Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wandering Through Rome

Our first day was an exhausted success. We started on a walking tour with Paule as our guide. She took us through some narrow streets in Testaccio on our way to a market. The streets are cluttered beyond belief. Cars here are all tiny, and people park them anywhere they can. There is no rhyme or reason - no direction - if you can fit your car in a spot facing any direction, you do it. Drivers fly through intersections, but seem to be good at stopping for pedestrians. Driving here is sort of an organized chaos. We found the market and were immediately intimidated. Thankfully, Paule was with us to speak on our behalf. We got sandwiches - fresh mozzarella and prosciutto on a flat bread very similar to foccaccia - and a beer each - 3 Horses Lager (which turned out, to our dismay, to be from Holland) - and a handful of fresh cherries and began walking up one of Rome's seven hills. I can't remember which one. But at the top, there was what appeared to be an old fortress with a huge door that people lining up in front of. A peephole sat squarely in the center.

We finally got our turn after some locals had looked through and scoffed at the sight, as if it was no big deal. Expectations were low, but the mystery kept us intrigued. I got my turn and looked in. I wish I could have taken a picture. Through this peephole, they had built up a huge garden with a sort of tunnel that gives you a direct sight-line to St. Peter's Basilica. Pretty neat.

Behind us was the Egyptian embassy, and armed guards were everywhere. We walked around the first wall and into a garden where about six couples were having wedding photos taken. The garden had a view of a large portion of the city, including the Basilica.

We ate our sandwiches, which were delicious, if not a little salty, and chatted for a bit. After a relaxing picnic lunch, we pressed on towards the day's grand objective: the Coliseum.

We first passed the Circus Maximus, where the Romans held chariot races a long time ago. It is mostly in ruins, and the field has grown over and is used by children to play futbol, and bums to light bonfires. Sort of sad to see history so ignored.

Further on, after walking underneath the ruins of an old Aqueduct, we reached the Augustine Arch, which was built to welcome the returning soldiers for their victory parades.

This sits right in front of the Coliseum. In front of the stadium used to be a large statue of Colossus, which is where the Coliseum got its name. The statute no longer stands; his pedestal is now a garden with trees. The Coliseum was not as large as I had expected it to be at first, but once we walked around some, I began to absorb just how impressive of a structure it was. Much of it has collapsed over time, and during earthquakes, but its basic structure is still clearly in tact. We learned that the word 'arena' means sand, and since the floor of the Coliseum where the gladiators would fight was made of sand, it came to be called an arena. Many nuggets of valuable knowledge here. It was incredible to walk through the concourse of a building where so many people had fought and died. But I didn't get a sense of spirituality or sanctity, as one might on a battlefield, because it was all for entertainment. There was no war fought there. Instead, people were either forced to fight to the death (criminals, usually), or later soldiers would be paid to fight (not necessarily to the death, but death sometimes was the result).

We wandered around inside for awhile. My one complaint up to this point is that we are touring on a Saturday, along with thousands upon thousands of other tourists. This would have been more fun on a weekday without all the crowds.

Johnny and I both hit a wall (not literally) in the arena and decided it was about time to head home for a nap. We walked past one of the old Roman Forums, taking a different route home. As it turns out, much of the history of Rome remained buried and ignored until Mussolini came into power. He was a huge advocate of the greatness that was Rome, and he went to great efforts to excavate as many areas as he could. This Forum was one of those areas.

We then passed by City Hall and stopped to rest for a minute before deciding a bus would be a good idea.

We hopped on a bus, and Paule warned us to look out for "men in blue shirts" as she did not have a bus pass for us. It only matters if the authorities come on and check. So we rode for free to a spot much closer to her apartment. From there, the walk was another 5-10 minutes.

We made it home, and Johnny and I instantly fell asleep on our respective couches.

Four hours later...

Author's Note: No pictures taken during the evening on the town, for some reason. I'll try not to do that again.

We groggily awoke to Paule knocking on the door of our 'guest quarters' (their living room). We got showered up and got in a taxi to go to dinner. It was about 9 or 9:30 when we left. We met a friend of hers at the Campo de Fiori ("Field of Flowers"). It is entirely 'paved' with stone, but during the day hosts a large flower market. Surrounding the edge of the 'field' are small restaurants packed with people. In the center was a large statue with stairs all around it that were littered with what appeared to be 15-year-olds drinking. We sat outside and got a few drinks, which seems to be the tradition, before heading to another spot for dinner.

I got a Mojito, Johnny and Paule got beers, and David (Paule's Australian friend from work) got some sort of red cocktail that he was a bit embarrassed, though secure, to order. We walked around the corner to a place called Da Sergio to eat. It was down what I would call an alleyway, though I guess it is just a normal city street. We got house wines, red and white, and some prosciutto and melon as an appetizer. The melon was perfectly ripe. Prosciutto was very good, too (basically a raw, aged ham, to those who don't know what it is). Then we got pastas (primis, meaning the first course). Johnny and I ordered carbonara, Paule got amatriciana, and David got arrabiatta, which he said was way too spicy. Pardon me if my spellings aren't perfect. It was delicious, but I have no idea how anyone in this city, or country for that matter, stays in shape. It tasted like a heart attack waiting to happen.

I introduced Johnny to limoncello, which he had never heard of, as an after dinner drink. Limoncello is generally made with grain alcohol infused with lemon rind shavings. You then mix it with water and sugar after it has had time to absorb the lemon flavor. You can use any fruit you want, though.

We then met up with Paule's roommate, Sara, and her friends who turned out to be very nice. Everyone spoke English very well (once again, we are painfully aware of the stupidity of Americans for not knowing any language but our own). We decided to take the 20 minute walk home, and we stopped at a bar called "On the Rox" for a night cap. The streets on the walk home were absolutely filled with young people out partying. Everywhere we looked, people were there. On the Rox was trying its hardest to be an American bar. Their first mistake was having the WNBA playing inside. All of the salads were named after American presidents (Roosevelt was spelled wrong). The sandwiches were named after rock songs and other American things. Our server claimed to be from New Jersey, and her attitude fit the script (sorry to any NJ people reading this). She was pretty terrible. We were about to walk out when she finally brought our drinks. We got Mojitos again. As it turns out, the Italians don't really have cocktails, so they just use American cocktails at all their bars.

Then we finally made our way home around 4am or so. Which only felt like 10pm or so to us. But we were tired. After a little emailing, I fell asleep very quickly.

Today, more sightseeing is on the agenda.


1 comment:

Julie said...

as a pregnant chick, I am drooling at all the delicious food you ate. my stomach is growling for one of those yummy sandwiches you had a picture of... sounds like you guys are having a great time!