Three Men on a Train: 9 – Rome

Europe by train - Rome

Ice cream or a refreshing sun-warmed drink, sir?

Back on the train, we settled down happily in an empty compartment and indulged in our usual territorial tactics; boots off, wave a bottle of alcohol around, sprawl out apparently unconscious on sheets and sleeping bags. Sadly it emerged that all the seats in ‘our’ compartment were fully reserved, so we changed carriages and crashed in with a couple of Italian lads who were trying the same trick. In the end, David moved out to sleep in the corridor, leaving the four remaining backpackers with a very comfortable night on the four convertible seats.

Our system of yo-yo-ing between cities worked particularly well because the toilet facilities at Rome Station were free, albeit only with cold water which made shaving a bit of a chore. They also provided toilet paper with each sheet imprinted “ferrovie dello stato”, of which I still have an example.

Rome

We thoroughly enjoyed our exploration of the sights of the city, and were very impressed by the Basilica St Giovanni. The ceiling is deeply wrought and gilded, everything standing out in high relief. The walls are either painted on gold leaf or occupied by enormous marble statues. The altar, even tough flanked by full-sized architectural pillars, is dwarfed by the size of the cathedral. An unbelievable experience, vying with the Basilica in Venice for its awesome beauty.

The Coliseum was interesting, but not exactly what we’d expected. The floor of the arena had eroded away, but this exposed an extensive network of tunnels, access and quarters for the fighting slaves and animals. We were curious to get up above ground level and have a look, but there was an extra fee which we chose not to afford, and anyway the historical power of the underground section was quite absorbing.

The sub-arena slave pits revealed at the Coliseum.

We agreed that the Pantheon would have been more impressive if not crowded in by modern buildings, and the Bridge of Angels more so if it had not been covered in scaffolding.

Europe by Train - Rome Bridge of Angels

The unobstructed end of the Bridge of Angels

We were however very impressed by the enormous palace on the Piazza Venezia, which turned out to be not a palace at all, but an extravagant tomb to an unknown soldier.

Europe by Train - Rome

Tomb of the unknown soldier

For lunch, we stopped at an outdoor restaurant just as a large group were leaving. David convinced the amused waiter that it would be much easier for him to simply move all their left-overs to our table rather than to clear them away, where they went very well with our one small plain pizza to share.

On our way back to the station for our nightly commute to Venice, we started looking for a loo, and eventually discovered a pavement urinal, held up by (rather than obscured by) a skeletal frame of bricks.

Europe by Train - Rome

A handy relief in Rome.

Suitably refreshed, we took in the Fountains of Trevi, which are actually a series of short waterfalls running over a sculptured landscape carved from the stone walls of the neighbouring building. A lovely place to sit on a Summer’s evening.

Europe by Train - Rome

Fountains of Trevi

Back at the station, I thought to avail myself of the Bureau de Change, which had separate windows for traveller’s cheques and cash. I got out my passport and cheques and stood in line, but after a while I noticed that while my queue was not moving at all, the queue for cash exchange was moving swiftly. Eventually I searched my pockets, found some left-over French francs, and switched queues. I quickly reached the counter and swapped my francs for lire. While the lady was counting my change, I asked her why the other queue was moving so slowly. She explained that whereas cash sales were instant, cheques took fifteen minutes to process. When I pointed out that in other offices the tellers had simply written down the cheque numbers in a ledger and that the process only took a minute, she agreed but shrugged and said, “Perhaps in the other offices they write faster”.

We had some hours to kill before the train left for Venice. It occurred to us that the sights that we had already seen, the Coliseum, the Vatican and the Trevi Fountains, might look quite picturesque when illuminated at night, so we set off for an evening wander around the city.

We caught the Forum in the last rays of sunlight. This is one of the more extensive set of ruins from the days of Empire, although we could not afford to go in but had to content ourselves with looking down from the streets above.

Europe by Train - Rome Forum

The Forum, seen by daylight

Once darkness fell, however, the historical sites were all disappointingly dark. Never mind, we stopped for another small pizza, and finished the day on time and, importantly, on budget.

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