Day of the Dead

Last night was not as restful as I had hoped it would be.  A father and daughter had checked into the room and let’s just say I feel sorry for the poor bloke who lands her.  She seemed charming enough… then she fell asleep.  I thought there was a weed whacker in the room! On and on she went, preventing me from falling asleep.  Judging by the rustling around the room, I was not the only one lying awake.  Even earplugs couldn’t block the racket she was making.  I don’t recall what time I finally fell asleep, but it was well after two in the morning, as that was when I last checked the time.

I woke up and dressed quickly, as always, preparing my feet for another long day.  I’ve become quite the nurse in my travels.  I’d receive top marks in bandaging and Neosporin application.  I hopped on the metro and made my way south to the Basilica of St. John Lateran.  This is the official seat of the Bishop of Rome a.k.a. The Pope.  It was quite an impressive building and is considered the mother church of the entire world.  There is one thing that makes impressive enough to be considered so important: the Scala Sancta or Holy Steps. According to Roman Catholic tradition, these stairs once led to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate.  This means that Jesus Christ would have climbed them during his Passion.  The stairs were moved from Jerusalem to Rome by Pope Sixtus V in the 16th Century. You can only climb the stairs on your knees and, not being that dedicated, I decided to pass.

From there I headed to the Appia Antica and the ruins surrounding it.   The skies were overcast, bringing a breeze and the threat of rain, but also a cool relief to the hot days of Rome.   I stepped onto my first roman bus and was soon followed by a rather large group of Dutch students and their chaperones.   Dutch is not a pretty language (this coming from a person learning Russian…).   They chatted excitedly and I gave my seat to one of the chaperones.   My feet were not happy, but she was grateful. Three cheers for chivalry.

So off we went. We got off at the Catacombs of San Callisto. Christians were allowed to be buried here because it was outside city limits. There are over 500,000 tombs within the complex and over 40 km of corridors. Anyone from Pope to plebe was buried here until the 4th Century, when they came into disuse. Apparently people now bring their own priests and have service in some of the larger rooms of the catacombs.  A bit odd, if you ask me…

I caught the bus back to Rome with some difficulty…  Many of the roads have crosswalks, but it’s a “cross at you own risk” kind of crosswalk.  Romans aren’t exactly the most patient drivers either.  The dividing lines on the road are more guidelines than requirements. They freely swerve through traffic and use their horns abundantly. I finally crossed the street, got on the bus, and made it back to the city with all my limbs intact.

From there, I decided to pay a visit to the graves of two of the greatest minds and writers of Romanticism.  Both John Keats and Percy Shelley are buried in the Non-Catholic Cemetery in the southern part of the city.  The cemetery itself is made quite noticeable by the rather domineering pyramid that is built into the walls of the cemetery.  I entered, freely gave the “suggested donation” and proceeded to meander amiably through the rows of gravestones, some of which were remarkably unusual.  I made it around to Keats’ plot and found a woman sitting there with her three children.  She was reading “Ode to a Nightingale” aloud while her children, no more than seven at the oldest, took crayon rubbings of the gravestone.  My immediate thought was “This woman is amazing!” and, upon chatting with her about Keats, I found her to be extremely knowledgeable and friendly.  Parting ways, I continued to the site where Percy Shelley’s ashes are interred.  Both graves were surprisingly unremarkable. I then realized that their true shrine is in the minds of the people affected by their work.

Pressing ever onward, I took the metro back to the center of the city, realizing en route that I had not yet been inside the Pantheon. I had passed it on my night tour, but I had not been inside.  There are no metro stops close to it, so I got off and walked the rest of the way.  As I’ve mentioned before, Rome has water fountains all over the city and they are quite the life saver to the thirsty tourist.  I filled my bottle on my way to the Pantheon and kept on truckin’.  When I got there, I sat by the obelisk outside for a bit, taking in the sight and people-watching.  People are truly strange sometimes…

I went inside, did my tourist duty of ooh-ing and aah-ing, and went back outside to sit in the shade.  It was barely two o’clock and I needed a break.  There was an architecture class sketching the design of the building and one of the students caught my attention.  He had his headphones on and was head-banging without a care.  He soon attracted the notice of his teacher as well.  She began to rouse the students, telling them it was time to leave. She then rounded on him and thoroughly berated him for not finishing his work preferring to “jam out” instead.  The whole scene was quite comical.

After resting for a bit longer, I headed to the Bocca della Verità in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.  The Bocca is said that if you tell a lie with your hand in the mouth of the sculpture, your hand would be bitten off. I don’t think it’s quite as accurate as a polygraph… After taking my photo, I headed into the church where the skull of St. Valentine still rests.  Creepy.  But my day was not yet complete. I had one more stop to make.

I waited for a bus to go back up the very steep hill I had climbed down. Riding for about half a mile, I hopped off and headed into the Capitoline Museums.  There are some truly impressive sculptures housed within. I walked around for a bit, resting my weary feet when I needed to.  By this point, I had been pretty much reduced to the granny hobble… well, maybe not quite that bad.  After taking even more photos, I decided it was time to head back to the hostel.

By the time I got there it was almost eight o’clock and my tummy was rumblin’.  I found a packed restaurant nearby, which is always a sign of good food, and was seated in the garden of the inner courtyard.  I immediately asked for bread and the house red wine (in Italian, by the way) and perused the menu.  I wasn’t up for as heavy a meal as I had last night, so I ordered insalata tricolore, which was a salad of arugula a.k.a. rocket, tomatoes, and mozzarella. When that was polished off, I had penne alla arrabiata – penne pasta in a spicy tomato and garlic sauce. Una cena ottima! Following dinner, I headed to the hostel bar to spend the rest of my tokens (you pay in tokens at their bar) and met even more Australians.  If I heard English while I was in Rome, it was with an Australian accent. A beer or two later, I headed to bed.

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One thought on “Day of the Dead

  1. Australians do love to drink. Let’s just say some people on my trip went into a pub at 10:30 AM, and there were people in there drinking. And Australians are awesome people in general. Some of the nicest in the world

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