City Streets and Ruins

Trip Start Jul 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 26, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , Latium,
Saturday, July 31, 2010

This week I decided to go to Rome and luckily, over fried mozzarella and pasta, Chelsea and Fabio decided they would like to show me around the city.  Unfortunately, Gerald had to work and wasn't able to come this trip.  

Chelsea, the master of train timetables, decided we should take the 7:39 train from Formia into Rome Saturday morning, in order to beat some of the crowds.  It was determined they would pick me up bright and early at 7am so we could get some breakfast on the way to the station.  We joked about me waking up on time because Gerald and I had slept through pick-up Friday morning, but I promised to be ready when they pulled in the drive.  The past few days I've been going to sleep at ridiculous hours of the morning, so on Friday I told myself I would go to sleep early, in an effort to prevent any trouble waking up early the next day.

Sadly I did not go to sleep early and at 1:30am I was trying to figure out how to set a timer on my phone to wake me up at 6am.  You see my beloved Iphone hasn't picked up any signal since Washington D.C. to prevent outrageous roaming charges, therefore my phone is showing White House time.  Because I was so tired I decided to just set a timer for 5.5 hours and be done with it.  I climbed into my, newly rigged, double decker air bed and promptly fell asleep.  Sure enough at 6am that annoying little medley started coming from the bedside table.  I, in a desperate state of mind, decided to give myself five minutes to wake up and set the timer for five minutes more, laid the phone on my pillow and went back to sleep.  

I came awake later and picked up my phone thinking that I was doing good having woken up before the five minutes was up.  I climbed out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen to check the clock on my laptop.  6:53am.  CRAP!  My first thought was of course, I am so not going to be cute for Rome today.  I have just enough time to jump in and out of the shower, brush my teeth and throw on clothing.  I look out the window and what do you know, the On-time Tour guides have arrived!  I hold five fingers out the window and start cramming make-up, pony-tails, a brush, my cameras, sunscreen, my wallet, my passport, house keys, contacts, contact solution, and hand sanitizer in my back-pack.  I then run around looking for short black socks, thank goodness for laundry day, and grab my, never worn before, black tennis out of the room.  (This is what happens when you want to match but don't wake up in time to think your choices through - the black tennis are NOT made for walking.)  I go dashing out of the flat and down the stairs bare-foot with my hair dripping only to find that Chelsea looks disgustingly gorgeous in a dress and sandals, hair pulled up, earrings dangling.  Okay I get it!  So I woke up late and my penance is to walk around Rome all day next to a hot blonde, looking like a hitchhiking tourist, carrying a needlessly heavy backpack.  On top of that I took so long running around I cost the hot blonde her breakfast!  

We make it to the train station in Formia with about 10 minutes to buy the tickets an board the train.  The first good news of my thirty minute day arrives when we get a great deal on a pass for Rome.  According to Fabio and Chelsea you normally have to pay 7.40 Euro each way for the train and then 4 euro for the all-day subway pass.  We got round trip fair on the train and all day passes for the subway and buses in Rome for 10.40 Euro.  

We board the train, and shocker, more good news!  Our car has air-conditioning!  We grab our seats right before the train takes off and I have to explain to Fabio I'm about to look very American by getting ready on the train.  By the look on his face I think he might have thought I was going to change clothes or something, I wish, but I give him credit he didn't change seats.  I then proceed to put in my contacts, I'm amazed I got them in, put on my make-up (forgetting to put on my sunscreen moisturizer), and put my hair in pippy braids.  Oh yes, I definitely look like a broke tourist and though I might actually be one I did NOT want to look like one in Rome!!!  

The train ride into Rome is about an hour and forty minutes so after the adrenaline wore off I slept for about an hour of the ride.   When we got into the station we hopped of the train and proceeded down to the bottom floor of the Roma Termini.  This place is always busy from what I can see and can be a little daunting!  I am so grateful to have had Chelsea and Fabio there to take the lead!  The Termini is full of stores and shops for just about anything you could imagine.  We passed by food stores, clothing stores, phone stores, and even a slot machine room on the way to the subway.

We decided to go to the Colosseum first to try and beat most of the crowds and luckily the stop was only two down.  Our first subway ride was standing room only and after a warning about expert pick-pockets from Chelsea I shucked my backpack and carried it in front of me - not risking the Sony!  We managed to squeeze, yes squeeze, our way off the subway and managed to get to street level.  When we hit the top there were food kiosks filled with gelato, pastries and fruit that had my full attention.  I was still thinking about a quick snack walking down the stairs to the street when Chelsea said, "and her is the Colosseum."     And there it was - directly across the street standing proudly where it has greeted the sunrise for over 703, 720 days.  

It almost shocks you to see such an ancient place surrounded by busy streets, chattering tourists, and tasteful flats.  This place where lives were lost, hopes were slaughtered, and destinies realized, rises defiantly from Roman soil and bears witness to millions of tourist gawking at its arches and history.  Sections of the Colosseum are missing due to the rape of its materials in past times while still others are black from the pollution of our time.  Its former glory is hinted at in the braces left in stone where its outer walls once stood.  A cry is heard in a whisper as the elevator runs up and down, in between its ancient walls, allowing tourists to marvel at its once hidden interior.  It's history began with its inaugural festival in 80 AD lasting 100 days where it is said over 5,000 wild beasts were slaughtered during the games.  Later after an earlier restoration, during its second inaugural festival in 240 AD it is said that 2,000 gladiators; 70 lions; 40 wild horses; 30 elephants; 30 leopards; 20 wild asses; 19 giraffes; 10 elks; 10 hyenas; 10 tigers; 1 hippopotamus; and 1 rhinoceros lost their lives within its walls.  Now it is a ruin, a stop on  a tourist map, surrounded by a world that doesn't slow down for history no matter the lessons to be learned.

Standing a short distance away from the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine fenced off from the greedy fingers of dirty tourist hands.  The Arch is stately and bears a history that changed the world and set into motion events that allow many of us to worship as we do today.  This Arch was erected to commemorate Constantine's victory in the Battle of Milvian Bridge.  It is said that the night before this battle he had a dream/vision about the letters Christ and a cross, causing him to have his outnumbered army to carry the Christian Symbol into battle.  This is important because it was this victory that led to his conversion to Christianity and his declaration that Christianity would be a tolerated religion throughout the empire.  It is said that the Arch was finished in 315 AD during his tenth year as Emperor.  The Arch is sculptured to show the Battle of Milvian, medallions of the rising and falling sun, and bears Latin Inscriptions.  Though the Arch stands shaded by the Colosseum's magnitude its historical significance adds a heady weight to the air surrounding the stone structure.

My tour guides lead me away from the Colosseum and its companion to make our across the street and up a flight of stairs for a lofty view of the ruins and the street below.  I wonder at the residents living in the flats surrounding the landmarks and wonder what it must be like to wake up every morning to gaze out on the ancient stones.  Walking up the stairs we pass a woman begging in a foreign tongue and a multitude of tourists following a leader holding up a sign for their group.  I notice the translators each wears around their necks, I'm sure spouting generic facts about the structures in their own languages, and once again thank God for the blessing of Chelsea and Fabio.  After walking around and taking in the ruins for the last time that day I whip out the sunscreen from my tourist bag and spray on the 50 SPF.  I may have to walk next to a hot blonde all day as penance but I refuse to ride home with third degree burns.  

We walk back down to street level and begin to walk down what I have decided to call Ruin Row.  The whole road is flanked by one type of ruin after another.  Granted I don't know what they all are now but my next trip I'll take the time to figure out the significance of each.  A few things that Chelsea and Fabio pointed out were the stone maps of the Roman Empire at different time periods.  The streets were lined with high walls that broke away every so often to display a fountain or statue.  The sun was warm, but the shade offered solace to those pausing to take in one piece of history or another, and luckily we were graced with an intermittent breeze that, for the most part, kept us content.  

We passed a dig of ruins showing another level of the city below the street.  This reminded me of my trip to Mexico City where their ruins are rising out of the city streets.  I saw a myriad of domed Churches topped with crosses reaching into the heavens and crumbling buildings that used to serve unknown purposes, but one building in particular kept drawing my attention with its hints of white columns and stately statues rising above the tree tops.

The Altar of the Fatherland is a magnificent and honestly a bit overwhelming in its size but I think its wonderful.  It is pristine and graced by a multitude of statues and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Construction on the Monument was begun in 1878 in honor of Vittorio Emanuele II the Italian Sovereign who united Italy.  Apparently several ancient Roman ruins were demolished in order to make room for the structure.  The Altar of the Fatherland is located in the Piazza Venezia and overlooks the grassy Piazza and surrounding buildings.  Though some may think the Monument is gaudy I think it is beautiful and exudes a romantic air that draws attention away from the other buildings sharing the Piazza.

Across from the Altar stands the Palazzo Venezia which has house several Popes in the past and was also the building in which Mussolini gave some of his most notable speeches to the people gathered in the Piazza below.  Unfortunately the building is currently being restored so scaffolding kept me from seeing its true beauty.  The Palazzo currently holds the National Museum of Palazzo Venezia.  

We left the Piazza headed toward Rome's other landmarks and I was greeted by a mix of beautiful and old architecture accented by McDonalds signs, seeming out of place and ugly.  The side streets are no more than alleys filled with awnings and empty tables waiting for the lunch crowd.  The sidewalks are cobblestone in most of the city and are filled with almost every culture you can imagine.  Languages from around the world bounce off the cities walls as tourists from around the world check their city maps and Lonely Planet guides.  These fellow travelers made me feel less out of place hauling around my Sony and snapping shots every five seconds.  

A few blocks down from the Piazza we took a right down a side street following a sign pointing toward the Fontana di Trevi.  The road is small but cool from the shade of the buildings and we pass a Sardinian Restaurant Fabio wants to stop at to try his islands cuisine.  Along the way we pass street vendors selling purses, sunglasses, and jewelry.  When we make it within a few turns of the fountain we pass a street market full or tourist souvenirs, posters, and paintings.  The street artists display their work on easels and small tables in the streets letting the passerby glimpse views of ancient Rome or stately ruins sketched on paper in whatever size you might want for your wall.  The closer we get to the fountain the more tourist like the stores appear though they are mixed with clothing shops and toy stores.  We pass three Italian Police Officers on their way to get a slice of Pizza, by far the largest Italians I've seen since entering the country.  

We walk a few more feet when I begin to hear the people ahead then suddenly you walk into a gap in the buildings and there in front of you is the majestic Fontana di Trevi.  The crowd makes it hard to see its full glory but there is no hiding its beauty even with 1000 people milling around its steps.  The statues gracing the fountain are soft and romantic seem to invite you closer to the water flowing freely below them.  The fountain is so breathtaking that you forget to notice the Palace in which it graces.  We were unable to stay long and the crowd was rather distracting but I was able to throw a Euro into the blue water.  If legend holds true this offering ensures my return to Rome in the future.

From the Fontana of Trevi we meandered back toward the street market on our way to the Pantheon.  The street market was great and contained everything from the miniatures of Michaelangelo's works, posters for La Dolce Vita, Colosseum magnets, and Venician Masks.  Chelsea picked up a miniature for 2.50 Euro and though I was tempted to pick up something I remembered my budget just in time. 

We walked a few blocks over, once again down the cool, narrow side streets toward our next destination.  Along the way we were greeted by the most wonderful smell of fresh bread and garlic clinging to the air between the stone buildings.  It smelled so wonderful we actually paused in our journey to enjoy it a few seconds longer.  After continuing on we rounded a corner and I was amazed to see a life size wooden motorcycle sitting inside the doors of a wood crafting shop.  It was amazing and I thought I would get a shot of it for all of my motorcycle riding family and friends back home!

About a block further and the street once again opened up into the Piazza del Rotunda housing the Pantheon and the Macuteo Obelisk, constructed by Ramses II.  The Pantheon is rather off-putting appearance on the outside but when you enter the building you are greeted by beautiful colors from floor to ceiling, highlighted by the sun streaming in from the circular cut out centered in the dome roof.  The Pantheon houses the tomb of Vittorio Emanuele II, the King who first united Italy.  The Pantheon was originally built to honor all the pagan gods but after paganism was outlawed and Christianity became Rome's religion it was converted into a church which is still used today.  The inside of the Pantheon is cool when you enter and the colors soothing.  The paintings are beautiful and the tombs well appointed.  

Next we wound our way to the Piazza Novana which I was told is a popular gathering place for the party crowd at night.  The Piazza housed the Brazilian Embassy connected to a church.  They face a collection of overpriced restaurants where the servers do what they can to convince you to join them for lunch.  The Piazza is filled with performers and artists selling their pieces to tourist and local alike.  The Piazza also houses the Agonalis Obelisk resting on top of a fountain since 1651.

From here we went in search of an affordable lunch and finally made our way to a small establishment were we could eat for about 20 Euro a piece.  I had the Caprese for my First and Fettuccine and mushrooms for my second.  I had to laugh at Fabio when he had french fries for his first after picking on the Americans for having fries on the beach.  I also tried to explain to Fabio that fries were tasty dipped in Ranch Dressing but he was never convinced I was joking with him.

After lunch we moved on and went in search of the Spanish Steps.  We passed another Obelisk on the way next to what Fabio said was the Italian Parliament.  I tried to get him to jump into an alcove and pretend he was a statue but for some reason the Italian Police Officers about 30 feet away wouldn't let him say yes.  We also passed by the President's palace that takes up more than an entire square block and saw beautiful cars, Italian parking, and stumbled upon Chelsea's favorite Roman Gelato Shop.  I decided to get both the Crema and the Tira Misu this trip and was richly rewarded by my decision!  Italian Ice Cream is only 5% fat and is so rich and creamy it could be 50% and you wouldn't care!

We continued on our journey with our cups of gelato, me still trying to take pictures while trying not to get ice cream on the Sony, when we reached the Spanish Steps.  The view from the top of the steps is amazing, giving you the chance to look down on the crowds below.  Luckily my tour guides had the foresight to start us at the top of the stairs so we could walk down them versus hike up them because there are quite a few.  The stairs are topped by a church and end at another fountain and a Piazza.  There is an Obelisk at the top near the church and the Piazza is filled with the designer shops some come to Rome to enjoy.  Chelsea told me that some of the designers opened their first stores on this Piazza.  I've never been much one for Prada, or D&G especially when Fabio tells me the least expensive thing they have seen in the stores was a shirt for 1000 Euro.  

We moved on, stopping shortly for a sunscreen break, and made our way to a nearby subway station.  We rode up about five stops, crossing the river, and got off to see the Vatican.  We walked down a few blocks, passing the Swiss Guards, which Chelsea told me are all boys from Switzerland, under 21, and virgins.  Yes, that is interesting.  Anyway when we entered the Vatican, the smallest country on Earth, Fabio and I decided to take advantage of the water fountain and get a drink.  The water was icy cold and delicious!  Fabio joked that it was Holy Water because we were in the Vatican walls and thats why it tasted so good.  Chelsea told him he was crazy.

The Vatican was amazing though its splendor was dampened by the huge advertisements set against its columns and the wooden walkways spread in its center.  We could only guess there had been some type of ceremony held recently.  The lines of people waiting to get in to see were staggering and because we were tired and it was so hot we didn't stay long but I was able to see the saints gracing the columns, the obelisk gracing its center, flanked by sturdy yet majestic fountains, and see the balcony in which the Pope speaks to his followers.  The Vatican will wait for me to come back and explore it to my hearts content without sore feet and pigtails.  
Due to sore feet and the heat we decided to call it a day and headed back toward the subway.  Chelsea and I were ecstatic to find a vendor who was selling bottles of water that had a center of ice in them.  If there is one thing I miss when moving about Italy its ice - the Italians don't believe in it!  Fabio stated that American's cannot keep a low profile because we look for things like ice and in groups tend to be loud and stick out.  I can't blame him for the second part though because unfortunately we did pass a group of Americans that seemed to think they know everything about everything and wanted everyone within hearing distance to realize they did.  Such a sad thing!

We took the subway back to the Termini and found that the train would be leaving in four minutes for Formia so, just like in the movies, sore feet and all, we took off in a mad dash to make the train!  We made it just in time and were grateful as we didn't want to wait an hour for the next one and though we didn't have air conditioning on the way back we did have a car all to ourselves.  I of course napped on the way back and woke up just in time to see the beautiful mountains and water that make Formia and Gaeta an Italian vacation town.  I had had a great time in Rome but it was great to be home!!

I know there are a lot of pictures with this entry but I wanted you to see Rome the way I saw Rome.  Most of these pictures are just snapshots and were taken on the move so forgive me for the tourist shots!  When I make it back in the fall I'll be making more leisurely trips where I can take some "pretty pictures."   




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