My guidebook describes Rome as a city that “Rather than bowing to its tourists, nods its head in recognition of them and marches on its way.”
That statement got me pretty jacked. I was ready for a city to be reckoned with. I had spent enough time previously bathing in slow-paced Greek island dreamlands and in the walled Old City that I was ready to start feeling small in a place where I’d take the role of, for the most part, an observer of the life and rich history around me.
And an avid, exhausted observer I was. Thanks to Eve Smith, the mother of two guys that have been involved in our Young Life club in Fayetteville, I was armed with a Let’s Go city guide to Rome that would eventually be riddled with espresso stains, pizza crust crumbs and dried palm sweat. Fact: A good guidebook is worth it’s weight in diamonds. I had been to Rome before with my folks and had seen most of the major must-sees (and eaten very well on their tab), so this time around I was looking forward to traveling through mostly backdoors.
The Tuesday afternoon that I arrived I spent wandering from my hostel near the train station to the Colosseum, and eventually hopped onto a free walking tour to get my self accustomed to the Eternal City. On the tour I made friends with two young ladies named Katie and Danielle who had recently graduated from OSU, and after some brief conversation, discovered a handful of mutual friends. After the tour I joined them for dinner at a spaghetteria recommended by our free tour guide where the menu resembled more of a yellowpages for pasta than a menu. I picked one that looked funky enough for my tastebuds, and enjoyed the best meal I had in Rome.
Wednesday was dedicated to following a walking tour from my bestfriend/Let’s Go guidebook. The tour, estimated to take three to four hours, took me six. I strolled past the Colosseum, the Forum, a Jesuit church named Il Gesu, down to the Tiber and across the river via an island named Isola Tiberina, into a gorgeous section of town called Trastevere (tras-TEV-eh-ray), through a museum in an old castle/prison/fort/hideout for the Pope known as Castel Sant’Angelo, and finished by sitting in St. Peter’s and trying not to cry from the overwhelming size and beauty of the place… and because I was so beat. I snagged a slice of pizza with some fellow hostelers from Miami and called it a night.
Thursday was dedicated to the Vatican. I was accompanied by some roommates in the hostel from Kentucky and Peru, and we hit the museum together. Four hours later, I had seen enough art and nude sculptures for eight lifetimes, and returned back to the beautifully authentic section of town, Trastevere. I enjoyed a self-guided Let’s Go walking tour of the place, and I was able to walk inside and below a church dedicated to St. Cecilia, a Christian martyr who’s story is unbelievable.
After not sitting since breakfast, I caught a bus/sauna-on-wheels back to the hostel. I must say, it was the first time I had ever stepped on a bus that was so full, I probably could have lifted my feet off the ground and continued to remain vertical from being pinched like the creme in an Oreo between the sweaty bodies behind me and the fogging glass smushed against my face. I joined a group of nine other hostelers for some dinner across town, and laid my weary head to rest.
My final full day began with a quick stroll by the Circus Maximus and a visit to the Baths of Caracalla. “Hey Carlyle, what’s so cool about a bath?” The ruins of the Baths of Caracalla were once public baths that could house up to 2000 people at any given time. The Baths not only had pools of cold, moderate, and hot temperatures, but gymnasiums for exercise and expansive gardens for socializing. The walls that still stood and the mosaics on the floor reminded me of an ancient version Globo Gym from the movie Dodgeball. It was astounding, and gave me an even deeper understanding of how well-developed the Roman society was.
I ended with yet another visit to St. Peter’s, the Jerryworld of basilicas. I paid a few extra euros and climbed the billion or so steps that led me to the top of the “cupola” near the tip-top of the church where I got a panoramic view of Rome.
I trekked down to the bottom and I sat in St. Peter’s and sang hymns to myself while I just looked at the bigness of the place.
I had time to rest and think. I thought a lot about the history of my faith, and about people like St. Cecilia. I also thought a lot about the uneasy feeling I got from the commercialization of Christianity that I’d seen heavily in Israel as well as Rome. I thought about fastening together a whip of cords and flipping over the tables of local vendors, but I figured an overseas prison sentence would put a real damper on my plans in Fayetteville for this Fall, so I just kept sitting and soaking in St. Peter’s.
I scarfed a quick bite from the three euro buffet at my hostel (can you say “quality?”) and jumped on my night bike tour that traveled around “Unusual Rome.”
That’s it for my itinerary. I know this is a travel blog, not a pedestal, but I’ll end with an observation.
As we gazed upon a view of the ancient forum of Rome on my night bike tour, my guide reminded me that the population of Rome at it’s height was roughly 1.5 million people. My guide in Israel told me that at the time of the Roman Empire, the height of a major town in the middle east was roughly 2000 people. The state of wealth and power that Rome was in at it’s height is equivalent to where the United States in currently, give or take. An informational sign at the Circus Maximus said that at the time of the Circus Maximus, the time of the Roman Empire’s height, there were mainly two things that the people wanted: Food and Games. In other words, consumption and amusement.
I can only imagine how invincible the Roman population felt, when at a time before electricity they had baths built for 2000 that look more like cathedrals than recreational facilities.
Then they fell, and fell hard.
My observation is this: “Food and Games” sounds dangerously too familiar. Nutrition and entertainment are necessary, of course. But we’re going deeper here. I’m not predicting the fall of an entire nation, but this is meant for more personal reflection. As long as constant consumption and unending amusement encompass who we are as people, we’ve got a one-way ticket to imminent destruction (Think of the Disney’s Wall-E).
I’ve hit a “travel wall” now. I’m exhausted. Rome wore me the heck out, and I’m even feeling a little under the weather. I went long and hard every day and I’m feeling it now. My overnight in Assisi is going to be for rest, peace and recooperation. Kinda what that St. Francis guy talked a lot about.
Signing off for now,