SinE – Day 1: Rome

Update: Now with photo sphere links for panoramas (15 May)

After going through a couple of weeks of hectic university projects (of which the last week I have now nicknamed the “Assignment Week from Hell” because teachers must be colluding to make everything due in that week,) I have finally been able to resume organising and posting!

Images for the entire trip will be available on my Flickr album – they’ll be incrementally released once I finish their respective blog posts, so right now you’ll only see photos relevant to the first day or so.

(Note to Yahoo!: Flickr really needs to have a completely revamped Organize feature – not only can I not mass rearrange photos in an album and so have to drag photos individually, the album’s 4,700+ photos cause Chrome nearly choke when loading! Argh!)

I didn’t write down notes for any part of my trip – so I’ll let photos take care of most of the storytelling! If you have something to ask – pop it in the comments and I’ll see what I can answer.


Day 1/February 2: Rome

Finishing a combined 24 hours on flights from Auckland (plus three hours transiting in Hong Kong), I finally made it to Rome – the first stop along my European trip.

Interesting realistic 3D depiction of the clock tower at Tsim Sha Tsui. Departures concourse at Hong Kong International Airport

Coming in with a bit of jet lag, we arrived at 6.30am at Fiumicino Airport, and again had to settle for walking down a flight of stairs straight into 3°C and light winds, to be picked up by a fleet of shuttle buses.

No pictures here, but you can probably imagine the big visible puffs coming out with every breath. Even so, I only needed a good long sleeved shirt for most of the day, with an additional layer just for the early part of the morning. (I would probably have to add that I’m used to moderately cold morning climates like in Canberra’s winters, so YMMV.)

After passing through the airport, I wandered over to the train station and took the Leonardo Express into the city. Purchasing tickets was easy (self service machines had a handful of different languages to choose from) and cost €14.

One thing to note for those not familiar, is that you need to validate the ticket at the ‘gate’ or entrance to the platform before boarding. Conductors (or whatever you call them nowadays) were definitely present in nearly all my longer distance trips – so it pays to check if you need to poke your ticket into one of these machines!

One of many types of ticket validator machines, this one at Roma Termini station

The non-stop service into Roma Termini rolled in at around 8.40am, with a surprising helpful “This service is 10 minutes late” broadcast over the PA. I walked onto the concourse and got myself a local SIM card (WIND, TIM and Vodafone have shops there), dropped stuff off at the place I was staying and went straight for roaming around Rome by 10am.

And when I said roaming, I meant random wandering about on the streets…

Istituto Nazionale di Statistica
Palazzo delle Esposizioni

… all the way down to around Foro di Traiano (Trajan’s Forum), which was the first major stop for the day.

Museo dei Fori Imperiali, which leads to Mercato di Traiano. Would have liked to have gone for a quick look, but time and relatively pricey tickets (€14/€12 concessional) didn’t really help.

From where I was coming from, you would walk down the road past the Museum (pictured above) and down a flight of stairs to get to the Forum. By the time you get to the stairs, you should see parts of the Forum in view already, so it’s quite hard to miss.

Around Foro di Traiano facing towards Altare della Patria. (I didn’t realise the panorama didn’t complete… whoops!) (View photo sphere)
Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano, with the western half of what remains of the Forum in the foreground
Mercato di Traiano

The place is quite large and is joined by various fora towards the east and south, and there’s still what I presume archaeological work being done (only on small bits of it at the time I was there, so it didn’t impact the experience at all.)

After about half an hour, I headed off to the nearby Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located.

Altare della Patria. The late morning sun worked quite well here, don’t you think?

There was actually a protest (or some similar sort of gathering) going on at the time around here, with quite a fairly decent sized crowd and police… Didn’t know what was going on, but that was the only time something remotely disruptive happened during what otherwise was a peaceful month-long trip.

You might pick up from the photos that it was mostly calm with only moderate numbers of people, due to it being Winter. In terms of the atmosphere, it was okay, but I’ve been told it would be much livelier in the warmer months, which is impractical for most of us Southern Hemisphere people ’cause our holidays don’t match up!

Looking out towards Piazza Venezia. (Probably should have taken a photo from the steps than from the side…)

From here, there’s an exhibition inside that you can go look, and there’s also an elevator that takes you to the very top of the monument (not free, as with many things here), but I was more interested in getting a view of Rome.

From the west of the monument (View photo sphere)
… and from the east (View photo sphere)
Looking directly at the Colosseum, and over the Roman Forum.

Behind it is the square named Piazza del Campidoglio, sitting at the top of Capitoline Hill, that was designed by Michaelangelo. It’s not as grand or vast as other places, though. The buildings you see around here also house museums, which I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to visit.

Towards Piazza del Campidoglio, with Palazzo dei Senatori in the background and Cordonata staircase in the foreground
A modern replica of Statua equestre di Marco Aurelio (Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius), the original of which sits inside Palazzo dei Conservatori, one of the plaza’s museums I mentioned earlier
Palazzo dei Senatori

Continuing in the south-eastern direction, you get to see parts of Foro Romano (Roman Forum) – and the site is huge. You really need to be there to see it and take in the immense area, with historic ruins of buildings scattered everywhere around what used to be a bustling plaza.

While I could have gone in on the day (with tickets, explained below), it was just way too large for me to cover and you can already take in a lot from the surrounding streets. So that’s what I did.

Tempio di Saturno (Temple of Saturn)
Arco di Settimio Severo (Arch of Septimius Severus)

The site also joins Colle Palatino (Palatine Hill) towards the south, where ticket holders can also visit in the same trip.

What’s this moggy doing here?

All this while the Colosseum, right next to the site, was tempting me, so what the heck – who returns from Rome saying they haven’t been there?

The Colosseum, viewed from the south western side

Tickets to the Colosseum were €12, and while you could go online and prepurchase them, the service fee for that is €2 – which is pretty steep, so I opted for queuing at the ticket office (biglietteria, and you can probably guess how that word is derived if I told you the word for ticket is biglietto.) Note that in a lot of places, including this one, admission is free on the first Sunday of every month, except that I arrived on the Monday after – doh!

When I entered, the queue just started to spill out the entranceway, but it actually runs inside around 1/6 of the circumference of the Colosseum before you get to the ticket offices (so don’t let that fool you!) All up, around half an hour was spent taking in parts of the Colosseum before I got my hands on a ticket. I would have liked to get access to the special areas too (underground and third level) but they were already taken long before I got there.

The ticket itself admits you to enter the Colosseum and Roman Forum/Palatine Hill sites once each, in a consecutive two day period, which I think is pretty good. You can easily spend most of a day in the latter, but I eventually didn’t end up going as the weather started turning bad on the second day. Also a

Long queues running around the Colosseum

What do you get when you finally get to the second level?

Panorama of the Colosseum from the northern end (View photo sphere)
The arena with the underground passages exposed. Only those on tours get access to that area, the closest you generally get is the first level.
A view with a map of the interior

You also get a view of the Forum next door, Palatine Hill, and the Arch of Constantine (Arco di Costantino) from this level:

Temple of Venus and Rome (Tempio di Venere e Roma) situated in the Roman Forum
Arco di Costantino

Back inside the Colosseum, they have a few artefacts on display scattered about the place, such as this inscription which described the funding of the Colosseum’s restoration after an earthquake:

Inscription to Decius Marius Venantius Basilius in regards to the restoration of the Colosseum

… and this modern one by Pope John Paul II – a cross in honour of Christians martyrs (though there are doubts about whether the Colosseum actually was the site for such executions):

Cross dedicated to Christian martyrs

Back to the first level! (Both my phone and camera started dying at this point because I hadn’t had the opportunity to charge either on the first day…)

More of the underground layout that usually sits under the wooden arena
One final panorama of the Colosseum, this time from the eastern side. You can see the Christian cross in the middle, and a viewing platform on the left (View photo sphere)

Well, that was enough Colosseum for a day – there were other bits that I didn’t photograph, mainly due to the restoration work that was going on, but you get the picture (or go armchair touring!)

Try and pick the many sellers of the suddenly popular self camera monopod. It’s a booming market in Europe, and they were actually reasonably priced. I’m just waiting for what the next “in” thing is.

In terms of stuff to see in Rome, I wouldn’t put it at the very top, but it’s a very solid second. It is interesting, but slightly overrated. (Might possibly be also that I didn’t get a chance to see the “hidden” parts… meh.)

By this time I had called it a day and started heading back (well deserved, I think, considering I didn’t stop from getting off the plane to 3pm in the afternoon!) but on the way stopped by Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, or St. Mary Major.)

It’s a World Heritage Site, and interestingly, it’s shared between Italy and the Holy See – where the latter owns it, but it’s in the former’s territory.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
The Marian column just outside the basilica

Its dedication to the Virgin Mary is pretty clear from the interior, with art specifically depicting her all around. It’s also very intricately and decoratively designed – something which photos don’t really do a good job of showing.

(Most of my photos turned out pretty blurry and dark, so not much to show here.)

Inside the church
Turning the other way towards the entrance
Stained glass art inside the photo above
The rear face of the church. From Piazza dell’Esquilino

I had actually taken that last photo as the first one of any building for the day – so in actual fact I had made a nice round trip, which was unexpected!

That ends it for Day 1 – I’m already exhausted recompiling everything together (I haven’t blogged in years, so I’m getting use to this again.)

Just a reminder: there are other photos as well – don’t forget to head over to Flickr to check them out.

Next up: Day 2: Rome