The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast and headed over to the train station to catch our train to Rome. We rode in style, first class the whole way–though not by choice. Unfortunately, when we had gone to the train station to buy our tickets the day before, all of the second class seats on every train to Rome had been sold out. Without any choice, we shelled out the €380 for the tickets. It was quite nice to experience first class, but I maintain that, unlike on a plane, there is little use for first class on a train–second class on trains already has plenty of leg room and comfy seats. The ride itself was uneventful, and we made it into Rome without a hassle.
I had been to Rome once before, last year during spring break as a stop on the way to meeting friends in Florence. The feelings I’d had then upon entering Rome flooded back, and not all of them were good. Immediately upon entering Rome Termini train station, you are bombarded with the essence of Rome. Unbelievably crowded, tens of thousands of people shove and cram their way past you, all moving haphazardly in one direction or the other. Don’t lose sight of the people in your group, it might take you a while to find them again. Keep your hands on your valuables, the pickpockets in Rome are notorious, and immediately upon entering the train station you get the feeling they aren’t an urban myth. You make your way out the main exit of the train station into the parking lot and taxi terminal, to be bombarded by sketchy people selling umbrellas or offering you an illicit taxi. The taxis themselves don’t pick up from a designated point, you must practically fight for one in the only place I’ve ever seen with fewer taxis than people waiting for one. People, seeing the luggage you are carrying and the dumbstruck looks on your faces, will offer to find you one for a small “finder’s fee”–it may or may not be worth it to take them up on the offer. Finally making it into a taxi, you’ve got to make sure not to get ripped off by a driver claiming “thats what it costs.” Rome is intensely sketchy, dirty, overcrowded, but above all, alive, and despite the potential to get ripped off, pickpocketed, or otherwise have a bad experience, it’s a welcome change from the sterile German cities with which I have the most experience.
My foremost impression of Rome is that it is a city of contrasts. Intensely dirty, crowded, and leaving one with the feeling that he could be ripped off at anytime, it is nonetheless a city of intense beauty, a city that moves, breathes, feels alive. Two thousand year old Roman architecture mingles with 17th century Baroque masterpieces in a beautiful, if disjointed, amalgam of building art and mastery. Friendly, sincere Italians mingle with rude, opportunistic ones intent on taking tourists’ money. This abundance of contrasts is what makes Rome what it is, and is the reason I like the place, despite all the negatives I’ve listed. I got this impression last time I was there, and a second visit only served to reinforce that.
We got checked into the hotel, and, with daylight fading, walked down the street to the Roman Forum. I had walked by part of the Forum on my last visit, while we were on the way to the Colosseum, looming in the distance just down the street, but I had never gotten to actually visit it. This time my Mom, Dad, little brother, and I walked over everything that we could, unfortunately not much as the light was fading fast. I scrambled trying to take as many pictures as I could in the low light, all while admiring the 2000 year old ruins surrounding me, crumbling columns jutting into the air with remnants of their less fortunate neighbors haphazardly littering the ground all around them. The amazing thing is that large parts of it had been buried over and built over, only to be rediscovered a hundred years ago when a neighborhood was torn down to be renovated. While we were walking, I also took the opportunity to look around me and take in the domes of all of the churches all around me on the horizon, the sheer abundance of beautiful architecture astounding me once again.
With the light now totally gone, we headed back to the hotel, and soon, to a small neighborhood trattoria on a nearby sidestreet. We walked in the door, sat at one of the tables, covered in red and white checked tablecloths, and started with a liter of wine and some bruschetta. For dinner, I had Cacio e Pepe, a pasta dish with finely grated cheese and freshly ground pepper on top, while everyone else had various pasta dishes, all of which were uniformly excellent. While we were eating, several accordion players wandered into the restraurant, playing tunes for tips. The first one did reasonably well, collecting tips from most tables; the second had the bad luck to come in 5 minutes after the first left and was promptly chased out by the owner, not wanting his customers to keep having to tip the performers. When we finished, we paid the astonishingly low tab and wandered back up the street and around the corner to our hotel, getting to bed early to get as much rest as possible for the next day–our biggest day in Rome, primary event, the Vatican.
As always, more pictures in the photo gallery, and check out my Flickr page for even more.