diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Rome gallery
There are 65 photos altogether [slideshow]
See also 25 photos from the Colosseum [slideshow]
See also 30 photos from the Forum [slideshow]

When in Rome...
December, it turns out, is a great month to go sightseeing in Rome. It might not have been, had the weather been poor, but over my long weekend the weather hit fifteen degrees daily and it never rained once. More to the point every day dawned with clear blue skies, hence the fact I've been bombarding you with over centoventi photos on Flickr. December also meant short queues, only low-level bustle and not too many tourists standing in the way of the best views.
As a total bonus, flying in from Heathrow I got to look down on Beachy Head, the Eiffel Tower and the snow-capped Alps. Meanwhile the lady in front of me had the shutter down and was reading a magazine.
The best way to get from Fiumicino airport to the centre of town is by train. If you don't mind skipping the non-stop Leonardo Express, the double decker train takes only about half an hour and a ticket costs just €8 (that's €40 cheaper than the taxi flat fare).
Rome lies on approximately the same line of latitude as Chicago.
The letters SPQR, which stand for Senātus Populusque Rōmānus, are still the municipal symbol of the city of Rome. If you see them on a drain cover, this dates the metalwork to the era of Benito Mussolini.
One striking visual aspect to the centre of Rome is how low the buildings are. Domes and monuments can be seen above the rooftops, sure, but not tower blocks or skyscrapers, nor even anything that looks particularly modern. Indeed hike up to the statue of Garibaldi on the Janiculum hill, with this unbombed city spread out before you, and there's barely a hint of 20th century on the skyline all the way to the Apennine mountains.

The Circus Maximus was the Formula 1 racetrack of its day, a long thin arena ideal for chariot racing with two long straights and two sharp bends. Public games, or ludi, were held on dozens of days a year, from the first races in the 6th century BC to the last hunts in the 6th century AD. Today the site is a public park, essentially a half mile grassy dip between two roads, easily overlooked as the world's first site of mass entertainment.
In the centre of Rome there's a sunken piazza, Largo di Torre Argentina, packed with ancient temples and cats. The ruins include Pompey's Theatre, outside which Julius Caesar is said to have been assassinated, which makes it all the weirder that the site of his death is crawling with homeless felines. They're part of a cat sanctuary run by volunteers, and allowed free run over the stones and slabs and remains, although many in the city think they're a health hazard and want them banned. Visitors are welcome, for a fee, or you can wander along the rails around the busy square and play spot the mangy cat.
Romans smoke more than we do in the UK, or rather they're still allowed to smoke in public places so it feels like they smoke more. Dining al fresco sometimes felt a bit 2005.
Crossing the road in Italy can be a chore, although the streets weren't as full with madcap honking drivers as I'd been expecting. Traffic isn't necessarily stopped when the green man appears, but vehicles turning into your path generally stop, even if it takes some confidence to strike out across busier roads in the face of streaming Fiats. A rather good idea is the existence of an amber man between the green and red, this an indication that traffic is about to start up again, rather than the guessing game we often face on UK roads.
Romans love scooters, that's the motor kind rather than those small metal things small children scoot around on. And in the centre of town there's a good reason, which is that a lot of the streets are very narrow and entirely unsuitable for anything fast or large. Many's the cobbled street lined by a row of scooters, just mind out of the way if you're on foot.
There are several different types of police in Italy, from the Polizia to the Carabinieri, each with their own distinctive brimmed hats. And armed police at that - it's all too easy to get used to seeing young uniformed men standing around in public places with very big guns.
Rome also has a lot of nuns, from several different orders. If I'd taken my I-Spy Book of Nuns with me, I could have scored hundreds of points.
I'll tell you what's in this winter, fashion-wise. Puffa jackets. Italians love them, this season at least, wandering around in ribbed coats in great numbers. Those and scarves, I suspect scarves are always big in Italy at this time of year, although they seriously didn't need them, it wasn't what we'd call cold.

The Italian President lives in the Quirinale Palace, one of the world's top ten largest palaces, a walled enclave on the tallest of Rome's seven hills. Turn up at the right time on a Sunday, which is 6pm in summer and 4pm the rest of the year, and you can watch the Changing of the Guard. Completely by chance, I hit lucky. As the designated time two senior members of palace staff in cloaks and hats come to the palace door to oversee proceedings, and a troop of soldiers march up the hill and line up in the courtyard hotly pursued by a military band. On this occasion it was the red team's turn to be replaced by the green, as all the red soldiers (with guns) trooped out of the palace for a ten minute ceremony before the green soldiers (with pikes) trooped in. When the Italian national anthem was played halfway through everyone joined in, and many hung round afterwards to listen to the band play on. I'd hope the president isn't relying on two pikemen outside his front door for security, however.
And the Metro? Nah, I didn't go on the Metro.

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