I did what few travelers or guides would ever recommend, and that is try to conquer the vastness of Rome in a single day. I don’t recommend it either. Jacob decided he had seen enough of Rome, so I was alone for the weekend of traveling. To maximize the day, I had asked my photography professor (who knows Italy like the back of his hand) some places to go, and he gave me pointers on some non-touristy things to see and routes to go to get the most of things. I extensively planned out my general route and the places I wanted to see, downloaded an app which had a decent map, and then reserved a train leaving at 730am and departing from Rome at 930PM. I did not plan to eat any sit down meals, and would only pause to snack on the bag of bread rolls and box of granola bars throughout the entire day.
I got off the Rome train platform at 9AM, and made my way south into a residential area my professor had recommended as a historical residential area of Rome. It was more modernized of course, but it was a good representation of a non-tourist infested area. I then went into some excavated ruin sites near the coliseum –the Fori Imperali– with a statute of Julius Cesar nearby before heading to the Coliseum. The Coliseum was the one thing I had for sure planned on going inside no matter how long the lines were. I waited at least a half hour, but the wait was very well worth it. The ancient stadium was colossal and magnificent, even in a shadow of its former stature. I love shows and movies like Spartacus, 300, and Gladiator, and it was enthralling just to imagine the spectacular events that had occurred where I was observing. I read and examined a few exhibit pieces, but most of my time there was spent just admiring the epic structure from the viewable ring on both levels. I spent the most time here, probably about 2 hours total. With the same ticket I went left and saw the Hippodrome, the former grand chariot racing arena, now mostly just a big park. I then went onto Palatine hill, former estates of well to do Romans, with excavated ruins from the cities past. The area was full of gardens, temples, and larger villas, many of which were in fair condition. I snaked my way through much of this area and onto the Roman Forum, the first ancient meeting place of Rome, complete with prostitution, markets, and gladiator fights. Roman generals use to march through this forum after a victorious campaign. The remnants of several grand temples stood here–the one to Saturn was the most impressive and recognizable.
Leaving the Forum, I made it to capitoline hill, where Rome is said to have been founded. Here, a large structure called the Vittoriano was dedicated to the first king of unified Italy, apparently controversially at the expense of some of the ruins of the Forums. Up the stairs of this building was the tomb to the unknown soldier, much like the one in Washington D.C. From the top of this grand marble structure is apparently a fantastic view of the Forum and Coliseum, but it was at least an hour journey to the top not counting any lines that might be there, and it was not on my must do list. I ate some of my bread and granola bars on the square of this building, admiring it and taking in some much needed water and shade. At the recommendation of my professor, I started for the Jewish ghetto–a term which my professor emphasized was not as vulgar as it was in the states. This was a very cultural area with shops and several open markets. I stopped in at a bakery to get a fair priced sandwich to eat on the go. In looking for the Jewish ghetto I inadvertently traveled through the entirety of it. I had anticipated that I was further south than I was after passing a large area of more interesting ruins, and by the time I realized it, I was probably a mile from the island in the middle of the Tiber River, that my professor said was also interesting, as well as a fountain and square called Portico d’Ottavia. These were the only two things I had planned on seeing that I missed. Instead, I followed the grand Tiber river, which was clouded and fairly dirty, though still impressive. I ended up walking most of the way of the distance to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Square, and so I made my way there. St. Peter’s square is incredibly impressive. I walked around it for a while, checking out the columned circle that surrounds the square, saw where the pope pops his head out from, and then decided to skip the actual tour of the Cathedral mostly because the lines were horrendous, and it too wasn’t a high priority of mine.
I instead went to Castel Sant’angelo, the fort that I best remember from the Da Vinci code. It had its famed little path going up to the Vatican to be used in case the pope was in danger. I paid the few to tour this because the lines weren’t bad, and it was a fantastic view of the city. I visited all of the levels and pretty much very nook and cranny to get a lot of different views. Leaving here, I made my way to the Pantheon, the epic temple of Rome. It was free entry, and so I spent a good 15-20 minutes gazing at all of the architecture, mosaics, and art within it. The Pantheon is massive, but it can be fully seen in a short period of time. I especially enjoyed the way a large beam of light came through the roof, which would be at different angles throughout the day. It reminded me of the scene with Balin’s tomb in Lord of the Rings. After this I got some gelato and a water, taking time to eat a few more granola bars. Then, on my way to the romantically famed Trevi fountain, I got the sort of lost that I have never been in my life. Even with decent maps and a fair sense of which part of the city I was in, for a solid 20 minutes I had absolutely no idea where I was or how to get to the fountains. I walked up and down the same street for that time until I got my bearings straight. The Trevi fountain, as cool as I’m sure it is in a normal state, was a big let down. The fountain itself was walled off with a glass palisade so you couldn’t get near it, the fountain was empty, and the cool architecture above the fountain had scaffolding all over it for repair. Needless to say I didn’t spend much time here.
I made my short way to the Spanish Steps and got about half way up the structure before police started barricading the top to clear the stairs for some sort of musical performance complete with trapeze artist looking dancers. So I walked back down and sat at a statue to catch up on water and some much needed food. It was late in the day by now, and I was exhausted and very sore. So I started wandering back in the direction of the train station now just a few miles off. I came across some sort of administrative square with buildings surrounding it and was told to get off to the other side of the road, without being explained why. There was some military parade going on; soldiers, both men and women, marching with ceremonial rifles and chanting “Italia!” every few minutes. There were some high ranking generals there as well. It was over within 45 minutes, and I thought maybe it was for the Italian President or something with its security detail, but I never really found out, and the area cleared out pretty fast afterwards. Very cool to watch though.
Over by the train station, I used my spare time to visit some ruins of the city in a park which the city has designated as a stray cat sanctuary. Dozens of cats crawl around the fenced in ruins and lay out on the lawn surrounding it. They wander the park area full of pedestrians as well. I saw some kids playing basketball, some more playing soccer. It was a nice environment as sunset. I got one last round of gelato before heading to the train station. I got back to my room in Florence at about 1030 PM, a 15 hour day of traveling and exploring Rome under my belt.
Rome was a must see for me. From my love of history and lengthy readings of Roman civilization in the past, to my addiction to movies, shows, and video games about the empire, I couldn’t justify coming to Italy and not seeing as much as I could of Rome, even if it meant being alone. I would have liked to spend a night there to explore more the next day, or even space out the sightseeing to make it more humane, but I did save a lot of money doing it the way I did, and I saw a tremendous amount with a fair amount of time to see things everywhere I went. It was probably best no one was with me, because the journey would have been just about hell to anyone who wasn’t as dedicated as I was to my itinerary. I was completely exhausted, sore, and blistered, and even though Rome wasn’t built in a day, dammit I conquered it in one–best as any human alive could claim to do.