So when I left you last, I was falling in love with Rome, but I'd only seen about a third of ...
So when I left you last, I was falling in love with Rome, but I'd only seen about a third of it and I'd spent a majority of that time eating gelato. Our next few days were packed. Jam packed. With history AND gelato. There is still a lot of night time jaunts for gelato.
We walked down past the Colosseum, eating our breakfast on the go. It was warm (but not the warmest it had been) so we decided to visit the Forum as it was in the same area as the Entrance to the Palace. We got there just as it opened.
It ranged from desert like vast ruins, to bushy green areas full of near complete buildings. I loved it.
We were about half way into the first area when the death rays from the sun hit. I'm talking 40+ degrees celsius in the middle of this vast open space. We both burnt like overdone toast, despite layering on sun cream every 15 minutes and sticking to the shade as much as we could.
We didn't get to see as much of it as we'd have liked, or take in the history of things. You couldn't think straight in the heat. We've decided if we go back this will be something we revisit properly. Just walking around is beautiful but you have no idea what you're looking at.
So that's my handy tip. Buy an audio guide or have a book about it with you to appreciate it fully. Also don't go when it's really hot. There is no shade. Also, it is near impossible to take a picture without someone else getting in it.
Soon it was unbearable, and we couldn't find the toilets. So we decided to cut the forum tour short and go for lunch instead. We ended up having a quick pizza. Not the best I've ever had if I'm honest (lunch time pizzas are usually reheated) but I did enjoy the shade and the icey water. I drank 2 litres in less than 10 minutes.
Next up, we rushed to the Domus Aurea. To give you an idea of why this excited me, and why I can't shut up about it, I'm going to give you a bit of the history that intrigued me so much.
It was supposedly so big it covered a third of Rome. To give you an idea of scale, the Colosseum is built on top of where it's decorative lakes were. Just its lakes! A statue of Nero that stood in it's grounds was supposedly as tall as the Colosseum stands now. To this day, archaeologists reckon they have only uncovered about a third of it as it stretches out to the forum.
So after his suicide, over 40 or so years, they scavenged his palace for materials, filled it in with mud and built loads of stuff on top of it. It seems it was forgotten about until it's rediscovery in the 15th century when a Roman fell through a cleft and into a cave with painted ceilings.
What makes this interesting is that as soon as word got round, all the young painters of the time rushed over to explore the 'caves'. They carved their signatures into the walls. On touring you can see the graffiti of Pinturicchio, Raphael and Michelangelo. It's said that it inspired a lot of the work around 15-16th century buildings around Rome. If you fancy a read up on it properly, I suggest here , here & this much more personal article on it's layout and history.
Before I go on this is their official website, they are saving for a new system to save the ruins from further water damage, and have a blog updating everyone on their progress. It is available in English.
For your tour, you are given a sticker, and a hair net and a hard hat, before one of the Archaeologists working on the site takes you down. They do different tours in different languages, but they aren't every day (they are trying to preserve it and it is still a working dig site.) You have to book in advance too, so make sure you get the right language! Okay, prepare yourselves for my husbands' favourite ever pictures.
God I look like a twat. I was just very excited. Anyway, it was refreshing due to it being a constant 11 degrees in the ruins Kris and I languished in the cool. So, I can't even begin to describe the experience and even though pictures are awesome, they really don't do it justice. This is something you really have to be in to feel.
The archaeologist (ours was called Cristina and she was extremely passionate) takes you through the rooms, pointing at parts of interest, (like the graffiti of famous artists, the holes the early explorers would have come through) and how what they use to restore and preserve the works. I can't do their work justice, mostly because I'm writing this 4 months later, but also because there was a lot of info.
So we wound through a series of high rooms, with our guide pointing to a reference map to help us visualise where we were and what it would have been like. There some with brilliantly preserved frescoes, and a few surviving mosaics. They were huge, breathtaking and insane.
The newly opened passage, which contained these paintings literally blew my mind.
Then in the middle of the tour, this large octagonal room with a concrete dome.
"The octagonal hall led to rooms on five sides, each of which had a waterfall running down their back wall."
"Suetonius also offers a famous description of one of the domed ceilings or perhaps even the room itself: '[there was a] circular banquet hall, which revolved incessantly, day and night, like the heavens'. Such devices are mentioned elsewhere in both earlier and later Roman buildings and excavations have revealed evidence that water may have powered this wonderful entertainment for Nero's guests. Suetonius also describes gem-encrusted walls, ivory and mother-of-pearl decorations, and ceilings which showered guests with flowers and perfumes."
It's the only part of the tour in daylight as they had uncovered the oculus and put a protective dome over it. Obviously all the marble / gold / plaster wall coverings were removed before it was filled in but you can still get an amazing sense of what it was like. Here's a reconstruction.
This final picture doesn't look like much, but it impressed me. It's the place where the giant Bronze bathtub was found. The one that is now on show in the Vatican museums. It looked eerie to me.
This is the national geographic's graphic article, which contains a few reconstructions and gives a sense of the size. A good little read if this interested you.
After a few hours in the dark, we climbed back up, handed back our hard hats and said goodbye. We hadn't spoken a word in nearly two hours, we were so enthralled.
We went home to recuperate (sun stroke from the morning was setting in) and we set back out again to take to the streets and have dinner.
This was one of my favourites of the trip; Due Colonne. I got to use my Italian, which led to my favourite mistake....
Ordering a large bottle instead of a large glass of wine. I blame the sun of course.
Plus it made me laugh that Kris looks a little like the guy on the bottle.
Dinner is served.
Then we went for a jolly around the streets and had some more gelato under the canopy of the pantheon. Yes, we had gelato after pudding. We had a lot to sample.
The next day we woke up early, had our routine coffee at Sant'Eustachio. This day I went for a Caffè Freddo, a cold slightly sweetened coffee. Usually served in a glass. This was the first time it wasn't packed so I was able to get a little picture. The rest of the time we were 5 deep at the bar.
So get there early!
Then we literally power jumped our way to breakfast.
The great thing about Rome, and most cities actually, is that you can pretty much find somewhere doing something you like. I love to have fresh juice / fruit for breakfast, and what I loved about Rome is the abundance of fresh juice bars and little carts selling fruit. My favourite of the trip was EscoSazio.
Made right in front of you with incredibly friendly staff, it ended up being my favourite breakfast place. We only had smoothies, but the food looked incredibly tempting. I highly recommend!
After a few hours walking, looking at book & antique shops we head off for our afternoon booking. But first, look at this coffee machine.
HA. It's so happy.
We had booked a tour around Le Domus Romane Palazzo di Valentini. It showed the ruins and mosaics of a Roman house discovered underneath the Palazzo Valentini near Trajan's column. It used light shows projected over the stones to show you how it would've looked, and showed evidence of earthquakes etc etc. It was a rich Roman's house, so there was a lot to look at. There was a nice little museum in the middle showing off the things they have excavated, like plates, statues etc.
You couldn't take pictures due to the light shows, so I have nothing to show you except this selfie of us on the way back, but it was interesting. It lasted a long time though. When we emerged, we decided to eat dinner and take a slow walk up to St. Peter's square, as we had a 5 o clock start the next morning to have a tour at the Vatican. We wanted to make sure we knew where to go.
We passed a few markets on the way and perused those. By the time we reached St Peter's, the moon was out, and the sky was dimming. To say it was beautiful would be an understatement.
I mean it smelt like old man breath next to those fountains, but it was beautiful none the less. We started to walk back ready for our early start the next day... We enjoyed a near empty Ponte sant'angelo due to the time of night...
NEXT POST: An early morning tour around the Vatican, getting lost in the gardens and getting tizzy on gin cocktails.