Monday, December 1, 2008

Italia: Day 3

Dan reminded me this weekend that I ought to recap the rest of our honeymoon before the events become uncommitted to memory. He has a good point, especially since we have no photos to remember our trip by. The trouble has been that I need to dedicate a solid amount of time to a quality posting.

So here we go again.

Our breakfast on Sunday, our third "full" day in Rome, we had a similar spread as the morning before. We loaded up on eggs, cereal and toast at our somewhat meager (but perfectly suitable) bed and breakfast then stopped for a cappuccino (enjoyed standing up, of course) on our way to the day's big events—the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. 

We were eager to spend some more time with our lovable, Liverpool accent-laden tour guide Ian but knew we needed some cash to pay him with. So we used Dan's TomTom, which he loaded with European maps prior to our trip, to find a few ATMs that might dispense us some benjamins. Our commute (on foot) from our lodging to the historic sites was quick; we could actually see the Colosseum through the alleyways from our B&B.

As I recall approaching the Roman Forum, all I can muster up to type is "WOW." Being there—and reflecting upon it—conjures up feelings of respect, reverence, awe and mystique. It's the place where Roman civilization developed! To think about setting foot in the very places where Caesar rallied his troops (and eventually fell to the sword of Casca and Brutus), it's unreal. Just think about Marc Antony and Cleopatra's lover's quarrels on this very land. Our guide, Ian, recounted the Ides of March (Caesar's doom day) with dramatics and fervor. I suppose political underminings and backstabbing aren't modern day things in the slightest.

Our tour group size was similar to the day before at about ten to 12. We were led from monument to monument, hearing about everything from erecting the city center to excavating it hundreds of years later. The Senate's meeting place is located among the Forum's buildings, as are a multitude of temples (Saturn, Concord, Vesta, Venus and Roma, etc.). Ian told us how some of the structures (and beliefs) are a mix of Greek and Roman beliefs. Did you, by the way, know that the Romans invented modern plumbing? I didn't.

The Colosseum, just a few steps from the ruins of Rome's ancestors, was host to blood baths via gladiator fights. Sure, we've all seen Russell Crowe's Ridley Scott-directed Gladiator movie, so we know at least a little about how this would play out. Prisoners of war and criminals were pitted against one another and against animals in the most grueling of fights. It's debatable how many people the Colosseum could hold (Wikipedia says 80,000), but I'm sure it was incredible to observe the crowds there—with the poorest of the spectators viewing the carnage from the top levels. Our tour guide told us that some say nearly 500,000 people and animals were slain in the famed (or infamous) arena. The arena's floor, no longer there from years of wear, once sat above a series of cells, basically. Through a system of pulleys and levers, event orchestrators could lift gladiators and animals up from the "basement" and allow them to enter the arena via secret stage doors. 

One tourist tip related to the Colosseum: it's free to enter with your Roman Forum pass unless you appear to be with a group of 10 or more (if that's the case, there's something like a 2 euro/person charge). So if you're with a guide and a group, act like you're minding your own business until you're past the security checks.

Since Ian did such a great job the night before with a restaurant recommendation, we listened attentively as he told another couple of a good restaurant near our present location. After the group parted ways, we looked for the orange-ish building with a ship out front that Ian described but to no avail. We settled on a large, probably rather touristy lunch spot called Antica Trattoria Pasqualino al Colosseo. The outdoor seating seemed to be calling our name.

Another pair from the tour happened to be seated at the table next to ours, so we had a lovely conversation with the native New Zealanders. It was also their first trip to Italy. Our food was tasty (ricotta and spinach ravioli with red sauce and lasagna, accompanied by a Peroni birra) but it did take a solid 20 minutes to get our check.

A perk to the random way we chose to navigate home was passing by San Clemente, the small church Ian mentioned was probably his favorite in town. We just happened to stumble upon the place of worship. Not that I have photos from the trip, but no photography is allowed in the building. Slightly underground, the basilica seemed to be preserved from it's 12th-century roots (though it was built atop a 4th century church). Frescos and mosaics galore were sights to behold.

While walking around, we also decided to pick up a few friend souvenirs. We found a few shops that weren't closed for the Italian equivalent of a siesta and picked out a fun few items. We particularly enjoyed the coziness of Arrivederci e Grazie and the nice old man and younger boy who helped us with our selections. There was something endearing about the way the old man spoke to us in quick Italian despite realizing we could understand him. There were, of course, a few universal words we could mumble back and forth—words like "vino" (wine) and chocolate. We grabbed some lemoncello, olive oil and tiramisu chocolates for dear friends in Atlanta.

Of course I couldn't help but suggest we grab some gelato on our final stretch back home. And by "we," I really mean "I" with Dan stealing little bites. This time, I opted for two flavors: after eight (kind of a mint flavor) and an old standard, pistachio. I thought two euros wasn't bad for my sweet afternoon snack. 

We had intended to visit the Pantheon, one of man's greatest architectural accomplishments. It's dome is one of the top tourist attractions in Italy. Unfortunately, the Pantheon closes early on Sundays (5pm) so we missed our window of opportunity. 

We rested as quickly as we could before deciding on a dinner plan. Since we'd traveled some distance from the B&B the night previous, we decided we'd wander the nearby streets for dinner on this night. We meandered along larger and more off-the-beaten-path streets, taking note of menu offerings and prices. If a restaurant had employees staked outside, calling you to come in, we decided they must be desperate for customers. Begging musicians (accordions, etc.), asking for tips, also led us away from certain restaurants.

Chico di Grano was our final dinner destination. Our Nigerian waiter was not exactly your authentic Italian, but the food served was overall good. We enjoyed a half liter of house (red) wine, bruschetta with green pesto and tomato pulp, grilled veggies, shrimp risotto and a margherita pizza. The pizza was incredible, while the risotto was a little more disappointing (slightly underdone and using tiny popcorn shrimps instead of substantially-sized prawns). Some Americans have complained about sitting fees, but since theirs was prominently displayed before we even entered the restaurant, we found no objection.

With a relatively early train to catch, we skipped any after dinner drinks for a few minutes of talking and preparing for our next day. We both REALLY enjoyed Rome though. The area where we stayed was great—and seeing one of the cruxes of humanity (second to Greece) was unforgettable. Everyone has their opinion, but I very much disagree that "you really one need one day in Rome." There's so much to take in and we could have even stretched out our Rome visit one or two more days.

Miscellaneous thoughts on Rome: 
  • Geez, a lot of people smoke. I mean, a lot
  • The city is more diverse than I would have guessed (we noticed this especially after walking through the predominantly Indian/Asian/African neighborhoods near the train station)
  • Graffiti is everywhere, though I hear this is the case throughout Europe
  • Coffee isn't sized "venti" or "grande;" it's quick espresso that's enjoyed standing up
  • Gelato stands are on every corner, even more prominent than I would have guessed
  • Apartments are small yet offer everything you would need in a bustling, metropolitan city
  • Streets feel like alleys because they weren't built for cars—and road rules really need not apply
  • In general, people were helpful and had nice attitudes toward tourists (I'm not sure if it helped, but we tried to reciprocate kindness at every opportunity possible)
  • There are two types of train tickets: one more luxurious and direct, another with multiple stops but about 40% more affordable (whoops... we bought the more expensive ones to travel from Rome to Florence)
  • Tips are optional (at least we heard that tips aren't expected or necessary); we still chose to tip a little when we felt like we had quality service

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