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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rome

Rome was a whirlwind. We met Dave Hartman the day before in Naples and ended up on the same bus again for Rome on our own. Turns out our plans for the day were pretty compatible, so off we went together, striking out across town. On the drive from Citavecchia to Rome, we had a great tour guide giving us all kinds of fabulous tips about Rome, but the hands down best tip was that the ticket to the Forum and the Coliseum is one ticket, and the line at the Coliseum is always long, but the line at the Forum is short. Later this proved the best piece of information we'd get all trip. Laura was our new hero.

We started at St. Peter's and headed out towards Castel Sant'Angelo, then crossed the Ponte Sant'Angelo, lined on each side with angels.

We stopped for a few quick photos, then headed out to Piazza Navona, walking the length of it. Exiting out one end, we happened upon a row of well, let's say vestament dealers. It was like your average clothing store, but for priests. Portable communion picnic basket? Check.

Robes for the new bishop? Check.

Multipart ceremonial staff with convenient screw apart sections? Check.

It's a weird place, Rome.

We misjudged the map briefly and ended up in the Torre Agentina cat sanctuary. The excavated Roman site wasn't on our to-do list, but finding it was a happy coincidence. Not only did we get to see where Julius Caesar was actually stabbed, but I got to pet a cute kitty (who told me I was doing it just right).

Next we walked up to the Pantheon. This architectural marvel was under renovation the last time I was in Rome, so this was my first chance to go inside. Originally a temple to the Roman gods, it was converted to a Catholic church and has thus remained one of the few remaining intact temples. Dating back to 27 B.C., it has the most amazing dome, built in concrete, 142 feet across with an 18 foot oculus in the center as it's only source of light. It is an engineering feat that would still be a challenge today, but it has stood for nearly 2000 years.

Outside of the Pantheon there were several "gladiators" milling around, willing to pose for a photo for a euro or two. My favorite photo of the entire trip is of a Roman gladiator, helmet in hand, talking on a cell phone. It made my day.

After the Pantheon, Frommer's recommended a local gelato shop nearby. It took some hunting, but we found the magical gelato shop and had FABULOUS gelato.

Appropriately fueled, we headed across town, passing the Vittorio Emanuele monument (the typewriter), and off to the left toward the Teattro di Pompey and over Capitoline Hill only to find the entrance to the Forum was on the other side. D'oh! Instead, we took the opportunity to walk the length of the Circus Maximus. Next we headed around the block, seeing the piece of original aqueduct and heading towards the Forum.

We walked right up to the clerk at the Forum, no line, no wait, no fuss. Just a quick transaction and we were in. We tromped all over the Forum, me wishing I could remember all the stuff that the tour guide told us last time I was there. Dave had Rick Steves on his iPhone, so he listened to that as we walked around, telling us bits and pieces.

Next up, across the street to the Coliseum. This was Erik's must-do for the day in Rome, and the Coliseum didn't disappoint. First we walked past a huge line and walked right in. (Thanks Laura!!!) We spent an hour or so looking at the inside and outside.

By this point, we really needed lunch, but each of us produced a banana from breakfast which successfully tided us over. We walked back up the hill, past the Forum, past Palazzo Venezia, and on up to Trevi Fountain. It really is a very pretty fountain, but oh my goodness the crowds were overwhelming. Laura had told us the local legend surrounding the fountain: if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome, throw two coins ensure a new romance, and three ensures either a marriage or divorce. We all carefully threw a single coin - three coins in the fountain!

We'd failed to walk by anything particularly intriguing for lunch, and it was getting late, so we swung into a pizzeria and got pizza by weight. 1 euro for 100 grams. A cheap, tasty lunch was had by all for about 10 euro total, including one soda. With pizza in hand, we headed towards the Spanish Steps.

Now it had been a long day, and it was hot. The Spanish steps are lovely, but I stood at the bottom next to the man selling roasted chestnuts and asked the boys, "So, there they are. Spanish Steps. Want to go up?" After a bit of dithering about whether there was a spectacular view at the top, we decided to give it a miss. In the late afternoon sun, climbing stairs for fun didn't sound... fun. Instead we hit the Metro. 1 euro apiece, and in a few minutes we were back to St. Peter's Basillica with plenty of time to see the inside before catching the bus. We headed through the various security and decency checkpoints. The last bit of direction was a bit confusing, and we walked past where we were supposed to go in. We saw a group of monks in weird baby blue robes with matching baby blue backpacks go in one door, but though that door led to the very same place we were headed, we were turned back by the security guy. Apparently that door is only for the visibly affiliated.

It's an impressive place. The structure is remarkably similar to most Roman temples. One we'd stood in earlier in the Forum in ruins had the same sort of height and structure. You get the idea of how impressive that would be with a huge statue of a god. But here, it's all Jesus and Mary worship, and the aggrandizing of men who choose to climb the political hierarchy of the church. I can't manage to separate the beauty of the space from the corruption in Vatican City. What if the money spent on this structure was instead spent on science for the last 1500 years? I bet we'd have far better medicine and I'd have a flying car. What a waste. After several days in Europe, I was already getting church fatigue. Yes, opulent. Yes, impressive. But it's hard to separate from the creepy child molester cover-ups and the lies about AIDS transmission and the abuses of missionaries throughout history.

Outside, I felt a bit better, watching the afternoon sun stretch shadows across the square. We paused for a bit to send postcards from the Vatican post office. Back out to meet the bus, I pondered that the original departure time of 5:15 had sounded awfully early, but as 5 p.m. neared, I was hot, sweaty, and foot-sore and sitting on the air-conditioned bus sounded great.

Laura, my new favorite tour guide, offered each of us a bottle of chilled water. We rolled back to Citavechhia and back onto the boat. Before dinner, we eschewed all planned activities in favor of a good soak in the hot tub. Here we learned the etiquette of the hot tub: when the bubbles end, the person sitting next to the button will immediately restart them. Stays in the hot tub are measured in the number of times the bubbles are restarted. But after all that walking in Rome, my feet were so happy to have 40 minutes of soaking. We had a lovely dinner and then went straight to bed.

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