>Sunday brought about the decline of Rome, both in terms of vacation time remaining there and our itinerary. Dr. P, Future Dr. H (FDH) got a late start since we were out wandering late the night before. FDH fell asleep by 2:30, but Dr. P and I decided for some reason that it would be a good idea to take picture of our stuffed animal travel companions snuggled up in bed together. (Pictures to follow.) We were not even drunk when we decided to do this. Let me assure you that using flash against a stark white sheet in a poorly lit room can be blinding. I do not recommend this.

At any rate, we went to the Coliseum (Coloseo) and the Forum. The Coliseum was OK. I was very disappointed that all the stray cats that infested the Coliseum when I was there 10 years ago are no longer there. It was way easier to picture some gladiators duking it out with lions and tigers when there were cats hanging around, some doing battle amongst themselves. I am not sure where all the cats went, whether they were euthanized or over the last 10 years enough feral cats were neutered/spayed that the population naturally dwindled. (This is not to say that we saw no stray cats: we did see a few hanging around some ruins in Largo Torre Argentina, and we saw one or two at the Forum.)

According to FDH’s guidebook, some of the passages leading to the bleachers in the Coloseo were called vomitoriums. This confused Dr. P and I because we knew that vomitoriums were places where rich people went to puke their guts out after binge eating on seriously foul-sounding foods. (I learned all this when I read Salt, which is a great book on how salt has influenced history. According to Salt, Romans ate a lot of weird fermented shit.) Maybe the Coloseo allowed average Romans to indulge on the ancient equivalent of hot dogs, Cracker Jacks, Peanuts, malted ice creams, and lots of beer, and then they used the passageways to barf it up.

The most interesting thing at the Coliseum is the two tablets on display near the exit. At some point, there was an earthquake that damaged the building. Some rich important person personally paid for the repairs, and he also hired someone to inscribe four tablets telling people what happened and what he did. It seems that he fucked up when he hired someone, because the inscription is completely crooked and replete with spelling errors. We agreed that this is exactly the kind of low quality work that the Bush administration does today (for example, the use of noncompetitive bids to hire contractors to rebuild Iraq or clean up New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina), and we are not unsure that it is a sign of the decline of US civilization. History does tend to repeat itself.

The Forum was overall much more engaging. I am not sure why I did not go there when I was in Rome 10 years ago, but for some reason I skipped it. (Or worse, I did go and have literally no memory of such an amazing place. I swear I was not drunk on that trip either.) The Forum is actually an entire section of ancient Rome that has been unearthed. While you walk along the paths around the ruins of buildings, you are more or less walking on what used to be the street. None of the ruins have full walls, but in some cases the original floor still exists. It was just damn cool. We also wandered around the Palatine (Palatino), the hill adjacent to the Forum where many emperors and other rich ancient Romans built their palaces.

Our favorite part of the Forum was the Temple of Vestus, maintained by the Vestal Virgins. These were woman priestesses (the only women priestesses in Rome) who tended the eternal flame dedicated to the goddess Vestus in the Vestal Temple. (If the flame went out, the attendant was whipped by the chief priest, whose office ruins are also in the Forum.) Girls were selected between the ages of 6 - 10 years old. Of course, they had to be from noble families. Once selected, they committed to 30 years as Vestal Virgins. The first 10 years were spent in training. The next 10 years were spent doing their priestly duties, and the last 10 were spent training the novices. After that, they were free to get married or do whatever they wanted. If a Vestal Virgin lost her virginity while in office, her punishment was to be buried alive. The man involved did not get off (no pun intended) much easier, as he was condemned to be whipped to death.

After a day spent tromping about outside in the hot sun and dusty ruins, we returned to our hotel to clean up before dinner. We decided to go to Trastevere, the rapidly gentrifying working class neighborhood on the other side of the Tevere River. There was no subway or bus that went to Trastevere from where we were staying, but we were excited because we could take the subway to the tram. We’d seen some trams around the city but had not yet had occasion to use them. Unfortunately, once we arrived at the Piramide subway station, we were unsure where to find the tram. We asked people who worked at the station and found ourselves at the adjoining Ostiense commuter train station, where the commuter train went to Travestere station. About 30 minutes later, as we were heading back to the subway to retrace our steps, Dr. P found someone who spoke fluent Spanish who explained that the tram was outside the station around the Pyramid that was in the middle of the street blocking our view of the tram. After all that, a bus came on the tram line. It was very annoying, although we did have a nice dinner in Trastevere, and on the way back to the hotel, we were able to take a different tram to a bus. I would definitely like to go back to Trastevere in the day sometime.

I am writing all this on the plane back to NYC, and I must say that I had a great trip. Dr. P, FDH, and I had a fun time. Firenze and Roma are amazing. I feel like I barely scratched the surface of Roma and I am eager to go back and spend more time there. I would also like to visit Venezia some time. Husband travels to Milano all the time for work (not that I want to visit there – it is really all about fashion and seems to be 15 times more expensive than Roma or Firenze, which Dr. P, FDH, and I found to be fairly reasonably priced), but perhaps I can tag along with Husband in the future to Milano and we can stay for some extra time and take the train to Roma or Venezia. That would be very nice. I think the airfare would have to drop by about 65% or the family income would have to suddenly and dramatically increase before that happens, though.

Not that I am complaining. Someone at my office commented that in the year or so in which he has worked with me, I must have gone to at least 10 countries. I counted up and discovered that since last August, I have been to Switzerland, Israel, France, Dominican Republic, England, US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten/St. Martin (the islands for only a day as part of the family cruise, but still), and now Italy. If you throw in the other cruise port calls, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas (where Norwegian Cruise Lines owns a beach island that we went to briefly), that is 11 countries. I am one seriously lucky bitch.