BootsnAll Travel Network

On Roam in Rome

Written at 6:41 PM on 6-10-06 in Rome, Italy

So Rome. Hm hm hm. It’s quite the interesting place… Let me start from the beginning.

After the roughly four-hour train ride from La Spezia to Roma, I arrived at the Termini, Rome’s main train station. My immediate concern—disregard the numerous warnings about pickpockets—was figuring out where the heck my hostel was. I had, in my infinite wisdom, neglected to write down directions when I booked online.

An internet café promptly assuaged this problem, and I discovered to my pleasure that the hostel was little more than a five-minute walk from the train station. I thought that was pretty convenient, yet I had doubts about this hostel. When I’d spoken to Kimberly in Florence, she’d said her friend had warned her not to stay at the “Yellow Hostel,” which was where I was staying.

Putting doubts aside, I winded my way toward the hostel. I was a bit put off by the extra five-euro fee I’d have to pay to use credit card, but fortunately I was able to use some traveler’s cheques instead. Aside from the fee, everything about the hostel seemed so-far-so-good. The reception was clean and well-equipped, the rooms were clean, the staff was relatively friendly. Nothing about it suggested “bad.”

I put my stuff away in the locker and settled down into bed to relax—which was about as far as my ambitions tended for the remainder of the afternoon. I discovered that I could get a free wi-fi signal from my room, which made me inclined to take care of a lot of stuff online that I’d been meaning to do (such as looking for a job, bleh). I relaxed into the evening, taking only a brief break to venture out to a grocery store and buy some food.

When I returned, I met some of my roommates. There was a pair of friends from Canada, Dan and Renee, and an Australia girl named Rebecca. I talked with some other people down in the lounge as well. And you know what? Everyone was going home. It seemed like for most people, Rome was their last stop. I talked to at least half a dozen people who were heading home within the week, including my three roommates.

Later in the evening they all decided to go out to dinner. I’d already had some food, but I went out with them all the same and ordered a bowl of ice cream. I really can’t convey just how good the ice cream in Italy is. If I tried to convey it in words, it would be something like:


Yeah, I know—it’s good stuff. There was a pub crawl that night, which about thirty people from the hostel were going out on. I decided to stay in and nurse a bottle of wine in the lounge while I did some writing and met people in a little more mellow environment. A met a Scottish girl named Debbie who’d been living in Australia. She was leaving in a couple days and trying to figure out what to do until then. She was thinking of going to Florence, so I told her a little bit about the city.

After a couple hours in the lounge, I returned to the room for a bit more time on the computer, as well as some time spent with my nose in my book. I was over halfway finished with Labyrinth and was determined to finish it before I left Rome.

I went to bed and was only a little disturbed by my drunken roommates who staggered in at around 3 or 4 AM. I’ve been making good use of the earplugs I brought along. They’ve saved me many-a-night of restless sleep.

I had considered waking up early and trying to get to the Colosseum right at opening. I actually realized, even before I went to sleep, that I would just end up resetting my alarm in the morning. Instead, I aimed for a more reasonable goal. I didn’t set my alarm and just anticipated waking some time between nine and ten. And that’s exactly what happened.

I got up and headed for the Colosseum. Now a few words about the Colosseum. The movie Gladiator is totally fallacious. I suppose that’s kind of a given. And I don’t mean about the historical stuff and everything (though a lot of that is false as well). No—I mean about the size. I was expecting this grandiose structure that loomed above all else, towering high on the horizon. What I got was—well—a coliseum.

Sure, it was an amazing architectural and building achievement for the time. And even in its dilapidated, ruined state, it is a testament to the determination of humankind. Yet, I was surprised by the actual size of the “battle area.” I guess all the pictures and movies had just aggrandized the vision in my mind over time, and after seeing the enormity of the Eiffel Tower, it could have been the size of Central Park and I might still have thought, “meh.”

I had something of an ordeal getting into the Colosseum. I waited in line for about fifteen minutes, only to get to the ticket counter and find out I couldn’t afford to get in. It went like this: I hoped I could get the student discount. The student discount only applied to EU students. The cost was 11 euros and without the discount, I was 1 euro short. They didn’t take credit card at all. I searched for an ATM, found one, withdrew cash. I returned to the Colosseum, waiting in line again. Same ticket window. Then the woman (who hadn’t given me the discount) was berating me for not having a euro coin so she wouldn’t have to give as much change. All I had was a fifty, I explained this. And still she asked whether I could ask a friend for a euro coin. I look around at the flock of old people and Japanese tourists. I wonder where this so-called friend is. Eventually, she gives me the two 2-euro coins over which all this conflict occurred. I finally enter the Colosseum.

Despite my disappointment at the Colosseum’s size, and despite the ticket fiasco, I did enjoy walking around the Colosseum. It really is an amazing place, especially if you take a little of your imagination to strip away the layers of time and see the monument as it once was. Also, there was a cool exhibition on Homer Iliad, including sculptures and artwork depicting the Greek figures from the poem. I was surprised there weren’t more displays recounting the history of the Colosseum, but I suppose the tens of thousands of Christians and Romans that died in there might not be something you’d display too proudly. All the same, it would have been good to see an exhibit and timeline detailing the construction and use of the Colosseum.

As part of the ticket to the Colosseum, you gain passage onto the Palantine Hill, which lies just off from the Colosseum. Also present is Constantine’s Arch, as well as several other arch’s and similar structures. The Palantine Hill contains the ruins of Rome’s most early structures. In some cases, the craggy ruins appear to be little more than rocks, jutting up from the ground. In other cases, the ancestral legacy is quite apparent. The Palantine Hill is a huge area, and it took a long time to walk around. I’d intended to go to the Vatican after the Colosseum, but it soon became apparent that I wouldn’t have time.

Coming down from the Palantine Hill, I passed the remnants of the Roman Forum. Like with the Colosseum, I had very high expectations of this structure. I had thought that it had withstood time better, and that one could actually enter into the halls once tread on by the great senators of Rome. Heading away from this historical section of Rome, I plotted a plan that would take me across Rome and allow me to see most of the famous plazas and fountains.

Next on my stop were the Piazza Venezia (and Tomb of the Forgotten Soldier), Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. Along the way, I kept seeing these Egyptian Obelisks. Over the course of my time in Rome, I’ve probably seen half a dozen of them. I suppose its a testament to the historical relationship that Rome had with Egypt.

And of course there were lots of fountains. The fountain in the middle of the Piazza Navona was being refurbished, so that was a little disappointing, but the Pantheon made up for it tenfold. I think I enjoyed the Pantheon because I didn’t really have expectations. I had a pretty good idea what Athens’ Pantheon looks like, but I was unsure about the Roman Pantheon. The outside had enormous columns, which connected with the great domed structure. The Pantheon was converted into a church sometime during the Catholic Church’s reign, but even so, it was no less grandiose than it might have once been when statues of Pagan gods lined the walls. The great dome, with its broad opening in the middle to allow sunlight in, was totally encompassing. Standing under it, one felt incredibly small by comparison. As a church, the Pantheon was also kept very quiet, adding to the sense of splendor. I very much enjoyed it.

From the Pantheon I headed north (after getting a few scoops of gelato) toward the Piazza di Spagna, also known as the Spanish Steps. I’d actually intended to see the Trevi Fountain, but I accidentally neglected it in my navigatory path. The Piazza di Spagna was nice, though it was fully occupied by people. Throngs of people sat on the steps or, like the pigeons, milled about in the Piazza. Snapping a few pictures, I passed by the steps and headed toward my next destination.

Only I couldn’t seem to find my next destination. I found a set of stairs that ran adjacent to the Spanish Steps and which took me up to one of the upper level streets. Only at the wall, my way was barred by a giant wall. I did find a quaint (but well decorated, of course) church, which I gave a quick visit. After that, I followed along the wall for about fifteen minutes until I finally found an entrance. The place I was trying to reach was the Villa Borghese, a large park in the north part of Rome.

This was a wonderful break from the hustle and bustle of Rome. After having wandered through the streets and flows of tourists for almost four hours, I was ready to absorb some nice open space. The park was surprisingly empty, considering it was the largest of the parks near to Rome’s city center. There were the usual trees, fountains, statues. In fact, there was nothing particularly distinguishable about it besides that it was so different from the atmosphere of Rome, which lay only a stone’s throw away.

I wandered about the park and briefly considered going into the Galleria Borghese, but there was no artwork in it that particularly attracted me, and I’d spent enough time in galleries in Florence. (Plus I still had the enormous Vatican Museum to see). So instead I walked on and began to veer back toward the hostel.

By this time, I’d walked so far that I was actually only about fifteen minutes away. The streets that took me back were in a more quiet part of Rome (if there is such a thing) and it was nice not to have to walk abruptly back into the heart of the city after enjoying the park’s serenity. I was exhausted by the time I arrived back at the hostel. I had been out from about ten until four, walking almost the whole time.

I got on the computer and took care of a few correspondences before turning to my book. It wasn’t long after opening the book, though, before I drifted asleep. The nap lasted for about an hour and a half and when I awoke, I was craving food. I also ran back into Dan, Rebecca, and Renee. They went out for a meal, while I stayed in and cooked some and did a bit more reading. When they returned and I was all finished up with my stuff, we decided to go out to a bar.

This bar was pretty lame. Its whole theme centered around Miller Genuine Draught. Yeah—apparently that’s cool or something. I don’t think I’ve ever see MGD so expensive. I only ordered a small glass. I knew what to expect. And now I can honestly attest to the fact that MGD tastes exactly the same on the other side of the world as it does in the U.S., which is not very good. We decided we’d had enough of that and headed back to the hostel to hang out. Dan and Rebecca both bought rounds of beer and we stayed up talking. We were joined by another pair of Canadians.

Soon, though, the day’s tasks began weighing heavily on everyone and the group dispersed to go to bed. I was still feeling quite awake on account of my nap, so I stayed up a little later into the night and finally finished Labyrinth. The book was good, though the end lacked a certain POW that I had come to expect. At least I was done with it though and it could no longer distract me.

I’ll write more soon, and I’m going to link a bunch of pictures into the text of this blog, as well as the Cinque Terra entry, so keep a look out for those. Check back in a couple hours. Now I need to eat. Greg out.

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