Monday, December 3, 2012

Underwhelmed: The Roman Forum and Spanish Steps

From time to time the wife and I will get to a destination and walk away thinking "meh".  That's what happened on our recent trip to Rome when we visited the Roman Forum and those Spanish steps that are all the rage on the television travel shows.

First, the Roman Forum...

It's not that the Forum wasn't pretty, it was, it's that there's a charge to go inside and basically look at a lot of rocks lying around.  The thing is, for free, you can find stuff just as pretty in other parts of Rome just walking around.  Add to that long lines (most times the queue is for at least an hour to get in) and the fact that you probably just waited through a 1 to 2 hour line to pay to see the Coliseum, you might just do what we did and skip the line, take some pictures and head on to the Trevi Fountain.
Trevi Fountain

A little past the Trevi Fountain are the Spanish Steps.
Yup, it's a staircase
Of all the sights in Rome the one whose charm eluded me was this staircase.  For one, it's mind-numbingly crowded.  The simple act of walking down the sidewalk is near impossible.  Number two, it's a staircase, and not a particularly grand staircase at that.  I realize people think that, when they arrive at the site they're going to find a quaint little rustic wine and food shop where they can purchase a nice little picnic lunch and while away the hours in true Roman style. After all, this is the romanticized portrait that's painted by the big travel TV hosts like Samantha Brown and Rick Steves.

Let me tell you something:  They're lying.  For one, the entire area surrounding the steps is now one big souvenir store containing cut-rate scarves and faux-leather bags made by children in Albania.  You're more likely to pick up a Twix bar and a bottle of Coca-Cola than you are some Italian bread and chartecurie.  Plus, it's crowded, with pedestrians and cars zipping everywhere the place is loud, raucous, and not the type of place you want to sit down and enjoy a meal.  Unless by "enjoying" a meal you include having panhandlers come up to you and try to get you to donate your food to their stomach.

A far better place to spend the day is in the area of the Corte di Cassazione, or the Italian Supreme Court.  There's a small market that is right beside there that will sell you the same Albanian knock-offs without the suffocating crowds.  You are also within easy walking distance of the Castel Sant'Angelo where Pope Clement VII took up residence during the sacking of Rome.

Italian Supreme Court

Street Market

The point here is to not be too distressed when you get to that touristy place and find out that the super-secret access, behind the scenes guided tour isn't available to someone without a camera crew.  Sure Ms. Brown and Mr. Steves get preferred access, because their shows draw in additional people hoping to do the exact same thing. Oft-times reality is not in line with the fantasy travel land you see on the tube.

Branch out, find something new, then tell everyone else about it so maybe people will start going there and free up the old touristy spots that you want to see.

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