Thursday, February 5, 2015

Italy Travel - A Glimpse of Rome

Here, admiring one of the well-known structures in the world - the Colosseum.

The lolos (grandfather) of my lolos have been claiming that our clan – Garduce, were all descendants of Italian migrants to the Pacific.  Given current genetic look, I’d say, if ever there were some truth in it, maybe less than 3% of Italian blood/genes run through my veins.  So other than the plan to visit the land of the Roman conquerors, I guess it was time to ‘trace back my claimed roots’ (my added alibi).
a 'semblance' of my surname made me think again.. hmm :)

(April 2014)
Visiting the land of Euros would be a financial challenge, so the thriftiest way of travel must be considered.  It will be a shame not to visit, what I’d call ‘the big three’, so planning the itinerary became simple.  Rome, Florence, Venice.  All the rest would be side trips.

Being a mountain lover, I have to inject a mountain visit in the itinerary and I was glad that the Italian Alps (in Aosta) was just ‘relatively close’ to Milan.   With Holy Week vacation as primary window for working-class citizens like me, I have to plan my travel during the late winter weeks of Italy.   Not so ideal, but at least relatively less touristic.  Or so I thought.

I’ve decided to start south, but not too way south.  The hope was to allow at least one week to thaw out the snows in the north to make my northern visit more warm and pleasant. 


Going to Europe is expensive and one option that seems relatively price-ok was Etihad.  My first for this airline. I took an 8-hour flight to Abu Dhabi, then boarded another flight to Rome, which took an additional 6 hours.  Better than a longer US travel, but still relatively long.  Not knowing much about Abu Dhabi, I was surprised to see so many Filipinos in the airport, and especially much later on the way back home. It was just like another remote town in the Philippines.  During the flight, I got to watch ‘Frozen’ for like 3 times out of boredom!
Large statues dating many hundred years if not a thousand are common sightings in Rome museums and historical sites

Here at the Palatine's interior.  What remains of once 'in city' where the rich, famous and powerful lived...

the Forum (i think), near the Coloseo and Palatin


I was excited to see Rome for the first time.  My small ‘team’ soon disembarked, I was hauling a huge 20kg-bag containing enough gear for a mini-expedition.  Airport was ok but not comparable to the likes of Singapore’s Changi, the latter being a lot more lively, touristy and spacious.

Before my Rome visit, I’ve been intrigued on how one of the longest ruling empires survived and thrived.  Romans pioneered many things that we still see today - roads, malls, urban design, even law and politics.  Their trace of legacy was not just in the history books, but in many remnants of their occupation across most Europe which still stand today, and especially more in the heart of Rome.

The first order of the early +12C cool morning was to find my elusive hotel – named ‘Discovery Bed and Breakfast’.  Based on my hostel research, this one seemed to offer a relatively expensive room, but at least near the sites.  Using a not-so-complete, black and white city map printed off google maps in varying scale, I immediately got lost.  From the vague scales that I recall, it was like 3.5km to the hostel.  A long distance if one is carrying a heavy load.   My merry band of tourists, all 3 of us – decided to try a local transport.  Not knowing the hows and wheres, I just bought tickets for 1.5 euros each. Then tried asking more than 8 people to get even more confused.  Seeing many Filipinos around, which was another surprise, I started asking them in Tagalog – again with no good result.  Ano ba!?  My frustration grew higher after more than 30mins of failed directional question-and-answer,  I was tired and needing sleep, was carrying 20kg in my pack, half of it was not even mine – and here lost in the middle of a haystack.   

Finally, I realized that I may be asking a wrong question.  I tried to find another landmark in the map and ask one guy on how to get there.  True enough, he pointed me in the right direction.  My group took a tram and as directed, stopped on the right station.  Finally, we were making progress.  Walking a few blocks, I finally found the elusive hostel.  The operator was a south Asian, which means he speaks good English.  The locals mostly don’t.  Or don’t want.  I handed him my printed ‘reservation sheet’ which he himself sent via email.  After asking me to wait for around 30mins, he finally declared that there was a booking mistake.  He was bumping me off. Freakin what!?  He said not to worry and he’d help me find accommodation.  It was not high season and we’d be able to find a good alternative.  Yeah, and carry the gadamn weight-bag to the other end of the city! – was my thought. 

True enough, he found one for me using  I was like – why didn’t I just trusted those .coms and relied on direct hotel reservations?   The better part was that – the alternative was even cheaper, and a ‘real hotel’ which means – it has a better bed and a toilet inside.  The bad part, well I have to ride back the tram to the central station called Termini, and walk few long blocks to get there.  “I’m a mountaineer, I can live with that.”  The good thing about the metro+tram+bus ticket in most of Italy was that, it has a time-bounded multi-use feature.  I didn’t have to buy a new one and simply re-use it.

Soon we found ourselves checking in the hotel, throwing our bags inside the nice room, and did a quick let-me-lie-down-for-a-moment-and-relax-from-all-this-chaos.  Before living the previous hostel, I was able to grab a good and almost complete city map.  Reading through it, I was finally more aware of the city landscape and how the metros operate.  In most modern cities, the easiest way to move around was by metro.  You have a map, plus sub-way metro, and if by luck your target sites are near or around a station – you’d find navigation to be very easy.   I completely ignored all the bus lines and just focus on ‘where-to-go plan’ using the 2 main metro-subways that operate in Rome.  Luckily, both Colosseo and the Vatican were within easy walk from a metro station.  These two were my top must-visits, the others were merely icings.

On the bus ride from the airport, we already got a glimpse of the Colloseo (aka Colloseum).  From our hotel north of the central terminal – it was an easy Metro ride going southwest.  Given an almost half-day remaining on our day-1, we decided for this site and the nearby old Roman town of Palatine.

The Colosseum was majestic and impressive as expected.  It was huge and dominating. What I didn’t expect was the long lines of tourists wanting to get inside this ancient gladiators’ arena.  Going around its perimeter to get a good shot was easy, and enough to say “hey I’ve been here”.  The only challenge was how to exclude or hide the big scaffolding structure built on one side. An on-going restoration was clearly there.  
Coloseo (Colosseum) as seen from near Palatine's gate.

Where gladiators once fought and died.. one can easily imagine the 'dark era' where men fought with animals and men - for entertainment! 

To save time or allow the tourists to thin out – which didn’t happen, I encouraged my companions to visit Palatine first. And luck was on my side.  The ticket area there sells ticket for both Colosseo and Palatine. Cheaper if you buy the 2-site package, which we did. 

Not knowing what this site was all about, and not wanting to spend extra euros for slow-going tour guides, we guessed and tried to ‘over hear’ what the colossal of monuments and structures were about. Clearly, the site used to be a very important Roman town for the rich and famous.  There were broken temples all around, remnants of decaying ghost houses, still-standing building with bronze doors,   puzzle pieces of giant columns and walls which once made this dead town like Beverly Hills of the present.  Well, minus the big temples I guess.   Nearby, another popular structure called The Forum can be seen.  It has an impressive group of tall columns – similar to most columned Roman temples.

 If one is not into history or into architecture – he or she will find this place boring.  In my case, I normally attempt to travel back in time, and imagine or feel the place as it was once.  I imagined politicos, rich merchants, rich landlords – all walking about town wearing their finest clothing and best of their jewelries as they visit temples, or mingle with friends.  I imagined a once powerful race that conquered and dominated not just Europe, but many parts of Asia and Africa. I imagined splendour, treasures in varying forms, grand structures and overall – a time of life when one simply feels rich, powerful and invincible.  Going back to the present ruins, it was easy to see that those good things in the past ended a millennium ago and I remember a message in my head saying “every splendour, every richness, every treasure will always melt away.”

We wrapped up our Palatine tour and quickly walk a few hundred meters back to the Colosseo.  Armed with tickets, we zoomed in past the long queue of desperate tourists. As usual, looking at the amphitheatre made me imagine gladiator fights.  I learned that even wild animals were used similar to our ‘sabong’ (cockfights) but more varied. Sometimes human hunters were release to catch and kill wild animals, lions included.  If the place was once used for dancing and music – and not to say that we enjoy relishing the good old barbaric times, Colosseo may not be as special as it was today.  Its blood-full of history made us feel more human, and a great reminder of how man can be cruel, violent or simply mindless about how special life is.  But setting aside this thought, the amphitheatre was an ok place to visit and to see from the inside.  I did hope for a more magical experience like when I entered the pyramid of Cheops.  I guess seeing a hundred tourists everywhere, blocking every chance of a perfect picture made it less magical.  Still, the view from above and inside – the colour contrast of an already setting sun hiding behind one of the amphitheatre’s wall, the silent echo of dead gladiators’ swords and spears – or maybe my imagination, still make the Colosseo a worthwhile visit.

To prolong the experience, we decided to have dinner on the road opposite the old structure.  Pasta and chicken are the default meal of the day.  Or the next day.  And the next.  Eating in a Panini-pasta-rissoto country didn’t seem to offer enough variety of food.  On the bright side, olive oil was always around and available – as if they were a mere ‘patis’ (fish sauce) or salt-and-pepper back home.

We soon rode back the metro and slept in our nice room.  I didn’t even bother switching either the aircon or the heater.  Merely opening the window provided enough ‘natural air-conditioning’. 
(to be continued)
at Papolo.  went down from Papolo train station and walk southwards to breeze through this, the endless shop-ful of streets, the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain

At the Spanish Steps leading to the Cathedral.  There are millions of tourists in Rome and it was hard getting that picture-perfect moment without tourists in the frame..

view from the top of Spanish Steps just outside St Mary's Cathedral

the famous Trevi - featured in a few popular movies.


Aleah | said...

The church at the top of the Spanish Steps is St. Mary's Church in Cosmedin :) I stayed 4 days in Rome but it wasn't enough. There was so much to see. I went there early spring so there wasn't so many people. One tourist gave me her used ticket to go inside the Colosseum. It saved me 16 euros (IIRC). LOL Hope to go back there soon!

Garduch said...

True, even a full week would not be enough. Thanks for the Church's name info, will reflect that ;)

Anonymous said...

Wow!you're in Rome... Kainggit... I bet u already memorized the song "let it go" lol :D be safe! :)

Eka said...

Magaling ka pala magsulat! From now on iso-stalk ko na ito. Hehe