The pace of Rome matches the pace of the Italian people—full throttle. The hucksters outside the Coliseum talk fast while trying to sell you an upgraded tour (no lines!). Or they swarm you with selfie sticks, crystal baubles (“Only 1 euro!”) or really weird, round iridescent blobs that cry plaintively and flatten out when plopped against a table, only to pop back into shape a few seconds later.
The only problem? That’s not my preferred pace, so it was all a bit too much until we learned how to navigate this ancient city on our terms.
Coliseum: 8:30 a.m. or bust
Our first mistake was trying to visit the Coliseum mid-day on a Sunday after a home 6 Nations match between Italy and Ireland. Even though this is low season, the lines were long, which gave the hucksters a captive audience. Marilynn, who visited Rome during grad school, said it was the same way when she last visited, although the proffered items were postcards.
So after waiting for a few minutes in the Coliseum line and then considering the line to get into the Forum, we opted for Plan B—chucking it all and taking a walk. And that’s when things started to come together nicely.
For nothing but a little rubber off your trainers, you can take in 2,000-plus years of Roman history in just one afternoon. Ruins give way to marble and travertine and statues, with tall, shapely trees on the hillsides to provide perspective. We spent a terrific, warm morning taking in the sights, then enjoying an Italian lunch of pizza margherita for the adults and pasta with sheep cheese for Declan.
We made time for the Trevi Fountain, which lived up to the hype about its grandeur in every way, and the Pantheon, a pagan temple that was converted to a Christian church (which is why it survived).
After the Sunday surprise at the Coliseum, we were going to wait and see it on our return journey this weekend. But the apartment that Declan found was so centrally located (“Perfect!” the cabbie declared at least twice on the drive from the airport), it seemed wrong not to try again. So armed with advance-purchase tickets and arriving 10 minutes before the venue opened, we had a trouble-free (and huckster-free!) entry to the Coliseum.
Worth the wait
It truly is one of the wonders of the Western World: the scale, the ruined grandeur and the complexity of the underground passages for gladiators and animals and servants. Marilynn rightly said that it looks like athletic stadiums of today, so well was it planned.
We also briefly visited the Forum, the remains of the Roman market. We had seen an overview of most of it during our Sunday stroll, so we didn’t linger.
To cap off our first visit to Rome, we took in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, an enormous family home that dates to the 15th century and remains in family hands. The family cemented its prominence when a Pamphilj became Pope Innocent X. Fortunately, he entailed the mansion and its artworks, meaning they couldn’t be sold off piecemeal.
The opulence of the rooms is matched only by the quality of the paintings, including works by Velasquez and Caravaggio. We particularly enjoyed the Gallery of Mirrors, where nearly every inch of wall was taken up by mirror, window, painting or gilt of some sort. It reminded Marilynn and me of the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia where patent medicine magnate Robert Barnes crammed Impressionist masterworks against each other in every room, complemented (?) by door hardware he apparently found interesting.
After stops in Florence and Venice, we’ll be back in Rome before the journey back to Belfast. Although the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj seemed over the top to this simple tourist, I feel it may take a back seat to our next Rome destination—the Vatican.
About the photo: Forum in the foreground, Coliseum in the background, thousands of years of Roman history in between.