All roads lead to Rome

Final thoughts on our last day in Tuscany – I think we are too used to life in a cosmopolitan city to be able to adapt to the short operating hours and inconvenience of countryside. Really need to learn to sssssllllooowwww down.

This morning we finally met the family who owns the farm – the son Alessandro and Illidia (not sure if that’s the correct spelling) his 17-year old sister. Unlike the rest of the family, she speaks surprisingly good English and told us that she is studying in Florence. She lives in Empoli during the weekdays and comes home only during the weekend.

When I asked about purchasing some products from the farm, she commented that this year they were not able to grow enough fruits and vegetables due to the weather. To mark my stay in the agriturismo, I bought two bottles of olive oil freshly pressed on the farm itself. Apparently olives are picked in November in the freezing cold.

We left Tuscany behind as we took the autostrada towards Rome with much anticipation. We had to pay a toll of 9.10 euros for a distance of about 200km. The toll turned out to be the only thing that’s cheaper than back home.

It was much easier to navigate in Rome and we found our hotel Santa Prassede without much trouble. I was glad that it is located in a nice lively neighbourhood just 10 minutes walk from Termini station although it would have helped if the three-storey hotel came with an elevator.

As I finally took a good look at our car rental booking voucher, I was appalled to discover that as it was Sunday, we were supposed to have returned the car by 12nn. By the time we arrived at car rental counter in Termini Station, the booth was empty. I dreaded having to pay another day’s rental when we were obviously not going to drive around the city.

The clock struck four and I felt increasingly despondent as I realised we would be leaving Rome for Paris about the same time tomorrow. Only 24 hours to spend in the Eternal City after all the effort we took to get here! Everything I had hoped and planned for was coming to naught especially in Italy, the country I had been dreaming to travel to for years.

I wanted something positive to bring home with me, a memory to treasure or a pleasant episode but so far everything had been disastrous and I was beginning to doubt myself and my ability to travel independently. As I sat with a heavy heart on the bench, I wondered why I had been so fascinated with this country when it had thus far brought me nothing but frustrations.

There was only one last card to play. We approached the train ticket counter with our tickets to Paris and prayed really hard that we could reschedule to depart on a later train. I was not able to book this online as it was full. After a difficult exchange with the lady at the counter, we found out that we couldn’t change the tickets here in Italy as we had purchased it from SNCF in France. The only way to change it was in France. WHAT??!!

Noting our desperation, one of her colleagues came to our rescue. He could speak English and kindly offered to annul our tickets and book us on the night train for the following day. However it would be a downgrade to a 6-bedder cabin for 230 Euros. I had paid 250 Euros for a 4-bedder. I was then to return to Paris to claim a refund.

I was totally clueless. How could I to be assured that I would be able to get a refund and risk forfeiting my SGD500 ticket? Theo however did not hesitate. To him, coming to Rome was the main highlight of this trip and he was not going to give up until he met his goal. With much uncertainty we paid the 230 Euros.

The journey to Rome would not be complete without a visit to the iconic Colosseum. This was the last day of the cultural week hence my last chance to catch the Colosseum, Foro Romana and the Palatino for free. The combined ticket for the three sights is 12 euros per person.

The Colosseum is impressive and it is easily three times bigger than Les Arenes in Arles. My first thought however was the color of the man-made wonder. I had the impression that it was white but upon closer inspection, the facade is really brown, perhaps due to years of being subject to the ravages of the elements.

While the architectural design of this once glorious symbol of the might of the Roman empire is fascinating, what really caught my eye is the exhibition within the Colosseo. The exhibits centred around the life of Vesuvius of the Flavian family. It was an educational feature which helped me understand the people of that time better and the significance of the Colosseo. It was great that information were in English.

During the despotic rule of Nero, his massive palace was built on the land that now stands the Colosseo. When Vesuvius became emperor, he burnt down the palace and rebuilt the Colosseum in its place as a gift to the people. To entertain the Romans and turn their focus from politics, gladiator fights and competitions were held and that is how the inhumane stories of these brutal and sadistic battles came about.

Yes yes I am a sucker for history. When we finally tore ourselves from the Colosseum, it was too late to visit the Foro and the Palatino. While I was quite upset at this loss, I figured they could be reserved for my next trip to Rome.

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