When I visited Italy during my two months of European Interrailing, Florence was my base camp. From there I took day trips to other parts of the country. Most notably, Rome and Pisa.I saw many poses in Pisa and ruins in Roma.
The Wonky Tower of Italy
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the most famous sights in Italy. Anyone visiting it without knowing the history behind that iconic structure might be forgiven for thinking it was only famous for being a spot for taking humorous pictures of one another posing in the foreground. In truth there is much more to it than that.
As well as the legendary tower, a couple of other equally awe-filled buildings stand in the surrounding area, the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). One was the massive central Cathedral and an other, the baptistery, was another one of those impressive domes that olde Italian architects seemingly loved so much. I couldn’t enter the dome but another building, the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery) was accessible. Its wide halls were dotted with burial spots, scripts detailing occupants dotted across the walls and floors.
Rome in a Rush
Rome has a lot of stuff in it. Like, a ton! I wanted to see it all but equally didn’t want to lose too much time. So, off I went, foolishly thinking I could fully enjoy the many wonders of the ancient Italian capital in less than twelve hours. It was due to this blistering flurry of sightseeing that I had to give my feet a rest on the next day.
In all honesty it was a bit of a blur. The main recurring feeling I remember having (other than the throbbing in my feet) was ”Cor, that’s big, in’it?” Because as well as being plentiful, a lot of the old stuff in Rome is also quite big. Luckily, many of the major sites are relatively close to each other so with a bit of exertion I was able to see a lot of what was on offer.
I’m a Doctor, not a priest!
Bones. I wanted to see bones. Well, specifically I wanted to visit one ”unusual” site while in Rome. Sure, I wanted to see the big round thing, the super old bit, the thing that sounds like a Thundercat, and all that stuff. But I also wanted to go somewhere that I hadn’t seen a bu-jillion times in pictures and on TV. So, I went to see some bones.
The Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception is a church with an underground tomb housing the remains of various friars. As if an aged candle-lit tomb deep below the streets wasn’t creepy enough, the walls and ceiling of the place were also covered with bones. The empty sockets of long-redundant skulls leered down on visitors gawking at the vertebrae, tibiae, sternums and shoulder blades; splashed against the walls like neolithic wallpaper.
Imagine trying to pitch that design to Dulux.
The Smooth Talker
Another huge thing in Rome is the Spanish Steps. They’re an impressive sight for sure, and rightly swamped with tourists. And where there’s tourists, there’s someone trying to get money out of them.
As I was almost at the bottom of the steps a man stepped forward, greeted me, and before I knew what was happening he had wrapped a small set of colourful threads around my wrist and had started twisting and tying them into a kind of simple friendship bracelet. Although “friendship” was hardly his motivation. He distracted my protestations with friendly chit-chat.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” he said. “Is this your first time in Italy?” and so on. I now know that this is a classic technique used by con-artists; keep the target off-balance by changing the subject and ask questions to engage and divert their mind. My initial reaction of viewing the man as a threat was quickly quelled by his smooth confidence.
He finished the simple bracelet pretty quickly. It was kind of nice actually – like the kind of thing you might make in Primary School.
“Thanks,” I said and made to walk off.
“Sure, sure – twenty euros,” he said.
I laughed. So did he.
“OK, OK – fifteen,” he said.
I laughed. He didn’t.
“What?!? For this?!? No!” I was incredulous. His expression became a mix of anger, sadness and disbelief. He started spouting off about how he’d done a nice thing for me and we’d had a nice chat and how I had seemed like a nice guy. It was becoming quite a scene.
I got my wallet out. “Fine, fine,” I said, just wanting to get out of there. “Not fifteen though! Two! I think two sounds fair!”
He got five …
I’ve never felt such a sting of shame as I did that day, walking away from those steps. I walked blindly, rage clouding my vision. I could feel the bracelet at my side. It seemed to burn my flesh, shred my pride. I tugged at it occasionally, picturing myself ripping it from my wrist and throwing it to the curb.
It wasn’t about the money. It was the fact that I’d seen what was coming and yet I’d let it happen anyway. I hadn’t been robbed at knife-point, I hadn’t been overwhelmed by the odds. I had taken money from my wallet and handed it over. Willingly. Willingly against my will. I decided that I had to learn from the experience, I couldn’t just toss it aside and let it be forgotten in the gutter.
I kept that wristband with me for the rest of my two month sojourn. Only when I returned to the UK did I dispose of that colourful shackle on my pride. And as it burned so I felt release. I haven’t been conned into opening my wallet again like I did that hot day in Rome.
Although I did give some sweets to some beggar children at a Romanian train station, but that’s another story …
What sites can you recommend in Rome? Have you ever been conned while on holiday?
Thank you for reading! This is part two of my time in Italy. Check part one to learn of Florence, Nutella and sunburn.