So there I was, in the Eternal City, on a Friday...
On this particular Friday, I had planned to go to the Colosseum, however this didn't happen, so I went to visit the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain instead.
The day was overcast.
I took the 62 and was surprised to find myself the intended victim of pickpockets.
Allow me to explain.
On Roman buses, there are, invariably, three doors. The doors at the front and back of the bus are for boarding; the middle door is for alighting. Ticket validation machines are located at front and back. You validate your ticket and I'm your uncle.
Unfortunately there are those, less scrupulous passengers who pin you to the ticket machine while they attempt to pick your pocket, which was what almost happened to me. I found myself bracketed on one side by a weaselly-faced little man and on the other by a grandmotherly-looking woman, and I had to forcibly wrench myself out of their grip and into a corner to prevent myself from falling over at the first bump in the road. At the second bump in the road, I put my hand to my side to rebalance, in time to feel the woman's index finger emerging from my pocket. I never felt it go in, that's how good she was. She excused herself, feigning embarrassment, and pretended to ignore me from then on.
I moved to the middle of the bus where I could keep an eye on her and her associate, and the rest of the trip passed without incident.
I wandered around for a while before finding the Trevi Fountain. Anita Ekberg was not in evidence, but there were many tourists. Not the same, somehow.
I took a couple of shots (here they are)
and moved on, heading for the Pantheon.
The Pantheon is a remarkable building. The only light comes from a hole in the roof, or Oculus.
Speaking as someone who has a hole in his roof, I wish the ancient Romans had built my house.
But anyway, it was pissing rain, inside and out, so as soon as it let up I headed for the Abbey Theatre and shelter.
While there, I met a variety of tourists, and it felt like home. Ron and Teresa from Dublin, who it turned out would be returning on the same flight as me on Sunday; Julie and Karen from the U.S., enjoying every minute of Rome; and a group from Northern Ireland on a sort of scavenger hunt, trying to find a bunch of tourist spots for their quiz later that evening.
As it turned out, I had the guidebook from which the photos in their quiz had been scanned, so with my help (a fine example of cross-border/cross-culture cooperation, if you ask me) they aced it. My cultural duty done (I always find myself giving directions to other tourists in foreign cities where I've never been before) and the rain having stopped, I went on my way.
While reading my guidebook as I waited for for my bus, I noticed a young woman looking shyly at me at the bus stop. She reminded me a little of Talia Shire as Adrian in 'Rocky'. She looked away as our eyes met, twice, but before I had time to investigate her bus arrived and she was gone.
Curous, inasmuch as it's not something I'm used to...
This was it, the big one.
I was headed for the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, and the gods couldn't have ordained a better day for it. I took the No. 60 to Pza. Venezia and promptly got lost.
Found my way to Circus Maximus and helped a visiting French motorist with directions, in spite of never having driven a car in Italy, let alone Rome. Hopefully he found someone more competent before he ended up on the road to Napoli-i-i...
This is the Circus as it appears today:
Finally I found my way to Palatino and the Forum. queued for twenty minutes while a group of American tourists paid for individual tickets by individual credit card. When I eventually got to the ticket desk I saw a sign announcing that the Colosseum would close for security reasons at 1400h, and that ticket holders could enter up to 1300h.
It was 1120h, and I had all morning.
The Forum was fascinating. Incredible to think that Roman emperors walked here over two thousand years ago. I wandered for over an hour and a half, taking it all in while attempting to get my camera to record anything.
At 1250 I decided to head for the Colosseum. Bastard Carabinieri closed it at 1245.
Tickets, we were informed, would be honoured the following day. Great, only I was going home the following day.
Plans ruined, I decided to go back to the hotel and shower and pack. I had to be back in the Abbey Theatre later for the football. I stood under the shower for almost a half hour (a frightening picture for my colleagues, I'm sure), washing away two thousand years of dust and sunburn, then took a brief nap before heading back out for the evening.
The pub was packed when I got there - one bar was going to show the Ireland-Germany game, every other room would have the France-England rugby match. Unable to get a seat in the soccer area, I found a stool between two English rugby fans, brothers named Simon andHoward, in Rome with their parents who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and a Frenchman named Jean and his wife, who wandered away in search of a seat.
Ron and Teresa from Dublin showed up and we formed a bulwark of neutrality between two implacable cultural enemies. The great thing about rugby, I found, is that it really doesn't matter who wins as long as the game is well-played.
We all had an excellent evening, and didn't even care about Ireland not winning at home to Germany.
Julie and Karen turned up - I didn't see them among the crowd until I heard "Bob!" and got a hug from Julie. Ah, Rome...
I got lost going home - too much Nastro Azzuro will do that to you. I missed the last bus, so decided to ask a cop for directions to Pza. Fiume. He very obligingly showed me where it was on my map, albeit without pointing to where I was in relation to it. I flagged a cab instead, and managed to not engage the driver in conversation (I've been known to speak German when drunk). He got me where I wanted, I made it to my room, and slept the sleep of the exhausted.
Sunday: Woke up, hung over but not badly so. Finished packing and ordered a taxi for noon to get me to the airport. Had breakfast, then took a final walk around the area to get a few photos.
Found out what the Romans really did for us.
The taxi arrived early, just as I got back from my walk. There was a demonstration of sorts about to begin, I didn't ask what about, but a lot of TV cameras were deploying, so the cab driver wanted to be on his way. We made it to the airport in forty minutes.
There were pigeons in the airport.
Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about pigeons. Call it an idiosyncracy if you will, but I just hate the things, rats with feathers that they are, and here they were, indoors, crapping everywhere.
That's just wrong. My last, reassuring memory of Rome was that they couldn't get through the security check without exploding.
At last, hope.