Guns and Frocks

Loving Delta and the Bannermen since 1987

A kind of homecoming

Sunday, 9 March 2008

My hotel in Rome was right next to Roma Termini, Rome’s biggest railway station. It’s not the most salubrious part of Rome. I wasn’t actually offered drugs, but a tall black man with dark brown teeth tried to sell me a watch once, and later shouted at me and pushed my shoulder when I carelessly trod on his friend’s stock of pirate CDs, which he had laid out on a blanket on the sidewalk. And fair enough too.

The hotel itself wasn’t the most salubrious hotel of the area. Groups of people used to huddle on the front step, to discuss how the drug sales were going, I imagine. And my room wasn’t that great, with its tiled floor and freezing draught and unreliable hot water. I  had to yell at the bent and wizened old man at reception to get him to start the pilot light so that I could have hot water for a shave. I felt mildly guilty for several minutes afterwards.

So imagine my surprise when I arrived in Sorrento this afternoon, and found out that the hotel I had booked looked like this:

A nineties-style hotel lobby, with a bar and lots of table settings in front of it. The floor is tiled and the light is very yellow.

This is the lounge of the Ulisse Deluxe Hotel. It’s cheaper than my hotel in Rome, but it’s the only hotel I’ve stayed in so far that wouldn’t give Calvin an instant aneurysm. There are sliding glass doors at the entrance and a toaster in the breakfast room. My bathroom even contains a bidet, for God’s sake.

Sorrento itself is lovely and clean and safe. I’ve had a very relaxing evening here. Thank God I didn’t decide to stay in Naples. Tomorrow: Pompeii.

Dum Capitolium scandet

Saturday, 8 March 2008

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.

An old ramp with whited concrete railings leads up to an ornate museum building with a clock tower. In front of it, on the left, is a statue of a man mounted on horseback.

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

Friday, 7 March 2008

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.

The Visitation

Thursday, 6 March 2008

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!

Monument after monument

Thursday, 6 March 2008

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.