Day 7 – Monday 27th June, 2005
We got up early, and had a replacement bus today, as it was Reuben’s day off (by law), and thankfully the bus was waiting out the front of the hotel when we had finished breakfast. From some stories Amanda had told, sometimes they didn’t always turn up. We caught the train to Valle Aurelia and then walked to the Vatican. We only walked because although we had day passes for the busses and trains, it was only one stop, in Monday rush hour, so we walked for about 20 minutes instead. We got to the Vatican with just over half an hour before it opened, and by this stage the queue we joined was already about 3 blocks long. (Thankfully they don’t appear to have immigration control or else we’d still be there!!) So we stood around in a line over ever-pushing in people for half an hour, before we started to move as they opened the door. While we were waiting, Amanda had run off to find the people who were taking our tour, and she came back with some guy who was loaded up with radios and earpieces, which were handed out to us all.
The only interesting part about waiting in line was to see how fast it grew behind us – pretty damn fast. Once the line actually started moving, we were surprised that it didn’t take longer to get in; I think we were probably only waiting 15 or 20 mins before we went through the security section. Unfortunately, by this time I realized that my earpiece had fallen out somewhere along the line and I hadn’t noticed. So I waited behind in the entrance area when everyone went off with out guide while Amanda ran across the road to get me a replacement. Being separated from the tour group in a place like the Vatican means that if you don’t use your elbows a little and catch up, you’d never find them again.
And so we began our guided tour of the Vatican. This was the only part of the holiday that I can say I hated. Our guide was very nice (constantly checking to see where I was for some reason – not really sure why, as I wasn’t lost in the first place, it was only my earpiece that fell out, but anyway, I think it passed as humour) and she knew a lot, but it was too much for some of us. Our first main stop was in the courtyard that is my sole photo from this part of the day, where we stopped in front of some explanatory boards and she spent at least half an hour (it felt like forever) telling us, in extreme detail, about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Most people were enthralled by it, but Kirsten & me, plus some others who I don’t remember, were getting really sick of standing still, we were overtired and pretty sulky, so we really didn’t enjoy standing still for so long. After that we moved on through various places – to be honest I have no idea what I’ve seen in the Vatican, most of the time I had my earpiece out or I just wasn’t paying any attention.
We did go through the Sistine Chapel, which is really not anything like a Chapel (to me) – it’s a long room (about 500m) and relatively narrow. Yes, it is a very nice sight, but by this point I was just so utterly pissed off that all I wanted to do was to get the heck out of there. While sitting on benches and semi-listening to our guide, I think we placed the problem as being the sheer number of people that were there (thousands, I really don’t know, but any place you went you had to slide between people, which after at least an hour non-stop, just irks you), and the fact there was no air conditioning (it was getting to be in the very high 30’s C) and hardly any fresh air. I guess most people would describe it as claustrophobic, but I’ve never felt like that before, so I don’t know if that’s what it was. So finally, after losing our group on numerous occasions, as we either walked too fast or to slow (from seat to seat), we saw daylight ahead of us, which felt surprisingly good. Amanda was waiting for us there, and we gave her our radios before she was told off by a guard and told to collect around the corner, outside the building.
At this point our tour guide said goodbye and left, and we had the option of leaving or using our tickets to go inside St Paul’s Basilica. We found about half a dozen people, I think it was me, Kirsten, Alison, Nie, Kevin, Cindy, Kelly and possibly Eric, and debated for a few minutes – we felt bad being at the Vatican and not seeing another major sight, but as I think I ended up putting it, we had to “get the fuck out of here, now” – it was just so hot, there were so many other people around, we’d all just had enough. So we fought our way out through the people and got to the wonderful open area in front (where the pope’s funeral was held). It wasn’t the area itself that was wonderful at this point; it was that we weren’t being crushed by thousands of people. I have no idea how many people go through there every day, but it’s a LOT. (To be fair, I probablay hated this & had a problem with it as I went through years of Catholic school that I hated. I may have been fine without the massive crowds & heat, but it really was the worst part of the trip for me.)
So once we had some space around us, we started to relax a bit and we spent about 5 minutes taking photos, before wandering down the street to find the bus back to the main part of Rome. Unfortunately, from the outside it looked nice and cool on the busses, so we got our hopes up that they were air conditioned, and got quite disappointed when we got on and found they weren’t.
When we got back to the main area, our little group split up, Kirsten, Alison & I got off the bus and the others kept on going. So we started walking down the road back to the Colosseum, but we were going so slowly that it took us a lot longer than it had the day before to get there – just because of how hot it was getting by this point. I think the forecast for the day had been at least 36C, but by my guessing it was around 38 – it didn’t quite have the horribleness that happens above 40, but it was certainly far from a comfortable temperature to be walking around in direct sunlight.
When we finally got there, we sat outside underneath it in the shade for a little while, so we could cool off. We started to discuss lunch, but we wanted to do this so we were free afterwards. We finally got the enthusiasm to get up (more along the lines of “if we don’t get up now we’ll be here til 5pm”), and joined the queue for tickets, which only took us about 10 mins to get to the front of. I think it cost us €10 get in. We firstly went for a walk around the outside, then decided to try and find the stairs to the next level, but got distracted by chunks of rock we used as seats in the shade again. After quite a bit of misdirection (signs pointing in dead-ends, that sort of thing), we found the stairs. It’s really hard to tell, and maybe there’s somewhere on the net that would tell, but it looked like part of the original stairs up. Naturally, I doubt the metal handrails were there back then, and I’m guessing it would have had to have been restored at some point, but it looked real to me. Of course, the stairs were pretty dark, so who can tell?
We walked around the top section pretty slowly, partly because it was so hot & we were back in direct sunlight, and partly because I stopped so often to take photos as we went around. Kirsten was the one most moved out of all of us, she kept saying “Imagine how many men died here” and things like that. I think Alison & I had got to the point where (as nice as it was to be there) we didn’t care. After they’d convinced me to stop taking photos we stumbled down the stairs and outside again to sit in the shade for half an hour, to recover from the heat. By this time it was around lunchtime, so it was pretty damn hot. Eventually we made a plan: to make it back to the centre of town and find the first place we could to stop and eat, preferably with air con. I was really disappointed that it was so hot – I had really wanted to go and explore the Roman Forum, but at this point the last thing I wanted was anything that was in the sun, and all the ruins are in the sun – with no shade. So I had to pass on that.
After we made it to the central area, it was still a few streets in until where I remembered there being air conditioned shops, but we didn’t want to walk that far – at this point we were just wanting any seat that came along. So we found a restaurant just off the road and walked in there – the waiter saw us, saw how hot and shitty we looked, and seated us right under a big ceiling fan in the middle of the restaurant. We just had the usual, pizza or pasta. It was very nice but the service, apart from being seated under the fan, wasn’t anything great. Anyway, we sat there and ate for a while, until we’d cooled off as much as was possible in the heat, and decided that we had no energy left to do anything else, so we left and started to try find out way back to the hotel.
We weren’t near a Metro station (Rome’s Metro only has two lines, and doesn’t really go through the middle of the town because apparently there are too many ruins there, and they don’t want to build around/through them), so our other option was to find a bus to take us to a Metro so we could leave. Eventually found a bus stop, but we weren’t sure which bus would be best to catch, and then I got sick of standing in the sun and told them we were getting on the first bus that took us to any Metro station.
So some bus pulled up that went to one of the Metro stations, so I got on and asked the driver if she’d let us know which was the correct stop. So we stood one the bus and fanned ourselves for a little while until we saw that we were coming up on a station, so we got off.
At this point I had been running very low on money, and we’d happened to get off the bus near a Travelex, so I left Kirsten and Alison by the train station and walked a little way down the road to cash some more travelers’ cheques. Once that had been done, we caught the Metro to Valle Aurelia and waited at the above ground station for a train/other people. I think Amanda had said that she’d meet anyone who wanted to go back to the hotel there at around 4pm, and we were there just over an hour before that, take us back and get the bus to drive us to the hotel. We considered catching an earlier train (not that we were sure which train and/or line to catch) and walking to the hotel, but laziness made the decision for us. Eventually others from our group turned up and we all just ended up hanging around until Amanda showed up to catch the train with us. The only good thing about all of this was getting on the train – it had air conditioning!! So it was very nice to relax finally and not be sweating for a while. At the other end we had a wait of 10 or 15 mins before the bus turned up, as we were a little ahead of time. But thankfully we got onto another wonderful air conditioned mode of transportation when the time came, and were driven back to the hotel front door.
I don’t know what most people did after we got back – I went straight to my room and had a shower, and then lazed about on my bed, occasionally attempting to either dry off clothes or re-pack them for the next day.
Dinner was around 7 that night, I don’t remember much of it, I think this was the night we probably had pasta, and were complaining about having water that wasn’t cold and the hotel waitresses that wouldn’t get us ice. After dinner most people headed to the bar, but I went up to my room for a while, then decided to go down and see who was there. I couldn’t be bothered to waste my money on any drinks, so I just sat in the bar talking for a few hours, then went to bed.