Nov 14 2007

I’m just glad we haven’t used the phrase “When in Rome” yet

Published by at 7:17 pm under Italy,Rome

Have you ever been squatting in the bathroom of an ancient Roman ruin while being yelled at via headset by a small, Italian woman? Unfortunately, for the rest of my life I will have to answer that question with the affirmative.

A little background on how I ended up in that unfortunate situation: Ben, Danny (our hostel friend from Arizona) and I had sprung for the guided tour of the Colosseum/Palatine Hill/Roman forum, if only to avoid the ridiculously long queues. The tour guides speak into a microphone and hand out small headsets so they don’t have to yell to be heard. After a brief introduction, while waiting for the rest of the group to get through security, I quickly slipped away to the bathroom while Ben kept an eye out for our group as they began their tour.

But nothing escapes the watchful eyes of a feisty Italian woman. “Where are the other two?” she accusingly asked our innocent companion, to which he reluctantly replied that we’d gone to the bathroom.

“Oh this is bad! Very, very bad!” our tour guide yelled, her tinny voice blaring out of the headset in my jacket pocket as I peed. “So hard to find people inside. This is what I told you! If you leave the group you must return the headset! Where are those people??”

ColosseumWe slunk back to the group, having been remotely chastised. Apparently we started a trend because other people started wandering away during the course of the tour. Her spiel was often interrupted with “Hello! People from India! Come back!” or “People with the babies! Stay with the group!” Towards the end of the tour she kept mumbling in our ears: “I do this five, ten times a day, never this happens! My God!” Say that with a thick Italian accent and you’ve got the idea.

Trip lesson #78,451: When you get home, appreciate your cell phone. A few minutes before closing time, Ben and I stopped by the official AS Roma football (yes I will refer to soccer as football) team store to inquire about tickets to that evening’s match. Upon learning that cheap seats were available, we realized we needed to contact our friends at the hostel to find out exactly how many tickets to purchase. No problem, right? We’ll just call them, we thought, instinctively reaching into our bags for a cell phone. It always takes a few moments to realize that we no longer have them. What followed was a highly complex series of back-and-forth events that resulted in no tickets being purchased at all. I admire my parents for living in a far-gone era without cell phones or the internet. Seriously, how did they do ANYTHING?

Approaching the Stadio Olympico
Approaching the stadium, ignorant of the impending

We decided to head to Stadio Olympico anyway to try and purchase tickets from the box office. Do Italian stadiums have box offices? I still don’t know. As we approached the stadium, we saw hordes of men out front, wearing masks and carrying bats. Having heard about the hooliganism of avid European football fans, we remained alert but not alarmed. That is, until we saw a menacing mob set a dumpster on fire. We became a little concerned. We skirted the edge of the fire gang and approached a police officer who seemed to be barricading himself within the fence of the strangely empty stadium. “Cancelled!” he said, adding emphatically “Go away! You need to go away!”

We knew that something was seriously awry and walked quickly, heads down, through the angry crowd back towards the bus stop. We watched from a safe distance as the mob began destroying streetlights with makeshift bats, dragging items out into the middle of the road and setting them on fire. Upon returning home, we learned that we had witnessed the beginning of a riot that made international headlines. We would have taken pictures, but the masked men didn’t seem like they were in the mood to smile for a camera.

The next day…

We’d heard talk of a church decorated entirely with human bones and, however morbid that may sound, our curiosity was piqued enough to seek it out. Sure enough, a church decided to put the bones of their deceased friars as well as those of poor Romans to use in what is a strange, creepy decorative art. The walls and ceilings of several chapels are covered in human bones in intricate, sometimes playful, patterns. Even the chandeliers are made of vertebrae. We weren’t allowed to photograph, but I took a picture of a postcard:

The Crypt of the Capuchins
Yes, every last pattern is made of human bone. This “Crypt of the Skulls” is followed by the “Crypt of the Pelvises” and the “Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones.”

We followed our grim sightseeing with a meal at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant patronized by grumpy Italian men (always a good indicator of a great restaurant). We dined on spaghetti a pomodoro, some sort of lasagna with a creamy, smoky cheese sauce, and minestrone. I realize I talk about food way too much in my entries, so I won’t go into more detail. Suffice it to say that the food alone is reason enough to visit Italy.

One of our favorite nighttime activities is participating in cross-cultural drinking games with other hostel-dwellers. Americans, ourselves included, always have a wealth of drinking games at the ready, which we’ve enjoyed teaching to fellow travelers. We will spread beer pong to the edges of the globe! The British, it seems, don’t bother with the pretense of so-called drinking games. The only game Lee and Lucy, a British couple on neighboring bunk beds, could come up with was “Drink While You Think.” Now that’s hardcore.

NEXT: The Vatican for Cheapskates »



2 responses so far

2 Responses to “I’m just glad we haven’t used the phrase “When in Rome” yet”

  1. Leeon 14 Nov 2007 at 8:42 pm

    Yeah, I’d avoid the football stadiums in Italy like the plague for a while. A few days ago, a Lazio fan (Rome’s other football team) got shot accidentally by a policeman. That started a load of rioting aganst the police. That inturn caused the Italians to cancel all football matches for this week at least!!!

    It’s a shame I missed beer pong too :(

  2. Alieon 15 Nov 2007 at 4:49 am

    Well done you two! We love reading your blog!

    We have both traveled throughout Italy and enjoyed it so much that we can’t wait to go back! I can’t believe you met people you knew in Italy!? Too funny!

    We are in Laos and it’s quiet compared to Thailand, which is a very very good thing. Keep up the great blog! Cheers, Alie

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