Azara Blog: Rome observations

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Date published: 2006/12/18

Rome is the baroque capital of the world. Between the Vatican museum and basilicas and the "ordinary" Roman churches, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the riches on display. The Vatican museum provides the finest examples of baroque interior room design. There is room after room of amazing wall and ceiling decoration. The museum has some of the finest Roman statues anywhere (and even plenty of Egyptian artefacts) but in many ways these pale into insignificance compared with the interiors.

And the Vatican allows photography almost everywhere, even with flash in most circumstances. An exception is the Sistine Chapel, where a poor guard wages a fruitless battle to stop people taking photos (and some people unbelievably used flashes, although they are generally so pathetic as to do no good and no harm). They even seemingly allow flash photography in their main tapestry room, which is bizarre in that the light is especially low to protect the tapestries. Fortunately not many people care about tapestries so people were not using their flashes there. (Flash was also allowed in St Peter's Basilica, which again seems odd.)

The Vatican lets individuals in to the museum starting at 8.45 AM. But they let (at least some) groups in already by around 8. And the queue for individuals is already forming by around 8 and by opening time, even on a Saturday in winter, stretches for quite some distance. (Presumably it is not so bad on weekdays.) But there is no great wait for most people since the Vatican seems not to care how many people are in the museum in one go and just try and allow everybody in as quickly as possible. Which is good in that everybody can get in, but is bad in that by the nearly final, most important, rooms, it is a mad scrum trying to see anything.

The Vatican museum signage is rather appalling. It is quite common to have two directions being possible, and both say "Sistine Chapel". So you soon get completely disoriented and most people probably miss quite a few things by mistake. Of course by the end you are so overwhelmed by it all that it doesn't really matter if you miss half of it. And many of the visitors just seem to treat the whole event like a Sunday stroll through the park, just walking through the galleries one after the other without even stopping to admire the art.

The Vatican museum shops (there are several along the way) are a bit disappointing, with only the usual high-level overviews, especially of the most famous parts of the collection (e.g. the art by Michelangelo and Raphael). So, for example, only one of the books had any photos of the tapestries, and then only one, at a not very big scale, and the Roman statues were equally slighted.

In contrast to the Baroque splendors, the Roman ruins in Rome are rather tawdry. Even the Colosseum is rather sad looking, at least in comparison with some of the (of course smaller) Roman colosseums in, for example, Turkey. The Colosseum ticket also gets you in to see the Palatine Hill ruins. There is not much left, and what is left is so badly sign-posted as to lead one to endlessly walk around in circles. For example, Casa Livia is supposed to be one of the highlights but there were no signs indicating how to get there, and in the end it turned out to be closed for restoration in any case.

Some of the best Roman ruins are the Arch of Constantine (next to the Colosseum) and the Trajan Column (just north of the Colosseum, and being worked on but still mostly visible).

From England both Easyjet and Ryanair serve Rome, flying into Ciampino airport. Ciampino is only around 15 km south of Rome. There are a couple of bus companies which will take you into Rome Termini, the most significant of which is Terravision, which seem to have done some deal with Ryanair (and perhaps also Easyjet). You can buy single (one-way) tickets on the Ryanair flight for 8 Euros, the same cost as is charged in the terminal building. But it is a better idea to purchase a round trip ticket in the terminal building, not only because it is slightly cheaper (14 Euros instead of 8x2=16) but because people with tickets have priority coming back from Rome Termini to Ciampino.

An alternative to taking the bus all the way into Rome Termini is to catch a bus to the final stop of the metro A line at Anagnina, and then catch the metro in. This is probably slightly slower but obviously dependent on traffic. It is the cheapest option, costing 1 Euro for the bus ticket and 1 Euro for the metro ticket (for one way). However even in the middle of the day the best thing that can be said about the area around the Anagnina metro station is that it is grim.

Ryanair, as part of its campaign to pretend that the air tickets are free, has now started charging for internet check-in (it seems Easyjet is doing the same). But they have so far missed the trick of charging extra for the front three seats, which are the only ones with decent legroom. Ryanair has also started to play an irritating ditty if the plane lands on time. On the return flight they had a competition where first prize was a "free" Ryanair ticket, so of course the obvious quip is that second prize was two free tickets. As everyone knows, Ryanair is just a bus service in the sky (although an extremely efficient one).

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