Monday, March 29:  Ancient Rome

The Aberdeen Hotel is located close to the main train station of Roma, Termini, across the street from the massive Defense Ministry. So it is a very safe location. Its on via Firenze, a side street of a principal road, via Nazionale. Our room is simple, with nice hardwood floors, a double bed with a single bed next to it, and a small area on the other side of a partition with a single bed and a couch. Our window opens onto via Firenze with a view into a courtyard of the Defense Ministry with palm trees. There’s a small refrigerator, and we seem to have deciphered all of the devices in the bathroom.

I slept until 4:30 AM, the longest uninterrupted stretch of sleep I’ve had since Thursday night. On the whole, I felt much better than I expected to at this point. On the advice of our bicycle mechanics, we’ve been taking melatonin nightly in hopes of combating jet lag. If I can get a full night’s sleep tonight, I should be in pretty good shape. Pat and Robert woke early also, while David slept soundly. Robert has always been able to take quick catnaps and awake refreshed, and the two hour snooze he took on the Madrid-Roma flight seems to have served him well. David on the other hand, sleeps long and hard, and takes a few minutes to get into the swing of things when he awakes. As I dressed in the dark to come down to the reception area to write, Pat quietly asked where I was going and what time it was. When I said it was 5 AM, Robert piped up, “I told you we didn’t need to go to bed so early!”

Breakfast was yogurt, good coffee, mildly frosted croissants, juice, sliced ham and cheese. Rick Steves’ guidebooks were in evidence all around, and the table next to us during Round 2 (adults ate early while the boys slept) was from Sacramento and also on the program. Pat had a cappuccino made expressly for her. The boys were instructed to “fill up” since it was all paid for.

Our mission today was the Colosseum and the Forum, with a couple of stops along the way. First we went out beyond the main train station in search of a teacher ID for Rob. I’d ordered one by phone about a week before we left, scanning my UPS ID and emailing it to the person I spoke to on the phone at STA Travel. On the day of departure, Pat reminded me about it, and so I phoned to see why it had not arrived yet. After some time, they acknowledged that it had inexplicably never been shipped. They refused to FedEx it to me in Rome, but suggested that instead I should try the local office in Rome itself. No luck today, their machine was broken.

Next stop, the church Santa Maria Maggore, 432 AD. The highlight was a sunken shrine with an elaborate metal vessel protecting a wooden remnant of Jesus’ manger. Pat had wanted to see Bernini’s tomb, but it was anticlimatic. From there, we visited St. Peter-in-Chains Church, a scaled-down version of the previous church. (Photo 4) This time the sunken shrine (not quite as deep) held two sets of chains that had imprisoned St. Peter, once in the jail in the Forum, which we were to see later, and on another occasion in Jerusalem. The church had begun life as a project of Michelangelo’s, but he died before it was completed. The highlight here was Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, comparable in size, technique and effort to his statue of David.

We headed further south and intersected with the Forum at a busy boulevard along its northern border. We strolled through the ruins, taking lots of photographs, for an hour or more. Then, we purchased our joint tickets for the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, and headed up the Palatine Hill, site of many significant landmarks of early Roman life. Along the southern edge, we could look down off the hilltop to the Circus Maximus, site of a Roman oval racetrack where chariot races would entertain crowds of up to 250,000.

Lunch was from a snack truck outside the Colosseum, and was mediocre at best. Then onto the Colosseum, bypassing the long ticket line, since we had our joint ticket in hand. Time saved from that stunt will pay for one of our twelve Rick Steves’ guidebooks. The interior of the Colosseum was interesting, but didn’t captivate us for too long. We then walked about a mile back to our hotel room for a siesta.

Tried to connect to the Internet today with computer and modem, but couldn’t even manage to get an outside line! Had to settle for the communal PC downstairs to check my email. No news is good news.

Dinner was at a guidebook recommendation, Hostaria Romana. It is a small place tucked along side a much larger building, as if the structure was an afterthought. At 7:30, there were plenty of seats left, and we were given menus in English. Saltimbocca (delicious!), antipasta bar for Pat, and a split dish of ravioli didn’t quite fill everyone up. So we had to order dessert. Creme caramel, cheese board, and tiramasu topped everybody off. The waiters had quite the comedy act going, making various noises all night (horses, cats, etc.), “borrowing” our phrase book and parading fresh fish from the dining room to the kitchen whenever anyone ordered one. Even the crashing sound of the empty wine glass Robert knocked into the aisle was an excuse for comedy. “It fell from the sky!” they exclaimed for everyone to hear. It was a pleasant meal, marred only by too long a wait for the bill.