DM and MM's Italy Trip Diary

Day 5 - Roma

Thursday, 3 May, 2001

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We sallied forth from our room to get breakfast at 07:00 again. Today there were pastries with layers of chocolate in them - I tried two of those. I also asked (in Italian) if they had peppermint or chamomile tea, for me. No mint, so I ordered a chamomile. When the woman brought the hot drinks over she assumed the tea was for Michelle and when I said it was for me she gave a surprised "oh!" sort of noise (in Italian - I'm not sure what the equivalent is). It must only be women who drink tea here, with the men always having coffee. The weather out the breakfast window looked rather gloomy, with a completely overcast sky, but with fairly high cloud which didn't threaten immediate rain. We were happy that the day promised to be a bit cooler then the past few. I overheard some of the other hotel guests saying that last week the weather in Rome was awful, with cold and wet conditions, so I guess we should count our blessings

After eating, we went to the supermarket again for lunch supplies. Yesterday we'd assumed that the prices on the fruit were per kilo and they would weigh them at the checkout, but the man there merely put them through and entered a price without any sort of weighing. The price marked on the fruit had no actual "kg" indication anywhere, so I began to worry that it was per piece, making it the most expensive apples I'd ever seen! I asked a guy loading up fruit in the displays (in Italian) if the price was per piece or kilo, and he said per kilo. Michelle solved the weighing puzzle when she figured out that the scales next to the fruit were marked with numbered buttons, each corresponding to a fruit, and the scales printed out barcoded stickers when you weighed your fruit and pressed a button. We stickered a couple of apples and a couple of bananas.

Back at the hotel I again made sandwiches for our lunches later in the day. Then we headed out to the CIT International office again to see what the Australian office had had to say about our e-mail of yesterday. We arrived 10 minutes before they opened. While waiting I had an urgent toilet need, so we walked a few doors down to a bar and I ordered an orange juice. It was freshly squeezed from blood oranges, giving a deep red liquid which was slightly sour but quite nice. I drank a few sips, then hurried off to the toilet in the back. This seems to be how one gains access to toilets when out, since Rome has precious few public facilities. Refreshed, I returned and finished my juice.

The woman who helped us yesterday at the CIT office was a little late into work so we waited for her. She arrived soon and checked the office e-mails, telling us that the Australian office hadn't sent a reply. Since they had just closed for the day (due to the time difference) there was no chance of contacting them immediately. We asked her to send another message and told her we'd be back in tomorrow to check again. That will be our last chance, since we need to book tickets to Milan tomorrow. She said she'd send an urgent message.

From the CIT office we continued walking down Via del Tritone, turning left towards Piazza Venezia, which we hadn't seen yet. Our route happened to take us right past the Fontana Trevi again, which was filled with water this time, but still being cleaned and not having the fountain spouts going. Hopefully by the time we return to Rome in 17 days the thing will actually be working!

Fontana Trevi
Trevi Fountain, with actual water in it this time

We ended up in the piazza, facing the enormous Monumento a Vittorio Emanuelle II (known affectionately as la macchina scrivera or "the typewriter" by Italians), a staggering edifice in white marble, topped with amazing statuary. As we crossed the road towards it, the time ticked over to 10:00 and the fence which had been holding back a crowd of sightseers retracted into the floor and the people swarmed up the stairs and into the monument. We followed, climbing towards the armed guards standing near wreaths marking the tomb of the unknown soldier, but determined there wasn't that much of interest to look at up close - it's a monument best appreciated from a distance.

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II
The Monument of Vittorio Emanuelle II

We continued around the monument to Piazza del Campidoglio at the top of the Capitoline Hill, which had a beautiful bronze replica statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius on a horse in front of the Palazzo Senatorio.

Marcus Aurelius
The replica statue of Marcus Aurelius (the original is in the adjacent museum)

Down the stairs to the right of the palace we stopped at the terrace overlooking the Foro Romano - a fantastic view of the remaining ruins of the ancient Roman Forum and temple complex. Back up the steps and down more on the left of the palace led us towards the entrance to the Forum. Halfway down these steps we stopped to admire the work of an artist painting watercolours of the ruins from his vantage point. One work in particular caught my eye, and after flipping through all the finished paintings he had available we settled on buying the first one I saw. Later I raced back up the stairs to take a photo with the same view as the painting.

Foro Romano
The view of the Roman Forum as in the painting we bought

Into the Forum, and we spent a few hours wandering amongst the ruins, gazing in awe at the magnificent Arco di Settimio Severo and the remains of the temples of Saturn, Vesta, Castor & Pollux, and many other buildings. While we were there the threatening sky started dropping rain in small blotches on and off, never enough to force anyone to take cover.

Temple of Vesta
The Temple of Vesta, Roman Forum

By lunchtime we stopped at a shady bench for a rest. An old woman on the bench started talking to us and it was only after I recognised that she was listing names of countries that I figured out she was asking where we were from. I replied "Australia" and she was delighted and asked something which I understood as wanting to know how long we were in Italy. I replied "venti tre giorni" and she seemed happy with that. Then I think she asked if Australia was a nice place, and I said "bella".

Forum from Capitoline Hill
The Temple of Saturn, Roman Forum

After she stopped talking we had our lunches. We were also sitting right near a water fountain - which many people were stopping at to take drinks and refill water bottles. The water was cold and very refreshing. I left Michelle near there while I returned for a quick return tour of the Forum with black and white film loaded in my camera. I took about half the roll, then returned and we continued on out of the Forum and to the Colosseo.

By this time we both needed a toilet break, so we walked around the Colosseum to a nearby bar, ordering coffee and gelato so we could avail ourselves of their facilities. The gelato was disappointing compared to all the others I've had so far, and Michelle says the coffee was so-so. I think the places close to the main tourist areas and thus frequented by tourists tend to be (a) more expensive, and (b) not as good as the places the Italians actually go to. Same old story really.

Colosseum b/w
At the Colosseum

The next step was a tour of the Colosseum. We headed to what we had assumed was the entrance, since we saw many people milling around there, but turned out to be an exit only, the entrance being on the exact opposite side of the huge building. We walked around, noting the costumed ancient Roman soldiers wandering around posing for photos with tourists and pointing swords at people. Interestingly, I hadn't known that the ancient Romans wore T-shirts under their armour, or smoked tobacco.

Echoes of Empire
Inside the Colosseum

The queue to get into the Colosseum was rather long, and standing in the hot sun which had finally burnt off all the clouds. Michelle waited in the shade while I queued for tickets. Once inside, it was very interesting and awe-inspiring to see the actual place where gladiators fought animals and each other, with thousands of bloodthirsty spectators cheering them on in the packed seating which rose tier upon tier several storeys high. There was scaffolding here and there from the ongoing restoration and preservation work, and of course a lot of the building has fallen into decay, but it was still amazing to see it all and marvel at the ingenuity of the construction - tall arches formed from huge blocks of limestone bonded only by gravity - and the depravity of the times which saw it built. The floor of the arena had been wooden, and below it were access passages and animal cages. A part of the floor area was covered with wood so you could walk on it, but much was exposed to show the stone passageways underneath.

Tunnels of blood
Tunnels and passages below the floor level of the Colosseum

Full of the wonders of ancient Rome for the day we headed back to our hotel, catching the Metro service from the Colosseo station. It's interesting to see such a juxtaposition of ancient and modern - a fact of life in Rome. I had a shower to freshen up, changed clothes, dumping backpack and camera bag and trying to feel more comfortable and look less like a tourist for our evening of shopping.

We hit the shops on Via Nazionale again, this time Michelle buying a bag and purse for her mother and a light brown leather jacket and a skirt for herself. Shopping here is an experience, with a single shop assistant following your every footstep through the store, sometimes encouraging you to try stuff, but mostly just hanging around and keeping an eye on you the whole time. Michelle hit the magic LIT300,000 mark with her jacket and skirt for a sales tax refund when we leave Italy, so we got the paperwork for that.

By the time we'd exhausted Via Nazionale for shops we were ready for dinner and decided to head to Rome's Hard Rock Cafe for some non-pizza, non-pasta food. I tried to order lemon, lime, and bitters for Michelle's drink, but the waitress had never heard of it in English and when I explained the ingredients in Italian she looked incredulous and asked if we were sure we really wanted that. Michelle decided to avoid further confusion by switching to pineapple juice. We had burgers - beef for me and vege for Michelle. Very good, and very filling. And the toilets there were the sort we wished we could find during our sightseeing tours every day!

We dragged our tired bodies on our tired feet back to the hotel and sorted out our acquisitions for the day before turning in for the night. As we sorted, we could hear the sounds of an accordian player serenading the patrons of the restaurant on the street right below our window with a rendition of Volare - an authentic taste of Italy.


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