My Final Full Day in Rome

I spent the better part of today’s gray, cold morning exploring the entirety of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Every time I see ruins, I’m fascinated by the idea of all that history, of all those past lives and civilizations. That’s probably why it took me about three hours to walk through the sprawling labyrinth of ruins, because I had to stop to read all the signs, absorb my surroundings, and go inside the Palatine Museum.

In addition to all the ruins your heart could ever desire, thanks to Palatine Hill, you can also get panoramic views of the city and the Forum. It’s too bad the Forum was abandoned during the Middle Ages, because I can only imagine how impressive it must’ve looked in its original state.

Leaving the archeological site was like walking out of the Colosseum; after surrounding yourself by ruins, it’s the strangest feeling to see cars and streets and traffic lights again. If you ever want to immerse yourself in disorientated anachronism, go to Rome.

After lunch, I discovered that it had started raining, so I took shelter inside the Museum Capitolini, although I still maintain that the 15 euro admission fee was a bit of a rip-off. (I bought a ticket online for 14 euros that not only granted me access me to the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill, but also allowed me to skip all the lines.) Don’t get me wrong, the museum was gorgeous, even if I started to get a little creeped out by the endless lines of marble busts: I couldn’t shake off the feeling that they were all staring at me.

Despite my aching feet and shoulder, on my way back, I noticed that whoever said that cities look different in the rain was right: the River Tiber took on this magical van Gogh-Starry Night-quality that my camera didn’t really do justice.

Feeling Small and Insignificant

If you ever want to feel like a small, insignificant, temporary blip in time, then a visit to the Baths of Caracalla and the Colosseum ought to do that while simultaneously leaving you in a state of awe.

The Baths of Caracalla are in ruins now (I mean, what else would you expect?), but they’re nonetheless still impressive: the bath complex even takes up more space than the Colosseum does. Wandering through what’s left of the walls and mosaic floors, trying to picture life during CE 212-216, was a pretty sobering experience. I mean, the baths have been on Earth for 2000 years and I’ve been here for twenty. Looking through every hole in the wall was like looking through a window at a different world.

After getting a little trigger-happy with my camera, I hurried over to the Colosseum for my tour. The online ticket mislabeled it as an underground dungeon tour, when in fact the tour led us underground and then up to the third ring. The building’s been pilfered by looters, ravaged by barbarians, and damaged by earthquakes, but it’s still standing today, nearly two millennia later, which is rather remarkable considering it only took eight years to build.

Fun (disturbing) facts:

  1. Did you know that arena, which derives from the Latin word harena, means sand? If you know anything at all about Roman history, I think you can guess why that’s relevant to the Flavian Ampitheater.
  2. Most gladiators died of, surprise surprise, infections! Salt water has its limits.
  3. “Emperor Commodus filled the arena with a large number of ostriches and decapitated them with arrows.”
  4. “Gladiator blood, mopped up with a sponge, fed a profitable business…drinking human blood was considered to be a remedy against epilepsy.”

(I take no responsibility for anything that’s inaccurate. Blame that on the tour guide and the plaques.)

It’s always astonished me how humans managed to build such massive structures thousands of years ago, without the aid of modern technology. Despite all of our flaws, humans can be incredible, resilient creatures.

Walking through Rome

  1. I began my day at the Largo di Torre Argentina cat sanctuary, which is a set of ruins that house about 250 cats. A lady in the human area gave me a brief tour and asked if I wanted to meet the disabled cats, to which I replied, “Sure!” So she introduced me to 10-20 cats, and I kept making sympathetic “oh” noises, because what’s the proper response to meeting cats who are deaf, blind, missing limbs, neurological, or some combination of the four? One cat in particular, Grumpy, demanded the pets, so I happily obliged. (His name may have stemmed from the fact that, if you stopped petting him, he glared up at you until you gave in. I only escaped because he got hungry.)

  1. I looked around a multistory bookstore (yes, I know I can’t read Italian, and no, I don’t care because I’m a bookworm) before setting off to find the Pantheon.

  1. Then I moseyed over to my next destination, Piazza Navone.

  1. Pulling my map out multiple times and thus looking like a bamboozled tourist, I found the Trevi Fountain (which was sadly undergoing construction) and meandered over to the Piazza Spagna to climb the Spanish Steps, or the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti in Italian.

  1. I tried to find the Mausoleum of Augustus, because it’s in the same general direction I’d have to take to get back to the apartment, but I managed to get lost and ended up in the Piazza del Popolo instead. That was fine, though, because I found the Leonardo da Vinci Museum and got to pay a student discount of 8 euros.

I found some other places, and a church, but being the good tourist I am, I don’t know/don’t remember their names. By this time, though, I was getting a bit grumpy because I really needed to go to the bathroom but couldn’t find one, and my feet were starting to hate me after I used them for seven hours, so I decided to head back.

A Six-Hour Exploration

After reluctantly forcing myself out of a comfortable bed big enough to fit three of me and then poring over a map and guidebook, I set off to explore the city. Being the competent adult that I am, I confusedly walked in a circle by crossing the Tiber Island twice before finally figuring out that, if I wanted to see Ancient Rome, I was heading in the wrong direction.

Eventually, my meandering brought me to the archaeological ruins of the Portico of Octavia, which were pretty awesome.

Next, I found my way to the free area of the Musei Capitolini (I wasn’t enough of a nerd to wait in a line that stretched all the way across the piazza), where I marveled over the rooftop view of Rome and happily took advantage of the free bathrooms.

(I’m too tired/too lazy to figure out how to write this post without repeatedly using transitions, so I’m numbering them now.)

  1. I reluctantly climbed up the Victor Emmanuel II Monument’s hundreds of steps, and once I’d reached the top, I walked into the Basilica St. Maria In Aracoeli.

  1. I stumbled upon a photo exhibition of Germany, snagged a free bag of gummies, and then explored the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento di Roma. All the Roman history was pretty cool, except for the sad fact that I can’t read Italian.

  1. A revisit of the Musei Capitolini area led me to stumble upon a hill with a ridiculously gorgeous panoramic view of the Roman Forum.

  1. I paid 12 euros to get into the Museo dei Fori Imperiali (more than what I spent on food for the entire day, sigh). But the view was well worth it, and as I looked around the museum, I amused myself with the knowledge that the chunks of marble in there are older than the US.

  1. Before walking home, I found a tiny church, whose name I don’t remember. By the time I reached my room, I’d been on my feet for 6 hours, so I figured I deserved a rest.

PS. Usually, I prefer weekly updates, but I might just do daily posts for Rome; otherwise, I’m going to forget what happened.

Spring Break Update

I know I’ve been sort of off the radar lately, but nothing particularly blog-worthy has popped up over the past few weeks. But now, it’s spring break, which means that my time in Europe is running out. Since I only have about two months left (and because my friends and family want to live vicariously through me), I thought it’d be best if I traveled somewhere.

Let me tell you, choosing where I wanted to go was a struggle. The problem with studying abroad in Europe is that you have so many options: did I want to go to Athens? Istanbul? Brussels? Reykjavik? Paris, again? If only I had a Time Turner. And unlimited money.

Eventually, after a long and arduous fight with indecision, I chose this city:

(I have no idea how that’s supposed to help you identify the city. I just thought it looked cool.)

Here’s the answer: Rome! It’s got so much history, and plus, it’s only an hour and ten minutes away from Nice by plane. Also, it’s close enough to the Mediterranean so that I hopefully won’t have to deal with actual winter weather until November. (Yes, while Ashland and Richmond have been experiencing snow, I get to have 60-degree weather and sunshine.)

I know it makes more sense to travel with someone else, but times and places don’t always match up. Also, I figure traveling by yourself is ends up being a pretty useful experience (I tend to use extrovert friends as mouthpieces by shoving them at whoever I have to talk to), although it might’ve been smarter for me to go somewhere francophone. Eh. I’ll make do with my fluent English and two words of horribly butchered Italian.

I’m staying in a little room in a university student’s cozy apartment, right near the Tiber River, that I’m renting until March 5. So how’d my day go? I had no problems whatsoever with the plane, train, and bus, but then, being the pro tourist I am, managed to get lost on the way to the apartment. And then, once there, the key decided it hated me and didn’t want to help me open the door. Luckily, I got someone to help me. (Sidenote: either the Mediterranean is incredibly blue, clear enough to reflect clouds, or those were just some really low-hanging clouds I saw from the plane window.)

Then I wandered aimlessly around before having an omelette at a restaurant, where everyone was smiling at this baby who spent her time toddling around, waving at people, or randomly lying prone on the floor. After making the most of the restaurant’s free wi-fi, I climbed down to the bank of Tiber River, where I got a little paranoid when I heard these weird hissing and clinking sounds. False alarm: those were just paint cans in action, and I must say, I’ve never seen live graffiti artists before.

One of my favorite things about European cities is how they have a massive variety of stores in an area as small as a two-block radius. Before I went back to the apartment, I passed a fruit store, a cute craft store, an ominous building with a buzzer system and completely opaque black doors called “Sex Now,” and a gelateria that I resisted entering because my nose was cold.

Wow, this was a really long post. If you’re still reading and haven’t gotten bored yet, I commend you. Stay tuned to find out how many more times I end up getting lost in Rome!