We arrived in Rome on Sunday, completely wasted and insufficiently prepared for the 38C day ahead of us, and the fact that we had 4 hours between us arriving at our accommodation and being able to check in. We managed… just. Mostly we managed by finding gelati, followed by finding a restaurant that would serve us lunch early, and then by taking refugee in a nearby park for the remainder of the time. When we got to our apartment and checked in, we showered, slept for 6 hours, got up had dinner, and then went back to bed and slept for another 8 hours. We were quite jetlagged.
Photos are here.
Things I’ve learnt about Rome so far
1. Never visit during a heatwave – in fact probably avoid visiting at all during summer
The daily maximum temperature since we’ve arrived has been 37 – 39C. This is a very hot temperature to wander around in outside, and when you remember that that is the temperature in the shade, the moment you step outside the shade and into a piazza, or a unshaded set of ruins, the temperature rapidly becomes unbearable. This makes me admire the tenacity of street vendors who spend their day in the sun selling hats, cold water, parasols, fans, sunglasses, and other goods. I’ve now decided that if I ever do come back to Rome, it’ll be in Spring or Autumn when hopefully the weather is cooler.
We are scheduled to have a cool change (with the max for tomorrow being 30) with possibly some rain, which will bring a whole new light to the city.
2. Romans have dogs
You don’t hear them, you sometimes see them being walked by their owners, but mostly you notice that said owners don’t clean up after their dogs when they take them for walks. I’m actually surprised by the number of dogs I’ve seen in the neighbourhood I’m in, and the sizes. I haven’t actually seen any cats, not even stray cats. There must be cats about somewhere.
3. Ancient Rome is everywhere
We’re staying about 400 metres from the Colosseum, so yeah, you’d expect Ancient Rome to be everywhere here, but it’s everywhere, everywhere. No matter which way you go, you end up finding a bit of ruined wall here, an old gate there, a former temple or some columns over there. Judging from the tourist information at the places I’ve been to so far, there is clearly an ongoing dilemma as to whether or not preserve the ruins or move on and modernise the city, and the government of the day plays a large part in the attitude towards such things. Right now I think Rome is in the maintain the ruins, but previous governments at various times have bulldozed historical remains in order to build roads, train stations, and train lines. I cannot imagine what it must be like to make those decisions.
Rome also has a law that states that any ancient artefact found in the ground automatically belongs to the state.
There is so much Ancient Rome about the place, that they keep finding it. Entire houses have been uncovered (either buried by dirt or river silt), and the contents catalogued and stored in museums. The Roman Archeological Department must be masters in relocating frescos and mosaics, because I went to a museum today and saw many of them mounted on walls. Moving such fragile and delicate (not to mention fiddly) objects of art would take immense skill.
4. Ancient traditions survive
I played a game called Ceasar III, in which you were building Roman cities and defending your city against barbarian invasions/pacifying the barbarians. One of the strategies you had to employ was that all the buildings in an area had to have access to fresh water, or they would not increase in size/affluence. This still happens in Rome. There are water taps (best description I can come up with) with cold drinking water (very necessary in this heat) available for anyone to use, and they’re everywhere. You can fill your water bottle, wet your head, give your dog a drink – it’s fresh water provided by the government. This is awesome.
5. Parking is an artform
Rome is tiny, there are many people with cars who drive from A to B, who want to park their vehicle when they arrive at B (or A). Consequently, car parking ballet is an interesting sight to behold. Basically if there is a space on the side of the road, including on the corner of the intersection, people will park in it, no matter what the signs say. People drive around looking for carparks in the vicinity they want to be in, and then race for that space that they think they’ll park in. Also, Romans are masters of parallel parking. I have no idea how people get in or out of the tiny spaces they fit their cars into, nor how they manage when they find that they’ve been entirely boxed in.
6. There are churches everywhere
You cannot sneeze without it hitting a church, or basilica, or other religious site. Rome really is the most Catholic of all, and they have all the monuments to prove it. Within 100 metres of my apartment are two basilicas, and numerous more if I drew a 500m radius from where I’m sitting. As Christianity spread throughout Rome, former temples and monuments to other gods were repurposed, often without changing the exterior. Also at some point, Popes in Rome enjoyed the artwork of Roman polytheism and didn’t mind that monuments and fountains dedicated to them were covered in Ancient Roman gods.
I do appreciate that there is current acknowledgement at historical sites that the early Christian Church (once it converted emperors), happily persecuted anyone still practicing their old faiths after those faiths were outlawed. It’s not every day such honesty is displayed.
The Vatican really does have WAY too much power, way too much wealth, and way too much influence. Guess what I couldn’t find at the local supermarket? That’s right, condoms. Yes, seriously.
7. Language is not required
I have been existing mostly in the tourist areas, so the majority of the serving staff I’ve interacted with do speak some English, and since I am a tourist, this has worked out perfectly. The handful of Italians I have come across that consider themselves poor English speakers have still been relatively easy to communicate with. The joys of speaking more than one language, and the supremacy of English that makes me lazy.
That’s my quick summation for now. It’s been too hot to really enjoy the food, however the gelati is amazing. Stay tuned for an update on Florence (next week), another post about Cologne (the week following), and a final post about Paris (again, at the end of August).