Ahhhhh, day two. I know I slept hard the night after day one- in fact, I’m pretty sure I never even changed positions. By morning, we were both refreshed and ready to set out on some Roman adventures.
We started with breakfast at the hotel and then a nice morning walk down to the Basilica of San Clemente. Now, I do believe that San Clemente was probably one of my favorite sites in Rome. It’s unassuming from the exterior, but in and UNDER the church…. that’s another story. San Clemente is a small 12th century basilica with some nice decorative frescoes and mosaics. There is a great artistic ceiling as well. But the fun stuff is really the scavi, or excavations, under the church. From an annex on the right side of the nave, you can purchase tickets that will allow to descend stairs taking you nearly two thousand years into history. Down the first flight of stairs, you come to the remains of a 4th century Early Christian basilica. There are still frescoes and columns dating from that period. This church dedicated to St. Clement stood until the Middle Ages when it’s deterioration necessitated the building of the current church. From this level, you can again descend a set of stairs that takes you down to the remains of an even earlier religious site- a 2nd century Temple of Mithras. As you continue to walk around, you will also come across the remains of a 1st century spring house, where water is still rushing through. The whole site is just intriguing to visit. Unfortunately you aren’t supposed to take photographs (and I’m a total nerd who pretty much always follows the rules when it comes to stuff like this) so I don’t have any photos of the interior to show you. However, here are a couple of shots that were taken from outside in the cloisters area and maybe from before we read the “no picture” sign… 😉
After visiting San Clemente, we walked down the street towards the Colosseum. We had timed entry tickets for the Underground Tour (more on that in a second), but wanted to get a few outer shots before going in. It was crazy hot by this time and super crowded. This and St. Peter’s were probably the most crowded sites that we visited the whole trip, which does make sense as they are two of the biggest symbols of Rome. We did walk around the Arch of Constantine, celebrating Emperor Constantine’s victory over Maxentius in 312. (This battle was, of course, the battle in which Constantine saw the symbol of Christ guaranteeing his victory over his enemies and leading to his conversion to Christianity.)
After walking around and snapping a few pics, we started trying to find our way into the Colosseum. Now, by this time, the general admission ticket line was wrapping around a good portion of one side of the building. But knowing we had already purchased internet tickets, we tried to find a way to avoid standing in that line. As it turns out, for those of you who decide to do what we did and go ahead and purchase a timed tour entry, you just take your printout to the LEFT side of the long line that everyone else is standing in, show it to the security guard, and waltz right in. Once inside, we waited behind one other person to trade in the printed voucher for our actual tickets- the whole process taking less than 5 minutes. So I highly recommend this method as opposed to the standing-in-line-in-the-hot-sun-for-45-minutes method! We had a few minutes before our tour started so we headed upstairs to get a look at the museum that’s on the second floor and snap some pics from that level. At 12:30 pm, we headed back downstairs to meet our tour group. The tour was in English with a very friendly young lady with a thick Italian accent. It lasted around 90 minutes, taking us on to the reconstructed part of the arena floor, under the floor where all the gladiators would mill about, and up to the third tier which is the highest accessible level currently. These areas are only reachable on the tours. We found the tour, as a whole, to be informative and enjoyable. I’d definitely recommend it!
Once the tour was completed, we walked around a little bit on our own before realizing that our camera battery had run out and that we had forgotten the back-up back at the hotel (WHOOPS!). So, we made a little detour heading back to the hotel, grabbing some take-away pizza on the way. By the way, if you’re getting the cheapy take-away pizza from one of those kebab places in Italy- go for the one with all the veggies (the eggplant, zucchini, etc) — you won’t regret it! Being sufficiently armed with a new battery, we walked back to the Forum for our tour there. I will say, the entrance to the Forum that we used was a lot longer walk than I was expecting. I had thought we could enter right at the end, next to the Colosseum, but we didn’t find that entrance and instead walked quite a ways to enter more towards the middle of the Forum area. We ended up using the Rick Steve’s audioguide to tour the Forum, but had I to do it over again, I would definitely shell out the money for a real guide. I just don’t feel like we got a complete overview of everything that we could have. Lesson learned, next time hire a guide!
Now, round about here, is when we probably should have stopped for the day. *I* was getting a mite bit hot and tired. And the ticket to the Colosseum/Forum/Palatine is good for two days. Given the heat, I threw out to the husband that mayhaps we should just call it a day and return first thing in the morning to cover the Palatine. But he’s a trooper and was determined to finish up the Palatine Hill too. So…. away we went. Now the Palatine is the area that used to house the villas of some of the emperors. It’s been excavated to show it was among the first populated areas in what is now Rome, with ruins that date back 3,000 years. You can visit some of the rooms of the enormous Flavian palace. You can see what was Augustus’ house. You can also visit the home of his wife, Livia. Supposedly you can actually go in each and see frescoes and such, but they were both closed when we were there. You also couldn’t get around to the back of the main palace for the supposed spectacular view of the Circus Maximus. This was all quite disappointing. The only real highlight for me (and I will fully admit that I may not have been in the best of moods to truly appreciate the site by this time) was seeing the ancient huts that are touted as being the original huts of Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome.
With the three major sites of Ancient Rome completed, we headed back to our hotel for a quick siesta nap. Thank god, the Italians believe in late dinners. We slept for a couple hours then got up, got clean, and headed out to eat! For dinner this night, we consulted our usually trustworthy guidebooks and picked somewhere reasonably close to the hotel. We decided on a wine bar that would be on our way back down to the Colosseum/Forum area so we could see it lit up at night. The wine bar was Enoteca Cavour 313. And I gotta tell you, while the wine was fantastic (we had a very smooth bottle of Chianti) this was our least favorite meal of the trip. The food was just ‘meh’. I started with pork cracklings (that were so tough you couldn’t chew them) and the husband started with a cheese-stuffed smoked pork. I then had a pretty flavorless smoked trout while the husband had chicken couscous. Everything seemed to lack seasoning and flavor. The staff was friendly and the decor was nice, but really nothing could make up for the disappointing food. Ah, well. One bad meal in the two weeks we were there— I think that’s a pretty good number. We did decide to grab our first taste of real Roman gelato for our walk back down to the Forum area so we stopped by Flor Gelato. I has a combo of dark chocolate, banana, and coconut. The husband has strawberry, banana, and dark chocolate. And it was all FABULOUS! This truly began our love affair with Italian gelaterias. I seriously think we ended up getting gelato every other night of our trip except 2. The flavors were just sooooo good- and true to what they were supposed to be! Seriously, I will forever rave about Italy’s gelato! With said gelato in hand, we spent a good hour or so walking around the ancient sites at night to see how they were lit up. It made for a late night, but it was a lot of fun and we did have some nice pics.
Coming soon: Day 3: Some displaced Ancient Rome?