13 February 2011

Rome Sweet Rome

Ahh, I've just moved to Melbourne and left a bunch of stuff behind in Brisrael, including my little moleskine which I carried around with me across Europe and North Africa. I had jotted down a number of facts, descriptions and doodles of each place I visited in that precious diary. I'm trying to dig through my memory to see what I remembered of Rome. Not much apparently.

Cindy and I arrived in Rome on New Year's Day. We checked into a hostel that was the size of a shoebox. As it was New Year's Day, the hostel decided to mega-inflate their USD$80 per person per night in a shared dorm. For the same price, I can stay in a 5-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur. Or I could buy six pet hermit crabs.

On the first day we visited the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Here's a tip for anyone who wants to avoid the two hour queues into the Colosseum: go to Palatine Hill first where there are no queues. There you can buy a multi-pass to go into Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.

Inside the Colosseum
The size, age and sheer beauty of the Colosseum made it one of my favourite attractions in Europe. Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum lie in the centre of Ancient Rome. They are littered with ancient ruins of palaces and buildings which once homed the affluent and noble Romans. A great number of Roman mythologies unfolded here as well.

The Roman Forum
We spent a whole day at the Vatican Museum. It was definitely worth the one and a half hour wait to get in. After a few hours of walking through the Museum, we ended up inside the Pope's official residence in the Vatican City: the Sistine Chapel. Despite the large crowds filling the chapel, there was an eery quietness and darkness inside. Photographs, and noise, it seemed, were prohibited, and this was strictly enforced by the dozens of security staff inside the chapel. Looking directly above us we could see one of the world's most famous, sacred, and precious artworks on the ceiling: Michaelangelo's 'Creation of Adam'.
Outside the Sistine Chapel
Inside the Vatican Museum
I also visited the awe-inspiring Fontana di Trevi where I flipped a coin over my shoulder and made a wish. Apparently, an estimated 3,000 euros is thrown into this fountain everyday, with the proceeds used to subsidise a supermarket for the needy.

Fontana di Trevi

05 February 2011


We welcomed in the new year from Berlin. It's a fascinating and creative city with such a rich and turbulent history. However, my main lasting impression of it was that it was unbearably cold: something like -10 degrees celsius. We didn't have long in Berlin so we followed the beaten track and visited all the touristy places. 

The East-Side Gallery was our first stop. It's a memorial for freedom which stretches over 1km along the Berlin Wall. Since 1990, it's been decorated with powerful and symbolic paintings from artists all around the world.

When we were closer to town, we visited Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial. We then followed the line of the Wall through the former Nazi Government District to Checkpoint Charlie; the famous crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Further on from here, we ended up at Lustgarten. It's not much of a garden when there's a layer of snow that goes up to your knees! This place is home to the awe-inspiring Berlin Cathedral. 

I love Christmas in Berlin. Except the part where it's freezing and it's hard to get around because of the snow. But we spent a night wandering the beautiful Christmas markets at Gendarmenmarkt. Gendarmenmarkt is a lovely square, where two cathedrals stand at opposite ends; one is French and the other is German. They seem almost identical, but I was told the Germans made their cathedral a few metres taller than the French one to assert their power. At the markets here, we feasted on sausages and watched an outdoor theatre show where a muscular man paraded around in a girl's pink ballet costume.

One afternoon, our local friend, Jen, took us to Kunsthaus Tacheles. It's a former Nazi prison that's now run by a collective of artists. Every inch of its walls is covered by graffiti.

On New Years Eve, we ventured out to a club at Potsdamer Platz. Firecrackers were firing from all directions on the streets well past midnight. It sounded like we were in a battlefield.

We spent our last day visiting the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. I wont go into detail here as I think it's one of those places you have to see and experience for yourself. It's a depressing place filled with tragic and terrifying stories that outline the human capacity for evil.