There is a circuitous nature to travel. You’re always on your way back to somewhere. We started off our journey in Roma Termini shortly after landing in Italy, and now we were back at Roma Termini to start the Roman chapter of this holiday.
The train ride was the best yet…the business class seats were the same price as coach. I’m not really sure how or why, but I went ahead and seized the opportunity. The result was leather seats, more space and a lot more silence. The weather changed as we sped down the Italian peninsula. Florence was still cold and rainy, which made saying goodbye all the more melancholy. But as we continued south the clouds broke and sunshine reigned.
It was really just a tease. I had been paying close attention to the forecast and the sun was expected to stay through the afternoon…and then rain, lots and lots of rain for the rest of our stay in Rome. I was annoyed. It’s stupid to be annoyed at the weather, you can’t change it unless you’re a believer in cloud busting in which case you have bigger things to worry about. Suddenly there was a lot of pressure that Lauren and I were artificially creating to see as much as possible before the rains came.
We got to our hotel just after noon and thankfully we were able to check in, drop our bags and plan…well, sort of plan. I had left this part of our trip open to anything, specifically for the unforeseen: i.e. weather. The only thing we were booked into was a cooking school class on our last day. With the absence of a clear plan, we waffled a bit before getting out and about. We debated the plan of attack, and I won Lauren over to making the Colosseum and Roman Forum a priority for the day. They were outdoor activities, and we should make good use of the weather.
We took the long way to the Colosseum to grab some food. Although we live in a big, busy city it takes some adjustment whenever you step into another big, busy city. Moreso after spending a week in smaller, tamer cities. Rome can be very overwhelming, and for a few minutes it was. My travel equilibrium was a bit off as we sat down for a snack, sometimes you just need a reset.
We walked down Fori Imperiali, the ancient stadium looming large on the horizon as columns and ruins occupied the cityscape. As did growing crowds: tourists snapping pictures, street vendors selling random useless wares, street performers painted as statues or wearing Roman Centurion garb. It’s a walk that has an almost amusement park feel to it…something I suppose is virtually unavoidable in a place like this.
We had not booked a tour of the grounds, it’s not necessary…but it is recommended. There’s just so much to take in, it’s easy to get lost in the site. Typically you’re better off planning a tour in advance, but the spontaneity of the day prevented that for us, so we got in the general admission line before being sold on a tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum. It ended up being a good call. To be honest I didn’t pay too close attention while we were in the Colosseum, this was my second time doing the exact same tour.
The guide was good, but I had heard it all before. This was more for Lauren. This gave me a chance to soak in my surroundings, to imagine the tens of thousands watching as gladiators fought thousands of wild animals or each other to the death. This building was the symbol of Roman power. Think about it, they built this thing 2000 years ago. If a stadium in the States turns 20 the ownership starts crying for a new stadium…and I doubt future societies will be paying for a tour of Cowboys Stadium in 4013…at least I hope not for the sake of American legacy.
Being on the grounds later in the afternoon was also nice. The tour seemed much more relaxed than the last one I did, and the lighting made the Colosseum feel more alive. Our guide took us outside and tagged off to another guide who would show us the Forum starting with Palatine Hill. This time I paid much closer attention, last time I didn’t get up to Palatine Hill. Also the weather was fantastic, as we walked up the hill the sun was dropping towards the horizon. The yellows and oranges of the Roman cityscape took prominence. I remember and think of places in colors…and Rome has always been yellow and orange. Weird, I know. With the city sprawling before us, ruins around us and everything framed by umbrella pines and a setting sun the scene was quintessentially Roman.
Our guide walked us through the ruins atop the hill, painting a picture with her words of what was once here. I would kill for a time machine to see this place in its glory. Just the little bits of marble and porphyry offered glimpses into the imperial grandiosity of this place. The guide was Canadian, but had been living in Rome for a while. This would be a bit of a theme: North American expats giving tours throughout Rome. She told us that if we wanted to see the stone that was once on Palatine Hill we wouldn’t have to go too far…much of it had been used in St. Peter’s Basilica. This was another, more tangible, theme: the Catholic Church destroying or absorbing what was left of the Romans. It is proof of the First Law of Thermodynamics, that energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the universe remains constant.
Substitute power for energy and you can understand the development of Rome.
We finished the tour in the Roman Forum, surrounded by shells of buildings that had been excavated from under thirty feet of earth…and then quarried out for their stone. But there were no shells in theses crumbling structures. Even in the midst of total war that devastated much of Europe the Allies and Nazis were able to agree to avoid turning this testament to the ancient world into a battlefield.
And that only underscores the apocalyptic feeling of the Forum. Here a great civilization once stood…now they are
gone completely. If you’re ever in the mood for an existential crisis, this is the place. We walked along the main road of the Forum, which is now disjointed and about as smooth as U Street in NW (for you non-Washingtonians…that’s not smooth). We were told that at the height of the Empire the road would have been smooth enough to rollerblade on, but as the site was first excavated little care was given to the road. Regardless, it’s a terrific exercise to imagine in whose steps we were walking as we meandered down this now bumpy road. It’s also interesting to look around and see the inspiration for our own city, our own country. Many of the design elements in DC are modeled from Rome, and certainly the modern idea of American democracy has its roots in Greece and Rome under the senate before becoming an empire.
Leaving the Forum we decided to head towards some other “outdoor” activities before the weather moved in. Already clouds had shut out the setting sun and the temperature was dropping. Thinking with our stomachs first we decided to stop by a restaurant we had scouted and make a reservation. We continued up Via del Corso before taking a right
on Via Candotti…it was only a few blocks to the Spanish Steps, but it took us a while to get there as Lauren stopped at virtually every storefront to say, “Ooh, pretty.” The street is like a condensed version of 5th Avenue, or maybe an ancient version. One way or the other it ends at the Spanish Steps, one of those random landmarks that inexplicably draws crowds. In this case the crowds were in the plaza, and not actually on the steps. Police were holding everyone back as a cleanup crew scoured the stairs. We walked around the corner and sat outside a wine bar and finally got a chance to relax. We had been moving non-stop since getting off the train, and this was our third day of crazy-distance walking. After a few drinks we took some crazy random set of side steps up through an alley and then up another set of steps before following the road to a large open balcony. There below us were the Spanish Steps, looking over our shoulder behind us was the Trinitia dei Monti church…and momentarily we were on French soil.
And so we walked down the Spanish Steps, which were funded by the French, leading from a French church to an Italian piazza where a fountain dedicated to an ugly boat was commissioned by a Pope. Rome.
The plaza was hopping with activity as we wandered around. We didn’t manage to get into John Keats house, which is probably for the better because he owes me $50,000…but that’s another story for another time. We walked back down Via Candotti, and again it took forever, before heading back to the restaurant for dinner. This meal ended up being our worst in Italy, although I’m going to attribute that to
grumpiness at the end of a long day and menu selection. I ordered lamb sweetbread…which is neither sweet nor is it bread. It was a pressure decision, and it didn’t work out. There’s just something about lamb liver and pancreas lightly fried that doesn’t appeal to me. I got about halfway through the dish before my gag reflex kicked in. There was certainly a moment when I thought I was going to hurl liver chunks all over the restaurant…though I managed to keep it down. The gnocchi I had for my pasta dish was tasty though.
Our plan after dinner was to stop by the Trevi Fountain for one last good weather excursion. We threw in our coins and left…we were both in a bad mood, cranky and arguing with each other…I’m blaming the liver. Nevertheless we walked home quickly and in a huff. If you’ve ever traveled with anyone else, you’ve hit this point. Mutual exhaustion leads to mutual miscommunication and mutual annoyance. As a couple we’ve hit this point on a few different continents in more than a few different countries. And our point on this trip was now, brought on no doubt by the pressure we placed on this first day because of the weather forecast. Weather. Maybe I’ll study cloudbusting when I get home.
But 99 percent of the day was awesome;)