such regular use of public transit would alleviate the traffic congestion and parking but this is not the case, as we often see cars double parked in Rome. We leave tomorrow, with good memories of the city and its people, but look forward to the next taste of Italy.