Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

The long-winded-niest travelogue on the internet!


Rome, Italy

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 column!

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.

What the Pope sees when he delivers sermons from St. Peter's.

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 around Europe.

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.

Junior pickpockets

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.

Circus Maximus

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 sleeping partiers.

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

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©Leif Pettersen 2012