Vacanze Romane (Quarta Parte)

Delicious lunch scoffed, and the first beer of the holiday quaffed, we asked for and paid ‘il conto’ (the bill) before heading back out to continue our day. As we weren’t far at all from the banks of the Tiber, that’s where we went, for a gentle stroll along the river.

Day Two: Part Two: Roman Holiday II

The Tiber, not dissimilar to the Thames, or the Seine, cuts the city pretty much evenly in half. It passes close to the Vatican, before heading south-east. The north side of the river holds pretty much all of the well known sights of Rome, while the south side has the feel of a slightly less touristy town. More about the south side in another blog entry though, as we didn’t head over one of the many bridges across the river on this particular day.

We stopped for a quick rest after some fifteen minutes slog through the afternoon sun, and checked our various maps. As soon as I rested my arm on the wall of the bank I was bitten by a sodding ant, who scarpered as soon as I spotted him. I shook my fist angrily at him as he turned around, flipped me the finger, and disappeared into his nest. We found as we turned around we were just across the road from the Bocce della Verita (the Mouth of Truth) which onlookers will recognise from Roman Holiday. It’s essentially a stone face of a “God” – thought by Romans to represent the God of the Tiber – attached to a wall in an old church. Visitors are tempted to put their hand in the mouth of the God, and liars will find their hand will be bitten off. Back in the days of Audrey and Greg, passers-by could just wander in, walk straight up to the Mouth and have a go. Nowadays, sadly, it’s guarded by a man charging five Euros to stand next to it and have your photograph taken. I was very tempted to have a go, but I could just take a photograph from the side of the queue, and to be honest, just seeing the sight with my own eyes was enough for me.

It is worth reiterating just how hot it was in Rome at this point, as the next stop on our journey involved a walk of what seemed like hours, in blistering heat, to reach the Roman Forum. On the map, it didn’t look that far, but in reality, when it became apparent that the only way into the site was through an entrance on the far side, it was a real slog. Countless bottles of water and lemon Fanta later, we finally made it to the ticket office.

The Roman Forum was one of the highlights of the holiday for me. Despite the fact that the site is most certainly a ruin, you really get a sense of how it used to look some 2000 years earlier, in the days of the Caesars, when it was almost entirely filled with marble, and was the meeting place for the high-ranked members of the Roman Senate. Some of the buildings are now almost unrecognisable – broken pieces of ancient foundations, and stand-alone columns, the weight they used to bear now long gone – and other buildings have stood the test of time much better, and stand almost as they did two millennia ago.

The Forum’s main impressive sights are all found at the bottom of Palatine Hill, easily climbed via a cobbled path under some gratefully received shade due to the rows of large trees on either side. Halfway up the path we came across a public tap, free for anyone to use to refill their bottles of water. The heat was such that after around five minutes your refrigerated acqua minerale was actually warmer than your mouth was – not the cool, refreshing drink you’re hoping for after an hour-long trek around the ruins. Atop Palatine Hill stands the Arch of Septimus Severus, which sounds like a Harry Potter plot device, but is in fact dedicated to the former Roman Emperor of the same name to commemorate military victories back in the third century AD.

A few photos and swigs of lukewarm water later we felt we had seen enough, and decided to work our way out of the Forum and take the short walk down the road to head into the Colosseum, which of course was included in the ticket price for the Forum, so we simply walked straight past the enormous queue stood outside the ticket office and headed straight in. It’s an enormous structure – outside the building you don’t get the impression that it’s that big, but once you’re inside the Colosseum really lives up to the name. All around you the stands of the stadium tower over you, and in the centre, where the central arena space used to be, the narrow pathways of the former cells and tunnels for the ‘competitors’. Thankfully, despite the throngs of tourists outside, there never seemed to be that many inside, so walking around freely was pretty simple.

We’d had enough by this stage, so after a brief examination of the tat on offer in the utterly out of place gift shop in the Colosseum, we took off back to the hotel. The day had really knocked the stuffing out of us, so there we stayed from the remainder of the evening, enjoying the air-conditioning while nursing our blistered feet, ready for the next day of sightseeing.

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