In at the deep end

From Rome to Venice (but not back again)

June 7, 2008

“Buonasera” a depressed looking receptionist greeted me.
“Buonasera, duo notte per favore?”
“€38 please”
‘What?’ I thought to myself, it was supposed to be €16 a night according to the website.
Being completely knackered and having spent around 5 hours trying to find this hostel (which included giving up and going back to the internet cafe for another look at google maps at least once), I decided not to argue and forked over the cash, reasoning it was only €3 more than my camp site and included breakfast and a roof.
He handed me my sheets and directed me to my room; trapsing down the ill-lit corridor I passed several zombie like figures which I could only assume were guests beaten down by the atmosphere of a soviet prison that pervaded the place.
Eventually I got to my bed, which was clean enough, set down my gear and thought “Christ, at least I won’t be tempted to stay here instead of exploring Rome!”.
I got out of there as quick as I could and headed down into Rome to try and find the nightlife.

As it turns out, there’s plenty of it to be had for free in Rome. The Piaza del Populo was one of my favourites, free music from the locals (many not even busking, just playing for the hell of it), and a constant stream of people going by to be persecuted by the rose-sellers (who were quite audacious!) which was entertainment in itself to see how far they could go before they got told to ‘Fuck off!’ in whatever language was appropriate.

Slightly more sociable was one of the walls over-looking the colosseum (which, incidentally was my personal favourite of all the sights in Rome,) where tourists would gather to chat.
It’s strange how nice it is to simply be able to converse in English with some-one, rather than having to search for common words or the equivilent Italian.
I whiled away the evening talking to random Canadians, Americans and Australians (surprisingly few brits have I seen!) and eventually wandered back to my hostel so as not to be caught out by curfew.

My route followed the river that bisects the city, the sickly sweet smell of fermenting fruit wafting over the warm night air from where it had fallen unpicked in rotting piles, the smell seemed somehow appropriate for such a seedy street…
I paced the spacing between each hooker, exactly 100 yards, remarkable, perhaps it’s the secret army of the Roman underworld undertaking maneuvours, rather than a pathetic display of capitalistic hedonism.

The next day I awoke to such a cacophony as I expect tortures cruel music-teachers on the 8th level of hell. Eventually I established it was one of my room mates whistling, and once he’d seen that I was awake, he smiled widely and threw a croissant in my face.
I scoffed my trophy while he explained he was from the Sahara, which I wasn’t aware was a country, that he was in Rome for a couple of days, but spoke far more Italian than English, which cut the conversation somewhat brief.

I had enough cash to do only one thing that day, see the Sistine chapel.
The outside of St Pietros was astounding, hundreds of vast marble columns circling the plaza.

Having paid the extortionate €14 entry fee I walked briskly through the vast winding museum, attempting to be interested in the panoply of busts and artifacts, though in reality the only thing that held my attention was the vast hall of maps.
It’s hard to describe how I felt when I saw the Sistine chapel for the first time… Dissapointed I think fits best. Somehow the bustling display of theology stuffed into every available space on wall and ceiling struck me with a very strange impression.
That of graffiti…
I can see why Michelangelo was reluctant to take on the painting comission from the Pope, I think he would be rather unhappy that the Sistine chapel ended up being his most famous work.
It doesn’t feel fair to think such things of such a masterpiece, but it’s only an opinion!

I spent the rest of the day exploring the streets of Rome, which is far more fun on foot than the hair tearingly, gut wrenchingly, nose bleedingly, eye gougingly excrutiating experience of trying to navigate it while obeying traffic laws.
The evening I spent the same way as the previous night, gazing adoringly at the night-lit colosseum, which I simply could not get enough of.

Unfortunately all the photos I took of it at night I took in RAW format, so I’m unable to show them until I can get them processed.

 #I gotta get outta this place, if it’s the last thing I ever dooooo!#
I screamed racously at the top of my lungs as I searched the streets of Rome for the SS1 Aurelia heading north bound.
Ahah! And I was off, bound for Pisa!
They’re not wrong about Roman roads, they are quite… straight…
I really wish my bike had cruise control, leaning back chopper-style on the F650 I was keeping the throttle on by my fingertips with my left hand resting in my lap, pretty comfortable until IronButt kicks in, forcing me to take a stand on the pegs for relief.

I didn’t make it to Pisa in one go, I stopped short and found myself a free campsite in the form of a dead end made by recent extensions to the S1 by the looks of it.
Throughout the evening the locals kept tabs on me by driving part way up the dead end, apparently the rich (judging by the Mercedes), don’t like company!

Still, they left me alone and the next  morning I was on my way once more.
Pisa didn’t hold my attention for long, the leaning tower and the adjacent church were very beautiful, and required a few photos once I’d finished my treat of a sigaro, but again, photos taken in RAW format, so not uploadable at the moment.

Afterwards I whisked my way along towards Florence to get to the start of the SS67 which would take me to Venice.
I didn’t intend to go in to Florence, but I realised I had when the beautiful triple and quadruple story houses towered above me and I found myself waddling the bike through swathes of tourists under a sign “Strada pedona”, Ooops…
Eventually I escaped without getting arrested and/or mobbed by tourists and headed through the SS67 and over the spine of Italy.

Wow, what a road, I really wish I could have taken some photos but none of the lay-bys or stopping places could have done it justice.
The twisties were such that I scraped my panniers along the road in several places! Great fun!

I camped rough again and after a near-vertical nights sleep headed off on more of the same beautiful road.

Next stop Venice!


  • James Daddy

    Yea Rome has really detierorated in the last 40 years – it was always seedy and crowded, but now it is packed beyond belief and has lost it’s romance. Look forward to your view of Venice. Check your email. James