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Italy Trip Report

  • Submitted by: Gopal Venkat
  • Submission Date: 11th Feb 2005

July 25, 1997

After a Good Night's Sleep had my breakfast the American Way in Roma. (McDonalds - Pancakes, Hash Browns etc.) Took a direct bus (Route 64) from Termini to the Vatican. After taking a Couple of Pictures of St. Peters Square I spent some time observing the Square. Two Semi-Circular rows of Magnificent Roman Columns encompass St. Peters Square. The facade of the roof of these semi-circles contains reliefs of Popes / Kings (?) of ancient Rome. (Am not sure on this) The Basilica is beyond the Square. The Vatican being the Smallest Independent Nation has its Own Post Office (i.e.; Issues its Own Stamps) but Accepts Italian Currency for any Monetary Transactions. Mailed a Couple of Cards to friends / Colleagues and Proceeded to the Vatican Museum.

The Crowd waiting to get into the Museum was at least 1000 Strong and growing ! Since it was already 10 AM and the Museum Closes at 1 PM, I resolved to land there early the next day (they Open at 8:45 AM) and switched my Itineraries for tomorrow & Today.

Took a bus to the Colosseum. Yet another of those Magnificent Roman Structures. There is no Charge for entering the lower level of the Colosseum. To get to the Upper level of the Colosseum, there is a fee of 8000 Lira ($5). The View from there more than Compensates for the entry fee. Was a lot more Impressive than the Forum. After Spending an Hour there, I proceeded to the Baths of Caracalla. (About a 20-25 Minute Walk) These were Thermal baths during the ancient times and the Brick work has been preserved quite well. Concerts are held here Occasionally. The Original 3 Tenors Performance (if memory serves me right) was held here in 1990 during the Soccer World Cup. Due to the delicate nature of these structures, the Archaeological authorities give permission to very few concerts. [Rock Concerts - Needless to say - are Probably ruled out] There was a Performance of Carl Orff's 'Carmina Burana' scheduled for August 6. One of my favorites and I felt bad at not being able to attend the Performance in a Historical Setting. (I was leaving Italy on July 28) Hopefully, I'll get another Opportunity to attend a Performance at this site.

These Baths are Huge. Some of the Colors on the Bricks / Stones used in the Construction of these baths are still visible. Quite an Impressive Site. The Place has lots of trees and Bird Calls and Insect Chirps (in addition to Cool Shade provided by the trees) make this an Ideal place for quiet contemplation. Unfortunately, I did not avail of this Opportunity. Sometimes, I hate myself for sticking to my Schedules. Sometime in the future, I should take a long sabbatical from work and enjoy those quiet contemplative moments (wherever they may arise) during my Travels.

I proceeded to my Hotel for a breather. After resting for an hour, I started to the Pantheon. A word of advice for people who wear Prescription Glasses. Always Carry a Pair of Contacts Lenses. All the Walking that one does in Roma (Especially in July / August) turns your body into a fountain of Perspiration. The Glasses have to wiped away ever 5 Minutes. (Otherwise, they slip down the Bridge of your Nose onto your Upper Lip or, even worse, to the Ground !) This is only if you are going to spend a lot of the Morning / Afternoon hours on Outdoor Sightseeing. It doesn't matter if you are inside a Museum or travel in an air-conditioned Limo from place to place ! I changed into Contacts before I set out for the Pantheon.

The Pantheon doesn't look Impressive from the Outside but the Interior Architecture is Spectacular. The Height of the Building is the same as its Diameter. The Height of the Dome is equal to the Height of the Side Wall. At the Centre of the Dome is an Opening (10 Ft. Diameter Approx.) which is the Only Source of light for this Building. Except for some obscure recesses, the Interior of the Pantheon was bathed in Brilliant Sun light streaming through the Opening in the Dome. Naturally, when it rains the water enters directly into the Pantheon. They do have some drains on the floor. The Tombs of Victor Emmanuel II and Raphael (the Painter) are here. I was extremely Impressed by the Pantheon. Do Carry High Speed (400 ASA or More) film, if you Plan on taking Pictures inside the Pantheon. Excavations are still being done at the entrance to the Pantheon. The Huge Doors at the Entrance to the Pantheon are quite Imposing. For a Good Picture of the entire Front Facade of the Pantheon, take it from the Fountain in front of the Pantheon.

Proceeded to Fontana Trevi (Trevi Fountain). Like the Spanish Steps, the place is filled with People (Tourists and Natives) all through the Day & Well into the Night (as I would later observe). This is a Good 18th Century Architectural work. Took a bus to Villa Borghese for my Scheduled (5-7 PM) look at the Paintings in the Borghese Collection. NO PHOTOS ARE ALLOWED. I had to Deposit my Camera Bag at the Locker downstairs before I was admitted into the Gallery. Therefore, do not Carry heavy Camera equipment (like Mine) to the Galleria Borghese.

The First Floor of the Gallery contains Paintings & Sculptures, while the second floor contains Paintings Only. If you have 2 Hours to Spend in Roma and you would like to look at Art, Galleria Borghese is the Place. The Place was Magnificent. With most of the Ceiling Paintings, one could not make out where the Painting Ends and the Sculpture Begins. (I'm still a bit Unsure). For a Cost of $8 (Approx.) this is Pure Value for Money. If you can follow Italian, you can buy an accompanying guidebook for 18,000 Lira ($10 Approx.) They do not have an English Edition at Present. The Guide is a Must, since none of the Ushers / Security Staff know any of the Ceiling Artists by Name. (Or they perhaps did not know English, to explain it to me !) The Artists represented here Include Bernini & Caravaggio among others. The Gallery even contains some Hieroglyphs (Definitely some Copy Work) and some Sphinxes. A Beautiful flower Garden with Romanesque (What else) Statues on its Periphery is Just Outside the Museum. Photography is Permitted here.

Since I was Planning to do some Night Photography, I returned to the Hotel to pick up my Tripod. St. Peters was a Disappointment. The Place was Hardly lit. (Compared to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Lincoln Monument in Washington, or the Pyramids at Giza) The Castel Sant Angelo was well lit. Took a Couple of Pictures before proceeding to Fontana Trevi. In spite of the time I arrived at the Trevi Fountain (10 PM) the Crowd was no less Compared to the afternoon. The Fountain is Pretty well lit. Legend has it that if one sits on the Periphery of the fountain (with their backs to the fountain) and throws a Coin over their Shoulder into the fountain, they'll definitely return to Roma. Similar to the Egyptian Legend that says, the People who drink directly from the Nile would return to Egypt. I tried neither of those but I hope to be back in both the countries sometime in the future.

After taking a Couple of Pictures, I returned to the Hotel. Italy is relatively Crime Free. Despite the numerous warnings I had been given about Pick-pockets and other assorted folk who prey on tourists, I did not experience any problems. I took the bus or walked (even during the late evening Hours) to most places and never encountered any problems. Of course, it pays to have some common sense wherever you go.

July 26, 1997

Woke Up early and was at the Vatican at 8 AM. The Queue (with about 45 Minutes to go before Opening time) was still about 400 People long. Most of these folks are part of Package / Guided Tours. They should probably set aside Special Times / Days for these Photo-Op folks (Can't do much else on a Guided Tour) Once the doors Opened, the queue moved pretty quickly since the Tour Guides (for the Guided / Package Tours) buy tickets in bulk for their Flock.

After going through my Guide Book (Baedeker's Italy), I had a Shortlist of Galleries that were a Must see for me. The Not to be Missed Galleries (in my Opinion) are : Galleria de Candelabri, Stanzi di Rafaello, Loggias of Raphael, Apartmento Borgia, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Library. These can definitely be seen in half a Day (8:45 AM - 1 PM). All of these Galleries have Wall / Ceiling Paintings and Sculptures as well.

In most of the Galleries, especially the Sistine Chapel, the enjoyment is greatly enhanced if one has a bit of knowledge about Roman History. Though I did pass through the Egyptian Gallery, I am not endorsing it, Since I've been to Egypt and seen the Great works of art amidst the Splendour of the Nile Valley.

Flash and Tripod Photography are not Allowed. The Sistine Chapel Prohibits all types of Photography. When one of the Vatican Employees saw me with a Camera around my neck, he made it a point to Instruct me in great detail about NOT taking any Photographs. Needless to say, numerous Dimwits used the Flash on their Point-and-Shoot Cameras and feigned Ignorance (about the Usage of their Camera / Flash) when accosted by Vatican Employees. The Paintings / Frescoes, though appearing bright to the Human eye, would be underexposed on any P & S Cameras even while using a 400 ASA film. The Flash on these P & S cameras can hardly correct this Underexposure. The Best Option would be an SLR Camera with at least an 800 ASA roll of film.

An amendment to the Statement I made yesterday about the Galleria Borghese. I still stick by my contention that if 2 Hours is all you've Got, the Galleria Borghese is the Place to be. If you've got 5-6 Hours (especially in the Morning), then the Vatican Museums are the Place to go.

The Vatican Library is one of the excellent Places to Visit. Contains the Largest collection of Old Manuscripts amidst grandly decorated halls. Do not Miss the Gallery of Manuscripts, Approximately midway during the Vatican Library tour.

The Sistine Chapel is rather dark (Compared to the Other Galleries of the Vatican Museum) and Claustrophobes should probably skip it. Most of the tour groups come from strongly catholic countries (Or Places where religion was suppressed for a long time - Eastern Europe) and to them the Sistine Chapel represents the Holy Grail. Most of them do not Wish to leave the Chapel once they enter it thereby resulting in a very densely packed and stuffy chapel. [Reason for claustrophobes to Skip the Place]

Proceeded to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore which was quite close to my Hotel. A Colleague and my Guidebook recommended this place to me and my Visit was not in Vain. The Sacramental Altar (room) is beautiful. A much quieter and Sparsely Populated place in comparison to the Vatican ! After Spending an hour here, I returned to my Hotel.

Spent the rest of the afternoon and evening exploring the Shops in search of something Italian to take home as a Souvenir. After Scouring numerous Shops found a Tie (Made of Italian Silk) for 25000 Lira ($15). I initially wanted a tie by Versace. But Since his death (earlier in the year) the prices for his Labels have gone up. A Versace Tie was Costing around 110,000 Lira ($65). Not worth it (in my Opinion). Returned early to the Hotel to get some extra sleep, as I was leaving for the City of PISA Tomorrow.

July 27, 1997

Took an early Morning Train to Pisa. The Journey takes 3 Hours on a 'limited Stop' Inter-City Train. The Round-Trip Costs 82,000 Lira on a Second Class Coach ($50). I took the train leaving at 6:10 AM reaching PISA at 9:10 AM in order to see the observe the Sights well before the Shepherds & their flock arrive. (Tour Guides & their Tour Groups !) The Train Timetables can be obtained from Click on Train & Transport on the Main Page and then Click on Trains Timetable to obtain a Grid of Cities for which Train Timings are available. The Current Timings are Good Until May 1998 !

The First major Stop is the port city of Civitavecchia, 30-35 Minutes from Roma. The Train winds it way along the Coastline about 5-10 Minutes after leaving Civitavecchia. The Scenery is Pleasant and Soothing. (Especially for the harried Traveller !) The Train route comes Inland after a while until one reaches Livorno. After leaving Livorno, the train once again skirts the Sea of Tuscany. Livorno is 20-25 Minutes before Pisa. The Early morning train wasn't crowded and I had an empty compartment to myself.

The Train reached Pisa exactly at 9:10 AM. From the Station one can walk (25-30 Minutes) to the Piazza Duomo (Where the Leaning Tower is located) or take a Bus. The Bus fare was 4600 Lira ($3 Round-trip). The Bus (Route 1) is a Shuttle between Pisa Railway Station and the Duomo, with departures every 10 Minutes. After a 10 Minute ride, the Bus dropped us off just outside the Piazza.

The Baptistery, the Cathedral and the Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower) are adjacent to one another. Restoration work is being done on a large scale on the leaning tower, on one of the Cathedral Doorways and on a section of the rear wall of the Baptistery. While Visitors are allowed inside the Cathedral and the Baptistery, the Leaning Tower is Completely Off Limits. The Barricaded fence around the leaning tower keeps the Visitors at least 20 Metres from the tower. Huge Concrete Blocks have been placed on the leaning side of the tower in order to stop the tower from leaning any further and possibly toppling over. Though there has been some progress in halting further Inclination, numerous ideas are still being floated to fix the Problem. There are even some Blasphemers (!) who suggest Straightening the Tower Completely !

There is a pass that allows entry to the Cathedral, Baptistery, Campo Santo (the Cemetery) and 2 Museums. This Costs 17,000 Lira ($10) and, in my Opinion, is well worth it. On Sundays (like Today) Tourists are allowed into the Cathedral only after 1 PM, since Church Services do take place there.

I Started with the Baptistery. A Circular Building with a Dome. The Architecture is Primarily Gothic with some Islamic Influence. One can proceed to the Second and Third Levels of the Baptistery through a narrow Stairway. One of the Guards demonstrated the power of Echo (in the building) which enhanced the Prayer Songs, sung during Days Past. It was Pretty Good. The Baptistery has a Couple of Stained Glass Windows. From one of the Windows on the Second Level, one can get an excellent View of the Cathedral and the Leaning Tower behind it. Makes a Good Photograph.

I Proceeded next to the Campo Santo where people are buried. One of these is the Mathematician (12th Century) Leonardo Fibonacci who gave us the series called Fibonacci Numbers. They have restored a number of Wall Paintings from the 14th Century. The work done is excellent.

From the Campo Santo, I visited the Museum where the Original Sketches (for a number of the wall Paintings) are Preserved. These Sketches were also done on Walls. Once again the efforts taken to restore these (to Provide the Public with a History of the Period) has to be commended.

I proceeded to the Museum next to the Leaning Tower. This contains numerous Statues from the Various buildings, Precious Ornaments and numerous robes worn by the Priests. Quite well Preserved. One also gets a really close view of the Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower) from the Museum Gardens. The Museum also houses a Tourist Information Bureau.

After lunch at a Local restaurant, I visited the Cathedral. (It was after 1 PM) It is Huge. The main altar is breathtaking for the Paintings displayed there. The Upper level of the Cathedral is closed to the Public. The Art work on the Ceiling is Good. (Remember, over the past 2 Days, I had viewed Art Work at the Vatican and Villa Borghese !)

I also visited 'Domus Galilaeno' (House of Galileo). This contains a Museum (Currently Closed) and a Library. Galileo was a Native of Pisa. Fibonacci and Galileo - Not bad company for the residents of this City. Spent some time walking along the Arno river that runs through Pisa.

I was killing time as I wanted to take some good Pictures of the Piazza Duomo with the sun behind me. To get a Perfect Picture of all Three Buildings (Baptistery, Cathedral and the Torre Pendente) one must wait until after 4 PM. As the Sun Rises behind the Leaning Tower the Pictures taken during the Morning may not come out as well. Having said the above, I would also like to mention that the best Picture of all the three Buildings can be obtained just outside the Piazza Duomo. An Entry Archway beautifully frames these 3 Buildings. This is the Drop-Off / Pick-Up Point for the Route 1 Bus.

The return train to Roma was delayed by 2 Hours and I finally reached my Hotel close to Midnight. A few thoughts / Observations on my Visit here. Traffic is Chaotic everywhere, especially in Roma. This is directly attributable to the thousands of Scooters clogging the roads. Maybe People Choose Scooters to weave in and out of Gridlock ! People Jump Lines / Queues all the time. The People Servicing these Lines / Queues don't seem to care. People interrupt servicing you to chat with colleagues or on the Phone for Unreasonably long periods of time. This is especially Grating in Ticket lines (Buses / Trains) and even while answering your queries ! (With few exceptions, this habit is Prevalent all Over.)

For Travel in Roma, one can obtain a Day Pass for 6000 Lira ($5). This entitles the holder to travel on Buses as well as Trains. Quite Useful and economical if you are planning on covering a lot of places in a Single Day. A word about the Shared Facilities in my Hotel. They were Pretty Good and Very Clean.

Most Young Italians do know a bit of English. Americana is all Pervading. Most Big Stores here stock American Sports Teams Memorabilia (Caps / Jerseys etc.) rather than local Stuff. Maybe it just happened to me, but other than the Ubiquitous Chinese Makes, I could not get a decent Cap that reflected Italia in some way. [My attitude is that, any Souvenir I buy in a Country must be MADE in that Country. It is dumb to buy a Miniature Model / T-Shirt of the Leaning Tower or the Colosseum that has been made in China. At the very least it must be made in Italy] v

Overall, my trip has been hectic but good. To get Complete satisfaction, I may have to visit Italy for 3-6 Months. After all, most Origins of the Western World came from here. (Languages / Religion / Culture etc.) Sometime in future, perhaps, I will get an Opportunity to do just that. Ah well, I depart for Madras, India Tomorrow. Ciao Italia.


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