Monday, September 3, 2012

Roman Holiday

Friday, I enjoyed my first "Roman Holiday," set free to wander about the city on my own. The night I before, I had reserved a three-in-one ticket to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum, which allowed me to skip the massive files of tourists wrapping around each historical site. Not bad! I highly recommend this option for your next vacation in Rome ;)

I think my favorite place was the Colosseum, partly perhaps because it was enhanced by an audio tour. I may have grown even nerdier since graduating. 

The maze-like structure visible on the ground level behind me would have been underneath the arena. This was where all machinery, weapons, stage sets, and even animals were stored for the games. Even beneath a scorching sun, I had chills. The recording pointed out a very specific seating hierarchy for everyone from the emperor and senators to the common man or woman. It also detailed the gladiators' (living) entrance into the stadium and their eminent exit (dead). At times, this colosseum was flooded for ship battles, overgrown as a forest, and home to a plethora of exotic animals. Besides being an entirely free event to the public, it's really no surprise the games drew an average of some 40,000 people to the Colosseum. Unreal. It was an overwhelming day--in a good way.  I was in awe at the preservation of architecture, art, and writings, and the shear scale of the Roman world, dating back 2,000 years. I really love the adventure of traveling on my own, until I experience something so beautiful, enjoy an amazing meal, or learn a fascinating anecdote. It's moments like these when I wish I had someone to turn to and say, "Isn't this incredible!?" I've been feeling this a lot lately.

Crucial break for cappuccino and postcard writing...not such a terrible view either! I later asked Benito and Giovanna about apple-eating etiquette in public--by means of hypothetical scenario of course: "If one were given a knife with a piece of fruit at a cafe, would that mean (s)he is not to use his/her hands at all?" Thankfully, I don't think they realized I was really referring to myself and how I had shamelessly taken my apple to the face earlier that afternoon. In Benito's words: "If I saw someone doing that, I'd wonder if he was from another planet!" Whoops. Just when I was feeling like a pseudo professional traveler, I'm still very much a "fer-ner."

Il Foro Romano

The dusty roads, cobblestone, and my very biblical brown woven sandals made it easy for me to imagine myself as a citizen of ancient Rome going about my daily business in the Forum.

Palatine. I love these Mediterranean Pines. They are everywhere here and remind me of giant broccolis.  They did not, however, prove very good rain shelters, just check out those clouds in the distance--Rome's first downpour all summer. By the time I boarded the bus later that afternoon, I looked perfectly homeless with mud splattered up to my knees. 

Palatine Stadium. Palatine is also the location where legendary Romulus and Remus were raised by mama wolf and where Romulus would later found Rome in 753 BC. It is also one of the seven hills on which Rome was originally established.

Just your standard Roman wedding

Determined to eek out one final site before heading home, I made my way toward Mamertine Prison, where apostles Peter and Paul were sentenced under Roman rule. My jaunt was cut short, however, when an Italian man with at least five too many buttons undone on his oxford asked me for the time (I would later find out from Benito that this is the go-to pick-up line for Italian men). Before I could sputter out, "sono le quattro," he was sharing his life story with me--his love for history and architecture and his work as a professor in the city. Evidence of my broken Italian and his broken English, finally had us settling on speaking Spanish, but it seems he quickly forgot and threw in ten too many Italian words. Would I let him show me around on his 40 minute break? I panicked. Thankfully I really was in a rush so I didn't have to lie. Would I come back and meet him in the city next time? I didn't even have to answer, because my face already did. Lover boy quickly stomped off muttering how beautiful I am and how ugly he is...yikes, the most flamboyant straight man I've yet to meet.

After asking the whereabouts of Mamertine from at least 10 non-English-speaking Italians, I realized in a new way how culturally religious this country is. I knew I was close, VERY close, but only one man, a police officer, had ever even heard of the place. Rome is rich with ancient religious history and it was sad that a spot like this would go almost entirely unnoticed by its locals. Unfortunately, I eventually found a closed Mamertine, so I guess I'll have to make another trip...oh well, I do live here! ;)

Two hours later via city bus and metro (UGH!) I was finally home. All I wanted to do was curl up in my bed and sleep for days; instead, I showered, changed, and was out the door with the entire Vitolo clan just ten short minutes later. I couldn't miss "le sagre" after all! A "sagre" is essentially a town feast based around one key ingredient. For instance, our first stop was "la sagra di fettuccina." You then buy a ticket and vendors offer you a variety of dishes featuring fettuccine (except for fettuccine alfredo--another un-italian dish sadly). Sagras are also characterized by live music; and in this case, it was American disco...apparently, a real crowd-pleaser.

Next stop was "la sagra dei funghi porcini" (mushrooms sagra). Pictured above is mama nutella and her babies at a street vendor there. Since we had already eaten our fill of fettuccine at the previous feasting site, we opted for dessert instead (hold the porcini, please). The girls chose freshly homemade "chambella" (like a massive sugar doughnut), while the boys chose "bombs" (doughnut filled with nutella or vanilla custard). There is a God.

We followed the music to the top of the hill, admiring the lights and overall carnival atmosphere all the way. And clearly we had chosen the right place to be. Everyone, male and female, old and young, fat and skinny, high heels and flip flops was dancing...hard. The live band was hitting all the crowd favorites. All told, we hung around watching and attempting to dance for about ten songs, but it was obvious these people really knew what they were doing. Each song had a specific accompanying group or couples dance and at least 40 people were on the floor at any given time, all in perfect rhythm. The only thing I could even remotely compare it to was what 1920's America might have been like, but I'm not sure that's even accurate. Virginia LOVES to dance and so, Benito was the default partner. I opted to be bag and jacket-holding lady instead, but was awarded the best view anyway. Every family member was either groovin' or being grooved (aka dragged around the dance floor). They are really a lot of fun.

A little after 11pm, we turned back for home. Virginia and Giulio bolted down the hill in a race that resulted in a trip to the ER for Giulio's twisted ankle. Even though we didn't know a soul in town, they were all extremely kind in helping us sit and ice Giulio's ankle, distracting him with water and magazines, offering to call an ambulance, and escorting us to the highway in the end. I was blown away by this kind of hospitality.

Spending the wee morning hours in a European emergency room, while entirely unplanned and unfortunate, was certainly a unique cultural event. No need to make this a political blog here, so this is all I'll say: they didn't pay a cent for the visit. Virginia and I were so wiped from the long and busy day that before I knew it, I was being tapped awake from a miniature metal chair in the waiting room.

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