The laws of gravity apply to people, buildings and even empires. (Just don’t tell that to Donald Trump.)
It’s wonderful to be reminded of the wonders of the Roman good times. For five hundred years, they had it all. But then it ended and what we see today is a mere pale reflection of what stunned visitors to Rome two thousand years ago, after the folks in the middle ages had helped themselves liberally to all that lovely pre-cut building stone scattered about.
Today we toured the Coliseum, which is undergoing quite a cleaning. The outside has had two millennia of grime washed off, and it looks quite a bit happier than when we saw it about ten years ago. The inside still requires a bit of imagination, as so much was vandalized. But it is always stirring to see the underground passages and imagine the exotic animals and gladiators getting ready to do battle. Across the road from the Coliseum is the site of the gladiators’s training school, uncovered in the last century. They had their own underground tunnel straight into the arena, naturally. Who would want to wait for a red light to face your probable death?
We also walked through the Forum. And while Julius Caesar was long gone the first time we came here, there has been a decided decay in the ruins since we first saw them – if ruins can get more ruined. Poor Italy does not have the money for the upkeep of all its treasures. A private donor is paying for the Coliseum cleaning, and more angels are needed almost everywhere. But it is thrilling to think that many Caesars could have tripped on the very same cobblestones we wandered over as we celebrated that glory that was Rome, ending with the flower-strewn mound reputed to be the site under Julius Caesar’s temple where his ashes were buried. Hail, Caesar!
But most of our time was spent dealing with modern day issues. We went to the train station to get rail passes and tickets, and then to set up our phones for Italy. This involved a metro ride back and forth. It was interesting to see that Roman subway stations are nice and modern, but their subways cars look like New York in the 1970’s. Guess the Romans have a long history with graffiti to celebrate!
Two more pieces of trivia to share. How can you tell nationality by dress? Today in Rome, on a gorgeous spring day, it was easy. The Romans and those from further south were wearing winter coats and often knit caps. Americans, Brits and the Nordic folks were stripped down to the bare minimum. Dead easy to tell us all apart – sample follows.
And then there’s just an observation – not a criticism, mind you – about Italian crowd management. Those of us who slavishly follow travel guru Rick Steves trotted off first thing to get our Roma pass, which prepays entry into all the main sites. One does this to avoid those long lines of the not-so-well-informed. Imagine our surprise to finally approach the Forum and learn that the 300 people in one line had all prepaid – but that the line for those not as well-organized was completely empty. We were so smug until lots of Rick Steves fans assured us that our place was waaayyy at the end of that line. What ensued was almost an hour spent creeping up to a security gate under the very warm sun (by American standards). But was that the worst part? Oh no, friends. When we got to the security barrier , the horror was that both lines merged in a large open area – which meant we could have sauntered in via the no-tickets-yet line at any point. Rick needs to be told, don’t you think? And P.S. If late March is very early in the tourist season, we will pray for those who will be here in July!
Now, on to a more pleasant subject.
Frequent readers of this blog expect that food will play a major part in our travels. To more fully develop coverage of this key topic, Don has offered to lend his expertise, critical eye and peculiar take on the world to Go Know! Without further ado, my husband, tour manager and favorite home chef…
DON’S FOOD CORNER
They say you can’t get a bad meal in Italy. Well, yes and no. Today, since we were concentrating our sightseeing on two of the world’s busiest tourist attractions — the Coliseum and the Roman Forum — we hoped to navigate through some notoriously indifferent restaurant choices designed to feed hordes of people who would never return. For our main meal, lunch, we had high hopes for a particularly recommended restaurant somewhat removed from the direct vicinity of the Coliseum. We walked blocks to get there. And it was closed.
Already somewhat defeated by that disappointment and very hungry, we settled on a restaurant next door that was open. This restaurant also appears in guidebooks, but you could tell that the waiters had seen a few too many tourists. Things started great with a very fine and delicate ragu lasagna. Fresh pasta. Light sauce. We split it. Then, however, the letdown. Jo’s saltimbocca arrived looking somewhat grey. The meat was tough and the accompanying spinach was ice cold. I settled on grilled calamari. Each of the large calamari was prepared whole, flattened. They looked great when they arrived. Nice charred grill marks. Inviting pools of olive oil on top. But they turned out to be rubber tough and were served on top of some very tired rocket. The wine we had with the lunch was OK. Jo had a glass of rosé; I had a glass of Soave.
Later in the day after strolling through the Roman Forum, we lucked into a better choice. Surprisingly, it was right across the street from the north entrance to the Roman Forum. We were only going to have drinks, but the pizza looked good so we ordered one. A thin-crust pizza with mozzarella, ham (which in Italy seems to mean only prosciutto) and fresh mushrooms. Delightful. A bad meal in Italy? Today, yes and no.