LOLosseum

September 14, 2014

It was a pretty sleepless night. I never sleep well if I know someone has gone out. Not because I’m worried about them, but because I hate being rudely awoken just after I’ve fallen asleep. For that same reason I can’t sleep if I have an alarm set, or if I know someone is calling the next morning. I knew Georgia our hostess was calling at 10am to get payment for our stay, so I woke at 9 in readiness and woke the sleeping beauties at 9:30. As tired as I was feeling, I became quite chipper at seeing the green-around-the-gillsness of the others. Money was handed over with no hidden charges, good feeling and Georgia telling us we could stay as long as we wanted that day, leaving our keys on the table when we left. Donna and Gemma were getting the train to Florence at 6pm so I was going to head on my solo adventure then, going to a guesthouse a few streets away as the current one didn’t have a single room for me. We left our suitcases in the room and headed on to our Friday activities: mainly the Forum and Colosseum. We had another free outdoor breakfast at the Cafe on the corner of Via Merulana facing Santa Maria Maggiore. I can’t remember the name of it though… I’m not one for eating outdoors because of smokers, passers-by, noise, insects… but the others loved it, and I figured I could eat indoors to my heart’s content on the solo part of my trip! We had nice little tables with umbrellas though.

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I had read there was an English language tour of the Roman Forum [basically, the ruins of the old City Centre] at 12:30 costing 5 euro on top of the price of tickets we’d already purchased. When I phoned they said they didn’t have the information on whether there were spaces left to hand, so we should just show up. When we did show up at the Forum entrance we were told that the tour begins at the Palatine entrance [something neither the website or phone information had told us] and it was around half an hour’s walk away, so we might as well just go in the gate we were already at. I’d been told that the information signposted at the Forum wasn’t very helpful. When I read a few of the signs I found they were reasonably helpful, but incredibly dry. And I like historical info! So I had a loose plan of trying to find a tour guide and tagging along for free at some point. A good tour guide can really make something come alive.994484_852470311437557_828445748913504821_nIMAG0104

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The sun beat down mercilessly and I think I was probably best off, as I was the only one with a sunhat. We stayed together for a few pictures and then Donna and Gemma rested their hangovers under a shady tree. I tackled Palatine Hill at this point, finding random staircases and following them up until I reached the Villa Farnesiana. I’d spotted a few guides giving personal tours to couples but at the top of this hill, in a shaded area a tour guide was guiding a group of 15 people and I crept along behind, enjoying the stories, the shade and my dishonest resourcefulness! He took us down some steps to a wonderfully cool area that contained a grotto and waterfall, blocked off by gates. When the tour finished I joined the others, who had relocated to a cafe for some cool drinks and we sat for a while, gathering our strength for the Colosseum.

Our internet tickets of course meant that we could bypass all queues but we still spent a good amount of time observing from the outside, noticing things we’d never seen before, like the huge sign on the side.

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It’s a huge place. Huge. There’s a notice for visitors saying the Colosseum is limited to only 3000 visitors at a time. Only?! We all know the stories. Entertainment took place there; entertainment that was free to attend! Gladiators fought with animals that were kept in underground cages and brought to the surface with moving platforms and winches. Exotic animals were brought over to Rome by ship, as of course the Roman Empire extended far and wide! Gladiators fought with each other, and they stayed underground too, prior to their big moments. You can see a pale wood platform that sightseers are standing on and the underground area is viewable beyond that.

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It was coming close to train time for Donna and Gemma so we got a last meal together at a place very near the Colosseum called Angelino ai Fori dal 1947. I had satisfyingly meaty Fettucine alla Romana and we had all reached exhaustion point, so it was a pretty quiet time for us all. Donna remembered last minute that she hadn’t got to see the Bocca della Verita [mouth of truth], a statue that features in the film Roman Holiday. Rumour has it that if you place your hand in the statue’s mouth it will bite your hand off if you tell a lie. Apparently it was used historically to ascertin the honesty of wives. But not husbands, apparently? They dashed off to find the statue and I went back to finish packing and to have a bit of a much-needed lie down. I admit, I was starting to feel nervous about changing hotels and having my solo time!

They’d taken so long at the statue we had to leave pretty much right away and after they headed to the train I carried on down Via Napoleone III praying I wouldn’t throw up in public through sheer nerves. I reached Ritmo Blues B&B in about 15 [panicked] minutes, feeling a little more uncomfortable when the neighbourhood began to look seedier and seedier. I kept control of my stress during Sabine’s Introduction to Blues talk and started to feel calmer, especially when he told me I could use the guest computer, and when he made me try the key in the lock with his supervision as there was a knack to it, and had I been left to do it alone I probably would have just given up. That’s one thing I always notice with hostels. Most of the locks are tricky but the staff expect you to work this out by yourself, be it clockwise, anticlockwise or just a little extra elbow grease. The practice run was very much appreciated! My room was lovely with a double bed, ceiling fan, private bathroom and fridge, so I lay down and tried to be calm.

And calm I was. By about 9pm I realised a walk would be beneficial, to help me sleep and get me familiar with the area. Slightly apprehensive, I felt much better when I stepped onto the street and the first thing I saw was a family with a small child. And then another! This was reassuring. I walked around the corner spotting a few restaurants and heading towards lights found a supermarket where I heard a bunch of Australian students getting their holiday groceries. I grabbed some bottles of water and rosemary and olive flavour Pringles, which you can’t get here. The icing on the cake was when I spotted Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi, a guidebook-recommended gelateria less than 5 minutes walk from Blues! A quick nip inside showed me an amazing array of flavours and a wide open airy seating area. I was sold, and relaxed enough to sleep with my first solo full day ahead of me!

The next morning I was so excited about the solo part of my journey! I could spend ages staring at maps without appearing antisocial, I could keep checking and rechecking things, I could take my time finding things [for example, if I didn’t find the Pantheon right away I could keep trying without worrying about boring people] and wouldn’t have to compromise on destinations and wouldn’t have to eat outdoors! I could buy a three day bus ticket for my remaining three days and literally bus-hop, going to random places. I could do anything!

So it started off with me getting hopelessly lost. I’d read on the Couchsurfing website that there was a free walking tour – taking in some of the more unusual sights I wanted to see like the keyhole on the Aventine Hill [I’ll explain later], the statue of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, the Bocca Della Verita, the Jewish Ghetto, Bernini’s elephant statue – starting at the Circus Maximus at 10:30am. All I needed was a bus ticket to get there. I had enough money for a single ticket but decided it would be more economical to buy a three day ticket, so I had to find an ATM. On finding it, the machine asked me if I wanted 20 or 50 euro. 20 would buy the ticket but not be enough for dinner too, so I plumped for 50. The machine gave me a 50 euro note. The ticket-buying machines said they accepted 50 euro notes, but didn’t. I tried more than one. It also didn’t accept cards. By then I was quite a distance from that first bank machine so I randomly picked a busy street and started walking, figuring that a busy shopping street would have another ATM sooner or later. I didn’t mind which direction I was walking in as I knew whenever I got my ticket I could just get a random bus. When I found another ATM it told me I was at my limit for the day, so was kinda trapped with a 50 euro note. I walked for a while, thinking I might be able to buy a ticket at the actual manned ticket booth at Termini. Halfway there, I realised I had another card which I don’t use often, but might just help me out. Trouble was, it wasn’t compatible with many ATMs. Certainly not the first one I tried. I’m not sure how I ended up on Via Merulana but I didn’t quite realise how far I’d walked until I reached San Giovanni in Laterano. Which I wouldn’t have minded seeing, but not right then. And it was completely in the opposite direction I’d wanted to go in! I retraced my steps, found an ATM that accepted my second card and realised just how gosh-darned hard I was pushing myself to walk fast. I accepted I’d missed the tour and wouldn’t be able to find them so I made a concerted effort to walk slowly and not go hell-for-leather. I walked to Termini and got the Metro to Spagna, as that was fairly central and could be the start of me conducting my own walking tour! It’s not easy to get a good photo of the Spanish Steps as they’re so busy, but if nothing else this shows how busy they are!IMAG0065And here’s me:

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As this was the first morning of my holiday and I had no real schedule, I decided to try and find a nearby gelateria called San Crispino, considered by many to be the best in Rome. When I arrived I couldn’t for the life of me work out why the door seemed to be locked on a Saturday, until I read the opening hours and realised it wasn’t yet 11am. Usually at home I’m still asleep at 11am! I had about 10 minutes to wait but fickle as I am I decided to try the next-best option, Giolitti, apparently a few streets away. Guidebooks say it may be past its best but as I’d never been there before, I would have nothing to compare it to. I got one scoop pistachio [which I was delighted to find contained whole pistachios] and a bright, sharp-tasting scoop of mint, taking it with me the two streets I roamed looking for the Pantheon.

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Most of Rome’s buildings from BC are ruins. The Pantheon – rebuilt in 126 AD – is still a working concern. Its Pagan origins led to consecration as a Christian church in 609. I ain’t a historian though, so have some pretty pictures of the bronze doors that were replaced in the 15th century.

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And the tomb of Victor Emanuele II:

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The interior is spectacular, cool marble surrounding the hole in the ceiling that’s constructed to let air and light in. The sunlight through this oculus causes circles of light inside the building, which I would have photographed had I a better camera! I went outside, leaning against a pillar and writing a postcard before taking a closer look at the fountain nearby.

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Aimlessly pottering after this, with a loose view to looking for Piazza Navona and instead found this dude, called Minerva’s Chick.

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I never did find Piazza Navona. I came out of the winding streets at a[nother] set of ancient ruins set behind plexiglass, which I recognised as Largo di Torre, a site of four excavated temples which historians believe contain the site of Julius Caesar’s murder. They say Shakespeare set the murder in the Forum as all the other action took place there, and simply wanted to save theatres have another set change. Whatever the truth, the truth now is that there’s a cat sanctuary there and I looked around through the ruins awhile, playing spot-the-cat.

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It was 11:55 and the sanctuary opened at 12 so I waited a while, considering how I didn’t want to wait at San Crispino for it to open. Priorities, eh? The volunteers vaccinate each cat, treating existing conditions and neuter all cats, to try and reduce problems in the future. Reading about the sanctuary on Tripadvisor I once again became annoyed at ridiculous comments like “This place smells of cats” or “It’s depressing, seeing blind cats”. I think the fact these cats have good care is anything but depressing! Yes, it was sad seeing a cat with no eyes [eye infections are rife with stray cats] but the soft grey cat in question had a comfortable place to stay, seemed fairly content and could have been a lot worse. I was mildly amused that a black, blind cat was called Stevie Wonder though… Their naming policy is odd. I have no idea what monstrous thing this particular cat did to get such an awful name:

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Here are some inmates.

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I had no food in my bag.

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Cats can read? In… English?

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Cat-garden:

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I couldn’t afford any of the souvenirs [a cloth shopping bag was 15 euro] so scrabbled around in my purse for some coins. I don’t think the other visitors I saw donated, but to be fair I was outside the door before I remembered, I had to come back in. They don’t have signs up asking, which is nice and unobtrusive but… leads to forgetting.

By now I thought going back to the hostel for a nap was a great idea, after a quick lunch. I found an Italian restaurant very near the hostel and I can find it on streetview, give you the address and describe the decor, but none of this is helping me find the name online. I had some garlic bruschetta with actual cloves of garlic and some fiore di zucca, or battered zucchini flowers. Sometimes this is cooked with mozzarella and I wonder if there was some in mine, as it contained more flavour than a deep-fried vegetable has right to have! Somewhere between a fishcake and a potato cake. Yeah, it tasted mildly fishy. No, I’m not a food writer. Can you tell? I felt perfectly comfortable eating alone anyway and I was totes indoors! After the food I couldn’t face going for a nap as there was a city to explore so I did a bit of bus hopping, finding [my favourite Piazza?] Piazza Campidoglio which was designed by Michelangelo and if you take one of the little side streets off the rear you have wonderful aerial views of the Forum and yes, this is where the statue of the she-wolf resides! I jumped a bus again, partly looking for a post office and partly just… looking. The heat was starting to properly bear down on me by this point though. Have I told you about the public drinking fountains? Clean, cold drinking water gettable from fountains dotted all over the city, placed strategically in popular tourist points and/or points that don’t get much shade. Bring a bottle and refill, these things are life-savers!

I’m not sure how to describe the Museum and Crypt of the Capuchin Monks. The top part – the above ground levels – is indeed a museum and I spent a lot of time reading about the lives of the order, how it has changed over the years, the significance of the hood shape, the lives of particular monks [some awaiting confirmation of sainthood] as I didn’t want to appear to be a bloodthirsty hag who just skipped immediately to BELOW. And the top level was very interesting. More interesting than the signage in the Forum, let me tell you. But most people do visit this museum because of BELOW. Below is monk bones. Not unusual for a crypt, you might say. But these monk bones are arranged. Into… collages? Tableau, anyhow. 4000 monks were used in the making of these pictures, often with a message of worship, or more commonly, making the use of time while you have it. Skulls are winged [a wing perhaps formed from half a pelvis?], hourglasses are winged; “Time flies” is the message here. Use it while you can. Photos aren’t allowed, but a few professional ones exist online for website purposes. Instead of describing any more, I’ll put one or two up.

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I was enjoying peace and quiet in the ossuary, some gentle chanting music being quietly piped in when I loud-voiced lady appeared, leading a tour group. I quietly raged, until I realised she was telling more information than the signs were given, so I slowed my pace to listen. After 10 minutes or so another tour group appeared, with an equally loud-voiced lady giving slightly different information, which gave me a fuller picture of the picture, as it were. I stood between the two groups and listened to both descriptions, pleased at my luck. Much like the cat sanctuary, I wouldn’t say it’s a depressing sight. Peaceful.

Being a cool dude, I went back to my room at 7pm, eating Pringles and reading for the rest of the evening. I checked the guest computer and slept my first proper sleep since getting to Italy. I slept like a stone through the night.

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