We started our day with a coffee from a little bar around the corner which Frederico had recommended. He’d mentioned the elderly owners but even so, we were surprised to find a man about 300 years old behind the counter. He set about making our coffees with a well practised skill made shaky with age. A woman we took to be his daughter swooped in at the last minute to save him from spilled milk which a burst of compassion made me want to cry over. None the less, the coffee was great, especially when accompanied with little breakfast pastries!
We wandered along a street lined with antique shops back towards the Castel Sant’Angelo, stopping en route at a small deli to pick up supplies for the days adventures. We rejoined the bus top tour and away we went to the biggest show stopper in Rome – The Colosseum! On the advice of all and sundry, we stayed on the bus, passing the mammoth queues, and got off at the adjoining entrance to the Palatine Hill to buy a combined ticket to the Hill, The Colosseum and The Forum. There was perhaps 6 people ahead of us so within minutes, we were making our way back to The Forum to work our way down through ancient history. Seriously, this is not a secret insiders tip – it is recommended in just about every piece of travel literature I’ve read about Rome (including our brilliant personalised travel guide!) so as we walked back passed the snaking queues at the Colosseum, I wondered why everyone doesn’t do it!
We eventually came to the equally overlooked entrance to the Forum, pushing through the turnstiles to find the place literally in ruins but spectacularly so! Dating back to the 8th century BC, we were surrounded on all sides by the metaphorical and actual bedrocks of our modern day civilisation. It’s widely accepted that this is the birthplace of our contemporary political and governmental structures and it is absolutely mind blowing to stand amongst the remnants of ages and marvel at the sheer scale and magnitude of the place! We took our time, poking our noses into its various nooks and crannies before arriving at the foot of the main attraction… the Colosseum.
The queues to get in still stretched for miles… unless you already had a ticket! Mum and I smugly sailed passed the masses and waltzed straight in only to be stopped dead in our tracks by the sight of the Colosseum’s interior spread out before us. It is staggeringly and breathtakingly impressive! We loitered a while near the entrance not only to get our bearings but also to eavesdrop a little on a guided tour in progress. Once we became conspicuous, we moseyed on around the perimeter overlooking the complex structure of tunnels below. While Mum hung around taking in the finer details, I scaled the stairs to the upper level for a different perspective. Once we’d absorbed all we could of its crumbling grandeur, we made our way to the exit and back towards the Palatine Hill (which was now closed).
We kept on around the corner to the CIrcus Maxiumus which I’m afraid to say is nowhere near as fun as it sounds! Not even when I tell you that it is an ancient chariot racing track like in Ben Hur – nope, today all that remains is a somewhat unkempt and unremarkable oval, actually it’s not even that – it’s more of a rectangle. None the less, we walked it’s length as a means to an ends. We were now in search of another of Roman-site-made-famous-by-film – Bocca della Verita aka The Mouth of Truth from Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. My navigational skills got us in a bit of a muddle and by the time we found it, we were three minutes too late!!! There was still a small queue of people inside the gate but the gatekeeper showed absolutely no mercy! I should mention that by now it was raining and poor Mum was aching all over but not even this softened his black-heart! If I’d been able to reach him through the bars, I’d have throttled him knowing how exhausted Mum was and how she’d persevered just to see this scene from one of her favourite movies. Disappointed and soggy, we climbed into a taxi and headed for home.
I left Mum to rest while I headed out on my own to fetch a few things she wanted to take back to Sydney. Night was falling, the rain had stopped but the city still shone with reflections on its wet walkways. It was beautiful and I felt happy to be out amongst it, rugged up against the cold and unencumbered by my backpack full of daily supplies. I had the map in my pocket but impressed myself that I didn’t need to refer to it. I strode with confidence to Piazza Navona, passed the Pantheon (stopping for another little peek inside), onto the Trevi Fountain and back again without once being hassled by the army of hawkers constantly attempting to lure tourists into their establishments. I have to admit, I felt a little bit proud and empowered by my brief jaunt about town – it’s certainly not something the ‘me’ that walked the same streets a decade ago would have been capable of.
I returned to find Mum rested and ready for dinner. We had decided to follow Frederico’s strongest recommendation – Da Francesco Restaurant in Piazza del Fico right at the end of our street. We arrived to find it already full with an all Italian crowd waiting to get it. We took that as a good sign and gladly put our names on the list. Back in Sydney, we have the very good fortune of being connected to the hottest restaurants in town – Porteno and Bodega – where there are always queues. We were now getting a feel for what it’s like to actually have to wait in one! It actually wasn’t too bad with each other for company and an extensive menu to peruse and interpret.
By the time we were shown to our seats we had worked up quite an appetite and decided that tonight was the night we were going to attempt the full traditional Italian dinner. First things first, we ordered a bottle of red and then starting with a bruschetta each (that hit the spot), then a primi course of freshly made pasta served simply with pepper and olive oil (delicious, starting to feel very full) and then onto secondi. The secondi course is usually a hearty meat dish but on tonight’s menu they had a little something special called scarmoza which was translated as ‘baked cheese’. One of the things I love most about Italian cuisine is its simplicity but all the same, I had to enquire if it came with any hidden meat extras. The waiter looked at me as if I was an idiot and said ‘no, is just melted cheese!’. But I’m not an idiot and so ordered it immediately!!!
Our meals were laid before us – Mum’s meat and complicated potatoes and my plate of cheese, just cheese, just baked and marvellously gooey cheese! I couldn’t believe that as an adult, I was allowed to legitimately eat this for dinner – that’s not to say I haven’t had similar meals before but never with my mother’s consent and never in a fancy restaurant! It was just cheese!!!
But here’s the truly shocking part… I couldn’t even finish it! And worse than that, neither Mum or I could face the idea of dessert and oh what desserts they were! Whilst that may sound like normal human behaviour, it’s most certainly not normal Doyle behaviour but there it was – we were down for the count but still not quite out… we still had a little room between the cracks for limoncello! In fairness, limoncello is a digestif – a lovely, sweet, boozy digestif to start composting the contents of our groaning tummies. Of course, we’d eaten far more than one measly limoncello could handle on its own so we ordered another round to help it along. Just when we thought we’d done our best, our increasingly charming waiter bought us out another round of limoncello, compliments of the house!
Luckily we were within stumbling distance from home. We left the restaurant to find the neighbourhood alive with activity but we knew that we had had our fill, not only of food and wine but of life, love and laughter. I will always look back on this night as a treasured memory of time spent with my mother, my hero, my friend.
Patches McMum: First thing we had coffee, another good on
e and found a deli (won’t visit that one again – they were rude!) and collected some nibblies for our topless bus ride. We got on at the Bridge of Angels which leads to the Castello Saint Angelos.
We went to Colosseum and the Forum. Mind boggling! The Forum is where our present day political systems started out. The enormity of the buildings and the structures are incredible! I think I heard it was only 300-400 years ago that some parts of it were still being used. One of the things I noticed was that so many of the columns had numbers on them – I don’t know if they’re going to try and build the place again – if they are, good luck to them.
We strolled from the Forum to the Colosseum – just mind blowing! I got a feeling of coldness there, not just from the weather but from the residual energy of the place. The building must’ve been amazing in its original state but even in its decayed state, it is still SOOOO impressive!
Then we walked to the Mouth of Truth – the bloody thing was closed 3 minutes before we got there.
NO GELATO SO FAR either yesterday or today – no wonder my joints are aching or maybe it’s the fact that it rained all bloody day!
Frederico, the owner of the apartment, suggested going to ‘Francesco’ restaurant just around the corner. There was a queue so we put our name on the list and waited our turn – now I know what it’s like to be unconnected at Porteno and Bodega! Eventually we got to our table where we dined Italian style with all the courses including a good bottle of red. At the end, for a digestif, we had 2 limoncello’s each and then they sent us out a third (now it’s like Porteno!)
I really enjoyed the night because we spent more time getting to know each other as friends, not just mother and daughter. Another wonder-filled day. Buonanotte!
PS We looked into sending postcards home but decided against it when we found out it would cost approximately $60 for the lot – you’ll get them posted from Sydney airport!