Here’s my “reverse” itinerary for Rome–not what I planned on doing, but what I actually did! (This is Part 2. Part 1 is here.)
Thursday, Nov. 21st, Day Four:
I woke up on this Thursday ready to see some ancient sites. My plan of action was to wander around ruins until I literally couldn’t walk any more. In Rome, the main ancient sites are all pretty close to each other–but that doesn’t mean that they are small. It’s easy to look at a city map and think, oh yeah, I can do the Colosseum, Palatine, and all the Forums. It’ll just take the morning! Ha. These places are sprawling mazes of unmarked, ancient, rubble.
And that’s pretty awesome.
Now, first warning about Rome in November. It’s not the high season for tourists, so while you have far fewer crowds, a lot of things are being repaired / closed for refurbishment. I couldn’t go see the Ara Pacis, for example. Also, here’s my glorious shot of some scaffolding…I mean, the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine.
My second November warning is weather related. It rained, at least for a while, every single day I was in Rome, and on this memorable morning, it hailed. Yes, I was standing in the Colosseum, meditating on spectacle and human depravity, and all of a sudden, the raindrops on my umbrella got a lot more insistent. Because they were actually tiny hailstones. It’s a unique Colosseum experience.
Of course, I didn’t let the weather slow me down. I puddle-jumped my way through the Palatine, where all the cool kids of ancient Rome lived, and there were times when I was totally alone, unable to hear any other human beings.
In the rain, it was beautiful and melancholy, the cold wind whipping around me like the ghosts of past centuries. I had a moment up on the Palatine (before it started hailing again), when I realized that this is what all those Romantic poets were writing about, the aching picturesque, nature nearly overtaking man’s efforts to tame it.
Here’s an appropriate (Percy) Shelley quote (which is actually about fellow Rome-dwelling Romantic, Keats):
Go thou to Rome,—at once the Paradise,
The grave, the city, and the wilderness;
And where its wrecks like shattered mountains rise,
And flowering weeds, and fragrant copses dress
The bones of Desolation’s nakedness
Pass, till the spirit of the spot shall lead
Thy footsteps to a slope of green access
Where, like an infant’s smile, over the dead
A light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread…
Eerie, sad, beautiful. You get the idea.
By the time I made it down into the Forum, the weather was clearing up, and the crowds were heading in. I wandered (with slightly waning energy) through the main Forum, as well as meandering past the Forum of Trajan, Forum of Augustus…lots of marble, lots of columns, etc. I was really excited, of course, but it was all pretty much eclipsed in my memory by where I went the next day…
Friday, Nov. 22nd, Day Five:
Now, before I left on this trip, my “host dad” Roland said, “So you’re basically the perfect person to appreciate Rome, right?” I actually thought, ha, me? Nooo. Because if there is anything I have an imposter complex about, it’s Classics. Yes, I’ve taken 9 years of Latin, yes, I have a BA in Classical Civilizations, but I still have a feeling that at some point, somebody is going to realize that I don’t actually deserve any of it, denounce me as a Classics poser, and tell me never to quote Ovid again. It’s a psychological problem.
But the amount of sheer joy that I got out of climbing around the ruined Roman port town of Ostia Antica like a little billy-goat made me realize how deep my love of the Classical world goes, how much it is an intrinsic part of me. I kept thinking, if someone asked me to design a perfect playground, a perfect place to explore, imagine, and learn, it would be Ostia–and it would have been when I was seven, and when I was twelve, and when I was sixteen, too. It’s a well preserved ancient city, enough so that you can actually distinguish different buildings (without a degree in Classics). You can see the mausoleum:
And the communal toilets:
It is so so so cool, but it’s a hidden treasure. I literally saw maybe ten other people in the whole six hours I was there. Yes, I was there for six hours, and I would have stayed longer, but the rain was relentless.
You can actually climb all over everything, go into all the little rooms, sometimes even walk on ancient mosaic floors (I took this picture as proof).
In summation: It is a varied picture of real life just outside of ancient Rome, with apartment buildings, baths, and all the works, that you can actually experience in a tactile way. It was an incredible day that I will never forget.
Saturday, Nov. 23rd, Day Six:
My last day in Rome was a little anti-climactic. It was (this is a theme, right?) cold and rainy. But unlike other days, it wasn’t off and on–it was continuous and dreary. I visited Castel Sant’Angelo, which I think I really would have enjoyed under other circumstances. It was a big castle with these elaborate rooms of papal extravagance from the Renaissance, plus creepy dungeons and great views from the turrets. But on this rainy day, it was easier to picture the castle’s time as a miserable prison than as a seat of opulence.
Mid-afternoon, I went and parked myself in a self-service restaurant at the train station, drank a beer, and reflected on my trip, before getting on the 15 hours train ride back to Austria. The ride home was definitely less eventful than the one there. We ran about an hour late because of massive amounts of snow in Northern Italy/Southern Austria, and I had an amazing hour from about 6 to 7 AM watching the snowy countryside and feeling like I was the only person awake on the train.