Friday, August 3, 2012
Just a Pile of Old Rocks
While I bashed Rick Steves a little bit on the food advice, I can say that he's really been spot-on with seeing the sites.
If we had read more carefully we would have had tickets to the Uffizi and Academia. It wasn't Rick's fault, he tried to warn us.
Where Rick really shined for us this trip were two thing: Information about the Roma Pass, which at 30 Euros/ea was a real plus, allowing us to skip lines at the Collosseum, Forum, and Borghese Gallery. We saw all three without additional charges. If we had felt like traveling on busses, those would have also been included so we highly recommend going with the Roma Pass.
Also, Rick completely hooked us up with Rick Steves Audio Europe. It's an audio guidebook complete with walking tours for lots and lots of sites, all of which we downloaded ahead of time (no internet connection required in country). The FREE iPhone app also has maps, and full transcripts of the audio content.
We used them for the forum and for the Colosseum. Both were just under 1 hour long, and paced very well. We learned things that wouldn't have been easily apparent: there were 80 elevators underneath the floor of the Colosseum for elevating animals, plants, gladiators, etc.
Most of the Colloseum was built as a combination of brick and concrete and then finished with Marble exterior. We also learned about another roman invention - the vomitorium (passageway beneath seats) which is something present in all of our stadiums to this day.
For the forum, the walking tour was necessary. Without some type of guide, the astounding site would have only appeared to be a pile of old rocks with a few rotting columns.
There were many people hawking tours with large groups trying to huddle around one tour guide. We were able to go at our own pace with our personal guide on our iPhones. It was like a far cheaper (less interactive) version of Elizabeth from Florence.
We learned about the history of Rome, the Roman empire, architectural features, as well as history of many of the emperors.
One of the most beautiful parts of the forum were the grounds of the former palace of the vestal virgins. The vestal virgins were the keepers of the fire in the temple of Vesta (also in the forum). It was thought that as long as the fire burned in the temple that Rome would continue. That this dedicated and important group of women was chosen prior to turning 10 and served a 30 year term. If they were still virgins at the end of the term they were given a large dowry and were allowed to marry. If they were found to have lost their virginity they were given a loaf of bread, a candle, and buried alive in a catacomb.
There was also a really neat collection of glassware from ancient times. It again was nearly impossible to photograph so you'll just have to believe that the range of colors and patters was stunning. Several pieces were made with the millefiore technique seen in some of the beads from the store in Nairobi.
The history and detail provided by the walking tours were astonishing for something provided free of charge.