Today we got up after a solid night of sleep (aka, we slept in again), and went to the metro station to make heads or tails of where we would go. We don’t have a city map (yet) and are not sure where everything is, but I figure we’ll get to the metro and pick a stop and then start walking. On the metro the stations have little text by some of the stops to indicate historical highlights (like: Colosseum)
What do you think… adventurous, or a waste of time? Would you be more planned?
We were going to get a three day skip-the-line and hop-on-hop-off pass, but most of the reviews are bad… so today we walk around to get oriented and get our feet on the ground. Interestingly, we didn’t see very many hop-on buses, which means we weren’t in tourist areas, or it means the system here is not very good.
We got off of the metro half way between our B&B and the Colloseum, and just started walking. Priority Numero Uno was, you guessed it, food! We walked this way and that, past this shop and that, and past a few restaurants where they have a hawker out front trying to lure you in, until finally we found “the one.” This was “the best food in all of Rome, at the lowest prices, with big portions!” That was the claim from Claudio, a boisterous local who owned this restaurant, but according to him next year will move to Wisconsin with ten or fifteen cows and make the best cheese in the cheese capital of the world.
What does boisterous mean? Look it up… Claudio was born to be a restaurant street hawker, with his booming baritone voice, calling out to anyone who walked by his street to come in for lunch. There was only one other small group there when we went in, and not many people on the street, so we got to chat with him. I asked “Was Mussolini good, or bad?” You see, I love to ask local people about big names in their own countries, to see what the difference is in my American history text and their local (in this case Italian) history text. School is interesting, isn’t it? One of my favorite quotes is “the victor writes the history.” It’s not a favorite because it brings us closer to the truth, but because it frames “history” to help us figure out how truthful it is.
Claudio loudly claims “He was the BEST! Is Trump good?? Was Roosevelt good???” I think I had crossed a line (or, was invited into the intense Italian “discussion”)… but it was clear that he didn’t want any negative Mussolini talk (but might be up for hours of negative US leadership talk :p).
Fortunately, I was with three cute teens, two of which are girls… and that became the theme for the rest of the lunch, kind of. I should say, the food was excellent… totally made up for the day before at the restaurant by the beach (spaghetti-os, remember?) William and I had a terrific pizza, Sam had fettuccine and spent most of the time picking out mushrooms, and Ellie had a salad which was a strip of sliced tomato, a strip of (lots of) mozzarella cheese, and a strip of arrugula (tastes like peanuts, and very spicy aftertaste).
The highlight, though, was Claudio. At one point he walked past our table singing an Andre Bocheli song … one of the girls in my party melts when guys sing… and then, he swept her up and they danced while singing into her cheek. It was really quite entertaining for three of us (not sure how Ellie felt). Here’s the song he was singing, after declaring “I AM A TENOR!”
Lots of laughing at our table… He asked all of our names but some things got lost in translation… Sam was Sam, but Ellie became Hammie, I became Trump (because of my question), and William became Jason. Here’s us, enjoying our Italian host (notice how his smile changes based on who he’s with):
“Where do we go from here?” we asked. “Let me show you…. (going outside) you go up this street, see that big thing that you can’t miss at the top of the road? You go there… that’s the (unintellible). Go there!”
So we go there… up hill, a few blocks, and get one of many great views of this hilly city.
It was a church, of course, and where at the Spanish Steps. We went in the church (amazing) and then down the steps, to the “Fontana della Barcaccia, or Fountain of the Old Boat”. Seriously, if you like churches and fountains and statues, you aren’t going to go wrong in Rome (or Europe, for that matter).
Here’s a rare shot of the four of us, from atop the Spanish Stairs. A street vendor took this, gave the girls roses, and then before he left asked for some coins. Unfortunately, he didn’t take credit cards :p
Where to from her? Um… how about that street? Turns out to be the street with super duper high end shopping … the girls led us into one of the shops that was out of my league… I kept thinking “if you have to ask (about the price) then you don’t belong here.” I also thought “why come to Rome to buy super expensive stuff?” This wasn’t my thing, but it was interesting to be in a store like that. We kept walking, turning down this street (aka, alley) and that, and came to a plaza with this fascinating pillar:
Right there was a gelato shop, which of course we patronized. Is it okay to say that I love gelato, but can’t eat much of it? It’s crazy rich… maybe I need to get some fruit flavors, instead of chocolate and nuts… but they make it so affordable! Two euros for a small, which they fill to overflowing.
From there we kept walking and found a really, really old building… super old. So old it made the other things we’ve seen in Europe seem modern. Turns out this was the… hold on, let me check google: “old roman church with hole in the roof”… oh yeah, the Roman Pantheon. Wowzers. This is about 2000 years old (started during the reign of someone, A.D 14, dedicated in the AD 100s. Oldest building I’ve ever been to, and super impressive.
After spending quite a bit of time there, walking around, looking at the huge hole that was designed in the ceiling (and finding some of the holes in the floor to handle any rain that came in the ceiling hole… interesting planning)… check this out:
There were plenty of street vendors… one came up and charmingly tied bracelets on William’s, Ellie’s, and Sam’s wrists, and then gave me some kind of rocky ceramic figurines (an elephant and a turtle), and just as he was about to leave pulled out his phone and showed us “his newborn daughter” (“aaaaweee, she’s so cute!!”), and then the invitation “I’m having a party at my house for her birth tonight, with some friends… can I have some coins? Just any coins… ” he asks each of us. This is like guilt-trip selling, after giving us “gifts,” tugging at our heartstrings with the baby picture, and then appealing to the “i’m throwing a party and I’m short on wine and cheese…” This went on for a good five minutes… I only have a credit card, so that’s my easy answer. Finally, he leaves… short 3 bracelets and two figurines, to find the next tourists who will support his party. It wasn’t us.
Oh yeah, by this time we were in touch with my publisher, from Silicon Valley, for dinner… but our internet access was really spotty (we went hours with no access, and found the best place for wifi was underground in the metro). We kept walking and ended up going up a huge flight of stairs to a church, where we spent at least 45 minutes, and then out the back happened upon on some crazy amazing ancient ruins… they were blocked off, but we were able to walk around and pretty much see them all (from the outside). Remember, we’re just wandering around Rome… getting oriented, with no map (and no wifi), and the city lacks signs saying what you are seeing. But it’s still fun, and AMAZING.
We wanted to get closer to these ruins, which was about the size of a neighborhood… multiple city blocks:
We went down some stairs and William said “It’s like a movie set!” “I know… all of Rome… all of Europe, is like a movie set!” “No, I mean, a real movie set!” Turns out, we walked into a movie set, set in 1950s (my guess) France (or, Rome, with a bunch of French people and old cars). What a trip. We stayed watching for a while and I was reminded that movie filming is 99% waiting around and 1% action. But we watched a few rounds of filming… people walking, the 3 kids playing… no talking… that was it.
We left up the same stairs we came down (everything else was blocked off for the filming) and stopped to hear a tour guide talk about this area, where Peter (or Paul?) was imprisoned, and the stuff that was happening in New Testament times. It was really fun to hear this history, as he held his bible… we are here, where it happened. So crazy. He might have been famous… there were two really nice cameras there:
We kept walking and were in the old, old part of town. City of ruins on the right, statues and amphitheater on the left, and street performers up and down the street. Here’s a horse statue… I said it needed to lay off the high fructose corn syrup, William said it was a horse on steroids :p
We turn down another road and are in a quiet area when all of the sudden ancient ruins that are being refurbished are in our path… this place is amazing. It’s a mix between “people live and work here” and “here are ancient ruins from 2,000 years ago!”
More walking, more wandering, and we’re in an area with a lot of “argentine” signs… that means silver, apparently (so, Argentina was named because of silver??), and there’s this super old plaza-sized area that is totally blocked off with pillars and foundation. “What is this?” we ask a street vendor (painter). “Its the Largo di Torre Argentina, where Julius Caesar was supposedly killed.” Oh my gosh! Why didn’t I pay more attention to history in school???
I’ll tell you what, we’re tired of all the walking, but around every corner is like a gift. Getting lost in Rome is fun! Here’s a funny sight, no matter how powerful the man, how majestic the statue, this and many other birds have gotten the last laugh:
Somewhere in all of this was a shop that had a lot of replicas of ancient rome warriors… swords, helmets, coins, and penises. I’ll rename that to spanish: pene… so anyway, there are baskets of penes… with wings, of all sizes. I have to ask: “What’s the significance of these… why are there so many all around?” (It’s not like many of the statues are clothed, but these little artistic things all over? Where they earings or decorations or good luck charms, or what?? He replied “in ancient Rome family was a big deal, and having a lot of kids would ensure you could have a legacy and leave things (property) to your kids. It’s all about fertility. It was very common, until the church came along. They ruined everything.” Oooooooh, that makes sense. It was to celebrate fertility. Okay… moving on.
We keep walking and… wait, seriously? Could it really be? The Colosseum? THE Colosseum? “What’s the historical significance of this?” “Well, this is were the gladiators fought, and the prisoners died… man against man, or man against Lion… it was pretty gruesome.” It is probably what we would have more of if we didn’t have TV, the Internet, or Netflix.
Then, it was time to figure out where we were supposed to be for dinner. Reservations were for 9:15, but we didn’t want to be late (we were meeting at 7-something at some place… where was that, and how do we get there?). We went down the metro stairs (directly across from the Colosseum) and VIOLA! We had internet! We could get and send messages! We could figure out where to meet!
We were just a few stops away (kind of, we had to change metros) to the People’s Plaza, or Piazza de Popolo, which was right by the Davinci museum (we hope to go there… it is small and doesn’t look official). I’m not sure why it’s named the People’s Plaza… but probably because everything is named for or after a saint or city (world) leader. So this one was for the regular people?
We got out of the metro and sat on some stairs to try and orient ourselves. We were a block away, but in which direction? Hard to tell. There was a young university-aged Italian guy there, so I asked him: “Do you speak English?” Yes… all younger people seem to speak English. “Where’s the Piazza de Pop_____?” (I slaughtered the name). “I don’t know, I’m from up north!” He was just off the metro, waiting to meet some friends. Turns out he is a violist in an orchestra up north… having studied in Venice (or Florence?) and Russia. This might be our first celebrity sighting here. He was very nice and after looking on Google, pointed us in the right direction.
We passed this lady… I saw her from afar but didn’t realize the pigeons were crawling all over her.
Talked to some people eating American servings of french fries – turns out they were here from the Philipines because there’s more work here. Lovely people.
We went down and alley and found the People’s Plaza, where we waited for Mitchell Levy and his wife and son… and then the night was about to begin! Until then, we are tired, and glad to be resting in the shade:
Alex, Mitchell’s wife, is great at details and she loves the city and exploring… we had a couple of hours before dinner, so she had some plans for us! We walked down to the famous Trevi Fountain (trivia: apparently tourists toss in three thousand euros worth of coins in this fountain EVERY DAY. I need to build a fountain like this…!)
Then, we went to the Magnum ice cream store, which is an experience not to be missed while in Rome…
The funny thing is, this is the first thing we saw off the metro… this is where we started the day, and now it’s where we are ending it!
Right up the street was the hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, from the outside it looks normal and small, but you go in, and downstairs, and you are in a luxurious restaurant, that is practically by reservation only. The food was well-priced and very, very good. This, so far, has been our best food experience yet. And we were with Mitchell and family, so it was a great night of fun and conversation.
At 11:20 Alex asked “What time is it,” then we asked the server “when does the metro close?” Long story short, we had 10 minutes to hobble on the cobblestone to the metro stop, or else we were in for an expensive ride home!
We made it, with minutes to spare! Safe and sound… rolling in around midnight, and exhausted!
Is tomorrow the 3 day pass adventure… or what? Time will tell, but the plan is to wake up EARLY and get out the door quickly!
Buenas noches, desde Roma!