So, we’d arrived in the Eternal City, found and explored our digs for the next few days, and had smartened ourselves up after a morning of stressful travelling (for me, anyway). Donning our walkin’ shoes we left the Daysleeper, picked up a few bottles of ice cold water from a nearby Supermercado and headed out into the afternoon sun to begin our Roman Holiday.
Day One: Part Two: Arrival
Given that we were a little bit knackered after our travels, and that our hotel was only a relatively brief walk away, we decided to start off with a look at one of the most famous, iconic buildings in Rome, if not the world. The Colosseum is quite simply a magnificent structure, despite the fact that half of it has fallen off, and another huge section of it looks like it was built a few weeks ago. For those readers who have never seen it, it’s a perfectly cube-shaped structure, with a retractable roof and a McDonalds in the middle. No, not really. Everyone has seen the Colosseum – it’s just one of those ridiculously famous places on Earth, like the Eiffel Tower, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. To reach it, we simply had to walk along one long, curved road which led straight from the hotel right to it. I had a feeling as we walked that it would be one of those sights which you don’t see for ages until you get really close, and then it just jumps out at you. I was quite right. Nothing for around twenty minutes, and then suddenly, there it was.
I think we were probably expecting to see thousands of tourists, given that it was the middle of the afternoon when we reached the place, but it wasn’t actually that busy. That said, it wasn’t busy on the outside – but we’d done our research well enough to know that if you turn up on a midsummer afternoon and expect to walk straight into the Colosseum without queuing for hours, you’re kidding yourself. We had already decided to leave all the tours for subsequent days, as we wanted to simply wander around, take in the atmosphere and get a general idea of our bearings. We also knew, thanks to a very handy tip from my old friend Michael, that the ticket for entry to the Colosseum also grants you entry to the Forum (the very large and impressive area of ancient ruins just down the road) and vice-versa. While the queues for the former are normally enormous, and a good hour or two long, the queues for the Forum are tiny, and more often than not non-existent. The trick, therefore, is to head to the Forum first, buy your ticket and then do both without having to queue at all.
We left the Colosseum area and headed down the more tourist-packed pavement alongside a busy road which led to the Forum. Again, we weren’t planning to go in on that particular day, but passing the Forum in that direction meant that we would also pass a tourist information centre and we would be heading towards the city centre. The heat from the sun at this point was getting to baking point, and we soon found that sticking to the shaded areas was getting more and more tricky. After taking a few photographs over the Forum ruins, from a handy vantage point overlooking the site, we continued along the road, lined on each side by statues of Caesar – and tourist-trap Roman soldiers, who were more than willing to pose with unsuspecting photo-op hunters, only to charge them for the privilege once the pictures were taken. We eventually reached a busy piazza, where we happened across the absolutely massive semi-circled Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, an enormous, columned, white marble monument to the first king of unified Italy. We learned later during the trip that this monument, as jaw-dropping as it is the first time you clap eyes on it, is much maligned by the locals – partly due to its bright white colouring, which contrasts starkly with the brown colouring of the other buildings in the square, and partly due to its size and utter pomposity. Tourists refer to it as the “wedding cake” while the locals tend to name it the “typewriter”. As the building faces out towards the Via del Corso (Rome’s equivalent of Oxford Street in London, say) we also found during our stay that it seems wherever you are in Rome, you always seem to end up back outside it.
Heading away from the monument we passed through Piazza Venezia and headed onto the Via del Corso. A typical long, straight Roman road, Corso is lined on each side by boutiques, high street stores, banks and shopping malls, as well as a few small trattorias (small, family-owned restaurants and pizzerias). As we found ourselves craving our first pizza of the holiday we decided to sit in the outside terrace of one of these trattorias and order ourselves a pizza. Although our food was certainly not inedible, it was clear to both of us that these were simply heated up frozen pizzas, and that we had stumbled across a typical tourist-trap type restaurant, catering cheap food for the non-locals who hadn’t quite learned where the ‘proper’ eateries were to be found. We finished our food and paid up, leaving the standard 10% tip, before deciding that we were both totally shattered. We headed to the nearest taxi rank back in Piazza Venezia and had our first experience of the rollercoaster ride that is a cab journey through central Rome. We’d had quite enough for one day, so called it a night for day one…..