Italy and Austria 2017: Day 5 — Aborted Attempt to See Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Parthenon, More Gelato, Trevi Fountain, the Forum and the Colosseum

We started our day off at one of Rome’s main train stations, Roma Termini. We decided to head there because Thing 2’s FitBit had finally run out of battery and she forgot to bring her charger. There was a tech shop there, so we stopped in to see if they had an extra charger. They didn’t, so we headed down the Metro line a few stops to another tech store —they didn’t sell one, either — and then to a bookstore that also sold techy things. We had no luck at any of the three places we visited. But, since we were near the most important basilica in Rome, actually the WORLD, we decided to head that way.

The church is called Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. It is the Pope’s designated church. As such, that makes it the most important church in the world, more important than even the Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica). The Pope sometimes celebrates mass there, but I don’t think there is a set schedule like there is at St. Peter’s. There are four major papal basilicas in Rome; St. John Lateran is the most important of them all. The others are St. Peter’s, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls). Unfortunately, as we arrived to go inside, we were told by the security man that we were not dressed appropriately enough. Thing 2 didn’t have covered shoulders, and I was wearing shorts (showing my knees). There were a bunch of hawkers selling cheap scarves to put over one’s shoulders for 1,00 €, but I didn’t want to encourage them by buying something from them. They were already annoying and intrusive as it was.

So, we gave that up for another day when we were properly dressed, and hopped on a bus instead to take us across town to the Pantheon. The bus we hopped onto was packed, as all busses passing by major tourist spots seemed to be. We found a place to stand in the back; a priest hopped on with us. Everyone on the bus parted so that he could make his way to the ticket validation machine on the bus. So, we gave him ours and he validated ours, too. He was Irish and wearing a Jameson’s Whiskey baseball cap. He heard that we were speaking English, so he joined us in conversation, asking us, “Is this your first time to Rome?” We answered that it was, and then he asked us if we had met his boss yet. 😁 We answered that we had. I told him my grandpa’s favorite whiskey was Bushmill’s. He was getting off at the same stop as we were, so he offered to take show us the direction from the bus stop to the Pantheon, and then recommened both a great gelato place and an English-speaking mass we could attend on Sunday.

So we arrived at the Pantheon, but it is a church, too. This I did not know. So we faced the same problem of Thing 2 not having her shoulders covered and me wearing shorts. We watched the line and it turned out this security person was allowing people with shorts in, but still requiring covered shoulders. And, wouldn’t you know it, there was no one in the square walking around hawking scarves. So, we quickly walked over to a store shop selling souveniers to buy a scarf for Thing 2 so that we could enter. (It was free.) I came to realize that whether or not one was allowed inside the church in current clothing was completely dependent on who was standing at the entrance watching people go in. Some were definitely more lenient than others.

But inside . . . wow! Huge and beautiful! In its time, it was an engineering marvel. Actually, it still is. When Brunelleschi was coming up with his plan about how to put the dome on the Santa Maria del Fiori in Florence, he went to Rome to study the Pantheon. (We are going to visit the “Duomo” in Florence, too, so more about that later!) There are a few important graves inside the Pantheon, including Vittorio Emanuele II (for whom a major street in Rome is named). Vittorio Emanuele II also has a huge monument built to him in conjunction with the Altar of the Fatherland (see Rome, Day 3 post mention of the “wedding cake”). But, the crypt I was really interested in seeing was Raphael’s, the artist responsible for so much at the Vatican (among others). He has a very large display in the Pantheon. Cognizant that this was still a place people came to pray, and that we didn’t want to disturb them, we took out pictures and left for our next locale.

Raphael’s funerary monument and crypt

Our next stop was the Trevi Fountain, pretty close by. On the way, we stopped and got some gelato for the walk. The gelato was good, but we passed an even better looking place along the way (Venchi) with a chocolate fountain wall behind the counter, and we vowed to return to have some of their gelato soon.

These Nutella jars were as big as a human head.

I could tell that we were getting closer to the Trevi Fountain because more and more tourists were on the street. Indeed, at the fountain, there was a mass of humanity, all jostling to get close enough to the fountain to take a great photograph or to find a seat to just sit and take it all in. Because . . . it. is.

HUGE. And gleamingly white. Thing 2 and I made sure to take out pictures, and then we moved down closer to the water itself so that we could each throw a coin into the fountain. The story goes that one must throw a coin into the fountain to ensure a trip back to Rome sometime in the future. (As I want to come back because I am sure there will be things I will run out of time to see, I made sure to throw a coin in!)

After taking our pics we were read to get away from the crowds, so we began walking just away – we didn’t care which direction. We wouldn’t get lost. (We had Google Maps! 😏) We just started walking towards where we would need to go to get to the Forum and Colosseum, which were our afternoon tours. It turns out we ended up in the same piazza that we started off at – right in front of the Pantheon again. This time the line was HUUUGGGGEEEE, so we were glad we got in when we did.

Eventually we made our way over the the Colosseum. We were early, so we sat in the shade just out in front for a while and rested. We knew we still had a lot of walking left to do for the day. Unfortunately, we sat downwind from some people who decided to smoke. (I forgot that there are smokers everywhere in Europe – or at least in Rome so far. And we always managed to find ourselves seated next to them.) We had about 45 minutes until our tour started, so we got a nice rest. When it was time to check in, we walked across the street to a newspaper stand/kiosk (our check-in point) and were matched up with our guide. She is a working archaeologist with a PhD in her field. She was going to lead us around the Forum, and then we were going to meet up with another PhD who was going to show us around the Colosseum. Both ladies really knew their stuff!

We started off in the Forum. There are several entrances, but we entered through the Via Dei Fori Imperiali, which is sort of the main drag past the Forum and the Colosseum. We walked down a ramp, just past the Antoninus and Faustina Temple. The forum is full of ruins – ruins, ruins everywhere. One really had to use imagination to try to visualize what all of this would have looked like during the time of Caesar and Augustus. Our guide had these great diagrams to show to help us with that. She had a binder full of modern photographs of the ruins, but then had an overlay she could put down over the photograph to show us what historians believe the temple actually looked like back in the day. She knew what every single thing in the Forum was. We had only to point at a bunch of stones on the ground or a column and she would say, “Oh that’s the Temple of ____,” or whatever. (But I guess that makes sense considering she has a PhD in archaeology and she has spent literally tons of her life there.)

The dirt in the forum is very hard packed, which also makes sense considering how it is there under the beating sun, and has been for centuries. Not to mention, there’s thousands of tourists that walked the paths daily. It was also a fine, dusty sort of dirt – the kind that (if it gets stirred up), lands on one’s legs and sticks there. Thing 2 and I both agreed that we’d need a good shower when we got back to the hotel to wash away the particles clinging to our shins. Surprisingly, there were also things like cigarette butts on the ground. (All those smokers!) To me, this seemed like a sacrilege. I mean, this was the Roman Forum, a hugely historical spot. How could one think of just dropping their butt on the ground? How could authorities even allow people to smoke there? European countries are much less restrictive when it comes to smoking and alcohol than locations here in the United States. In any case, as we walked on, I tried to make a note of all the things I was looking at so I could match photographs up with ruins names. Also, I probably should have been taking many more photographs, but I just caught up in what I was looking at. I guess I’ll have to go back! From the Forum center, we walked up to the Palatine Hill, and we looked at some ruins on the hill. (Not as much is up there – just remains of the villas of emperors.) As we walked down the hill, on the Colosseum side, was saw the remnants of an old aqueduct. I got a few books at the bookstore on site.

Our guide (on the way to the Colosseum) led us past some gypsies who were pick-pockets. I confess I would have never guessed that’s what they looked like. They were two girls, probably about thirteen years old; one was smoking. They had nothing – not even purses to even try to “pass” as tourists. Our tour guide (and her other guides/friends) had seen them many times before. They knew she saw them. They knew she told all of us she saw them. They knew that she was already telling her fellow guides as we walked past other groups about them. They hung back and stopped following our group. I wasn’t worried. I was vigilant and careful; we hadn’t been bothered at all by pick-pockets thus far.

So the Colosseum was amazing. I don’t need to tell you that. Thing 2 and I had signed up to take a special tour that included the “basement” of the Colosseum, as well as the third ring. In the subterranean part of the Colosseum, we got to see the ruins of different chambers that would have been used by gladiators and exotic animals. We saw holes left in the ground where beams once stood, part of complex pulley and trap-door system to raise and lower props, people, and animals up onto the Colosseum floor. A group of German engineering students even made a model of what the system may have looked like, complete with cage for a wild beast. We even saw the door that led out to a subterranean passage to the gladiatorial school and barracks (across a modern street from the Colosseum today). Down in the “basement” they also had an open-piped water system, sometimes thought to be used as latrines for the slaves down below. On the stage of the Colosseum which, again, only special tours get to visit, we got a feel for what it was like to be a gladiator at the center of the stadium. It was hot; the sun was beating down on us. The stage at the time would have been covered in sand (the Italian for sand is where we derive our word arena) to soak up the blood and other bodily fluids spilled by animals and gladiators alike. We spent time exploring the different levels of the Colosseum, eventually moving up to the “third ring” of the amphitheater, which was exclusive for the tour we booked. They actually did have an elevator there so, because I was still nursing my sprained ankle, I took advantage of that in order to see the third ring without having to climb so many steps.

After our tour was done, we visited the bookstore to get some souvenirs for family back at home. We dialed up the route to get home on Google Maps, waited for our bus, and made it back to our hotel.

We. were. officially. tired.

A shower was the first order of business, of course. Thing 2 and I had already decided that we could not walk any more. Finding a restaurant close by to eat was too difficult. We didn’t even want to walk to the gelato shop we liked. We decided to eat dinner in the hotel restaurant. After sitting and resting while Thing 2 was showering, it was difficult to stand up again to even walk downstairs to the restaurant. I took my ice bag down to the restaurant that the concierge had loaned me earlier in the week. The waitress was kind enough to fill it up with ice, and I iced my ankle while we ate. I had a yummy ravioli. It was not hard to fall asleep when we got back to our room.

For some photos of our day, which may include some of the above, click on this link.




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