Monday, October 24, 2005: Discovering Rome
Up and out of the apartment by 9:30am, we enjoyed cappucinos at our local cafe and then set off for the Pantheon, just a few minutes walk from our apartment. While there, we took many photos and marvelled at the oculus – the 30 foot wide hole in the ceiling of the Pantheon which provides its sole light source.
After a quick refreshment break, we walked around for ages trying to find the stop for the Open Top bus – the same type we used in Florence. We assumed that the stops would all be marked but we were mistaken and eventually we just gave up looking for it. We then decided to purchase city bus tickets at a local Tabacchi shop but every one we came across was either a) closed or b) didn’t sell bus tickets. Short on food, and long and frustration, we stopped to rest our aching feet at some ruins.
While enjoying the scene and trying to decide what to do next, I noticed a cat scamper across the courtyard. Then I saw another cat sunning himself comfortably on a grass covered rock of an indeterminate age. Then another cat, and another cat, and another cat. Soon, a young woman came into the courtyard from under the sidewalk and picked up a cute tabby with a round belly. She kneeled down and turned him on his back and rubbed his belly, something he couldn’t seem to get enough of. It started to dawn on me that this had to be Torre Argentina – the cat sanctuary that I had read about months before when we were planning our trip.
We found the entrance to the sanctuary and entered cat lover’s heaven. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of cats milled about enjoying the sunshine. Others slept peacefully in their cages. I met Deborah D’Alessandro, a transplanted New Yorker who runs the volunteer program at the Sanctuary.
Deb and a small army of dedicated volunteers take in and care for these poor animals year after year, relying only on the generousity of animal lovers who visit from all over the world. I found myself having one of those heartwarming, very human moments in what had so far appeared to be a very unforgiving metropolis.
As I was talking to Deb and petting my share of attention-loving felines, M rolled video on the cats.
Rum was the first cat to run up to M, eager to star in the motion picture. I was still preoccupied with talking to Deborah, petting cats, and shopping for souvenirs but soon Rum demanded my attention as well. He was a lithe orange and white shorthair with bright eyes and leading man good looks. As I petted and he purred, I found myself really falling for the little guy, however, having a fourth cat (especially once flown in from Rome!) was not an option.
It didn’t take much convincing on my part to get M to agree to adopting Rum for $15E a month for six months. For that sum, we are his adoptive “parents” and essentially pay for all of his food and some of his medical care. I felt it was the least we could do. After taking lots of pictures of our little guy, we reluctantly left the shelter. Rome had redeemed herself.
Starved, we found Mad Jacks Irish Pub just in time. Two pints of Kilkenny ale and some salad and pasta later, we stopped briefly at an Internet cafe and then walked along the Tiber River to try and find the Open Top bus again.
We had just about given up again when along it came. We were exhausted from the standing, walking, and smog and decided to just ride it around for rest of the afternoon, resting our feet and enjoying the sights.
After stopping at our apartment to clean up, we walked to Campo de Fiori – just steps away – and enjoyed a memorable and delicious meal at a restaurant called Magnolia right on the campo. We briefly stopped into a quaint little shop called Zaba where I bought a handcrafted purse.
Energy restored, we hopped the city bus to Trevi Fountain. After some searching, we eventually found it by listening for lots of water and lots of people. As we were approaching the Trevi, a young man approached me with long stemmed roses, and I waved my hands and repeatedly said “no grazie”. He INSISTED that the flowers were “free for me” and I took them, not wanting them, but not wanting to be rude, I took them. Big mistake.
Just a couple of minutes later, the same guy approached M and insisted that he pay up. M obliged, figuring that he hadn’t bought me flowers in awhile but I was furious for allowing myself to be duped. I was an experienced traveler and should not have let my guard down like that.
After admiring the Trevi fountain, we wandered through the cobblestoned back streets of Rome towards the Pantheon and on to Piazza Navona, which has two or three fountains and is lined with restaurants and shops and is all lit up and abuzz with people at night.
Soaking it all in, we bought a fun piece of art from a street artist and made our way back to our apartment, finally collapsing around midnight.
Next: a close encounter with the transit police, and taking on 320 steps!