This summer Peter and I went on an adventure to Europe. With the help of a stellar memory and my obsessive journalling, I’m sharing those adventures with you.
It would be hard to pick my favourite stop along our European adventure but Rome would definitely be in the running. Even after several full days there, I know we barely scratched the surface of what this city has to offer.
We arrived mid-day and found our hotel. We were staying near the train station, which turned out to be pretty convenient because that was also a major metro station. Upon arrival we decided to see the Colosseum and the Forum that very same day. After quick showers (I always felt gross and sweaty after train travel), we began our journey.
First goal: Get tickets for the metro. Two things were holding us back. 1) We didn’t know where to buy said tickets. 2) We didn’t have any cash. The only place we had seen with an ATM was inside the busy train station. Every guide book we’d read said to be extra careful in that station and to not linger. Lingering while dealing with money seemed even worse. We headed down to the metro where the automatic ticket machines accepted credit cards. Great! Only problem – each machine was accompanied by a person with a paper cup, willing to “help” you. No, they were not helpful station employees. Choosing what seemed the better of two not-great options, Peter took cash out while I carefully stood guard and we bought our metro tickets at the tobacco stand.
You exit the metro and there it is, huge and ancient. We had a short wait in line and then we were inside one of the most famous historical landmarks in the world. One of the wonders of the world.
The Colosseum is huge and amazing. Even today, it’s hard to fathom how such a thing could be built. The models and descriptions throughout were helpful in imagining what it would have originally looked like.
One thing I actually quite enjoyed about the Colosseum is that while there’s lots to look out, you really just wander around, envisioning people cheering, fighting, eating, gossiping, two thousand years ago.
This was entertainment. This was the social venue. One thing that really brought that home to me was the graffiti that remained.
Exhibits showcase the pictures and words of the everyday people who spent their days here. As well, the bits of garbage – bones, hair pins, dice – show the lives of those spectators. It’s strange to stand and look down at the (partially-recreated) floor and think of what those stones have witnessed.
After a quick pizza break at the park across the street we decided to push on and see the Forum that same day. This was partially due to the fact that our Colosseum ticket got us free entry that same day. So we hurried on and made it to the Forum with a couple hours before it closed.
Within a few minutes, it became clear that we could have spent a whole day just there. That’s how I would do it the second time around. Pack a picnic and spend hours wandering through the rubble and beauty of ancient Rome.
It really is like walking through an ancient city. In some places it’s hard to get a sense of what was there and in others it’s shockingly clear. The buildings are astonishing. The huge pillars of marble, the stones. No wonder Rome seemed like the centre of the world. If you were a country visitor to this city and you saw these temples, it would be easy to believe they were built by the gods. I loved to think of us walking in the footsteps of so many people before us, so many people who gathered in the squares and markets, trading, gawking, listening to impassioned speakers.
After the Forum we decided to walk back to the hotel. Wandering the streets is hands down my favourite way to explore any city and we quickly realised that Rome is not that big. Or maybe there was just so much to look at that we never got tired.
It was a lovely walk, as the sun began to set. At one point we came around the back of a large building only to realise it was the Pantheon. Right there in the middle of the city is this huge ancient temple, columns carved from a single piece, a dome that no one could figure out until the Renaissance (when Bruneschelli cut into it and then recreated it in Florence).
It’s stunning to be in a city amidst so much ancient history. No wonder the Renaissance began in Italy, where they were surrounded by so much evidence of what people had once achieved.
Around the corner from the Pantheon we found the Trevi Fountain. Elaborate and crowded but at least worth a visit.
Thursday was our day for Vatican City (I’m saving that for my next post) and then Friday we’d reserved for…nothing much. Cappucino, pizza, window shopping, soaking up Roman life as much as possible.
Roman Holiday is one of my favourite movies and so a visit to the Spanish Steps was a must. We also found Via Marghuta, where many of the scenes were filmed.
Not far away we found a little restaurant full of working guys on their lunch shirts in matching blue shirts, eating pasta and sharing carafes of white wine. We wandered through the Villa Borghese gardens, filled with busts of men from history and laughed at the tourists on segways and used the worst WC we’d seen in Europe so far. It was free (a rarity in many places) but there was an attendant at the door telling each person that they had to wait their turn. As if she though we came from a place where we just busted in on people trying to pee. It was unclear what her job description really was. She certainly wasn’t keeping the place clean.
We found delicious gelato across the square from the Pantheon (we may have visited this place enough times that the guy behind the counter recognized us) and ventured inside the Pantheon. It felt strange that it was a church inside when it felt so much like a pagan temple on the outside. Seeing the dome and the huge original door though was definitely a highlight.
We walked down the river, then along it, past stalls and bars closed for siesta, then crossed over to a small island in the middle.
After our own siesta we headed back out to explore Rome in the evening. It’s almost like a different city after nightfall. We wandered through the squares, another visit to the Trevi Fountain, sat at the foot of an obelisk and people-watched in front of the Pantheon. Maybe got some more gelato, who can say?
Heading back to our hotel late in the evening we passed a little alley, lights over tables, and a sign in Chinese. The taste of my homeland called to me and we wandered in for dinner.
The food was mediocre but ordering chicken chow mein as “spaghetti con pollo” made it all worthwhile. We sat under the buzz of a huge electric fly swatter and quenched our thirst with sparkling water.
A month in Rome couldn’t cover that city but we thoroughly enjoyed the days we had there and hope to be back one day.
Next: Vatican City