A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Roman Forum

I literally JUST published my post about our first day here in Rome and what did I do? I turned right around and started on this post about our second day. The things I do for you, my readers! πŸ˜€

Today got off to a MUCH better start by virtue of us not having just arrived from an international flight. I had all sorts of intentions of at least STARTING the post about our first day after we got back from dinner last night, but a few minutes of catching up on my correspondence made me so sleepy that I knew that wasn’t going to happen. But hey, vacation is also about relaxing, so I didn’t mind going to bed at 930 PM and waking up at 730 AM. I didn’t mind one bit! Especially when I actually did start that post after waking up. And after getting ready, we made the long trek downstairs to enjoy what turned out to be a very excellent breakfast. Being a boutique hotel, we were expecting we might have a few limited menu options to order from, but what we found was a nice buffet, featuring all sorts of European goodies (cold meat and cheese, little cookies, etc.) along with some classic breakfast faves (eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries), all of which seemed homemade and tasted quite good. And as a bonus, we also got to enjoy our meal on the patio in glorious weather! Our server (who may also be the chef??) also gave us some of her homemade orange/melon juice and a little shot of her ginger/lime wellness booster. What a good way to start the day!

The buffet we found waiting for us!
There was also a make-your-own-mimosa setup.
Yogurt, cereal, and more pastries were waiting here!

We actually almost never eat breakfast anymore since we started intermittent fasting a couple of years ago, but this one really hit the spot and set us up for being away from the hotel for most of the rest of the day. Even though we just got here yesterday, today was our only full day here as we’re away for a day trip tomorrow (more on that later) and then we catch a train to Venice on Monday (though thankfully not early), so we wanted to get the most of the time we did have, which is why we booked our Vatican stuff yesterday and another tour today, though this time the tour was much more interesting with a better guide. Today’s tour took us to Palatine Hill (former home to emperors of the past and one of the most ancient parts of the city), the Roman Forum (an open plaza containing the ruins of several important buildings and which was once the center of Roman life), and the must-see icon of Rome, the Colosseum. I was especially excited for this tour because I missed visiting when I was here ten years ago (more accurately, I saw all of them from the outside, but opted not to buy tickets to any of them because I felt like I didn’t “need” to see inside). I’m very glad we both got to experience all of them today though! Having been through them with a guide now, this is a time when I’ll highly recommend going on a guided tour yourself. I don’t think that’s always necessary for famous sites, but we got a ton of history and good info today that I know we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten, so it was worth it. Plus, it really helps having someone who knows the area and can navigate effortlessly from place to place easily (they’re all close together, but the guides always know the best path, correct entrance, etc.).

So what were all these historical sites like? Pretty excellent, I’d say! We started by meeting our guide, Vasco from City Wonders, near the Colosseum, where we discovered we had quite the eclectic group – we tourists were from California, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Delaware (though one of the Delaware folks was from Bulgaria originally), while our guide was from Portugal (though he’s lived here for 20 years). I’m so jealous of the freedom of movement folks from the European Union have! But I digress. πŸ™‚ Once we got our diverse little group together (a dozen in total), we made our way to Palatine Hill, which I didn’t know a ton about. Vasco did a great job of giving good information about the history of Rome and how the things we were seeing fit into that history. For example, when we walked by the Arch of Constantine next to the Colosseum, we learned that the ancient Romans raised an arch whenever they conquered a new location, so there used to be a LOT of them around (42, apparently!). It was also cool to learn that the path we walked up to get to Palatine Hill (the Via Sacra or “Sacred Street”) is original and used to be the main avenue of Rome. Also, pretty much the whole of Palatine Hill used to be an emperor’s palace that housed 250 rooms, had 90-foot ceilings in some spots, and was maintained by over 1,000 enslaved people. Pretty unreal when you see what’s there today, but that’s the kind of story that I really enjoy on these tours (as compared to yesterday’s stories about yet another piece of art in the Vatican Museums). To be fair, most of what there is to see now is the views around Rome (like the ruins of the Forum and Colosseum), but it was fun to learn what was once there. And speaking of the Forum, we mostly saw its ruins from above (higher on the hill), but there were people walking around them, so you can definitely get more up close and personal with them (there’s at least one or two museums around there, too). While I don’t feel the need to go back to the Vatican Museums after yesterday’s trip, I could revisit the Forum and learn more about it.

Check out the photos from this part of the tour below.

Looking at the Colosseum from our group’s meeting point.

I really like these angles of the Colosseum I caught while walking to Palatine Hill.

The aforementioned Arch of Constantine.
Walking up the Via Sacra, towards the Arch of Titus. This one wasn’t built to celebrate another Roman conquest, but rather to honor the death of Roman emperor Titus.
This panel depicts the triumphal procession that happened after the Romans took Jerusalem.
Garden in Palatine Hill.
These stairs led to the lowest levels of what used to be the emperor’s palace.

A few photos of the views from Palatine Hill.

Looking like total tourists with our headsets on, but who cares!
I loved the greenery in this fountain we saw on the way back down the hill.
Heading back down the Via Sacra towards, where else, the Colosseum. Again with the crowds though! Those columns on the left once formed part of the huge Temple of Venus and Roma (look for a better picture of those ruins further down).

Being across the street from each other, we had a pretty short walk to get to the Colosseum, but as you can see from the photo above, we definitely had crowds to work through. Our guide made it clear that, even though there were plenty of people around, the crowds are still much smaller than they were before the pandemic. He did also say that the high season for tourists here goes through the end of October, which surprised me because I thought we’d be out of it at this time of year, but the weather certainly supports it, so it makes sense. I’m just glad we weren’t here during the busiest part of it!

So, the Colosseum. It’s a big ol’ building that was originally built over just eight years, culminating in its dedication in 80 AD. It’s one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, but I was surprised to learn that it very likely doesn’t even contain any original stones, since it’s had to be rebuilt and refurbished many times over the last 2,000 years. Whether it truly has NO original stones or not is up for debate, I imagine, but it’s still a cool, old building and an amazing Roman landmark. Did you know it was named for the HUGE (nearly 100 feet tall) Colossus of Nero statue? Although it hasn’t existed for centuries (historians think it was pulled down so the bronze it was made from could be melted down and reused), it stood next to the Colosseum for a few hundred years. And as for what it was used for…well, let’s say that our guide said that Gladiator (you know, the Russell Crowe film) is actually a good one to watch to see what it was like when it was used for combat (even if its depictions aren’t totally historically accurate). It was interesting to learn that the fights between gladiators was actually left for later in the day, as a way to “go out with a bang” so to speak. There were all sorts of animals (lions, tigers, hippos, elephants, giraffes, bears, and more) there constantly, being fought by hunters, much to the delight of crowds of people (up to 75,000 could fit inside!!) who had never seen such exotic animals before (spoiler alert – the hunters almost always won, since they wore protective armor and had lots of weapons). Did you know the animals were often starved for awhile before they were used in the Colosseum? That was to ensure they would be extra “hangry” when they were put on stage, giving the audience a better show. And what do you think the stage was made from? The stage where all the fighting happened was covered in sand to essentially act as a giant litter box, absorbing all the blood and other bodily fluids (human and animal). Much easier to sweep all that sand away and replace it with a fresh supply! As for seating, I already told you it could hold 75,000 people, but did you know women and children were also included as spectators in this bloody entertainment? They did have to sit allllll the way at the top, but they were there. Apparently it was believed that children who were exposed to this kind of violent entertainment would grow up to be even better fighters. Oh, and one more thing – those 75,000 people were cooking (when animals were killed, their bodies were often cut up and thrown, in pieces, to spectators) on grills they brought in themselves (which also led to fires) and they were also going to the bathroom…all in those seats (no large, public bathrooms as in today’s stadiums). Fun, huh?? πŸ™‚

Now that you’ve had a bit of a history lesson, I can tell you a little about the tour of the Colosseum. We went straight in via the group entrance and then walked a little ways to one of the original exits, which was our way into the actual arena. It seems like not every tour goes onto the arena floor, but I’m really glad ours did because it’s cool to be right there where things happened, plus you get some really great views from within, so I highly recommend a tour that includes the arena. We also went up one level, where there’s an exhibition with more information about the Colosseum, relics that have been found in and around it, more great views, both inside and outside the building, and more. All told, we were only there for about an hour, but it felt like we saw and learned a lot in that time!

Anyway, enough of my words. Now it’s time for pictures!

Just entering the Colosseum.
Loved having such a blue sky against the stone of the building!
Although we used this gate as an entrance, it was actually an exit for the dead (or wounded) combatants.
Felt like a good time to use the panorama setting on my phone!

A couple of shots of what was the stage where everything happened. The animals were kept in cages in all those now-exposed spaces.

And a selfie. Naturally.
And a selfie together, too!
The white slabs are remains of the front-row seats the Roman senators used. Like everything else of value from the Colosseum, these slabs were stolen, but were later found and returned. To protect the senators from the animals while sitting so close to the action, there was a metal net with spikes on top in front of them, plus archers in niches (ready to shoot arrows) below them.
Moving up one floor to the exhibition. This is part of our group, with our guide on the right.
Although the rope isn’t original, the stone pieces are from the basic elevator used to lift animals up to the stage.
A selection of bones, both human and animal, found in the Colosseum. The city has been trying to build a new subway station in front of the building for 16 years, but they keep finding things like this as they dig, which slows the process down!

Examples of graffiti on Colosseum seats. Even 2,000 years ago, people loved to deface public property. πŸ™‚

Originally, all the openings on the outside of the Colosseum had statues in them. No one knows where they ended up (stolen and/or destroyed though), but these few heads are all that’s left.
Looking at the arena floor from a different angle. My favorite photo of the day!
Here’s that view of the Temple of Venus and Roma I mentioned above. See the columns on both sides? And that huge empty spot (which would have been inside the temple building) held a giant statue of Venus.
Although we think of the Colosseum as a very stark, light building, it was actually very colorful. This bit of a fresco gives a glimpse into the colors you could have seen centuries ago!
Remember what I said about the lack of bathrooms above? The senators did have a latrine and this was it. There once was water flowing in the trough you can see and there was also a bench running above it that they sat on to take care of business. And to clean themselves afterwards? A single, SHARED sponge. No thanks. πŸ™‚
Waving farewell to the Colosseum on our way out.

And that was the end of our tour! All told, we only spent a little over two hours at all three sites, but we saw and learned a lot, so we felt like it was worth the ~$75 each price. Looking at the City Wonders site, it appears to be even cheaper if you buy directly from them. Definitely consider it the next time you’re in Rome!

With our one tour for the day done, we had a few other things on our list that we wanted to see on our own, including the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. We continued our trend of walking (less than two miles) to those sites, which are all pretty close together. Once again, the weather was warm and the sky cloudless, so the walk was pleasant. Oh, and also pleasant was the place we stopped for lunch, which Scott had found in his research. You can see our tasty goodness from Dar Poeta below!

They have three locations and this one is nestled in an alley, with plenty of outdoor tables.
Very tasty pizzas! Mine had spicy salami, while Scott’s had bacon and a ton of sauce.

As for the other sites we planned on seeing, we did get to visit them all, but WOW were they crowded! I could tell when we were getting close to each one because the crowds got bigger and bigger as we walked up each street. We were actually going to go inside the Pantheon, which I think is free, but they had no open times available (apparently you have to reserve a time slot online). I honestly don’t remember if I went inside on my previous Rome trip, so it would have been nice to go in, but I’ll be okay. At least we got a couple photos of it, which you can see below.

Great view of the building! And the crowd.
The Egyptian obelisk in the Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon.

As we made our way towards the Trevi Fountain, we passed by the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius. Never heard of this one, but I’m usually a sucker for a big, old church, so we stopped in for a few photos. Interestingly, there was a line of people inside, not to get in, but to use a large mirror tilted upwards, presumably to get a photo of the ceiling. Not sure if the ceiling is especially famous (there is a least one other famous ceiling in the area, after all!), but neither of us felt the need to wait in that line. The altar was pretty magnificent though, so enjoy that below.

Outside the church.
Think of all the work that went into this!
A side altar. Still pretty impressive.

Our last two stops were also pretty quick and also very crowded. The first, the Trevi Fountain, dates back to the 1700s, is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome (it’s huge in person!) and is also one of the most famous fountains in the world. It was built at the intersection of three roads and was the endpoint of the aqueduct that supplied water to ancient Rome. Appropriate place for a fountain, I’d say! Thanks to the film Three Coins in the Fountain, many visitors throw a coin into it, to the tune of €3,000/day. Don’t try to take the coins back out if you need some change though – it’s illegal!

There’s the famous fountain!
Sans sunglasses and tourist headsets this time!
I learned writing this post that you’re “supposed” to throw the coin with your right hand over your left shoulder, so we didn’t quite get it right. Oh well!
Another view of the fountain, this time further back to show the ever-present crowds.

As for the Spanish Steps, they are…steps. πŸ™‚ They were built in the early 1700s to link the church at the top to the Spanish embassy at the bottom and today they’re mostly covered with people. A neat place for a couple of photos, as you can see below, but that’s about it. I would say it would be a nice place to sit and have a drink, but it’s probably always too crowded for that!

First, let me take a selfie.
Second, let’s BOTH take a selfie.
Then, a picture from the bottom. At least you can see the steps here!
Lastly, a picture from the top, after walking up all 139 steps.

And that was most of our day! It was late afternoon by the time we wrapped up at the steps, but they’re pretty close to our hotel, so we just had to walk about a mile to get back there. As always after a day of exploring, it felt fabulous to put our feet up and rest for a bit (and also edit photos for this post). We had dinner plans again, this time at a place called RomanΓ¨ (another Scott find!). We booked a table for 630, earlier than yesterday, which was appreciated. The place was fairly empty when we got there, but was nearly full by the time we finished. And we understood why because the food was super tasty! I got another dish we’d been wanting to try, pasta carbonara, while Scott got a tasty red sauce pasta. I loved the bacon in my carbonara!

Just to do something different, we took the subway to dinner! The restaurant was further away than we thought, but the subway made it quick and easy.
The train was VERY crowded, which I didn’t love.
I did, however, love this restaurant! Less than $60 USD for a really good meal for two.

Check our our pasta (plus crusty bread) and desserts (panna cotta for me and cheesecake for Scott). I think we both agreed the panna cotta was the winner.

And that was the end of our day for real! Well, almost for real. We did end up going to a nearby bar for a drink, but we weren’t out too late. To our surprise, the hotel informed us that the clocks here were rolling back this weekend (we don’t do it in the US until next weekend), but that worked in our favor, since we got an extra hour of sleep. Huzzah!

It’s now early afternoon on Sunday and I’ve finished a good chunk of this post on my phone. We’ll (hopefully shortly!) be reaching our first stop on today’s alllll-day day trip, but you’ll read more about that soon. For now, ciao!

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!