This is part of a series of posts about my family’s two week cruise in the Mediterranean in July, 2012. New posts will pop up every couple of days, or as they’re written, which as you might be able to tell, is a pretty slow manner.
You sail into a port called Civitivecchia. It’s about an hour outside of Rome and was the official ancient port of the city as well as the acting port for today’s Rome. The city walls here are old. And like so many old things in this part of the world, they still stand. It’s pretty awesome to be on a bus and passing under walls that are 1,000 years old. The town itself is small and seemingly very quiet. It’s probably a bit too far from Rome to be a serious suburb, but it also looks like it would be a pretty cool place to hang out for a day. We didn’t get to spend any time here, but the main part of town (if that’s what we saw) had some great looking buildings that housed bars and restaurants. My kind of place.
In between Civitivecchia and Rome was plenty of farmland. It was picturesque, in fact—awesome stuff to stare at along the highway into the big city. We stopped along the way at a little highway gas station. It reminded me of a truck stop, complete with about 100 covered parking spaces. The covers on the parking spaces were all solar panels, too. Kind of a brilliant thing, that.
As we got into Rome we spent a while driving around to see certain things that would be out of our walking range for this tour. We saw a train station that was built in the WWII era by Mussolini’s Italy for the purpose of impressing Adolf Hitler. It was like a big white rectangle. Completely “fascist” in design, according to Angelica, our tour guide. We also passed the Pyramid of Cestius, which was built over 2,000 years ago.
Those were just a couple of the tune-ups. We passed one of the ancient bath houses, stopped to pick up Max, the second tour guide for our day. Max would actually be the main guy while Angelica ran logistics. She left us at this point to go to the Colosseum to get our tickets. Once we had Max, we made our way through more of Rome to stop the bus and exit for a few hours. Our first stop would be Trevi Fountain.
We had heard that Rome was the most likely place to get pick-pocketed. People had told us stories about sitting on the edge of a square and watching little kids snag wallets from oblivious tourists. After hearing this, I had devised a plan to NOT get robbed. I wrapped the cash I carried (usually just what we’d need for the day with the rest locked in the safe in our room) around a credit card and my ship’s pass card and secured it all with a Field Notes Brand Band of Rubber in my front pocket. After seeing the masses of people in the plaza at Trevi Fountain, I was happier about that plan. It was jam-packed. People were everywhere, and so were people trying to get you to give them money or buy something. When I was taking photos, I had The Girl stand next to me blocking that front packet from any reaching hands. I was a little paranoid.
It took me until I got home and examined my photos more closely to realize that Trevi Fountain was somewhat under construction. I never noticed that the left side was covered, but it was a pretty remarkable sight, to say the least. The fountain is massive. I think it’s probably about 100 feet wide and 40-50 feet to the top. The statues that stand in the fountain are larger than life-sized. It’s spectacular.
We spent about 30 minutes there and had a chance to grab our first gelatos in Italy. We avoided the big, well-marketed place immediately to the left of the fountain and walked a few buildings back on the left side. This was on the advice of Max. It was a quick little jaunt in and the gelato was really good. One thing that I haven’t discussed is the heat to this point. It would get worse on the trip, but it was hot in Rome. It had been hot in Pisa, too. That heat made the gelato a great treat.
We moved on from there and started toward what I can only describe as one of the western world’s historical centers. We walked maybe a mile or a little more over the course of this tour and saw probably five different eras’ histories. It was almost surreal to be on one street and looking at buildings that had been put up by Caesar, later Roman empires, Mussolini, and modern day governments. We saw where Michaelangelo was buried. And I think at one point, it was possible for me to see all of this at the same time.
Rome was the first place on the trip where we had to deal with city traffic. We walked along the streets and crossed in some pretty busy areas. It’s not like it was a bad experience, but it was a little unsettling to do that when you just sort of get thrown into it in a foreign city and have no idea what the laws might be. As it turns out, it’s pretty easy. The major difference for me was that the drivers are a little bit more aggressive. Cyclists navigate the roads by paying major attention and participating as a part of the flow of traffic. Pedestrians have to also be very in tune with traffic. This may not be the norm for everywhere, but it’s what I saw there.
We made our way down the street, past Mussolini’s monument to the unknown soldier (unaffectionately called ‘the Wedding Cake’ by locals) and on to the walking path that borders the Forum. We were about 15 feet above the ground where the Forum had existed and it was pretty remarkable how much of the walls were still visible. From the street it’s also possible to see so much of what was the central place for Romans to gather.
Entering the Forum was a bit of a mess. There was a ticketing area that had a few turnstiles and one not-too-wide walkway down into the main area. If I could remember one main thing about the time in the Forum, it would be that it was stupidly hot. We were walking around on dirt surrounded by old rocks in the middle of July. It was easily in the mid-90s and humid. Not as humid as we would encounter later on (we’ll get to that), but sort of miserable. Oh, and it was a bout 11:00 in the morning at this point.
We wandered through there and about the only remarkable things I remember spending any time at were Caesar’s tomb and the Arch of Titus. Caesar’s tomb was decent because we spent a few minutes there so everyone could peek around and see inside. There were also places to sit. From the depressed elevation of the Forum we could see Rome’s City Hall and the back of the Wedding Cake on one side, a more recent church-type building on another, a hill that would eventually lead to the Circus Maximus on a third and a walkway over a small hill that led to the Arch of Titus on the last. Beyond the arch was a wider walkway that led to what could be called my favorite view of the trip.
That view was of the massive, awesome Colosseum. A grassy plaza, if you will, stood between us and the Colosseum. It was big and gorgeous. We stopped to take a photo or two, then moved to the line to get in. That line was really long.
This is where Veronica came back in. She had left us to get tickets for the Colosseum and to jump us to the front. It was still a little bit of a wait, but we passed hundreds of people on our way in. If for no other reason than to avoid the waits at the most popular places, I highly recommend using an organized tour when visiting a lace like Rome. It is already a crowded, popular place (this was a Thursday), so unless you have several days to see the things you came to see, you might need the extra help of the tour guides getting you in without battling the huge crowds.
Once inside there are some steep steps to walk up to get to the arena itself. For being over one thousand years old, it felt remarkably like a modern-day stadium. There was a concourse tunnel feel as we entered which spilled out into a wide open arena with walkways around at various levels. Underneath the stadium-style slanted seating, there were more levels of walkway. I don’t know if any of these were added later as a way to accommodate the crowds of people who would visit to view history, but it all felt like it was part of the original plan. One pretty crazy thing about the Colosseum’s construction and size is that at least one layer around the entire thing has been destroyed. There are two layers of walkways and entryways to get through now to get to the arena. There used to be three of them. Time took its toll on the construction and the outer layer is now gone, but it would have made the structure quite a bit bigger than it already is.
The inside is as spectacular as I expected it would be. It’s not as if you have no idea what you’re about to see going in. There are photos of it everywhere. But to get the chance to see it firsthand is a pretty cool thing. A few spots along the walkways allow for some great scenic photo opportunities. We were inside for around 45 minutes before having to move on. This offered us the chance to wander a bit and capture a few shots of the place to bring back. Some notes: the tunnels at the bottom were rooms used for performers to prepare. The wood stage at the top of the floor is a reconstruction of the wood floors that were used as the stage originally. I had always thought that the floor was sand and the tunnels were added later or something. Nope. They were always wood with sand added on top.
Upon leaving the Colosseum, we had to catch our bus just on the other side of the Arch of Constantine. What’s remarkable about this is that you’re just wandering around an area that has a lot of history attached, hoping to find the right bus. It’s a bit surreal. After the trip I came across a gallery of great sports photos, and was particularly drawn to this one for reasons you might now understand. Not only is it a cool shot, but it’s the exact road where we found our bus. I may have stood right where that shot was taken.
The bus was to take us to lunch, then on to the Vatican.