On that first day after I arrived in Rome, I wanted to get out and see as many of the city sights as possible before returning home for my wine and dinner. Everything with an entrance fee was closed by this point in the day so I stuck to the statues, piazzas, cathedrals and streetscapes. This was just one of the piazzas.
The first stop on my walking tour was the Trevi Fountain. This massive work of art exemplifies baroque style and draws a lot of foot traffic. Especially in the evenings, it is a great place to sit and chat with friends. I didn’t have any of course, so I was shortly on my way.
The next stop was at the nearby Spanish Steps. These were built right into the streetscape down one of the seven hills of Rome. They were alright, but beyond being a gathering spot like the fountain I issued before it, there wasn’t too much that impressed me. There is a famous boat fountain at the bottom of the stair that gushes forth potable water, so I shoved my face into the stream for a drink. There were tons of people gathered just another flight down.
One thing that was visible here and in many places scattered throughout Rome are obelisks all brought over from Egypt some 2000 years ago. That they still stand is impressive enough, but what really caught my eye were the hieroglyphs carved into them. This was the first time that I had ever seen the ancient language with my own eyes, and it did nothing but stoke my desire to one day get there.
The last place I went before returning home to feed my furnace was to some old Roman temple ruins that were unearthed not long ago. I would see plenty more of this stuff during my time in Rome, but this was a good appetizer. However, compared to the pictures i post later this would be uninteresting, so instead I’ll comment on Italian automobiles… Besides the Fiats, there are also a great number of Smart Cars. Sometimes you could see five parked all in a row. It made sense to me though, one would not want to be driving an H2 trough this labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets. Parking was a nightmare for all but the best equipped drivers.
The morning after my Vatican romp I was still quite exhausted and made no haste in getting up and out of the hostel. I chatted with some of the other guests while I prepped some more pasta. One of the new faces that showed up in the common room was a 45 year old Australia guy of Italian descent. He worked as a teachers back in Sydney but he was tracing his origins and visiting some places he’d not seen since adolescence. Not sure of it was the teacher in him, but he had a soft spoken encouragement that he would really ham it up with. “Awwww, that’s greaaat! Yeaaaaa, wow, that is reaaaaally great…” There was also a Chinese girl here for a fashion internship in Florence. I invited them along to the Coliseum and Forum Romanum, because, well, I’m just such a nice guy. (“Awwww, yea…that would be soooo great!”)
We started walking over toward the historic area and before long the massive structure could be seen looming just down the street. I had actually gone to see it the night before with one of the other backpackers, so I wasn’t so awed this time around. I certainly was after getting my first glimpse of the inside though.
This was another of those places that I had seen reproduced in images millions of times, but the sense of wonderment by actually standing within it was much greater. Imagining what a sight it would be to see gladiators fighting to the death, criminals pitted against beasts with just a spear and shield, or even the naval battles that were staged in the flooded arena left me saddened, for surely I have missed man’s greatest era. We followed the path around the stadium, taking far too many photos of what was essentially the same thing. The wooden floor could be pulled up and adjusted to meet the needs of the day, not unlike a modern arena. The chambers below were used as staging rooms for the fighters, prisoners and animals that could all be winched up to the action.
Included in our Coliseum ticket was access to the Palatine Hill and Forum Romanum. This expanse of ruined temples and buildings wasn’t as picturesque as our first stop, but as the center of all the Roman empire, it simply oozed history. Our stroll through it took us first through the baths and also the emperor’s palace. It was about this time that the booming thunder gave way to rain and sent us scrambling for cover. The sun was shining soon enough though.
There was another inner area called the stadium, though this was mostly just a garden. There were once a large collection of sculptures on display here but what few of them that remained were relocated to a nearby museum. We walked through it, but they were mostly limbless bodies and heads excavated in the past. They had placed a number of modern pieces on display throughout the ruins instead, and they were much better. Take for example this double amputee holding his own genitalia…
The heart of the complex was a bit more interesting though. There were several buildings that had been lost to time, but by observing the proximity of the foundations, one can surmise that this would have been an imposing place to stroll through during its heyday. Unfortunately some of my better shots were on my other camera.
By this point we were all ready to move on and get out of the damp weather, but I wanted just to walk over to the nearby Circus Maximum where the Ben Hurr style chariot races once took place. Nothing but the expanse remains today, but I wanted to get a feel for the scale of an arena that could seat a quarter million people. The Australian wanted to get back to the hotel, so Chloe and I went to confirm that it was in fact ‘maximus’ before starting our return trip. We wound up beating him back by about an hour because of his poor sense of direction, which for a man in his 40s, possessing both a map and native fluency of Italian, was not impressive.
Chloe and I decided to go with yet another pasta dinner using some of my leftover ingredients from the day before. I cooked and she cleaned what she said was her best meal in Rome.
On my final morning in the city I begrudgingly jogged over to the Pantheon. I knew that it was going to be underwhelming, but I also knew that such a church that has remain largely unchanged for 2000+ years had to happen – I couldn’t really expect to have another chance. The unique features include the traditional Roman styling and the hole in the roof that somehow how lends strength to the dome. So with my obligations meet, I hurried to the train station to begin my long haul up to Torino.
So that was my Rome in a nutshell, and the three nights I spent there was the longest stretch of time that I had stayed in any one place thus far. A friend of mine insisted that a week would be necessary in order to see all that was worth seeing, but I was already getting antsy for a change of scenery after just two. I’ve neither the time nor desire to see absolutely everything that any one place had to offer, but as a solo traveler the only limiting factor is me, so I can fit a lot more into an average day. The law of diminishing returns dictates that I remain on the move to maximise the takeaway from my time overseas.
Still, Rome was everything that I had hoped it to be. The monuments, ancient streets and especially the unrivaled beauty of the Vatican offered me so much as a curious tourist. The people that I met made for great company and added a lot to my time there. The only preconception I had about the city was the crazy traffic and tons of sans helmet kids on Vespas, but in reality experienced none of that. This was a note written by Nobuyo, my Japanese companion, left for me because she had to take off early in the morning.
One unrelated comment: When the Sri Lankan immigrants see me in their national team’s cricket jersey, they will always smile, comment and often shake my hand.