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February 24, 2002
Roma: walking tours (Russell)

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At the Tevere (Tiber) River, outside our apartment

The advantage of staying downtown in an urban center like Roma is that you are right in the midst of the hustle and bustle of big city life, day or night.  The disadvantage of staying downtown in an urban center like Roma is that you are right in the midst of the hustle and bustle of big city life, even when you're trying to sleep.  After months in the quiet countryside of Crest and a week in Pontemazzori the following week, the sudden noise (and paper-thin walls) of Roma was incredibly jarring.  Because our first night -- February 23rd -- was a Saturday, the diin of people and traffic kept going on until 4:00 in the morning.  And because the next day was a Sunday, the church bells started up at 8:00 AM.  Needless to say, we didn't get much sleep during our first night in Roma.  (Our allergies -- especially Joss' and Russell's -- have also suddenly gone crazy.  Our guess is that we had gotten too used to clean, unpolluted air.)

For our first full day here on February 24th, our main priority on was to get some food.  Our expanding luggage completely fills the car, so we have to use up all of our food before we depart from one place, and purchase more food when we arrive at the next.  Our destination was the Standa Supermarcato, a fifteen-minute walk away on the Viale Trastevere, the main boulevard of the Trastevere district.  We were amused to discover that the supermarket is in the basement of a clothing store (and we took advantage of the location to buy a new pair of sweatpants for Joss -- the last ones that we purchased in Paris are so full of holes in the knees that even the iron-on patches no longer help).

We bought enough food to last for the next three days (including four bottles of milk and an entire chicken fryer), as well as some grindable food for Keegan, and a restock of our "basic travel pantry" (we have decided that we should always travel with some pasta, sauce, ramen, a loaf of bread, peanut butter, honey, and popcorn).  For the walk home, Russell ended up carrying a backpack, a duffel bag, and two additional bags, each full of groceries.  Gail ended up carrying Joss, who began complaining of a stomach ache.  Ironically, by the time we got back to our apartment, we were so exhausted and hungry that for lunch we just had leftover soup.

After an afternoon of catching up on our journals, we set out at sunset for a longer walk to explore the surrounding area.  Cameron and Joss had been complaining that so far Roma didn't look anything like their expectations of old ruins, so we headed for the ancient part of the city across the Tevere River.  Our first stop was the Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus), site of classical Roman chariot races.  There is nothing left of the racecourse these days, but at least the site has been preserved -- it is now a grassy area that could loosely be called a park.  Today the entire field was jammed full with thousands of people.  As far as we could tell, it was some kind of gathering of different Catholic Dioceses from all over Italy -- Gail referred to it as the "Battle of the Church Bands" because of all of the various congregations singing over rock concert-sized loudspeakers.  With this event going on, we realized how lucky we were to have accommodations.

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The "Battle of the Church Bands" at the Circus Maximus

As we avoided getting squashed by the crowds, we looked up into the twilight sky and saw an astounding sight: thousands of bats emerging from who-knows-where to begin their "day."  They traveled like an aerial school of fish, streaming across the sky like a huge black river, and changing the shape of their "cloud" like a piece of paper folding and unfolding.  We had never seen anything like it.

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Learning about Il Colosseo by moonlight

As night fell, we walked by the Colosseo (Colosseum), the ruins of the Monte Palatino (Palatine Hill) and Foro Romano (Roman Forum), and the Monte Capitolino (Capitol Hill).  (We will see all of these sights again in more detail -- and in more light -- during a guided tour with Dawn, David, and Keegan a few days from now.)  We topped off the evening with gelato for the boys -- huge masses of ice cream crammed into ttiny cones (and costing as much as an entire dinner for the four of us on our normal budget).   As Cameron and Joss happily ate their gelato and Russell and Gail gazed out over the 2,000-year-old ruins, we realized with excitement that we have now truly and officially arrived in Roma.

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Huge masses of gelato crammed into tiny cones


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