Day 43 - Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trastevere, Trevi Fountain
We checked into Hotel Della Vittorie the night before and had a pizza picnic sitting on top of the bed. The next morning is sunny and hot. In front of the Lepanto Metro station, there's rows and rows of parked scooters. Rob tells me about scooter drive-bys and the mafia. The metro in Rome is dirty, covered in soot, and every inch of the train carriages are graffitied. I clutch my shoulder bag with maximum pickpocketing paranoia.
Emerging in front of the Colosseum is thrilling. The experience is barely marred by paying 4 euros for two small bottles of water. Later, we spot the water spouts everywhere where water is free. Nine years ago, I didn't bother going into the Colosseum because of the line. This time, we've bought a Roma Pass and that means we get to skip the line like giddy kids. We're funnelled into the grandeur of this stately and imposing pile of bricks and marble. This building is so stirring even with scaffolding scarring the outside. I wonder why this archeological sight is still so exciting centuries after it stopped being used for the function it was built.
Exiting the Colosseum, I buy possibly the worst postcard ever of four Popes superimposed over St Peter's and Papa Francesco releasing doves with a gleeful look on his face. It costs a crippling 2.50 euros to send to New Zealand.
I get bad tempered inside the Roman Forum. It's as messy and confusing a pile of stones as ever. The scaffolding that's there now gives it an eau de building site as opposed to an archaeological wonder. I give Rob my ratings. "2 is the Citadel in Amman. 10 is Pompeii. 6 for Jerash. This place is a 2.5 or a 3."
Everyone is gawking at the scant remains of the Vestal Virgin digs and temple. All the tour groups have stopped there. The guides give the same tired and mildly titillating script for the place. In fact, I still remember our tour guide giving me the same old facts. My take? Vestal Virgin job description: Tend fire. Stay a virgin. The end.
The Palatine Hill museum is tidy, compact, and full of beautiful statues and marbles. Rob walks in and says, "So this is where they keep the good stuff." Indeed. There's a line to the bathrooms that rivals the one in the Colosseum. I hear one lady ask someone, "Can you tell me what is in there?" She's told, "Toilet."
I spend a while sitting on a casually fallen column writing my postcards, overlooking the ruins of a Roman emporers' grand residence. People chuck bits of a ham sandwich into the mouth of a huge bird with big beady amber eyes. He's posing in a very imperial manner against a view of the Roman Forum down below. I pout when I realise you have to buy an extra ticket to get into Livia's palace. An extra ticket that we don't appear to have.
It's 3 pm by the time the Roman Forum chews us up and spits us out. We haven't eaten since breakfast and there are no snacks in my bag. I swear to never ever leave home without snacks again. Thank goodness there's a food cart right outside the exit. We Hulk Smash through a pack of San Carlo Dixi chips plus substandard gelatos while wandering towards Trajan's Column and the Vittorio Emanuelle II monument. I still remember our tour guide calling it a "wedding cake" in a not-so-nice way.
We sit on the steps outside the monument and look out towards Piazza Venezia. It's basically a grand roundabout. To the left, there's a museum which used to be a Renaissance Palace. Mussolini delivered speeches from the balcony there. There's some weak but free wi-fi on these steps and I use the opportunity to Instagram. An eagle-eyed Canadian girl from Montreal spots me and asks if she can borrow the wifi. She was supposed to meet her host from Couchsurfers an hour ago and he hasn't showed. She sends him a message from Facebook while we chat. In a couple of days, her four month holiday from Canada to Europe will be over and she's not sure what she's going to do. We show each other pictures of our dogs. Her Couchsurfer host still hasn't turned up by the time we catch a bus to Trastevere.
Now, it makes perfect sense to us to get off at the bus stop called "Trastevere". We walk up a dirty and unremarkable street lined with equally unremarkable apartment buildings. Lonely Planet lured us to Trastevere with words like "lively" and "cobbled lanes" and "picturesque". This road is the exact opposite of those adjectives. We take a packed tram back towards Piazza Venezia. Rob squashes an old lady's finger and she tells him off in a totally unnecessary way. I mutter, "Rude old lady" but she doesn't understand. Rob says, "I spot cobbled lanes!" and with relief, we get off and go cobbled-lane spotting.
Lonely Planet wasn't lying. What it should have said though was stick to the beginning of Via Trastevere and no further. There's not a cobbled lane to be seen up there. Along the windy back roads, there's music spilling out into the air. Dusk falls. A piazza opens out in front of us and we collapse onto seats outside the first cafe that serves wine. Yes, Caffe di Marzio is touristy and yes, it's a little more expensive that it should be. But it is perfectly placed for people watching. Two bands take turns to serenade everyone, there's a shadow puppet show, and a guy makes graffiti art with spray paint and blasts of flames. A gorgeous Byzantine church peppered with golden mosaics glints across the piazza. In the centre, there's a cute little fountain. Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere is a perfectly Italian place to spend a few hours people watching, drinking red wine, and eating bruschetta, zucchini flowers, and ravioli.
We should have stopped there. However, I'm an overachiever. I wanted to outdo this perfect little piazza moment. I thought that seeing the Trevi Fountain at night would be the ultimate one-upper. We go back and forth on the tram for a bit because the wine dulled our map reading skills. We get to the Trevi Fountain eventually. Friends, the Fountain is dry. It is completely obscured by scaffolding. All the lights are out. No one is home. The signs say "Please don't throw coins from the walkway." Don't throw coins?! How are people going to come back to Rome?! Riddle me that! I make Rob throw a coin in anyway.
As people approach the fountain, I can see their Trevi Fountain dreams dying on their faces. It's pretty sad if it wasn't a little funny. To console ourselves, we eat more substandard gelato. Guys, avoid all gelato around main tourists sites.
Then, hoping against hope, I forget all common sense and believe that the guy selling roses is gonna give me some for free. He basically thrusts it in my arms and suddenly, I'm holding three roses. It's like Blink and OH you're holding roses! I say, "For free?" And he's like Yes it's for you. Happy marriage. Blessings from the Trevi fountain. Then he looks at Rob. No, it's not really free. Rob laughs in his face but gives him 2 euro. I refuse to reward bald-faced capitalist emotional blackmail and give him back his unwanted roses. He tries to get me to keep one. I don't want it because he's a naughty rose seller and drop it on the ground. Everyone looks down at it for a moment like, This is awkward.
In the end, I pick it back up because it's a 2 euro rose. Then I rant about how that experience was entirely uncalled for and make empty threats to no one in particular about reporting him to the police. Rose selling dude, just sell some simits or something. That's honest work. Rob says, "Why would you think it's free?" And I reply hotly, "Because this isn't Jordan." So, the night ends not with a perfect piazza moment, but with a big fat Trevi fountain fail and an encounter with the red rose mafia. Que sera sera.