In the previous era, we started almost every walk in Rome at our favorite spot, the square and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. This time we decided, therefore, that on the first day we return to the tradition as well. Immediately after breakfast we purchased one-time tickets for urban transportation and rode a bus to the nearby subway station.
Now let’s make a little digression. At the front desk of the hotel we were informed that a three-day pass to move around the city cost euro 38, and weekly pass does not exist. Something seemed fishy since one-and-half hour ticket is euro 1.70. However, another young and probably not yet trained in sales tricks front desk assistant said that the weekly subscription is of course available and costs € 21. On the subway, it turned out that price wise he was almost precise. Someone evidently attempted to deliberately take advantage of us, uneducated Yankee tourists.
To get to the subway ramp at the Cornelia station, one has to use three sections of the escalator, not counting two additional stairways. The tracks are located some 60 meters deep underground. No, this is not the deepest subway in the world, such one is in Kiev on the Arsenalna station, 105 meters (315 feet) under surface.
We disembarked the train at the Stazione Termini square, from where there is only five intersections of walk to Santa Maria Maggiore.
First thing that surprised us there, were numerous army posts with fully armed troops. Seriously looking young men professionally keep their index fingers next to trigger, not on it. Their job is not to secure law or order yet rather to send carefully aimed series in a crisis situation. Order is supposed to be provided by carabinieri and police but these guys were not visible there. And there you go. Beggars and homeless people are freely occupying the walls of the church.
Due to a terrorist attack not long time ago, the entrance to the basilica is guarded by uniformed officers and metal detectors like those at airports. Inside, a ticket sales clerk informs that visit to the museum and papal residence at the dome costs some euros but we decided to omit this option because first, time was limited and second and more important, we did not feel like walking upstairs several floors.
We stopped for a while by the Bysantine icon of Madonna Salus Populi Romani, probably the oldest image of Holy Mary in Rome. The legend tells that it was painted by st. Luke on a wooden tabletop. The story is identical with the one pertaining to the Madonna of Częstochowa image.
But the most important and majestic part of the basilica is a Reliquary of the Holy Crib containing two pieces of wood that were part of the manger in which Baby Jesus was laid. In our opinion, it might have been rather a crib since a hole in one of the boards indicates a little finer workmanship than a primitive cattle food container.
At the very same point st Jerome was buried, the one who translated the New Testament into Latin.
The importance of this place overwhelmed us so that we did not even know how to pray. Simple reciting of formulas might sound like lack of respect toward its greatness. And a thought came that our presence here itself with our simplicity disturbs so to speak harmony of this section of space, that not entirely belongs to this material world. Yes, people walked around taking pictures but ants also walk thoughtlessly throughout the world while the world does not seem to care.
After a brief concentration and prayer, we encircled the sanctuary and left.
It was allowable to take pictures there but with no flesh, as the guards told us.
This first day we were supposed to take easy. So, let’s stop by di Trevi fountain, where all the tourists meet, then have some spaghetti and return to the hotel.
All of the sudden, the entire image of the Great Rome was suppressed by a silly situation, tragic or comic. Well, my Ol’Lady wore beautiful leather shoes for the Rome walks. Sure, this is the world’s capitol of elegance and fashion, it would not have been appropriate to wear anything less than that. And here comes trouble. Feet swelled, blistered and hurt badly. We could not move any farther. Perhaps, we should buy some sneakers or what. And, considering our kind of luck, we are on the Via del Corso where price tags make our eyes blind.
But may Wife is in possession of husband whose face looks somewhat characteristic and despite total lack of talent in handling trade affairs, his appearance may suggest otherwise. Let’s try to take advantage of the fact. We entered the nearest store and unexpectedly attempted to bargain. To make it clear, Ela performed all the talking while my function was limited to just looking like a serious purchaser. The effect was surprising. A pair of soft, canvas designer sneakers became my Wife’s property at a cost of only euros 20 and in Rome there is no sales tax. Now reaching Piazza di Trevi within a few minutes became a duck soup.
And here we got long-faced. The fountain with its monumental sculptures is not even visible from behind thick crowd. Similarly, the sound of water flowing was muffled by the sound of thousands of people, along with irritating noise of clackink, clicking, squeeking, yelling and whistling of the street sales guys trying to unload cheap, colorful and ugly Chinese plastic stuff of single time use. Guard my back and your purse, I said to my Ela and I will work as a bulldozer.
No, it is not even possible to sit and relax here, like it was decades ago. We take two or three pictures and let’s scram. I am getting a headache as a result of my ochlophobic condition. I feel sick in crowds.
On our way some Hindi sold us a little wilted roses and speech about their national witchcraft or other superstitions, wishing us well and stuff. With sight of relief we exited the subway the very first station outside Aurelian walls in order to avoid human hordes.
It was not a big challenge to find a classic Roman trattoria, consisting of a bar, buffet and small restaurant. We rested outside under a table umbrella and we hat to seek some service, since we were the only guests who wanted to have something to eat. A chef, waiter and cashier in one, actually was sitting at the bar drinking Campari. We had pasta con vongole, alla Carbonare and Tiramisu to share. All original, spaghetti very al dente and the cake was served in a goblet. Please, do not look at us like this, we have already lost more kilocalories than such light dinner was able to replenish.
There was a huge stairway behind our back. Where is it leading to? Well, somebody explains, to the Vaticanum Museum. O, good, it will be closer to walk from here than from other side where buses stop. No,way, sir, my Ela says, I will not climb two kilometers upstairs. We are taking a bus, like all the civilized tourists. Whatever, come vorrei, since happy wife = happy life. Besides, yesterday in Europe the Women’s day was celebrated, so tanti auguri.
On our way home, while changing buses at Cornelia station, we stopped at a supermarket, some five minutes before closing, to get something to snack before going to bed. Uno etto di prosciutto, two kinds of salami and those famous Roman buns with a thick, crunchy skin and nothing inside.
Now we feel all these miles in our feet. Fortunately, in five minutes we will be back in the hotel. But did I mention my king of luck? We took line 49 instead 446. It goes the same direction yet deliver us to the destination from the back side. Well, the subdivision does not look bad, let’s ask for directions at the real estate office, they must know the neighborhood pretty well. Evidently, we got out of the bus one stop too far, there is three-quarter of a mile to go, mostly uphill.. Oh, no. My beautiful Wife starts to emit a noise similar to a volcano ready to erupt. Perhaps I take you piggy-back? The volcano is erupting within seconds. I better shut up…
What a day!