europe,  italy,  travel

Huge and old – Day 6


After the whirlwind set of sights we had yesterday, we planned a relatively smaller itinerary, though only in the size of the list. One big ticket item was on it: the Colosseum. As our apartment is located in relative walking distance to the site, we decided it might be nice to walk over. Our host had recommended we check out a church on the walk, and so we planned our route accordingly. Despite getting slightly off course, we did eventually manage to find the church. What hadn’t occurred to us, of course, was that being Sunday, they actually would be having a service. So we somewhat disappointedly left, as we didn’t think it would be appropriate to disturb the service. Thus, it was onwards to the Colosseum, which already loomed in sight (it’s hard to miss it). 

It is an imposing structure–in its size and in the feat of engineering it must have taken to construct it. Huge and old, as I somewhat succinctly put it, which we took to be Rome’s tagline. The sun was out in full force, so we sweatily made our way to what looked to be an impressively long line into the Colosseum. After confirming it was in fact the line for tickets, we did our waiting, with a fairly steady stream of folk offering to save us from our misery if we took their guided tour. However, the line was moving at a decent pace, and it wasn’t long before we were inside the building. However, the line continued to wrap some distance around the Colosseum, so we had some wait to go yet. All in all, it probably took us something like 40 minutes to get our tickets and audio guide. There were a serious number of people around us, but we weren’t in any great rush, which I think is a key element in staying patient with the crowds. We made our way up to the first floor and stared out across the expanse, imagining it whole.

The audio guide was extremely thorough and provided a ton of information (likely more than we could reasonably absorb), and we made our way around the first floor. Fun fact: the Colosseum has been pillaged for building materials over the centuries, including for St. Peter’s Basilica. We then went down to the arena level and peered into the complex maze below what would have been the arena floor. Once we’d had our fill (and the perpetual navigating of crowds started to weary us), we attempted to find our way out (easier said than done), which resulted in our making basically an entire lap of the Colosseum.

We decided that some lunch was in order and couldn’t pass up the opportunity for some genuine Italian pizza. Angela googled the area and determined that there was a recommended pizza place not far away. It was a bustling sort of a place, and we were given a seat in front of their drinks fridge. When another table opened up, we offered to move, but our waiter told us it was good for him for us to be seated here (we weren’t sure if that was because it was an easier table to get to or because we were easier to look at). There were definitely a few admiring looks from the wait staff, but we happily drank our half liter of wine for 2.50 euros and awaiting our meal. We went with an antipasti platter again, roasted vegetables mostly, and shared a mushroom pizza. Super thin and crispy crust, tasty sauce and cheese, it was a delicious introduction to Roman pizza. To top it all off, we were given 2 complimentary shots of limoncello, which sent us off with a nice warm glow. We giddily made our way out and down the street.

Our only other plan for the day was to explore the ruins adjacent to the Colosseum on Palatine Hill. We happily discovered that our entrance ticket to the Colosseum also included entrance to this area. It was a very peaceful walk around basically a park of ruins, with winding paths leading through the ruins of ancient palaces of various emperors (e.g. Augustus, Tiberius), temples and the Hippodrome of Domitian. Look-outs along the way afforded splendid views of the city. We walked through the Roman Forum, which was the center of Roman public life–an area where people gathered to hear speeches, have elections and even watch gladiatorial matches. It was a much quieter, relaxing experience, and we enjoyed walking around marveling at the size and longevity of these structures.

Eventually, we made our way out of the park area and out onto the main street leading from the Colosseum around the monument to the first king of Italy. What I hadn’t realized in advance was that on Sundays, they close off the street to cars, so it became a fabulous pedestrian thoroughfare. We strolled down the street, listening to the strains of music being played by a variety of street performers. We had planned to try and find a restaurant in the Trastevere area of town, which was just across the river, so we started walking over. We passed through the Capitol area, passing the Senatorial Palace (which I later discovered was re-designed in the 1500s to face away from the Roman Forum and in the direction of Papal Rome). We hopped across the Tiber River, through the tiny Tiber Island, and over into Trastevere.

This was a charming neighbourhood, with narrow cobbled streets lined with ivy-covered houses. It was also a very lively part of town, teeming with tourists and locals alike, and a wealth of restaurants and pubs. I’d earmarked a place I’d found recommendations for, and so we made our way in the general direction of that restaurant, which was just on the edge of this bustling part of town. We thought about grabbing a drink first to kill some time (as it was about 6:30 pm, still early for dinner for many places). We stopped in Piazza Santa Maria and watched a street performer make gigantic bubbles. We’d heard about a church in the area having excellent mosaics and, given the intricate mosaic work on the front of the church in this piazza, we figured we’d found it. The Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome, dating back to the 340s. Inside, there were breathtaking mosaics, apparently from the 13th century, gleaming in the dim light (which they’d periodically turn off, somewhat inexplicably). What I’ve always loved about visiting churches and religious sites is the kind of hushed reverence people tend to have, walking around quietly in awe.

It was exceedingly stuffy inside, as we both had put on cardigans to cover our shoulders, so we soon made our way out into the relatively refreshing evening air. We eventually found the restaurant, Trattoria da Lucia, which hadn’t yet opened. We inquired about the opening time and left to find a drink nearby. Our legs were giving out, so it became the first available table. But we were soon sipping on strawberry prosecco and white wine and enjoying the people-watching. Our drinks finished, we headed back to the restaurant where a few groups of people were awaiting its opening. Interestingly enough, the first group that inquired about the outdoor seating found out it was all reserved. We inquired about a table, and he said that he had a table for us reserved outside. I guess our earlier inquiry constituted a reservation, so we were very pleased to have snagged a seat in the coveted outside eating area. We ordered a bottle of wine (8 Euro!) and an appetizer of pecorino cheese with honey, which we discovered was an absolutely brilliant combination, one that I’m definitely going to try back home. Angela chose a veal stew with peas, and I had a pecorino cheese theme going for my meal by going with spaghetti with pecorino, pepper and bacon. Our meals were solid, and we took our time savouring our prime seats in the pleasant night air and lingering over our wine.

We had pre-determined that we could take a nearby bus home, so we paid up and made our way to the bus stop to catch it. However, a bit of internet searching had informed us that you couldn’t actually purchase bus tickets on the bus–you had to buy it at a metro station or bar/tabacchi. We weren’t near a metro station (otherwise we would have taken it) and being Sunday, we couldn’t find a tabacchi open. We wandered around trying to find something, cursing a somewhat silly transit system that required you to not only pre-plan your bus trip such that you’d buy your tickets in advance. After much wandering and much wavering over whether to just take a cab (which would’ve been quite expensive), we ultimately decided to heed the advice of some locals that had said that at night, tickets aren’t really checked. There was a tram going along the street we were on that would take us into the center of town (Piazza Venezia) and from there, we could walk to the Metro. We somewhat nervously rode the tram (criminals!), though we reasoned that we would have happily paid if actually given the opportunity to purchase a ticket. We were relieved to arrive at Piazza Venezia, as it was at least an area of town we were familiar with. We made the trek over to the Metro station, a good 15-20 minute walk. We tried to see the silver lining of our transportation gaff by reasoning that we got to see sights like the Trevi Fountain all lit up. We rejoiced in finally reaching the Metro and went to buy tickets, only to discover that Angela was short 20 cents in change (and the machines don’t provide more than 6 euros change). Amazed at our luck, we went back out of the metro station and went in search of a shop to buy something in order to get change. The first little drink shop we stopped at to buy a bottle of water didn’t have enough change for a 20. Mercifully, the second shop did, and we gratefully snagged our bottle of fizzy water and change. After the Herculean task that was our trying to get home, we were extremely relieved to get back to the apartment and call it a night.

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