Being the Latin nerd that I am (Latin meaning the language and cultural related to the Romans), I had spent many a year looking forward to my first visit to Rome. Though my time was brief (Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I sure visited it in as much time), I was able to hit all of the tourist spots that I wanted to see and still get in some relaxation time after all of my days of train rides and long walks. After checking into my hostel, I determined a plan of action that would take me through the Coliseum and Roman ruins nearby.
As I climbed the stairs to exit the metro, my breath was taken away as I laid eyes upon the Coliseum for the first time. I had never thought that I would be so incredibly moved by a piece of history, but I could feel the tears welling in my eyes as I beheld it. This is what I had spent my high school years waiting for, what each and every book, class, and competition had prepared me for…that phenomenal, well-preserved piece of history that stood before me. I walked its perimeter, letting the awe soak in, and when I was ready I patiently waited in line so I could tour through it. My imagination swept me away as I slowly moved through it, remembering what events took place where, how the stadium was set up in its full glory…I spent hours wandering back and forth, through the museum portion of the Coliseum and back out into the open air, captivated by how ancient everything was. After observing every nook and cranny that I was allowed to view, I left to explore the ruins of the Circus Maximus, those at Palatine Hill, and the various monuments in the surrounding area as well.
I made my way through the ruins in the same state of awe as I had been during my time at the Coliseum, and I wandered aimlessly, recognizing names of certain areas, half-remembering their historical significance, and humming the song we used to memorize the names of the hills in Latin class (Capitoline, Palatine, Aventine, Esquiline, Quirinal, Viminal, Caelien, Janiculum). The Circus Maximus was partially being used as a sort of art exhibit, with strange photographs and sculptures scattered throughout the ruins. Personally, as much as I enjoy the juxtaposition of the ancient with the modern when seeing Coliseum and the Roman ruins so well-preserved in the middle of the city, I didn’t care for the exhibit’s presence within the ruins one bit. But, what can a girl do but take her photos and continue on, using her imagination to guide her?
In the ruins, I had a brief encounter of the creepiest kind…long story short: an unusual fellow was following around a guided tour that I wandered into. When I parted with the group, he approached me in a friendly enough manner, claiming to be a tour guide and was aiming to “guide” me to view ruins in a noticeably unpopulated area. Needless to say, between his strange mannerisms that warned of a mental disorder and his claim of being a guide and yet following a tour group around while not actually guiding a tour led to immediate alarm bells in my head; thus, with a quick-but-polite “thanks but no thanks, I’m meeting my boyfriend,” I promptly got the hell out of dodge…and the only reason I bothered with being polite is that once the warning bells went off, the dude screamed Ted Bundy. Thankfully, I have a strong intuition and a good head on my shoulders, so I was able to disappear quickly, slipping into the first tour group I saw. For the better part of an hour, I kept a vigilant eye out for the creeper before daring to venture off for more solitary exploration. Even still, I made sure to stay in well-populated areas just in case, up until the point where my camera died and I was forced to retreat to the hostel for a battery-charging session. Though the encounter put a slight damper on my exploration time and caused me to miss out on viewing some of the ruins (I was avoiding the area I last saw him like the plague), I was very grateful to have seen what I had seen, and was grateful to get some time to relax after spending so much time in the heat.
I spent the rest of my afternoon and evening getting to know some of my hostelmates, chatting over pasta and wine – a welcome experience after so much time to myself. A good-sized group of us got together and headed out to the Couchsurfing get-together there in Rome, and there I got to meet and chat with a couple of other people involved in CS. Oddly enough, most of the people there weren’t locals, but it was nice to meet them, nonetheless. After a few hours of talking and dancing salsa, we headed back to our hostel to get some shut-eye. Lo and behold, we found the Vatican – and what a lovely sight to see!!
I was definitely out a little later than I would have liked (especially since I had to be up early for my train the next morning), but it was some needed social time that I was happy to have. It was a little unexpected to witness the hostel hook-up culture (in which by the end of the night the guys are trying to find at least one girl in their hostel to get with), as it wasn’t something that I was even sure existed outside of the movies. Can you tell that I’m usually a homebody when it comes to hostel life? I can’t really say that I was truly surprised given the young drunken hormones involved with such groups…though, after having to politely decline the attention of an over-friendly Korean fellow who was doing everything in his power to win my attention for the evening, I was beyond ready to call it a night in my all-girls room.
With just a handful of hours of sleep under my belt, I left bright and early the next morning and made my way southeast to the coastal city of Bari!