9.9.96 (Mon)

I am now on the train from Roma to Firenze. I could only reserve a seat in the smoking compartment. I hope I can endure it. When I came in, the passengers in the compartment asked me if I was from Taiwan. I told them that I was from Hong Kong. Then there was quite some discussion about Taiwan, Hong Kong and even Indonesia and Singapore, in Italian of course.

I am going to jot my days in Roma chronologically.

I arrived in Roma in the afternoon on the first day and had some difficulty in locating my hotel. The room I had was very simple, but neat and clean. Yes, I could tell whether the things were clean or not. It was on the first floor facing the street, thus it was noisy, but lively. At night, it felt like sleeping right on the street. But the noise did not annoy me. I felt quite at ease. The hotel was near the station. So it was convenient, but it also appeared less safe. I worried a little when I was around at night. But then I was never out too late.

Having settled down, I went out to walk around. I visited the Colosseum, the Foro Romano, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon and walked past the huge white marble monument at Piazza Venezia on the first day. I kept looking around when I walked and was so careless that I stumbled and fell down on a street and grazed my right palm quite badly. It hurt and bled.

The ruins (the Colosseum and the Foro) were not as what I had expected. I had expected to be overwhelmed by its grandeur and magnificence. But instead I felt depressed in there, not understanding why such ruins, all broken down, had been kept right at the city centre for so many years.

I also went to the Vatican. The Cathedral was glorious. The sculpture Pieta was serene and beautiful. But I wondered if such a glorious and shiny place was what He wanted.

The Spanish Steps were very crowded and I did not feel safe around there.

I washed all my clothes plus my corduroy jacket on my first night in Roma. The result was that my right palm and also my forearms hurt badly, and the wound did not heal.

The next day I went to Pompeii. A lot of time was spent on the trains. The ruins were, again, depressing. More depressing was that it rained. Those human bodies dug up from the ruins upset me. The place was very large, so it was quite exhausting just to have even a short walk around the place to get a rough idea of it.

And when I returned to Roma it was already late. I could only manage to see the statue of Moses in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli and have a brief tour in the Capitolini Museum. The statue was all right. I wondered why it had two horns (or horn-like things) on his head. The museum somehow worked magic on me, revived me. Museums are always soothing. Of course I could not see much in less than an hour but I enjoyed it. Among the paintings of Caravaggio in the museum, I like the "Fortune Teller".

I then had a walk along Via del Corso and window-shopped a department store. Then I had dinner in a big self-service restaurant. That was good.

The weather had become quite pleasant in the afternoon that day. It was however cool in the morning and evening. It was September after all.

That night I did my laundry again. This time it was my jeans. Not only my palm hurt but also my feet. It was the wrangling.

The third day I fed myself three times at the McDonald’s. A hamburger as breakfast; mixed salad as lunch and a filet’O fish plus a chocolate cake as dinner. A symptom of McDonald’s-phobia has started to develop despite the variety it offers here in Italy.

In the morning I went to the Vatican again. As expected, the museum was closed. So I went up to the top of the Cathedral. The elevator trip I paid for did not take me to the real top of the Cathedral. It only took us to the middle level of the church. Then we had to climb the stairs to the top. It was really CLIMBING. The staircases were very narrow and they turned round and round along the wall of the vault. Everybody panted and sweated when they reached the top. But the view was good up there.

I spent too much time in the Vatican and could not make it to the flea market that morning. I was somehow lost on the streets. So I got on a bus which I thought would take me near the market. It was very crowded aboard. And when I got a seat, I found that my bag had been forced open from the rear of the zip. Wasn’t it amazing that those thieves could do this without my noticing it? I felt bad about this and got off the bus no matter what. But then I had a very tasty gelati on my way to the metro station which seemed to make up for this unpleasant event. It was lucky that there were no valuables inside the bag. Also, the zip was not damaged. This time I was lucky.

Then I returned to the hotel to have a siesta, only to be woken by a headache.

Museums were closed on Sunday afternoons so I decided to visit churches and fountains. I went to Piazza del Popolo where a church was showing some of Caravaggio’s paintings. Because the church was still in its afternoon recess when I arrived, I went up to the adjoining Villa Borghese. The view up there was nice. But it was hot.

There I saw an Italian man sitting on a nice bench beneath a tree having a copybook on his lap with Chinese characters written on it. Obviously he was learning Chinese. I thought for a few seconds before I approached him and started to chat with him. He was a nice guy. He spoke English very well (he had spent two years in London) and he also spoke French. We talked about Hong Kong, China (he was learning Chinese for he wanted to have a job in China) and Italy. He told me some Italian history, some stories about Marco Polo and so on. And then I raised the very unwise subject of religion and could only manage to end it before the discussion got heated. A very sweet conversation, especially after so long a silence on the journey. His name was Antonio and he was from Sicily.

Afterwards I returned to that church but was not impressed by the paintings. Then I went to the Trevi Fountain. It was magnificent. What a nice piece of art. It was simply beautiful.

I started off early today. The first thing was to reserve a room in Firenze. I found it very difficult, even though it was the agency who did it. The agency could only find me a room for tonight after I think about ten phone calls. I might need to change my plan and leave Firenze earlier.

Then it was the Vatican Museum. First the Metro towards Ottaviano was for some reasons out of service. So everyone had to jump on the same bus. And the traffic was congested. I arrived there at around 9:45 am and found that there was already a very long queue at the entrance. I could not enter the museum until after 10 am. Inside, I was trapped by the crowds, the groups of tourists, especially Japanese. It was completely impossible to see anything that way. It was crowded, noisy and sometimes suffocating. I only wanted to get away, despite all the treasures and masterpieces inside. Rooms and rooms filled with paintings, sculptures and tapestry etc were sometimes linked by very narrow corridors. In there I thought of the Louvre again. Here it was nothing close to a museum. It was rather like a circus.

When I was about to leave, I came across a gallery detached from the main museum. It was the Pinacoteca which housed religious paintings. That was what a museum should be. It was quiet and cool inside, not filled with tourists. There I could appreciate Raphael’s "Transfiguration" at my ease. But the one I like best was by Guido Reni depicting a white-haired man writing down what an angel was telling him. I bought a postcard of this painting. His "La Fortuna" was also good. I like that place.

I of course am not saying that the Vatican Museum was not worth visiting. But it would be far better if it had been less crowded and if I had had more time.

That is about all. Here comes Firenze.

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