01 – 02 July 2010

From Florence our next stop was the colossal Rome, or Roma as spelt in Italy. One of the recurring sayings I have used on my trip to date is the famous travel quote “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” – when I was in Roma this naturally seemed all the more poignant.

Ray pointed out sights on our drive in, describing interesting facts about the Vatican City and the ancient Romans. For instance, did you know that the Vatican City is supposed to hold one of the largest porn collections in the world and that the pope has the last operating Swiss Guard mercenaries as his private protection force?

Ray walked us into the political heart of ancient Rome, now the ‘world’s most famous ruins’ – Lonely Planet. We went on a guided walking tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the ancient Roman Forum.  It’s all pretty impressive; building of the Colosseum was started in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian and completed by his son Titus in AD 80, taking only eight years to build. Initially they were able to flood the arena for water battles but later underground chambers were completed to house animals and gladiators, it allowed them to lift animals from the floor into the arena via numerous lifts. It was really impressive walking the ruins but our guide was old and lacked charisma.

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After the ancient ruins Ray took us on an informal walking tour which encompassed the Trevi Fountain, various monuments and the famous Pantheon. The Trevi Fountain was stunning, glittering beautifully in the sunlight; I wanted to jump in and bathe with Neptune and his horses. All of Rome’s fountains are all the more impressive when you consider that they run fresh drinking water, none of that chlorinated recycled garbage that flow in Auckland fountains. The Lonely Planet guide states that tourists throw roughly 3000 Euro away every day into the Trevi Fountain for good luck, it was certainly glittering when I was there and I saw a handful of people tossing gold coins in. Someone please tell me how it is good luck for thousands of people to continuously lose their money? No doubt the men who started these rumours of ‘good luck’ were pretty clued up; in this instance I wouldn’t put it past the person who was originally tasked with the job of cleaning the fountain. The Pantheon is magnificently big and magnificently old, in its current form it is just under 2000 years old and remains the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built!

Rome really is incredible; such a rich history, so many amazing buildings and so enjoyable to walk around. Rome is a must visit when in Europe, so don’t wait – jump on one of the next flights to Rome and explore this amazing place yourself.

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To conclude our sightseeing for the day we took a drive into the Vatican City and took some photo’s of St Peter’s Basilica and St Peter’s Square.

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The next day was essentially our free day in Rome to do as we wished, we were dropped outside the Vatican City and we all queued up to get in. The queue was approximately an hour long, despite the 15 euro price tag on admittance to the museums and the Sistine Chapel, no wonder the Pope can afford his own private tennis court! All the statues and artefacts in the Vatican museums were impressive, but it was the buildings themselves which blew me away; absolutely amazing. The final corridor leading to the Sistine Chapel was the best, with the most detailed roof I’d ever seen and cool paintings of maps lining the walls. After the amazing corridor the Sistine chapel did not surprise me, it is more of a hall than a Chapel in my opinion, more of a tourist attraction than a place of worship. The ceiling is very high, I feel for poor Michelangelo as it would have been incredibly hard to spend seven years painting the damn thing by candle light. If you want to really appreciate the detail in the paintings you’re better off looking at a print, or you’ll need a very good set of eyes.

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Next I went in St Peter’s Basilica, ‘Italy’s biggest, richest and most spectacular church’ – Lonely Planet. St Peter’s Basilica truly blew me away, again; incredible. Michelangelo took over the Basilica project in 1547, designing the great dome which stands 120m above the altar. If you want to see an amazing building and you want to see the work of Michelangelo but don’t want to pay 15 Euro’s then skip the Vatican museums and head straight to St Peter’s Basilica. Here I saw Michelangelo’s only signed work, the Pieta and his famous dome all for free!

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I’d spent a good chunk of the day getting my money’s worth at the Vatican City, so with a touch of urgency we set out to see the rest of the sights I had an interest in. First up the San Maria Concezione where there is an interesting arrangement of bones taken from burial pits during the Black Death.

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Second we took the tube back a stop and walked up the Spanish Steps where I got some good views over Rome.

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My last stop was the Basilica of St John Lateran which houses the Scala Santa or Holy Stairs, which the faithful devoutly climb on their knees. It’s not wrong, it’s just different. At the top of the stairs I looked through the bars into the Sancta Sanctorium (The Holy of Holies). This chapel which served as the private oratory of the Popes during the Middle Ages was once inscribed with the words “In the whole world no place is as sacred as this” impressive!

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Later that night we had (along with about 5 other Coniki coaches) a ‘gender bender’ party.

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It’s not wrong, it’s just different


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