Editor’s Note: This is the fourth postcard in a series of six as Janice Booth takes part in Cross Country International’s Valentine’s ride through the countryside outside of Rome, Italy.
Feb. 16, 2005 — This morning we bundled ourselves up against the cold and made our way to Rome for a day of sightseeing. Our first adventure was trying to find our way out of the train station. We twirled around for a while until we eventually emerged above ground. We didn’t get very far after surfacing, though. It seems to be a peculiarity of riders that we are great at finding our way on trails and out of the woods, but when faced with street signs, concrete and traffic, we’re like deer in the headlights.
Our first stop on the foot tour was at the ruins of Terne di Caracalla, an enormous structure built in AD 217 that could accommodate over 1,600 Romans in a public bath. Then it was on to Circo Massimo, once Rome’s largest and most actively used stadium that is now nothing more than a long, grassy esplanade. Standing there on the old track (imagining scenes from Ben Hur), it is astonishing to realize that in the 4th and 5th centuries, the grandstands held 300,000 spectators.
Just around the corner were Constantine’s Arch and our main destination, the Colosseum. Our first bit of luck was arriving at the Colosseum just in time for the English speaking tour, so there was literally no waiting in line. Our handsome tour guide Roberto was quite funny but also lengthy in his explanations, which didn’t do a thing for our near-hypothermic condition. Despite the cold, I must say Roberto seemed unphased. Throughout all of his pontificating he was clearly generating his own personal heat source.
The Colosseum is of course one of the iconic architectural structures of Rome, and wandering its hallways, standing high above the arena floor, imagining the screaming and shouting and bloodshed of almost 2,000 years ago, is an amazing experience. Women take note: you never hear about this, but there were a few female gladiators back in the day, and women spectators were not allowed to mingle with the rest of the audience–they were relegated to the upper portions of the stadium, where there was no seating provided.
By the time our Colosseum tour had concluded we needed lunch to warm ourselves and get out of the cold. We really didn’t care where, but it took us some time to find any kind of restaurant, challenged once again by our underdeveloped sense of direction, and our general dysfunction with a map.
I was so excited to finally see a café across the street that I stepped off the curb and onto the pavement, narrowly missing a car and a motorcycle. Jessica grabbed the back of my jacket and pulled me out of danger. She was in the military for 7 years and is pretty quick with her reflexes. Thanks to her, I’ll be riding tomorrow! I made her walk in front after that.
One cannot conquer Rome in a day, and we saw as much as we could although not nearly doing this spectacular city justice. There were numerous map consultations with policemen and something finally dawned on me: Italian police officers are really attractive. All of them. And young. And extremely fetching in their police uniforms. So here is my True Confession No. 4: The only reason I ever watch football is because of how the players look in their uniforms. Well, let me just say this–Italian policemen make the Denver Broncos look like they’re wearing potato sacks.
Sadly, it was time to head back to the train station, so we hailed a taxi. I had all but forgotten what it is like to be driven in a cab in a big city like Rome. New York City is bad enough, but at least there is some order to things. As we peeled away around the corner, frightening tourists and stopping for nothing, I realized that this cab ride was way scarier than riding in the hunt on Friday would be.
The train whisked us home to Anguillara where Matteo was waiting for us. We were so glad to get back to the warm and welcoming I due Laghi and hot showers before dinner. We were treated once again by the presence of Prince Mir Wais of Afghanistan, who joined us for dinner and told us stories about his life, his family dynasty and the struggles his country is now facing. Later, he shared personal photos and articles and treated us all to Godiva chocolates from a heart shaped box. How many people can say they’ve dined with a real-life prince? It was a lovely end to a busy day full of new sights and experiences.