Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cruise Day 5: Roma.

Rome pics HERE.

This (along with Venice) was the expected highlight of this cruise for me. We again had to decide between one of the ship’s sanctioned tours or activities and just going it on our own. We prefer the latter, but Rome is one of those places where the things to see so vastly overwhelm the time available that SOME prioritization is necessary. The organized tours are one way to cram several high-priority sites into a short span of time, but 1) they tend to be expensive, and 2) they necessitate seeing the sites with a throng of cruise ship denizens. On the other hand, these sites will inevitably be crammed anyway, and the cruise ship tours generally let you skip lines and wander right in.

We are returning to Rome for another day and a half after the cruise terminates in Venice, flying homeward out of Rome. So we decided to save the Vatican etc. for our return and to focus on the Colosseum and the next-door Forum for our present day’s activities.  So we bypassed the Holland America sanctioned tours (and also their $100-a-person transport bus—since Civitavecchia is about 90 minutes from Rome proper) and opted instead for the $15 all-you-can-ride train pass. And as we were buying that we saw that, for another $20 or so, we could also get a no-wait ticket for the Colosseum and the Forum. Just what we had wanted! 

It was another of those days where I find myself emerging from a strange train (the Italian trains, while punctual, were hot and crowded and not very pleasant) in a strange, fabulous city with seemingly the whole world at my fingertips. Asking directions to the Colosseum from a tour guide in the Termini, she replied “Outside and keep going downhill.” The city was warm and crowded and chaotic—just my thing. Everything is old and slightly decrepit, and the ruins, which take up a lot of space, just spring up on you. Suddenly you look down a side street and find your view blocked… by the frickin’ Colosseum! How cool is that?

We made our way down the streets that, in some form, had to have funneled people to this site for thousands of years, past street hawkers and men dressed as gladiators selling photo ops. Thanks to our passes, we just bypassed a milling crowd of thousands and walked almost straight in. I couldn’t help thinking “Lambeau Field” as we walked the vaulted passages beneath the seating risers; the purpose of the place, as with the Greek theatres we saw a couple years back, is unmistakeable. People gathered here in huge numbers to engage in a collective event. And the size of the place really takes the breath away, especially given the time in history when it was made. Much of what we see today is crumbling, and there has been a lot of restoration. But it’s still spooky-old. We stopped by the bookstore for a couple things, one book specifically about the Colosseum and another about ancient Rome generally.

From there we walked next door to the Forum. I expected (having done very little research) that the Forum was a single thing—a site or a building or whatever; a locale for some purpose. But it’s really more like a street with numerous structures along it. There has clearly been some restoration work on some things, but most of it is still bits and pieces of things sticking out of the ground. If anything, it seemed even more fascinating to me than the Colosseum because it was many things over a large area, even if no single thing holds a candle to the Colosseum.

It’s a bit like a big art museum in that I think one could profitably return numerous times with study in between and really learn things.

Walking through these two things, Colosseum and Forum, took us a good four-plus hours. And we walked from there back through the city to the train station and headed back to Civitavecchia and the ship. Fantastic day.

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