The railway station is situated in the city, only a minute’s walk from the Savoia Hotel where we stayed. When we left the next morning we immediately entered a tunnel, which took us under the city to the other side. We were several minutes going through this long tunnel and its construction was a great piece of engineering.
On account of the official visit of Hitler and Mussolini to-day has been declared a national holiday. Many people seem to be observing it by doing their washing.
This washing has difficulties which it is hard for us to appreciate. The people in the cities live in rooms and have no garden or even a backyard. Consequently, the drying of the clothes after they have been washed is a problem. This is overcome by hanging a clothes line from one window to another and the clothes hang outside the wall. In other cases they have permanent clothes lines with pulleys attached stretched across the narrow lanes. Thus, the people of say the fourth floor of a building on one side make arrangements with the people on the other side and the line is there for the use of either party. It was strange to see these clothes hanging out in this manner right in the heart of the city as well as in the suburbs and villages.
A further method is adopted when circumstances permit. When a running stream is available, they take the clothes in baskets to that stream and the washing is done on the spot. The clothes are then spread out on the rocks of the river bed to dry.
I brought a book to read in the train going to Rome, but it is impossible to concentrate on a novel and so I will write this record as we go along.
We have just passed several more of those little villages on the top of steep hills. Whenever there is an isolated peak it is almost certain to either have a castle on the top or else one of the little villages.
I thought the tunnel under Genoa was a long one, but we have been through two or three just as long. I am now sorry that I did not start to count the tunnels after we left Genoa as we appear to be more underground than on top. Rozie has just said it is almost as bad as one long tunnel. When we get a proper view of the coast along which we are travelling it is easy to understand why the tunnels are necessary. The waters of the Mediterranean have washed through to solid rock and it would be impossible to build a railway on the faces of these steep cliffs, therefore we are travelling through them. Sometimes we can look up as we come out of a tunnel and we see a precipice of rock some hundreds of feet above us. It is no wonder that the line was electrified, as it would be terrible to take this part of the journey with a steam engine at the head of the train.
At every station we pass we see a number of soldiers and special police. This Hitler visit seems to have caused a lot of expense.
We have just passed through Pisa and saw the leaning tower. Unfortunately, the train did not stop long enough for a close inspection. I can now vouch that it is true to its title.
After a good lunch in the dining car and a short doze afterwards I found we have left the mountainous country behind and have taken on an ordinary engine. The country is now mostly flat and growing crops. The work of tilling the soil appears to be done by bullocks as I have seen hundreds of them, but have seen no horses or machinery. In many cases the women are helping the men by doing the sowing while they drive the bullocks.
One of the special police travelling on the train has just made us all produce our passports. I was told by Cook’s men that this is not usually done, but they are now taking the greatest precautions on account of Hitler’s visit. Italian and German flags are flying at every village we pass through. Arches are being built and other decorations erected.
It is now 7.30 and we expected to be in Rome at 5.45. Everyone is hungry, as we had our lunch at 12.30. I rushed out at a station a few miles back to get some refreshments and had to climb up the four steps of the train as it moved off with three open bottles of orange crush in my hand. As we were not supposed to leave the train and also as they give no intimation whatever when the train is about to start, the refreshments nearly caused some trouble.
We have just arrived at a station outside Rome where there are thousands of soldiers awaiting the special train which is bringing Hitler. There are soldiers every few yards along the railway line.
Next Day. I had to stop this record last night as the last few miles were most interesting watching the arrangements made for Hitler. Then when we got to Rome we were told we had to have our luggage checked. This was a terrible business. We had to stand on the platform until our bags were laid out and then we unlocked and stood by them until one of the soldiers felt inclined to check them. Some were done very thoroughly and others were scarcely examined. It depended upon the zeal of the soldier doing the job. In one of my bags they ransacked everything and when they came to a small tin with the balance of the barley sugar we brought from Tasmania I am quite sure he thought he had a bomb. In the same bag were my field glasses and they opened this to make sure they were only glasses. It was not a question of customs, but it was just because we were foreigners and Hitler was coming. I was beside a doctor’s wife talking to her as they were going through everything. They dragged out a pair of pyjamas which had been tucked into a travelling rug at the last minute. But there were other things brought to light which made me talk to someone else to make it easier for the lady, and even the doctor himself quietly walked away as though he had nothing to do with it.
Of course, this took the best part of an hour and when we got to the hotel it was 9.15. The whole city was full of excitement. There were crowds everywhere. I have never seen so many different military uniforms. There were men in black uniforms, grey uniforms, blue uniforms. Some in long trousers and some in short. Some with felt hats and some with steel helmets. There were young men and old men and even women in uniform. It reminded me of the war days and it is undoubtedly developing the war spirit in the people of Italy.
When we got to the hotel our passports were taken from us and we were told not to go out into the streets without them as we were liable to arrest if we did not have them with us. I did not make the attempt, but I understand that some of the party took a taxi to see something of Hitler’s arrival, which was expected to officially take place at 10 o’clock. It was 1.30 before they got back to the hotel, as they got into a traffic jam and to make matters worse they did not see either Hitler or Mussolini.
We were to have 2½ days in Rome and I saw immediately that we wanted 2½ weeks to see it properly.
Our first visit was to the St. Paul’s cathedral. We had a special guide for this and we just stood gazing at the marvels with open mouth. I cannot describe it and I could not photograph it because no camera was allowed inside. I could believe the guide when he said “there is not a cathedral to equal it in the whole world”. Not only is it the largest, but it is the most costly. From a point of view of art alone it is without equal. The next cathedral in size is St. Paul’s in London. There must have been at least 1,000 people seeing through the church while we were there and yet it was sufficiently empty to allow the groups speaking the various languages to be kept well apart so that one did not disturb the other. Away up in the dome we saw people looking down on us from a height of 300 feet and they were so small they had to be pointed out to us before we saw them. I am both glad and sorry that we saw this cathedral first.
During the next couple of days we visited other cathedrals each with its own peculiar interest and treasures. St. Peter’s is the tomb of St. Peter and is the home of the Roman Catholic faith. The Vatican is the home of the Pope. This is a separate state under the complete jurisdiction of the Pope.
The Pantheon cathedral was built by Agrippa in 27 B.C. and is now the best preserved monument of ancient Rome.
In another cathedral we saw the actual chains which bound St. Peter when he was imprisoned. In others we saw a part of the table used for the Last Supper, the actual staircase from the home of Pontius Pilate up which he led Christ, the skulls of both St. Peter and St. Paul and many other things which made the writings of the Bible impressively real.
In other places we had our memories refreshed on ancient Rome. We were shown the spot where Horatius held the bridge of old. There is now another bridge comparatively new at this place, but even that one is over 100 years of age.
We were shown where Mark Anthony made his famous oration – “Friends, Romans, Citizens, lend me you ears”, etc. – and where the “body” of Caesar was carried amongst the crowds. We visited the catacombs and saw the actual writing on the wall which proved that here St. Paul and St. John were both first buried. We saw the tower where Nero played his fiddle while Rome was burning.
We visited the Colosseum, the great amphitheatre where 50,000 people used to watch gladiators fight to the death, where lions were let loose on the Christians, and the spot where Julius Caesar sat to watch the sport. We were living in the past, but were brought to the present in a flash.
We stopped outside the gate to the Vatican to see the treasures there, but we found it closed and a guard outside who told us that we could not enter. The Pope had given orders for the Vatican to be closed for the next three days while the visit of Hitler was in progress. Amongst the old we saw the new. He has no love for Hitler and openly shows it.
We visited Mussolini’s forum, a huge place which is still being built in order to provide training for the lads and young men of Italy so that they will make better soldiers. Here they get the flower of youth and give them training in all forms of physical culture. There are about 500 of these lads getting prepared to go out and train others in the country districts. 20 years hence the world will have cause to remember what is being done to-day.
At night we were very fortunate in being able to see Mussolini and Hitler riding together in a luxurious motor car as they went to the station. For miles the streets were lined with soldiers and the streets were crowded with civilians. It took us a long time to fight our way to a special hotel where we had been invited by one of the guards to witness the procession. It was worth while to see two of the most famous men in Europe just at present. Mussolini stood erect and held his head high in a very forceful manner. Hitler was not nearly so impressive, notwithstanding that he was acknowledging the welcome of the people by giving the Fascist salute. After they went past and the soldiers had marched away we went out to see the illuminations.
The best of this was a long avenue of models of ancient Roman flares and fires. They were burning some kind of oil which gave a splendid representation of the Roman night. The fires were one large bowl made of some material representing bronze. These were mounted on pedestals and the flame in the bowl was between two and three feet high. The flares were like a very large candlestick with about twenty branches each issuing forth a flame at the end. Unfortunately, I did not know there would be anything like this and I did not have a camera with me, otherwise I would have tried to get a photo.
We left Rome feeling that we had not properly started to see it.