Rome — First Impressions Part 2

Rome, Day One

Exhausted as we were, we couldn’t wait to go out and explore a bit. From our trusty map, we knew that most of the sights weren’t that far as the crow flies, so we decided to head towards the Colosseum.

We crossed the Ponte Testaccio (one of the seven main bridges that link one side of the Tiber to the other) and walked for a while along the Lungotevere Testaccio to Via Marmorata. This is a broad avenue that hugs the Tiber delimited from the river by a chest-high wall, and tall trees. On the other side, housing complexes (I hesitate to call them apartment buildings as we know them here in Canada) side-by-side, with tall windows, some closed with rolling outside blinds. It’s very quiet, with little traffic, but on each side of the street, every inch is lined with cars. The cars are small, and brands we don’t see often in our country: Lancia, Fiat, Peugeot, Opel, and, of course, dozens upon dozens of SmartCars.

The water of the Tiber is a cloudy jade green, with lots of current. It’s not really a pretty river here, caged at it is between high walls. We walk to the Ponte Sublicio turn onto Via Marmorata. Surprisingly, because I never thought of Rome as tropical, palm trees and bamboo grow along pine and a tree that resembles maple. But it’s the pines, here, that take our breath away. They are majestic and incredibly beautiful against blue sky. Throughout our trip, we saw them everywhere, and could not tire of them.
We walked down Marmorata to Piazza San Paolo which, we learned later from experience, is one of the traffic hubs in Rome. It’s a major metro stop, a train station, an important stop for buses, and somewhat of a roundabout for cars. Even on Sunday, it was pretty busy. We promptly got lost, a fact that would happen more times than we cared to count during our month there. “Lost” when you’re on holiday and exploring isn’t a big thing. We sort of roamed for a while, then I went to a newspaper stand and asked directions to the Colosseum. I nearly burst out laughing: for a moment, the man had to orient himself before he could point us in the right direction. We walked along the Viale della Piramide Cestia, leaving behind most of the traffic (especially in the direction of the airport) then Viale Aventino, its name taken from the smallest of Rome’s seven hills, the Aventino (40 meter high), which led us to the Circo Massimo, built around 600BC. The Circo, where Romans use to race their chariots in daredevil races (remember Ben Hur?) is HUGE, certainly half a kilometer long (1,875 roman feet). The length of a race was seven circuits. With seats all around, it could accommodate from 150,000 to 385,000 spectators. That’s more than some of our stadia here!

tn_colosseum.JPGThe Via di San Gregorio led us to the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, as we walked along the Forii Imperiali and part of the Foro Romano. Seeing the Colosseum rise as we approached it, and rise, and rise, until it is truly colossal, was an awe-inspiring experience. In spite of the hundreds of tourist roaming around the Piazza del Colosseo, or maybe because of it, its size is imposing; you feel the weight of the years here, but also the sheer genius of those architects and builders who raised a monument that lasted over a thousand years. It is 50 meters (164 feet) high and its total circumference is 545 meters (1,790 feet).

We gaped for an hour, then decided to stop for a bite to eat then return to the apartment, by then having walked several kilometers. Later, I sat on the balcony, and listened to the sounds that were to become familiar after a month: car traffic, honks, people’s voices echoing up, and the clanking sound of pans as supper was prepared. The sky was clear, the air redolent of cooking smells and the particular scent that is Rome, indescribable but oh so recognizable.

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