Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Roman Around

By Claire
Happy Village and Camping, Roma, €15

We mastered the train and metro on our first try, or almost. If it hadn’t been for a young woman explaining to her mother which metro to take to the Coliseum, and then kindly including us, we might still be there. But, I was quite good at reversing the 3 transfers including a train on the way back. But Rome! What an amazing, exhausting, huge city! We continue to be so lucky with the weather even if we did wake up to 47° inside Homer. No problem, the gas heater works like a gem and heats things up pronto. So, dressing became a challenge. How many layers, what level of layers? Wool? I didn’t want to take a purse or backpack due to the warnings about pickpockets so I opted for my jacket with multiple pockets inside and out with zippers and velcro. Everything worked perfectly although it became quite warm and I was quickly peeling off layers.

We bought the Roma Pass for €23 each. It covers all the sites except the Vatican and all transportation for three days. It’s nice to have a card that works everywhere and gets you to the front of the line too. We walked past hundreds of people in line at the Coliseum and just zipped in. That alone was worth the price.

It’s important to look good while walking through Rome

We decided to do outdoor things today since I keep reading weather reports that claim we will have rain for this entire week. Chuck loved the Coliseum and even I enjoyed it for the third time. Maybe it was being with the right person. We used a Rick Steves audio podcast with our Y-jack so we could share it and moved through it listening to lots of great historical information.

Inside the Coliseum

After that, we moved to The Forum. I must say, it’s IMPRESSIVE.

Basilica of Constantine. These huge arches were originally spanned by a roof 130 feet high. Chuck’s looking pretty tiny.

By now we were exhausted but I was determined to see Palatine Hill, especially since it has figured largely in the book I’m reading, Roma, (I’m now up to 550 B.C.). How beautiful! We could have spent hours there but by 3 pm we had been on our feet since 9 am.

Palatine hill with Umbrella Pines

From palatine hill

The Caesar Shuffle—Day Two

Up early again, it was getting cloudy so we decided to do another outdoor walking tour before the rain hit. Lucky as usual, we saw all the usual tourist sites and enjoyed the walk. The first thing we saw was the Largo Argentina and Cat Hospice, a ruin that was discovered in 1926. It is inhabited by a number of cats. If you look closely, you’ll see a white cat at the bottom of the steps.

We made our way to Campo de Fiori, the start of our walking tour via the Rick Steves Rome book. I’m very impressed with how well we have stumbled around this city. We took a train to metro station, then took a metro to the Termini station, then found bus #40 to take us to the stop nearest the area we wanted to see. Of course, this was after studying the guidebook, the metro system layout and several maps for two hours this morning. Then, once you’ve arrived at your last stop you have to figure out which way to walk. Travel is definitely challenging.

Our first big stop was the Pantheon, a wonder of architecture and engineering and a podcast from Rick Steves describing everything inside.

On to the Trevi Fountain. It was packed with tourists but still beautiful. Chuck put his 2 cents in by throwing a €.02 piece.

The Spanish Steps were next. It was beginning to sprinkle so we checked them out then walked to the top for the view of all the tourists.

Our plan was to get to the Vatican around 2 pm when the crowds are fewer and the wait shorter. Our plan succeeded and we were swept right in. However, getting to the Sistine Chapel took forever, only because it is a great distance from the entrance to the museum. We did finally make it and it was only mildly packed with people. I even grabbed Chuck and slipped into some recently vacated seats. I had to laugh at the two guards in there. They are specialists. One says “no fotos!” or noooo fotooooos” every 5 minutes and the other guy says “shhhhhh” every 3 minutes. In between those announcements, a blaring voice is amplified over a PA system, repeating the message to be silent in 7 languages.

I really wanted to see the Pope’s carriages and we almost got there but then found that exhibit to be closed. It’s something I’ll never forget even though I saw it 20 years ago. We did walk the beautiful circular stairs then made our way out to find the nearest Metro station.

By now it was raining hard. Since Italy is the land of marble, naturally, everything was slippery and it felt like we were walking on an ice rink. We saw a young guy ahead of us do one of those “step on a banana peel” kind of falls, landing hard on his butt. It wasn’t long after that before Chuck slipped and fell going down the stairs. I was really horrified and imagined broken bones. I’m amazed he didn’t seriously hurt himself and very grateful. Tomorrow will tell us just how bruised he is.

On the train heading back, we were entertained by a clarinet player with a sound system doing backup. At first, I thought it was piped in music, and a little loud. Then Chuck said “he doesn’t look like Woody Allen” and I still didn’t get it. Finally I saw the guy and was astounded that we had a live show going on as we roared along. He played hits from the thirties, forties and fifties, somehow managing to keep his balance as the train jerked to a stop and started up again. When he finished his repertoire, he worked his way through the crowd with a cup. We had him on two trains we took and an accordion player on another.

We’re happily inside Homer right now, just finishing some hot chocolate while it rains and pours outside. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Roman Holiday—Day Three
My priority today was to find La Bocca della Verita, The Mouth of Truth. If you’ve seen one of my favorite movies, Roman Holiday, with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, you’ll remember the scene where this is featured. In the scene, Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn are standing in front of The Mouth of Truth as she puts her hand in. When she is able to pull it out without it being bitten off, it means she’s telling the truth. She is really a princess who has escaped from the palace for the day, believing that Gregory Peck doesn't know (he's a journalist and trying to get a story). Unknown to her, he has hidden his hand in his sleeve so that when he pulls his hand out it looks like it is gone. Audrey lets out a shriek then becomes slightly hysterical. Turns out, that scene was not as planned. Gregory Peck asked the director, William Wyler, if he thought it would be too corny if he did the sleeve trick. Wyler loved it and they decided not to tell Audrey. Her reaction was completely real and made the scene. I can’t wait to see this movie again.

We had quite an adventure finding this thing. For some reason I thought it was near the Teatro dell’Opera so we took a metro to the Repubblica stop. It turned out to be very fortuitous. The Piazza had a McDonalds with very clean bathrooms and we decided, what the heck, let’s eat here. It was raining outside and it was warm and dry inside and we were there. We did some planning about finding this thing then walked around looking for a postcard with a photo of it so I could reasonably ask where it was and show the picture. There were some wooden kiosks full of old postcards and books and I found one then asked the guy selling it where it was. He didn’t speak enough English so he pointed to an old guy sitting in a chair. I showed him the photo and said “dove Bocca della Verita?” He said it was too far to walk, letting his fingers do the walking so I would understand, then instructed us to take the #170 bus (“one seven zero”) to Piazza Venezia then walk to the church. It wasn’t clear which church he meant but it was a good clue. I showed him my map and he pointed and explained that when we got there we would lie down to the Piazza. I knew what he meant. We decided to go for it, found the bus, hopped on and then had to figure out when to get off. It’s amazingly difficult to figure this out when you’re on a bus. At some point I noticed some banners advertising an art exhibit with Piazza Venezia as part of it. I grabbed Chuck and we jumped off. We have become quite good at navigating our way around cities and off we went, looking for La Bocca della Verita. And we found it at Piazza La Bocca della Verita! What fun!

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