A Winter’s Day in Rome

Spanish steps, with tout in foreground flogging 'free' flowers.

Dave the motorhome remains still, sat in a sea of blackness at Village Flaminio, a few km north of Rome. It’s 5:30pm and it’s been dark for an hour, although our wanderings into Rome brought us back in daylight today, as winter has arrived.

Today in Rome: rain. The moped riders must be tough cookies riding like demons on these wet cobbles.

Last night’s weather forecast said a minimum of 2°C, so we left the electric heater on, which we picked up in a North Spain supermarket. Waking in the night, it was still cool in here, even with the little white thing blowing away full pelt. This morning rain again splattered on the roof and the cloudless sky had gone walkabout; winter has arrived.

Making good use of the luxury showers, and cleaning up the remnants of last night’s meatballs, we’d already decided Charlie would stay in the van today while we headed back into the city. Taking him into Rome was no problem. We read last night he should have been in a box, or wearing a muzzle while on the train and underground, but no-one said anything to us and we didn’t see any other dogs on public transport to see what the locals did. The reason for not taking him was to give us a little more freedom to explore; I’d had to take three steps backwards past an invisible line at the entrance when the guardian at the Pantheon spotted me holding him yesterday.

The Due Ponti train station is close to the campsite, maybe a ten minute’s walk. It’s five minutes of wondering though. Where is the pavement? Is this a dual carriageway? Should I be climbing over this barrier? Why is that man in the car gesticulating at me for pressing the button to at the crossing? Should I walk an extra five minutes to the distant crossing, or just leg it across here like the worn path indicates everyone else does?

Train station: 400m away. Good luck. The campsite’s on the other side of the road.

Lives taken into hands, we survived and made it to the decrepit platform, and made a profit on a €1.50, 100 minute ticket, selling it to a lady for €2 since we had no change. She was very pleased and insisted we keep the money, as the ticket machine was bust. Three blue-uniformed elderly gents stood in a huddle, somehow ending up giving Ju advice on finding the Vatican, in German, saying goodbye with a Gute Fhart (good trip)!

Trains in Rome, with these weird steps which bang out at the low platforms so you can climb up.

The graffiti plastered trains seem to work well here, running frequently, but each time there was a bang or clatter I expected a door to fall off. There’s an oddity too: you have to request the train stops for some stations, shown in blue on the line map in the train, using a button like on a bus in the UK. It was a weird experience last night, as we soon sussed it would be easy to lose track of which station we were at as we rumbled along in the dark.

Rolling into Rome, I followed Ju along the warren of tunnels to the A-line underground route. Despite there only being two lines here (A and B), I’m always impressed with her ability to suss where she is in these places. I guess there’s a point to make here. Rome’s really not very big, two underground lines are probably enough, although we spotted a C line being built near the Colosseum. The old centre is easily walk-able across for us, fuelled up with a bit of pizza or a paper spiral cone of roast chestnuts.

Charlie wasn’t keen on visiting St Peter’s Basilica yesterday, so I took the chance to have a look around today. If anything, the queues we even shorter than yesterday, straight through security (half the folks seemed to set off the scanner, me included, but no-one was stopped) and into the building. It struck me as rather pink, and of course massive. Being the centre of a religion with about a sixth the planet’s population as members, it would of course be large.

Michelangelo’s Pietà, the damage to the Virgin Mary’s nose plain to see.
Heraldic Dragon spotted in St Peter’s Basilica.
Pilgrims (AKA a tour group) smoothing the foot of a bronze St Peter. His left foot has almost worn flat, a fabulous symbol of how popular Roman Catholicism has been for centuries.

Being Roman Catholic, it is also massively decorated, including a good amount of pink marble. We strolled around, bent our necks and gawped at the place, including a walk through the grotto under the church, resting ground of uniformly-distributed popes in marble casks. Ju took a second walk back, looking for John Paul II (her favourite as he’s the only one she knows, and he had a pope-mobile) but we somehow couldn’t find him.

St Peter’s Basilica Grotto.

Back out front we felt a bit deflated. The weather’s gone bad, but that wasn’t the reason, I think. We’d geared ourselves up to see the sights, and yesterday we saw them, or at least the top 5% of them we were ever going to be interested in.

We couldn’t resist it: the Swiss Guard.

Today we wondered what we’d do. Ideally we’d have wandered the streets in the sun, taken in a restaurant for lunch, walked some more and ended the afternoon sat outside a cafe with an espresso (me) and cake (Ju). Our tight clutch on our budget and the cold conditions limited what we wanted to do though, so we walked through the city peering into shops and stalls, seeking in vain the infamous Rome traffic and avoiding buying brollies from the distributed army of lookie-lookie men.

Lookie lookie men operating under gang masters (we assume) as they all sell the same stuff every day. Rainy day: brollies and plastic ponchos. Nice days; Rip off designer bags and splat-toys.
Nativity scene cake? Note lady sat inside distinctly unhappy with something, probably me and my nosey camera, sorry…

The only other sight we managed was the Spanish Steps, right next door to a house where Keats lived. After a moment’s inspection, I found myself far more fascinated with the chaps pretending to give away roses and then demanding €s. One poor woman took them, was surprised by the demand for cash, handed some over, was again surprised when more cash was demanded and ended up having her small bunch of roses swapped for a sorry-looking individual rose.

Spanish steps, with tout in foreground flogging ‘free’ flowers.

From the steps Ju tackled the spaghetti streets, confidently leading us towards the subway. I followed, feeling a little beaten with water soaking into the sock of my right boot. Note to self: buy new boots. Back at the train station we were hours earlier than yesterday. The groups of beggars we’d seen waiting for the train yesterday, cardboard held under one arm and bag of groceries under the other, were still out in the city on shift. Some bend double, praying hands bobbing in front of the on-the-ground foreheads. Others have awful disabilities, which they remove their clothing so you can see, a twisted foot here and stub of an arm there. The city reminds me a little of New York when I first visited it in the early 90’s. It had a slightly edgy feel, before the police cracked down on beggars (and in the process removing the fascinating street performers and con-artists). Maybe in ten years the streets here will have been ‘cleansed’ too, and will be the more boring for it.

Bonus photo: The column of Marcus Aurelius, you know, the elderly ruler in the film Gladiator?

It’s 7:00pm now and Charlie is snoring. He was pleased to see us when we got back, but it took him a few minutes to wake up. We think he enjoyed his day off after wearing himself out sniffing the sights yesterday.



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