Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rome IV

It’s funny how in a city like Rome, even when you’ve been here only a short time, you start to take the sights for granted. There’s nothing like doing something completely prosaic, like, say riding on a city bus, and passing the Colosseum. Or you’ll be standing at a crosswalk and realize that the building you’ve been staring at so vacantly is a medieval tower. The other day, I sat on the steps of the Pantheon and bitched because my gelato had dripped on my skirt.

Mad Scientist really wanted to see the Catacombs, so that is what we did on Saturday. This was an adventure because they are located along the Via Appia, outside of Rome. We took the bus. The woman in the tourist information booth told me which busses to take—two transfers—and sold me day passes. I think I will indulge in patting myself on the back for taking three kids (Miss G and Jon stayed home) onto a bus in a strange city where we don’t speak the language. The tourist information lady told me which stops to get off at, but knowing the names of the stops is of little help if you have no visual landmarks or knowledge of the area to guide you.

First we took a tram, which is relatively easy because it goes in a straight line and stops at each stop. At Largo Argentina—which I knew because we’d already walked past it—we transferred to the number 87 bus which took us far from the center of Rome, making many turns, while I peered anxiously through the window looking for the San Giovanni stop, which is at least labeled on a street sign. We then crossed a busy traffic circle and got on the 218 bus which took us out of Rome altogether. I saw a sign for the San Callisto Catecombs, but too late, and the bus went whizzing past. We started to get off at the next stop, but the elderly woman who stepped off the bus ahead of us turned on us and fiercely shooed us back onto the bus. “Prossimo! Prossimo!” she said, in what sounded to me like an angry voice. We thought she didn’t want us following her off the bus and we meekly returned to it, but the other passengers explained that she had been telling us to wait for the next stop, which dropped us at a second entrance to the catacombs.

The catacombs were worth the trip, particularly for their setting on a beautiful and peaceful country lane. Tours were grouped according to language, and conducted by priests. Our guide was from Australia. My favorite bit of the catacombs was the tomb of St. Cecelia, martyr and patron saint of music. Her body was found there, miraculously preserved, six hundred years after her death. Her body was moved to the site of her house and where she was martyred and where there is a church built in her honor—but more about that later.

The bus ride back was uneventful, although we couldn’t find the opposite stop for the 87 bus, so we had to get on it going the wrong direction and hope it would loop around eventually, which it did, but not before we’d had a long tour of a decidedly untouristy part of Rome. Since it was Jon’s birthday, we went to a nice restaurant for dinner.

Sunday, Drama Queen and I got up early to visit the Porta Portese flea market, which Rome for Dummies promised would be a wealth of antiques and local color. We found a few tables of antiques, but the vast majority of stalls stocked the sort of clothes you see in the “Fill a bag for $5” bins at thrift shops. It was unspeakably dreary, like a giant outdoor Goodwill, as Drama Queen put it, and to make our morning complete, it began to rain as we walked home. It wasn’t so much a rain as a monsoon complete with thunder and lightning. We had brought one umbrella to share, but we were soaked and shivering by the time we got home. The rest of the family was still asleep, so we took off our wet clothes and went back to bed.

Later we went to the crypt of the Capuchin monks who decorated their tombs with bones. It’s weirdly kitschy. Bill Bryson, in Neither Here nor There, says he can’t recommend it highly enough, but I feel I could have done without this site. Not to mention the fact that it was a long walk, and it started to rain on the way. Worst of all, when we left the church, Mr. McP slipped on the marble stairs and landed on his back and got the wind knocked out of him. I can’t even describe how horrible this was. He is OK—but for a few minutes, we weren’t sure if he was. It's lucky that Jon's background is in emergency medicine.

At the Trevi Fountain--it was a madhouse, even at 10:00 pm

Oldest fountain in Trastevere

Tomorrow we attempt the Vatican Museums.

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