Thursday, March 22, 2007

Travel - Six hours in Rome


Our first view of Rome made us think of a cold Thailand. It was the combination of palm trees, small cars, construction, tile roofs, brick and concrete houses in tropical colors, tall grasses, debris near work areas, foreign languages floating around us and people in uniforms. During our train ride we saw open fields, farm areas and condos with laundry waving from balconies.

As we neared the city, buildings sprouted forests of prickly antennas and peering satellite dishes while ditches took on color from smashed plastic bottles and flattened, dirt-creased plastic bags.

We didn’t have time for much of a visit in Rome. One plane landed after 11 a.m. and our ongoing plane had a check in time at about 6. The first order of business after landing was food. Sometimes airplane food just isn't wonderful.

After searching the airport restaurants and finding pastries or pizza (I can't eat any form of milk.), we stopped at a deli where Rick had cheese cake and I dug in my bag for tofu jerky and water while we debated a long, long airport sit down vs. the chance of getting lost and missing our next flight. Luckily, we saw an information booth through the window and the person on duty had the perfect idea.

The suggestion was to take a train to the metro and have a quick visit to the Coliseum. "You can't get lost," he assured us. While his guarantee sounded iffy, he proved correct.

As he promised, the Coliseum is directly across from the metro. We found Roman guards eating pizza and coke and smoking cigarettes at the entry. I thought that they were ticket takers or such at the Coliseum but not quite. They offer their images in a photo for 8 Euros. Eight Euros!

Later I heard one say to an American, “It’s 8 Euros – not 8,000 Euros. The photo will last a lifetime.” She went for it. They did put on a show with fierce growling faces and swords at the ready and it takes some guts to dress like that in the chill air but it wasn't anything I wanted to be part of.

Two guards were with a family. The older boy stepped right up on the platform and grabbed both shield and sword and willingly buried his head in the man’s huge feathered helmet. The father snapped photos, the mother laughed. Next the younger boy stepped up. He was offered sword and shield and a laurel wreath for his head but no deal. He gave a mama-come-save-me wail.

An imposing man wore a fox skin – head on feathered-helmet, paws on shoulders, body and tail trailing behind. With his tunic, helmet, tattoos, tights, and boots, his pixels were nearly worth 8 Euros.

We walked around the Coliseum and the Roman Forum while snapping photos of buildings and ruins and a flowering vine deeply rooted in an ancient wall. We also found the Coliseum cat lady and made a donation for her effort of feeding the wild cats.

The Coliseum and forum weren’t as impressive as Machu Picchu or some of the other ruins we’ve seen. Rather than reverence for the past there are cigarette butts and souvenir stands.

There seems to be a cavalier attitude toward the site. Stones lay about, plastic mesh fences defined areas, weeds have taken root in dirt piles and people stand on carved stones to take photos. These stones were once adorning buildings with Fleur-de-leis or flowers or faces and people just walk on them.

The Coliseum itself has huge cracks and is peppered with holes. I supposed we’d know more about it if we had taken the tour but we had little time so we didn’t go in. Most others didn’t walk around outside. Who knows which of us missed more.

An American woman asked if we were American or British. The British never hire guides but Americans sometimes do in her experience. She knows the history of the area she called the center of the world. She said that she only spoke 4 languages so was limited in her opportunities but has been speaking of the history of Rome for 30 years, smoking cigarettes when not employed.

To say she seemed unhappy would be kind. She said that most of the visitors were “garbage” and her meager living disappointing. We disappointed her further by leaving her puffing on her cigarette, leaning against a broken wall.

We walked around and found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we ate kabobs. The owner knew English and recited his extensive vocabulary – yogurt, spicy, tomato, cheese, pizza, chicken. After that we took the metro back to the Pyramid station. We passed a spider web dress that Emilie might have liked and took photos of teeny, tiny Smart cars.

There’s a pyramid in Rome. Did you know? It’s not as large as an Egyptian pyramid but it’s the size of a building and it protects what looks like a cemetery. When we left the Coliseum we took the metro back to the pyramid stop so took a short excursion around the area. The cemetery behind the pyramid was locked but through the fence we could see piles of bricks and piles of dirt and plastic mesh fences. Orange plastic mesh fences will now make me think of Rome.

From the metro stop we need the train back to the airport so we wound our way through tunnels looking for it. There was one little airplane sign and then there were no more and we were “lost” in a gentle sense of the word so I asked a man who had the misfortune of standing still and he showed me an electric signboard that flashed the name of the airport and track 12. Back on our way, we climbed onto the train, a smooth riding transport with a welcomed toilet. (A mystery toilet. I couldn’t see how to flush it. My apologies to Rome.)

We were a little later getting back to the airport than we planned because I got us off at the wrong stop so we had to sit in the windy station for 15 minutes for the next train. No matter though. The flight to Budapest was delayed too so we were fine.

We arrived late and the ATMs were out of money. I changed some money getting 177 Hungarian units per $. Em and Josh had gotten 211 per $ last year. We took the mini bus to the hotel and intending to get a fresh start the next day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love the cheese horse in the photo.