When in Rome

They say that all roads lead to Rome, and it must be true of train tracks, too. After a blissful and relaxing weekend in Florence, Leslie and I took yet another train south to Italy’s most famous city, home of gladiators, Catholicism, and the best gelato in the world.

Leslie: Rome is definitely a big city in every meaning. The hordes of people, the crowded public transportation, the rude people with less patience for tourists, higher prices for things, con men out for money etc… And yet there are some absolutely incredible things to see and experience here. I was surprised by the constant juxtaposition of old ruins with newer buildings. Practically everywhere we looked or walked there were more ruins to see, and they always had newer buildings built up around them. I’ve never experienced anything like the collision of ancient and contemporary found in Rome.

I think it goes without saying that our first stop of the day was the infamous Colosseum. It was also the first stop of the day for about a million other people, so it was very, very crowded. It was difficult to maneuver at times, especially around the best vantage points for taking pictures. But it was totally worth it, since the Colosseum is just as incredible as I imagined it would be. It’s an architectural marvel even in its ruinous state. Imagine what it would have been in its prime!

It was also very thought-provoking to stand in this place where thousands of people (50,000 at a time, to be exact[1]) came to watch men fight to the death. What a brutal pastime. And lest we think we’re more civilized than they, we must remember that 4 million people still visit this graveyard every year.[2]

Our tickets to the Colosseum were combined with entrance to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. In ancient times, the Forum was filled with important government offices, from which the entire Roman Empire was controlled and commanded. It was also home to a number of temples dedicated to Roman deities, including Castor and Pollux, Vespasian and Titus, Caesar, and Vesta. While some of the monuments are in remarkable good condition, others have been reduced to a handful of columns and rubble. Yet even the ruins were crowded and close, so it’s easy to imagine this space as the thriving hub of civilization that it once was.

Leslie: The Colosseum and Palatine Hill were highlights simply because they are so iconic. The Colosseum especially was incredible to see; just the sheer magnitude of the structure and the genius of the architecture. There was a lot of history to learn at the Colosseum and all of Palatine Hill that I wasn’t aware of before visiting.

  • The Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum
  • Official Site
  • Price: Adults €12
  • 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)
    Our Rating

Next to the Forum sits a large monument to Vittorio Emanuele Maria Alberto Eugenio Ferdinando Tommaso, the first king of a united Italy. Thankfully, the building is simply called Altare della Patria or Il Vittoriano, which is far easier to say than the Vittorio Emanuele Maria Alberto Eugenio Ferdinando Tommaso Monument. We didn’t really learn much about Signore Vittorio during our visit, but we did learn that you’re not allowed to sit on the front steps. Haha! The building had some exquisite architecture and provided us with an incredible view of the surrounding city.

Leslie: I really enjoyed this stop; it offers amazing views of the city skyline from both sides of the roof, and the plaques (for lack of a better word) showing the view we were currently looking at, with labels for all of the points of interest and ruins around the city. I thought that was really cool!

From there, we headed off in search of the Trevi Fountain. A Tasmanian couple we met at church in Florence had warned us that the fountain was undergoing renovations, but we still hoped to catch a glimpse of it, even if there was no water. And a glimpse was just about all we got—they had erected barricades around the fountain to hide the construction, and we could only see inside by waiting our turns to peek through gaps in the wall. I only managed to get one picture, but now I officially want a merpony. I mean, look at those flipper hooves. How cool would it be to swim around with a water horse?

Leslie: The Trevi Fountain is a beautiful piece of artwork, so it was disappointing that it was under construction and we didn’t get to see it in all its glory, but I’m glad we stopped by.

And while we didn’t get to see Trevi in all of its glory, we did get to see a lot of fun little details on the back streets and alleyways of Rome.

We also took more photos of ourselves here than anywhere else, because there were so many fun things to pose with. One of those pictures was not quite as fun as it looks, though.

While making our way toward the Pantheon, I spotted a street performer dressed as a Roman soldier. I jokingly whispered to Leslie, “I want a picture with the Roman,” and despite the fact that he was at least 150 feet away from us, he heard me. Those street artists have incredible hearing, I tell you what.

Anyways, he immediately turned around and made a b-line right for us. Uh oh…

“Come come come,” he said, “Let’s take a picture.” Despite my protests, he grabbed me and kissed my hand.

What the heck? I figured. Since we’re already posing, we might as well get a picture out of it, right?

So Leslie took a picture and we thought that was it. But noooooo. Then he took his sweaty helmet off and put it on Leslie’s head and made her pose, too, and then he made us pose together like Leslie was stabbing me with his fake plastic sword. And when it was all finally over, he leaned in real close and said, “Now pay.”

I fully anticipated that we would pay him, since it’s expected that you pay street artists and performers if you want a picture. We had our picture, so I was willing to pay him a few euros.

But then he said, “People usually pay twenty euros.”

I laughed outright. “I’m not giving you twenty euros, sorry. I’ll give you two.”

“No no no. At least fifteen.”

I held up a €2 coin. “You can have this, or I’ll delete the picture and walk away. It makes no difference to me.”

“Ten euros.”

“Two, or I walk away. Take it or leave it.”

And with that, he snatched the coin from my fingertips and stormed off. I still think €2 for 2 minutes of his time was pretty fair, considering €60/hour is more than I’ve ever made in my life…

Pro Tip
If you want to take pictures of/with street performers or artists, you need to be prepared to pay them. It is their livelihood, after all. That said, however, don’t let them push you around. As the spectator, it is your right to determine how much to give. Be generous, but don’t be a target.

Next, we headed to the Pantheon, a church that dates back to around 126 AD. It houses the tomb of Vittorio Emanuele Maria Alberto Eugenio Ferdinando Tommaso and the painter Raphael (among others), and it was built by Emperor Hadrian, the same guy responsible for the wall that I saw a lot of during grad school.

Leslie: The Pantheon is just plain cool! Pictures usually show it from the front, with the iconic portico and granite columns, but I love that the whole back side of the building is a huge rotunda with an incredible concrete dome that is open at the top, which lets in natural light in such a cool way.[3] I read online that the floor is slanted so that when rain gets inside, it drains itself (I wondered about that while we were there…)![4] Everything inside was gorgeous, from the colors and geometric patterns on the floor to the colors on the walls, and especially the square coffers in the dome. It was somehow both less ornate and garish than many other cathedrals we visited, yet also much more imposing and enjoyable for it.

No one is really sure what it’s made out of, but its surprisingly similar to our modern concrete despite the face that the structure predates concrete’s invention by 1,700 years. How cool is that?

Our last stop of the day was at Giolitti’s, a gelato shop that came highly recommended by my friends Nialah and Victoria—and just about anyone who has ever been to Italy ever.

Leslie: Best. Gelato. Ever! The location was great, the atmosphere was fun, the flavors were plenty, and each one was amazing.

Seriously the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. We loved it so much that after we explored the Vatican City and a little more of Rome a few days later, we went back for more.

Leslie: I’m so glad we went back a second time!

Stay tuned for our trip to the ill-fated city of Pompeii, and how we narrowly missed getting to see the Pope.

Read more about my adventure with Leslie here.

[1] Wikipedia: Colosseum

[2] Wikipedia: Tourism in Rome

[3] For a while, a “photo” of the “Lost Temple of Lysistrata” circulated around Pinterest, and despite the fact that it’s pretty easy to see that it’s a fake, a lot of people thought it was legit. As this article from Roadtrippers explains, the photomanipulation was created by combining a photo of Benagil Cave in Algarve, Portugal, and the Pantheon in Rome. If you’re using Pinterest to plan an exciting trip, make sure you verify that your destinations are real before you get your hopes up.

[4] Rome On Segway

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