All roads lead to Rome – eventually. Rome is one of those cities that is mandatory on the big overseas experience, and yet, after 3 years of roaming around the world, creating horrible puns, we had never managed to make it there.
This opportunity was too good to pass up. Taking a long weekend we jetted very late into Fiumicino Airport and stayed overnight, before taking a connection to town. We were zombies for the better part of the morning, walking right past the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Didn’t even notice them… We were not staying too far away though. Right across the River Tiber, in Trastevere. Despite the meeting time of half nine, which we were admittedly a little late for, we ended up waking the current guests with repeated presses of the buzzer. Finally at eleven a Brazilian woman came out, she was one of the guests we woke up, and she embraced us in a big awkward hug. She must have really enjoyed her stay…
And why not? Trastevere as we found out was the hip part of Rome. Where all the bars, clubs and restaurants were. Sometimes you strike it with good planning – this was just pure dumb luck…on our budget. Finally rid of our packs, we were free to browse the ruins. We quickly found that Rome is an open air museum, a collection of ancient buildings that had been excavated, semi-ancient buildings that have been built on top, or modern buildings permitted to be in the general vicinity.
The first port of call was the Colosseum. Now, we had read every forum on the subject and while we weren’t in peak season, we heard that the major sites were like an Azzurri scrum (going backwards and without a win). Some advice was to book a ticket next door at the Forum, then make our way into the line for ticket holders. It seemed everyone had read or seen the same blog post as the line for ticket holders was longer than those without and to make matters worse, we were stuck in the middle of a German geriatric herd that moved slower than the line ahead. Once we plugged ourselves into the sweet monotonous voice of the audio-guide, we were transported back into the times of Ancient Rome. Now, the Colosseum wasn’t always known by that name, rather it was called the Flavian Amphitheatre. It was only named after the Colossus statue of Nero based out front. Unfortunately, that statue, like many others was scrapped and salvaged to make other statues, weapons and small models of statues and buildings to sell to unsuspecting tourists. Over time, tourists tastes in different souvenirs must evolve. The current trend is the traveler that takes only photo’s of themselves, at these places. Selfie sticks are shoved in your face every 10 metres: If it isn’t someone stabbing you at eye level extending their telescopic vanity sword, it is a peddler jabbing a fistful into your fat little tourist belly. These salesmen did know how to diversify though. When it got hot – they sold water. When it got wet – they sold umbrellas (selfie sticks with a plastic cover).
Inside the Colosseum we did manage to get a good idea of the scale of the place, the beasts they imported from the far reaches of the Empire, and the gladiators that roughed each other up. Off topic; have to mention Pane & Vino; nearby and the best panini we’ve ever had – literally a sucker punch to the taste buds.
The Roman Forum was where we could doze and relax in the sun, listening to other tour groups talk about the ancient streets and how grand the area used to actually look. Most of the ornate marble of course, was removed and shipped across the town centre for the construction of the Vatican Cathedral. We wouldn’t be seeing that until the next day.
A few more obligatory sites followed, Mitch got to throw 50 cents in the Trevi Fountain and make a wish. Tam hadn’t budgeted for this and was much too shrewd for wasting 50c. She was going to use hers to up-size her gelato. Mitch also ended up getting an up-size because he hates seeing Tam get any more. As there was far too much, he also finished off hers…budget blown. Moral of the story: Mitch always gets what he wishes for…
Back in Trastevere, we put on the number ones. With jandals we looked like the least fashionable people in Italy, but at least we didn’t stoop to sneakers and jeans (that was option B). The menu’s were a little lost in translation and after being spoilt for choice over several restaurants, made some very basic errors, ordering a deep fried “Jewish Artichoke”, a few parcels of pasta and some tempura that was about 3/4 batter, 1/4 vegetable surprise. We knew the best places to go, but more research was needed in how we selected our shared meals. Still making rookie mistakes!
Waking in the morning to a thunderstorm overhead, we had to prepare for a run. As before, once all roads did lead to Rome, but they had to build them first. The Appian Way was the first and important strategic road, connecting Rome to Brindisi on the stiletto heel of the Italian Peninsula. It was engineered expertly by the Romans, laying stones. Out here, we found even more ruins. Rome was really just one big contiguous mass of rubble. Even outside the city walls. It would have been such a sight to behold in its time. A few Fiats bounced up and down along the path, not quite what the Romans had in mind for purpose, but it is still going strong.
Arriving back after 25 km we were soaking wet to the bone and starving for an Amatriciana pasta. The Romans do make amazing fresh pasta, with the secret being their percorino (ewes milk) cheese. The other favourite was the humble Cacio e Pepe (pepper and cheese).
The next tourist trap was walking through the Vatican City and Sistine Chapel. The Vatican is a country in itself, the smallest in the world and home to the Roman Catholic faith. We paid the extra to get a tour guide, just because it would have been hard getting Tam into a museum for more than an hour on a good day – and we had just been running. We were tired; standing upright staring at all the overhead paintings. Worst. Idea. Ever! We pretty much spent the whole visit propping ourselves up on marble statues and other tourists. Yawning like we were at a terrible church service. In all honesty, it was really impressive. So much riches and idols condensed into 44ha.
We liked it so much, we went back! The next day! Only to see Pope Francis himself, in the flesh, wave from his bedroom window in his whiteys delivering his address (known as ‘the Angelus’ every Sunday at midday). We only understood a few words; gnocchi featured a few times and that he finished with a heartfelt ‘Arrivederci!’. Very personable chap!
We chanced upon an empty table at the busiest (and most cramped) restaurant in Trastevere – Impiccetta. The table was tucked in between a Norwegian couple and an English couple, who took turns catching wall fixtures and plates as the waiter nudged his way past. The portions were ridiculously large. They usually have a Prima Platti (First Course) of pasta followed by a Secondi (Second Course) of meat. One course would have easily done for 2 people here…
The last day was spent in an outdoor flea market, looking at old bike models and Italian leather Roman sandals. One dodgy store owner with cigarette stained fingers proudly displayed his calendars and posters of soft porn.
This was short lived, before walking up the Spanish steps, currently under renovation and sporting glamorous recreations of its most famous movie stars draped over the steps. The park of Villa Borghese was where we watched rollerbladers doing tricks and runaway four-wheeled bikes mow down hapless pedestrians. By chance we found the Italian Gelato festival was being staged here. That meant for the next half hour we got to sample 12 different flavours of ice-cream (about a litre in total). Not only that, it was a competition, so the best flavours were on show; pistachio butter, orange, mint & ginger (Tam’s favourite), stracciatella. The best gelato’s that Italy had to offer. We were pig’s in shit!
The second thunderstorm was brewing. We had 2km to run to the train station. Would we make it in time? Sadly not. We again became drenched. Sprinting between buildings with no eaves, checking our phones only to find in vain that we had ran 1.5km in the wrong direction. Another run followed. This time fending the umbrella peddlers who clearly thought their perfect wet customers had come running for them. Where were they before? Now we are beyond wet, boarding the bus – reeking like wet dogs.
The next hour was a bit of an awkward display, especially for those sleeping , but at least we no longer wet. Changing our clothes on public transport is another skill we should really learn in our travels. Rookie mistake…