“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” – Augustus
Today we will do proper sightseeing. Thanks to the success of last night, seeing so many key sites, we have more time to soak in Ancient Rome. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the Coliseum for ages. We also switch over the hostel tonight, so it will be fun to mingle with new people.
On the metro, through the crowds and we’re dropped at the Coliseum! Since it is Cultural Week in Italy, the sights are free! Because we aren’t paying to enter, we decide to pay the discounted fee for a guided tour that covers the Coliseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Although I’ve become very interested in the history of ancient Rome, it is still difficult to decipher the ruins (and my friend doesn’t know the history at all), thus is very interesting to have someone explain and give even more detail.
Our tour guide took us through the entire Coliseum. I found myself wandering away, snapping pictures, and imagining what this amazing structure would have looked like when it was built, completely covered in marble. It is exactly as I pictured (yeah, yeah, I’m sure it doesn’t help that everyone knows exactly what the Coliseum looks like since we’ve all seen it a billion times in photos). I still have a hard time processing the fact they made all of these amazing buildings thousands of years ago, before technology, before modern equipment, before machines! Today the main floor and the seating is gone, so we see directly to the underground tunnels. Our guide takes us through the royal family’s entrance and around to the entrance the gladiators used. I stare ahead, trying without success, to consider what that must have felt like. Gladiators were usually slaves or condemned criminals with no choice to fight, for entertainment, or young men from poor families looking for glory, fame and fortune. What must one feel, looking out onto the arena floor knowing you will return victorious or die publicly in front of the entire Roman Empire? Talk about stage fright! We all of course are very familiar with the brutal history, that is Roma. I stare down the same corridor they stared down and am in awe that this is possible. We continue touring the arena and eventually depart.
The tour breaks for a while before the optional second half. We head to the grocery store, grab a picnic lunch, and sit on the grassy hill near the Coliseum. I enjoy just watching the scene. The square is filled with tourists, snapping pictures with fake gladiators, buying souvenirs at the kiosks, and posing in front of the Coliseum. I notice I am dropping crumbs and those nasty pigeons I loathe so much are snatching up every little morsel. Ugh…the scavengers are always around! I’m sure they are very well fed around a place like this. I shouldn’t be contributing!
Soon it is time to join the tour again and head to the Palatine hill. We have a new tour guide; a young, English-born guy, living in Rome. He is very well-informed on Roman history and I listen intently, despite his extremely high energy level and bouncing around. He tells me his nickname used to be “Twitch”…yes, that makes perfect sense. Even if I didn’t have the interest I have in Ancient Rome, he made it fascinating. He brought the history alive with entertaining stories and the background of the structures we observed. We stop at the top of the hill, where Rome began thanks to shady King Romulus, and are provided with a panoramic view of the Roman Forum. From this vantage point, our guide is able to easily point to the various ruined structure and give us their history. We later went down to the Forum to get a closer look at the end of the tour.
Back at the hostel we chat with our English bartender who recommends a close neighborhood to go out. The weather is a little drizzly, so we don’t want to go far. We venture to a student district, San Lorenzo, some blocks up and popped in a random bar. This bar was very casual with live music. The back room appeared more like someones living room and I felt like I was at a house party! We enjoyed the music (I got to hear Guantanamera) and headed back to the hostel stopping for pizza on the way. I notice pizza is different in Rome. Rather than the full pizzas you find everywhere else, Rome sells them by the square slice. You pick from a variety of rectangle pizzas, choose where you want them to cut it, and they charge you by the weight. The pizza in Rome is delicious though and more loaded with cheese and veggies than other regions.
I’m a little bummed to notice we missed our roommate again. We met earlier today and I immediately liked him. He was interesting, smart, and to my pleasant surprise…loved to read. (We both had the dilemma of trying to figure out how we could read at night without disrupting our other two roommates. My very dim bedside light worked, but unfortunately his didn’t, so we joked about making Arlene switch beds…such is luck, hers didn’t work either!) When we met, we both had just arrived and were looking to find what to do that night. As is common in traveling though, we weren’t able to catch up, despite our intention to do something together tonight. Such is the way it works! Maybe tomorrow.
A couple of drinks at the bar and back up to the room by midnight to get a little more sleep than normal. Tomorrow is Friday, our last night in Rome and in Europe. We plan to visit the Vatican and then top off our trip with a fun bon voyage night out in Trastavere. I’m getting sad…I really don’t want to leave.
- All Roads Lead Back to Rome (briefhiatus.wordpress.com)