A Trip to Rome

I confess, I found Rome a lot like Paris only with older ruins. Perhaps it’s me coming from the UK, or my having lived outside Europe for a long time, but the two felt rather similar. Both have world-famous landmarks in their centres; the streets are often narrow and paved with dark grey, square cobblestones many of which are missing; food and drink is a main attraction; the churches, fountains, and obelisks look strikingly similar; the streets are filthy, and many buildings covered in grime; the traffic is bad and parking spaces in short supply; certain areas are thick with tourists and the accompanying band of hawkers, vendors, and pickpockets. Bear in mind I like Paris a lot, so I didn’t think this was a bad thing.

The first sight we visited was the Trevi Fountain, which I’d never heard of. It was sixteen-deep with tourists, half of whom were trying to take my eye-out with selfie-sticks while the other half tossed coins into the water. It was nice enough, but once you’ve been to Peterhof, Baroque fountains never do much for you afterwards. We moved onto the Pantheon, pushed along by the crowd as if entering a football stadium. I hate crowds and I was already getting grumpy. Half the trouble was the pavements are tiny and you have to walk in the road, but nowhere is pedestrianised and you’re in danger of being mown down by a van or scooter at any moment. When Haussmann designed Paris he at least had the good sense to build wide pavements so pedestrians don’t compete for space with garbage trucks. Anyway, the Pantheon was…okay. Then it started to rain and, with bright sunshine forecast the next day, we abandoned the sightseeing and went for dinner.

My companion booked the restaurant, a well-known place popular with tourists that’s been around since 1906. From what I could tell, the Italians eat like this: first you order a plate a metre in diameter covered in cured ham. This they call a starter. Then you eat several kilogrammes of pasta. Then you eat a lump of meat the size of a rugby ball. At no point does a vegetable pass nearby. In case you’re still hungry you eat a tiramasu. I can only assume an Italian dinner lasts between five and eight hours, or they only eat once per week. I chose the cured ham – which was excellent – followed by the carbonara which was the house specialty. They made it slightly differently than I do, i.e. they fucked it up, but it was still very good. Very good.

The next day dawned bright and clear so we went to the top of the Spanish steps and took some photos.

Then we walked along the upper road and dropped down into the Piazza del Popolo, where sits an Egyptian obelisk which used to be in the middle of the Circus Maximus. I looked at this thing and wished that stones could talk. From there we took the metro to the Vatican where I ignored gangs of Indians telling me I was “going the wrong way”, and headed to Saint Peter’s Square. This was a nice spot and big enough that it wasn’t too crowded. However, the line to go inside was several hundred metres long and there was no way I was going to join it so we didn’t actually enter the Vatican proper, hence I missed the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As we approached the building with the balcony  where the pope comes and waves at his flock, a dark cloud formed over my companion, who is Turkish. As we got closer, a warning bolt of lightning shot down and landed inches from her feet. Then when we got to the barrier a Swiss guard prodded her with his pike and said “We don’t want your sort ‘ere, now bugger off!” By contrast, I was left well alone (I may be making some of this up).

I was impressed by the Vatican, or what I saw of it from Saint Peter’s square. This was worth a visit.

We then hopped on a bus which took us across the Tiber and on to the Altare della Patria. This colossal monument features an enormous bronze statue of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king who united Italy. Given the size of the thing and the overall monument, you’d have thought he was someone who beat Napolean six-nil over two legs, home and away. This place also serves as the location for the grave of the unknown soldier and the eternal flame.

From there we walked through the Roman Forum, a collection of old ruins which perhaps ought to have done something for me but didn’t, and onto the Colosseum. This was very impressive but as we approached two dozen people of various nationalities came running up:

“Hello! Where are you from? Do you want to go inside? Do you? DO YOU? You can skip the line with me. Bonjour! Do you want to go inside? I can get you inside! Where are you from? Privyet! Do you want to skip the line? You want to go inside?”

This barrage came before I’d even had the slightest chance to look at the outside, and after that I wouldn’t have gone inside even if someone had let slip Maria Sharapova was there in a hot tub with two of her closest friends and wanted me to join them. So instead we took a leisurely stroll around the outside, where I got some nice photos. Like the Vatican, the Colosseum was worth seeing.

That evening we went to a restaurant where I had a very thin pizza covered in lumps of mozzarella cheese and cured ham. I’m assuming this is how pizzas are supposed to be done. Afterwards we went to a bar disguised as a speakeasy – a theme growing in popularity in Rome, I heard – which could easily have been in Paris. The main difference was Rome was much cheaper; visiting other cities makes me realise how ludicrously expensive Paris is for drinks, particularly spirits and cocktails.

The next day we caught a taxi to the airport and underwent a journey quite unlike any other I’d been on. The driver, an Italian in his fifties with a bald head and grey beard, was engaged in a heated discussion on his phone before we’d even pulled away. Often when this happens the driver spends a few more minutes on the phone before hanging up, but not this guy. He seemed to be following up on some sort of business transactions and had a scrap of paper he used as a ledger with various names and numbers on it, and called each one in turn, taking notes using the steering wheel as a desk. And this dickhead didn’t even have a hands-free kit, he either had to hold it or put it in his lap.

He was probably concentrating on the road for a maximum of 20%, which meant he was constantly slamming on the brakes and veering into the hard shoulder. Even when we got to the highway he didn’t change, and the above picture was taken at around 120kph. My friend recorded the videos below:

If I didn’t think this guy would pretend not to understand me, I’d have asked him to stop and concentrate on driving. Not that any of this surprised me: in April this year, Italy banned Uber because it represented “unfair competition” to traditional taxi drivers. Presumably they mean they would no longer be able to engage in unrelated business transactions while driving customers at high speed along the motorway. Of course, there was no point in complaining but had this been Uber the guy would have been out of a job before we’d cleared airport security. Remember this next time some corrupt politician or their lackey declares Uber is unsafe for passengers.

Anyway, Rome was nice and I’m glad I went.

(The full collection of my photos from Rome can be seen here).

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40 thoughts on “A Trip to Rome

  1. It’s a bit perverse to go to Rome if you hate crowds when you could have tried shock therapy in Venice instead.

    Alternatively, remain ochlophobic, avoid airports and taxis and spend a weekend walking in Fontainebleau forest.

  2. Good pictures.

    Early December is a good time to avoid the queues and crowds, slight queue for St Peter’s and the Coliseum but they weren’t long and not really a problem as it was the only ones that we struck.

    The Pantheon to me a civil engineer is a pretty awesome still functioning structure, most of them in Rome are, the fountains and the ancient underwater continuously operating supply systems are totally fascinating to me as well.

    Great spot, the kind of city that you could spend a good six months in during early retirement.

  3. The Pantheon is utterly incredible, from an engineering point of view. Columns added and more by later generations, unable to believe it would stand; and there it still is. That the Romans had the knowledge, ability and technology to build a structure like this is astonishing (not to mention the ‘hidden city’, underground networks supplying water and so on). Glad you enjoyed your visit – it’s with going back, too!

  4. Touts. Yes. Remind me why I hate large parts of Italy.

    If you’ve not been, try Turin.

  5. It’s a bit perverse to go to Rome if you hate crowds

    It’s a must-see place, crowds or not. And there are plenty of side streets and vantage points away from the baying mobs. You can get a pretty good look at the Trevi Fountain without having to squeeze in among tossers chucking coins in.

  6. The Pantheon is utterly incredible, from an engineering point of view.

    The Romans built the dome? I didn’t know that, I assumed they build on the original site and erected the columns and portico with the dome coming later. It’s hard to tell with a lot of buildings in Rome what was built by the Romans and what came much later. Yes, the dome was impressive – even more so now I know it was done by Romans.

  7. THE interesting thing about the Pantheon is that it’s made of concrete. Yes conrete. Aggregate, cement (made from roasted limestone) and water. They must have used scaffolding, moulds, etc just as we do today. I’d LOVE to know if there’s any iron rebar embedded within or if it’s a totally compression based design.
    Concrete technology lapsed during the Dark Ages and we had to reinvent it centuries later. This is why aqueducts and colosseums still stand centuries later. What did the Romans ever do for us?

  8. Concrete technology lapsed during the Dark Ages and we had to reinvent it centuries later.

    The most striking thing I took away from Rome was the bald-faced evidence that advanced civilisations can collapse, taking almost everything with it. I fear it’s not a lesson humankind has learned very well.

  9. “or if it’s a totally compression based design”

    No tension members or steel for that matter, compression load structure including when they built it I think, ie no falsework.

    “Concrete technology lapsed during the Dark Ages”

    It lapsed a bit in the fifties and sixties as well, they incorrectly called it concrete cancer. It was nothing of the kind more like lack of cover, not placing concrete properly, voids, segregation, lack of vibration, concrete placed when it was well past its plastic phase.

  10. Trevi Fountain: you’re not an Audrey Hepburn fan obviously
    Forum: all those Roman heads: I spent hours there finding two thousand year old portraits of people I knew.
    St Peter’s: over the top opulence. All I could think of were starving German peasants buying indulgences to pay for the vulgarity.

  11. Tim: The most striking thing I took away from Rome was the bald-faced evidence that advanced civilisations can collapse, taking almost everything with it. I fear it’s not a lesson humankind has learned very well.

    Civilisations succeed, and then they become comfortable, and then complacent and then decadent. We’re moving from the complacency phase to the decadent phase. Enthusiastically egged on by the lefties. Our most brutal civilisational competitor hasn’t got to the success phase yet. That’s a measure of how fucked up we have become.

  12. Had a similar taxi experience in Venice once…late at night from Piazzale Roma round to Lido di Iesolo. The guy was on the (hand-held) phone the whole time, doing business. I couldn’t follow most of his dialect, but at one point I did hear him say “They’re Germans, all you need to provide is a swimming pool and lots of beer…”

    Would be fascinating to know exactly what scam was being set up there…

  13. There’s a reconstructed Roman fort not far from where I live, a product of Germany’s bombastic (but pre-Nazi) era when the aristos saw themselves as heirs to Roman civilization.

    The fort isn’t half as interesting as the contents – which are genuine finds – mostly from the surrounding area. The technology is staggering, in many cases for how little things have changed since then. The locks and keys, less rusty and degraded, could be found in any modern house.

    “Civilisations succeed, and then they become comfortable, and then complacent and then decadent. We’re moving from the complacency phase to the decadent phase. Enthusiastically egged on by the lefties. Our most brutal civilisational competitor hasn’t got to the success phase yet. That’s a measure of how fucked up we have become.”

    It is really very sad how the, to date, best (while still far from perfect) civilization to live in, ever, is being undermined from within by the constant leftist attacks. The totally over-the-top constant accusations of sexism, male privilege, racism, etc. Sure those things are there, but try somewhere else, and do try to find somewhere else where they are as on the wane as here. Similarly the garment-rending over how we got here. Rhodes must fall, and now a portrait of Washington being removed from a church he built because he owned slaves. Flawed people did flawed things, but people without whom we wouldn’t be here now.

    But it’s not a new phenomenon. The original Lord High Executioner’s list included “the idiot who praises in enthusiastic tone, every century but this and every country but his own”.

  14. “…every country but his own…”
    It’s trendy on the left to hate our own civilisation. They think they have a better one to offer and so seek to destroy the one we have built. If and when they succeed at that the one that replaces it will not be the utopia they imagine. It’ll be something along the lines of what the residents of Caracas or Raqqa currently enjoy.

  15. “It is really very sad how the, to date, best (while still far from perfect) civilization to live in, ever, is being undermined from within by the constant leftist attacks.”

    There are very strong links with the collapse of a society with the degradation of it’s morals and culture as well as the obvious economic contraction. Marxism has this as its central core. I think history will not judge this death cult well.

    Also it is interesting to watch the rise of China as it takes the opposite direction to the West. Chinese culture is once again on the rise, the Maoist imposed atheism is a thing of the past with all religions growing rapidly and China now on course to have more Christians than America in just over ten years time and then there is their huge and ever growing economy. The irony of the West in criticizing this society that is on the ascendancy across the board when the best progress they can show for themselves is a young kid getting free gender reassignment surgery or whatever it is called. If that aint the signs of death cult emerging I dont know what is.

  16. Glad you liked Rome – I love it – as I love Paris as well but have never thought of the two as particularly similar, but never mind… It’s a while since I went to either.

    The Pantheon is one of the wonders of the world really; adding to your previous commentators, I understand the concrete of the dome was made using pummice stone to keep the weight down.

    Magnificent engineering.

  17. The only way to see Rome is to hire an accredited guide. They mostly seem to be university archaeology staff earning extra cash so you’ll learn far more than you ever would from a guide-book and get to see places not on the tourist trail. Best thing is that you avoid all the queues. With their official passes (make sure they have a Vatican as well as Rome pass) they can take you in via staff entrances and around parts of buildings not open to the public (of course everyone knows each other so mates’ rules apply). We got into the Sistine 30 minutes before it opened so had the place to ourselves (and some cleaners). Tours can be personalised so you could have had a day just exploring the wonders of Roman engineering. Costs start at around €500 a day but worth every penny.

  18. The only way to see Rome is to hire an accredited guide.

    I heard that, but Tim’s Method of Seeing a City begs to differ. The first trip should always consist of belting around the main tourists attractions as fast as possible, getting some decent photos, then wandering around so I get a feel for the place. Then, if and when I return, I can tailor the trip accordingly and take my time, safe in the knowledge I’ve seen the main stuff.

  19. “There are very strong links with the collapse of a society with the degradation of it’s morals and culture”

    Well, moral degradation is relative. European Christians no longer throw gays off tall buildings or burn heretics. With the emphasis on “no longer”. That’s a strength of contemporary morals. Regarding degradation of culture, who is doing the judging? The nazis also had pretty strong ideas about what a degenerate culture looked like. The important features to me of contemporary (classical) liberal civilization is that you are free to a great extent to pick your culture and morals (within a group of like-minded consenting adults, of course). It is intolerance, whether it be of orgiastic gays or monastic Christians (and especially one group of the other), or anything in between, that is the enemy of this civilisation. That the enemies within are aiding and abetting the enemies without is a grave threat.

  20. Aw, Mr Tim. The Romans were famous for inventing the dome.

    But “Rome a lot like Paris only with older ruins” is pretty good – have you ever thought of taking up writing?

  21. Good to know Italian taxi drivers haven’t changed! China is very similar, but with the added spice of smoking and the constant worry that the car might fall apart.

    Places such as Rome, Venice and Paris need to be visited off season these days. Either that or go right off the beaten path.

  22. BiG – European Christians haven’t thrown gays off buildings or burned heretics for hundreds of years. And in those hundreds of years they developed a civilisation that surpassed all others until, funnily enough, it embraced tolerance as the crucial virtue. Once you believe tolerance is the only civilised virtue, you end up tolerating those who wish to destroy your society. It doesn’t matter whether the destroyers are Muslims or Marxist or Martian.

    As the Manics said “If you tolerate this, your children will be next” and indeed they were next: raped or blown up or fucked up by being told that anyone can be a girl if they want to be and that truth is a social construct.

  23. “European Christians haven’t thrown gays off buildings or burned heretics for hundreds of years.”

    So what? It’s in their holy book to do it and they used to do it with great gusto and vigour. Not doing it is something they learned from the enlightenment and popular opinion will stop them ever going back to that. Ironically, the same popular opinion that one can hope will stop Islam submitting the whole of Europe to itself.

    Christianity has the same rights to special treatment as Islam does. Zero. That’s the failure of the left – that they actually do not treat these two systems equally, they discriminate against the (currently) less dangerous strand of middle-eastern monotheism because it is (god the irony) “indigenous” and promote the (currently) more dangerous strand of middle-eastern monotheism because, reasons.

    “Once you believe tolerance is the only civilised virtue, you end up tolerating those who wish to destroy your society.”

    I totally agree that we have to do an immediate u-turn on this, but without reverting to the kind of intolerance Europe has already suffered under middle-eastern monotheism.

  24. But “Rome a lot like Paris only with older ruins” is pretty good – have you ever thought of taking up writing?

    Never.

    Oi, Newman. Do you know this rather fine engineering photo?

    I may have seen it, but I am more familiar with the example of the principle illustrated in the Ladybird book on bridges.

  25. I totally agree that we have to do an immediate u-turn on this, but without reverting to the kind of intolerance Europe has already suffered under middle-eastern monotheism.

    I think we’re way past that point. The sort of intolerance needed to reverse this madness will not be pretty.

  26. Aw, Mr Tim. The Romans were famous for inventing the dome.

    What I know about architecture could be written on a stamp. I took a flying guess that the Trevi Fountain was Baroque, and am waiting for someone to point out those in Peterhof aren’t.

  27. “and after that I wouldn’t have gone inside even if someone had let slip Maria Sharapova was there in a hot tub with two of her closest friends and wanted me to join them.”

    Actually that would *absolutely* have worked for me.

  28. On the subject of civilisations collapsing and technological advances being lost; in a history of the English speaking people, Churchill makes the point that there was probably a 600 year gap between someone in Britain having a hot bath after the Romans departed.

  29. “The Romans were famous for inventing the dome.”

    Which of course is a glorified arch, and the Romans are the undisputed masters of the arch. And as someone else pointed out, the arch is a structure that is based on compression loading only. Stone and (un-reinforced) concrete is still to this day the main building materials that are used to resist compressive loads. The keystone being the pièce de résistance, they did use cantilevers as a kind of stepping stone type arch but it was only in small amounts. My firm use the keystone concept in some of our horizontal and vertical structures. The Romans had rope and timber in sufficient quantities, unlike metallic material, and to some extent leather that could be produced in long enough sections for tensile loading purposes which due to their durability haven’t survived over time. They would have used tensile material for assistance with construction and only on very small permanent structures. Hardwood timber piles for Roman bridge foundations (compression and lateral tension) are still being discovered to this day. It would be rare to see a Roman remain that is not based on the arch concept. Two columns and a lintel are also an arch.

  30. “Two columns and a lintel are also an arch.” But isn’t the lintel going to have to support tension?

  31. “But isn’t the lintel going to have to support tension?”

    Yes and in its freestanding form that is when it will have its highest tension loading (sag) this is in its “simply supported” stage. When built into the surrounding structure and fixed within it, it performs as a “continuous beam” and the main tensile property that is required is that to resist it shearing (due to its weight and the weight of a small lets say triangle shaped material above it) immediately adjacent to the unsupported side of the column, stone can obliviously quite easily withstand shear tension forces but is very limited on long simply supported spans where you would need to radically increase its section ie depth just to even support its own weight (dead load) and it becomes impractical when you consider imposed loads and live loads.

  32. Tim, fountains nice as they are don’t count as architecture just glorified haberdashery.

    See, I told you I knew nothing!

  33. Which of course is a glorified arch, and the Romans are the undisputed masters of the arch. And as someone else pointed out, the arch is a structure that is based on compression loading only.

    Yup. I hearby declare Bardon paid attention in civil engineering class, particularly with regard simple structures and material properties.

  34. where you would need to radically increase its section ie depth just to even support its own weight (dead load) and it becomes impractical when you consider imposed loads and live loads.

    Which is, of course, why stone lintels tend to be massive whereas an equivalent steel I-beam is an awful lot smaller.

  35. “Bardon paid attention in civil engineering class”

    More so a stint with Bridge Branch with the Queensland Main Roads where I took a keen interest in wooden bridges, they used to be the norm and are still in service but are mostly replaced these days. They used to build them from local felled timber, the Main Roads Spec actually categorized and specified the tensile rating of the various and different local indigenous timber such that you could build a ridgy didge bridge in any part of the humongous 2 million square kilometer state without buying any material and knowing that it will perform correctly for heavy truck loads. Road paving material was also won locally as well, and if anyone understands road and pavement building I would argue that a Queensland Grader Driver leaves any European state of the art paving machine for dead.

  36. Road paving material was also won locally as well, and if anyone understands road and pavement building I would argue that a Queensland Grader Driver leaves any European state of the art paving machine for dead.

    Sakhalin Energy’s chief road-builder was a rough-as-guts Australian, from Perth I think, but he’d worked in every remote outback shithole you can think of over decades. He was married to an Aborigine for a while and used to hang out with them. Sadly, he died of lung cancer earlier this year.

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