Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 21: Rome #2

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Today's highlights:

   -Colosseum (with a little history)
   -Forum (Old City)
   -Spanish steps 
   -Flower scam guy

Holy cow, today was awesome!!! I mean, I knew Ancient Rome sights would be cool but DANG! I was the happiest little Ancient History teacher in the land. 

First off, let's talk about how PHENOMENAL the Colosseum is. Again, no warning. You just come out of the metro station and all of a sudden, there it is. 10 FEET IN FRONT OF YOU. Towering over you like some Fraggle Rock giant. It is seriously amazing. Definitely weathered (even from the outside) but still amazing, especially when you visualize what it would have looked like in its prime. 

So we heard mixed things about going inside. We actually can't even remember who, but a few different people told us not to bother paying to go inside because its not as cool as the outside. 

I am here to tell you, PAY THE MONEY TO SEE IT!

 We were in awe walking around the whole time. It is well worth the money. Plus, the ticket is a package deal with this and the forum (old city). But you can save money by skipping out on a guided tour and just getting the free Rick Steves' app that walks you through it. Super cheesy, but teaches you cool things. But also, walking whilst sharing headphones is trickier than it looks, so we take shade breaks as often as we can :)

So most of you already know what the Colosseum is. Ancient architects (geniuses of their time) stuck two theaters together to create one big, massive amphitheater, and in this amphitheater they would entertain the masses with bloodshed. It was basically an ancient sports arena or movie theater showing battle and action scenes. Except the violence for them was very real and very live and very right in front of them. This place would draw roaring crowds of 50,000. That's huge!

Here are some of the crazy things we learned:

-Most of the time, the events would start off "less exciting" in the morning, with animal fights and such (poor dogs would be forced to fight porcupines!). As the day went on, the events would get bigger and bigger (where men would have to battle animals) leading up to the end where professional gladiators would fight, sometimes "recreating" famous battles from Rome's history.  But of course, there was no acting. They actually battled it out and actually died in the fight. Sometimes the emperor would let the crowd decide whether a warrior should live or die with the thumbs up/down sign.We obviously show no mercy. 

-In this picture, the arena floor is missing (you can see where it would have been at the far end). But this is actually kind of better because you can see what was underneath it back then. There was a whole series of tunnels and passageways under the arena where the animals were kept or the gladiators had their last moments (kind of a "backstage" area). Then they would be brought up on elevators to the arena floor. The animals would be released onto the arena floor from any one of EIGHTY different trap doors. So gladiators seriously never knew where their next attack was coming from. EIGHTY! That's crazy. 

-During it's inaugural 100-day festival, the colosseum saw an average of one death every 5 minutes (either animals or people). For 100 days straight. That is a lot of death. So much, in fact, that employees had to spray perfume around the arena to mask the stench.

It's just crazy to me to think that Romans not only tolerated this, they LOVED it. They ate it up, every single day. That's just crazy. But I read something by our friend Ricky (Steves) that helps me remember it was a different world back then. Not that this kind of violence is ever acceptable, but it was just a different world:

"To modern eyes, the games may seem barbaric, but it suited Roman society. Rome was a nation of warriors that built an empire by conquest. Consider the value of these games in placating and controlling the huge Roman populace. On an everyday basis, city-slicker bureaucrats could come here and personally witness the conquest that generated their wealth. Seeing the king of beasts — a lion — slain by a gladiator reminded the masses of man’s triumph over nature. Seeing exotic animals from Africa heralded their conquest of distant lands. The battles fought against Germans, Egyptians, and other barbarians were played out daily here. And having the thumbs-up or thumbs-down authority over another person’s life gave them a real sense of power. Imagine the psychological boost the otherwise downtrodden masses felt when the emperor granted them this thrilling decision."

So, sorry about all the history info. Hopefully you guys find it as interesting as I did. If not, I hope you skipped it. 

Besides the Colosseum, we also saw the Roman Forum, which is basically the Old City of Rome (as in, we walked on stones that Julius Caesar and Augustus could have walked on! Whaaaaaa?!). In fact, we even stood where Julius Caesar's body was burned after he was murdered by the senators. THE VERY SPOT. And we also walked the path Caesar walked on the day of his death when the old man warned him, "Beware the Ides of March!" It's so crazy how all of a sudden these stories seem more real when you think, "Man, if I could rewind some kind of eternal video tape on THIS SPOT 2,000 years, I would see some cah-razy stuff."

One other thing from the forum that was super interesting was the House of the Vestal Virgins. Long before there were convents (or even Christianity at all), there were 6 virgin women living in this house in Ancient Rome. Their job was to tend to the eternal flame of the goddess Vesta (a literal flame). As long as Vesta's flame continued to burn, Rome would still stand. So these girls were chosen at the age of 10 to live this sacred (and celibate) life, and if they lived faithfully for 30 years in this way, they would be released at the age of 40, given a huge dowry, and allowed to marry, with a new 10-year old taking their place. (The downer is that life expectancy was only to about 45). Even though it was a big sacrifice to live this way, it was also considered a very honorable and coveted position. These 6 women had more power than even some men in Roman society. They even had their own box seats at the Colosseum! And a fancy house! And the power to pardon a criminal if they wanted! It was kind of the life in some ways. HOWEVER, if you were not faithful to the vow you had made, you were given a stash of bread and water and then BURIED ALIVE. Until you died. The supplies were just to add to the torture. Bleh. Freaky. Anyway, this was the first (intense) convent, but to honor a "pagan" goddess rather than Christ. 

Okay, enough history for today! There were millions more interesting things we learned but I will spare you for now. After seeing all that (and fitting a few good meals in, of course) we decided to climb the Spanish Steps to see the sunset. I have no idea what the history of the Spanish Steps is. (You may now breathe a sigh of relief.) However, it brings me to another subject I'd like to mention: The Flower Men we encountered there. 

So we are tourists. And that means fresh meat to the scammers that prowl every tourist attraction. But none of them gets under my skin like The Flower Men do.

The Flower Men are guys that walk around with an entire bouquet of beautiful red roses, and then, targetting couples, SHOVE them into the woman's hands. This is not an exaggeration. They walk up, say, "For you! Please! You are beautiful!" And shove their roses into your hands. Then, if you actually take it from them, they proceed to go after the poor unsuspecting man at your side to give them money for the rose. We watched it happen again and again at every romantic sight we've been to in almost every country. The woman, thinking the Flower Man was being sweet, would take it and within one minute would be shoving the flower back at the man trying to get away from him. We never fell for it. We were too smart for those Flower Men. I would throw both hands up as soon as they approached us, (like a convict being arrested) and say, "No!" We originally started with "No thank you," but they took the "thank you" part to mean that we really wanted it. So I would clearly say, "No!" with my hands in the air (so he couldn't shove it into my hands, smart, eh?). If he tucked it into my purse (which they usually tried) I would take it out, hold it out to them and let it drop on the ground, and then walk away. We do not mess around with these guys. They will NOT force us to be romantic! Haha. So this tactic has worked probably dozens of times. That is...until today.

At the top of the Spanish Steps, we were watching the sunset when we saw him coming. Just another Flower Man, and I was ready. I even had my hands in the air as he walked up. But he didn't force it on me. He started talking to us! Asking where we were from, what brought us there, etc. Even though we knew his end-game, we couldn't just be rude so we talked back. Well, when someone is nice and friendly, it's harder to reject a flower from their hands when they are insisting it is free. And he knew that. So, like rookies, we took his flower (KNOWING it was a bad idea, mind you) and then we couldn't get rid of the guy for like 10 minutes as he followed us around asking for money (even after we gave the flowers back). Somehow he even managed to put a bracelet on me too! Dark magic, I tell you.... We finally got away, and then I snapped this picture of our dear friend. 

Man, I can't believe we fell for it. Right into his trap. 

We headed home, laughing at our failure, some gelato :)


  1. Gelato mentions up to 14, almost one per day. If grad school doesn't pan out for me, I guess I have a future as a creepy flower man.

    1. Haha, nice. Hey, Bry! We are gonna be in Budapest for two days! What should we do and see? Send us a list if you can!