They say you can’t see Rome in a day. Well, I gave it my best shot. When all was said and done, my Fitbit reported I had taken over 25,000 steps and walked 11.27 miles. I don’t know how I’m not sore today. My father and his wife, Janice, weren’t scheduled to arrive until the evening, so I booked two walking tours. I’m not sure exactly why I thought this was a good idea. I’m an optimist and desperately wanted to make sure I saw all the historical sites I could.
Waking before 7am, I went downstairs to enjoy my continental complimentary breakfast. Fresh pastries, fruit, cured meats, tomatoes, and yogurt were artfully laid out. A sweet lady who worked for the hotel saw me trying to use the cappuccino machine and rescued me with a professionally made one. The hotel I stayed in, Laurentia, was a small boutique hotel that didn’t fit in the graffiti-covered neighborhood. It’s a hidden jewel.
My first tour met at 9:45am outside the Coliseum. I mapped it and decided I could walk it. Walking isn’t as easy as it is in any of the US cities I’ve visited. It doesn’t even compare to New York. The erratic traffic is a constant threat, and pedestrian signals are only suggestions in Rome. When faced with the daunting task of crossing three lanes of traffic without a light, I opted for a longer route in the opposite direction of four men watching me bemused. As you walk through the urban streets and tall buildings, suddenly the city gives way to an architectural site, a glimpse into the distant past. I turned a dirty city corner only to find remnants of the ancient wall that once surrounded and protected Rome.
After over an hour of meandering towards the tour meeting place, my first sighting of the Coliseum smacked me in the face and took my breath away. Here this almost 2,000-year-old structure stood with the contrasting modern city to my left and ancient Roman ruins to its right. Rome was the first city ever to boast one million citizens in 133 BC. London didn’t reach a population of one million until 1810. The amount of world altering history that occurred right here is astounding. During my undergraduate studies, the majority of my English degree was spent reading historical literature which included many Roman texts and historical accounts, and now, I stood with it all around me.
Of course, it turns out that my trip coincides with a terrible drought and heat wave, so I may have left Florida, but it didn’t feel like it. Thank goodness for the warning Janice gave me about the weather before I left, because I packed appropriately. Still, in shorts and a tank top, a three-hour walking tour up and down steps with little shade is daunting.
My tour guide was also an archeologist, and she gave us greater insight into the histories and lives of the Roman people. I toured the Coliseum where she explained that the only thing left was the equivalent of bones. The stone would have been covered with marble and paint. In its time, the Coliseum was colorful and lively. Every day they had organized hunts, capital executions, and battles inside.
From the Coliseum, there’s an amazing view of the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and Triumphal Arch. The Arch is awe-inspiring with intricate carvings celebrating Titus’s victories, including Siege of Jerusalem. Next, the tour explored the ruins of the Roman Forum. Rome is made of layers and layers of past civilizations. Before the Romans, the Etruscans lived there. After the Romans, others repurposed their buildings and temples, not because they particularly liked the buildings, but to save money. Instead of building a new structure, they would just resurface the outside. Not much different from what many of us do today.
We climbed the Palatine Hill and walked through the remnants of the elite’s gardens coming to an overlook. Looking down on the Roman Forum with the outlines of where buildings stood 2,000 years ago and the crumbing columns, it reminded me of scattered bones. All the while, the splendor of the Palazzo del Quirinale, a palace built by Rome’s first president one 20th the size of our White House, shades the Forum juxtaposing the ancient grandeur with that of the 16th century.
To finish out the 3.5-hour walking tour, we climbed through the remains of the ruling emperors’ palaces. Each emperor added to the ever-growing palace covering the Palatine Hill. Just like the Coliseum, only the bones were left. The palaces were undoubtedly elaborately decorated with marble from around the world, paint, art and other materials. Some of the original flooring remains. Our tour guide poured her water on it to reveal the beautiful color of the marble flooring, red, yellow and white.
Our entire groups was a hot mess by the time the tour ended, and crazy me had a second walking tour booked meeting in two hours. The meeting place was a mile and half away. Once again, I opted to walk with the intention to see more of the city, find a phone cord, and eat lunch. I’m happy to say I successfully fulfilled all three goals. Thank goodness the tech store vendor spoke English, because describing my need for a Google Pixel compatible phone cord to connect to my Morphie would not have been easy.
I braved my first restaurant alone when a waiter ran out and took me to a table. He spoke English and was anxious to use it. I order a glass of house white wine, a salad with whipped goat cheese and cured beef, and to finish, a cappuccino and choclate gelato. When in Rome, eat like the Romans do, right?
I sat there eating alone cognizant that I was by myself in a foreign country. It was incredible, exhilarating and nerve wracking.
I left to go meet my second tour. We met at the Piazza di Spagna, a plaza with a public fountain depicting a sinking ship that spewed drinkable water from both ends. You had to walk out on what looked like a marble plank to get to the fountain. Surrounding the plaza were the famous fashion houses, Gucci, Prada, Bvlgari and others I didn’t recognize.
The main reason I booked the second tour was to be able to see the Pantheon. It was fascinating in the books I read, but it was astonishing in person. It’s located on the Piazza della Rotonda. In the center of the square sits an impressive and aptly named fountain, the Fontana del Pantheon, with an Egyptian obelisk jutting toward the sky. The Romans took this 20-foot-tall obelisk constructed by Pharaoh Ramses from the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis all the way to Rome. Hieroglyphics run the length, and the Roman may have used it as a sun dial. This ornate structure is the perfect welcome to the Pantheon.
The Pantheon’s design and architecture our astounding. Sixteen 50-foot-tall, single-piece monolithic granite columns greet you as you climb the stairs toward two massive bronze doors. You enter into the rotunda, a giant dome above you with a hole in the center, producing a seventeenth column of light or rain. They never shut to hole. When it rains, the water leaves through small holes in the ground. I could go on and on about the Pantheon. I could have stayed here for hours, and I plan on returning when we go back to Rome.
The tour continued. I saw the current Italian President’s residence, the Spanish Embassy, the Trevi Fountain, and so much more. More than you should really be able to see in a day. It’s more than I can process.
At the finale of my tour, I found myself over an hour away from my hotel if I walked. I could either pay $50 for a taxi or Uber, or I could chalk up another first and figure out their public bus system. I’m on a budget, so the bus system won out. This is where Rosetta Stone prepares you. I can talk about public transit, purchasing, and asking for help in Italian. All three came in handy. I bought my ticket. Figured out the bus schedule, no thanks to their signs, and hopped on my bus. There was a little hiccup with the ticketing, but a handsome Italian man helped me. After a 12-hour-day of walking in the sweltering heat and busy streets, I finally arrived at my hotel where my father and Janice had arrived. And that night we went out to eat. I had my first Italian pasta in Italy, Bucatini Amatriciana. It was the perfect ending to my day.
Make sure you check out these related posts!