The eternal city - centre of the Catholic church - former capital of the Western World. What better place to spend the Easter break? I thought I'd make like a tourist and see the sights of this 2700 year old city.
After checking in I started my sightseeing with one of the first places a tourist visits - the Spanish Steps. 136 beautiful marble steps leading up to the church Trinita dei Monti. The steps were covered with people. At the bottom of the steps lies a small fountain with a boat-shaped sculpture in it, Fontana della Barcaccia, and past that Rome's poshest shopping street, Via Condotti. The street was decked out with flags, some of which looked like the new South African flag - I never found out why.
I then saw the Fountain of Trevi, which is incredible. A very large stone sculpture in quite a small place, with water pouring over the fantasy of stone. I wonder how much the water must erode the stone away - even if it is very hard, they must have to replace parts of the fountain one day; water has been flowing over the stone since 1762! Legend has it tossing one coin into the fountain means you will return to Rome; two means you will get married soon; and three calls for a quick divorce!
Near where the bus tours start is the Fountain of Moses, with some gorgeous statues overlooking their rather small fountains. The many fountains which dot the city must be a blessing in summer, as they nicely cool the air around them.
In the evening I saw the Piazza Navaro. This is one of the main plazas in the city to be seen in - a pedestrianised former circus, with three sculpture-filled fountains.
Near the ancient centre of the city is the Piazza Venezia, with a huge monument to Italy's first King, Victor Emannuel, finished in 1911. His nine foot moustache gives you some idea of the scale of the thing, and it was lit advantageously at night by several mobile lighting vans. The gates were locked and soldiers were guarding the eternal flame that is Italy's memorial to the unknown soldier.
Another huge square with an obelisk in it is the Piazza del Popolo, near Rome's main park the Villa Borghese. Unlike the Place de la Concorde in Paris, or Trafalgar Square in London, traffic is not allowed there, so it is easy to walk around it.
Just walking around the side-streets you will come across bas-reliefed columns, sculptured fountains at the corners of buildings and beautiful pastel coloured frescos. No sign, no guard rails to stop people from touching them, just random art strewn around the city centre. Even the Metro's demonstration of why Graffiti is an Italian word doesn't seem too jar too badly.
On the way to the metro I passed Piazza del Republica, which has a nice fountain in the middle of the roundabout. There were dozens of screaming girls there, protesting the break-up of Take That. Male fans were not much in evidence :-( Now if only games programmers could provoke that sort of devotion ;-)
On Saturday I was wandering through the metro when I saw a bunch of cuties. Where could they be going I wondered? The red and gold scarves were a bit of a giveaway - Roma supporters! So to get a taste of how football should really be played I followed them all the way to the stadium (I had no idea which bus went there, as they are only labelled with numbers, not destinations!) and got a ticket. I was not disappointed - beautiful sunshine and an interesting game - 5 overhead kicks in a single match.
The stadium itself, built for the Olympics, was impressive enough with the vast plaza leading up to it, and dozens of huge statues of athletes on the neighbouring track.
Love of the game is clearly not just confined to professional footballers, and I saw kids playing a game in one of the main squares, Piazza Navoro.
The Pantheon is one of the best preserved ancient Roman buildings. The bronze doors are the originals, and nearly two millenia old. Unfortunately, I got there too late to have a look at the inside.
Obelisks dot the city centre, usually in the middle of an impressive monument. The Romans obviously were not trying to hide the fact that their ancestors had conquered Egypt. A white pyramid near the southern gates dates from the time of Christ, but the obelisks that form the centre of so many Piazzas were brought over much more recently.
The Colloseum is one of the most famous symbols of Rome, and looks huge even in its modern, cut-down state. I must get that piccie of it developed soon. There was an archeological dig next to it - they are still finding stuff down there!
The Caraccella baths near the main railway station are vast. The amount of brickwork involved is staggering, and goes to show that estimates of 1,000,000 people living in ancient Rome could be right. They certainly knew how to build public buildings. The middle ages with its pitiful infrastructure and tiny urban population certainly seems a shame when you see how powerful the old empire was.
The Roman Forum makes for some pretty ancient ruins.
On Good Friday, the Pope went through the Stations of the Cross with a few thousand people late at night outside the Colloseum. There were many priests, nuns and lay people from all over the world. You could follow the progress of the Pope by the way everyone was facing, even if you couldn't see him yourself.
On Easter Sunday a few people gathered in Piazza San Petro to hear the Pope's Easter address. It was a hot day, and the white stone reflected the sun brightly on the crowd. After he had gone back inside the crowd started shouting "Viva Il Papa - VIVA!" (Long live the Pope), until he appeared at the window of his apartments. Some boys were brave enough to form a three-storey high human pyramid to lead some of the cheers.
All in all, I had a great time in Rome. I may not have seen everything (partly due to waking up too late!) but I enjoyed the nice weather and seeing the sights.
I did not see any of the famous gangs of children or gipsies, and did not get pickpocketed at all. I saw less beggars than in London (although they were a different type - ancient women and barefoot children rather than disenchanted teenagers).
Unfortunately I did not have time to visit the Vatican museum, the Sistine Chapel or the catacombs of Rome. I'll have to do that another day. So I don't regret throwing a coin into the Trevi fountain!