Friday, November 7, 2014

Sleeping with strangers

 Well dear reader, this time you find me high up in the clouds winging home after almost four wonderful weeks away. By the time you read this I will be home trying to stay awake, trying to reduce the impact of the inevitable jet-lag after 24 odd hours in the air.
Funny how there is minimal lag when you begin your trip, but the blow is quite significant as you return back to your usual normal time frame.
To be quite truthful part of me is happy to be coming home. There are changes afoot in many ways and 'things' need to be done. I miss my friends even though my travelling companion and husband of many years has been a fantastic co-tourist. 
Who else would make sure I didn't fall over more than I did in the cobbled streets of Paris, Rome and Pompeii?
I miss my furred friends especially although I am quite happy to know they have accepted their temporary management without any issues. I miss my family and friends and look forward to boring everyone silly with our stories of what we saw and what we did. I especially look forward to being able to download our myriad of photos and relive our experiences and sights through them.
I miss not having my choice of clothing to wear. Funny how the excitement of living out of a suitcase wears off pretty quickly. I am fairly fussy when it comes to cleanliness with clothing and my usual motto at home is "wear it once then wash it" and/or "when in doubt, chuck it out". On holiday I find I have had to swallow my pride and wear clothing two, maybe three times and some things like cardigans etc., have not had a wash since leaving home. One thing I will not compromise on though is undies..... Have to have fresh ones every day I'm afraid, so consequently every bathroom we have stayed in has been decorated with an array of undergarments, both male and female, hung up to dry on a daily basis.
The poor old washing machine will receive a bit of a work out once we get back. That'll be my domain after a bit of a sleep I think.
We will go see my Mum and reassure ourselves that yes, she can last a good distance without me. I am not the be all and end all when it comes to mother care and love. Am sure my siblings have done a fine job in my absence.

We ended our time in Florence with a very quick and this time, uneventful trip to Rome via the fast train. It was wonderful watching the countryside slip past although we travelled through numerous tunnels the closer we got to the roman capital, but still, the terrain changed and one could tell we were no longer in Tuscany. House shapes changed also and we returned to the formula of high rise inner city living which seems to be the most popular form of residential living in such old cities as opposed to the villas high up on hills, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards.
Rome has (to our eyes) many similarities to Florence but is also extremely different. There is noise and pace in Rome too as we walk from the central station lugging our suitcases to our new accommodation. Fortunately for myself, Murray is an excellent map reader. Trying to decipher where we are and the direction in which we are travelling/walking is for me, quite difficult as the maps do not always give you the street names. Monuments are listed, but obscurely, but he has a good sense and ensures we do not get lost as we find our way to our next abode, the White Hotel.
We walk through a long tunnel that appears to have gardens atop it. The tunnel is actually quite uncomfortable to walk through. Car fumes are very strong, it is dark inside, cars race through at an extreme speed, almost like they don't want to be in there and hurry to get through, and I have this sense of disquiet and insecurity as it is a tunnel for cars with a narrow pedestrian walkway on either side.
It is a little difficult pulling our luggage through there as some people insist on walking on the wall side of the pavement in the opposite direction to us and I am frightened my luggage will spill onto the road and be hit by a very fast car. Of course this does not happen and we make our way to the other side safely enough. It is then time to check the map again and with a little discussion realise our hotel, our oasis as it may be, is just around the corner.
We are so pleased to walk into the quiet serenity away from the hustle and bustle of noise outside.
The hotel is a contemporary building having being redecorated in recent times. We check in, make our way up to our first floor room, excited at the prospect of being upgraded to an executive suite in a 4**** hotel, open the door to our room and are stopped dead in our tracks.
We can hardly move in our room. Our "king" bed turns out to be two very single beds, not even pushed together. The room is the size of A VERY SMALL room. We have been spoilt in Paris, on the boat, The Scenic Gem, and in Florence, with the generous spaciousness in all our accomodation. As we walk in I manage to bang my shin on the corner of the bed due to the lack of room, an action I am to repeat numerous times during our stay here and is something I just cannot quite get used to. There is nowhere to store our suitcases so they take up even more room and we constantly doh-see-doh to get around each other.
The room is bright and white and warm. The air conditioning is not working, we are told, as it was very cold the week before and they turned the cooling off and have not been able to turn it on again. Needless to say the room is hot and like a sauna. Great for drying underwear I might add which is an unexpected bonus! The bathroom is salacious and this is where the executive comes into the room description as this area is quite contemporary with its shower recess, it's toilet and its bidet. All are new and sparkling but we feel we are here for three nights and might end up just a little bit insane if there is nowhere to sit other than on a low bed so we go to management and ask what the deal is given our expectations were quite different from our reality.
I might add at this injecture that management are quite lovely and willing to listen to our issues with our lack of room space etc. but are unable to compromise as the room size is a common theme throughout the building. Like it or lump it, this is our accommodation for the next three nights and so we have to get used to it. It certainly is an encouragement for us to get out and wander around.
Other than the fact you cannot swing a cat, we concede defeat so we decide to go out sans bags and view the local area for a time. There are many food places outside our hotel and as we stroll along we are besieged with people asking us to come in and try the best pizza Roma has to offer. There are stalls and shops outside our door along the quaint little streets with the usual hawkers wanting us to part with a few euros to buy their camera sticks and flashing lights and noise machines. There are occasionally roman centurions who offer to have their photo with us, all for five euros, but we decline gracefully to all for now as all we want to do is explore our new surroundings.
We walk down a walkway, turn this way and that and come across Trevi Fountain (just around the corner, up the street) only to find it is under major repair at the moment like so many other places. There are still hundreds of tourists and tour groups there though and with all this work being done there is a platform one can walk across to get a closer view of the repairs being done. There are signs asking people not to throw money into the fountain as there is no water, but the base of the fountain is littered with coins and the occasional note, not to mention rubbish everywhere as well.
We decide to turn away from this tourist Mecca and walk up a steep path/road, down a number of steps then up a further number of 50 or so steps yet again to discover Le Palazzo Quirinale, home of the current president of the Republic of Italy. We come across an amazing sight which is a military band playing with marching soldiers and people watching and clapping and realise this is a significant place or something as there are very official looking people standing to attention as the music is being played.
There is a conductor orchestrating the music and he is quite a joy to watch as he controls the tempo and the volume from his position with a wave of his hands and even sometimes a look if the musicians are too loud or need to pick up sound. I look at the band and all eyes are attentively on him and it is fascinating to realise he has such control. The music is strong and powerful and reminds me of my childhood when my brother and I would play 78rpm. records of Joseph De Souza's and we would march all around the house.
We eventually wander off as the unexpected concert comes to an end and find ourselves in another part of the city with many people still around, socialising on a Sunday evening.  We walk past a shop that sells just-cooked chips sold in a paper cone and we succumb to them with lashings of unexpected tomato sauce.
 As we wander around a small part of this town with its ancient artifacts, noise, cars, beautiful shops and beautiful people we realise the sun is beginning to set and it might be wise to return to our new abode again before becoming lost in Rome.

I have learnt many things whilst in Rome.
It is not just a bustling city famous for its food and accent, language and ability to gesticulate so well when speaking.
It is a city full of so much history. It doesn't matter what you are walking on when you walk the streets of Rome, you are walking on streets that have an underlying artefact structure dated thousands of years old.
Rome still uses the original aqueducts that were created back in the beginning of civilisation and many people still believe in its history which supposedly began with Romulus and Remus, two brothers who started the story of Rome.
Their mother, so the story goes, was one of the Vestal Virgins. This woman conceived supposedly after lying with an unknown man and to protect herself and her pregnancy, this mother claimed to have had intercourse with the God of War, Mars.
This in turn protected her life as if she had confessed to having intercourse with a mere human she would have been put to death but apparently the God of Mars was different indeed and meant she could stay alive if he had his way with her!
This mother birthed not one, but two children at the same time (twins) and after the birth they were placed in a basket and cast into the Tiber River for no Vestal Vigin could be seen to have had children, regardless of how conception was or wasn't. Now mythology states they were saved by a she wolf who suckled them until they grew into children, but the Latin word 'volpe' for wolf was also a word used to describe prostitutes of the time, so we are told that perhaps they were saved by a prostitute who claimed them as her own and called them Romulus and Remus.
Now these two brothers grew into young men and as there were many wars happening throughout the land decided that they both wanted to found a civilisation of their own.
Even between the two brothers there was fighting for ascension over the other and eventually one of the brothers was killed.
It was Romulus who survived, killing his brother Remus, and thus the civilisation of Rome was born and Roman Civilisation began.

Whilst in Rome, we visit the Colloseum which was one of many ancient ruins to take our breath away on the day. It really is quite strange to be standing in a place that not only has it been there for centuries but is a place I learnt about as a child and have always wanted to go visit just to have that right here, right now feeling of knowing I have been there.
We decided to participate in a guided tour which aided us in skipping the queue which was always interminably long. The queue was extended around the base of the Colloseum it seemed and I felt just a twinge of guilt as we walked past all those people waiting and waiting to get in.
Our 'Jump the queue' tour provided us with a brilliant guide who walked us around the place and spoke of the life back then, be you a wealthy person, a gladiator or a persecuted Christian.
We marvelled at the basement below us, also known as the catacombs, filled with room after room. The was over this a timber floor and sand covered this in turn which provided the floor of the stadium.
Such ingenuity in their time. It's incredible so many things that we use nowadays were created and invented and back then.
One of the bonuses in doing such a tour, is chatting with the likeminded people who are part of the group. This Colloseum tour had two young couples from The Netherlands walk with us and it's always interesting to speak about their work and their holiday if only to compare their life with ours.
Many comment that we have come such a long way with our extended flights as they only have to fly 2 to 3 hours to get to other European cities. They always want to come to Australia eventually too, primarily Sydney and Queensland of. Purse because of the sun and beaches for that is what Australia is renown for overseas. We elaborate about our beautiful part of the world, Melbourne, with its 'young' history, and warmth in summer also.
As a bonus to the Colloseum tour, we are then offered a free tour of the Palantino which is a major excavation site adjacent to the Colloseum which also dates back to before Christ. This was supposedly the site of Romulus's and Remis's birth and the site of the original founding of Rome. Our tour guide here is also extremely knowledgable and is a great story teller as she imparts to us some of the mythology that surrounds this environment.
This walk and talk tour continues for a couple of hours and once it has finished, we then have a bite to eat before hopping on an On/Off bus which then drops us close to the Piazza San Pietro which is a large expanse in front of The Basilica De San Pietro. This in turn is an enormous (dare I call it) church which is positioned outside The Vatican.
I cannot get over the enormity of these places. This church, for the want of a better term, is absolutely gob smacking with its enormity, its priceless artwork, its figurines and its sense of respectful somber religiousness if there is such a word. 
I am not a religious person by any stretch of my imagination, but I was even moved to tears by the profound beauty I found here. Michaelangelo's Piéta is housed inside and I stood there with many others and gazed at this magnificent work of art amongst other statues. We wandered around in all the chambers of the building and marvelled at what we saw until it was time to leave and eventually wind our way back to our new temporary home.
The one thing we could not find, and it was something we looked long and hard for, was the chimney used to announce the decision once the new pope is elected. Murray had asked one of the guards, who told him if he stood at the fartherest peak of the Piazza he would see it, but, alas, somehow I suspect the guard was having a bit of a laugh at Murray's expense as all we could see were albatross/seagull birds and pigeons with the occasional black/grey crow thrown in for good measure as we left.

Did I mention how wonderful the staff are at White Hotel?
They were most understanding regarding the size of our room and would apologise on a daily basis regarding the state of the air conditioning. They were very helpful about organising a large day trip we took to Pompeii and Naples, and for any queries they were quick to give advice and support. So, not all was bad with our last stay. They even provided us with picnic bags to take on our day trip with breakfast foods so we would not miss out on that very important first meal of the day. Even on the day of our departure, because of our discomfort with the room size and lack of air conditioning, the management offered to pay our city tax which was 6 euros a day per person in a 4 star hotel which would have equated to 36 euros for our three nights. 
It amazes me how professional the people are who work in such places in France and Italy. They are gentle, respectful and also very knowledgeable as well as being excellent multi problem solvers. They always dress appropriately, be they behind the counter at a hotel, or waiting in a restaurant or working at a train station.
Like all prospective tourists we had heard many stories of locals being rude to visitors to their land but we had no complaints and no issues at all to deal with.
We found that people would go out of their way to assist us, even the lovely driver who took us to Rome's airport yesterday (or was it the day before). This gentleman was obviously very proud of his city and imparted a lot of history about the old Rome and the new Rome as we began our journey homeward bound.

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