Electruck Avenue

Italy does not work. The most recent episode of rank dysfunction was the simple matter of a power cut which blacked out my block on Friday. A full day of flickering lights in a semi-basement apartment where luce is a luxury made daily life like a night in jail. ACEA parked a white van right outside the entrance and dug a ditch tailor made for anziani. A British tourist died in one of Rome’s metro stations some years ago after falling into escalator machinery because workers didn’t make sure that (1) their work was cordoned off with warning signs, and (2) that the escalator was switched off. Little has changed. For the record, the two maintenance workers who failed to replace escalator parts were sentenced to more or less two years in prison but neither of them served any time, and directors of their employer, OCS, were also let off as first time offenders.

The overnight supply truck worked wonders. We could see, eat, wash ourselves and check Facebook, that is until the following day when the episode went into past forward. A handful of numpties in blue jumpsuits started hammering away in the magazzino next door and bulbs started to fizzle then pop. Just add TIM call centre operatives cold calling twice daily, timed to within seconds of my leaving home to work on some new fangled Vatican tours project, and it’s easy to feel somewhat cornered by lackies.

Beautiful country, but getting things done is a constant battle.

Rick Steves Italy

Money no object? Of course Mr. Steves. At just $75 for calling one of his operatives who’ll help you organize your Roman holiday, why shop around? Oh, and if you run over time, say 15 minutes over time, he’ll bill you an extra $25. His business marketing team have really come up trumps with this one, which comes gift wrapped as a ‘Consulting Appointment – Plan Your Trip with our Expert Consultants!’ Whatever became of honest, old fashioned customer service?

So, before you book your Rome and Vatican tours, don’t forget to pay for advice before you leave home! (We prefer to help visitors by writing interesting and relevant blogs).

Here’s the link: http://www.ricksteves.com/about/consulting.htm or just read this: ‘To schedule a consultation, call our Travel Center at 425/771-8303 ext. 298. We’d love to do a little travel dreaming with you!’.

When in Rome…

The Round Room, Vatican Museums

The renowned Round Room (Sala Rotonda) is a masterpiece of neo-classical architecture, built during the papacy of Pius VI by Michelangelo Simonetti in the late 18th century. Simonetti designed some of the most elegant rooms in the Vatican Museums, using light and space to capture and then magnify the presence of rare antiquities. The Greek Cross Room, Room of the Muses, Octagonal Court and Round Room are his creations.

The dome is styled on that of the Pantheon, by the shaped design of it’s interior and central oculus, which together span 21.60 metres. The room is dominated by a monolithic porphyry basin, the circumference of which measures thirteen metres, width five metres. Believed to have been used in Nero’s Domus Aurea (Golden House), it was brought to the Vatican Museums in the late 18th century. It’s placement in the Round Room resonates throughout the entire Vatican complex. Hewn from porphyry, a dark, reddish-purple stone, the type in use here is known, perhaps appropriately, as imperial porphyry. It’s shade matches that of purple dye extracted from shellfish, which was applied to the tunics and togas of the Senatorial class to form the legendary purple band. Imperial porphyry in Italy was imported from a single mine in Egypt, Mons Porphyrites, and used in floor tiles, columns, and to embellish ceramics.

The floor of the Round Room is adorned with intricate mosaics from Otricoli Baths (Umbria) which date back to the 3rd century. Each mosaic depicts scenes of battle between Greeks and centaurs, mythological sea beasts, tritons and nereids, which together evoke a ‘water theme’. Each tile was lifted and transferred to the Vatican individually. The room per se is enclosed by ancient sculptures, all of which tower above awe-struck onlookers. The effect is quite remarkable. Among the precious busts and colossal statues of old, one can admire Jupiter’s Bust of Otricoli, a 2nd century Hercules in gilded bronze (unearthed in 1864 in the area of the Theatre of Pompey), Julia, Barberini’s Juno, Plotina (wife of Trajan), Demeter (Ceres), Claudio, Faustina, and several others. Perhaps most precious of all is the statue portraying Antinous, Hadrian’s young lover, depicted as Dionysus. Researching ‘Antinoo’, I found this website which is worth a couple of minutes of anyone’s time. Maybe less.

The Round Room is explained in detail by our expert Vatican tour guides on all our Vatican tours be they private or small group.


From Piazza Risorgimento to St Peters Square…

Another full day of videography on Saturday and St Peter’s Square, as ever, was an experience. Making one’s way there from the office, via Ottaviano station and Piazza del Risorgimento is standard procedure – 12 minutes on foot. Upon arriving at Largo del Colonnato, I espied a gatherer wielding a Vatican tours promotional leaflet for ‘(Whoever) Tours’. Curious about the origins of the company name, I engaged him in conversation and was immediately surrounded by two English lads badgering us to pay them for their Vatican tour. A bronzed, bolshy Italian female joined in, demanding that we video their slovenly efforts. We have lived and worked in Rome for many years, so of course we know how street hawkers operate around the Vatican. It’s ugly, and situations can get out of control. The problem I had with this incident was that the harassers in question were English. Blunt Sunderland accent – OK. Dirty clothes, bleary eyed, unshaven, sweaty and rude – NOT OK.  The majority of tourists milling around the Vatican have travelled half way round the world to be able to do so, and it is required that they be accorded respect at all times. Lord only knows why anyone would agree to hand money over to these next stop vagrants. If the tour guide was Michelangelo himself, i’d still feel short changed.

We gave them short shrift in the end and set up the tripod at various points around St Peter’s Square. The Police didn’t seem to be too concerned this time as the area was rich in natural beauty, elements of which may or may not make the final cut. Wonderful footage of the river followed, we spent alot of time getting the best views of Ponte Sisto, Ponte Rotto and Ponte Cestio.

As so often happens in this city, day’s end brought some curious moments. The journey home by metro was chaotic, a young woman was upset by a 5 minute delay and she made her way through our carriage trying all the doors and then attempting to pull the emergency stop bar. Panic, anxiety, claustrophobia – who knows? The absolute lack of concern shown by everyone present was extremely disturbing, we shouted across the heads of 200 people but no one closer to the woman did anything to help her. 500 anti-vivisection supporters joined us for two stops and then we made our escape. Come to think of it, the early morning metro ride into the city centre was no less eventful, a group of people from Naples on a day trip to Rome made everyone laugh, but that’s another blog for another day.

Italy in Poland

When Toto Di Natale’s goal put Italy ahead last Sunday, screams of ‘daje’ from neighbouring apartments punctuated an otherwise peaceful Roman evening. Those of us who pay attention to the appalling state of Italian football could not hide our disappointment. Football here has fallen far. Players who pay friends who pay acquaintances who know others to bet, or worse, pay business associates on the other side of the world to close match fixing deals are alive and well, and in Stefano Mauri’s case, in jail. The Lazio captain may have been scapegoated, but after the Doni affair and a host of other worrisome incidents, it is clear that corruption in Italy is a bloodline which runs deep. Nick Squires of The Telegraph summed up the reality of Italy last November.

If it is possible to clear the names of those involved, it’ll be a massive boost for a country in the doldrums in every sense. The Italian football fans I know have, to their credit, become thick skinned to block the endless stream of newsbytes detailing the many soap operas of corrupt football players they used to support, for whom the lure of lucre seems to be overpowering. As ambassadors for the city in which they play, and in many cases, their country, astronomical salaries ought to control economic woes. The solution, unfortunately, is life bans for the guilty. Club football here can still win the day. For now, however, it’s in the hands of the national team against Croatia and the Republic of Ireland.

For visitors to Rome, for the time being, we don’t recommend paying to watch a football match in the Stadio Olimpico, as who knows who’s paid who to perform or underperform. We can, however, recommend one or more of our Vatican tours in Rome which offer excellent value for money. Ok, Raphael may have plagiarized Michelangelo but that’s another article for another day.

Vatican Tourism

The Vatican City is the main destination of pilgrimage and religious tourist attraction in Italy. It was officially born on 11 February 1929, after the signing of ‘Lateran Pacts’ between the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy and the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Gasparri. The long standing dispute between the State and the Church came to an end with the creation of the autonomous government of the Vatican City.

The Vatican City is the smallest independent sovereign state in the world with a government, statutes and head of state of its own (the Pontiff of the Catholic Church). It covers an area of just 0.44 square kilometers, is located inside Rome, and as an autonomous State keeps its own laws, public institutions, coins and official press. Despite it’s size, it holds within it’s boundaries the residence of the Pope, the site of St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.

The core of the Vatican City is St Peter’s Square and Basilica, where it’s possible to admire the ‘Palace of Governorship’ and the Vatican Gardens. Built in 1506 over St Peter’s tomb, Saint Peter’s Basilica is the world’s largest. 
In 1547 Michelangelo took over and simplified Bramante’s previous plan, increasing the scale. At his death in 1564, one of Michelangelo’s students, Giacomo della Porta, looked after the erection of the Dome following the master’s design. The beating heart of the Vatican City, St Peter’s square gathers thousands of believers and tourists, all fascinated by it’s powerful artistic and religious scenography.

The Vatican City is a popular destination for tourists, especially Christians wishing to see the Pope or practice their faith. Pilgrims will most often visit Vatican City at special moments in the liturgical year, such as Christmas, Easter or during important periods such as the proclamation of a holy year or the funeral and election of a pope. The business of Vatican Tours is one of the main sources of revenue in the economy of the Vatican City. Although less than a quarter of a square mile in area, in 2007, some 4.3 million people visited the Vatican Museums.

The practice of pilgrimage has ancient origins. It is deeply rooted in Christianity and holds a  profound spiritual value for believers who travel (by tradition on foot) from their homes to holy places. The term itself means ‘journey to join the sacred’, done for devotion or as a sign of penance, but also a simple and ancient version of modern tourism, or more precisely, religious tourism. The positive trend and number of pilgrims of the last few years prove that it’s popularity is increasing.


Keeping cool in Rome #1

Some like it hot? This year Rome is approximately seven degrees fahrenheit cooler than last year, and nine degrees fahrenheit cooler than two years ago, but she can still work up a mid-afternoon sweat. Not everyone thrives in what can be scorching rays of Italian sunshine, especially in late August. So what is the best way to spend all day sightseeing in Rome without having to endure the woes of heat exhaustion?

Street water taps are easy to find in the city centre, so carry an empty bottle in your bag and refill whenever necessary. The water is cool, clean, and it tastes much better than more or less any bottled spring water you’ll pay for in a shop or supermarket. The bottom line is don’t pay for bottled water, just leave your hotel with an empty container (500ml).

Fountains. Again, they are plentiful in the city centre so while you would do well to refrain from taking an impromptu bath or shower, or worse, drink from the pool per se (ingesting pigeon droppings and tiny bits and pieces of litter in some popular fountains like the Trevi is something we do not recommend), you can drink directly from source without fear of an upset tummy. The best course of action is to sit on the edge of a fountain and enjoy cool water droplets in the air around you.

Gelato. From experience, a mix of citrus flavours when it’s getting hot does wonders for the constitution if you can forget about the calorie intake. Lemon and lime or orange and melon are cool and refreshing combination flavours.

Alcohol, beers and ciders. Stay away! They quench your thirst temporarily at best and at six euros a pot in most pubs in Rome, you’ll just be throwing away your hard-earned cash. Finnegans Irish pub next to Cavour Metro station on Via Leonina is one of the most expensive, but it’s a welcome refuge for weary tourists after a day traipsing around ancient Rome. Sponsored by Celtic FC at some point, Finnegans is two parts Italian one part Belfast, and frequented by as many rowdy expats working for the UN as a regular Italian rugby crowd. Finns comes highly recommended, despite the incoherent ramblings of random Manchester City and / or Liverpool fans on match day.

It can get extremely hot in and around the Vatican City, so if you’ve booked Vatican tours, make sure you head over there with plenty of water.

Eating in the heat. Better to wait until the evening when pizza ovens are ready to bake after a big breakfast.