The Italian embassy can essentially be considered the territory of Italy. Therefore, our Italian adventures started from there. First impressions: disorder and outdatedness, colloquially speaking, looks like a Mickey Mouse organisation (later, our stay in the “Big Italy” only confirmed this impression). Simplest things like online appointments, electronic filling of application forms etc. seem to be unheard of here. Their own regulation, posted on the wall of the embassy, saying that documents must be submitted no later than five working days prior to departure, is totally misinterpreted by the embassy workers, who would not accept the documents any earlier than five days before departure (as one might imagine, this allows virtually no time for any changes or corrections). Those who come to apply for visas know none of this, of course – they arrive decorously, queue and wait… The consul, with the face of a gendarme, appears at 9.30 am and begins to check the documents himself. All those who have naively came in advance are mercilessly sent off, receiving a mark in red ink on their application, with the date they should come and the consul’s signature. Others are kindly accepted, but are picked at for every little thing (like a photo being stapled and not glued, or lack of the zillionth stamp, etc.)
Everyone’s faces carry this I-don’t-feel-like-working-but-definitely-feel-like-acting-all-bossy expression. Quite a lot of the “mainland” Italians look and act exactly the same.
As it had been forecast, Rome greeted us with a 40°C heat, thankfully, a dry and therefore, bearable one. The hotel receptionist was a Russian-speaking lady from Moldova, and she worked well and efficiently. We basically had two days to spend in Rome (one full and two halves), so the most reasonable thing to start with was a city sightseeing tour, and we rushed off to find one. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the Colosseum was just around the corner – right until we remembered that we had booked the hotel with this thought in mind, so it was actually no surprise at all. As we approached the Colosseum, we were literally attacked by sellers of all kinds of stuff like hats, umbrellas, water, as well as “gladiators” and other “ancient Romans,” offering themselves for photos (for money, of course). Unfortunately, all of this merchandising fraternity could express themselves only in Italian and had absolutely no clue where the bus stop was (as we’d been told in our hotel, it was somewhere near the Colosseum). Everyone knows that the Colosseum is a round and a rather large building. We diligently walked all around that whopper – there were no signs in sight and people passing by continued to know nothing about this. Finally, we managed to find the stop ourselves, caught the bus, perched on its upper deck and indulged in the journey through the Eternal City.
It’s all very beautiful – the sculptures, the ruins, the palaces. Everything is covered with the spirit of antiquity, you feel yourself in a huge museum under the sky. But somehow it didn’t touch the delicate strings of my heart, like, for example, London or Hong Kong.
As our tour tickets were valid for 48 hours, we decided to do a full circle without hopping off, and completed the tour with a Colosseum visit. It certainly is a fascinating feeling when you think of these stones being about 2000 years old. There were world wars, and they were standing there; there was Napoleon, and they were standing there; there was the Holy Inquisition, and they were standing there; there was the fall of the Roman Empire, and they were standing there… We climbed to the top and saw part of the arena and the maze beneath it, imagining a defeated gladiator and a crowd of spectators, roaring “Finish him! Finish him!”