May 9

    We are in a large campground just north of Rome. On our way here, we had stayed one night at a camping “seaside resort” on the Adriatic. We were the only ones there amidst a hundred aging, rusting trailers. It was run by a friendly family busily working to improve it for the high season. And while it appeared to have a good internet connection, no one there knew the password or how to make it work. So after coffee on the beach in the morning, we drove the 200 miles back across the mountains (3000 ft.) and through many tunnels (one of them 3 miles long) to Rome in an occasional rain.


    We expected a jam of traffic like we have found on the Paris ring road, but everything moved smoothly, and although our exit was not numbered (not at all, unlike every other one!) we had great directions and arrived quickly at the campground, with only one near-fatality involving a motor scooter passing us on the right just as we were about to take an exit.

    Tiber Camping is a really nice place. For $20/night (electricity and hot showers included) we have a free shuttle bus to the train station 5 minutes away. The train takes about 20 minutes to get into the heart of the city; at least equally important, there are very nice clean toilets (with paper and seats!) and showers, a pool that is actually open for use, a market, laundry, and a very good and reasonably priced restaurant and bar with free wifi. We will probably stay here a week. The only downside is the large number of huge cottonwood trees shedding their fluff. And we have had a fair amount of rain, turning all the sites into swamps. If we hadn’t had the awning down (collecting fluff) we would have needed boots to get out the door.

    We are findng Rome difficult and amazing all at the same time. Never have we seen such a concentration of domes, obelisks (dating back to Cleopatra’s day), monuments, statues, fountains, spires…. and then, around the corner, a building dating from the Renaissance with a view of ancient ruins behind it. But getting anywhere is a challenge. The signage is terrible: usually non-existent and, when it does appear, often contradicting other signs; even the main throughfares have narrow sidewalks; tourists are everywhere, puzzling over their maps and posing for pictures; buses are crowded; traffic is ridiculous; only along the newer streets (like the one Mussolini put through the heart of the ruins) are there wide sidewalks.

    The Colosseum is much smaller than we’d expected--about a quarter of the size of a football stadium--but with its upper and lower concourses, it is obviously the basis for modern stadiums’ design. The ruins of the Roman forum and various emperors’ houses go on for blocks in the heart of the city, some of them three or four stories high and many accesssible to the public.

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We have been to five museums, one great castle with impresssive views of the city, each of the seven hills at least once (at least it feels like it) and many churches, including the Pope’s own. This last is not St Peter’s but San Giovanni in Laterano Plaza: a massive, extravagant place with huge statues of all the apostles. And the skulls of St Peter and St Paul are supposed to be above the Pope’s ornate altar in the center of the church. (Well, shoot….) As we entered, a service was just beginnng, so we couldn’t get too close to the altar. It is interesting how services go on while tourists just kind of mill around on the sides and members of the congregation greet one another. We were hoping for music but didn’t hear any at all. We haven’t seen the Vatican yet, but this wil be hard to top. 

    On Saturday we thought we had the bus system figured out as to how to return to our train station, but the bus made an unexpected couple of turns and stopped well short of the station. This was when we discovered the main street had become a pedestrian avenue--just for Saturday night--jammed with people, musicians, mimes, sellers of everything. So we just bought some gelato, hung on to our wallets and enjoyed being part of it while we made our way on foot back to the station.

    Today we walked down blocks of markets--antiques, clothing, shoes, linens--kind of a WalMart spread along one long outdoor aisle, except that the sellers are calling to you to buy their purses, bags and underwear (and nobody is claiming the stuff was Made in the USA). We keep our money safely zipped away and so far people have only tried to talk us out of it.