PREVIOUSLY ON ‘A TRAIL OF BREADCRUMBS’…
So our schedule was this: Saturday-Tuesday in Florence, Tuesday-Friday in Rome, overnight train to Milan to spend our Saturday urban camping before our overnight bus back to Strasbourg. We finished up Wednesday last time, where I hinted at a complication involving Nicole’s health following my own iffy spell: we hadn’t exactly been treating our bodies right, sightseeing and budget taking precedence over such trifles as, you know, nutrition and sustenance. But while a solid dinner and a good night’s sleep healed me up good and proper, Nicole woke feeling unwell. I’m sorry to say I brushed off her first complaints with a “You’ll be fine once we’re up and about,” but it was more than that: Nicole was ill for real, not just queasy.
Back when we’d booked hostels, we’d left our last night in Rome unbooked, anticipating that we might want to move to somewhere nearer our station of departure. So, on Wednesday evening we’d debated the idea, and eventually decided to stay put. This turned out to be a really good decision, given the state Nicole was in the next morning – but while at least we didn’t have to locate and move to a different hostel, our delay in confirming the extra night had meant that we had to switch rooms at Peter Pan. While our new room was cleaned up after old guests and our old room was cleaned up for new guests, we had nowhere for Nicole to lie down and have any sort of privacy. I begged the hostel owner to let us move in early, but he did one better: upgraded us to a private room at no extra cost! We gratefully moved our stuff in and started in on damage control.
I ran to the pharmacy and grabbed Nicole some pills for what the man thought sounded like a 72-hour stomach bug that was doing the rounds. Given that for us, the next 72 hours were set to include the main attractions of Rome, two overnight forms of transport and a day lugging our bags around Milan… well, let’s just say we were praying for a much speedier recovery, which is why I refused to let Nicole try to venture into town in the afternoon when she insisted she was feeling a little better. Our Roma passes expired on sick-day, but as I pointed out, the 12€ it’d cost us to get in to the ruins without the passes would be nothing compared with what it would cost to rearrange our travel plans if Nicole jeopardised her recovery by overdoing it. This turned out to be another good call as she, too, had made a full recovery by morning after all, and not only did we make it out to the ruins we’d been so keen on seeing, but when Nicole made a last-ditch effort to use her expired Roma Pass, it somehow worked and we got in everywhere for free after all! Major advantage of travelling with New York Nicole: she gets what she wants. Stick with her, and you will too ;)
The thing that struck me most about the Forum was how casual a space it was: tons of people were there just hanging out, enjoying the sunshine and taking a walk through the centre of the ancient civilisation of thousands of years ago. I gave up trying to imagine emperors and centurions and toga-clad citizens navigating the same space in a different age, and just marvelled instead at how close you could get to the structures and how some of the inscriptions in the stone were still so clearly legible.
It took us a long time to see what we did of the Forum, and I don’t even know how close we were to seeing all of it. We didn’t get a guided tour, which I’d definitely do if I went back with a few more Euros in my pocket, but it’s not a regret because we simply couldn’t afford such luxuries. We managed to eavesdrop on a group or two and catch a couple of comments about the architecture, but mostly we just gawped ignorantly at everything, in awe of the historical significance we knew was there, even if the ins and outs of it were fuzzy. A tour would have been a nice extra, but I don’t think that not having one necessarily detracted from the experience, so I think we were both pretty happy with how it worked out :)
Next, we wandered out to the Coliseum, passing on our way all the funny Italian men dressed up as Roman soldiers and calling out to get your photo taken with them. I just could not stop giggling as we walked past centurion after centurion shouting ‘Photo! Get a photo with me!’ and making ridiculous poses next to the girls who had a higher threshold for embarrassment than I. We must have walked past at least two dozen of the soldiers, and it didn’t get less funny each time, not at all. In fact, is it bad that I don’t regret not getting guided tours but a part of me does kind of regret not getting a photo with a centurion? Oh well, next time perhaps ;)
Anyway, centurions aside, the exterior of the Coliseum was awe-inspiring enough: in fact, my favourite photographs are definitely the ones we took from the outside. But of course you can’t travel to Rome and visit the Coliseum without going inside: especially if your not-technically-valid Roma pass miraculously still grants you free entry. (Our passes had registered as invalid a couple of times before though, even while they were well within the time limit, so our theory was that the magnetic strips are widely known to be faulty, and that’s why none of the guards bat an eyelid when the passes don’t scan correctly. Handy hint if you’re visiting Rome: even once your pass is expired, it’s worth a try!).
Once inside, we were tourless once again, but even so the age of the place pressed down upon us. We guessed at what all the levels and balconies had been for, speculated over where Caesar would have done the thumb thing, took our goofy pictures and inhaled a LOT of dust, before heading out to the Sant’Eustachio café for Rome’s best cup of coffee to try and defeat the dwindling of our energy.
Even after the coffee, the enthusiastic sightseeing part of the day was decidedly behind us, so we stopped past a couple of the other really big sites without really paying that much attention: the Piazza Navona with its impressive fountain and quirky street performers, and the Pantheon with Raphael’s grave nestled quietly inside. A short stroll through Trastevere and a drop-in on an Italian Mass later, we made our way back to the hostel to collect our bags before dinner and departure.
As we were heading out the door of our hostel, though, the hostel owner who had helped out so much with Nicole the previous day had some things to say: in a nutshell, he was in awe of the empathy and kindness I’d shown to my friend, and that not only was he jealous of Nicole (who, let’s not forget, just spent 16 hours with a horrible Italian stomach bug) for having me as a friend, but he also told me with a hint of sadness that whomever I end up marrying will be a very lucky man (this after he spotted the scarf I was working on and realised I had wife-skills too).
So, there are your Rome antics, and on that note I’ll conclude that Hostel Peter Pan’s owner, if slightly forward, was also extremely dedicated to making sure his guests got the best they could out of their stay there. We departed after a great meal in town, during which I began feeling inexplicably woozy and had to check the label of the cough syrup I’d bought to treat a cough which, in hindsight, was probably caused by a simple overexposure to ancient dust. As I pored over the instruction manual and wondered aloud what the Italian was for ‘may cause drowsiness’, Nicole pointed out the label on the box which said sedativo in large letters I had apparently still managed to ignore. Whoops!
(We ended up having the cough syrup for dessert on the train to help us sleep through the journey, and I have to say it worked like a charm! Not that I would ever encourage self-medication of such kind. Say no to drugs, kids.)
Last instalment of the Italy diaries coming soon! Until then, all the best :)