Dum Capitolium scandet

I climbed the Capitoline Hill three times yesterday.

It was sunny, as I said before, and so I wanted to try the Forum again without a camera or an umbrella, to get to know the space better. Or something. I had a nice time. Then I thought I’d climb the Capitoline to see what the museum was like.

It’s beautiful. There are two buildings on either side of a courtyard surrounded by statues; in the middle is an impressive bronze of Marcus Aurelius on a horse. But I didn’t have enough cash on me, and I was hungry by then, so I walked back to the hotel for lunch.

The second time I climbed the Capitoline was to visit the museum. It was extraordinary. I spent a happy time in the basement reading dozens of Latin funerary inscriptions, feeling close to real dead Romans and marvelling at all the spelling mistakes. As for the rest of the museum, I can’t even describe it. Nearly every photograph in every Latin textbook we use at school was taken there. The dying Gaul. Eros and Psyche. That bust of Cicero. Frescoes of great scenes from the historian Livy. The contents of Maecenas’s gardens. Bits of a massive statue of Constantine. That bronze she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus. And a hilarious collection of religious paintings.

I left the museum and went down the stairs to return to my hotel room. There was a huge political rally in the way. There’s an election here next week — every available surface is covered with “Vote Saxon” posters — and so a bunch of wacky left-wingers with flags and balloon were getting in early, I think.

By the time I walked back to the hotel, I was looking forward to a pee, frankly, and thinking about getting my bag and then going back out for dinner. And then I thought about how rarely I leave my hotel without taking my bag. And then I thought about how I hadn’t left my hotel without taking my bag.

The third time I climbed the Capitoline, I was running, frantic, desperate to get my bag back from the museum cloakroom. My bag contained a pad, a jumper, a spare camera battery, a copy of Europe on Less Than Thirty Altairian Dollars a Day and a second-hand copy of Gulliver’s Travels I bought in Nîmes. But I couldn’t do without it. I had caught the metro to the Colosseum and run along the Via dei Fori Imperiali. I knew that the museum wouldn’t close for a few hours; I didn’t know whether they would charge me another 8 euros to get back into the museum.

The Capitoline is steep and tiring, but the security guards let me straight back in. My bag was fine. The happy ending: I had a lovely and hilarious two-course dinner near my hotel reading about Gulliver’s escape from Lilliput. The bowdlerised version I read as a child never had this much pissing in it.

This evening: Sorrento.

The Forum, the Basilica and the River

Until I reached Rome, I had been very lucky with the weather. Every day had been sunny, except for one day in London, and one slightly rainy morning in Paris. London was cold, but otherwise it had been very mild — mild enough to wear a T-shirt and jacket, like I would in a Sydney winter.

But the last two days in Rome have been cold, overcast and rainy. Yesterday I went to the Roman forum, for example, and was driven back to the hotel after an hour by the rain. My umbrella had disintegrated overnight, and I was trying to hold it together and operate the camera and not fall in the mud all at the same time. I think some of the photos are at crazy angles as a result.

Anyway, at the hotel I got the waterproof hooded jacket Calvin leant me, and I was good to go. I caught the metro to the Spanish Steps, and had a long afternoon walk. The Spanish Steps, the Piazza del Popolo, the River, the Museum of the Ara Pacis Augustae and the Mausoleum of Augustus, more river, St Peter’s Basilica, that island in the middle of the Tiber and then the Pyramid of Sestius. This last one took me hesitantly off the map, but I had a vague memory of a Piramide Metro Station, which proved to be correct.

The visit to St Peter’s was a spur of the moment thing. I had just intended to walk the length of the river, but I saw the dome in the distance and decided on a visit. It is impressive, isn’t it? I didn’t visit the museum, but I went into an adjacent treasury thing full of chasubles and giant candlesticks and reliquaries (including one containing the skull of St Luke the Evangelist!). And I visited the tombs downstairs, just to make sure John Paul II was still resting comfortably. See how thoughtful I am!

There are lots of photos again: I spent an hour and a quarter uploading and labelling them when I got back that evening. Then more red wine, more pizza by the hectogram and then an early night. I was hobbling by then.

Today it’s beautifully sunny. I’m planning to swing by the Forum again, and then perhaps a park. Or the Vatican Museum. Or the Capitoline Museum. I’ll decide later. It’s my last full day in Rome: I’m catching the train to Sorrento tomorrow.

Monument after monument

It rained on and off all day yesterday. In the morning it looked like it would clear up, so I left my umbrella in my hotel room and walked down to the Colosseum. As I approached, a couple of people asked me if I wanted to join a tour group: one inventive young man even suggested that I wouldn’t be allowed in if I didn’t. The queue to get in was long, and by now it had begun to rain hard enough to be annoying, so I took the Metro back to my hotel, grabbed my umbrella, and took the Metro back again. I needn’t have bothered: there had been people selling umbrellas on every street corner, and by the time I got back to the Colosseum, the rain had eased off.

Unlike the Arena in Nîmes, the Colosseum is only a skeleton, but at twice the height, it’s still amazing. I spent an hour there wandering round taking photos, and wincing at the accents of the American tourists. The ticket to the Colosseum entitles you to a visit to the Palatine hill, just across the road, so I decided to go there next.

Last time I was in Rome, I visited the Forum, but this was my first time on the Palatine. I could have done with a map or a guide, really. The hilltop is covered with low walls and gardens and things, and I recognised very little: an enclosed garden, the stadium of Domitian. A few things were labelled, but half-heartedly. The rain started up again, and so I took refuge in the Palatine Museum, which is mostly full of fragments of statues found on top of the hill.

By now it was afternoon. I had had lunch. (Pizza sold by the hectogram. Fantastic.) I decided that I had had enough of ruins and monuments for a bit, and that I wanted to see the river. So I walked down the hill, past the forum and the Arch of Constantine and then past the Circus Maximus, which is now a park. But the ruins and monuments kept on coming.

First, the Bocca della Verità. You know, like in Roman Holiday. Tourists were lining up to take wacky photos of each other with their hands inside the mouth. It didn’t bite any of them. Across the road was that round temple of Vesta I had been wanting to see. And next to that was another temple, completely covered in scaffolding.

I wandered over to the river and took a couple of photos of the Fabrician Bridge. And then I spotted the Portico of Octavia. (What is that? I must look it up.) And then, wandering uphill towards the hotel, I saw a whole block full of ruined temples: the Area Sacra.

And that was when my camera got full. One gigabyte of photos in just under a month. So I abandoned my sightseeing and headed back to the hotel. It took an hour to upload and label the day’s photos; by the time I finished, it was time for a drink and then dinner. It was warm enough to dine outdoors: I treated myself to a two-course menu turistico thing, which came with accordion accompaniment. Then a brief swing past the internet centre to catch up with the iPhone news and then to bed.

Forums today, I think. I’ve emptied the camera, and I’m ready to go.

The Visitation

In case anyone thought I was being an insufferable Mac snob when I said that I was reluctant to use the Windows machines at the internet centres in Rome: my thumb drive thing came back from the internet centre this morning with no less than three separate viruses on it. Let that be a warning to you all!

A cold day in Rome

Keen-eyed readers will have noticed that despite my last post, photos from Rome have started to appear on this blog. How is this possible? Well, some nice young men in a mobile phone store told me that there is almost no wi-fi in Italy, so I swallowed hard and visited an internet centre instead. Fortunately, the one nearest the hotel uses Firefox, which is a bit more secure than the Internet Explorer installations I saw elsewhere. But enough of that.

Yesterday afternoon I went for my first long walk, to make sure I could get to the Forum and Colosseum without getting lost. Of course, they’re not very far from my hotel near the station, but I still had no difficulty finding them. I took some photos, but since it was getting late, I decided not to pay to go inside. There’ll be plenty of time for that later. The area was very familiar from last time, although I don’t remember seeing Trajan’s column or the Circus Maximus before. God, what did I actually do the last time I was here?

Beer and gelato for dinner, then an early night to recover from the previous night’s train journey.

Today it was raining when I woke up, and quite cold, the coldest since London. But I had things to do. In the morning, I visited the Pantheon. Apart from the front, from the outside it is astonishingly hideous. Blunt and brutal. The inside is glorious, of course, although I was appalled by the nerve of the Christian upstarts who put up signs about saints and silence and reverence as if they owned the place.

After that, I stopped by the Trevi fountain just long enough not to have my pockets picked. Then, after an ample lunch, I spent the afternoon in the Museo Nazionale Romano. It’s all ancient Roman stuff, statues and frescoes and mosaics, as well as a display of frescoes from Pompeii which are usually housed in the museum in Naples. I’ve been trying to write about them for about fifteen minutes now, but I can only come up with crap sentences stuffed with adjectives. They were great.

Off to dinner now, followed by some gelato, and then a quick trip to the internet centre to upload this post and my day’s photographs. Tomorrow, the Baths of Diocletian, I think, followed by the Forum and the Colosseum.

Life on Mars

The trip to Rome was not too bad after all. The Norwegian family were nice, and their four-year-old daughter was cute and well behaved. And it turned out that not only was there a dining car in the next carriage, but it was possible for all of us to sleep lying down at the same time. I think I slept well, but I’m pretty tired now, and when I had a lie down in my hotel room earlier on, it felt like I was rocking from side to side. When I asked the Norwegian woman how she had slept, she was evasive and distant, so I suspect that for much of the night I was snoring or farting or both.

We arrived in Rome at about 11, one hour late. I found my hotel easily enough: it’s just near the station. But it is odd. Reception is on the first floor, and the rooms are behind a door on the fifth floor. On the other floors, there are other hotels and pensiones. And they serve breakfast at a café round the corner.

After dumping my stuff, I went on my customary hunt for a cafe or bar with wi-fi. No luck at all. There are internet centres on every corner, full of scary Windows machines infested with toolbars and spyware and shitware. Nothing I’d be prepared to type a password into, and nothing that it’s possible to upload photos from. Some internet centres offer to burn your photos onto a CD, which would be great if it was 1996, but doesn’t help me get my photos safely off my person and onto this blog.

So I uploaded yesterday’s blog entry standing on a street corner using stolen wi-fi. I may have to do the same with this entry. And it’s just possible that there won’t be any new photos here until I return to the present day. See you then.

Lost in Paris II

My trip back to Paris took three hours and was very easy. Three hours of sleeping lightly, listening to Doctor Who audios and looking out the window at picturesque French villages. I was looking forward to sitting elegantly in one of the cafés at the Gare de Lyon, drinking wine and using the free wi-fi that so excited me last time.

We were pulling into the station when I took another look at my Paris–Rome ticket, and it occurred to me that Paris Gare de Lyon and Paris Bercy might be completely different stations. A quick look at the departure board at Gare de Lyon confirmed it: there was no train leaving from there for Rome.

Frantically consulting Google Maps, I discovered that the Gare Bercy was only a mile away, and that it could be reached by following the Rue de Bercy. Even I managed that without getting lost. The station itself was horrid: no cafe, no wi-fi and nowhere to sit. Thank God there was alcohol available.

And so now I’m on the train. A second class couchette was the only thing I could get, which means I’m currently sharing a tiny room with a nice Norwegian family of three and a reticent young Japanese woman. I don’t think there’s enough room for us all to sleep at the same time.  I’m hoping the conductor guy is going to bring our passports back tomorrow morning. And I’m beginning to suspect there will be no food served on this trip.

I’ll upload this post when I arrive in Rome. And I’ll let you know then what kind of state I’m in.

Conversations with Mormons

Yesterday I spent a few hours checking out Roman ruins, and at about three in the afternoon I was wandering the streets when I saw a pair of well-dressed young men ringing a doorbell.

Now, I’ve been in France for just over a week. And everyone here speaks French, apparently.  I’ve had to book hotels in French, and order meals, and buy train tickets. I’ve even explained the merits of the Eee PC to a few curious passersby. But my French is not what it was. I can tell people that the monkey is on the branch without making any mistakes, but otherwise I find myself horribly self-conscious about genders and irregular verb tenses and things. I came top in French in 1A, for God’s sake, I shouldn’t be uncertain about the future tense of faire.

So I was so excited by the prospect of a conversation in English that I went straight up to the young men. The more confident one told me he was from Idaho (bless him!); he had learned French at school and had done some intensive language training before coming to France as a missionary. I told him about my plans, and he was lovely and enthusiastic, as Mormons are. He briefly attempted to hook me up with missionaries in Sydney, but didn’t push it when I told him I wasn’t very religious. I said goodbye and walked away much happier.

The ruins had been great, of course. I went a bit mad with the camera. There was the Maison Carrée, where they show you a cheesy 3D film about the heroes of Nîmes. And then the beautiful Jardins de la Fontaine, where there was once a temple of Augustus and where you can still see the ruins of a temple of Diana. And at the top of the hill is the Tour Magne, a deceptively squat-looking tower from where you can see a panoramic view of the whole town. If you can cope with the scary spiral staircase leading to the top. I even visited the Castellum, which is the cistern at the end of the aqueduct, which used to distribute water all over the colony.

Catching the train to Paris this afternoon, and from there to Rome. I arrive on the morning of the fourth. I’ll catch up with you all then.

Colonia Augustus Nemausus

I arrived in Nîmes yesterday lunchtime.

The hotel was easy to find, but hideously grim and unimpressive. To name and shame: it’s the Hotel de Provence, Nîmes. When I checked in, the concierge apologised about the room, and I said no, I’m sure it will be perfectly alright, but I was horribly wrong. The walls are grimy and the shower overflows. There’s a smell in the corridors, and there’s a continuous grinding sound somewhere on the second floor. There’s only one power point. I got home this evening to find that no one had done the room. Avoid.

The hotel put me in a bad mood, so I went off to look at the town. At first, I was unimpressed. It was like a grim country town in New South Wales: wide streets and shitty Chinese restaurants. Like, say, Guyra, only not as nice. But then I turned a corner, and at the end of the street I saw the Maison Carrée.

And from then on, I started to cheer up. After the Maison Carrée, you turn another corner and there are clothes shops and nice bookshops and trendy cafes with alfresco seating, and a few hundred metres further there’s a giant Roman amphitheatre.

I visited the amphitheatre in the afternoon and took dozens of pictures. They’re all up now. It’s the best-preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world: in fact, it still seats 15 000 for the annual bullfights. I hung around there until it closed and then went off to find somewhere to drink. Most places were full of soldiers, as has already been noted. I wonder why.

This morning, I spent an hour booking my ticket to Rome (overnight, via Paris again), and another hour trying to find a bus to take me to the Pont du Gard, which is a stretch of Roman aqueduct about 20 km from Nîmes. It’s beautiful. It spans a valley covered in what I want to call bushland; three levels of beautifully preserved arches, built in the first century to supply Nîmes with water. The pictures don’t do it justice, of course, but I’ll try and upload more of them tomorrow.