Ostia Antica’s Ruins and Other Surprises

That morning, I woke up quiet early. It was raining cats and dogs outside but I had huge plans for the day as it was the first Sunday of the month and a lot of museums in Rome had the free-entrance day. My initial plan was to go to the Vatican City but my so-called ‘flexibility’ and spontaneity this time let me down: I checked the opening hours of Vaticano and discovered that on Sundays it’s closed.

After a little time, I got a text from Gianni, my young Italian friend. He was about to go to Ostia Antica and asked me if I want to join. He has never been to the Necropilis Excavations himself, therefore, this would be a new experience for both of us. I certainly agreed. We met at Piramide (the metro station that’s just one stop from mine) and took a train to the direction of Ostia.

It was nice we just had to use the atac card for the train because that area still is a part of Rome. So, free ride + free entrance to the attraction = happy me.

After we came to the station, we ordered Italian espresso  in the nearest cafeteria. We stood by the counter sipping hot liquid from our cups – that’s exactly how Italians drink their coffee in the morning, so to say,  ‘on the go’.

Then, we headed to the entrance! Just in time! We took over a long line of school kids and quickly took the tickets.

When we came in, we encountered Gianni’s friend. It was a beautiful Italian woman with Ginger hair and red lipstick 😉 She appeared to be a tour guide and waited for her tourists to gather around to get the audio equipment. While this fuss was happening, we stuck to the group too and received our personal headphones.

You must think: “this girl gets everything on a silver platter!” Well, to make you feel better, I’ll tell you that the tour was completely in Italian and that the only word I understood from what our guide was saying was ‘Allora’, which means ‘well’… Still, lucky me, Gianni was my interpreter – I thought it was cool because with his simple explainations I got the most interesting and the funniest facts about the ruins and got an image of the lifestyle of the past.

To give you some idea of how old the Ostia Antica is, it dates back to the 7th century BC. In ancient times, the city was the main harbor of ancient Rome. It was inhabited by people from upper, middle and working classes, and it had its own churches, a theater, thermae (baths), bars etc. To sum up my impression from the ruins entirely, no matter how ancient Ostian citizens were, it seems that they’re quite civilized!

ostia antica toilets

Just look at their toilets! They look quite similar to what we use today!

20170414_113321-COLLAGE

And that’s an ‘Insulae’. Exactly in such type of houses the citizens were living. Room floors were decorated with mosaics.

20170402_105454

The theatre. Fits 4000 people.

By the way, I think I should mention that while were were there, I got to witness that some tourists walked in the areas, where they are not supposed to. Maybe, it’s because the signs are not very clear; but it’s a shame, that such an old heritage is not preserved as it should be. People, if you’re reading this, please, remember to behave when you’re there or when you are visiting any other heritage sites. They’ve already gone through a lot, so lets try to be understanding and pay some respect. 🙂

capitolini ostia antica (lada stukolkina)

Capitolium

20170414_113212-COLLAGE-1
Our trip ended with a little unexpected detail. While we were walking back to the train station; then, it wasn’t raining anymore; some birds were tweeting in the trees. Gianni stopped me and pointed at one of them: ‘pappagalli’, he said. I focused my eyes on one of the treecrowns: yellow and green parrots were fluttering about its branches. (I’ll add a video soon if I manage to find it)

 

 

How I Found a Local Guide to the Orange Garden

orangetree in romaI’ll start with a little lyrical digression here. Whenever I’m excited about some new thing I collect as much information on it as I can. That was the case with my solotrip. However, I was not as excited about learning about the history (that, I thought, I could do on the spot), I was worried about my safety! I prepared very well: comfy clothes with hidden pockets (not to get robbed), outfits that would help me blend in, I even learned some self-defense tricks suggested by female travelers on YouTube. Gosh, how happy I was to learn that in Rome, you don’t have to be so paranoid! Otherwise, why would Italians have their ‘life-has-to-be-savoured’ attitude if they constantly thought about being endangered?

If you’ve read my previous blog post, I should tell you that my adventures didn’t actually end after I left Colosseo and Forum Romanum! While I was finishing my dinner in the cafeteria not far from the Colosseum, an Italian man, who apperently was friends with everybody there (he literally greeted everyone in that cafe!), set next to me and, in a relaxed manner, started a typical Italian small talk. The small talk succeeded – the big one also did but only after we switched to English.

Of course, I’m not a naive, silly girl, who would immideately reveal all my personality to a stranger – that’s an awesome skill Iacquired after many years that I spent in the Finnish community – to an extent, I am a very reserved introvert. But, if I wanted to stay the same, why would I go on my journey initially?

Our dialogue, of course, was about the city of Rome. On his tablet, Gianni showed me some photos that he’s recently taken. From his excitement, I could hear, how much he loves his city. The Orange Garden – that was the place, where he took his most beautiful picture and, the place that was highly recommended by Tripadvisor, when I checked some non-touristic Roman places earlier.

I asked if it is far from there where we were, and Gianni said it’d take about 20 minutes by walk. As I said in my first-day-in-Rome blog, I decided to be flexible and adjust my plans according to the situation. Besides, my only plan for the evening was to have dinner.

So, we headed to the Orange Garden.

IMG_20170402_052136_402On our way, we passed by the Circo Massimo, which is the field, where in ancient times Romans organized carriage races and running marathons. (Surprisingly, they still do; the next day, there was supposed to be a run through the Circo Massimo.)
When we came to the Giardino Degli Aranci aka the Orange Garden, the atmosphere there felt very light and relaxed. Some people were chilling on the green grass under the orange trees (Let’s ignore the fact that it’s actually forbidden there), others relaxed on the benches. Another group stood on the viewing point. That’s where we went as well. That spot opens a very good panorama on the whole Rome I must say! You have to see it with your own eyes, so sorry, I won’t attach any pics here 😉

The garden didn’t seem like a very touristic place though, rather a place for locals. I hope it will stay this way despite how passionately I advertised it in this blog. To summarize, I felt very lucky to accidentally find a local guide who showed me one of the prettiest places in the city! 😊 Thank you, my friend.

 

Me, the Colosseum & the Roman Forum

How many incredible things Rome has to show!

I decided to dedicate the entire day to sightseeing. I mean, real visits to the attractions. My previous attempts to indulge in the Roman culture had been so far limited only to gaping at the sights from the hop-off hop-on bus, which was nicely relaxing for my feet and way too relaxing for my brain. I wanted more.

I started with the Colosseum.

I was happy to discover that the ticket to the legendary amphitheater includes the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill entrance tickets as well. So, on that day, i planned all of my activities in an instant! I booked the ticket online, which cost me 14€ (2€ more expensive than the original price). I decided not to be a skinflint and pay a little more because earlier Tripadvisor convinced me that the queues to Colosseo are endless and that the online reservation is worth it.

20170331_144507

Well, when I came I saw that the queues for picking up booked tickets were as long as the queues for purchasing them. Still, can’t complain, I came during the low season, so I didn’t have to stand for 2-3 hours like some have to when it’s packed… I picked up my ticket from the stall (BTW, if you wanna borrow an audio guide for your tour, you can pay both in cash and with a credit card, but if you want an upgrade, choose a video guide, for which you can only pay with a credit card and enjoy staring at the screen. I don’t know, I didn’t really see the point in having a video guide because I wished to see the Colosseum. (Please, if any of you has taken a video guide, explain to me why?) 🙂

Anyway, silly me still took an audio guide. I went through the security check hoping my selfie-stick wouldn’t be confiscated (they have strange rules), and then i headed to pick up my audio guide. (Let’s call her ‘the cyberlady’).

Unfortunately, my cyberlady seemed to get off on the wrong foot that day because she was telling me random things like: “look at the cross in front of you. It’s the cross that reminds us of Christian martyrs that lost their lives in buttles.” and then you look for the cross for about 5 mins and realize it’s behind you… 😑 I took off the headphones and went to research Colosseo on my own.

S1180001-PANO

One tip for you: when you entrance the site, take a map from the ticket stall. The Colosseo map will save you much time and you will orient better. Usually, if you take an audio/video guide, the map goes with it, alas, that was not my case, so one generous tourist gave own map to me. (Well, don’t judge me, I came a bit unprepared here because, as they say “the best way of exploring Rome is getting lost in it.”) 😉

20170401_111208-COLLAGE

The area Romans assumingly flooded for the warship fights

What excited me the most was the lower level of the Colosseum. I had read that Romans used to “flood” it for having warship fights. Though,  when the “floor dried off, they kept there animals and gladiators. It just seems like such a clever construction for me, how many different performances they were able to organise – all in one place! I just wish I could also go the underground tour!..

Forum Romanum

The Roman Forum, or Forum Romanum, is huge, guys! Seriously, I didn’t expect to walk there for 4 hours but it was totally worth it! The ruins just hypnotize you and you lose the sense of time. The upper level of it, where the Palatine Hill lies, is very spread out! In the beginning, I thought that the steep ladder leads to a terrace for taking pictures but, no 😂

20170401_151210-PANO

The Forum from above

The park above is actually very big, and kinda gardeny… with orange and lilac trees, fountains, narrow paths. I would really recommend the Roman Forum to those who are looking for some inspiration!

My eyes could keep on “eating” this beauty furthermore but after the 4-hours walk my stomach started whining that he wants to eat something too.  I went to eat.

How to Get Lost in Rome / Tips for Adventure-Seekers

My tips-list will follow after the short story to give you some idea of what happened to me on my first day in Rome. Here it is.

Benvenuti a Roma!

Should I start from that I woke up at 2 am that morning or from my arrival to the destination? ..The latter is better.

Ok, so thank God, I had enough of common sense to print out my reservation confirmation before the flight – it had the address on it. When I arrived in Rome, I realized that neither my Russian nor Finnish simcard does work in Italy. As you can probably guess my Internet and GPS were dead too, so I had to search for my “shelter” the traditional way: when I arrived at Basilica San Paolo metro station, I bought a map of Rome and went outside the metro.

I felt helpless, to be honest. I was so lost and exhausted – that day, about a thousand times I regretted that I’m not a backpacker and that I have to drag my luggage with me the whole time.

IMG_20170330_105829

Searching for the bnb

As I came out and spread the papermap to find my bnb on it, I could not concentrate… Maybe because I needed some glucose to recharge my brain, maybe just because didn’t sleep enough the past night. Feeling disperata I started asking passers-by if they knew where my street is located. Some of them spoke English, some of them didn’t; anyway, everybody “Google-mapped” the location and told me to go either “a destra, a destra” or “a sinistra“.  After numerous attempts I realized it’s not helping.

It was getting a bit chilly cause the sun has already began to go down. I stopped and unzipped my case to take out the coat. “I may be lost, but I don’t want to get cold too” I thought. Zipped my burden back – “ok, now, all set. Let’s go.”

I walked straight until the intersection. “What now?” ….

“Ok, let’s stop another stranger.”

– Scusi, parli ingliesi?

He says something that I think is not even Italian.

– …?

– Ahah, sure! How can I help you?

Ten minutes later we are following his phone’s directions. (Let’s call him “a kind stranger). The kind stranger is now carrying my luggage, so I finally feel like a proper backpacker; not that it would suddenly transform me into an experienced traveller but I certainly feel much lighter, both literally and figuratively.

Because my new friend’s phone is especially slow, we find the place only after an hour. During that time, we also decide to stop by the WIND store to purchase a functioning simcard for me. I think I bought the least profitable simcard you can imagine: it’s valid the whole month and activates itself only after one or two hours. Anyway, I pay my 25 euros hoping it’s not a waste and I will be able to call home to say I’m fine (yes, totally).

So, yeah, 6pm, we are standing in front of my bnb. I’m pressing the bell-button…

First time

Second time

No reply.

Suddenly, one of the dwellers comes out the entrance door. My friend/interpreter explains him the situation in Italian and the guy generously lets us in.

As you can guess, nobody’s behind the door. We try phonecall. Just useless. From now on, I count every minute because if I don’t act fast, I may end up in I don’t know where. Seriously, nothing like this has happened to me earlier. I’m 4000 km away from my home, I’m hungry, tired, homeless and the only acquintance I have is the guy that met only few hours ago. I have to say though, that no matter how much I feared to trust my stranger, I actually did – he was helping me out the whole evening, plus we were chatting, which, quite well, kept me busy and didn’t let me freak out.

We go downstaires and encounter another dweller of this house. He gives me a sympathizing look and suggests a hotel nearbly.

40 more minutes and we find the hotel. The San Paolo Hotel looks very nice and when I come in, my thoughts take over the reality and I imagine myself jumping into a soft fluffy bed…

– “Sorry, we have no free rooms for tonight” says the receptionist.

“Dang it”…

– Can you call the hotels around and ask if they have?

It takes me somewhat 20 minutes to understand that if I don’t take the room for 90 € per night, I’ll have to continue searching.

“YOLO”

– Tell them I’ll come.

Now, we go back to subway to take a train to the neighbouring station Piramide – there should be my new “home” for tonight. It’s already dark. We cross the street, like typical Italians would, on a red light. I see some construction rising up – that’s the Piramide. Looks very ancient. No wonder, it was built 12 BC…

The next thing I see is a little park on the left surrounded by a fence, on the right, on the other side of the road lots of pink trees. It’s funny how absent-minded I become seeing all those things. I suddenly find that I’m enjoying this.

My companion tells me this is the area known for good clubs. “Yeah, totally suits me” I grin. On the turn a destra, I see a hotel…

Because you already see the subheading below, this story is coming to an end. The hotel I saw was mine. We came there at 9-10 pm and I checked in. The kind stranger walked me to the room and said he has to go.  I gave him a tight hug and thanked the universe for this day – never have I ever made such a trusty friend in such a short period of time.

I fell on the king size bed and hoped I would manage to move my limbs tomorrow. “From this moment, I don’t make plans. Let’s think about tomorrow tomorrow.”

z-z-z-z…

The outcomes of that day:

  • negaive:

    • My bnb bailed on me (I get it, of course, I came much later than my check-in time should be, but still)
    • I was crazy hungry
    • My body was supertired
  • positive:

    • I was in Rome
    • I had an adventure
    • I was alone but not alone
    • I survived
    • I got a room with a double bad plus one single bad, so if I felt like changing the bad I could do it 😀
    • I learned a lot about Roman lifestyle and history from my brand-new friend

TIPS FOR YOU:

  1. If you are booking a bnb or anything other than a hotel, make sure there are other options nearby.
  2. Remind your accommodation provider that you’re coming one day beforehand. Send an e-mail or call. Mine didn’t write me back when I did that, but I thought it’s because of the high-season they must have or someting.
  3. Buy a simcard at the airport.
  4. However, in case you feel risky and adventurous, don’t do anything mentioned above.
  5. Go solo and go and talk to local people (only keep in mind not all of them might have good intentions when they see a girl that’s lost and is asking for help, luckily, not my case)

If you are a female solo traveler:

  • take as much stuff with you as you can take but not carry – just to make it more adventurous
  • I won’t tell about safety precautions and the value of self-defence classes. That’s obvious anyways
  • in general, don’t get paranoid, people there are quite helpful and understanding (though, not all of them understand English). So, learn a destra & a sinistra, at least.
  • You may learn some more phrases in Italian and then your converstaion with Italians will get more interesting.

 

Pre-Rome insomnia

To be honest, no matter how excited I am usually about travelling, its planning process always wears me out. This time, I spent the whole month preparing for my trip to Rome and right until I set into the airport taxi I  felt I wasn’t ready.

I think if there were no deadlines and schedules and if everything did depend on myself, I would have never done what I had actually done. Setting ambitious and unrealistic goals always requires flexibility from you. Sometimes, you even have to give up or compromise on other things. I have pancreatitis, which is an eating disorder that challenges me most of the days. Particularly,  it does  when I have to choose food – steamed and boiled is always my alternative. It took me lots of courage to buy the plane tickets to Rome that were on offer one day. what will I eat there? who will take care of me? who will help me in an emergency case? I don’t know anybody there! I’m just 20! am I crazy to go solo? I know other people travel a lot and for them it’ll  like: “so what ‘alone’? but I’m not such a frequent traveller and, if you’ve lived in the silent hill as rovaniemi, belive me, you’d be nervous as well! 😛

In the end, you just do it. you just risk and that’s it. let’s see what will be the outcome for me this time. I am going to Rome because I want to see the sun (again, you, Rovaniemi inhabitants, know what I mean). I’m going to Rome to meet new people, to see the culture, the beautiful cozy italian street corners and the big attractions. Can’t wait!

Overcoming fears means growing up and becoming confident of your personal abilities – another reason worth taking a risk!

But, come on, such a beautiful city like Rome needs no reasons!😉 🎉