Roma

This was the second time that I stayed in Roma. I stayed in a hotel called the Hotel Romae, which was not bad. I hope I will have the chance to visit Roma again. Roma is a nice place. And Italy is a nice country.

Here are the best experiences that I had in Roma this time –

(a) Beautiful Italians – Italians were generally pleasant to look at. Their dark hair made them look less beast-like than those with fair hair. It was delightful to be in Italy surrounded by such a beautiful people. I have a theory on why I find them beautiful – because of their widespread influences on fine arts, people, at least I, have come to accept their features as the standard of beauty.

(b) Orange trees – My first day in Roma was the Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem (I learnt this afterwards). I saw people holding palm branches walking on the streets.

I started a walk on Via XX Settembre from Porta Pia that afternoon, visiting the churches along the way. Along the road were orange trees. I knew they were orange trees because there were oranges on top of the trees. Were they planted by the government? Could I take some of the fruits? I don’t know. But they were pleasant to look at, especially in the sunshine. Afterwards, I also saw orange trees elsewhere, but the first sight of them was most impressive.

I also saw people selling stir-fried chestnuts on the streets. That seemed new and also pleasant to me. I was kind of glad to know that the Italians eat chestnuts in more or less the same ways as ours.

(c) The Barbington’s Tea Rooms – Of course, I had known this place the last time I was in Roma. It was right beside the Spanish Steps. But I had not gone to eat there. I don’t really remember why. I suppose it was because it had seemed quite expensive (and indeed it is) and I had had both a tight budget and a tight timetable. I still hesitated before I went in for the first time (I don’t know why, it is just a cafe after all.).

I had been feeling very thirsty ever since I boarded the plane to Italy. I guess it was because of the dryness inside the cabin and the dry weather of Roma. And that afternoon I made it an event to visit the Tea Rooms. I remember that it rained then. I got in and, not unusually, I was given a Japanese menu. When I saw the list of teas, I suddenly felt super-thirsty, dehydrated, dying for a cup. I ordered Earl Grey, as usual. And when I drank it, I was saved. I felt that the tea worked inside me and revived me. It was a strange feeling indeed. Having had the tea, I felt strong and interested enough to visit the San Giovanni in Laterano despite the rain (I usually stay indoors when it rains), and got a chance to be shocked to see the believers climbing up the nearby Santa Scala on their knees. The tea worked wonders. That’s why I went there again before I left Roma.

(d) Isola Tiberina – One of the good things of an overseas journey is that I can see and do things the I don’t see or do when I am home. I can walk in large green parks or the countryside, look at trees, stroll along real rivers and take a nap beneath a tree.

I missed the morning opening of the Santa Maria in Trastevere and had to wait till 3 o’clock in the afternoon for it to reopen. So I went to the Quadredia Borghese al San Michele, which was very difficult to locate. I spent some time in there admiring the paintings. I noted that it was very easy to distinguish Caravaggio’s works from the others’. They really had their own style – usually dark in the background, with lights shaping the figures in the paintings. I was not fond of Caravaggio’s works before, thinking that they were too dark. I preferred (and still do) Botticelli’s bright colours. But now I think Caravaggio is not that bad.

I had to kill the time before the Santa Maria reopened. Everything was closed in the afternoon. The streets and alleys in Trastevere seemed deserted in the warm sunshine. Quiet. I strolled quite aimlessly and when I reached the bank of the river and saw people lying on the Tiberina, I decided to follow suit.

On one end of the Tiberina, there was a hospital surrounded by beautiful verdant trees (I took some pictures of them). Further off, there were also some trees, though less beautiful, on the tip of the island, providing shades in which people could sleep. I sat down beneath a tree, hugged my knees, put on my sunglasses, covered myself with the corduroy jacket and took a rest. There were bright sunshine, tree shades, cool breezes and the sound of the river. It was wonderful. The nap was most soothing and revitalizing.

Afterwards, I returned to the Santa Maria. There was a service going on so I could not walk around. I remember that the music played during the service sounded strange.

The most awful experience in Roma this time was the visit to the Castel Sant’Angelo. I went there early on the second morning and was the first visitor. To enter the castle, I had to walk through a dim and long upward passage, which was solidly built of stones and had no windows at all. Knowing that the castle had been originally a mausoleum and that I was quite alone in the passage (or rather a totally enclosed tunnel) and perhaps in the whole castle, and also because of the upward climbing, I started to sweat. What was worse was that I heard voices. Of course I found out later that the sound was from the birds and the construction workers (there were quite a number of them working), but it was really scary at the time. The castle itself and the exhibits inside could not be less interesting. There were ancient armours and weapons and some Korean archaeological objects on display. The fact that I could not understand the Italian labels made them even less interesting. I however had a good view of the Vatican and the river on the terrace of the castle.

Then I tried the Musei Vaticani but was frightened away by the queue outside. I went to the San Pietro instead.

Being a tourist in Roma, I could not help but “walked past” the Colosseo. And it was just the Colosseo, as it had been for so many years. Actually, I walked past it on my way out from the Circo Massimo. I had not expected the circus to be just sand and grass and nothing else. So I felt quite disappointed.

This time I did not go to the Foro Romano. Again, I “walked past” it. I found the maps showing the expansion of the Roman Empire on a nearby wall quite interesting.

In the Vatican, I wrote to Sanny that since I had already gone to the places which should not be missed last time, the places I went to this time were kind of second-rated. I now consider that this is not totally true. Roma had a lot to offer. Though there were times that I did not know what to do or where to go, and though there were places that I considered less interesting, I spent my time as meaningfully, i.e. visiting places that I had not visited before, and as leisurely as possible. And I think this trip was rewarding enough – I saw new things, revisited what I wanted to revisit (except the Musei Vaticani) and spent some lovely leisure time on tea and siesta.

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