Monday, October 13, 2008

Italy Day 2: Roma: Paths of the Ancients

Note: This is part of an ongoing series of diary entries and photos from our trip to Italy this fall. You can see all the journal entries here
What an amazing day, about twelve hours of walking around and my feet are actually a bit sore. This morning we walked down to the Piazza Venezia with the gorgeous towering building with the statues of chariots on top, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Inside was a military museum, which we browsed through. Along the way, we stopped to watch a traffic cop in action on this amazingly chaotic multi-way intersection. It was like watching an orchestra conductor in the middle of a big symphony. We loved how he had everything from horses and carriages to the scooter mob to big buses to wave on through.

From there, we headed off to the Colosseum, but it was totally mobbed, so we diverted to the Palatine Hill. Near the Colosseum, Asa bought a bright green parasol, which she would end up carrying everywhere and loved dearly. Since she sunburns easily, that was a great purchase for her. I could've spent all day on the Palatino among the ruins and the cyprus trees. It was so peaceful, especially after the constant roar of Roma's traffic. There are so many different structures standing up here, from houses to athletic courts, things were built here then torn down and built over, repeatedly over the centuries.

From there we walked down the side of the hill to the Fora Romana and all of the amazing ruins there. One of the buildings there that was the most interesting was a church they built right onto a temple. This kind of recycling was common in ancient Rome. The Pantheon used to be a Roman temple, the marble from the Colisseum was carted off to use in other structures. Everything gets turned into something else, used for something else, or built over the top of. Of course, the kids were really enthralled with this little flourescent-spotted lizards that lived among the ruins, and we spent a good deal of time trying to catch one (they're much more devious than the blue-bellies that I have no trouble capturing back home), but at least I got a photo.

The kids enjoyed just walking among the ruins, and Mackenzie was especially taken with the fact that Julius Caesar's tomb is right there in the Forum Romanum, in a small stone hut. We stood there for quite awhile with sunlight streaming in upon the gravesite. It's one thing to read about Roman history, it's another thing to stand right there in the middle of where it all happened. Though the ruins are impressive, they're so...well...ruinous (and have been since before Alaric sacked the place), that it's hard to imagine what many of the buildings originally looked like. But to think that you're standing right next to the remains of Julius Caesar, I guess that makes it all a bit more real.

I think my favorite part of the Forum was probably the Temple of the Vestal Virgins. The reflective ponds are overgrown, and some of the statues are headless, but there's a peaceful, gardenlike feeling there and you can imagine how it might've looked in its day. Its overgrown with wild roses and asters.

On the way back to the apartment, we bought groceries at the nearest store on the way home. It's very different there from the big-box model of grocery stores that are more common in the U.S. The grocery stores in Roma have small storefronts, and then inside are like a little warren of rooms. One room is fruits and veggies, another room is crackers and cookies, another is the meat and cheeses, etc. You go through them in order, one leading to the next, and you pop out at the cash register, and when you exit the building, you're just next door to where you started.

At the apartment, it was time for dinner and a short nap. That's the nice thing about being really close to everything, since after dinner we took a stroll to the Trevi fountain, which is really pretty at night, and we got some gelato on the way back. The gelato place right around the corner from our apartment is wonderful, handmaking the gelato right there. They also have a small adorable fluffy dog that hangs out behind the counter, that Asa of course got to pet. Mackenzie cracked me up at the Trevi fountain by tossing his coin so enthusiastically over his shoulder that it bounced off an upper ledge and nearly hit him in the back of the head. Asa stood with her coin clutched in her hands and her eyes shut tight with such concentration that I could practically see her visualizing her farm with its stable of horses and 83 small fluffy dogs.

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