After our great experience at the Vatican yesterday, today we’ll be seeing the sights of Ancient Rome. Breakfast was again uneventful and we hopped onto another overflowing subway train to Capitoline Hill, which was laid out by Michelangelo. There, we stopped at what was billed as the world’s oldest museum, built in the 17th century to house Ancient Roman art. Notable was the remains (feet, head, parts of the arms) of an enormous statue of Emperor Constantine. The statue was so big that his little toe was about the size of my head. The sculptures throughout the building were pretty amazing, especially considering how advanced they were for their time. Literally inside the museum was the foundation of an ancient Roman temple built on this site. Finally was a breathtaking overlook on the Roman Forum (where all of the ancient remains are located). We had planned to go walking through the forum, but you could see all that there was to see from this overlook and from the street and decided that it wasn’t worth the 10 euro ticket. We were able to see some restoration work being done in the area, which was pretty cool. After walking along the side of the forum, we found ourselves at the Coliseum, complete with guys dressed as gladiators trying to get you to give them money to take a picture with them. It was amazing to see so many ancient stones outside the Coliseum simply stacked into piles. Since we had our Roma Pass, we were able to skip the line which was about two hours, one more reason why the Roma Pass was the best deal in any city on this trip. The Coliseum had a few plaques about its history as well as some interesting facts about gladiators as well as replicas of their attire. Overall, however, Kristine and I felt that both museums and Rome in general was a gold mine of ancient ruins that was poorly organized and preserved. Especially after the well planned and polished museums and attractions of London and Paris with plaques everywhere giving you more information, Rome seemed to just let visitors in to see their treasures and expect them to be content just looking. Personally, I enjoy refreshing my memory from things I learned in school years ago or reading the stories often detailed in various plaques. Romans are remarkably lucky that their sights are so beautiful that people will still come, but overall there is plenty of room for improvement.
We made a quick pit stop nearby for lunch and had great sandwiches. All over Rome there are continuously running water fountains. While this seems pretty wasteful, they have been great to be able to fill up my water bottle wherever we go, although Kristine refuses to drink the water. After lunch, we returned to the Castel Sant Angelo that we weren’t able to make it to yesterday. It’s basically a fort and provided another fantastic panorama of the city. Again, we felt that the building itself and the rooms inside could have been better explained. At this point we were near the Piazza Navona which we loved so much and stopped there for some gelato. I got half mango and half lemon gelato. It’s much different from our ice cream, somewhere between ice cream and sorbet. Kristine had chocolate which basically tasted like fudge and was also great. Even during the middle of the day, the Piazza was filled with people and street performers. There were some cool bands, but also some random street performers such as a person who puts on a glittery gold robe and an Egyptian mask and basically stands still for as long as possible and expects you to give them money. Hunter and I had seen the same act in Paris and thought it odd that in no way was it related to the place we were in. I also saw more I heart Roma shirts, this time however, they said I <3 NY but had NY crossed out and Roma scribbled underneath. They really need some new ideas. One shirt I do like that I have seen in London and Paris as well are college shirts (i.e. the Rome shirt says Universita Roma and has their crest).
With our gelatos in hand, we headed to the Pantheon. It is the only building from Ancient Rome that remains intact. You probably know it as the domed building with the hole in the middle (seen in Angels and Demons). It was a great way to end our sightseeing adventures in Rome as it was beautiful to admire. Even after a busy day, we didn’t end there. My guidebook had recommended going to the Spanish Steps where vendors and tourists congregate. On the way, we stopped two separate times at random churches that were open and were absolutely beautiful. It was amazing to see that even those that don’t make it on the tourists radar are just as old and majestic. We also passed the Trevi Fountain which was ridiculously packed during the day. You couldn’t even get near it. We were happy to have made it last night when it was lit dramatically and we had it to ourselves. At the Spanish steps we didn’t actually buy anything, but we were exhausted and the steps provided us with a seat to for great people watching. We watched countless tourists get scammed by the dozens of flower scammers using the same methods over and over again. There was also plenty of vendors selling other useless trinkets. We hopped back on the subway to stop at our hotel before dinner. No matter what time you are on the subway, it is absolutely packed.
After dropping off our things, we headed to a nearby area, Via Veneto, recommended by my guidebook for food and nighttime activity. After last night’s epic walk, we wanted to stick close by our hotel. It was still a good 15 minute walk and gave us a chance to see a part of the city we had not yet explored. The restaurant we went to was pretty cool, one of the types surrounded by pictures of the owner with celebrities. Apparently it’s a popular place for the stars to go when they’re in Rome. Dinner was pretty good. Kristine gave me a hard time for ordering Lasagna since I had done the same the last two nights when she ordered boring Italian meals she could get at home. I guess I just wanted to see what Italian lasagna was like. It was pretty good, if unspectacular. We noticed our waiter speaking to us in great English, to the table beside us in German and to the wait staff in Italian. We ended up finding out that he was from Pakistan and spoke 7 different languages which was incredible. Overall, there are a lot more English speakers here than in Paris, which I was a bit surprised about. Even small shopkeepers speak decent English. After dinner, we walked around Via Veneto. It was a cool walk, as it was the area with high end hotels and bars, but ultimately, we would have gone back to Piazzi Navona if it had not been such a long walk. That was probably our favorite place to be in Rome. It was the kind of place you could sit at and enjoy for a whole night.
So far, the weather on the trip has been fantastic. In the past 9 days, our worst weather has been a cool afternoon in Paris and a 5 minute drizzle which is pretty good in my book. Since you have to wear pants and covered shoulders in the Vatican and at most Churches in Rome, the weather here has almost been too hot, but I can’t really complain. While the sights in Rome were absolutely fantastic, from the Piazzas to the architecture and of course the Coliseum and Vatican, the rest of the city wasn’t as impressive. As soon as you left any of the attractions, the city seemed run down and not especially inviting. I had a great experience here but could never see myself living here, unlike the last two cities.