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Looking around Do you know that kids show 'Go outside' with the woman and her collie in the biplane? I took her message very much to heart.

Living La Vita Roma: Part 1

ITALY | Monday, 29 June 2015 | Views [180]

We had 5 whole days in Rome, which for me is a long time in one place. We had a lot planned and we got a lot done, but we learnt quickly we had to adapt to survive in this place. The sun is hot and the place is busy and hard to navigate. And I had to try and piece together my friendship, which had began to gradually fall apart, like the ancient ruins Rome is so famous for.

On day 1 our near miss of being blessed by the Pope had inspired us with optimism, but that soon melted. It was first to be bolstered by seeing Archbishop Desmund Tutu with an entourage of nuns, taking selfies with people on St Peter’s Square. We sauntered down from Saint Peter’s to the Castel San’Angelo, crossed the bridge and headed for the Trevi Fountain. But very quickly we realised Rome in June/July is not the place for a stroll. It was 12 and the sun cooked us alive. Each city we visited he seemed to burn brighter (which makes sense seeing as we were heading south…). In Rome there is no wind, no respite from the sun. Heat bounces off every surface like you’re in a sauna. The part boiled water in my plastic flask did not help me. The confusing, indecipherable streets did not help. Crossing the road and getting punched in the face by a passing drunk man did not help. Luckily Rome is littered with life-saving little water fountains, that pour out refreshingly cold water like manna. But even this didn’t really help.

My friend was keen on dawdling, she preferred to just walk around a city, but I was eager to get to the fountain. Our relationship had been strained to say the least since the start of the trip and I had it in my head a wish in the fountain, and an afternoon to do our own things, would solve all our problems. We passed the elegant Piazza Navona with its inexplicable obelisk and surrounding restaurants. Then we reached the Pantheon, where we stopped for a break. The Pantheon itself was closed (Monday again) but I entertained myself by watching a long queue of tourists line up outside the huge closed door. Like lemmings, each person waddled up to the door, peered as hard as they could through a small gap, tried to flash a picture through, sighed, turned to the person behind them shrugged and told them you couldn’t see anything and walked away dejected, only for the next person to nod, yet for some reason not trust the person in fronts testimony and decide to try for themselves. This charade continued for the entire time I was sitting there, which was a good 10 minutes.

Than it was back on the trail to the fountain. Even after a sit down in the shade of the Pantheon I was hot and exhausted. The fountain symbolised hope to me, and for some reason I thought if we could just reach it, everything would be okay. We were close now, and when I realised how close I basically ran down the side street towards the statues I could see at the end, like the light at the end of the tunnel. I stood looking at the fountain. There was no water in it. It had been completely drained. Huge plastic walls surrounded it like the walls of a penguin enclosure at the zoo. Scaffolding covered the giant elaborate statue. I late found out that the fountain had been undergoing restoration for the past few years. A quick google would have warned me. They had left us with what can only be described as a fish tank of water and desperate tourists were still standing and chucking a coin in behind their backs. I laughed. I couldn’t help but laugh. I felt like the universe was having an ironic joke on my behalf. This proves it, I thought, this trip is doomed.

Here me and my friend separated, as we had planned. Or rather I had planned and my companion had begrudgingly accepted. We said to meet at the Basilica San Clemente, though I honestly had no assurances she would be there, and we only had one key to the apartment we were renting. The first hour was awful and I started to regret my decision. I was preoccupied by finding shelter from the heat and worrying about finding her later on. I kept trying to find wifi to check if she’d messaged me to say she would be somewhere else. After sitting for some lunch I calmed down and found my bearings. I realised this was the first time I’d been alone in a foreign place and I was nervous but excited. I walked to Barberini fountain and sketched the fish statues, but the heat was too much and I sought the refuge of the air-conditioned metro. The Rome metro is pretty terrible, it only has two lines (they were building a third whilst I was there), with one connecting point at the central train station- the busiest place in Rome. But the metro has air-con, and if you can get a seat, which most of the time I did, you can rest your feet for a minute. So, without shame, I paid 1 euro 50 to go one stop to the Spanish Steps. The Steps are nothing exciting really. But again, it’s a nice place to sit down. Most of my evaluation of Rome is based on whether it had a chair and aircon. My main aim at most times was avoiding the heat.

Finally it was time to head towards San Clemente, close by to the Colosseum. I headed over and decided to find a restaurant for more wifi just to check my friend was still coming. She wasn’t. She couldn’t make it. I wasn’t surprised. I decided to order some spaghetti. I had picked a restaurant where I could see the Colosseum in front of me at the end of the street, that way I had something to look at. It was nice looking at it, just sitting there where it had been for the last two thousand odd years. To foreigners it is this great, unusual icon but to Romans, it’s the Coloseo, it had always been there, and it always would be. The restaurant was empty except me and another young woman sitting outside. I overheard the waiter talking about us, how we were probably American, how it was strange that we were on our own. I was annoyed and my annoyance made me brave. I leant over to the girl, do you speak English I asked, she said yes in an accent, I told her the waiters were talking about us she shrugged. And then we got talking. Her name was Amela, she was from Chile, she was studying Law in Vienna, she was friendly, my age. She was only in Rome one more day. She told me about this really good restaurant around the corner. When I went to it the next day with my friend I saw her there, with her suitcase ready to leave. She said she had to come back for one last plate of cannelloni, I didn’t blame her, it was the best cannelloni I’d ever had (or have had since). We were having such a good time talking I totally forgot about the terrible day, being let down by my friend and fate at the Trevi fountain. After that I was determined to enjoy this trip in my own way. 

The next day we were so hot we spent most of it just shut up in the apartment, trying to keep the cool air in. There was a TV with a DVD player in the main bedroom and we searched for something to watch. But all they had were tourism DVDs. I looked through the stack anyway, I might have even opened a few just out of pure curiosity, or maybe fate, and out of one fell season one of The Office (the original, not the American remake). Neither of us had seen it before but we’d always meant to watch it. We must have re-watched it at least 4 times during those 5 days. Just desperate not to go outside between the hours of 12 and 3. Lying there on the bed watching The Office is one of my fondest memories of Rome, and since I was pretty sure that avoiding the midday sun whilst lounging around doing nothing is the epitome of the Roman lifestyle, I didn’t feel bad about skipping some museums or churches to do it.

But we couldn’t waste the whole day. So we went to the colosseum. We didn’t make the same mistakes as Florence, this time we booked tickets before, as I did for the Vatican the following day and the Borghese gallery for later in the week. That way we avoided the huge queue of tourists lining up to get in. The heat was even worse today and I very much regretted not bringing a hat. The Colosseum on the outside is exactly as you’d expect, except with more scaffolding. But on the inside it seems much smaller. I overhead some tour guide say it could hold 75,000 though I didn’t believe it. I remember thinking, I’ve been to arenas bigger than this before, but then I don’t think the size is what makes it special. It was pretty crammed inside, since most places are off limits, you just walk around the middle bit. It’s actual name, according to signs and more tour guides (seriously, never pay for a tour guide, just eavesdrop), is the Flavian Amphitheatre, but it’s called the Colosseum because of a giant statue of Colossus that used to be nearby.

The ticket to the colosseum also includes entrance to the Forum and the Palatine hill. Honestly these are better than going inside the Colosseum. The view from the top is amazing. The crumbling villas hinting at their original grandeur, now being reclaimed by nature is stirring. But, me being me, I was mostly hot and tired and would have preferred a bit more sitting down and reflecting on something, rather than walking around like I was late for a bus. By this time it was 6pm and the Roman Forum was closing. You could reuse your ticket tomorrow to come back and see the rest of it, but we never did.

Tags: colosseum, palatne hill, roma, roman forum, rome, trevi fountain

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