Monday April 26 was a travelling day for us. We found the station in Munich easily enough – it was right under our hotel. It took a few minutes to get our Eurail ticket endorsed and then we waited 30 minutes or so for the train to leave. We were on train No 85 for the 918 km trip to Rome.
Leaving Munich was like travelling through out of any large commercial city – past lots of offices and industrial buildings. The countryside was very similar to that around Fussen and it wasn’t long before we were in the mountains of southern Bavaria. We crossed the border into Austria and the scenery became quite spectacular. It was just like passing through the set of the ‘Sound of Music as the train line twisted and turned through the narrow mountain valleys. My Uncle Norm would have been most impressed!
We passed through a number of long tunnels and down into Northern Italy. Lots of grape vines and what appeared to be apple trees in rows just like vineyards. Similar to Germany, each little village was dominated by a church spire. Occasionally, we could see a monastery or castle on a hill top.
Travelling by train is a very relaxing way to go places. For most of the way we had a compartment of six seats to ourselves. Lunch in the dining car was the full blown Italian catastrophe of three courses with a bottle of wine. It was very soporific after lunch with the sun coming through the window.
We were north of Bologne by about 4.30 pm. Here, the land was quite flat and planted with what looked to be wheat and corn. After Bologne the country became hilly again (although not mountainous). I timed the length of one tunnel near Prato as taking 6 1/2 minutes to travel through . At 120 km /hour, that’s about 13 km long.
We arrived into Rome 15 minutes late at 8.00 pm. We were glad that our transfer was waiting for us and we were soon at our hotel. Nice room but only as big as our kitchen. On the fifth floor or 5th piano in Italian. (Liberace had more pianos than that!). We found that our friends were having dinner in a restaurant down the road so we walked past a large building that the police (Carbonieri) were guarding to meet them. We were all pleased to catch up and swap stories about our travel so far. Rob & Mary had flown directly from Australia and had spent their time recovering from jet lag by walking around Rome for the last two days. Junene & Ken had spent some time with their daughter in London and Bath. Maureen & Dennis had been touring around Scotland & Ireland as well as meeting up with their son in London. We were glad to get to bed although it took a little work & sidestepping with both of us in the same small room competing for space.
On our first day in Rome we had two half day tours organized.
In the morning, we had a good walking tour of the ‘Monuments of Rome’. We started by going to the Trevi Fountain which was only 10 minutes walk from our hotel. Our guide was a very pleasant and attractive young lady who had a very good knowledge.
I thought that the Trevi Fountain was going to be a circular fountain in a plaza but I was surprised to find that it is built against the facade of a building. It was originally the end of an aqueduct and is a very beautiful fountain – looks quite grand.
From here we walked along to the Pantheon – a pagan temple built in the second century BC but now a Christian church. It is a round building – perhaps 40 m in diameter with a dome. A number of chapels are established around the perimeter. In the center of the dome is an open hole – the only source of light for the building, so when it rains the interior gets wet but no matter, the marble floor is designed for drainage. It is quite awe inspiring to stand in a building that was constructed before the time of Christ and is in such good condition today.
From here we went to the Piazza Novena which is built on the site of an original Roman Stadium. It is now surrounded by buildings and palaces rather than its original stands. It has that classical Roman elongated oval shape. It was the site of ancient games – athletics, discuss and javelin. Some fountains have some significance that I don’t think that I quite understand. After seeing an impressive fountain on almost every corner, it is hard to differentiate the one with Neptune from the one with Mars.
From here we went to what was clearly the highlight of the day – St Peter’s Basilica. This is a magnificent building with a cupola designed by Michelangelo. It is the largest basilica in the world and would make any of our cathedrals look like a parish church. It is truly a breathtaking sight. I did find all the Roman Catholic ritual and symbolism too much for me.
In the afternoon we took a tour of ancient Rome. This started with a drive past the ancient temples to the old historical area. Jill thought they were just a bunch of old rocks! No matter that they were over 2000 years old and associated with the beginnings of western civilization. We had an interesting walk around the Roman Forum with a very knowledgeable guide. I found it fascinating to look over the ruins of such an ancient civilization and to imagine something of the life in those days. We walked up an ancient Roman road and imagined centurions. There are still some people dressed as ancient Romans around town who will let you take your photo with them for a not so small fee. It is quite a strange experience to be buying a drink at the station and find a gladiator eating a pizza beside you. There are still a number of small fountains where water comes out of a pipe in the wall. These are still fed by some of the original aqueducts from water sources outside the city.
We had planned to spend our second day travelling on the hop on hop off bus but it wasn’t really a good way to do get around Rome . There is only one bus and with the density of traffic in Rome it only does four circuits in a day. Therefore there is a long wait for the next bus. It was easier to catch the train. Jill was the only person in our group to use the bus. She did most of one loop while we others walked to the Coliseum and did some shopping.
The Coliseum must have been an impressive place. It originally had a curtained roof and seated 55,000 people. We only achieved that with the Telstra Dome just recently. We didn’t have time for a full tour unfortunately, but it was wonderful just to be inside. We met Jill at the bus stop and then caught the train across town to the Vatican.
The Metro was very crowded and we aimed to get on one of the end carriages to avoid pick pockets who frequent the more crowded middle ones. Mary had her purse stolen on her first day in Rome. The train was quick and efficient but there wasn’t one square inch that wasn’t covered in graffiti. It wasn’t a very enjoyable way to travel.
From the station, it was only a short walk to a coffee shop for lunch of pizza and a beer. We met up with the others at the entrance to the Vatican Museum for a guided tour of both the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel.
This was probably the highlight of our stay in Rome. The museum holds an incredible series of art works. The first part of the tour took us through a series of sculpture galleries. Magnificent works from ancient Greece, Rome & Egypt. Classical sculptures showing remarkable details of anatomy – even veins standing out on finely muscled marble bodies. Later, we walked through the library and map museum. This was an incredibly beautiful hall with a decorated ceiling. I would have sworn that the arched ceiling had cross beams and raised rosettes in the center except it was only the three dimensional painting. This hall must have continued for over 150 metres. Most of the museum (and the Sistine Chapel) have recently been cleaned and restored, so the paintings were remarkably bright.
At the end of the museum we continued through the private apartments of of one of the old Popes. The rooms here were smaller, perhaps only 30 – 40 metres square and ceilings perhaps 40 feet high. These were decorated with frescos by the old Italian masters – Benini, Raphael and others (perhaps Fettucini & Ravioli). The National Gallery in London had just paid Â£16 million for a Raphael painting that was no larger than 1/2 sq metres and here were looking at walls of them over 6 rooms. What’s more you were allowed to photograph them!
Them came the climax of the day – the Sistine Chapel. There really aren’t words to describe this beautiful place. The building is a very single design yet the frescos are spectacular. Michaelango at his best! Actually he was more of a renowned sculpture than a painter. He began by having lessons from Beninii et al – he sure wasnâ€™t a fast learner! The only way to remember this place is pictorially and since we were not allowed to take any photos, we made sure that we bought some post cards.
we made a quick trip up the dome of St Peters and got a great view of Rome. The hop on hop off bus which Jill & Mary were waiting for had not turned up so we rescued them (thank goodness for text messaging ) and took a taxi back to the hotel. Rob, Junene, Ken, Maureen & Dennis caught the train to visit the Spanish Steps.
Rome traffic is something else and I didn’t see much as I had my eyes shut for most of the way. Driving in Rome is a bit like driving a dodgem car at Luna Park. Giving way at roundabouts and stopping at pedestrian crossings is clearly optional.
We had an unmemorable but quick dinner at a tavern down the road and got to bed early as we needed to leave at 7.00 am on Thursday for a full day trip to Pompeii.
Thursday, April 29, was a long day but an interesting one. We travelled by bus for about 2 1/2 hours south to Naples and then on to Pompeiii. Like in Germany, buses are limited to 100 k on the Autostrada and trucks travel at 80k. Truck drivers always appear to be bored! Traffic in Naples is much worse than in Rome. Our bus was attacked by cars, trucks and even motor scooters. Our driver seemed absolutely comfortable with it all and was adept at maneuvering through spaces half an inch wider than the bus.
Lunch was at an extremely large room in a local hotel. I think that they must cater for more than 20 bus loads each day. The food was served mechanically by bored looking waiters with a new twist on the choice of ‘chicken or beef’ that we are so used to. This time it was a choice of soup or pasta. Then it was off to see the ruins of Pompeii.
This is an amazing sight – 160 acres of Roman city buried almost instantly when Mt Vesuvius (8km away) erupted in 79 AD with four to six metres of volcanic ash. It was fascinating to walk down old stone streets and have another good guide who could interpret what we were seeing.
In some ways Pompeii was a modem society. The streets had rocks in the middle of them that acted as speed humps. Sewerage was collected and waste water emptied through drains into the street. We could go into the remains of some houses and see kitchens & bedrooms. In one bakers premises, the stone grinders were clearly visible. We could even see plaster casts of people & a dog who had died in the eruption. In some buildings we could even see remnants of frescos on the walls.
We left at 5.30 pm to return to Rome to pack up for the next part of our adventure to Florence.