Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rome II


At the Coliseum
Coliseum day. I had been half dreading this day because to see such a major attraction at the peak of the season could possibly be somewhat less than agreeable. We walked. Technically, it’s a fifteen-minute walk from our apartment to the Coliseum, but when you consider the detours to find pedestrian crossings and multiple stops to consult the map and get lost, it is more like half an hour. To be a pedestrian in Rome is an exciting experience. There are crosswalks, many of them even have traffic lights, but Roman drivers go very fast and slam on their brakes at the last minute. It is exhilarating to be in the middle of the crosswalk while a phalanx of cars and scooters bears down on you determinedly, only to come to a skidding halt just inches from your knees.
The line wasn’t too bad. I had been expecting to wait for hours, but we stood in line about 15 minutes and it was all clearly marked and well-organized. Actually, the Coliseum is little more than a giant kiln. The bricks soak up the heat of the sun and reflect it back, literally roasting you alive. We gulped down the contents of our water bottles within the first five minutes, and then we suffered, and not too quietly, as far as the kids are concerned. How we longed for a fountain!

Rome’s public water fountains are the best thing in the whole world. Imagine this: you have just walked five sweaty blocks up a steep hill with the sun beating down on you relentlessly. Suddenly you see a quaint little cylinder, with a spout of running water protruding from it. You hold your hands under the cool water and splash some on your face. Then you use your hand to block the faucet and the water is redirected upward in a thin stream from which you can drink. It is a wet and messy way to drink but the water is the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. You can refill your water bottle and walk away refreshed. Unfortunately, the spacing of the fountains is somewhat erratic. You might find three or four within a few blocks of each other or you might walk for ages and not see one. There were no fountains on the way back from the Coliseum, at least not until we were nearly at our apartment, and we pounced on it like a crowd of greedy piranhas. The kids put their heads right under the faucet—positively wallowed in it.

On the road leading to the Coloseum there was a long line of busses labeled “Polizia Pentenziara.”
I half wondered if the inmates were getting an outing at the Coloseum, but the busses were very luxurious, nothing like the ancient school busses our get transported in. There were at least ten of them and we soon figured out that there was a major police to-do in front of the Coloseum today. A bandstand had been set up and hundreds of police milled about. All the police officers in Rome look like fashion models and their uniforms are very smart. I will try to get a picture of one. An all-police band started playing while we were in the Colosseum and the distant sound of drums helped evoke a feeling of ancient times. On the walk home, the police made us cross the street, which was worrisome because it is a huge street and we really needed to be on the other side. We walked for a bit—the entire street was closed to traffic—and when we were distant enough from the police that they probably would not try to chase us—we sprinted back across to the correct side. Two seconds later, an official motorcade drove past, with someone important in one of the cars. We were the only people on the street, but, whoever he was; he did the parade wave continuously, as if he’d been wound up.

Our tickets included entrance to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, which were temporarily closed due to the police event. Late in the afternoon, Drama Queen and I trudged the long walk back so we could see them. We had already seen the Forum from above, on Sunday, but I really wanted to walk the Sacred Way and climb the hill. It was worth braving the traffic a Circus Maximus yet again although I never want to have to walk that way again. (The Romans were oddly prescient in giving this stadium—it is now nothing more than a long oval of beaten down grass that joggers use, but once seated 250,000 people—a name that translated so well to the future because the traffic near it is a maximum circus. ) Anyway, the Forum was not crowded, there was a cool breeze, some stunning sights, and a long view from the top of the Palatine. For a while we sat on two rocks while Drama Queen sketched, and collected an audience of students from Catalan, who admired her work.
I took this photo for my friend (you know who you are) because we had been discussing this person's books. Who would expect to find a street in Rome named after a Scandinavian writer?

Who knew the Romans were Kristin Lavransdatter fans?


  1. What fun! The water fountains remind me of the open fire hydrants you sometimes see pics of in urban areas.

  2. What an amazing time you're having! I'm glad that -- after the first few snafus -- things are going well.

  3. The emperor Claudius said: "Let the people drink water!" And so it was for all thereafter, including for the wonderful Bartels family, who had traveled very far and were very, very thirsty - YAY!! :)

    Looks like everyone's having a grand time -- as we are just by reading the reports and seeing the pics. Can't wait to see the sketches and other artistic endeavors as well.

    Okay, Ciao for now!

  4. Looks like you guys are really enjoying Rome - the traffic is frightening, isn't it! And the Romans are very proud of their water - famous aqueducts and all!

    I'm so glad you are putting up a link over on xanga!