During our time in Rome we stayed at Hotel Diocleziano. Because we wanted to play things by ear as much as possible in Italy, the only thing we had before we left Seattle were our plane tickets and a four-night reservation at Hotel Diocleziano. Fortunately, because we were in Italy during the off season we were able to get great prices on nice hotels, so all of our hotels were pretty great. Not over-the-top, but clean, comfortable, and attractive. Surprisingly, the front desk knew who we were right away. I suspect they don’t have very many guests this time of year. We got our things settled in the hotel room and then, despite being tired, we started to feel hungry. We also wanted to wander around our area a little and get a feel for Rome nightlife. So we bundled back into our coats and headed out into the fresh, 48 degree air, grateful not to be carrying our suitcases anymore. There were so many people out wandering around, getting dinner. At first we looked for a large place to have dinner, for no particular reason except that we weren’t sure if people in the small, hole-in-the-wall restaurants we passed would speak English. However, as we walked the streets we started to realize that there weren’t any big restaurants. They were all tiny, hole-in-wall restaurants. This was to prove true in all of the cities we visited in Italy. The only chain store we saw while there was McDonald’s. With that one exception all of the eating was centered around tiny bistros, all of which seemed to have a similar menu structure. We ended up stopping at a little well-lit bistro near the train station. They had a line of buffet items that you could choose from. The restaurateur couldn’t speak English, but I was able to point to a giant salad and a heap of steamed kale easily enough. Mike pointed to some penne pasta. Then we sat at a table in the corner relishing the fact that we had made it: we were in Rome. In what, to all appearances, was an extremely authentic Italian bistro. As we talked, we slowly became aware of a musical humming behind us. As we turned around to see who was humming, the old Italian man behind us burst into song. He seemed to be singing either to or about his food. He seemed very passionate about it. We watched as the restaurateur served him three full courses, each of which were set before him carefully, and each of which he ate carefully and passionately, sometimes breaking into song (I’m not joking, I promise), and other times proclaiming something loudly in Italian (presumably about how good the food was). Although he was drinking wine (as most people in Italy do), he definitely wasn’t drunk. He just seemed overcome with passion for the food he was eating. Mike and I were a little in awe of the whole thing. Breaking into song in a public restaurant was a little outside of our comfort zone! 🙂
On the way back to the hotel we passed an outdoor fruit stand on a wheeled cart. We were later to discover that there are lots of vendors in Italy that use carts to sell their wares. They wheel their carts around, so they are in slightly different places each day. Even the vendors who have actual storefronts tend to pile a lot of goods on tables outside their store to catch the eyes of passersby. I assumed apples and bananas would be impossible to get in Italy. Quite the opposite! The apples there were much larger and juicier than the apples in Washington this time of year! We wandered around the streets a little more and then headed back to the hotel exhausted and ready for sleep! We got into the ancient elevator that really only fit two people at a time and creaked our way up to our floor.
Surprisingly we woke up early the next morning (probably because we weren’t fully on Italy time yet). We were to discover that lots of Italians hang their laundry out on clothes lines to dry! Every day we saw different colors of laundry hanging between the buildings. 🙂
We were starving and headed downstairs for breakfast at the hotel. It was DELICIOUS and had so much variety! Lots of pastries, biscuits, breads, and cereals, plus eggs, cold cuts, pineapple, apples, etc. And cappuccino! Mike immediately headed for the barista to ask for a cappuccino. Apparently lattes (Mike’s usual morning drink) are a purely American thing. Everyone in Italy gets cappuccinos, which have a combination of steamed milk and frothed milk rather than just the steamed milk of the latte. Mike’s eyebrows wiggled as he registered his first taste of the cappuccino. He was definitely in love and pronounced the cappuccino “really good” (high praise in Mike’s world).
We had big plans for the day. I had spent enough time studying our city map the night before so that I knew how to get to some common sights. Our tickets for Vatican City were for the following day, so we decided to spend our first day in Rome seeing the Colosseum and other sights. The Colosseum was only about half an hour walk from the hotel so we didn’t even need to figure out buses. We started off down the winding roads. On the way we stumbled across a cathedral which other people seemed to be entering. Mike and I followed them and found ourselves in a giant cathedral. I am definitely starting to realize where the term ‘cathedral ceilings’ comes from!
The ceilings were high and ornately painted with different biblical scenes. More biblical scenes lined the walls. It looked very much like I’d expected the Sistine Chapel to look… but this was just a random church on the way to the Colosseum!
At the very front of the church were some big statues. One was a statue of Moses, and there was a vending-machine looking thing nearby where you illuminate the Moses statue by inserting one Euro. Both Mike and I laughed about that once we got outside. I guess everyone tries to make a buck (or a Euro!) off of anything… even the illumination of ancient Moses’s face! 🙂
Outside of the cathedral, we found ourselves in another windy, uneven, cobblestone alley. We followed it as it wound around, and then when we emerged we saw the COLOSSEUM!
It was HUGE! Not that I’d expected it to be small of course, but it was HUGE! And it doesn’t just sit in the middle of Rome in isolation… there are a whole bunch of huge ancient stone buildings, arches, and other structures around it. It definitely had the look of some ancient city of giants! Almost comically, it had a very modern-looking gate around it with a ticket counter and swarms of people waiting to get in. 🙂
If you have any interest at all in the Colosseum’s history, I would STRONGLY recommend reading the wikipedia article I linked to above! Basically, the Colosseum is the largest ampitheater ever built by the Roman Empire. It was capable of sitting 50,000 people and was the site for everything from gladiator fights to plays to mock battles. I always assumed the floor of the Colosseum was flat and covered in sand (which it was), but that floor is no longer around. Now it’s gone and you can see all of the tunnels underneath where the floor used to be.
These tunnels were used for everything from keeping scenery and backdrops (for plays and mock battles) to entertainers (prior to them emerging into the arena) to serving as a holding area for people and animals prior to them entering the arena. We wandered around the Colosseum for awhile, climbing up the interminable stairs to reach other levels. Everything was SO old!
After the Colosseum, we went ‘next door’ (literally) and visited the Roman Forum, the remains of Caesar Augustus’s palace, the Arch of Constantine, the Arch of Titus, and a bunch of other ancient ruins.
I really thought the arches of Titus and Constantine were amazing… one of my favorite parts of that area! Mike and I kept following signs to get to the Roman Forum (the place where Roman government and rule used to happen), but the signs kept pointing us in slightly different directions until we finally realized that the Roman Forum wasn’t a single building it was a range of buildings. Ah! That made things clearer! Even apart from all of these ancient buildings, we saw even more ancient buildings up on a hill near the Roman Forum. They looked gorgeous! We snapped more pictures. We were a little tired by this time, so we stopped at a street vendor to get food and, once again, pointed to the food we wanted since our Italian was non-existent (although we had learned ‘grazie’ by this point). 🙂
We still had some energy, so I consulted our ‘roadmap of Rome’ and saw that the Trevi Fountain was within a walkable distance. It didn’t sound particularly exciting, but we were there to see Rome, and I had heard of the Trevi Fountain so it seemed worth seeing. 🙂 We set off walking, once again getting slightly turned around by the confusing Rome streets. I had gotten myself pretty turned around when we finally emerged from a random alleyway into a giant square. We thought it must be the Trevi Fountain because it contained a giant fountain, but, no. This was just another random ancient fountain. That seemed to be the story of Rome. We kept accidentally stumbling upon cathedrals, squares, fountains, statues, that seemed as though they must be famous, but upon consulting our tourist guide they were just ‘other’ monuments. Not even famous. Crazy.
After snapping pictures of the giant square with the big fountain, we headed on in search of the Trevi Fountain.
On the way we stopped into a little bakery that was half underground. We descended into it, and Mike attempted to order a little chocolate donut. Unfortunately, the woman behind the counter started filling a bag with the little donuts. We tried to stop her and specified ‘one’. She looked pretty confused and then brought out a bottle of wine and held that up to us. Oops! Apparently our ‘one’ sounded like ‘wine’! 🙂 Then we switched to saying ‘un’, and things got better. 🙂
I had almost given up on finding the Trevi Fountain before dark when we emerged from yet another narrow alley (emergence from narrow alleys into big squares happened a LOT in Rome) and saw water cascading down and around statues of men and horses!
Oh my gosh, it was so cool! Mike and I were both impressed into silence. But not impressed to the point where we forgot to take pictures. 😉 We actually ran across the Trevi Fountain by accident another day when we were wandering around Rome, but that time it was night and we got to see it all lit up… gorgeous!
After the Trevi Fountain we were both so hyped up that we were ready to see at least one more thing even though the sun was close to the horizon. We decided on the Pantheon which, although not nearby, looked to be less than a 30 minute walk. We got to the pantheon as it was getting close to dark.
WOW is all I can say! It was huge (that seems to be a Roman theme) and old (another Roman theme) and crazy beautiful. We assumed there would be a fee for actually going inside, but the doors were open and everyone else seemed to just be walking in, so in we went. It was SO beautiful!
For those (like me) who thought that Leonardo DaVinci’s painting on the Sistine Chapel ceiling was a unique idea, it apparently was not. Every cathedral we went in had gorgeous paintings on the walls and ceilings and big carved statues along the edges of the walls. Everything was awe-inspiring! What skill those Roman artists had!
For those interested in the history of the pantheon, pantheon means ‘temple to many gods’ in Greek and its construction was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa who was apparently not monotheistic. It was rebuilt in 126 A.D. (Oh… so we were only viewing the 2000 year old rebuilt version. That’s not so old. Practically new.) Apparently it’s also one of the best-preserved ancient Roman buildings. It’s also fully functional as a Catholic church these days, although there also seems to be a booming tourist industry around it judging by all the people (like us) there with cameras. I’ll be honest; a big part of me feels like creating a church that was obviously SO expensive, especially during a time when there were so many poor people, seems frivolous and wasteful. However, both Mike and I were still able to appreciate the gorgeous architecture and paintings and all of the talent and skill that went into erecting such a structure. By the time we got out of the pantheon, it was dark and we were cold and hungry. I had bought a little purple hat in a shop near the Trevi Fountain and was glad of it! In what little foresight I have I had also brought along a hat for Mike so we were both as warm as we could be. We stopped for dinner right near the pantheon so that we could look out of the window of the restaurant and see the big square around the Pantheon. We lingered there for over an hour.
Neither of us was anxious for the cold walk back to the hotel in the dark, particularly given how turned around we got on all the streets. And the restaurant was so warm and inviting. There’s something so freeing about being on vacation and realizing that you don’t actually have to get up in the morning. Except in this case we did because we had tickets to Vatican City at 1pm. 🙂
The streets were filled with people on the walk home. It wasn’t actually late and all of the street vendors and restaurant managers were out on the streets trying to showcase their goods. One the restauranteurs on the street called out to us, “The lady eats free… the gentleman double cost!” We both laughed at his obvious sales tactic.
To be continued…. this post is already long enough. 🙂 Also, I’m just adding in a few highlights from my set of pictures. There are lots more pictures of Mike’s and the rest of mine that will get posted on Flickr later… stay tuned if you’re interested in the pictures! As soon as they’re up I’ll let everyone know. 🙂