Trip Start Aug 01, 2006
35Trip End Dec 29, 2006
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The hotel had two contradictory qualities
Finding a church in Rome is like finding a crying kid at a preschool. Even our hotel was within orange-throwing distance of a church that in most cities would be their cultural centerpiece, their claim to a rich and full heritage. Here in Rome it was another church on another street.
Tired but dedicated to being efficient tourists we wanted to knock at least one major site of the long list of "things you must see in Rome (or any other place we have been)"
In the far past the Pantheon had the distinction of having the largest dome. Of course it was inspiring and huge. The dome had an open top and a few droplets of rain floated the several hundred feet to burst on the floor next to the special drains designed for this purpose. We spent some extra time in front, underneath the immense Roman pillars with a bunch of other wet tourists to wait the ceasing of the last rainsquall. Later on we read that this is where people met anytime it rains.
We also had a chance to get acquainted with another famous Roman feature, the traffic
Day two, Rome. The big sites. We decided to be ambitious and see Saint Peter's and the Sistine Chapel in the same day. Deluded or ambitious I cannot say which. Walking from the hotel we neared the thick forty-foot high brick wall that separated Vatican City from the street. To our great dismay a line six people across and worthy of a rock concert hugged the base of the wall, ran down the entire street and around the corner. We had to do it so we took our place and prepared for the cutting and pushing. Maybe our luck did change because next to us was a nice (they always are) Canadian couple who also lacked any foresight and had their three year old girl with them. The two kids seemed to cancel each other's energy out, like matter and antimatter, and the time in line went by peacefully. At the front of the entrance Christy found a fifty euro note so we paid our admission as well as the Canadians. Vatican city was amazing and I direct you to any number of books with glossy photos of the statues and art contained there to appreciate them. The one item I will mention is that the long hallways including the ceilings where elaborately and colorfully painted and no patch of white was left without chubby angels cuddling or someone being impaled.
The Sistene chapel is larger than it looks in any photos and the Creation of Man figures are larger than an average person
Off to Saint Peters, we passed through the metal detector but not before a priest cut in front of me. Collette cleared security and we entered the most immense church on Earth. I will borrow Rick Steve's comment when he said that to call Saint Peter's church big is like saying God is smart. Collette's behavior quickly deterriated and we looked upon the marble statues and the domineering pillars while constantly yelling "no Collette" and picking her up before she darted behind ropes, grabbed some tourist, or tried to poke us. Exhausted and with our patience reserves depleted we left the church to take some pictures in front and paint our visit in more tranquil terms. However, Saint Peters Cathedral is still awe-inspiring and the combination of its girth and splendor make it unequaled
At this time I had a chance to call my dad. He immediately started complaining about his rehab center in earnest and with great dictation so I knew that his health was improving and along with it, my spirits. Using the remaining minutes on my phone card I dialed the 20 or so digits to ring my friend who had just given birth to a baby girl. He didn't actually do the birthing but it was great to talk to him and his upbeat voice confirmed that he was on a baby high. I'm pretty certain that there is no toddler high.
To get a feel of someplace there is nothing more effective than walking. In Rome we walked the length of it several times. One evening we decided to try to find a street that was closed to traffic, much more relaxing and less threatening. The tour book described it as "full of pedestrians and interesting shopping." We arrived on the street to be confronted by a huge boulevard filled with the frantic, chaotic mess that entails Roman traffic. To avoid the anxiety we went down a side street that was mostly limited to pedestrians. Street musicians played1 and packs of roaming and ambling shoppers filled the avenues. This was the most intense and exotic shopping we had ever witnessed
Still with more sites to conquer I pondered over the map while we ate toast and delicious milk and coffee in the hotel basement. I mention the basement restaurant because our room was on the top floor, level 5. A mighty distance to carry 15.2 kg even though we frequently condensed ourselves into the rickety elevator. Having orientated myself with our goal, we folded out the stroller like an awakening insect and bumped over the cobblestones toward the coliseum. About a third of the way there we spotted a huge brick fortress, shaped in a circle with a moat the size of a four lane highway bordering its edges. Agreeing to see it the next day we looked at the hours
The fortress turned out to be a series of fortress built on top of each other. According to the models in the museum it started out in Roman times as a giant tribute to some God(s). As the decades past it changed its shape and grew to accommodate archers and then cannons and then tourists. The place had an earthy sense to it and the lower levels had dark cave like passages with uneven stones and damp somber dirt colored bricks. The top half was more cheery and provided a view of Saint Peters and another half dozen cathedrals spread out over the city. Chance had made us see the fortress but its uniqueness and bizarre charm made us fond of it.
The coliseum was what one could expect. It was bigger than pictures and postcards make you believe and the architectural details of how the stones were meshed together and the holes that once supported wooden rigging was fascinating
Leaving the coliseum we climbed to the top of the hill and ambled along the ruins of the emperor's private quarters. (Palatino Hill) They covered the whole hill and included a small private chariot-racing rink. I tried to listen in on an English-speaking guide so only got snippets of the information and pasted them together with my imagination. Walking off of the hill we entered into a valley filled with forty-foot pillars and ruins. This was the forum and the heart of the ancient village of Rome. A steep stone stair case lead out of the valley onto a boulevard.
We were in luck; the boulevard was closed to traffic and they were having a street fair complete with stilt walkers and jugglers. One group had a wind machine that blew air into a flimsy hollow plastic tube that would weave and wobble thirty feet up in the air. The operator would change the tube's direction so it would smack distracted tourists in the face and tease a small group of children that would try to grab it. Collette quickly joined this frantic group of kids as the tube shot from one side of the street to the other trailed by the kids like a flock of birds. If a kid caught the tube another man with a bullhorn would run up and tell them to release it
The last day we decided to make Collette's so we set out. The previous day we had spent the morning at a playground hidden in the moat of the fortress. We talked to the other ladies whose kids were playing. Simultaneously we tried to keep Collette from doing anything horrific and embarrassing to us. There were some Italians and ex-pats that told us of the glorious park on the other side of the city. So the park became our quest. After checking my map several times looking for landmarks such as famous fountains or squares we finally found the sprawling wooded park. Most of the park was not kid friendly and seemed to be deserted. We gave up hope until we found a carousal unabashedly named "Blonde Bimbo". It was open and Collette rode twelve times in a row.
Rome was a fantastic city. The boulevards are wide and lined with trees. This was a drastic improvement over Florence where we felt claustrophic. The sites appear to be endless and a walk in any direction can bring you to a momentous fountain or richly ornate bridge. Most of the Romans outside of their cars were friendly and upbeat. And most of the people on the streets were Italian, unlike previous Italian cities we visited. I couldn't resist a fabric store where they made their own shirts. The people in it were friendly, and they had that special sense of style and optimistic exuberance that we came to admire. In most of the stores the workers gave too much candy to Colette so we had to try to restrain them. Every time they lowered the bowl Collette would seize her opportunity and grab a handful of candy and tuck it into her body like a football. The movement would be sudden and we would exclaim," Collette!" and the shop keepers would laugh and offer her more reassuring, "It's OK, It's OK."
1. A cop was taking a picture of a stand up bassist for what I surmised was for licensing and he kept asking the musician to spin his bass. He complied with vigor and a smile and the bass twirled several times.