Sunday, February 19, 2012

Roamin' in Rome

The train from the airport into the city passes by a series of high rise apartment buildings. Their balconies are filled with trees and trailing plants which spill over their edges., They are lush and green, soaking up the Italian sun even in these early days of November.

We selected our hotel based on it's close proximity to the train station. Using our city map we lug our luggage through the stone streets stopping once to ask if we were headed in the right direction. Upon finding the hotel we cram ourselves and our luggage into the tiny elevator and travel to the 3rd floor reception desk. Since it is early and our room is not yet ready, we store our bags with the hotel and, using a second map provided by them, with the major attractions clearly marked, we head out.

First up, the Coliseum, a comfortable 20 minute walk from the hotel. As soon as we arrive, we are approached and informed that the final English speaking tour of the inside is about to start. This lets us know 2 things:

#1 The tour is about to start

#2 We do not blend!

We decline the tour deciding to experience the magnificent ruin from the outside bypassing the even more ruined inside. We view the Arch of Constantine, which seems somewhat randomly placed, then proceed to the forum.

The forum is an interesting mix of a millenia old terraced area lined with and traversed by the remains of battered columns. I found myself wishing we had a guide book to the area so that I could fully appreciate my surroundings. Ruins of a massive building with arches stands off to one side. To this day I have no idea what it is. I was able to discern Caesar's grave since the word Caesar in Italian appears much like Caesar in English. I, however, have no idea which Caesar it is.

It is fortunate that the perfectly preserved Senate building has sighs in both English and Italian telling you exactly what it is. It's state of preservation could have to do with the fact that this building was rebuilt after the first burned. This replacement Senate building dates from only 350 A.D., new construction by some Roman standards. We left the area descending the Spanish Steps. We did not know they were the Spanish Steps until our return several days later...please bear in mind that we were extremely jet lagged and had been sleepless for hours at this point.

The Pantheon is a remarkable and iconic structure. It is in a perfect state of preservation from it's front portico to it's high center dome. One can feel particularly insignificant as you enter a door used by countless people over it's 2000 year plus history. The floor was reconstructed in the 19th century, but we were willing to overlook that.

The Pantheon resides on one side of a small, almost cramped plaza accessible only by narrow streets. As you exit the building there is a beautiful church on the right, 16th century as I recall. Other equally venerable buildings ring the rest of the plaza. In one of these, dead ahead of you as you exit the world treasure known as the Pantheon, is a McDonald's. We opted for pasta at a hole in the wall around the corner.

We returned down Rome's ancient streets to our hotel. I've often said that New York City buzzes, while my home city of Chicago hums. Rome shares New York City's buzz, and, frankly, it's somewhat cranky natives, but in a setting anywhere from 500 to over 2000 years old. We collected our bags and took them to our room. Small, with a high ceiling, it's multipaned french window as open and looked out on a airshaft. A little underwhelming for our first room of the trip, but since our train left for Venice at 7:00 a.m. the next morning we would not be spending that much time there.

As daylight faded we decided to venture out once more to see the Trevi Fountain. On our way the lights in the apartments gave us a peek at life in the city. One apartment in particular caught my eye because of the vividly painted beams running across it's ceiling. An occasional chandelier or painting could be spotted proudly wearing a patina of age. We arrived at the fountain and joined the other people there. The couples on the steps, both young and old, enjoying the view of the fountain and the time with one another. Some, like us, at the fountains edge joyfully tossing coins backwards over their heads while making a wish, a tradition in Rome. At night this legendary sight is beautifully lit giving our first look at it an almost magical allure.

We dined on ravioli seated outside at a small restaurant around the corner from the fountain. Surveying the ancient buildings around us I observed that someone sitting where we were 500 years ago would have seen the same sights that we were seeing that night. Except, of course, for the scores of scooters, both parked and racing down the streets like hordes of insects.

Early that morning a light rain passed through awakening me. I can be a notoriously light sleeper. I got up and watched the rain fall outside our room's window for a short time before returning to bed.

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