June 12, 2011

Going Gaga (Day 2, 11 June)

What an awesome day! Not only did me and Ma cover a ton of sights, the main highlight was seeing Lady Gaga up close, like just a few feet away…but more on that later.

We kick-started the day with breakfast on the hotel’s roof terrace, which afforded us a nice albeit partly obscured view of the city. We feared a typical Continental breakfast with just bread and jams but thankfully there was more variety than that.

After filling up, we took a slow walk towards town, passing the San Carlo Quattro Fontane and Quirinale, which is a presidential palace. From there it was a short walk down to the Trevi and I tried to look for an H&M nearby that I missed yesterday but I couldn’t find it.

I gave up and we continued to the Temple of Hadrian instead. Built in 145 AD and dedicated to Emperor Hadrian, only 11 columns have survived the times.

From there it was a short walk to the Pantheon, which means ‘to every god’. It’s actually a circular building behind the set of columns gracing the front and inside the rotunda is a huge dome.

And despite the hundreds of tourists swarming the place, there was still a sense of peace within...maybe because there was some type of choir competition or rehearsal going on so the crowd was largely quiet.

We heard bits of the singing and there was one particular solo performance that was hauntingly beautiful. I don’t know what hymn it was but it was moving, especially in the confines of such a sacred place. Goose pimple-worthy!

Another few hundred metres away was Piazza Navona, a city square in which stands the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) and Fountain of Neptune (Fontana di Nettuno). There was a rehearsal going on for some concert tomorrow so we couldn’t see the piazza in totality.

I was going to save Campo de Fiore for another day but since we were nearby, we went after Piazza Navona. It used to be a meadow but now functions as a vegetable/fruits/dried goods/souvenir market. We bought some cherries and snapped away at the fresh produce.

From there, we walked towards the Tiber River to catch a glimpse of Ponte Sant’ Angelo and Castel Sant’ Angelo. The bridge was built by Emperor Hadrian to connect the city to his mausoleum, which was what Castel Sant’ Angelo was originally for. It then became a fortress and papacy refuge, then prison and now museum.

We walked to the Spanish Steps to take the metro back to Repubblica which is nearest to our hotel, only to stumble upon the starting point of a Euro Pride march, it was a party in the piazza! Lots of drag queens, rainbow flags and men in tights!

Back in the hotel, we attended a briefing by our tour director, a Bahamian named Mark who has been working with Insight for over 20 years…he must love his job!

We got to see the other group members, me and Ma are the only Asians. The rest were mostly American or Australian and middle-aged. There were a number of teens too, it being holidays and all. Spotted a couple of Vera Bradley bags amongst the Americans!

Mark mentioned Lady Gaga was in town and was going to play at the Euro Pride concert at Circus Maximus in the evening and me and Ma decided we’d try and check her out. But first, I wanted to walk down Via Veneto, the street immortalised in Federico Fellini’s movie, ‘La Dolce Vita’.

As we were walking towards Via Veneto, we noticed a crowd of people loitering outside a building and I suspected it had something to do with Lady Gaga. A check with a bystander confirmed that they were waiting for Lady Gaga to leave the St Regis hotel for the concert.

This was around 6.45pm and we were told the departure was imminent, 7.30pm according to some guys we spoke to. So me and ma decided to wait, and then we wouldn’t have to grapple with the concert crowds to see her.

We stood just inside the hotel’s porch on the right side, and all the paparazzi stood on the left side because that was the end everyone suspected she would exit. The hotel security kept instructing the crowd not to block the way but no one was really obeying. While waiting, we chatted with some Italian teenagers and an American couple.

At just about 8pm with the excitement mounting, little miss Lady Gaga exited the hotel on OUR SIDE and she didn’t just hop into the SUV. In true Gaga fashion, she posed and preened, I think she was wearing a Versace ensemble, plus a blue wig and a Prada bag maybe.

I was already sort of at the front and rushed forward since there was loads of space as she came down some steps. Unfortunately my shots are blurry as others pushed but I did get one or two, plus a short video clip. She was practically a metre away, as she signed some autographs before hopping into her ride. What a coup!

High on the adrenalin, we continued towards Via Veneto, spotting some orange trees along the way. Once at the famous street, I took some pictures of the Fellini plaque and then we passed by a café called Café du Paris.

There were lots of celebrity pictures outside including one of Mr Clooney, I think the café was featured in the movie. At another restaurant we passed by, a waiter called out, ‘Pizza? Pasta? Some kisses tonight? LOL!

Next stop was the Villa Borghese, the largest public park in Rome to catch the last dregs of the sunset and evening skyline. We passed by a wedding couple taking photos in a VW convertible and a group of tourists stopped to admire them, and then impromptu-ly broke into song and serenaded the couple, acapella.

They must have been professional singers or something because they were in perfect sync, complete with finger-snapping and background harmonies. A pleasant surprise!

I persuaded Ma to walk back to the Trevi to see it illuminated at night, and en route we passed the Spanish Steps again, this time we popped into the church at the top and caught a glimpse of a service going on.

Then it was back to the room and we asked for some hot water to make our instant noodles for dinner…after just 2 pizza/pasta meals, ma is sick of Italian food already!

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