Henry Poon's Blog

Vatican City and Rome (Day 3 and 4)

Day 209

See the post for Day 1 and 2 here

We woke up in the morning to find that the hostel staff restored the hot water again.  So after a nice long shower, we resumed our sightseeing.  We would have liked to have breakfast at the hostel too, but we took too long (or woke up too late).  Instead, we had to find a supermarket to buy food.  We carried the bread, ham and cheese to the Coliseum and ate it there.

The Coliseum

We sat outside under the shade of the massive structure and just took out all the food.  While we ate though, bees kept annoying us and went after the package of ham.  It made no sense to me.  I thought bees only wanted nectar.  After spending a bit of time killing the bees, we resumed eating.  After finishing up, we walked around the Coliseum until we found the entrance.

From the outside, we could already see the massive structure.  It was clear that much of the structure had fallen apart since it was built.  Entire layers of the coliseum had collapsed over time.  What remained didn’t look that sturdy either.  A lot of preservation work must have been done to it to prevent the whole structure from collapsing.  Even on the walls, one could see many holes in it that used to hold up ornaments and other decorations when the structure was still in use.  The structure is certainly a great feat of Roman engineering.

Now that the structure is used purely for tourism, a lot of street vendors naturally set up shop here (it’s kind of weird sometimes because every single one of these street vendors I’ve seen are black).  It’s quite funny to see them all pack their stuff up really fast (it’s like they’re used to it) when cops showed up.  It really reminded me of those food vendors on the street in Hong Kong except without the carts.  Even better were the people dressed up as Roman Legions that got their pictures taken with people.

Because we purchased the Roma Pass (thanks to my friends European travel book) when we arrived at the airport, we were able to get free direct entry into any two museums in Rome (as well as unlimited travel on the metro system) for 3 consecutive days.  We used our pass at the coliseum and walked straight inside.  We didn’t even have to wait in line.  As we walked, everyone seemed to look at us wondering why we didn’t have to wait.  It was like being a VIP.

Walking into the main arena area of the coliseum really reminded me of the movie Gladiator.  The floor of the arena had long since collapsed so looking into the center only reveals the hidden rooms and passageways that used to serve as the barracks for the other gladiators.  To show what the area would have been like, there was a reconstructed portion of the arena floor.

The seating areas of the coliseum seems to have collapsed as well.  At first I wondered where people actually sat when watching shows.  We pretty much walked around the entire circumference of the coliseum and did not find any.  They must have all collapsed, which could explain why some areas had concrete poured over it to preserve the structural integrity.  At least that’s what I think based on the slabs of concrete that covered a lot of the area.

Some parts of the coliseum featured exhibits of its history too and that was quite interesting to see.  After going through the exhibits, we tried to go up to the third floor, but it had been closed off for some reason.  Somehow, a few people managed to get up there anyways.  Since we didn’t know how to get passed the locked metal gate, we saw whatever else we could and then afterward, we went to the Roman Forum.

Forum Romanum

Again, we used our Roma Pass to bypass the line and it felt so good being able to do that.  The Roman Forum was a large excavation site and so there was a lot of Roman ruins in the area.  It was basically the ruins of an entire city.  Looking on the map, we saw that there was so much to see there.  In the few hours that we were there for, we didn’t even go through it all.

We hadn’t completely recovered from all the walking we did the day before and the walking at the coliseum so we took it easy.  It would be interesting to see just how many kilometers we had all walked since the start of the trip.

Memorial to Vittorio Emanuele II

We ended up staying at the forum until the attraction closed and then afterward, we went to the memorial to Vittorio Emanuele II.  This memorial was the largest memory I’d ever seen.  It seems that this person was so important to the Italian people that they gave him a giant memorial with ceremonial guards. Seems kind of pompous to me actually. I looked up this person on Wiki and apparently, he was the first king of a unified Italy.

When we looked at the whole memorial, we wondered how long the ceremonial guards stayed out there for and how the guards would change shifts.  As we were discussing it, we saw three guards march out from the memorial to relieve the current ones.  The new guards switched places with the old ones by marching into their previous standing spot.  The relieved guards would then march away.

Trattoria Der Pallaro

By now, we were really hungry and after looking at my friend’s guide book for restaurant recommendations, we decided on going to a place called Trattoria Der Pallaro.  The cool thing about that restaurant was that it had no menu for people to pick food from.  Guests were served what the restaurant chose to serve.  For 25 euros, people got served a multicourse meal and didn’t get to choose what food they got.  It seemed like a really cool idea.

When we sat down, the waiter asked us whether we wanted red or white wine (probably the only choice for the entire meal).  After we answered, he returned with jugs of wine that amounted to about half a liter per person.  We all thought that was a little too much wine.  Next up was some bread and side orders of olives, ham/smoked meat, lentils, tomatoes and these fried fish balls (I don’t know what they are called).  That amount of food would have been enough for most people.  But knowing that was only the first course, we knew that there’d be more food to come.

For the next course, we were served a penne carbonara.  Half of it had this really delicious cheese sauce while the other half had a less delicious tomato sauce (but still super good compared to other pasta I’ve eaten).  I think that was the best pasta I’ve ever had, but then again, I don’t eat much pasta.

While we ate, I observed how the restaurant functioned since I reasoned that the place would be really efficient at cooking since everyone got the same dishes.  Indeed it was true.  The chef cooked batches and batches of the same thing and the waiters just scooped out the proper proportions for serving.  All they needed to do was keep track of which part of the meal each table was at.

In the third course, we got another serving of bread, but this time with veal, mozzarella balls, zucchini, and potato chips (I guess that random food thing can be a hit or miss on some dishes).  During all this eating, we kept drinking the wine, and I’m sure we would have gotten really drunk (or at least really buzzed) from it if not for all the food we ate.

In the fourth and final course, we were served this lemon cheesecake (at least I think it was cheesecake) with a small glass of peach juice (probably the size of a shot).  Best juice I’ve ever had.  The cheesecake was super good too.  We ended up finishing all the food and the wine.  Despite how expensive that restaurant was, it was totally worth it.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart

The next day, we tried to go to the National Museum of Rome, but we didn’t know that it closed on Mondays.  Instead, we went to the nearby Basilica of the Sacred Heart.  When we went in, this old man who was part of the church greeted us and started talking with us.  He asked us the usual questions like where we were from and what not.  He also talked about the history of the church.  It really surprised me how good his English was.  I didn’t even expect an old Italian man to know it.  He seemed like a really nice guy. He showed us around and insisted that we take some free postcards of the church.

We stayed at the church until it was time to take the bus back to the airport.  We bought our bus tickets from a fellow that I thought looked kind of shady and for some reason he insisted that I put my backpack in the baggage compartment of the bus.  I did as I was told, but I worried so much for my stuff.  I really hoped that no one would steal anything while the door was open when the bus waited for people to board.  From where I was, I wouldn’t have seen anything if someone stole my bag.  I asked my friend sitting close to the window to spot my bag for me just in case.  When we got to the airport, I got my bag and made sure everything was still there.  My friend then told me how he saw the man that we bought the tickets from rummage through someone’s stuff and it looked like he could have stolen something too.  If my bag had been stolen, I would have lost everything.  I guess that taught me to keep all my important documents on my person.

Going Home

On the way back, my friends and I had a nice and long conversation about our views on certain things in life.  It was a super random conversation, but it was fun to talk about this like our childhood and how we were raised.

When we got off the plane and walked towards our bus, we got stopped by these two police officers.  We showed them our passports when they asked for them, but then they walked away with them for a little bit.  When they came back, they asked us if we were in the military.  We all thought it was an odd question and just told them no.  Then they said, “ok”, gave our passports back and we were on our way.  It was really weird and random.  Did we stand out that much in Germany?

During the two hour train ride, we talked about more random stuff.  During the conversations, I realized a lot of things in my childhood, the way I was raised, and my culture that really affected who I am today.  The whole conversation just seemed really profound.

We got home at around 7 pm and after cooking and eating dinner, I sat down to blog and upload my pictures as I always did after each trip.

More photos here

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