Rome to Paris: The Return Pt. III

Okay, so I believe I left off promising you guys some pictures of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. So without any more delay…here they are:

Saint Catherine of Siena at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
front of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
















Since we got a later start that day, that’s about all we saw before lunch. No, wait, I lied. We saw Hadrian’s Temple too. I remember studying that one in art history last year (kind of why I wanted to see it). Turns out, I saw it when I was here with my family a few years ago. Who’d have thunk it? It’s right by the Pantheon and you’ll see a number of people in suits walking around (when I was with my family the place was swarming with people in suits and media press) not mention there might be some “roman gladiators” hanging around outside. I think nowadays Hadrian’s Temple is used for administration or government. And it’s a building that definitely shows its age. It’s all safe, I don’t mean that, but the pillars and the walls are all pockmarked like small shells or something were thrown at it. When I went with Claire, there was one of those human statue guys. These are people who dress up as whatever (a soldier, a tin man, etc.) and just stand there. If you watch closely or long enough, you might be able to see them subtly and gradually change positions. They generally have a cup or something in front of them for anyone wishing to donate a few coins. Jared and I absolutely loved these guys when we were little. The ones we saw painted themselves gold or silver and dressed as roman soldier-type people. This one was a pharoah. Why a pharoah, I have no idea but it seems to be popular since I saw two when I was in Paris.

Hadrian’s Temple
the pharoah guy near Hadrian’s Temple

















Okay, so now that I’m reflecting on it, we actually did a good bit before lunch. It’s that the rest of the day kind of all goes together in my mind since we sort of walked a loop around southern Rome. Where did this loop start? With the Jewish Ghetto. Yeah. I was excited. It’s right next to Tiber Island and is the one of the oldest ghettos in the world I believe. It was built in 1555 and the home of Rome’s Jewish population for over 300 years, from the Counter-Reformation in the 16th century to the Italian unification in the 19th century. Most of the ghetto has since been torn down or turned into apartments but you can still see some of the old buildings. We didn’t do this but it is possible to get a tour of the area. We couldn’t go inside but we saw the outside of the synagogue and some of the neighborhood. It was really cool seeing the Star of David carved into the stone of the synagogue and a carving of tablets towards the top of the building. Best of all, to the right of the entrance, there’s I think probably the biggest menorah that I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it’s functional or not but it’s made of a golden-colored metal and looked awesome! But my absolute favorite part? We had lunch on Tiber Island after walking around and seeing San Bartolemeo’s and the Tiber Island terrace and we saw a couple father-son duos walked by wearing kippahs. It made me happy. Julia laughed when she saw how excited I was over seeing it.

the synagogue in the Jewish Ghetto
giant menorah outside of the synagogue
















After Tiber Island, we saw the Ponte Rotto. While not much to look at originally, it becomes a lot more interesting when you realize that it is the oldest bridge in Rome and perhaps the world as it was built around 200BC to replace a wooden one. Though it no longer spans the width of the river and has been out of use since the mid-1500s, it’s still cool to think that you’re looking at something so old. And right across the bridge (there’s a functional bridge next to Ponte Rotto) on the other side is Cloaca Maxima, one of the world’s first sewage systems. It was built in Ancient Rome around 600BC by Tarquinius Priscus (the king of Rome at the time) and amazingly, is still in use today.

Ponte Rotto
Cloaca Maxima














From here we continued on and conquered Aventine Hill. This hill was pretty and gave us a great view of Rome! If anyone has been to Montmartre in Paris, it’s similiar to that in that you can look out and just see all of Rome. The walk up the hill isn’t bad either, it’s not too steep. But by far the coolest thing on Aventine Hill is the Knights of Malta gate. It’s pretty much at the very top–you take the same road that you did up the hill and basically just go until runs into a courtyard. It’s also pretty easy to spot because there’s a line of people waiting to look at a door. Why would they be waiting to look at a door? Because this particular door holds what has been nicknamed the keyhole view. The reason this view so cool is because the keyhole just happens to perfectly frame the dome of Saint Peter’s. It really is awesome. Unfortunately, the pictures I took through the keyhole didn’t turn out so well because the lighting was too bright but Claire managed to get a pretty good shot. Also on Aventine Hill are two churches: Santa Sabina, and Basilica di Sant’Alessio. They were both nice.

view through the keyhole at Knights of Malta gate on Aventine Hill
the view from Aventine Hill















Just across the street from Aventine Hill is Circus Maximus, a large oval area where chariot races used to be held. There is still a long, thin, slightly raised, area of grass in the center that the chariots used to have to race around. Now people come to walk, or walk their dogs, and kids play games of tag but the orignal purpose of the place is still clearly discernable. And just beyond Circus Maximus stand the remains of Palentine Hill. We didn’t go in there (it was closed and you had to pay) but you could see the outer edges of it from the oval and the  bottom of Aventine Hill.

Circus Maximus
view of Palentine Hill from Circus Maximus













And then later that night, I packed up my things and Claire and Julia took me to the train station where we said farwell and I caught an overnight train back to Torino (Turin). And this is where things get interesting. The world is full of creepy people and no doubt, you will have more than one unpleasant run-in with such people. I was just lucky enough to have two on my way back. The first was on the bus ride to the train station. Julia and Claire were still with me. I was sitting on the aisle next to Claire with Julia across from us. These guys got on and were standing in the little aisle as there weren’t really seats. That, I understand. What I don’t understand is why one of them felt to the need to basically hump my arm the entire ride. I have no idea what he looked like, all I know is that it was extremely uncomfortable and he reeked of the absolute foulest-smelling smoke I think I’ve ever encountered. Why didn’t I move away or do something? I couldn’t. Literally every time I tried to move away he just moved with me? And then there wasn’t any room to do anything else and there was no point in making a big scene. So, be warned, there are creepy people in Rome. I was so happy to get off that bus. Julia had seen me giving her looks but she said she didn’t understand what they were for until we got off and I was telling them about it. She and Claire have had a few…interesting encounters with drunk men as well. So people, just be careful.

Everything was fine after that until I hit Torino. But first, if you guys recall my first post on Rome, I don’t think I ever mentioned any sort of passport control or anything. That’s because there wasn’t any coming into Italy. Why, I have no idea. But you DO need a passport and a copy (it’s a good idea) if you are going to be traveling to another country even if that country is another European one. Before we were allowed to board the train for Torino (in Rome) we had to hand over both our ticket and passport. The guy then compared the two, wrote something down on the back of the ticket then handed us back the passport. We got the ticket back the next morning when they passed out breakfast. Each car had a different person checking tickets and IDs. Even the Italians had to show their carte d’identifie. For any overnight train in Europe, there are a few different options seat-wise when you buy your ticket. Obviously, some are more expensive but it’s kind of worth it. You can get a seat that is like on a normal train, where it’s just a normal upright chair or you can opt for a bed in a cabin. The bed, obviously, is a bit more expensive but I think it’s one of those things that is worth it. You get a bunk where you can lay down and a mini breakfast in the morning. I’m not sure how many bunks are typically per cabin. First class would be more private–so less people in the cabin with you–and second class would just be a person for every bed. I shared a cabin with a mother and daughter. There were three beds in the cabin and I ended up with the top bunk. The bunks are numbered too by the way so it’s easy to tell which one belongs to who. I’d been hoping not to get the very top one because it’s a little awkward climbing up there and then trying to get from the ladder to the bed. Of course, me being short could have something to do with that.

The train ride was uneventful. I didn’t sleep much but that’s okay. Now, Torino. And this is where Life Lesson Learned #2 comes in. ALWAYS DOUBLE-CHECK YOUR TICKET. Why am I stressing this? Because there are two train stations in Torino, Torino Porta Susa and Torino Porta Nuova. My overnight train from Rome came into Torino Porta Nuova. Guess which station my train to Paris was supposed to leave from? Yeah. And keep in mind that I speak absolutely noo Italian and it’s 8:30AM. I finally plucked up enough courage to approach the guy manning a help desk and asked him if he spoke any english. I hate doing that because it’s so rude but what else can you do if you don’t speak the language? Anyway, he told me to go to the tourist office and that they should help me. So I wait half an hour for the tourist office to open only to be told, kind of rudely actually, that they don’t do trains, that they only do tourist attractions in town. Well, okay then. And while I was waiting for it open I kept getting approached by people asking for money. Literally this one girl came by three different times. I don’t if she thought that if she asked enough times that I’d give her some to go away or what. I just shook my head and said no italiano. I ended up using one of the fast ticket machines that thankfully had english as an option. The two train stations aren’t that far apart. In all actuality, they’re only about ten minutes apart by train. But my moment of panic was not over because the ticket that printed didn’t have a time of departure or arrival, or a train number or really anything that could help tell me which train to take. I remembered the time I’d chosen and looked it up on the board by time of departure and just hoped that I was right. It was a ter train so seating wasn’t assigned either. Thankfully, I guessed right. From there, it was smooth sailing til Paris.

By far the biggest and scariest encounter I had the entire trip was in Paris while waiting for the platform for my last train to be posted. There I had a run-in with a legit pedophile. No joke. Like you know how you’re told when you were a little kid to never accept candy from a stranger or anything like that? Or you heard stories about people asking little kids if they want to go with them? Yeah, that actually happens. This guy just came up and started talking to me in French and I didn’t want to encourage him so I was trying not to look at him and only answer in shrugs if he clearly asked me a question. I couldn’t really understand his French, just a few random words. When he saw that I didn’t understand him he switched to English and I really wished he hadn’t. I won’t go into any details but it was disturbing. He then asked me if I thought ten was too old or not before proceeding to ask me if I wanted to go and spend a week with him. Um…hell no. I had to tell him no like two more times before he just up and walked off. I just stood trying to process that yes, that had actually just happened. Because I was still trying to process what had just happened, it wasn’t until later when I was on the train that I wondered if I should have found a policeman or even one of those guys with machine guns and told them what had happened but what would I have said? I couldn’t describe him. A man that looked like he was in his late forties or fifties and smelled a little of bad smoke? It did make me realize just how many kids were around though. Sunday night so people were going home after either traveling or spending a day in the city and we were coming off Toussaint break so people were coming back from that too. But yeah. Parents, just be careful in public places, especially big public places. So I guess Life Lesson Learned #3 would be, be careful when traveling.

While I had fun in Rome and it was great to see everyone, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be back from a trip before. And my host mom, bless her heart, still made me crepes for dinner even though I got back around 9PM. And so ends my tale of Toussaint. I’m almost caught up now. Just have the latest excursion to parler avec vous about.

❤ Rachel


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