So, Monday, February 1st. Ah, it seems like a lifetime ago. Which, if you’re a drone ant, it would be. Really, I guess it’s been about 3-1/2 weeks. Yeah, that seems about right; I guess that Ant-Man movie I watched on the way back from Hong Kong stuck with me more than I thought.
The advantage of writing these things up a couple of weeks later is that the events run together a bit, it becomes harder to separate out individual days in my memory (unless I’m keeping notes, which I forgot to do while in Rome), and so this probably becomes a blog entry of more manageable length. In theory. No promises, we’ll see. [Update: Nope. My memory’s great, it turns out. Enjoy.]
So I woke up, the day after my arrival, at around 9:00, after 11 hours sleep! To this day, I’m very happy about that; when you commonly get 1/2 that amount of sleep, 11 hours is a serious cause for rejoicing. I think I puttered about for a bit, shower, e-mail, nibbled on the fruit Max had kindly provided and drank his tea (a really good breakfast tea from “Royal Tea”, taken with honey), and then I think I headed out around 11:15 (according to my photo timestamps) to walk to the Colosseum. Max had suggested a route into the city that I only vaguely remembered, but what I remembered happened to match what Google was suggesting and I loosely followed the two of them. As a quick reminder, here’s the map of Rome again, from last time:
Basically, I walked north towards the park, followed it mostly eastward and down the hill towards the set of stars you’ll see next to the river, which mark restaurants that I ate at. The weather was overcast initially, but started clearing during my walk; somewhere between the high-40s and mid-50s, it was cool enough for a jacket in the shade but for me, wearing a jacket and a backpack and setting a frequently brisk walking pace, I was comfortable starting out and overheated soon enough. After that first day walking, I don’t think I ever wore my jacket outside — which made me feel quite rugged walking around in unbuttoned shirtsleeves around all of the bundled up Italians I passed. It did get briefly up into the high 60s during the week I was there, and any day that was sunny you could overheat immediately in the sun. I asked Max how hot it was in the summer there, and he admitted that it was terrible, so between the moderate temperature and the reduced crowds, clearly the off season is the right time to go.
As I passed the park and headed downhill, I got to an impressive view of the city that is so popular that Max had recommended it and tour buses stopped there particularly to let people get off and take pictures, like this one
This bit of view, at a bend in the road near a Spanish Academy and Museum, has a monument on the inside curve of the road:
Just around the corner was another monument — which was a recurring theme in Rome and the main reason why it took me so long to get anywhere:
Continuing my walk down a steep hill, and some more steep stairs, I ended up in windy Italian streets where, even if I was lost, I’d be enjoyably so.
After walking these back streets for a few blocks, I came out next to a little intersection of cafe-lined roads, where those riverside stars are on my map, and placed my first star at a promising lunch spot called Marguerite, where I had a super yummy broccoli and anchovy pizza with some coffee.
By the way, that pizza was excellent, as was all the food I had here. The crust was thin and light, and the whole pizza was filling but not excessively so. (The little place Max recommended around the corner advertised that they let their dough rise for 4 days! This place might not have gone so far, but it was still a very light crust.)
It was about noon at this point, and the place was almost empty. This did not stop the waitress from seating the next two women, both American tourists, right next to me, at a table just inches away from mine. I’m not talking “Oooo, Charles doesn’t like people, how funny” next to me (not that it wasn’t funny, ’cause, duh)…. I mean “Weirdly, unnaturally close in a nearly empty restaurant by any objective standard” next to me. I think that she, in her Italian way, assumed that we would then start talking to each other, but she only proved her complete ignorance of Americans. The only thing we shared was our subliminal discomfort at the mutual intrusion. I was distantly tempted to say something to the waitress, but it would have broken the atmosphere of stoic annoyance that we were all basking in. Better to all have an amusing anecdote to tell later, us about her and each other, and her about us. “So I put the Americans right next to each other so they could all talk and have a great lunch together, and do you know they ignored each other the whole time! Didn’t even exchange glances! What’s up with that, right? Idioti!”
When I was done, I headed out again, crossed the bridge over the River Tiber,
and walked through windy streets with denser, taller, older buildings and little spaces with parking or cafe patios or newstands,
until I arrived at what is considered the heart of Rome, the Piazza Venezia.
(On the map, you’ll see a little star to the east across the river from where I ate, right next to a little traffic oval and above the name of a bank, which for some reason is more important to Google than this landmark.) There are a couple of guards at the central monument at the front of this building, and I was fortunate enough to arrive at the changing of those guards:
Must be good work, if you can get it.
The building, and one connected to it, house a pair of museums that I would have liked to have gotten to, but never quite made it, as well as a tower with a restaurant on top that is supposed to yield an impressive view of the city. I was on my way to the Colosseum, and disinclined to spend my day in museums that day, but I did discover a public restroom that I ended up using several times during my trips about the city. So, it was quite the cultural highlight. And I did get my first view of the Colosseum from the building’s ramparts.
The walk there took me past some ruin or another — most walks in Rome do.
And at the end of this street, there it was:
For the life of me, I have no idea where all of my pictures of the interior are. I took them. I clearly remember taking them. And yet they do not exist on my phone. Did I do something weird where I was holding my phone strangely in a way that managed to activate the delete function a bunch of photos? I have no idea. But the next picture on my phone is over 2 hours later. Very X-Files; at least the aliens appear to have been gentle with me. Well, if you want pictures of the Colosseum, the internet can hardly fail to oblige.
Somebody outside tried to rope me into a tour group he was forming, that he said would get me in without the admission line, and I thanked him for the information and went on my way. (A) I didn’t want to do it. (B) It would have added about €20 to the modest €12 admission price. There were a bunch of horse-drawn carriages outside, either awaiting a Jane Austen Appreciation Society tour group to finish their Colosseum visit or (and this is a long shot) hoping for couples drawn to the romance of a ride. The line to get in wasn’t terrible, but it was like airport security and your stuff went through an x-ray machine while you walked through a metal detector. I sprung for an audio guide, for another €6; there wasn’t much to it, just 6 stops around the Colosseum with little numbers for you to key in. But the guide’s lectures were rather long at those stops, and there were some supporting pieces, “for more details on X, enter this number”. And the British voices they used were wonderfully snooty, especially when talking about “the common people” having to sit in the upper tiers. Clearly, the British narrators were no fonder of the lower classes than the Romans themselves were.
BTW, I’ve mentioned a couple of Euro prices so far, and I should point out that the current exchange rate is about €1 = $1.09. This is quite good; just 7 years ago, the rate was €1 = $1.6. (It’s been as low as €1 = $0.83, but the current rate is still better than average.) Of course, with different countries (and cities) in the EU have different economic strengths, the prime consideration isn’t so much the exchange rate as the actual cost of goods in the local economy. The countries of southern Europe are economically weaker right now, and so it’s fairly cheap to live in Italy, Spain, Croatia, etc., and all of my meals in Rome were had for under $12 except one, where I had a couple of excellent craft beers with my meal, and cheesecake after, and paid about $28. But the average light meal, including one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, was between $3 and $5. So, very easy to tour here cheaply.
The Colosseum ticket also bought me admission into the Forum and the Palatine Hill, and was good for 2 days, and since it was now about 4:30, I put off the latter two places until tomorrow and simply walked home, crossing the Circus Maximus — the old racing track — along the way.
I did pass this:
I crossed the river back the way I had come, back to the hill I’d come down, and climbed the long route upwards, rejoicing in the exercise and pondering the need for heart medication. I picked up some groceries on the way, and had a salad for dinner, watched something or other, and went to bed.
Tuesday, February 2nd
Of course, I had to go back the next day, because my Colosseum ticket had included the Forum and the Palatine Hill, but was only good until the next day. So, after a decent night’s sleep, I puttered a bit and then left at around 10:15, this time taking a slightly wrong turn on my way down and finding myself a bit further down the Tiber than I’d intended. This was not a problem, as the river has a walking/cycling path along both sides, and I had a nice time just sitting along the bank in the morning air and listening to the water.
Walking a slightly different route into the city, I started keeping an eye out for a late breakfast / lunch place, and a little before noon ended up the only person in this little restaurant, having what was billed as a “Mediterranean Breakfast”.
I continued on towards the Forum, which was next to the Colosseum, and ended up at the Piazza Venezia again, where I took advantage of my extensive knowledge of the local area to use the restroom. I then continued over around the building, down some stairs, up some other ones, and ended up here:
The Forum itself, once the central square of Rome where the original villages met to trade, hold religious rites, etc, has relatively little left of the original structures, and much of it looks like this,
though other centuries added their own embellishments:
I did find a very good map of the area:
That map reminds me that the arch was celebrating a guy named Septimus Severus; all I could remember was that it was something to do with Harry Potter. (It makes sense. We do know that the wizarding world goes back a very long way.)
Most of the ruins are just bits of stone: kind of cool to be around, but not much to look at really. Much of it was buried long ago and is slowly being dug up, and is much the worse for the experience. There were a few bits that I rather liked, though.
The Temple of Antonius and Faustina is cool mostly for the backstory. It was built by the Emperor Antonius in honor of his deceased wife Faustina, the niece of Hadrian. They were very much in love, and by the accounts I read she was a pretty amazing person (her wiki entry summarizes it, and is worth the read), but what won me over was this:
Of course, I say one selfie can’t hurt, but we all know that’s a damned lie.
At this point, it was about 4:00, and I headed home. Discovering along that way that clothes don’t make the man nearly as much as pose does.
That valuable life lesson learned, I continued home, dinner, video, sleep, and on to the next day.
The next installment will be the story of the time I walked entirely around the borders of a foreign country, and mocked nearly all of the sacred art within it. Was considering the title “Charles Damns Himself To The Fires Of Hell”, but we all know that ship sailed long ago. Thanks, Dad.