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Published: January 8th 2007
I caught the 10:30 train to Rome, which put me in around 3 pm. Based on what I had read, I was expecting to step out of the train and be surrounded by people trying to rob me. Of course that didn't happen, and Termini was no different from any other busy station I've been to. As we'll see later, though, I had good reason to be vigilant. I quickly tracked down a hostel near the train station and dumped my bags. I went back to the station to hit up the supermarket the LP raved about, but what I finally found was pretty subpar.
I wanted to get a feel for the nearby sights so I headed off to the Colosseum. It took about 25 minutes to get there wandering along the packed sidewalks, but it was worth it. I got there just as the sun was going down and it was beautifully lit. Plus, there was hardly anyone around, so I just stood enjoying the moment before heading back to the hostel.
Back at the hostel I met up with 2 aussie dudes, and the three of us spent a good portion of the evening locating and
Patience and I with the forum in the background
then drinking large quantities of cheap Italian beer (Peroni). Not bad stuff, but it made for a wicked hangover the next morning!
The next morning I checked out and left my bag at the hostel. My mom and sister were due to arrive in Rome that day so I went to find the hotel and then use the internet. The hotel was easy enough to find near the station, and I tracked down internet at the Easy internet cafe. It was the first time someone has wanted to see id to use internet. I guess Italy has some new anti-terror law where they think that asking for id is going to stop terrorists. Ok, sure. I spent a couple hours using the internet and I found out that Mom and Patience were delayed and so they wouldn't get in until late.
I went and checked in to the hotel and spent the rest of the day chilling out watching tv and reading until 12 or so. I was hoping they would be on the last train in from the airport so I walked to the station, but no luck. On the way back I realized what the LP
Inside the Roman Forum
meant when it said the neighborhood was a bit seedy when I was approached by a prostitute. She was well dressed and probably in her mid 30's. She came up to me as I was waiting to cross a busy street and asked if I had a cigarette. I said no and then she stuck out her hand and said "Hi, I'm Claudia." I kind of stood there for a second wondering why she was trying to introduce herself to me and then I figured what was going on. I made some excuse about being in a hurry to get back to the hotel, which was definitely the wrong thing to say. She heard "hotel" and started saying something, but I took off across the street before she could finish. Welcome to Rome, I thought!
Mom and Patience got in after midnight having been delayed leaving Denver and London. I was really glad to see them and we all went to bed soon afterwards. The next morning we slept in late and then walked to the train station to get some food. We made the decision to go and see the Colosseum and so we headed over there after
St Peter's Square
Looking down on the square from the dome.
When we arrived, we were getting ready to descend a long ramp and cross the street in front of the Colosseum when I noticed two women behaving suspiciously. As we passed them they started following us closely, so I just stopped and let them walk past us. One of the women was carrying an infant in a carrier strapped to her chest, and they were both holding large pieces of cardboard which is what made me suspicious. After they passed us we followed behind them at a good distance as we walked down the ramp. They quickly caught up to a man and a woman near the bottom of the ramp. The man had a large backpack on as well as a camera around his neck. As I watched, shocked yet somehow fascinated, they moved directly in front of the couple and one woman held the piece of cardboard a few inches in front of the man's face. He was distracted, and the other woman started running her hands along his wrist and then his pockets. He seemed to realize what was going on and pushed past them pretty quickly and it didn't look like they got anything
Exiting the Vatican Museum
The spiral ramp just before the exit.
from him. I was actually getting ready to go yell at the women, but it was over so quickly. The two women turned around and started walking back up the ramp, so the three of us stood to the side and watched them closely as they walked by. I had read about just this type of scam with the cardboard, but it was weird to actually see it happen.
After our little bit of excitement, we ended up seeing the Roman Forum, which was phenomenal. It was so amazing and hard to believe that we were actually looking at roman ruins -- in Rome, no less! We spent a couple hours in the Forum before heading to the Parthenon, which I didn't find as interesting, but Patience liked it. Afterwards we grabbed some dinner and headed back to the hotel, stopping to use the internet on the way.
The next morning we got up around 930 and caught the subway to the Vatican after eating some breakfast. We decided to go see St. Peter's first and we were pleasantly surprised to find no line whatsoever to get in. Going to Rome in the off season does have its
Fleecing the tourists
Caesar and two of his minions pose for another photo while a third soldier collects the fee (and keeps collecting until the man has pulled three bills out of his wallet)!
advantages, even if it was pretty chilly outside.
I was overwhelmed by the sheer size and opulence of the interior of St. Peters. We wandered around inside for quite a while using the Rick Steeves book to guide us. Eventually we got bored and I decided to climb the dome, while Mom and Patience waited. The 500+ stairs didn't take very long, as I was able to pass quite a few people on the way up. The view from the top was breathtaking with all of Rome spread out below me. The day was a bit hazy, but visibility was ok and I could see most of the city from the vantage. I had agreed to meet Mom and Patience after an hour so I had nearly 40 minutes on top which I spent soaking up the views.
After coming down, we went to find some food and we finally settled on a nearby pizza place. Rome (and Italy in general) certainly have a ton of pizza places! While we were eating we realized that the museum wasn't open in the afternoon so we spent a couple hours looking at shoes (gee, that was fun) before heading back to the hotel to get dinner.
The next morning we actually got up early and headed over to the Vatican museum. Once again, there wasn't a line and we got right in. The museum is certainly impressive, but I felt like it didn't live up to expectations at all. The Sistene Chapel was cool, but swamped with people and the guards constantly reminding people to be silent and stop taking pictures. I thought the Michelangelo rooms were stunning, though.
After checking out the museum we headed back to the Colosseum and went inside. I was skeptical about paying to get in, but it was worth it. It's so unbelievable what the Romans were able to construct with such limited technology and materials. While we were there, we had a good time watching yet another scam. Outside the Colosseum there are guys dressed like gladiators (plus Caesar, of course) that pose for pictures with tourists. Now, you'd expect them to charge a little bit for this -- maybe 5 euros for a couple pictures at the most. Well, here's where things get interesting. No one seems to negociate the price in advance, and when the pictures are done and everyone is smiling, one of the gladiators asks for payment. From what we could discern, it seems like they get a different amount out of each group, but it's certainly not 5 euros. Usually people get some money out of their wallet and then the gladiator asks for more, and then more again. People go from smiling to frowning in a hurry, and I don't blame them. It's a total ripoff, but the tourists are to blame to an extent for not agreeing on a price in advance. The Rick Steeves book mentions that they've been known to take unsuspecting tourists for more than 100 euros!!
Since it was getting dark and Patience wasn't feeling great, we headed back to the hotel. We took the subway to Termini and then walked from there. Just across the street from Termini station, we were walking in a single file line on the crowded sidewalk when I felt a small tug on my backpack. I spun around and found a tiny woman clutching a cigarette in one hand with her other hand still outstretched. I glared at her and she quickly said "excuse me" and hurried off. I had always told myself that if I caught someone trying to rob me I'd punch them, but I was just so shocked to find this tiny little woman behind me that all I could do was look at her. I don't know if everyone has experiences like this in Rome, or if we were just unlucky, but frankly I was sick and tired of having to constantly be on guard. Even after I had my backpack snatched in Malaga, I didn't feel like I needed to be constantly vigilant when I was walking around. In Rome, on the other hand, it seems anything goes.
That night we got takeout for dinner and called it a night early. So much for Rome.
Stay tuned for Siena. (pictures will be forthcoming once I find a better connection)
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