Monday, June 29, 2009

Rome VII: Ostia and the Spanish Steps

Our plan had been to spend a day in Pompeii, but after reflecting on what three hours of travel, each way, would mean for us (not to mention the 25-euro cost of a train ticket) we decided to visit Ostia Antica instead. It’s a thirty minute train ride outside of Rome, but covered by the public transportation system, so our 4-Euro day passes took us there.

Ostia was an ancient Roman port near the mouth of the Tiber, that gradually became a ghost town as the river silted up and malaria became endemic. The ruins are well-preserved. You walk along actual ancient streets with rows of buildings on either side. There’s a really good theater and mosaic floors in the baths. My main impression of Ostia is that a group of kids could have a truly amazing game of house there.
Theater in Ostia
Theater in Ostia

I liked this diamond pattern in the bricks.

I'm not sure what was happening here.
The thing about Ostia is that it’s huge and by the time you’re done exploring, you’re pretty tired. Luckily there’s a cafeteria at the far end of the complex where we purchased an overpriced and mediocre lunch. Just as we sat down to eat; a group of people standing behind us began singing a Praise Jesus-type song, with much enthusiasm. They were wearing matching polo shirts and were very obviously American. The diners watched them politely, but puzzled. Once the singers had spread their message to the random collection of people at the Ostia cafeteria, the group moved on while Jon sung “O Canada” under his breath.

Since our day passes didn’t expire until midnight, after dinner we decided to take the metro to the Spanish Steps. Rome has decent public transportation. The buses are cheap, the stops have names and the signs tell you the names of all the stops on that buses’ route, so even a foreigner with a rudimentary grasp of the city can manage to get around, if in a somewhat cumbersome fashion. We had to take the metro to get to the Spanish Steps and the stop funnels you more or less directly to the foot of the steps, which are very high, but, unlike the Trevi fountain, are probably better appreciated in the daytime.
I admired Keats’ house, which sits at the foot of the steps, and peeked in the window of Babington’s Tea Rooms which has been expensively serving British tourists since Victorian times.
A 26-Euro muffin? To put this into perspective, I could buy breakfast for myself and at least two of my children at our neighborhood bar for about nine euros.

At the top of the steps a flower-seller tried to get me to buy a rose, which I refused, but he was very aggressive, even inserting a rose into my folded arms and otherwise being a nuisance. Then, he somehow talked us into letting him take our picture, and Jon gave him two Euros, which I think is reasonable for two seconds of work, but he wanted more, and then we were annoyed at having let this man insinuate himself into our group, and even more so when we saw the comically terrible quality of the picture he took of us.
We endured a crowded metro ride, and an interminable wait for our crowded bus to leave the station. Italian buses have few seats. I noticed the capacity signs which listed 20 seats for each bus, but standing room for nearly 90 people. You spend most of your time on Italian buses with your face pressed into the armpit of a complete stranger, and at every stop 500 people get on and two or three get off.
Me, making sure I didn't lose my children in the metro station.
It was nearly midnight when we got home, but little did we know, our night was just beginning. Drama Queen disappeared into the shower, and soon after, Mad Scientist noticed that the kitchen was completely flooded. The only thing to be thankful for was the fact that the kitchen is a step lower than the rest of the house, so the flood could spread no further. It took ages to clean it up, and Jon and I had the sort of fight that spouses have when there is flooding in the middle of the night.


  1. Wow. THAT? Was one REALLY full day. I'm so intrigued by that place you visited though. Never heard of it, but it sounds amazing.

  2. It looks like an amazing trip! I hope that English muffin comes with a necklace.