Of all the days we were in Europe, today was the first that my husband woke exceptionally early and was all prepped to go so as to fully utilise the day we had in Rome which had not come cheap. Since we still had the car with us, we made a quick trip to Stadio Olimpic, home of AS Roma and coincidentally my husband’s favourite soccer team. The stadium is located at Foro Italico, the site of the Olympics Games when it was last held in Italy. It is now the location of a university.
Theo was really excited to visit the stadium, finally trodding the same ground Francesco Totti had walked many times. Unfortunately it was not a soccer day (Monday) so we were not allowed to enter the stadium grounds, content to view the interior through breaks in the fencing. We did not see any shop selling AS Roma merchandise either. With another setback to our plans, we made our way back to Termini to return the car, preparing to pay for an extra day.
Nonetheless, we were shocked to find out that we had to fork out an additional 12o Euros for the extra day even though the 3-days rent only cost us 159 Euros. We tried to get further clarification about the bill breakdown but the rather rude Italian red-head did not see fit to entertain us and brushed us away. To make matters even worse we found out that we could have dropped the car back in their 24 hour garage next door and not incur this charge! And how were we supposed to know? Alas, ignorance doesn’t come cheap. (After much clarification through our credit card company however, we found out that the initial online quotation failed to add up the taxes into the final bill… so our additional day charge was actually correct.)
Even though we didn’t managed to find an official AS Roma merchandise store in Stadio Olimpico, we did chance upon a Punto Roma located right across the street from our hotel while we were walking around town. What are the chances? It was like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and it certainly helped lift the spirits of my already demoralised husband. We decided to leave the shopping to the next day as we had certain places to check out today.
First stop was San Clemente, a church dedicated to the pope of the same name. The main distinction between this 12th century church and the several hundreds we had passed is that it had been built over a 4th century Christian church which itself had been built over a 1st century pagan church established during the Roman empire. Admission to the church is free but to visit the lower levels cost 10 Euros per person. From what we managed to fish from the tour guides, many of the mosaics and frescoes found in the present church are made from the materials from the lower level churches to resemble similar artwork. It was quite an interesting exploration.
From San Clemente, our plan was to head towards Capitoline Hill. As the metro system in Rome does not cover large portions of inner Rome, the best way to travel is by foot, not there is ever a lack of things to see along the way. To relieve Theo of his navigational duties, I offered to take over and being directionally-challenged, what could have been an easy 30 minutes walk, ended up in several detours in the pouring rain hence arriving at our destination 1.5 hours later.
Although we finally got to see the really huge and awesome looking statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king to unite Italy, mounted on his horse atop a pedestal before the gigantic steps of the equally impressive capitol hill, we were soaking wet and in a freaking bad mood. Theo was so pissed he wasn’t even bothering to take anymore photographs. It was much later that I found out that he had already secretly decided to return to Rome, perhaps with someone who could plan a better trip.
Personally I did find some silver lining through these bad spate of events. During the detour, I caught a glimpse of the Foro Romano and even more interesting was chancing upon Roman ruins which had somehow been integrated into the present day buildings. Rome is a living museum. One does not have to go to specific site to see these historical remains, they are scattered across the whole city, waiting to be found and admired. The experience of being in Rome, the last great empire, was simply overwhelming.
We continued our walk from Capitoline Hill the Pantheon which we managed to grab a quick peak before being chased out as they were closing. The oculus located at the center of the dome is an amazing architectural feat although I wonder at its practicality as the area directly under it was ponding due to the downpour and I wonder if it is already experiencing the effects of water erosion. I guess artistic flair overrides common sense at one point of time.
As it was already approaching dinner time, Joel was becoming fussy from hunger, fatigue and cold so I bought him a cuppa of cioccollata calda for 7 Euros from a café outside the Pantheon to pacify him. Right at this point of time, the rain suddenly intensified and we had no choice but to shelter outside the café under a table umbrella for about 15 minutes while waiting for the storm to pass. As we were caught in a wind tunnel, our already soaking wet jackets, shirts and jeans were being buffetted by the strong winds, causing us to chatter uncontrollably. I was miserable beyond description and ready to just throw the towel and take the next flight home.