In Uganda, foreigners, particularly white people, are often referred to as muzungu – (literally “someone who wanders in circles”, fun article here). Because I require a 2mm layer of deet and suncream to stay alive, my friends referred to me as super mzungu – whiter than average.
Awaking after a fairly horrific night’s sleep, Glen set to work checking how our room faired in relation to British water regs. He’s a plumber, it’s territorial thing. The room came up to scratch the only real issue being that our air conditioning didn’t work. Opening the fuse box, Glen found that one switch was down and so chancing the ire of which ever god has the remit over such things (Vulcan?) he pulled down the lever.
Everything went dark.
It didn’t, but it’s what what both of us were hoping for. Actually, it turned the air conditioning on. Can’t think why a hotel would leave that off, obviously our €6 city tax didn’t cover such trivialities.
Our first port of call was to buy sun cream ‘cause I can burn on a cloudy day. The ten minutes it took to get to the local hypermarché left me feeling decidedly warm, so we attempted to find some. Glen and I have different methods of dealing with foreigners – I talk to them like they are human beings and Glen treats them like a newly evolved species, all slow words and hand gestures. He however would say I use too many words, while he gets his point across. The debate continues throughout the holiday. I think Glen took this one, so after miming washing himself and saying “SUN CREAM” we were pointed in completely the wrong direction. The lady had responded with “crem di sol” so she presumably understood, she just didn’t know the layout of the supermarket. 20 minutes later we found the sun cream next to the tills. I picked up some childrens factor 50 which put me in good stead for the rest of the week, we also bought some water bottles and we learned that italian supermarkets have live lobsters and whilst playing on the travellators that Glen’s shoes have no grip.
Rome does not like fat people. The supermarket had a metal fence around it which you could only past using those gates made for stopping bikes and horses. When we took the metro there were two up escalators but only one down. Which was about half the width of the up ones. If you can’t fit on it, you’re using the stairs. We saw 2 fat people the whole time we were there.
We decided to walk to the Colosseum from 2 stations away because what’s life without a little whimsy. 5 minutes in, I wondered if we were lost (another recurring theme) until we rounded the corner and there it was. The big papa of surviving Roman architecture.
I shouldn’t be surprised by the scale of it – many buildings are wider and taller than the Colosseum. It’s not that different to a football stadiums, but we know you can make something like that out of metal and when you surround it with a car park, it all feels quite commonplace. The difference is you don’t find things like this made of stone. The Flavian Amphitheatre sits by the side of the road, a crouching monolith. It looks too tall for it’s width. It knows that it’s on all the postcards.
The Colosseum was surrounded by gawkers and hawkers, guys dressed up as centurions and the ever present offer of a queue jump. Our path had taken us via streets which were perhaps 15m above Colosseum ground level (interesting to think how much of ancient Rome is buried), so were give a view of both the building and the crowds milling around it. I’d been told not to worry about tickets because you can buy them at the palatine hill entrance. But soon we were spotted by a tour guide. “Hey you guys want an English speaking tour?”
While watching Sherlock Holmes there is always a part of me that finds it hard to believe you could read people like that in the real world. Does anyone really have the white spots on the their left shoe to show they’ve been painting whilst standing on a stepladder? Turns out they do. Well not the stepladder thing. Forget it. Certainly, as far as nationalities are concerned, these guys have it down:
“It’s cool that you know we’re English straight away. Can you do it with other nationalities?”
“Sure, point at anyone”
“What about that guy” I said pointing to a random man in a queue 50 meters away wearing a green and white striped shirt.
“Brazilian. Let’s go see” We stride over. “Hey, me and my friends-“This guy had great patter. “had a bet about your nationality. Where are you from?”
Boom. We played again and it was 2 for 2, though he admitted he knew the tour guide the second person was with. Were we not attempting to see the Colosseum I could have done this all day. I don’t even care whether there are a lot of easy visual tells – we pointed at a person and he told us their nationality. I’ve got a lot of respect for that.
Thus charmed, we bought a tour from his company and entered the amphitheatre with a tour guide. I suppose we could have been easily scammed during this arrangement, but I did know where they worked and for whatever it’s worth they seemed trustworthy. I could review them badly on tripadvisor. The inside of the Colosseum is fairly mental also, showing something of what it would have been like when intact. I would heavily recommend getting a guide, however, since there is so much history around the structure. Built by Vespasian as he eradicated Nero’s legacy from the world, stones carried by Jewish slaves, between 500k and several million deaths. The Colosseum has to make you reassess the Romans. And everyone who has attempted to use it since, be it for a stadium, fortress, slum, market or shrine.
Take a deep breath.
Take a picture for the couple next to you because your long limbs give good angles.
We waited outside for our tour guide for the next part. Chad was described to us as looking like Thor. Biting back comments about Thor’s recently becoming a woman, we waited for him to turn up.
Chad was great. He’d partially completed a masters but for reasons we didn’t find out, had come to Rome instead. He did a great line in sarcasm – insulting us, historians who thought Augustus was the first emperor and Italian workmen. We saw Constantine’s arch and palatine hill. Coming off the hill to the Roman Forum is just preposterous. There is so much Roman stuff just lying around. You could build 5 museums, you could label to your hearts content, but it’s just lying there protruding from the ground or having been preserved/altered by future generations. Chad poured scorn on a bronze? “original Roman door” which if legitimate would have been stolen centuries ago. Huge areas were fenced with no explanation. Rome seems to have too much history and doesn’t know what to do with it. Probably a money thing. Chad chalked some of it up to corruption. In Britain it’s all scarce enough that you’re dying to turn it into a specific tourist attraction. Later we would walk into an church clothed in marble, obviously used daily (I know ’cause they had a daily Bible reading), absolutely stunning, completely empty. Here’s Chad’s company.
Glen and I had calzone for lunch. The guy bought us fantas despite the fact that we had said we just wanted 2 calzone. Italian service isn’t great. Perhaps English service isn’t either, but certainly we were misinterpreted perhaps willfully on a number of occasions. Foreshadowing.
On the upside we took Penny’s advice and bought ice cream. The lady served us preposterously large portions. If you are near the Colosseum it’s just up one of the nearby roads. No I can’t be more specific.
In the afternoon, we visited the Tomb of an Unknown soldier in the Altar of the Fatherland. A stunning building, all white stone with a black chariot on top of each wing, it shows the Italians can still build, though their style hasn’t changed much. (According to Wikipedia a criticism of the building is that style has changed too much, moving from Roman to Greek and Teutonic. Shrug.) Nowhere in Rome did we see modern buildings, no skyscrapers or attempts to show the city as anything other than something that once was a big deal. As we went home that night the tubes weren’t packed with commuters, they were half full of tourists. In places the most modern thing about the city is the advertising, which usually sets off alarm bells for me. The area around our hotel could have been in the parts of Uganda or India I’ve visited – with it’s lack of modern buildings cars or non-phone technology. This side of Rome surprised me.
We walked around for an hour looking for places to talk to other human beings. We didn’t find any – our area lacked a pub culture. Eventually we dined in a seafood restaurant which was supposedly a tripadvisor victor. Later on I would realise that every restaurant seemed to be one of these and all we had done was limit our choice to a type of food I don’t like. The carbonara was lovely. Glen had fish.
We went to sleep. This time in seperate beds – bed seperated by 4 inches. Beggars can’t be choosers.