40 for 40: Day 2 – Rome

Well, the jet lag was strong with this one.

I managed to pull off a two hour “nap” yesterday at 9 pm Roman time, which was 3 pm Toronto time, which meant my body obviously thought that it had to wake me up at around midnight so I could do things like make dinner and watch superhero shows, but no, I didn’t need to do any of those things and wasn’t getting back to sleep, so I grabbed some melatonin from Daina, figuring it would put me down just enough for a gentle sleep.

11 am the next morning, there I was, awake.

Now, nothing against a late sleep in. You need it every once in a while. Considering I had been to Rome before, I wasn’t too worried about missing out, but didn’t want Daina to feel his trip was being delayed. Long story short, he was completely fine with the sleep in and off we went to explore Rome at his pace.

“Breakfast” was pizza at Pizza Pete e Gorgonzola, where I had “that looks good” with mushrooms and some kind of cream, and Daina had something with prosciutto and delicious cheeses, along with a side of fries. The first stop of the day was supposed to be the Crypt of the Capuchin Friars but we got sidetracked into Rome’s Galleria D’Arte Moderna, which was nice enough, and had air conditioning and no outwardly bad art, so there’s a review. The Capuchins, though, THAT was pretty incredible.

I had gone there in 2005, my first trip to Rome, and I seem to remember paying the ticket and doing a “loop” through the bone-decorated cathedral. Nobody has an exact tale of why somebody decided to decorate a church with the bones of about 4000 people, most of them Capuchin friars that had been buried nearby. Some people say it was an act of penance, others say it was a friar escaping from France who was under house arrest and got bored. Either way, it’s an eerie exhibit that has upped its game in the past 13 years, with a multimedia exhibit, a Caravaggio painting, and lots of relics from the Friars.

Walking through the Piazza Barberini to see the Fontana del Tritone, and past the Quattro Fontaine, where Daina was sold on the fact that you can drink the water from Rome’s various fountains, we started to hit some of Rome’s more major sites, and experienced our first Rome scam!

We wandered down to the Colosseum, which was crowded, as usual, but a ton of people wearing “Beat The Line” polos were standing outside, informing us that the Colosseum was free today, but the line was two hours, so if we didn’t want to wait in the line, we could pay 12 Euros each for a “Beat the Line” tour. This seemed fishy, having been to a few cities where “it’s closed” is code for “let me take you someplace not as impressive and then to my shop”, so we decided to head to the ticket office. Of course, while all this was happening, we hade a guy try to sell us bracelets by literally throwing them at us for “free” and then refusing to take them back (I intentionally dropped mine, Daina put his back on the man’s shoulder).

Once we got to the office, we found out that, yes, on the first Sunday of the month, admission to several of Rome’s major sites is free, so we would pay nothing for the Colosseum and Forum. I asked how long the line would take, and the ticket office lady said “Oh, that line won’t take long at all” and, sure enough, it didn’t, and we were in the Colosseum in about 20 minutes, which led to a running (bad) joke from me all afternoon where I would complain about standing in the Colosseum line for hours. I found it funny.

The Colosseum was as epic as I remembered it. We started on the second floor to get the bird’s eye view of the underground area before heading to the first floor to take a larger walk around. Living in the age of mega-stadiums, you could take this for granted, but then I remarked that the place could hold 50000 people and Daina said “well, that’s my hometown and another 14000 people”. So, big.

The forum was up next, as we climbed up to the Palantine Hill, wandered through the old streets and temples, and then made our way through Caesar’s Rome through an underground series of passageways before being spit up to see the Altare della Patria, the monument to Vittorio Emanuel II, the first King of a unified Italy. At this point, on a 33 degree day, we were getting a bit warm, so we decided it was time for the gelato meal of the day, this time at Giolitti, Rome’s famous gelato restaurant, where we crammed multiple flavours into our cones and cups after cramming ourselves through the gelato loving crowd.

We wanted to start making our way back, so we wandered past (but, due to a long line and a lack of interest from Daina) not into the Pantheon, which is still as visually impressive as ever from the outside. Then, over to Piazza Navona to see its fountains and architecture and, again, hear the vendors selling squeaky squishy toys that make noise when you smash them to the ground. The thing everybody wants.

Then, the shock of the trip.

Both times I’ve been to Rome, I went to St. Peter’s and the Vatican. I’m not terribly religious, but the sheer size, architecture and historical importance of those sites couldn’t be missed, for me at least. Daina had said it was probably the part of Rome that interested him least, so I had resigned ourselves to missing it, but as we wandered towards Castel San Angelo, Daina saw St. Peter’s, said “wow, it’s that close?”, and slowly walked over. I doubled checked to make sure that’s where he wanted to go and, giving a response that wasn’t quite “When in Rome”, we did a walk-by near the colonnades as the sun was setting. From there, it was a walk back to the hotel, a pasta dinner and tiramisu dessert at Al Vantaggio, before Daina went back to Pizzare for a glass of wine and fries and I climbed up a viewpoint near Popolo to see how the city looked after dark.

I will always have time for Rome, because no matter how many times I’m here, there’s always something I haven’t seen (the art museum), that has been improved (the Capuchin Crypt) or is just as awesome as ever (the rest of it).

If 2000 years old wasn’t old enough, tomorrow, we’re adding 3000 years to that!

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