Hi! Remember that time when I stopped writing my blog mid-Europe trip?! Oh good, cuz it might happen again here, also.
I’m back abroad! The morning after school got out (thanks, snow days) we left Seattle at 9am, flew to Detroit and then direct into Rome, landing at 9am local time. Our tour group often tries to do overnight flights so we get have one tough first day, but then get on local time quickly, and can maximize our time abroad. When we walked off the plane, we were immediately hit with the heat, and as we waited on the ground floor baggage claim for our guide, the muggy air combined with 50 tired travelers made us wonder what we were in for. Finally we met Elena, our guide for the two weeks! Our hotel wouldn’t be ready for check in for 2 hours so since the airport was slightly out of town already, who wanted to go dip their feet in the Mediterarren?! 🙋🏻
We drove to the beach and let them explore, get lunch, ice cream or whatever for about 30 minutes. As a small beach shack on the outs of town, the students got their first experience of ordering across languages. You should have seen the looks on their faces when the lady asked them if they wanted “water with gas.” 😳😲
From there, we drove to our hotel, dropped the luggage and then hit the packed sights of Rome. It was even a holiday and she kept saying how little traffic there was! First up, the Spanish Steps, named for the Spanish embassy to the Vatacin here, which have been here for 300 years. Although in this town it’s pretty young. Also, apparently they were in some *classic* movie I have to see.
Next up, Trevi Fountian! You can see in the background that if you wanted a more representative picture of it, that the crowds were like twenty rows deep. Amy and I didn’t feel like bothering, and that’s what the internet is for, right! See? Here’s Trevi Fountain much better than I could have taken anyway:
(Shout out to this kid, who’s pose game is so much more 👌🏽than mine.) And shout out to my friend and colleague Amy Johnson for always being willing to take all these pictures and hustling to frame it like I’m the only one there!
Trevi Fountain was built in 1762 to celebrate the reopening of some of Rome’s ancient aqueducts bringing water to the city, and features Neptune, the god of the Sea. If you want to ensure a return to Rome, it’s said you need to toss a coin over your right shoulder into the fountain! Both Amy and I did the ritual (which before you think is a complete shtick, Rick Steve also says he does it every trip, so it must be legit.), and it would turn out later that I am glad I did. Here’s a video that I hope works of Amy throwing hers in!
Last stop of the day was the Pantheon, which unfortunately because of that holiday, turned out it was closed! You can tell because the place is completely deserted. 😐 Have I mentioned how dense and packed the city is? 5 million people live here and then the tourism on top of it makes it nonstop hustle and bustle. Dozens of street vendors at every attraction try to thrust things into your hands and then get you to pay for it, amongst other scams and hustles. I was looking forward to seeing the Pantheon, a precious altar to Roman gods built in 27 BC (!) that wasn’t destroyed when Christianity came to Rome only because it was converted into a church (“All the Gods” became “All the Martyrs”), but it wasn’t meant to be.From there, and after countless students telling me about how hot it was, how much their legs hurt and how tired they were, we went to dinner, back to the hotel, and- finally- to sleep!
Day 2 was, according to Elena an “easy morning.” I realized later she meant because we could load the bus at 9:30, not because of the two hours we’d spend walking in direct heat at the Forum and Colloseum. But! I learned some fun history facts! If that’s not your jam, skip now to the next blog post! 😉
We started in the Roman Forum, Anciet Rome’s “city center”, as it were, and saw only some highlights en route to the Colosseum. Again, the internet does it better:
We learned that in regard to the assassination of Julius Cesar, he was stabbed 23 times at a different building off site but then carried bleeding back to the middle of the Forum and died at the public cremation spot (cremations were healthier than buriels during those times) where Mark Anthony is said to have given his famous speech “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…”
We saw the ruins of the Temple of Vesta, which was a sacred temple built to resemble a circular Roman hut, and an eternal fire was kept. It was believed that as long as the fire burned, the empire of Rome would stand! Girls as young as 6-10 were selected/enslaved by the emperor to become the Vestal Virgins, whose 30 year job it was to keep the fire alive and were considered of the royal class. They were recognized by Romans, had their own living quarters, and their own “box” in the Colloseum. Unfortunately the job wasn’t all perks, as they had to take a vow of chasity, and if they were found to have broken it, it’s said – even though our guide left this part out- that they were tied to a funeral cart, paraded through town, given a loaf of bread and a lamp… and buried alive in a crypt! Ugh, slut shaming roots are so deep!
We also saw the Arch of Titus, one of three arches left standing in Rome, although at one time there were 29. Arch of Titus was built after Rome conquered Jerusalem around 70AD. This was also not mentioned by our tour guide, who mostly talked about the common Latin inscription that stands for “Roman Senate and People” (and abbreviated SPQR) that can be seen all over Rome. But I knew from my guidebook readings that when the people of Jerusalem refused to worship the Roman Emperor as a god, Rome destroyed their temple (leaving only what we call today as the Wailing Wall), and captured 50,000 slaves back to build this arch. I mean, Roman history is dark and we haven’t even gotten to the Colloseum yet.
The Colloseum is pretty much what you think of it as in the movies. It was redone in the 1800s, and is massive. It was damaged over the years through earthquakes, etc, but mostly only because the metal rebars Romans used had been extracted for other uses! What I found interesting are the aspects of it that are stil in modern society. They had numbered entrances above the arches, recyclable tickets (made from bone or terra cotta) that you had to purchase, and concessions and drinks available. Also, the word “arena” comes from the Latin word for sand…. which was used because of its absorption of blood. 😳Makes going to Oracle Arena for a Golden State basketball game a little more morbid, doesn’t it?! Additionally, when determining the fate of a gladiator, the crowd would chant “iugula!” (meaning throat) to have them be executed. So that’s also where we get the word jugular from for the vein in our neck.
We fueled up with lunch and went off for a more teen engaging activity of “Gladiator school.” I have to say that I wasn’t sure what to expect but I will confess I had pictures of a room with mats and A/C where chaperones could sit and watch. Or perhaps have a cappuccino? But it became immediately apparent that it wasn’t that kind of school.
A brief history of Roman warfare, some warm ups, and then they went to battle! At one point, they were down a partner so I tried to jump in. The teacher was yelling commands that they had learned in warm ups – based on if you were in the attacking or defending position. I was concentrating SO hard while this very considerate young man tried not to look bored with my lack of athleticism.
We “graduated”, returned to the hotel for showering before a more appropriate Italian dinner time of 8:30, and learned of tomorrow’s adventures. It was a full and final day in Rome, starting with a 6:30am wake up call, heading to a 3 hour Vatican tour, lunch, and ending with a cooking class in the afternoon where we’d prepare our own dinner!