We left from our tent quickly this morning in hopes that we wouldn't miss the 8:30 shuttle to the nearest train station. When we arrived at the "bus stop" area, it was obvious we hadn't needed to rush. Our driver was busy chatting up the receptionist and we were his only customers! I handed him one euro and he enthusiastically turned the keys and drove ridiculously fast down the middle of the narrow road leading out of our campsite. On our short but memorable journey to the train station, the driver stalled out several times and narrowly missed a few oncoming cars. Oh Italy.
The ticketing machine at the station was broken so with a little cajoling from Tyler, we hopped on without paying (figuring we'd pick up tickets for the day at our stop). Right near the Vatican and St. Peters's Basilica, we hopped off and set out on our day in Rome.
The first thing we did was buy a cheap guidebook so Tyler could play tour guide for the endless line of historical of sites that would follow. Our campsite receptionist had circled several places on our map that we "simply had to see", so we started with Saint Peter's and wandered around from there following her map to the Piazza Navona. From there we walked to Trevi Fountain which we promptly left, avoiding throngs of tourists in favor of heading to the Pantheon.
The Pantheon, constructed over a millenia ago turned out to be Tyler's favorite. He was honestly overcome by the masterfully constructed dome and its simple geometric design. Ever the rationalist, he is rarely a fan of anything frilly and pretentious; he loved the peaceful symmetry of ascending squares, each angle shaded uniformly by the luminous sunlight pouring in through the oculus in the center.
Just being in such a place, one's spirits are lifted. To me, that is "good art"—a creation so powerful that it has a profound physical affect on the viewer, bowling them over, overwhelming them with emotion, leaving them speechless. Our photos do not do the Pantheon justice. You just have to go there.
Wandering around some more, we were repeatedly astounded by the mishmash of history on every street. Renaissance churches mixed with Baroque sculptures, crumbling classical ruins around every corner and domes of various cathedrals peeking out between chipping terra-cotta buildings filled the city. From the top of the palace in the Piazza Venezia we were able to count ten or more domes dotting the Roman skyline!
All of this ancient history was starkly contrasted by gigantic roundabouts, gun-toting policemen, honking cars, scooters zooming in and out of traffic, and ample piles of litter. We saw many people clad in orange sweeping up the trash with rustic brooms that looked like they could have belonged to witches. The workers didn't seem terribly concerned about a "job well done"; as best we could tell they were just moving the garbage around while never collecting it.
At one point we had a good laugh as a street-sweeper came trundling along spraying water everywhere leaving a trail of wet muddy garbage behind its uselessly spinning brushes. It didn't help that many of Rome's garbage cans were locked shut, leaving even the most conscientious tourists with the desire to litter.
We both loved the cobblestones. Many streets in Italy are paved with cobbles, but we never really stopped to think about it until we saw piles of them stacked up in a construction site by the side of the road. These cubes, stuck in the ground forming a relatively flat surface, are god knows how old. We were walking on the same stones that people have been walking on for hundreds of years! Pretty neat.
We made it about four hours before we were overwhelmed, exhausted, aching (walking uses different muscles than cycling!) and shell shocked from all the history. Taking a rest, we stopped at a little coffee shop to upload photos and look at options for dinner.
My grandparents generously gave us a $25 donation through our site and we were eager to treat ourselves to dinner out in Rome! We settled on what we'd read was a local favorite: "Da Tonino", a tiny, simple hole-in-the-wall lacking even a sign outside to identify it.
When they opened at 7:00 we rushed to be the first ones there. Tyler ordered a delicious penne pasta in tomato, basil and cheese sauce, while I chose pasta with a tomato, eggplant, and cheese sauce. Our meal came with a basket of bread and we ordered a carafe of the house white wine to wash it down.
Da Tonino was simple and homey, very inexpensive, and definitely for the locals. The food was unpretentious and the pasta perfectly al dente. Dinner was everything we'd hoped it would be. Thank so so much, grandma and grandpa! We were thinking of you, and wishing you could have enjoyed it with us!
After our meal we wandered around revisiting some of our favorite places from earlier in the day. Rome by night definitely had a different atmosphere, and we enjoyed walking around by the light of streetlamps and the almost full moon.
My favorite "attraction" was a woman dressed all in white and sitting on a throne in the Piazza Navona right in front of real statues. At first she completely blended in, and I had to poke Tyler and say "honey, that's a PERSON!" We dropped a coin in her cup and she came to life, smiling, waving, and blowing kisses. I was truly impressed by how good her costume was, how she was able to remain so still, and how she actually looked like she belonged among the centuries-old statues.
Feeling as though we'd put a fair dent in seeing Rome, we started on our way back to camp. Getting there was a typical, slow, roundabout process that we've now become accustomed to. It usually involves some sort of canceled transport, asking for help in the local language (with lots of pantomiming), following directions we barely understand and finally, making it to our destination. It took nearly two hours but we managed to cover the 10km between us and camp on public transport without too much trouble. All in all, a nice start to our Roman exploration!