Friday, August 25, 2006

Rome Part I - Il Colosseo

Early in August, while the northern hemisphere's weather was still good, I decided to take a very short holiday to Rome, Italy. I had been to the Eternal City two years ago, after ISITA'04 and before my brief sojourn in Sweden. On that occasion, I had thrown a coin over my shoulder at the Fontana di Trevi and made a pact to return at some stage in the future. Sweden is a lot closer to Italy than Australia is, so I decided to seize the opportunity. Ronneby does not have an international airport (only Kallinge, which offers flights to and from Stockholm) and so I was flying from Copenhagen. This meant taking the bus and train west again. I remember getting to Kastrup and not knowing in which language to speak to the flight attendant at the gate - I was an Australian whose native language was English, but now living in Sweden, catching a plane in Denmark and flying on an Italian airline to Italy. It could have in fact been worse. Originally, I was looking at flying with Lufthansa and having to change planes in Germany before arriving in Italy.
I remember the magazine available to read on the flight down was about architecture. It was cool because it was the first bilingual magazine I had read - the articles were in both English and Italian. Eventually I arrived at Fiumicino (Little River in Italian) Airport. It is also known as Leonardo Da Vinci Airport. On a related note, I went past the town of Vinci in 2004 when I was at a conference in Viareggio. The thing about Fiumicino is that they don't seem to believe in airbridges (those things that go from the boarding gate to the front door of the plane). Instead, the plane stops nowhere near the terminal and then everyone has to cram onto this TINY bus (remember this is a whole planeload of people with hand luggage) and then be driven over to the terminal. Below is a (not very good) photo of one of the entrances of the airport.

My hotel was in the northern suburbs of Rome, and Fiumicino is off to the southwest. Most of the bus routes suggested on the internet seemed rather expensive, so I decided to find a different way. For €9.50 I took the Leonardo Express (a train) from Fiumicino to Roma Termini, the main railway station in Rome. Termini is the largest railway station in Europe. I think the word "Express" was a bit of wishful thinking. There were times when it just stopped in the middle of nowhere. Once I arrived at Termini, I had to catch the number 217 bus. Just finding which stop it left from was enough effort, but then I had to work out how to pay the fare. All I had were €20 notes. The fare I needed from the ticket machines cost €11 and they would only give €4 in change. I needed to change my money into smaller denominations. I realised I should buy a map and get change that way. I eventually found where they sold maps of Rome in the railway station. I then tried to buy a ticket from the machines. There were a few of them, and each one seemed to have a different problem with it so I could not buy a ticket. The guards seemed unapproachable, but I did overhear someone else with the same problem approach them and be directed to a little dodgy kiosk. I went there, got the necessary ticket and waited for the next bus, which never came. The one scheduled after that however did arrive, and eventually I arrived at Hotel Regent. This was 12 hours after I had left Ronneby. The hotel had nine floors, and of course my room was on the ninth floor. Also, the tiny lift only went up to the eighth floor, so I was forced to walk up and down stairs in any case.

A word about the television...

The TV did seem to have a lot of stations to choose from, more than in Australia. Some were in German. One was in French - I recall the program I watched on that station was some reality TV show, with this group of contestants competing as a team on an island. The island was inhabited, and had proper buildings on it - it was not like on Survivor. They had to rush around to different locations and perform different tasks. For example, one required someone to row out to a point off the coast and retrieve something, another basically had one person suspended on some kind of elastic cord inside a castle from a pulley and the rest of the team were outside on the ground trying to control the one person on the other end, who I think had to grab something on the ground. He didn't succeed. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable program, even though I couldn't understand what they were saying. Italian TV seemed to consist of mainly phone-in type programs. There were heaps of 'live' tarot readers, which mainly appeared to be angry ageing women. There was also an abundance of 'the Uplate Game Show' type programs. Now these programs are in Sweden too, where the task is usually to unjumble the letters in some Swedish word, which of course has about 20 letters and they can only just manage to fit it on the screen. Anyway, the shows of this type in Italy have decided to show off their computer graphics department. Instead of 'thinking music', they would have 'thinking vision', where a pre-recorded video of the female presenter would be superimposed behind the 'live' one. The video would usually be of her dancing around the studio rather quickly, and the camera would seem to zoom in super-close to random parts of her body, like some very bad 80's video clip. The problem was that they had recorded sound from the dancing around video, and it would interfere with the 'live' audio. It was funny stuff. In the end, I slept very soundly that night after travelling for so much that day.

The next morning, I set off for the Colosseum. I decided the best way to get there was via the Metro, the underground train. To catch it, I had to get back to Termini. I had never really taken an underground train before, so this was another thing I could cross off my list of things accomplished in life. The problem was, I didn't know which direction was which track. It was very confusing, and I almost got on the wrong train. In the end, I asked a guard-type person in my best Italian, and he told me I had to go back up the stairs and across to the other track. Talk about crowded! I only just managed to escape out the doors before they shut, due to being entangled in so many people.

Well, onto the Colosseum. I had read in a tourist guide that you could also buy tickets at the Palatine Hill, which would save waiting in the long queues. However, I didn't exactly know where the ticket office for the hill was, even though I had a map with me - it was rather sketchy. So I decided to try my luck in the Colosseum queue. A very small part of that queue is shown in the following photo. I managed to join an English-speaking tour group. I think I got ripped off on the price, but at least we could basically go straight in. Our guide was fairly elderly and walked around on half-crutches. After a lecture outside, we went in the 'groups' entry.

Here is a view of the Colosseum from the inside.
This is a view of the tunnels which were below the floor of the arena. Interesting fact - the contemporary English word 'arena' is derived from the Latin word for sand, because this is what was on the floor of the stadium.
This is a view of the large cross inside the Colosseum. I can't remember exactly how it came to be there. Some websites say it is just to remember the Christians that died there, but I thought the story was more complex than that....anyway if anyone knows, leave a comment.
Here is a carving of a message in stone, located in one of the corridors. Apparently there was a spelling mistake in one of the words.
Below is a view of the tunnel system from higher up. You can see where they have recreated part of the stage a few years ago in an attempt to show what it was really like thousands of years ago. At centre left is the Libitinensis Gate i.e. the Death Gate where the bodies were taken, before being dragged below the arena. People would apparently pay a lot of money to drink the blood of dead gladiators - they thought drinking blood would cure illnesses, especially the blood of virile young gladiators.
Here is a view of the Colosseum from the other direction, towards the Gate of Life. As you can see it seemed like a wonderful Summer day.
And finally here's one of me, to show you I really was there.

To be continued...