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Our first serious drama of the trip today...
We started early, being awake at about 06:00 due to having gone to bed so early last night. I planned our day out while Michelle snoozed a bit. Since it was a public holiday we decided the main tourist attractions might be a bit more crowded than usual, so planned to see some of the lesser sights and save the Vatican and the Foro Romano for later in the week.
Breakfast was included in our accommodation so we raced upstairs to the breakfast room at 07:00 when it opened and hoed into the offerings: bagels, bread rolls, ham, swiss cheese, sticky pastries, and juice. Michelle had a cappuccino. We went back for more several times, filling up on the food since we'd already paid for it. The rolls and bagels weren't the freshest, but the pastries were quite nice. Shame they aren't as healthy though. There was another table of what sounded like Aussies in there, and a few others with people of various nationalities - mostly middle-aged people.
The breakfast view from Hotel Rimini
After breakfast we headed out for the day. Our first stop was Roma Termini where we asked at a newsagent for a Ferrovie dello Stato timetable. We're not sure what the woman answered, but we think they were out and not getting any more until next month. Then we headed downstairs to the Metro station for a train to Circo Massimo. Then back upstairs to try and find a place to buy a Metro ticket. Then back downstairs when it looked like the only ticket machines upstairs were for intercity trains. Then back upstairs following a sign that promised biglietti. Then back downstairs when we discovered the sign took us back to the intercity ticket machines. We eventually found the Metro ticket machines down another flight of stairs on the platforms.
We alighted at Circo Massimo and walked along the length of the famous chariot racing circuit, now simply an open green space in the city, with archaeological remains restricted to a small tower at one end. The track seems to have found use as a jogging track for modern Roman citizens, as we saw several runners, many with dogs, using it. The hill along the southern side was grassy, but with a view of the ruins of the Foro Romano in the background it was easy to imagine the stands full of yelling fans cheering on the charioteers on the track below.
Running on the track of the Circus Maximus
We crossed the road south of the Circo and tried to gain access to the Roseto Comunale rose gardens, which looked to be in marvellous full bloom. Unfortunately restoration work was being carried out and they were completely fenced off - we couldn't even get close enough for a decent peek through the fence.
Continuing up the Monte Aventino (the Aventine Hill) we stopped for a while in the Parco Savello, which had magnificent views north and west over the city, including Basilica San Pietro in the Vatican.
View across Rome from Parco Savello
There were several cats in the park, and I tried to get a clever photo with a cat sitting on the wall overlooking the city. The park also has rows of orange and mandarin trees. Clearly people picked the fruit and ate it, since none of the trees had any fruit within reaching distance and the ground was littered with peels. I climbed up a tree high enough to grab what turned out to be a mandarin and tried it, expecting it to be sweet and delicious. Instead it was so bitter I could only manage to eat a few pieces before tossing the rest in a bin.
Cat in Parco Savello, looking towards the Monumento a Vittoria Emanuelle II
From Parco Savello we walked down a steepish hill, stopping to quickly take a photo with a monk walking ahead of us, which led us towards Piazza Bocca della Verità. We entered the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, which houses the Bocca della Verità, the Mouth of Truth, followed quickly by a tour group of Japanese, who formed a long queue in front of the Mouth. We decided to look inside the church first and come back to the Mouth a bit later. The interior was vastly more run-down than most of the other churches we've see so far - clearly this one is not still used as a place of worship. We stopped briefly in the gift shop on the way back to the Mouth, seeing a poster for the film Roman Holiday, which had the famous scene with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn at the Mouth. The queue was shorter this time around so we waited our turn, and Michelle took photos of me with both cameras, in between which the next people in the queue thought we were done and tried to walk up to the Mouth. We didn't get a photo of Michelle since she had already been there and done that! Turning to leave the church, I tried to look in our Lonely Planet guidebook what we could see next, and found it missing. We rushed back inside and found it lying on a bench in the gift shop, where I'd put it down while looking at calendars. Thankfully nobody else had taken it!
Me at the Bocca della Verità
We walked along the river and crossed the Ponte Fabricio to Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island) where we had a rest sitting inside the Chiesa di San Bartolomeo.
Isola Tiberina and Ponte Rotto, from the Ponte Palatino
Walking back to the eastern bank we headed north through narrow streets until we reached the mysterious ruins in the square near Largo di Torre Argentina, which weren't labelled on any map we had, nor with signs at the location. We continued north to the Pantheon where we stopped in McDonalds for a toilet break. It was so crowded and disgusting we decided we had better stop for a coffee and gelato at a nearby cafe and use their toilet instead.
Largo di Torre Argentina
Further north we wanted to get a look at the Ara Pacis Augustae, but it was covered in scaffolding and fenced off, apparently undergoing major restoration. The nearby Mausoleo di Augusto was accessible, but rather dull, being simply an ancient-looking mound of bricks and dirt with trees on top.
We turned east and made our way up Via Condotti to the Piazza de Spagna and the famous Spanish Steps. The square and steps were incredibly crowded. We were just thankful it was a public holiday and there weren't also Romans in the crowd doing their shopping. After taking a few photos Michelle was hungry for lunch so we searched the area and found a pizzeria where we could buy take-away by the slice. Michelle had a potato and I had something with potato and ground meat of some sort. I also grabbed a can of Fanta which had a groovy green colour and the word amara on it - I assumed this was some sort of fruit flavour. On checking our phrasebook as we sat down outside to eat, I found this meant "bitter" and discovered a main ingredient was orange juice. As it turned out, the bitter orange flavour was quite nice.
The Spanish Steps, with Chiesa della Trinità dei Monti at the top
Stomachs nicely full, we climbed the Spanish steps to the Chiesa della Trinità dei Monti, which supplied yet another cool shady interior for us to sit and rest while we admired the frescoes and decorations inside. It was about 13:30 and our feet were tired so we decided to head back to our hotel for a shower and a bit of a rest before doing another bit of sightseeing later in the afternoon. We took the Metro back to Termini.
Looking down the Spanish Steps, and Via Condotti
We decided to bite the bullet and see if we could find where we could get our rail passes validated and book seats. We checked the travel agent at the station, who seemed to point us at the information desks opposite. When we asked there they told us to try the Eurail office. We went there and waited in a long take-a-number queue for about 20 minutes and ended up speaking to a woman who didn't speak English and pointed to the guy at the next desk who said, yes, he could validate our passes for us.
We breathed a sigh of relief as he checked our passports and stamped the first ticket. Then he ripped out what we thought was the ticket for the second four days. I questioned him, asking if we didn't need that for our second set of four days. He said it was a validation slip he was supposed to keep, not a second ticket. We explained that we had bought 8-day passes in Australia. He said, "No, these are 4-day passes." After some to-ing and fro-ing we discovered that what we had were first class 4-day passes, not second class 8-day passes as we'd asked for, which were almost the same price. That, and the fact that the validation slip looks exactly like the actual 4-day ticket led us to believe we each had two 4-day passes, giving us a total of 8 days of rail travel each. We decided we had better see CIT as soon as possible and try to sort this mess out. We walked over to the CIT office at Piazza della Repubblica but it was closed for the public holiday. Exhausted and angry about the mix-up we went back to our hotel for a shower and a bit of a rest.
At 18:00 we went out again, with the plan to go to the Colosseo, find some dinner nearby, then watch the sunset and get some photos of the Colosseum in the evening light. We found Il Ristoro della Salute which the Lonely Planet had recommended for gelato. They also served pizzas and pasta so we stopped at a table for some penna all'arabbiata for Michelle and tortellini al ragu for me. The pasta was good, but the service was so slow as to be almost non-existent. One waitress was talking to a single customer almost the entire time we were there, and by the time we left she was sitting down at the table and eating with them! The sunset occurred a lot slower than we'd anticipated, however, so we were still in plenty of time to get a good photographing position for the Colosseum.
I set up my tripod to try to get a good picture of a chap in full Roman gear standing by the Colosseum (with a telephoto lens so he couldn't come over after and ask for money for posing), but by the time I was set up and ready to aim at him I looked up and he was gone. While we waited for the light to fade I took some photos of the Arco di Constantino and the Monumento a Vittoria Emanuelle II. Eventually, at about 20:00 the light had faded enough for the floodlights to come on and I took some photos which I really hope turn out.
The Colosseum by night
Then we headed straight back to the hotel on the Metro and retired for the night.
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