Normally, when I am traveling, I tend to avoid the obvious draws. For example, when I went to the Louvre in 2010, I walked right by the Mona Lisa. And on this trip to Rome, I knew I was not going to spend any time of consequence at the Trevi Fountain. I just feel that, while I may be a tourist, I don’t have to be a lemming and do all the things tourists do just to check off the box.
However, I did make a couple exceptions to that usual tendency on this trip. In this case, I planned to go to the Colosseum. Why? Two reasons. One: so that Therese could relive a bit of the trip that she took to Rome back in the 1970s. Two: because I just thought we might enjoy it. To try to make this visit a bit more palatable – to avoid some of the inevitable crowds so that it would not take an entire day out of our trip – I bought tickets ahead of time.
To be more specific, I bought a combo ticket from the Hop On Hop Off website. The good thing about this is it gives you two days to use the Colosseum ticket. So we rode the bus on Saturday, the day we arrived in Rome, and then we planned to visit the Colosseum the next day, Sunday.
The bad thing was that from the Hop On Hop Off people, all you get is a voucher. To visit the Colosseum, you still have to exchange that voucher for a timed ticket for the Colosseum. I won’t get into how confusing it was to find the office where we could make the exchange – suffice it to say, that we spent a couple of hours sorting that out. I will just explain to you (in case you find yourself in our shoes) how to find that office, which is the Forum Ticket Office.
So there is a long street called Fori Imperiali (Imperial Forum), with the Colosseum at the south-eastern end of it, and the Piazza Venezia at the north-western end. If you start from the Colosseum and begin walking toward the Piazza Venezia, about halfway along it, you will encounter a traffic light. To your right is the beginning of the street Via Cavour. To your left, you will see ahead of you a long line of people (most likely) queuing up to enter the Forum. The kiosk they are lining up in front of is the Forum Ticket Office.
Do not get in that line. Those people are buying tickets. With your voucher, walk around the kiosk to the right – in the back is the window where you can exchange for your ticket(s), which will look like this (no matter how many people are on your voucher, you just get one ticket):
The ticket will indicate your entry time. In our case, it was around 11:30 when we got our tickets, but our entry time was 2:30pm. The natural thing to do is to spend your free time exploring the forum. But that was another thing I didn’t have any interest in. So we decided to see the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, home to Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses. One of the ways to get to the church is to walk a bit down Via Cavour, and then up two incredibly steep staircases.
That was pretty much our workout for the day. And then we discovered that, like many smaller churches in Rome, it was closed for lunch, until 3pm I believe. So on to plan B – how about some lunch?
Back on Via Cavour, we found a pretty pedestrian looking restaurant, with tables right on the sidewalk, called (I am not kidding) Bar & Grill. The menu was minimalist. The waiter said “what would you like to eat?” – I said chicken, and I got a plate of a chicken leg and fried potatoes and undressed salad (mostly radicchio, which was featured prominently in every salad I saw in Italy). Enough to keep us occupied and fill our bellies a bit (Therese said she wanted fish and got basically the same thing as me, only with a breaded filet of fish).
So then it was maybe 1:30, and I said, why not get in line? And sure enough, the line for the 2:30 entrance was already getting pretty long. Ugh, what a zoo. Uh, I mean, how amazing!?… Well, at least we got to see Giuseppe Carta’s fascinating “Germinazione” sculpture of a ripe pomegranate (I hear it was a temporary installation, only on display for a couple more weeks after we saw it).
Anyway, we entered, and it is incredibly old, and pretty impressive when you get a good view of the middle of it.
My favorite part was on the second floor, where there were displays of Medieval illustrations of Rome with the Colosseum drawn in various fanciful ways. Also on the second floor was a large wooden model of what it looked like when it was in use.
When we were done at the Colosseum, we went back to San Pietro in Vincoli. But we did not return to the Via Cavour way of getting to it, with the incredibly steep staircases. Instead, we took a street jutting north from the Colosseum called “Via Terme di Tito,” passed the ruins of the Domus Aurea, and arrived at the church without breaking a sweat.
I have been a huge fan of Michelangelo’s work since I read Irving Stone’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, the popular fictional biography of Michelangelo, as a teenager (I proceeded to read the book maybe 4 times, I enjoyed it so much). So it was a dream come true to be able to see Moses fairly up close (of course I had to squeeze through a crowd of people to get as close as I did). Otherwise, for me the church is fairly forgettable. It is supposed to house the chains in which St. Peter was bound as a prisoner in Jerusalem. The altar area retains its Medieval character, while the rest of the church is from the Baroque period, including a typical ceiling painting. But again, for me, Moses was the story.
The afternoon was on the wane, but there was one other church I thought we might visit, the Basilica of San Clemente in Laterano (or just “San Clemente”). Unfortunately, one of the things for which this church is famous, its incredible Medieval mosaics over the altar, were under renovation, and therefore, not available for viewing. However, I bought a ticket to see the two floors below the modern church, where an earlier basilica lies, and then the Roman streets and houses upon which the basilica was built. You are forbidden to take pictures anywhere in the church; but I found myself in one of the rooms of the Roman era structures, with some incredible graffiti on the wall, all alone, so I snapped one picture to commemorate the visit. And I thought the cloister beyond the side of the church, where the residents of the abbey connected with church live, was quite lovely.
Therese was nice enough to wait in the church as I explored the lower ancient levels. She looked up the mosaics that were not on view, and found some pictures of them on the Internet and agreed that they were spectacular. With that, our afternoon was spent. It was time to get back on Tram number 3 and take it back to our hotel (another of the very useful public transportation lines with a stop right near the hotel).
And I have to say – while there was some aggravation involved with getting the tickets for the Colosseum, overall, it was a very successful day, our first full one in Rome.