Veloce Per Pisa, Pazzo a Roma

We were zooming through Italy because it was all so expensive, and we couldn’t even afford the campsites without breaking our budget… The next day saw us head towards Rome, via a half-hour stop at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, where we managed to illegally zoom straight up to the Tower and get a photo of the bike in front of it, before being hurried away by an irate stall keeper (admittedly we were parked in front of his stall, but he only sold tat anyway!)

Pisa was full of tourists wanting the one shot and jostling for space to get it. There were touts who didn’t seem to try very hard, and restaurants with over-priced grub, and rotund Americans wearing daft T-shirts, but we just waltzed in there, wandered round and left.

The roads were stunning off the main roads, and we kept off them from then on, riding down perfect tarmac with great motorbike bends, and reaching Rome and the campsite by 4pm- record time!!!

We wandered the campsite area in the evening before realizing we probably shouldn’t- it wasn’t situated in the greatest area and the graffiti had an ugly, violent feel to it. We tried to get a ‘Quattro Formaggio‘ pizza in a tiny local takeaway and got laughed at so unanimously that we exited the building- apparently Four Cheese isn’t an Italian invention. Ho hum. We failed anyway, and went home with our tails between our legs to eat over-priced beans on toast from the campsite supermarket.

Woke up to blazing sunshine and the realization that our campsite was a little European teenage Butlin’s, with 13yr old German girls tarted up (relatively speaking) to attract super-geek Belgian boys with pudding bowl haircuts. We got a campsite bus to the train station and listened in on the conversations of a German Christian Youth Tour. It was scintillating, and incredibly geeky…

The train to Rome was exciting though, with graffiti everywhere, covering every inch of the train including the windows, and a train that went underground as it crept towards the capital, and Italian cosmopolitan kids in couples kissing on the train benches and everyone wearing trendy trainers and those very Italian rucksacks.

There were brilliant shuttered tall houses in narrow streets, sort of leaning in on each other, and we got lost for hours in the backstreets trying to find the Vatican. We found the river eventually and arrived at the Basilica square- to the biggest queues I have ever seen anywhere for anything.

They started at the top of the Basilica steps and carried on around the courtyard twice, in the shade where possible but at one point straight across the square, and little fervent-looking Italian women huddled for hours, and all the tourists started to turn pink, and even the pigeons on the statues looked harassed. It was very hot. We stood for two hours. I people-watched, but someone seemed to have stolen all the interesting ones and just left bland-looking, Gap-wearing 30somethings. I got cross.

The Basilica when we got in did blow my mind slightly though and I uncrossed myself. It was stunning, obviously. But much more impressive than I had expected, with beautiful gold domes and bas-relief work and Trompe L’Oeil stuff, and I kept photographing until my fingers fell off. It was best to stare at the ceilings though, as there really were too many people there to be pleased about, and we were herded uncomfortably into and out of the area. We were herded out, and ate our squashed sandwiches in the heat on the steps, feeling like something out of ‘Room with a View’.

Then onwards, to the Sistine Chapel, and we frog marched to avoid the crowds, and didn’t.

The queue was longer, but mercifully hidden round corners and up and down blocked-up streets, so we didn’t know it was longer until much, much later. There were entertainingly theatrical beggars hobbling about inbetween the queues too, occasionally lying down in the gutter and groaning, and then suddenly getting up with incredible agility again if the police appeared, and one guy was doing some phenomenal moaning noises for the entire two hours we stood there. The beggars however, left when it started to thunderstorm. We did not, and stood drenched in our T-shirts until at last there was a stampede at the main gates and they had to let us in. Everyone got very friendly towards the end and was all huddling under one rainmac or tarp or whatever, but when the guards started holding people back, that was it. Italians don’t take kindly to queueing. I was wet, and tired, and very cross.
We went through the border procedure and eventually procured a ticket. We were systematically herded like cattle through the entire building in vast crowds, unable to see our feet, but the ceilings and walls were splendid!! The actual chapel was less like a chapel and more like a small, very intricately designed room. I had been expecting more domes, churchlike etc, but in fact it was more vault-like. The paintings were incredible though and I was glad to have been herded in, and the detail in the fake curtains behind the crowds made Adam think they were real and wonder what was behind them. The actual paintings had so much flesh in them and somewhere there was a figure just holding the torn off skin of someone. Apparently the devil was based on a senator who had insulted Michelangelo whist he was painting one day. There were hell-beings being pushed off boats with sticks, and apparently all the parables were depicted, though I wouldn’t have been able to identify them.

Knackered and in a daze we wandered out into the sun again, and meandered our way to a square where we sat down for a beer, being true British tourists. We stood up again fairly rapidly when we saw the price- 7 Euros for a 40p can of lager. We sat elsewhere, and watched a good jazz-man busking, and a very bad puppeteer, and a parakeet on a stick. We went home, and passed an old distinguished looking fellow sort of busking by ‘walking’ a felt dog that had just peed on a wall. I liked it in a pretentious arty sort of way, and gave him some money to photograph it.

We went home and accidentally spent far too much money in the bar eating tourist-pizza (possibly Quattro Formaggio.)

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