16 December - Counting To 11

We were up just after 07:00 today.  Justin saw it was supposed to be dry until about 10:00, so he decided to head out early to do some sightseeing.  Crystal did some laundry and studied for her Hungarian lesson.  Justin’s walk was similar to the one the night before, this time starting at the top of the Spanish Steps (just 2-3 minutes from our hotel), down to Trevi Fountain, west to the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and Campo di Fiori, then southeast to Altare della Patria (Mussolini’s “Alter to the Fatherland”), Trajan’s Column, the Colosseum, and then back to the hotel - again it took about two hours total.  

Very few people were out and about, except for a large gathering that looked to be some sort of rally or protest by the Altare della Patria.  One of the people that was out and about, and Justin saw at both the Pantheon and at Piazza Navona, was a woman wearing a bright pink “outfit” (we’re not sure what exactly to call it) and was getting her picture taken by a photographer.  She ended up in a couple of our shots (see the one of the Pantheon below).  At Campo di Fiori, Justin wanted to get some photos of the creepy statue in the middle of the square, but it was complicated by the fact that there was a farmer’s market being set up.  At first he thought all the fruit stands and hustle and bustle would make the statue look less imposing, but instead it had the opposite effect.

We didn’t read about the statue until after we returned home, but we should have - here is a snippet of a write-up on Atlas Obscura:

[I]n the center of the square is a tall plinth topped with the grim brass statue of Giordano Bruno, a 16th century friar and philosopher who was burned at the stake for his forward-thinking.  Bruno was a Dominican friar during the 1500s whose big ideas about the nature of the universe led to his public execution.  Despite his training as a member of the Catholic order, Bruno came to believe that the universe was infinite and that there were multiple important worlds, all of which were equally overseen by an aspect of God.  Of course the ruling church of the time branded Bruno a heretic and held a trial that took seven years to complete.  Finally on February 17, 1600 Bruno, who never recanted on his beliefs, was led into the Campo de’ Fiori with a spike thrust through his tongue.  At the request of Cardinal Bellarmine he was burned at the stake and his ashes were cast into the nearby river Tiber, creating a controversial proto-martyr for the scientific revolution.  Witnesses wrote that before the fire was lit he refused to kiss a crucifix, preferring to die a martyr in the hopes that the flames carry his soul into heaven.  In 1889 the current monument to the philosopher was erected, with the robed figure of Bruno facing the Vatican. Church officials rankled at the clear offense, but could not get the statue removed.

Built facing the Vatican…damn, that’s gangsta.  There was a large traffic circle to the north of Altare della Patria, and Justin was apprehensive of crossing the street in the crosswalk, but we’d learned that cars don’t stop for apprehensive people, they stop for people walking assertively, so he just went for it.  Around the Colosseum he found the meeting spot for our tour later in the day, right by the Metro station.  They’re trying to install a new Metro line, but no one thinks it will ever be completed, because invariably everywhere they dig, they find ancient Roman ruins.

When Justin returned to the hotel, it had just begun to rain, so the timing was good, but we were both bummed out that it was raining yet again, particularly since we knew we were going to be outside for our tour in just a couple hours.  Crystal’s Hungarian lesson was still going when Justin returned, so he grabbed breakfast at the hotel, just before breakfast ended.  He saw Dewey and Clarita as they headed out - they were going to do some sightseeing as they leisurely made their way down to the meeting spot for our tour. 

After Crystal’s class ended, we did the same.  We asked the hotel if the umbrellas we saw right by the front door were for community use, and they said yes.  So we each took an umbrella, just in case, knowing it was going to be a pain to carry around, but knowing it would probably be worse to not have one.  On our walk, we needed the umbrellas only intermittently.  We went past the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Altare della Patria - Justin showed Crystal how to walk right in front of hundreds of cars without being killed.  We got to the meeting spot just before 11:15, and Dewey and Clarita were already there. 

Just a minute or two later our guide (Lorita?) showed up.  Besides us and Dewey and Clarita, there were 7 other people.  There was a family of 6 from Oregon, and then 1 guy from Seattle.  The family was a nuclear family of 5 - a teenage son, a teenage daughter, and an 11 year old son.  There was also a Grandmother, but we couldn’t discern whose mother she was.  They were nice enough people, but not a great group to be on a tour with.  We started our tour at the Forum and Palatine Hill.  It was helpful to have a guide, because most of the objects, aside from a couple of the intact columns, are only partial remains, so having someone explain things helps you understand how what you see fit into the overall layout two millennia ago.  

Every time it stopped raining, it started again two minutes later, almost making it worse than if it just continually rained.  And even if it’s raining “just a little bit”, a little bit rainy is like a little bit pregnant - it’s 0% or 100%.  You can use your camera or you cannot.  People all around you have their umbrellas open or not.  We were far beyond irritated at this point, and had progressed to disgust and hate.  It wasn’t helping that the Oregon group kept wandering off, making Lorita constantly count to 11.  We think by the end of the day we learned how to count to 11 as well.

The sun came out as we went up to Palatine Hill.  We heard, and then saw, a group of parrots in some of the pine trees.  Lorita told us that pine trees are basically sacred in Italy, and that it is illegal to cut them down.  She also reminded us that pesto sauce comes from crushed pine nuts, so seeing all the pine trees made that more real to us.  Around one of the ancient palatial estates on Palatine hill, we saw a giant rabbit, perhaps the biggest we’ve ever seen.  It reminded us of the viscachas we saw in Bolivia.  We learned that one of the hills in the area, Capitoline Hill, eventually gave rise to the word “capitol”, as the Latin word “Capitolium” referred to the Temple of Jupiter on Capitoline Hill, and that Latin word eventually made its way into several other languages, including English.

After leaving Palatine Hill we walked southeast to the Colosseum.  By this point it had “mostly” stopped raining.  At the Colosseum, we got a different guide, Dario, and our group of 11 was combined with another for the underground tour.  Several months ago we tried to book the underground tour, but they had already sold out for the dates we’d be in Rome.  But when we actually got around to booking stuff last month, all of a sudden it was available, so we booked it immediately.  Because the tour is so popular, and so restrictive, we had to purchase non-refundable tickets, and also agree to a fixed time, over which we had no control.  This was why our tour started at 11:30, which otherwise we never would have chosen.

The underground tour was great.  Dario told us about the specific halls and tunnels we were walking through, and what purpose they served, and how they were specifically designed for that purpose.  For example, he showed us several recesses in the walls that served as cages for the animals.  Next to the cages was a very narrow hallway, and Dario explained it was purposely narrow, such that when the cage door was opened, the animal could go only one way, and didn’t have space to turn around.  He then pointed to above us, and explained how there were trap doors in the floor of the Colosseum (which was wooden), and explained how levers were used to raise and lower the trap doors.

For this explanation, and many other items, Dario repeatedly mentioned the movie “Gladiator” being inaccurate, but in our opinion, compared to most “based on a true story…” movies, Gladiator actually seemed pretty factually accurate as to how shows at the Colosseum transpired.  After finishing the underground portion of the tour we went into the seating area, and got a tour from above ground, where we could better make out the structure of the underground tunnels.  Thankfully it was not raining when we were walking around inside the Colosseum.

Dario explained how the Colosseum came to be called the Colosseum.  We don’t remember all of the details, but we think it all stemmed from Nero being an asshole.  Apparently he built a huge Palatial estate, and included among the various buildings was a giant bronze statue of himself.  After Nero died, and after Rome started losing power, influence, and people, a lot of the history was forgotten, including the original name of the Colosseum, and people referred to it as the Colosseum because of its proximity to the “colossal” statue next door.

All told, the total time of our tour was on the order of 4 hours.  After the tour ended, we split up from Dewey and Clarita.  We walked back towards the Pantheon.  While entry was theoretically free, entry on Saturday and Sunday required some sort of an appointment time, so we figured if we went today we could avoid that.  The Pantheon survived all these years because it became a church after Rome converted to Christianity, and thus wasn’t destroyed like other “pagan” buildings.  It was crazy to think the dome has been in the same spot for almost 2000 years now.  [On this note, it came out just after the trip that the Roman concrete had a special preparation that led to a stronger and longer-lasting material, which perhaps explains things.]  The hole at the top of the dome is still open (no glass or plastic), so the center of the room was closed off and was draining rainwater.

After the Pantheon we went to Campo di Fiori, then Piazza Navona, and then went by a store Crystal was interested in that was by the Spanish Steps.  At this point we were near the hotel room, so we just dropped off Justin’s giant camera bag (pointless to have in the rain), and then went out again.  We had Happy Hour at Klass - 10 euros each for a drink plus some snacks (cold cuts, cheese, olives, arugula).  It was nice to finally sit down - Crystal had walked about 9 miles so far today, and Justin about 15 miles.  Whilst enjoying our drinks and food, we researched potential Argentine places for Sunday, but all were slated to be closed until dinner, or closed altogether because it was a Sunday.  Our Happy Hour was nice, save for a loud British guy a few tables over; we could hear everything he said (whilst understanding only about 75% of it because of the accent), yet couldn’t hear anything his girlfriend said.

We got back around 18:45, and Justin got around to doing his laundry, and Crystal did some Hungarian vocabulary lessons.  At 19:20, we met Dewey and Clarita to head over to dinner, just two blocks away.  The restaurant, Colline Emiliane, looked great, but was sadly completely booked, and not just for tonight, but for a couple of weeks.  So we proceeded to Plan B, Hostaria Romana, just another block or two away.  It was sadly packed as well.  Plan C was also nearby, Sacro e Profano.  They could seat us outside, and while we weren’t thrilled with the prospect of that, we decided not to tempt fate and spin our wheels for another hour, so we sat down outside.  The server told us that the inside was largely taken up by a group of 18 that was about to get seated.  Well, they did, but not before they all came outside to smoke just a few feet from our table as we tried to enjoy our food and drink.

Clarita got pulpo and Dewey got suplí (which our guide had told us about earlier in the day), cheese ravioli, and lamb chops.  Crystal got squash blossoms and a margherita pizza.  Justin got amatriciana pasta and then saltimbocca.  For the first time on the trip we finally heard “Last Christmas.”  On previous trips we seemingly heard it multiple times a day, yet this trip we hadn’t heard it at all.  It started raining again during dinner, but at least we were under an awning.  We really hoped tomorrow would be dry. The food and drink was great, but our conversation went sideways at the end, perhaps because of the great drinks, who knows.  We were discussing, in the context of a larger conversation about some potentially troubling revelations about distant family members, how people want to believe the best about people, and will ignore anything that conflicts with that belief.  We just nodded our head, bit our tongues, and waited for the subject to change.  We got back to the hotel around 22:00, opened up the bottle of wine that we’d been given in Florence, and drank through it in the hopes our blood pressure would go back down.

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