We boarded a sleeper train for Rome and watched hilly Austrian towns pass by in the growing twilight. Rome unfolded in a jumble of confusion.
Goal #1: find our way out of the train station. Goal #2: find a hostel for our stay. How hard could it be? Well. We sat in a McDonald’s and used the Wifi to scrounge up a suitable hostel, and I was amused to note the songs playing in the food joint: the inevitable Lady Gaga tune, and to my surprise and delight, “Anche se non trovi le paroli”– the only Italian song I know the lyrics to.
After circling the block several times (and scouting out the nearest gelato shop), we alighted on our hostel. Now all we had to do was go out and enjoy Rome.
The sun pressed down upon us like we were muffins in an oven. The ground was fine, tan dust. The only food we could find was unsatisfactory tourist vendor food. Yes: We were at the Colosseum and Forum.
Lessons from high school history began trickling back as we wended our way around fallen columns, giant stone feet, and the remnants of temples. College courses in art history and theology paid off as Elea and I stood beneath the Arch of Constantine (under scaffolding, of course, like the rest of European attractions in June).
It was alarming to see great columns of marble and the grubby remains of carved cornices just laying out among the dust. Equally astonishing was the sight of genuine archaeologists laboring in the oppressive heat, reminding me of Indiana Jones, green netting aside.
Even at the time, it was hard to take in the fact that we were strolling past temples and state buildings, one after another of famous structures that had once buzzed with more purposeful activity than the tourist crowd we joined.
The Colosseum provided welcome relief from the sun, but like the Forum it really proved too much to take in with one visit. The graffiti alone was fascinating; spectators in the Colosseum seem to have behaved like people in football stadiums today, drinking and gossiping and carving snazzy figures into the seats.
There were carvings (the commissioned kind, not just ancient graffiti) to look at, and of course just the big, impressively intact Colosseum itself to walk around and marvel at.
We enjoyed being able to wander around the Forum and really go where we pleased. Trying to get a decent bite to eat around the area was a different story.
I, having already been singed in the Grecian sun, used sunblock and covered my pathetic, peeling skin as much as I could, but she of the fair Irish skin welcomed the sun. An unfortunate choice. By the day’s end, the pair of us looked pinker than our gelato. Gelato saved the day, because as fascinating as ancient Rome is, dusty ruins don’t quite cheer up tired travelers.