ITALY AND SPAIN 2010

 

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Trip Log 16.  Day 16. First Full Day in Rome.

Thursday October 28, 2010.
Colosseum Self-Guided Tour, The Arch of Constantine, The Forum

It's 9 am and our first full day in Rome. We are stoked, after the preview of the Colosseum we got late yesterday. Our plans today include an in-depth, self-guided tour of the Colosseum, a self-guided tour of the Forum, and a complete circuit on one of the Hop On Hop Off Buses. There are actually several of these, and Rick Steves has given us some guidance, so we will follow that.

But first? Free breakfast at the Convent.

Sharon gets a phone number, and we call the official Italian tourist agency. They say that we should get one handicap person plus one accompanying person in free at the Colosseum, so we believe that all four of us will get in free. This after yesterday being hit up by a pretty young lady, who sounded like she was from the U.S.(No Italian accent at all). She was selling tickets, which also included a guided tour. We asked her that question and she said, "Only if you're in a wheel chair." That's what prompted the call, and from her point of view, she obviously gets a commission for every ticket she sells, and that makes her what I like to call a little liar.

We gear up and walk through our little piazza to the main road running straight up to the Colosseum. The weather looks like it's going to be a beautiful day for photos.

By 9:30 we are at the Colosseum, having walked the two or three blocks to get here.

Shirley and I have to use the rest rooms before we begin our tour, and I'm amused by the sign for the men, what with the necktie and all. Cute.


Now it is very difficult for me to continue to accept that we are expected to do not-number-1-but-the-other-number without a toilet seat (and any number you care to choose if you are a female. I mean are girls destroying the toilet seats in the women's rest rooms too? I think not). I mean how do you approach this task? Clean off the porcelain with toilet paper and balance on it, hoping you don't do a backwards tilt down? Take all your clothes off and stand over it? Take an Uzi, and blast it to smithereens, thereby lodging your little protest?

Yes. That one.

When I mentioned this to someone, they said, "Oh yes, they have a bad problem with kids defacing the toilets and destroying the lids." So the solution obviously is to do a little cost-savings and just not put them back on. So I must ask you this,"Why don't you just remove all the porcelain, and have a hole in the floor. I mean what are the destructors gonna do with that?

COME ON!!!!!!!!!! How about a little consideration of the most basic need? I'm beginning to appreciate to some SMALL extent what that guy said on the Venice Grand Canal water bus when he said, "Italy is a dump." I would just reword it to say, "The dumps are dumps."

Sharon has learned a fascinating little tidbit. From the photos, you can see that one end of the Colosseum has a whitish-grey floor, where we can see tours standing as their guide expounds on Roman history. Sharon says that the floor of the Colosseum hid the passages and rooms beneath, which are obvious now, with the floor gone. But the floor used to be made of wooden planks, or sheets, laid over the support structures below, and then covered with sand. That's what supported everything. And guess what the Latin word for sand is? Arena! Like Arena Franklin.


There are some wonderful pedestals which may be seen. "Hey Sharon, come here. I want to put you up on this."

After our tour of the Colosseum, and before we go to the Forum, we can't help taking a few more photos.


View from an upper level of the Colosseum. If, from this view, you turn right exactly 90 degrees, you see the street that goes down to our convent piazza.


The Arch of Constantine, adjacent to the Colosseum. If you rotate 90 degrees to the right, you see the photos above the arch photos.


(L) The Roman soldiers will gladly take a photo with you, for a price. (R) Three Christians, waiting for their turn in the arena.


(L) The Arch. (R) A typical looking beggar woman, hunchback and all, but usually with a less Gucci-like backpack. {I for one could not resist these poor-looking women. I usually had some Euro coins in my pocket (from 10 "cents" to 50 cents) and would drop one in their paper cup. They never looked like they would go home in a fancy car or use the money to get drugs like some of our homeless here.}

We walk up to what we believe is the entrance to the Forum. As we walk up the long entrance, we can see people walking this way, as if they've come out from there. I ask a couple if they speak English, and they say, that there is no entrance. We have to go way back around the way we've come (the Colosseum and Arch) and walk up the long street to get to the entrance. We believe with our handicap status, we can get in so we continue on. {Ignoring the signs that clearly say "No entrance, Exit only" But look at all the people walking the way we are (in the top two pictures here.)} A little leery.

As we walk further in, the way branches left, and I see an Italian fellow walking towards us and he has the most frustrated look on his face you can imagine. He's livid. And then he puts two fingers to his temple and pulls trigger. I rush over and ask, "Is this way blocked off, and you went all the way in and had to turn around?" He says with NO HESITATION WHATSOEVER, AND IN A VERY LOUD VOICE, "No! I'm tired of my WIFE!"

I look down below and there stands the object of his desire, who has the look about her stance as if to say, "Well, I'm tired of you too."

We press on. It's a little past 11:30. We come to the obvious exit, and try to get the attention of someone in the ticket booth. Without looking at us, she points animatedly back towards the entrance, as if to say, "This is an exit. You must walk the mile back to the entrance." We point to Sharon's walking stick, but get no help. I try to think of some way I can do a cane mutiny, but nothing comes to mind, so back we walk.

We find the entrance, and indeed get to skip the entrance line and collect our four free tickets to enter. In we go.


(L) This statue looks almost like it could be alive! What balance! (R) I don't recall the name of this, but whatever it is, here are two photos of it. {I believe it part of the palace gardens. It looks like a minature arena where people could walk under shade structures supported by these collumns.}


(L) Atop Palatine Hill, I watch a crew doing a sophisticated, plotted, GPS-guided underground mapping survey. Sharon (R) says that they have never dug up this particular hill to see what's underneath. And before they do, they want to dig in the places with the highest probability of finding something. That's just me and my logic talking. I don't know what they're gonna do with it. {The top of this hill "Palatine Hill" has always been owned by the Caesars and then the Vatican. Therefore, the ruins were never disturbed by construction. So archeologists here are still finding great things. And, guess what? The word "palace" comes from? PALATINE HILL. The statue without a head is not one that was destroyed (well in a way I guess). They designed the statues so that the heads were separate and if the ruling person changed, they just swapped out a new head that looked like the new guy! Kind of like photo-shop in the Roman days.}


(R) Restoring an old building requires a method to get debris down to the ground, and here is the one they use. Essentially long, bottomless trash cans, where the bottom of one fits neatly into the top of the next one. Each is fastened to the next so as to form a neat trash chute.


I love this little pond. From where I stand, where there is a shadow, one can see goldfish, but where it's sky, I can't see them. Well, in this closeup, you can just make them out.

One of the first fallen buildings we see has a sign that says, "Casa dei Grefi" or something like that. One of us says that this man had one child, whom he named Graffiti. There are arches all over, beautiful, elegant, different shapes and sizes. It all makes me want to eat at McDonald's. Wait. What?

We work our way to near the end of the paths and we are looking for the huts of Romulus and Remus. Sharon has the ball on this one, and we are all trying to spot it. We keep asking, and people keep pointing in the direction we're going, but finally we find them, and they are not at all what Sharon was expecting. Or me. Just before we find it, Shirley spots a wren. In Europe, this species is simply called Wren. In the US, the exact same species is called Winter Wren. Way to go Shirley. Busy little bird, calling, moving, sticking its tail up. {In the late 1990's, they excavated some remains of primitive huts in which the legend goes that this is where Romulus and Remus grew up and Romulus started the town of Rome on this very hill (after killing his brother, I understand). Shirley and I see some great models of what the huts would look like when we went into the museum to use the bathroom and some pictures of the excavations. I had expected to see more of the holes in the ground that were where the posts would have supported the roofs of the huts, but when we get there, it is too dark under the sheds to see much of anything The model was by far the best look. Another interesting thing is the legend that Romulus and Remus were fostered by a mother wolf. The ancient people used to celebrate once a year in a cave near this hill that was supposed to be the very cave in which the infants were found with the wolf. Well, archeologists have found such a cave with paintings on the walls of wolves, supporting the legend and certainly supporting the idea that ancient people believed the legend.}

We continue on, now walking along Ascuto Colosseo, on our left, but that way is blocked off, so we have to go straight. We are trying to find the way out of here. Shirley says, we are walled off. And Jerry says, "Walled off Astoria."

A few minutes ago, as we were looking for the Romulan Huts, I heard a cacophony (that means a bunch) of scratchy calls in the air. I wheeled around and watched three green parakeets flying from right to left, who disappeared quickly. Sharon heard them but didn't see them. We check Sharon's book, and conclude that they have to be Ring-necked Parakeets. Psittacula krameri. Also known in some countries as Rose-ringed Parakeet. The word 'parakeet' is an interesting one. In the U.S. it calls to mind carnivals, county and state fairs we've all been to, where you can win this cute little birds, that are all kinds of pastel colors, from yellow to blue to green to purple. But those are in reality 'budgies' as they say in England, or 'budgerigars'. Real life parakeets are large birds, like parrots, with very long tails, and wild populations in Europe have all come from escaped birds, finding and joining existing groups. When such a group becomes self-sustaining, for three generations as a rule of thumb, then we can count them as an official species of the country where you find them. {OMG, did our non-birder friends just read, "Blah, Blah, Blah?"}

The fantastic scene I have in my mind is wintertime, with snow all over, and parakeets in the snow. Unthinkable, but it must be true. Unthinkable, because the natural habitat of parakeets is tropical. But enough about birds. On with the tour.


I loved this Roman Soldier, dialing on the cell phone. "Hello, Dimetrius? Dimetrius? Where the heck fore art thou? It's YOUR shift now. Get IN here!"

At last. We're off our feet. {How great, eating lunch with the Colosseum in the background.}

We make our way back to the Colosseum where we have lunch, and I enjoy our ritual where somebody, usually Jerry, says something like "Holy Smoke, a coke costs $7.50." But that's only at the high volume, high demand, tourist areas. In the lesser places, it may be only $5.00.

We buy our bus passes from the light-green colored buses, with Roma Green Tour prominently displayed. Mostly because when we go into the ticket office, that's the one that's heavily advertised and the only one we can buy right here. You buy other company's tickets by just getting on the bus, and dealing with the on-bus ticket agent.

So we wait for our bus. They only go around the circuit clockwise, so if there is a feature you want to see that's a half-mile or so in the opposite direction of bus travel, you're far better (faster) to walk than to ride the bus around the circuit. This takes us a while to figure out, because they advertise that a bus will come along from our company "every 15 minutes." This turns out to be "every 15 minutes," Italian time. And what that means is, "whenever it gets there."

Jerry keeps track of such things, and says that buses from other companies pass sometimes twice before our bus comes. I feel that we've gone with the "main" bus line, who obviously spend lots on publicity, but maybe not so much on meeting their 15-minute advertised time span. As Rick Steves says over and over, "You're in Italy. You're on an Adventure. Go with it."

We can't figure out exactly where our bus stops. We finally see one, but he doesn't stop where we are. What? We inquire, and are told that the stop is "on the other side of the Colosseum." NOW we learn this?

So we walk around to the other side, but it's still not clear. Several other line's buses pass, and don't stop either. We keep asking and finally somebody says, we have to walk down past the Colosseum, then left and pick up the main street where it bends there, and look for the sign for our bus. So we keep walking, and eventually find bus sign, but it's not our line. We wait, and ten or fifteen minutes later, our bus comes along, and stops at this other bus's sign. Hmmmm. An adventure, huh?

So we're finally on our Hop On Hop Off bus. We go up the stairs and take seats on the open top. It's breezy and cool, but not cold, the sun is shining, and wonderful sights are passing before us, or rather, to the side of us. Great, great photo opportunities. {There are headphones to wear which tell you, in 5 different languages, about what you are seeing as you go along.}

Right away we come to a long foot-ball field shaped area that contains helicopters we have seen flying, plus lots of other military hardware. We don't know what this is [But later we learn that it's preparations for Military Day. I made that up, but it's where the military is honored. {November 4, which in Italy seems like our July 4th.}We also learn that this area is Circus Maximus which is where they had the chariot races].

We come to the Island in the Tiber. Sharon asks "Which came first? The Tiber or Tiberius?" We're dying to know, but Sharon goes to commercial, and by the time she's back, we have lost interest in the question, because we are fascinated by, ready? Traffic!

Parking places are tiny, and almost every car is very small. The king of the area is the Smart Car. They are so small that when they parallel park, they perpendicular park. They just turn and drive straight into the spot, headlights first, touch their front wheels to the curb, and they're parked (Some back in, for a quick getaway). Very very cool, and the way to go.


(L) Parallel parking is actually perpendicular parking for Smart Cars. (R) Some are too proud of their parking spot and overstay their welcome. The birds give them many daily reminders.

The title" king of the road" here is actually shared by Smart Cars and motorcycles, which must also include motor scooters, such as the famous Vespas. They are everywhere. Men in suits and women in business suits are on them. When traffic is stopped at a red light, they weave their way to the front of the line. So just before you see a light turn green, you'll see about ten or twelve motorcycles and scooters revving their engines, ready for the GO signal.

It's a little dangerous, but hey, Italians are risk-takers. {It's THEIR adventure.}

We continue on the Hop On Hop Off bus, which from now on I'll call the HOHO bus, coming near and stopping at the Vatican, and many other piazzas and locations.

The Tiber is crossed by a very cool bridge, as you see below.

Jerry spots a tow truck pulling a car. It is lifted in a normal way in front, but each of the two rear wheels is on a four-wheeled roller skate type of support. Sharon points out that they don't have to disconnect the transmission or worry about whether the emergency brake is on, etc.


(L) The Supreme Court Building, but of course, that's not what it's called in Italy. (R) The Palazzio Venezia, or Venice Palace.

Then the bus completes its rounds to the Colosseum, where we get off and make our way back to the convent. It's out to dinner, then back for some serious Rummikube and more luxurious sleep.

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