Friday, 11 March 2016

Pictures of Rome

A visit to Rome by motorhome needs a bit of pre-planning, especially out of season when many places to stay are closed. We opted to use Village Flaminio which is to the north of the city, and on paper at least looks easily accessible from the GRA orbital, a couple of kilometres down the Via Flaminia. The experience of driving on the Rome orbital motorway was not completely terrifying, but it did require a certain steely determination and total concentration. The photo above makes it look innocuous enough, but it's a still image and you have to imagine every vehicle hurtling along inches from each other. Along with football and hairstyles, tailgating is a major national obsession, and there is nowhere better to showcase your mastery of the art than here. 

Village Flaminio proved an excellent choice, it is easy to find and has good train and bus links into the city centre. Perhaps it is the best appointed site we have stayed on with the motorhome, excepting the one beside Zügspitz which happened to share facilities with a health spa. A visit to the sanitary block here was positively pleasurable with excellent showers each with a small changing area. The management had even attempted to make ablutions an uplifting experience by piping Italy's equivalent to Classic FM into the place. Over the course of our three day stay I showered to Chopin mazurkas, Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin and what sounded like a Vivaldi harpsichord concerto, emerging each time both cleaner and culturally enhanced - amazing! Then there is the bank of brand new Miele washing machines. After being beach bums in Arcady and gypsies in Calabria all this luxury felt almost overwhelming.

The reviews of the site all mentioned how central Rome was less than a 15 minute ride by train, that reception sold tickets and the station was a few minutes distant. All true, once you located the station hidden beyond the nearby Carrefour Market. Reaching the station requires walking on two foot wide pavements next to Via Flaminia. Apart from the 'areas pedonale' in the centre, most of Rome is highly dangerous for pedestrians. The car is king. In the end we found the station, the train arrived on time and we headed off for a day in Rome. After some discussion about visiting the Vatican or Capitoline Museum we decided on a much less cultured plan - a walk to Trastevere and pizza for lunch!

The train deposits you a few yards from Piazza del Popolo. It was instant Rome, complete with a parked Ferrari. If you've got it, flaunt it' is a kind of national maxim. We headed down Via Ripsetta. A group of teenagers approached us. They all were wearing identical purple tabards Suddenly one of them burst into song, the others picked up the melody then spilt into four part harmony and walked passed us, it was like being engulfed in a river of song. In a moment they had passed and the music slowly faded. "Sometimes" Gill observed, "it really feels like you are in a film."

We arrived at the Pantheon and stood for a while trying to figure out which bits were Roman and which were later additions. There is an odd connection between the building and our home town of Buxton. For over 1700 years the Pantheon possessed the biggest unsupported dome in the world, until the Duke of Devonshire decided to put a domed roof on his stable block in Buxton. So for a while that replaced the Pantheon as the worlds biggest dome. Now there's a useless fact!

We continued on through the square containing the remains of Porta Argentina.  Soon we we reached the Tiber, crossing it just above Isola Tiberina. We had reached Trastevere, an area of the city which previously we had not visited.

The district has the reputation of being a little more intimate than most of central Rome retaining a neighbourhood ambience. This is hardly the case in the streets in the vicinity of Ste. Maria in Trastevere which are packed with stalls selling the worst kind of tourist tat imaginable.

Even here, however, there were side-streets and little squares with ochre painted houses which glowed orange in the afternoon light.

A little to the south, the streets on each side of Via di Trastevere have small food shops selling all kinds of goodies. It was near here that we settled on a place to eat. It was inexpensive but good, our kind of place! 

Now it was time to head back. Though we had only walked about three kilometres the cobbled streets had played havoc with our feet. Given Gill's recent knee injury I was concerned that she did not overdo it. We took a slow walk back stopping at some stalls to the south of Isola Tiberia for a spot of present buying.

At a crossing near Piazza Venezia a street performer dressed as an elfish looking clown had taken possession of the traffic lights, pretending to control the traffic. If anyone tried to jay-walk he would give chase. All good humoured banter.

For some reason we decided to find the Italian parliament building and in the process became slightly lost, ending up on Via del Corso next to what I imagine must be the Column of Marcus Aurelius. By now we were feeling very foot-sore, and it had started to drizzle. We spotted an old shopping arcade opposite with an Illy coffee shop in the centre. We knew we were going to pay a capital city price, but we were past caring.

Across from our table was an opticians with a window packed with designer frames. Round heavy plastic is the look of the moment, and short beards. When I shaved off my beard twenty years ago I was wearing big plastic glasses. I thought I looked silly, but maybe I was simply the world's first latter day hipster. I mean, none of today's bearded wonders are proper hipsters, only Dean Moriarty et al.

Slowly we wended our way back towards the station. It was moment student. An orderly queue had formed outside a make-up shop offering free make-overs. We speculated in a culture where getting wasted was not a major concern of the young maybe they spent their cash on make-up, sculpted hairdos and wearable technology. We came across a forlorn looking dog tied up outside a Pasticceria. Momentarily I adopted it as a soul-mate and took its photograph. Rome - it's exhausting. I feel old.


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