Italy Part II - Florence & Rome
03.05.2010 10 °C
As a lover of art, specifically Italian masters, Florence in my mind had no equal in Europe. I'd been dreaming of strolling the vast collection at the Uffizi, marvelling at the magnificent statues of the Bargello and Accademia and simply enjoying the unrivalled eloquence of it's renaissance architecture. What couldn't there be to love about a city which gave birth to the Renaissance and changed the way people saw themselves and the wider world. Well ... as it turns out a lot. Much like the Renaissance scholars of old employed humanist methods, and searched for realism and emotion in all they studied, I too shall employ similar methods to my review of Florence. The truth about Florence (in my opinion) ... It's a polluted, over crowded, dump.
Sam can vouch for me that I've written, rewritten, erased and started over my review for Florence a million times. I've been positively stuck on this blog for weeks, trying to somehow come up with something interesting and inspiring to write about a city which has for so long filled my imagination with wonder. And like a parent who's prodigal child spelt "Necessarily" wrong at the statewide spelling bee final Florence left me writhing in internal disappointment. Perhaps it was the grey weather, or the endless packs of touts. Maybe the sold out Accademia tickets or the exhaust polluted Renaissance Architecture. Then again it may have been that half of the Uffizi collection was on loan to other galleries or that we had to move from a bad hostel. There was also a waste of half a day that was a trip to Pisa (a smaller Florence, with more fake bag sellers per square then anywhere in all the world combined). The TRUTH is, I do appreciate art, architecture, philosophy and all the great literal humanities, but this love still couldn't blindside me to all that I found off putting about Florence.
Florence wasn't a complete loss, I did learn one important lesson. It was at this point on the trip where I realised that I'm never going to be truly in love with every destination on my itinerary. And most importantly, that that is OK! You live and learn right?
If I could describe Rome in a word, this word would be "Overwhelming". The sheer weight of history encapsulated in one city completely overwhelmed me. Rome from the get go was a loud buzzing metropolis jam packed with the relics of many lost empires. Rome for me personally had some amazing highs occupied with some disappointing lows.
Firstly, the highs. I got to visit two masterpieces of the Baroque period which were high on my must see list. The first being a trip to the tiny Basilica Santa Maria della Vittoria to see Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. Several tonnes of marble appeared to effortlessly float and flow above you. Bernini's sculpting genius is evident in the ripples of Theresa's cloak. Bernini makes you believe solid Marble is as maluable and as soft as whipped butter.
We then moved on to the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, designed by Bernini's arch rival, Borromini. Borromini's idiosyncratic style always sat well within my eccentric tastes. Despite being tragically choked by car pollution the wobbly concave-convex facade of the church is refreshing in a city of boring flat exteriors. More surprises inside the church. The interior was equally as enjoyable with the towering geometric patterned dome.
Now the lows. I stupidly didn't pre book gallery tickets well in advance. So we missed out on going to the Borghese museum, which has long been a must see for me. We also missed out on tickets to the Carravaggio exhibition. This got me down for a few days, until i realised I now definitely had a reason to return to Rome. And the fact I got to see two very important works on my "must see" list isn't too shabby. Despite missing out on two galleries Sam was well and truly "art'ed out" so we decided to spend a day at Ostia Antica, the ancient port town of Rome.
Sam's Ostia Review
I had always wanted to go to Pompeii but since we were in Rome and about a four hour train from Naples and it was going to cost us a fortune to get down there. So Charlotte found out about a place called Ostia which was the ancient port town of Rome on the Tiber river The town has been covered in silt for about 2000 years and the ruins are in just as good condition as Pompeii. We had been to the main sites around Rome and I found this to be alot more enjoyable than the Colosseum and the Forum.
It was about an hours train ride out of Rome and then a fifteen minute walk to the town. When we got the site there weren't many tourists just a few buses of school kids (terrors). We stopped and looked around, as we waited for the terrors to pass. It is amazing what you see when you slow down. All the lead water pipes are still in tact and there was an old sign that translated 'To the safety of Augustus'. It had not been restored and was in remarkably good condition. We then got to the peasant housing and industrial workshops but the terrors were back and now were armed with a soccer ball. I carried out an evasive manoeuvre and went to the rich area of town where there were no tourists or soccer ball wielding terrors.
There were amazing mosaics of fish, ships, serpents, horses and chariots. We walked through public baths and bakeries and even the communal Roman toilets. There was no one around so I sat on them for a bit and then decided it was time for a feed. We went to the large amphitheater and had a couple of blood oranges while enjoying the view from the "nosebleeds". The terrors were in the area and there was a fellow red headed terror running on the steps of the amphitheater but he wasn't any trouble and didn't spoil my blood orange. The amphitheatre was the first structure to be excavated as the top of was sticking out of the ground.
We got moving down further into the town and we would only run into someone every hour. We more or less had the place to ourselves. We didn't see the whole town as the day disappeared really quickly but we really got a feel of what life would have been like in a Roman port town, without hordes of tourists. We headed back along the main stone road and I noticed a kid in a wheel chair who had to be carried up into some of the structures but was really enjoying himself. Then Charlotte advised me that the Pompeii website had strictly no wheel chairs policy, which is just plain wrong. We had a really great day and I would recommend this to all travellers, as they are going to do more excavations (only about a third of it is dug up). The whole day cost us about 25 euros and we went back to our hostel stoked.
There is a lot to NOT like about Rome, but its sheer historical magnificence bullies you into a sort of loving indifference. Rome is like that bad boy your mother warned you to stay away from. Despite the fact you should know better you can't help but been drawn into it. Unlike Florence, I felt Rome at least had the "goods" to back it up.