Posted on 12/14/03
Arch of Constantine, with the Colosseum in the background
Monumento Vittorio Emanuele II A.K.A. "The Typewriter"
My trip to Rome was lightning fast. Somehow I stumbled onto
one of the few high speed, non-stop trains in Italy. I traveled from Florence
to Rome in 90 scorching minutes and forked over French-like coin for the pleasure.
Rain was pummeling the city when I got off the train. I patiently
waited for a little blue hole in the clouds to float over my position and
then ran like hell for the M & J hostel which was only two blocks from
the train station. M & J was one of about seven Rome hostels that people
had insisted that I stay in. In the end, M & J got my business simply
for the free internet. I was sick of having my budget taking hits from the
fantastically over-priced Italian internet cafes.
As soon as the rain gap passed, the deluge resumed. I didn’t
have the guts to subject myself to that kind of unpleasantness on purpose,
so I used the time to hog the free internet, work and watch the last half
of “Spiderman.” M & J’s movie room had several couches
which was a huge upgrade over Archi Rossi’s ass punishing dinning room
benches, but the couch seating capacity was very limited. Depending on the
time of day, it could get pretty cozy in there, but this made little difference
to me. I wasn’t planning on spending my days watching the same three
movies on the Sky Cinema movie channel and drinking one euro cans of beer
like so many of the M & J residents seemed content to do. I had every
intention of beating down my exhaustion fueled, travel apathy with some very
moderately paced, yet fulfilling Rome sightseeing.
Arch of Constantine
As soon as it stopped raining, that is. The first day was almost
a total loss. The sun eventually made an appearance at about 4:00PM at which
point I was so wound up from Hostel Fever that I immediately dropped everything,
gave the hostel’s resident Doberman a scratch and headed out the door
to case the neighborhood. The streets of Rome are tightly packed with cars,
pedestrians and, most notably, deranged people on motorcycles and scooters
who don’t seem to be restricted by any explicit driving rules. These
people basically go wherever there’s space and when they go, they go
really effing fast, because space is a fleeting thing on the streets of Rome.
I came within millimeters of being clipped a few dozen times a day while in
Rome. You need to have a lot of faith and trust in the Italian drivers if
you ever expect to step foot off your block. In order to cross the street
at an uncontrolled intersection in Italy, and there are many, you have to
boldly step out into traffic and pray that people brake for you. Actually
the Italian drivers, even the lunatics on the two wheeled vehicles, are alarmingly
alert and dutifully stop as soon as someone steps into their path, but they
don’t stop or even slow down expectantly unless you are right
in front of their vehicles. While you inch across the street, traffic is zipping
by less than an arm’s length in front and behind you the entire way.
I couldn’t work up the guts do this for the first few days. If I ever
wanted to cross a street, I would have to find a controlled intersection or
skitter across in the protective company of a nun. The thought of doing the
step-out-and-pray maneuver just did not compute in my mind, because I have
been hard-wired to Minnesota driving conditions where people are rarely paying
enough attention to the road between their cell phones, kids, electric shavers
or mascara to stop in time even if you jumped out a half block ahead of them.
This probably explains why I have never met any native Italians in Minnesota.
They’re all hospitalized after being run down the instant they stepped
foot out of the airport.
The cars are comparatively well behaved, but all conventions
are quickly forgotten when it comes time to park. The only thing that limits
Romans in parking their vehicles is the scope of their creativity. I saw cars
everywhere, parked in front of crosswalks, garage doors, on sidewalks and
even double parked over police cars. Talk about brazen! Then there were the
people who appeared to have been about 30 seconds away from birthing a 12
lb. baby when they parked their cars. It wasn’t uncommon to find a car
hastily and carelessly parked with the nose in, maybe one wheel on the sidewalk,
and the tail sticking out, cutting the already tight one lane road down to
a ½ lane. As soon as a medium sized car came along traffic stopped
and everyone had to lean on their horns for 20 minutes until the car owner
came out and drove off. By then cars would be backed up for miles with the
refrain of their horns jacking up the decibels on the otherwise only moderately
deafening streets of Rome.
I checked my map after a few ass-puckering street crossings
and found to my surprise that I was about three blocks from the Colosseum.
The sun was already beginning to set, so I knew it was far too late for a
tour, but I just wanted the thrill of seeing this legendary thing. I walked
to where I thought it was and saw nothing. I checked the map, back tracked
and tried again from a different direction. Nothing. It was the goddamn Berlin
Zoo ordeal all over again. I couldn’t find the biggest tourist sight
for a half mile in any direction. I finally cut across the grounds of the
Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli, made a panicky sprint across a street that
pedestrians were definitely not allowed to traverse and finally found the
mofo. It was fricking huge. I knew it could seat 80,000 people, but damn!
I circled half way around the thing from a great distance so I could absorb
everything, before moving in for a closer look. The last tour groups of the
day were being shooed out of the exit. I peered eagerly back through the exit
and got an exciting glimpse of the interior. I was so excited, in fact, that
I almost didn’t notice the rain clouds rapidly regrouping overhead.
I was just in pants and a t-shirt holding onto my very un-waterproof digital
camera. As I hurried back to the hostel I passed the entrance and my heart
sank. There, right above the gate, was a huge sign that said “Nike”
over a Roman era-like mural of people running in the background. Nike had
actually somehow convinced Rome to let them desecrate the Colosseum with an
advertisement! I let out an especially loud gasp of exasperation that caught
the attention of about 20 people. I pointed toward the sign for everyone’s
benefit and let out a few more distressed grunts, but no one seemed to understand
why I was so upset. Was I the only one who saw this as a crime against history?
The allure of Rome was swiftly sucked out me. Totally deflated, I made my
way back to the hostel.
On my way back, I had intended to take a shortcut across the
small park in front of the train station, but I was stopped dead in my tracks
by the largest, chaotic, unsettling bird swarm I had ever seen in my life,
spinning over the park. I stood there awestruck with nearly everyone else
that was exiting the train station and watched for several minutes as what
seemed like thousands of birds flew in a frenzied mob over the park. They
were making such a thundering squawking and circling in such a riotous fashion
that I am not ashamed to say that I much too petrified to move any closer.
I took a couple long AVIs of the action with my camera before deciding that
it would be prudent for me to walk around the park, rather than through it.
Aside from the very understandable fear of being slowly pecked to death, I
knew with that many birds swirling over-head, it was safe to assume that at
any given moment at least 50 of them were probably reliving themselves.
I trudged up the stairs to the hostel, which was in the wild
throes of “Beer Night.” My aversion to beer and a nasty wave of
fatigue made me feel particularly anti-social. I went out, ate a reasonable
dinner and climbed into bed before midnight for only the second time in as
long as I could remember.
Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli
How'd you like that thing in your livingroom?
My mood was much improve when I leapt out of bed 10 hours later.
Despite capping the previous day with Nike’s demoralizing commercialism
of ancient Rome, I was intent on getting my ass out the door at a decent hour
and seeing some of the city. Actually I had formulated a cunning mission.
I was going to go right back to the “Nike Colosseum,” get to the
root of the horrible defilement of a 2,000 year old monument, expose Nike
and Rome in print for this injustice and give the goddamn article away to
anyone would print it without editing down my thumping.
On my way to the Colosseum, again I cut through the grounds
of the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli and stopped for a visit. The Basilica
was small by Italian standards, but it had a wicked ceiling fresco that must
have taken someone years to paint and featured Michelangelo’s sculpture
“Moses,” which was conveniently well lit for my visit by a TV
crew that was there doing a feature (pictured).
Wicked ceiling fresco.
Michelangelo’s "Moses." A little too well lit.
As soon as I was fifty yards from the Colosseum a Tour Pimp
grabbed me and easily sold me a guided tour of both the Colosseum and the
neighboring Palatine, including admission to both places all for 18 euros.
The word on the street was that this particular arrangement was the best deal,
not only see the sights without standing in line for half the morning, but
to also learn about what you’re seeing rather than just mindlessly admiring
a bunch of ruins. I forked over the money and joined the tour which had just
started a minute earlier. I was quietly humbled before I got a chance to pipe
up and ask exactly how much Nike was paying Rome to endorse their shoes on
ancient monuments and what Julius or Augustus Caesar might have thought about
the whole arrangement. Our guide explained that the word “Nike”
meant “victory” in Latin and it was simply the title of an exhibition
of Roman art on the second floor gallery of the Colosseum. When I looked back
up at the Nike sign, the absence of the logo was suddenly a huge, glaring
tip-off that I had ignorantly flown off the handle again. My rip-roaring article
slagging Nike joined the Colosseum in ancient history. I sheepishly deleted
the copious notes that I had already been entering into my Timeport for my
now pointless article and decided that I had better just stand there with
my mouth shut and learn about the place.
Our guide had either ingested three hits of pharmacy grade Ecstasy
before the tour or she was doing a commendable job at presenting in the classic
Roman theatre delivery, with much drama, gesturing and zeal. Either way she
was very entertaining and we all had fun. Notable tidbits that I learned about
the Colosseum included; “The Colosseum” is just a nickname. The
actual name is the Roman Flavian Amphitheatre, but apparently this was too
wordy for ancient Romans and they started calling it the Colosseum, just because
it was so damn colossal. It was built in a relatively swift eight years. This
floored me as I knew damn well that in this day and age any Italian project
of that size could never be completed that fast. I had gotten enough of a
taste of the Italian work ethic to know that things would either be proceeding
at a snail’s pace or perhaps at nearly an average pace if everyone had
been given a little under the table hand greasing before things got started.
Also, I had noticed the Italian tendency to send in six, very opinionate,
argumentative, chain smoking guys to do a task that could easily be done by
one. Fortunately, 2,000 years ago the Romans had the considerable advantage
of having free labor provided by countless slaves and prisoners, a trend that
they copied from the Egyptians.
Sure, just make your fat asses comfortable on that 2,000 year old
Today, nearly half of the Colosseum is less than 200 years old.
Back in the 1800s a huge restoration project was launched to keep the thing
from literally falling apart due to centuries of looting by everyone from
those wacky medieval Christians to Napoleon “My Little Pony” Bonaparte.
The primary source of the problem was that the once lavishly marble adorned
Colosseum had been stripped bare and part of the stripping had included ripping
out the valuable brass spikes in the arches and walls that fasten the decorative
marble to the amphitheatre, which was later melted to be used for armor and
coins. The deep holes left behind by uprooting these spikes had severely weakened
the entire structure (pictured). Numerous columns and arches had already collapsed
and it was only a matter of time before the rest of the Colosseum was a pile
of rubble. So the current Colosseum is a hybrid of 2,000 year old marble and
stone and 200 year old brick and cement. Restoration efforts are still in
process (pictured), though despite being half covered in scaffolding and construction
barriers, when I was there (a Wednesday morning), I didn’t see a single
worker anywhere on the site, which probably explains why restoration efforts
have been going on for such a long time. Maybe Rome just needs to round up
more slaves and prisoners.
The Colosseum was host to about 2,856, remarkably shrill Italian
children the day I visited. Even the tour guide, who was also Italian, was
getting annoyed, which is saying something. After dodging the children for
much of the tour, our guide released us for an hour and a half to do our own
wandering, get food, pee and finally convene at the exit for the tour of the
Palatine. I took the opportunity to check out the extraordinary and personally
embarrassing “Nike” exhibit that was laden with incredible examples
of ancient Roman sculpture, pottery and tile art (pictured).
Ninety minutes later, we regrouped only to discover that they
swapped tour guides on us during the break and we were stuck with a much less
entertaining, surprisingly low-talking Italian man who had the added disadvantage
of having the group double in size as we were join by another tour group from
the same company that had just emerged from the Colosseum. When the low-talker
was audible, he had oodles of cool information. As we descended into the Palatine,
we became surrounded by a huge excavated field of fantastic, breathtaking,
partially-standing ruins that had been the center of Rome 2,000 years earlier.
After a few centuries of intermittent flooding, the entire area had been completely
covered in mud, raising the ground level to over the second story of the nearby
Colosseum. That they had uncovered such a deeply buried, humongous area (several
city blocks, at least) with such care and assiduousness, was flabbergasting.
While we marched through the area, it started to rain very hard, not surprisingly
while we were at a spot on the tour that provided absolutely no shelter. I
of course had my James Bond umbrella stuffed in its usual pocket in my jacket,
but the rain became so intense that the pathetic cover from my umbrella was
doing me absolutely no good from the chest-down. The tour ended just as the
rain stopped for good and we were cut loose to roam the Palatine Hill and
the Roman Forum.
The sky was still gray and made for a very moody backdrop for
the pictures around Palatine. I walked, half drenched, dancing around the
shores of the massive puddles that had formed and made my way around the grounds,
taking six pictures of nearly everything. Most of the ruins were half collapsed
shells of their former grandeur, but they were still semi-recognizable as
buildings, aqueducts and monuments. It was all very strange, beautiful and
striking. After taking nearly 128 megabytes of photos (the giant AVIs of that
crazy bird swarm were still in the camera), I fled the Palatine and headed
for the hostel. Four hours of guided tours and countless 2,000 year old relics
was more than enough for one day of brain drain.
That night it rained like Hell, Norway, non-stop from the moment
I stepped foot out the door to go to dinner (Natch) until after I went to
bed. I had finally started to get the general weather picture of Rome in late
fall. Rain, interrupted by brief, fleeting moments of non-rain. Fortunately,
my dinner plans made me forget all about the weather. The afternoon clerk
at the hostel had turned me onto a nearby restaurant called “Andrea.”
The front section of Andrea was a pizza-by-the-slice joint, but in the back
there was a small, unassuming restaurant that included the nicest waiter in
all of Italy and a cook who sung unashamedly throughout the evening as he
slapped together the cheapest, yummiest, largest portions of pasta that I
could have asked for. Nothing in the pasta section of the menu was over 5.50
euros. I ordered the fettuccini with mushrooms and spicy sausage, a 50 cl.
carafe of wine and a dessert that I spontaneously dubbed “Éclair
Balls, With Chocolate Sauce” when the English stunted waiter asked me
what Americans would call the dish. My entire meal was 12 euros and I was
treated like the favorite, rich, cousin, a month before Christmas for the
entire time that I was in the place.
The next morning, things were looking up. After being up for
nearly an hour, not a drop of rain had fallen. I was about to head out when
I was collared along with several other residents into helping the hostel
staff load a bunch of equipment and furniture from the downstairs bar onto
a truck outside. They said it would be five minutes of work and they would
give us “beers” in return for the work. It was 10:00AM, so I decided
that it would be more prudent to substitute my pay with a few eye-opening
Cokes. Forty-five minutes later we were still standing around. I really didn’t
have the right to act surprised. This was classic Italian organization at
work. Two maddening details had kept us. One, the guy with the second truck,
who said he would be there “any minute” at 8:30AM was still not
there at 10:45. Also, the six guys organizing the move (again, six guys doing
the work of one) had not done their homework. Before any piece of furniture
could be moved, the six of them would have a heated, animated discussion on
how and where to move it. What we were doing wasn’t exactly neurosurgery,
so I wasn’t sure what was causing all of the confusion, though I eventually
came to the conclusion that the extended group considerations were merely
an excuse for each of them to have a protracted cigarette break. Nevertheless,
each time they had concluded their dizzying and passionate debates, we were
simply told to move the next item onto the truck right next to the item that
we had placed on the truck a few moments earlier. It went on at this ridiculously
slow pace until we had loaded everything rather easily onto just the one truck.
Finally it was pay-time. We each received one beer (Coke). I had never worked
for so little compensation in my life, including the 50 cents I used to earn
for taking out the garbage twice a week in 1978.
Finally, I was on my way to see some old stuff. It started raining
within seconds after I left the hostel and it continued to rain on and off
the entire day. The weather was directly responsible for destroying a treasured
piece of my paraphernalia. My James Bond, push button, open and close umbrella
snapped an arm during an unusually strong gust of wind. This was devastating
on two levels. First it was by far the coolest umbrella I had ever owned.
Second, now I had to buy an umbrella from one of the irritating umbrella pushers
that covered the streets of Rome whenever it rained (Read: All of the time),
trying to sell umbrellas to ill-prepared tourists. This disgrace was made
even more agonizing as for the first time since I had arrived in Rome, I could
not spot at least three of the pushers from the spot I was standing in. This
was just like God to torment me in such a way. I actually had to walk for
three blocks with one corner of the injured James Bond umbrella flapping and
dribbling water on my shoulder before I was able to wave down a pusher that
was walking in the other direction. It cost me four euros, but it was worth
it as I got caught in about 56 more brief, but violent downpours throughout
the rest of that day.
I finally reached my first sight, the Pantheon. The original
structure was build in 27 BC and has been gutted repeatedly by Popes and emperors,
but it’s still standing and looking cool. The dome of the Pantheon is
considered to be the most important achievement of ancient Roman architecture
and looking at it from directly below, you can’t fathom how those guys
figured out how to build the thing without it caving in. Actually, you can’t
stand directly below the center of the dome. It’s not a full dome, the
center is wide open and when it rains, it comes right in through the hole
and makes a huge puddle in the middle of the Pantheon’s beautiful marble
floor which is roped off for our safety. I’m sure the floor gets pretty
slick when it rains, but it just seemed so anti-Italian to go to such measures
in the pursuit of public safety. Eventually I concluded that they must have
started to block the area off only after about 187 Americans, slipped, fell
and threatened to sue.
After the Pantheon and a heaping cup of gelato, I headed to
the world’s smallest country. Vatican City is weird. Mussolini, of all
people, gave the Pope full sovereignty over Vatican City in 1929. It has a
post office, a newspaper, a radio station, a train station and the whole place
is protected by an army of Swiss guards. All this for an area that is barely
over 1,000 square yards. You are thoroughly searched, frisked, scanned, x-rayed
and God knows what else before you can enter the Vatican. I caused a lot of
trouble at the entrance with the numerous pockets of my jacket holding about
a dozen metallic and/or electronic items. It took about five minutes for me
to empty all of my pockets, demonstrate that none of my electronics were blowupable
or otherwise lethal and reload everything. After that, I headed straight for
Saint Peter’s Basilica.
I don’t think I have ever seen such a huge, man-made,
open expanse of indoor space that wasn’t built to house four jumbo jets
in my life. The Basilica is over 200 yards from front to back and at least,
oh let’s say at least 20 stories tall. There are beautiful frescos,
statues and shit everywhere you look and if the Basilica isn’t enough
of mental deep-fry for you, there’s also the Vatican Museums and the
Sistine Chapel that have enough precious art and treasures to spark off a
fatal bout of The Louvre
Effect. You can pay four euros to climb to the top of the main dome, but
not only did I learn my lesson back in Florence, but I actually succeeded
in killing my camera battery while I was still on the floor of the Basilica.
I took maybe 20-30 pictures in the Pantheon and perhaps another 10 or 15 outside
Vatican City, otherwise I killed the entire battery just in Saint Peter’s
alone. It was that cool in there. Considering that I had been through enough
old, beautiful, massive churches, cathedrals and basilicas on my journey to
fill four lifetimes, having Saint Peter’s drop my jaw so far down that
I had to physically shut it with my hand is a testament to how spectacular
the place is.
The interior of Saint Peter’s was very dim, mostly due
to the fact that it relies primarily on natural light from its windows to
illuminate the place and the overcast conditions severely limited the luminosity
inside. I went to work with my cherished new tripod as soon as I was in the
door. After about 30 minutes of carefully snapping long exposure pictures
with the help of the tripod, a guard came over and indicated that I was not
allowed to use a tripod in the Basilica. This made no sense to me. What this
restriction boiled down to was that you could not take pictures inside the
Basilica period, because no flash on earth could illuminate that gaping space
and it was so dim in there that hand-held, long exposure shots were totally
impossible. The man didn’t speak a word of English so I couldn’t
clarify his request, but it was apparent that for some bizarre reason I was
not allowed to use my tripod. Since it had taken over 30 conspicuous minutes
of me using the tripod to get someone’s attention, I figured that a
few more discreet and quick tripod shots wouldn’t get anyone too riled
up. I went around the place taking pictures of every corner until the aforementioned
demise of my battery at which point I had little other choice but to leave.
I walked back to the hostel in an exasperating downpour.
Not wanting to ruin a good thing, I returned to Andrea that
night. As soon as I stepped a soggy foot in the door the waiter was shaking
my hand, half hugging me and leading me to the coveted table in front of the
TV. I was informed that the lasagna was especially good that night. I decided
to follow his suggestion and ordered the lasagna without even touching the
menu. Though the TV was tuned to some game show where several scantly clad
women provided transition entertainment between rounds by jiggling around
and executing very suggestive dance moves that would have definitely been
nixed on American TV, I hunkered down and started my latest Bill Bryson book
“Down Under.” It was another travelogue about his walkabout by
car and train through Australia. This book was written much in the same spirit
as my travelogues, except Bryson was more elegant, educational and often -
I loathe to admit this - much funnier. After the first two chapters, I was
sold on Australia and if nothing better was going on the following September
(the beginning of their summer season and reportedly the nicest time of year),
I vowed that I would travel to Australia. Actually, I was already considering
this trip before the book as I had met approximately 947,274 Australians in
the prior six months, none of whom could go 10 minutes without babbling about
how great their country was. I refrained from inquiring as to why, if Australia
was so wonderful, that so many Aussies were on two and three year travel stints
For the third night in a row, I was hopelessly tired and ready
for bed by about 9:30. This was very unlike me. Especially after getting warmed
up with ½ a bottle of wine at dinner. Typically, at that time of night,
I would be on fire and ready for about two more bottles of wine and serious
socializing or sequestering myself into a red hot writing session. Something
had happened after Nice that had not only killed my excruciating compulsion
to binge-drink wine, but also pushed me to get into bed earlier than my grandmother.
I contemplated this change in my behavior as I sheepishly got ready for bed
while the rest of the hostel was making plans on where/when/how to go out
that evening. This was especially embarrassing as it was a Friday night and
I had been unusually good and sober that week. I should have been primed for
big city debauchery and enough wine to kill a blue whale. An email exchange
with a friend opened up the possibility that I was suffering from my good
old Seasonal Affective Disorder, European style. This made sense. I had only
seen the sun for about 20 cumulative minutes over the three previous days
and sure enough, one of my big S.A.D. related symptoms was the urge to sleep
constantly, but I had never lost my taste for a cocktail or six at the end
of the day. Quite the opposite in fact. I have been known to single-handedly
consume enough Strongbow during basketball season to keep their Mid-West distributor
in hookers and blow. As per my usual tendency, I started keeping a very close
eye on this new, developing ailment.
What I wasn’t expecting as I climbed into bed for what
was going to be an astounding 11 hours of sleep, was that my vampire roommate
was going to keep me up for six of those 11 hours. I had not said so much
as “buongiorno” to this Italian guy as he and I were never awake
at the same time. His waking hours took place between about 8:00PM and 6:00AM
and mine had been of the aforementioned sober, geriatric time-table. I once
walked into the room while he was awake, but still in bed and yapping on his
cell phone. I left and came back about 20 minutes later and he was asleep
again. After I climbed into bed, the guy burst into the room and spent a surprisingly
long time getting himself dolled up to go out, then he invited two of his
harem into our private bathroom to beautify themselves. The women generated
the predictably, remarkable sleep-depriving noise and ruckus that accompanies
two women getting ready for serious clubbing. They all finally departed at
about 1:00AM. This had already exceeded the scope of considerate roommate
behavior, but the guy wasn’t done. He returned at 6:00AM with a lucky
girl that he proceeded to screw rotten with four, very wide awake, cranky
men within about 12 feet of his bed, which I can report was in terrible need
of a good oiling. I tried to put the chill on their libidos in the early stages.
The others had been conspicuously rolling around and sighing, but these two
were not taking the hint that they were disturbing the room, so I finally
got up, took a leak, then left the bathroom door open with the light on which
cast a good bright beam of illumination onto their bed. They were quiet for
a minute, but then the guy got up, turned off the light, got back into bed
and in another instant they were at it again. After the rhythmic creaking
started I couldn’t take it anymore. It was after 7:00AM at this point.
I got up, dressed and went down for breakfast and demand a room switch. I
paid for it in six hours of lost sleep, but I later realized that switching
rooms was the best thing I had done in Rome.
After noisily dragging my luggage out of my old room, interrupting
yet more petting in the squeaky bed, I opted for a general roving day around
Rome. The sun was consistently shining for the first time all week and despite
having only slept a scant five hours, it’s rays made me feel funky and
energized. So much so that I didn’t even try to bitch-slap any of the
four pint sized pickpockets who pounced on me by the train station and tried
a classic diversion tactic with the intent of reliving me of my cash. It’s
a very simple ruse, really. Anywhere from four to a dozen kids holding old
newspapers and cardboard ambush an unsuspecting sucker. Most of the troupe
employ their paper and cardboard to confuse and distract by waving it in the
victim’s face. While the prey’s vision is obscured, the rest of
the gang go fishing through his/her pockets, bags, etc. and then everyone
scatters into the crowd before the victim can grab anyone. Personally, I simply
can’t imagine being confused and distracted enough to not notice two
or three pairs of hands going through my pockets, but apparently it works
because this approach is one of the more popular strategies. Even Lonely Planet
goes through the trouble of warning travelers of this particular ploy in the
introduction to Italy. I saw these little bastards coming from about 100 feet
away, so there was little surprise and no fear, mostly because they were all
so small that I could have slam dunked them into a dumpster if I wanted. I
just put both hands over my pockets and said “Forget it, shitheads.”
Despite the language barrier, they understood immediately and wandered off
to find less attentive, pickpocket savvy prey.
I jump started my aimless roaming with a visit to the very over-rated
Circus Maximus, where early Roman chariot races were held. These days it’s
just an oval-shaped park with a few pitiable ruins at one end, where people
walk their dogs. (Amazing how indifferent I’ve become to anything less
than freakishly awesome, first-rate ruins, isn’t it?), then crossed
the Tiber River into the cramped, medieval Trastevere neighborhood. I got
lost several times in the hills of Trastevere, but unlike the blaring streets
across the river, Trastevere’s surroundings were so quiet, green and
quaint that I didn’t make a serious attempt to get out until my stomach
demanded attention. After acquiring something that appeared to be a pita,
with tomato sauce, parsley and mushrooms, I walked along the river, past Vatican
City and Saint Angelo’s Castle before crossing over to check out the
bustling Piazza del Popolo. The huge, circular piazza’s centerpiece
was a giant, phallic monument in the center. I took a few pictures, but was
completely distracted by a carnival-like atmosphere going on in the hills
above the piazza. I clamored up the hill only to find a poor-man’s extreme
sports, break dancing rally going on. Guys were shoveling fake snow onto a
puny, temporary ski-jump while an announcer babbled incomprehensible Italian
commentary of the very informal, half-assed break dancing ensuing on a truck-bed
stage across the square. Aside from the participants, there were no spectators.
Apparently the rest of the tourists had the same feelings as I had about not
wanting to fritter away their time in Rome watching something that probably
wouldn’t even make it onto ESPN6 back in the States.
Saint Angelo Castle
Saint Angelo Castle and brudge.
Piazza del Popolo
Eventually my feet started to give out and I realized that I
had ridden my sunshine high for all that it was worth and I was in desperate
need of a nap. I headed back to the hostel and my upgraded my living conditions.
My new four person room was like another world. Something magical
happens between being in a six person room and a four person room. The intimacy
level changes and you get an involuntary appreciation and respect for your
roommates. It also helped that my new roommates didn’t spend all daylight
hours snoring under three blankets. We were a happy little family right away
and enjoyed each other’s company immensely, though it probably helped
that English was everyone’s first language. The room was up some inconspicuous
stairs at the back of the main level of the hostel that I had not noticed
before. The space seemed as if it might have been a loft-like storage area
before someone decided to cram a few beds up there and install a bathroom.
It was a snug dwelling, but the skylights made it bright and cheery and I
got an assload of work done without having to worry about tiptoeing around
My vastly improved accommodations situation, compounded with
yet another tasty dinner at Andrea, where I was welcomed like royalty, changed
my quickly fading appreciation for Rome and I impulsively decided to stay
for one more night, treating myself to a long-overdue rest day before heading
south to Naples.
Go to Naples