Wander the Rainbow World Map

Rome, Open City

April 22nd, 2018 by David Jedeikin

They say that one who tires of London tires of life, but I think the same can be said for Rome. City boy that I am, I wondered if my travelers three would feel the same way about Rome now as I did then.

On the Red Arrow

With that in mind, we left our Florence accommodations and headed to the one significant portion of our our European rail journeys unaffected by French strikes: the high speed train from Florence to Rome.

Italy frequently gets assailed for being one of Europe’s somewhat less organized countries: orderliness is a rarity, trains are rarely on time… actually, things seem to have improved on that front since my last visit: the Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) is Italy’s entrant into the European high-speed realm, and as with comparable such rail travel elsewhere, it’s so smooth and speedy that you arrive almost before you settle in. Jacob and Sam played against us in a mini-chess tournament and creamed both Mathew and me.

Roma Termini left all other European stations we’d seen so far in the dust. It looked to have been remodeled since I was last here and is a massive monument of midcentury grandeur. As I explained to the gang, Italy’s medieval city-states, such as Florence and Pisa, emerged in the Renaissance with some influence and importance. But nothing ever equaled ancient Rome in the Western world until the modern age.

(Family) Historic Fountains

Today Rome remains a good-sized city, with a metro area population a bit larger than Seattle’s or Montreal’s. As with Florence, bits of family past from this city have worked their way into our present. One example of this is a statue of a fountain that sat in my grandmother’s dining room and now graces my Mom’s, the boys’ grandmother’s, dining area. It’s a miniature copy of the Fontana delle Tartarughe, the Turtle Fountain, one of the city’s smaller but still grand historic fountains that were built during the Renaissance at the terminus of some re-activated Roman aqueducts. It’s said that ancient Rome had enough water coming to it as New York City did during the mid-twentieth century; in an age before electricity the fountains were all designed to operate via simple gravity pressure.

We meandered past the ruins of the ancient city and around the former Jewish ghetto and synagogue before coming across this waterwork in an otherwise-unassuming little piazza. A movie crew looked to be setting up for an evening shoot, period picture car and all. It was easy to imagine my glamorous grandparents driving through here headed to some event or another in this lively city.

Lions and Christians and Bus Tours…

Next morning, we headed off from our accommodations in Esquiline Hill — literally the ancient Roman suburbs, today an elegant neighborhood of midrises — to the sight so often associated with this city: the Colosseum. Here again, we managed to brave the crowds, and I again had the sensation from last time I visited this place: it was meant for crowds. Sports fans both, the boys were amazed to see a two-thousand-year-old structure that rivals in scale the ballparks of today. No lions eating anyone for spectacle here anymore, but we Marvel movie fans were tempted to yell out, “we know each other… he’s a friend from work!” from the last Thor film‘s gladiator scene.

Rome’s both big enough to tour by motor vehicle, and dense enough to make an al fresco experience worthwhile. Since we weren’t all of Vespa-riding age a la Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, we instead bought tickets to one of the half-dozen of open-top bus tours of the city. It was a glorious sunny day and this proved to be a great way to spot many of the major sights.

We made a brief stop at the Trevi Fountain — yup, grander than the Turtle Fountain but so thronged it was difficult to get near the thing, never mind drop in a lucky coin. Nearby, we visited the shop of a brother of one of my Dad’s old friends. Gloria hung out with me when I was here ten years ago, where we met at some friends’ apartment who’d done up their outdoor terrace as a sukkah, the temporary shelter Jews in warmer climes put up during the fall festival commemorating the Israelites endless wanderings in the desert. This time around, we caught up on details of her life — she’s moved to Tel Aviv, finding it a livelier and less formal scene than Rome — and ours, which she summed up as follows:

“I see many Instagrams of you,” she said, motioning to Mathew, “and the cat!

Sounds about right.

Big Art, Little Country

Next day, fortified by a couple of home-cooked meals care of Mathew, we rose for a mix of culture and sport. I’d booked us in one of those “skip the line” tours of the Vatican, Earth’s smallest nation-state, hoping it would get us in quickly and provide a fun, edifying way to see the place. Well, it did usher us past the throngs queued up outside the city/state’s walls… only to herd us into one of those typically boring tours that put off a generation of kids (mine) to art and history. So we skipped the rest of the tour as well, and meandered through the glories of the Vatican museum before coming upon the peak attraction: the Sistine Chapel.

“Oh yeah, it’s really colorful,” said Jacob, in response to my earlier note about the 1980s restoration of the frescoes that some have accused of looking too much like cartoon animation. Still, the place remains astounding in spite of the crowds gawking at the ceiling. Regardless of how one feels about Roman Catholicism and its impact around the world, they sure got a nice headquarters.

Saturday Sport

For our last evening in Rome, the Fates handed us a nice gift: as sports aficionados, both boys were hankering to catch a game of some sort here in Italy… which, given this nation’s passions meant soccer– ahem football. Looking on the calendar early in the year seemed to indicate this was playoff season, and nothing was scheduled for the week we were there… until a couple weeks ago, when a match popped onto the listings for the Saturday before we were to head home… perfect. Best of all, two of the cities we’d been to were competing that evening: Rome vs. Florence.

Rome being Rome, there was not easy way to get to its Stadio Olimpico, the arena used in the 1960 Olympics and extensively remodeled in the 1990s. A combination of Metro and taxi did the trick. We nearly had a heart-stopping “are they gonna let us in?” moment when they asked for our passports as identification, but they relented and allowed our group of American/Canadians in to get an up-close look at this frenzied pastime.

I made sure to get us seats in the better-viewing-angle seats along the stadiums sides… but not just for the view. The cheaper “Curva” seats, along the stadium’s goalposts, are where superfans of both teams tend to sit… and even though this wasn’t as crazy a game as their matches against Lazio (the cross-town team) or Naples, it was, by our North American reckoning, pretty nuts. Both Sam and Jacob noted that playoffs games with the Montreal Canadiens (“the Habs” as they’re affectionately known) can get pretty intense, but this was on a whole other level. In the Rome fan section, people waved enormous oversized flags and chanted pretty much the entire two hours we were there.

Alas, it didn’t help much: Rome lost the game, and for a moment there when a possible goal of theirs was declared invalid, I thought fans, even in our more sedate section, were about to mutiny.

Nonetheless, it proved a swell outing. We headed home via sardine-can-crowded streetcar and Metro to our short-stay apartment before another long day of flights home.

The score on this tournament of travel: up two more newly-minted world explorers, and some great memories of fair Italia. Up next in this series: our niece Layla in two years.

 

 

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