We rose as early as we could and took the metro back down to the Colosseum stop first thing in the morning. By this time in our trip we were getting a little desperate. While I wanted to make sure we saw all the major sites of the city, of which there are so many, I really wanted to scratch the surface of Rome and dig deeper into the culture. I wanted an idea of how the city would have been during the time of my novel, the 1930s or even before. Difficult, I know, but I was convinced we weren’t doing everything we could to really get a sense of the city. This caused tension between us as Chris and I were quite stressed out and very tired by the third day. Not to mention, we had to leave for Athens late the next day and I couldn’t help but feel like we still hadn’t done enough.
After the insanely expensive tour of the Vatican, 90 Euro, we were wary when another person approached us at the Colosseum offering a tour. We did want a tour, I’ve been told it is much easier to see everything there is to see when you have a guide, but we didn’t want to get ripped off. This group, I can’t remember exactly but they had a very generic name, fit the bill. We joined the first group of the morning heading into the Colosseum and the price of the tour, this time much more reasonable around 30 Euro, included a later tour of Palatine hill.
A very educated and precise Italian man walked our small group around the Colosseum and talked about the diverse history of the awesome structure. He explained how gladiators fought and straightened out some historical inaccuracies from Hollywood portrayals of these fighters. For example, you might not know that the gladiators did not fight to the death. It was far too expensive to train and develop a good gladiator. They lost and won many fights during their careers and were allowed to retire after a certain amount of time. The crowds would vote on the fate of a loser after a fight or the emperor would decide. Also, a strict dress code was enforced for the visitors of the games. The wealthy had to wear white and the poor at the top seats would wear black. If a wealthy visitor came to sit down wearing the wrong color, they would direct them back outside to rent a white toga because they didn’t want the fighters distracted by a single person dressed in black in a sea of white. The money they spent just bringing exotic animals in to slaughter in the arena alone was shocking, millions of dollars by today’s standards. Needless to say, we took many pictures.
After the tour we walked around a bit and then joined the second part of our tour of the Palatine hill. This is right across the street from the Colosseum and where Rome was first founded. Lots of history, but in short, this is where all the extraordinary palaces for all the rulers of ancient Rome were built. The area fell into disuse and became a swamp for a long time till Napoleon started to have it cleared. Before this, people would dig it up to take the marbles and stone away for churches around Rome, mostly St. Peter’s, then just fill it back in. Today, it is a lovely park where they are still excavating. The guide pointed out to us where the marketplace of ancient Rome was at the center and down a hill in this park. It has been so many years, it is very hard to picture, but if you try hard enough, the ruins can transform and you can get a feel for how it might have been so long ago.
We stopped by the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel during the day, but didn’t stay long. I was quite hungry and we could not decide on where to eat. We jumped in a cab to try Café Greco where many writers used to hang out and where I’d read about being quite good in my guide book. The place is nice, near the Spanish Steps again, right smack in the middle of a huge shopping district with very high end stores, and quite pricey. I used the facilities, which cost money, and we ordered some coffee to drink to say we’d been there. The food wasn’t more than pastries anyway. The service was horribly slow and none of the waiters paid any attention to anyone there, but all looked busy, it was strange.
We walked a little around the shops and stopped in a Gucci store. Some back story here. When we went to Paris for our honeymoon we stopped into a Gucci store on their Champs-Élysées, mostly to ask where the nearest restaurant would be. The woman was horribly snobby and rude. She told us that Paris had no food courts and there were no restaurants either and, even if there were, it wouldn’t be open at that time of day. Of course, we walked a few more blocks and found a restaurant for lunch almost immediately. So, in Rome, I wanted to see if they’d be rude too or if it was just a French/Gucci thing. They were very nice, so it must have just been a French thing.
We took a cab back to our hotel and planned on eating (finally!) at the restaurant across the street. Instead, Chris decided he wanted to try something different. He was frustrated by lack of good eating places as well and insisted on dragged me away from there all the way back to a metro stop by their National Library. We ended up in a cafeteria-type place where the food was cheap but horrible. I cried. It was probably just being tired from the day and hungry and the stress I was putting myself through mentally to find good places in Rome for the book. Also, I was mad that Chris dragged me out to this place. We fought on the way back but we made up. Then we had a much needed nap.
When we woke later that evening, I was resigned to having found very little that would work for the book. I was a little down and Chris wanted to cheer me up. He looked up the best rated restaurant in a promising looking neighborhood called Trastevere. It was called Antica Pesa.
We did not have reservations. This was a long shot as this is a very nice restaurant, but we had to try. I think Chris was convinced that we had to have some good luck after the bad luck earlier that day. Turns out, we did have great luck because they seated us and we had a lovely meal. It was the best meal during the whole Rome segment of our trip. It must be a pretty famous place because the wall inside is covered with pictures of the owner posed with famous people.
After, we walked around the neighborhood and finally relaxed. This was where we should have gone all along! There were narrow winding streets where normal people lived and people our age staying out late and having a great time. There were little shops and cafes and bars and gelato stands (not the real gelato like we’d had the other day but it was good) and people just hanging out. I took lots of pictures and Chris and I had a very nice walk around taking it in. On this night, instead of walking back, we got a cab! It was a quick ride back around midnight and then we packed our suitcases up to check out the next day, our mood considerably better.