A rollercoaster of Rome

Our final day in Rome turns out to be a bit of a mixed bag. I’ve already declared my undying love for Rome and am really looking forward to returning, this time on a (hopefully) quieter weekday to check out the Colosseum, amongst other things.

Today is the day I learn just how much I have grown to love our morning routine. It begins when Zaza wakes up for a feed and doesn’t go back off to sleep again, usually around 7, but if we’re lucky, 8 or 9, then is followed by Marie getting ready and taking Zaza out with her to the bakery to buy breakfast pizza slices while I have a nice relaxing shower or bath, we then have breakfast downstairs together and get ready to go out about 11am…lovely and relaxing, really sets me up for the day and helps me recover from what might have been a challenging night.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Starting the day at 6am then unknowingly grabbing another nap while Marie plays with Zaza, who also falls back to sleep, to wake up at 9am with only 20 minutes to get ready and leave is NOT the same and apparently puts me in a ‘got out the wrong side of bed’ mood for the day. Poor Marie! I pretty much snapped about something, apologised about that, was fine for 30 minutes or so and repeat the whole day through, however hard I try I can’t quite shake it off. To make matters worse, Rome is no quieter on a Tuesday than a Saturday and much of our day is spent trying to appease me by escaping the crowds (leading to quite a bit of time feeling pretty lost down quiet side streets).

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There’s also hiding from crowds in churches…

However, it’s still pretty wonderful. We get lucky with parking and manage to grab a croissant and drink at the bar where we buy our train tickets, comfortably making it in time for the 9:40am train to Rome. Upon arrival, we head straight for the Colosseum, arriving directly opposite it and I’m immediately awestruck by its size. Three arches high and as broad as any stadium I’ve ever seen, it leaves me wondering how it would feel to be a Roman attending an event here. We’re not alone though- throngs of tourists fill the pavement and every three or four steps there’s a guide trying to persuade us to miss the queues by taking a tour with them and going through the special tour guide entrance. I lose patience a little bit with politely declining everyone and soon realise that ‘we’re not wanting to go inside thanks’ is the quickest way to get rid of them. It’s true too, once we’ve seen the extent of the queues.

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Instead, we opt for a good look at a nearby archway, wondering what it’s commemorating and guessing its celebrating a Roman win against some Barbarians in battle, and enjoy walking on what our guidebook claims to be ‘the oldest road you will ever walk on’. We also take a good walk around the perimeter of the Colosseum, having a peek through the arches inside and seeing it from every angle. The outer walls have several layers to them, much of them destroyed in previous earthquakes, so going all around it is pretty cool to see the different layers of the construction. This is also where I discover I’ve failed to dress myself and am walking around in a vest top turned inside out, a problem I’m stuck with until we find a lunch venue a good hour or two later and definite evidence that a rushed start to the day is not a good start to the day.

After this, we head South to the Testacchio neighbourhood for lunch, previously where the main slaughterhouses were in Rome, and now remaining famous for its food made with off cuts of meat. In particular, I’m searching for another oxtail stew, this time with a sauce which includes chocolate and pine nuts. Marie’s unsurprised to learn I’ve previously googled ‘best oxtail stew in Rome’ and have a particular restaurant in mind. My plan to find it though- tube to the neighbourhood and then wander around- is less than ideal and we’re soon using Google Maps to get there…20 minutes later, via a peek around a lovely looking deli I’d also read about, we reach a very closed looking restaurant. After all our efforts I’m keen for it not to be for nothing and hopefully smile at the guy I can see in the kitchen. To my relief, he comes to the door…to point at the opening hours sign concealed inside the restaurant, which states they are open daily for lunch and dinner…Marie clarifies with him; they are not open for lunch today.  Damn….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fail now continues, with a stop in a nearby park while I research oxtail stew again to see where else we can go. This is proving frustrating and lengthy and in the end I give up, opting for a restaurant I’ve read about on another website outlining highlights of this neighbourhood and we head off again with the help of Google maps to find it, detouring through the local covered market full of street food snack bars where we pass a group having a foodie tour of the area, and then incorrectly into an area full of nightclubs and evening bars, looking decidedly drab in the daylight. At this point Zaza decides she has had enough and after finding another map to get there, we use all we have to placate her for the last few minutes of the journey.

We do find the restaurant though and the food is pretty good. To our surprise, as we arrive, none other than Rick Steve, the author of our guidebook, is leaving the very same restaurant. Some American tourists have spotted him and are talking to him excitedly in the doorway (which if I’m honest is how we realise, I think we’d have walked straight passed him unaware otherwise). They are busy getting selfies and autographs, and Eliza is still hangry, so after a brief hello and ‘oh we’re using your guidebook too!’ and of course a coo of Eliza, we pass through and take our seat.

The oxtail stew is pretty good and Marie enjoys her meal too, which is good because what follows this is a looong wait at a nearby bus stop to try to get back to the central area, some confusion about where to get off and then a lot of walking around quiet side streets, doing our best to avoid other people, cars and mopeds, while I fail to drink from a water fountain and later cheer myself up with ice cream (it’s very effective).

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These not very well endowed guys enjoying a spot of “throw the tortoise and step on the dolphin”…

After quite some time wandering, we find our way to the giant Piazza Navona, admire the fountains while Eliza has some milk and visit the church there, with a decoration behind the altar that to me feels like a tribute to St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, with its gold cloud and sunshine rays and image of the barley sugar black columns. From here we head to the Pantheon and Marie enjoys a beer on a terrace while I go and visit the Pantheon- a now church, with a perfectly round roof and tomb of Raphael.

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In the late afternoon we have planned to revisit Trevi fountain, hoping it will be quieter than during our previous visit. This doesn’t quite turn out to be the case, but we head down to the side of the fountain nonetheless and enjoy sitting right next to the pale turquoise water, admiring the statues, while the people next to us delight in showing Eliza the falling sand image on the back of their phone.

On the way to Trevi I’m somehow feeling a renewed sense of energy, having spent much of the day away from the crowds, and decide I would like to see inside the Colosseum after all. Great timing- we have 40 minutes until last entry and we’re a fair distance from it; cue quick march through one of the busiest parts of Rome to get there in 20 minutes flat, considerably hot and bothered, but fortunately rewarded with no pestering from tour guides and no queue at all to get in- perfect! It looks even better in the late afternoon light too, and there’s lots to see and learn about inside.

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Through the entrance and up some steps, we find ourselves in the main arena. The edges are covered in small cave like constructions and initially I’m pretty confused, until Marie points out some seating- it seems like most of the seating has eroded away and what’s left is the construction underneath. Below us is a bit of stage and below the stage, the tunnels where the animals, slaves and gladiators would have been, prior to entering the stadium.

For me, the most interesting bit was seeing this alongside some of the descriptions of previous events held here. One plaque described a 100 day long festival of executions, gladiatorial games (battles) and battles between animals involving 10,000 gladiators and 11,000 animals in total. Another outlined the fate of the gladiators and the profitable market of gladiator blood, which was mopped up and sold to members of the public to drink, believed to be protective against epilepsy. Similarly macabre was the inclusion of prisoners’death sentences in the spectacle, with them being devoured by animals or burnt to death in front of the 70,000 strong crowd! Beside it was a replica (the original now safely housed in a museum) of carved stone found in the colosseum depicting some of the gladiator battles that took place here. On an aside, the events held in the Colosseum were all free to watch and funded by the Emperor, whose role it was to arrange the whole event including sourcing all the gladiators and animals.

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After a good walk round and several pauses at good view points, it’s time to move on. Sadly the phone has died so Marie’s plan to google ‘best pizza in Rome’ bites the dust. I vaguely remember reading about one such place in a review of the Campo di Fiori area, so we have a fairly convoluted metro and bus journey to try to find this piazza. On route, Marie has extensive conversations with a lady at the bus stop who used to be a nursery nurse and is full of hints and tips for Zaza.

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Just as we’re moments away from the longed for Campo di Fiori, in pretty, lively streets with little shops, people hanging out and the occasional person weaving through on a moped (sometimes with a dog on board or some shopping between their feet), with washing hanging from above and pretty vines and pot plants around, we stumble upon a pizzeria Marie has read about and decide this is probably our best bet at good pizza in Rome. We manage to score ourselves an outside table, which is fortunate as Zaza is set on screaming all the way through dinner, before eventually zonking out asleep, after a lot of pacing up and down the street while we take it in turns to eat.

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The pizza is good though and once she is asleep, it’s a good time. I’m pretty relaxed and looking forward to finally checking out Campo di Fiori, while Marie is concerned about the time. Rightly so, as we discover it’s 9pm already and our final train leaves at 9:40pm from somewhere relatively far away from our current location, which is frustratingly far from any public transport options. I’m persuaded that we can’t get there any other way but via taxi and we find a stand and discuss whether we can take one with Eliza, who is contentedly snug in a sling on my front. They assure us that this is fine and we all make it safely to the station, pretty exhausted from our day.

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