The gravity well of some of the structures here is enormous. The colosseum, for example is unavoidable, she draws me to her, the chill of her stone and the mass of her being encompassing me. This is a place I have visited repeatedly, but she is a touchstone, and the visit leaves me giddy.
I leave Ancient Rome behind then, and head to more Ancient Rome. Approximately a mile away I visit the Terme di Caracalla. Ancient Roman baths, the grounds are cool and languid. The original building is largely gone, but some of the mosaic floors are still visible amidst the skeletal remains of the building. I stop briefly to relax before continuing on to the catacombs.
Sometimes I make bad decisions. I have wanted to visit the Roman catacombs for years, but have heard, somewhat vaguely, that they are well outside of town and inconvenient. This trip I decided to investigate further. What my reading led me to believe was that they we a little out of town, but not far from the Terme. And the walk is along the Appian Way, and rather pleasant.
If you consider walking on the shoulder of a crowded roadway, choking on exhaust fumes, and fearing for your life whilst Italian cars careen past to be a pleasant way to pass the time, then this is the thing for you!
It wasn’t a brief walk – it took me well out past the walls of Ancient Rome.
More than once I considered turning back – this was a base survival instinct. As hope grew dim, I was encouraged by the presence of others passing me, walking the opposite direction. This gave me hope that this would be a fruitful, albeit excruciating expedition.
Finally, after 15 minutes of respiratory assault, a driveway appeared for the Catacombs of St Callixtus. This was infinitely quieter and easier. Here it was actually a pleasant walk – up the worlds longest driveway – another 15 minutes in the midday sun. Finally I arrived at 1 PM. And read the sign stating that the Catacombs are closed from 12-2.
Notably I was not alone. A number of us were taking lunch from the vending machines. I opted for a double layer of yellow cake with an orange cream filling enrobed in a rich chocolate ganache. Or it helps to think of it that way. This was accompanied by a secondo of chocolate hazelnut encrusted crispy biscuit de beurre.
Finally 2 o’clock came and we took our tours (going with a tour is required). The English speaking group was large and I found they were mostly Alabamians with ties to Michigan. The catacombs were where early Christians were buried (in these catacombs were a number of popes, martyrs, and saints). Although the bodies have long since been moved, it is a place that is small, haunting, and sacred.
So after all that, was it worth it? Most definitely. Certainly this wouldn’t top my list of ways to spend time in Rome, but for me, having visited the city previously, the catacombs were right. I would like to go see some of the others, but could not brave the road further (I looked briefly and found it even more perilous).
So about that trip back: as I stepped onto the driveway a cab arrived dropping somebody off. I paused and saw nobody climb in as he turned the car back toward town. So when he approached I hailed him and jumped in. He asked my destination, and frankly I had no idea. I just needed to get “near” town. So I blurted out San Giovanni Laterano,” I picked this because I thought it was close. It may have been, but still left me well away from my hotel.
St. John Lateran is the local church of the Bishop of Rome. Which makes this the official church of the Pope. At least one of my guidebooks argues that it is more important than St. Peter’s. Another beautiful church, I enjoyed a visit and headed back to the hotel.
After a brief rest I headed out to dinner. During a prior trip to Rome I went for pizza on a Friday night during lent. I remember having anchovies and enjoying it, so I double checked reviews and went to the same pizzeria. I started with a recommended appetizer.
This was mozzarella in carozza: bread, cheese, and anchovies breaded and fried. It was listed as a specialty. And it sucked. It tasted greasy and was a total downer.
I followed this with the pizza napolitana. Pizza with cheese, oregano, tomatoes, and anchovies. The toppings were really quite good but the crust was this perfectly round thick bready doughy crust on which the toppings floated. I guess that’s how they do crust in Rome but it was crappy. In my memory it was previously a better pizza than it was today. I would not do this again. Ever.
I compensated by having a gelato. The gelato was a good decision to finish up a decidedly mixed day.