The San Sebastiano Catacombs
We want to see the catacombs today. We catch the Metro to the Pyramid and from there bus no. 118, which will bring us to Via Appia Antica - the old Appian Way.
It is a good idea to go all the way to the Pyramid, because this is the bus' starting point and this way we can get a seat. When the bus stops at Circus Maximus it is filled with a German high school class.
The teacher stands on the footboard by the middle exit right in front of me, and I tell Helle that we'll just follow suit. But never the less, seeing a sign referring to the San Callisto Catacombs, I push the stop-button. But I have pushed too late, the bus continues and the teacher asks in German (!) where we are going. I say: "Callisto" and he comforts me by saying that the San Sebastiano Catacombs are impressive too.
After another kilometre or two the bus comes to a halt by the San Sebastiano Catacombs. We get out together with the German pupils. The teacher speaks Italian with the ticket clerk, and when it is our turn the clerk asks if we want to join the German group or wait 10-15 minutes for an English guide.
German would have been all right, but a smaller company will probably be better. We wait outside, and a minibus arrives with 5-6 Americans. They have their own guide and driver. A baby in a sling is fast asleep on Daddy's stomach.
Subterranean burial ground
The English-speaking guide arrives and takes us underground to the second level which is the oldest part. The tunnels are cut in soft volcanic tuff and almost every grave is empty.
The guide explains that the graves were robbed by relic-hunters several hundreds of years ago, when the market for relics boomed. Still the elderly American lady cannot understand why the bones were taken.
Both the catacombs and the Basilica above are dedicated to San Sebastiano. He was a soldier, a Praetorian, and was sentenced to death for being a Christian missionary.
Apparently a volley of arrows was not enough, because he survived his first execution and continued his work as a missionary. He was then executed a second time. This time he was tied to a column and beaten to death.
The American baby, who was quite unconscious in the heat above wakes up in the cool tunnels, and as we ascend towards the surface the kid is absolutely ecstatic and babbles along with the guide.
The German teacher
Outside the Germans are getting ready to leave and we cleverly guess the teacher knows the whereabouts of the bus stop. Via Appia being quite narrow here, he gives the children the German order: "Gänzenmarch", literally meaning "goose walk". Luckily we know that Danish geese also walk in single file, so we fall into line like obedient schoolchildren.
In the bus the teacher asks us kindly where we come from, and I answer that "wir kommen aus Dänemark". He compliments my German and I modestly claim to do better in English but returns his compliment by praising his excellent Italian.
This he explains by being a teacher of Latin, and then he politely switches to English. Latin! How I hated that slaving! Old grudges are hard to overcome, but I must admit that despite his profession he is quite pleasant. He explains that the Callisto Catacombs, which the guide book recommended, are pestered by tourists and therefore it is much better to visit San Sebastiano. So all in all we were probably lucky that I pushed the stop button too late.
We say goodbye to the German at Circus Maximus, and at Coliseum we get a bus to Piazza Venezia. Here we stroll in the neighbourhood around the Trevi Fountain before going home for siesta.
There is a local TV-station with news. They talk fast and we cannot understand it all, but the pictures speak for themselves: people drinking water, dipping their feet in fountains, eating ice cream and even sticking their heads under the special Roman pumps with eternally running water. A sign says 35 degrees Celsius in Rome. No wonder we find it hot.
The Englishman at Caffé Fantini
In the late afternoon we visit Caffé Fantini for a couple of cold beers. The Englishman is entertaining the customers. In 2001 he was hardly more than a sweeper at his father-in-law's bar where he also served by chatting with the tourists. Now he and his wife own the café and he does not sweep any more.
His wife is 6 weeks pregnant and they have just bought a flat from two very old sisters. This makes him remember the time when he had an antique shop in London and how he liked to buy old rubbish and shine it up for selling.
Buying the shop took all his savings and in the evening when the shop was closed, he carried furniture to the flat above so they were able to sit down.
He also tells about the honeymoon to New Zealand where he found an antique German porcelain chandelier in a remote village. He carried it in his arms like a baby all the way home to Italy - even in the plane (where all hand luggage is supposed to be put under the seat or in the luggage compartment) he didn't let go of it.
And because he had put it in a bag from the tax free shop, no customs officer wondered what he was protecting so carefully. The chandelier really was a bargain and he won't even think of how much profit he could make by selling it in Italy, he says and rolls his eyes, but he wouldn't dream of selling it, because he loves it very much - and so on.
He talks and talks but is not tiring - rather funny actually. It is interesting to get his view on many things as an immigrant. For instance you do not marry a woman, he points out, you marry the whole family - and at that point he must leave, because here comes the banker in his suit, and they must talk about the purchase of the flat. We walk home thinking about what will happen to the chandelier when the child reaches the frisbee age.
Supper at L'Angelo di Napoli
Just around the corner lies L'Angelo di Napoli, one of the many restaurants in the neighbourhood. We are seated outside by an English-speaking waiter.
Helle orders ham and Mozzarella-cheese (and gets 2 large buffalos) and I have a large bowl of mussels. This is followed by mixed grill with a salad, which contains a bit too much bitter rocket.
There is plenty of meat: small skewers of lamb, a well-seasoned meatball, a very tender chop and a tough piece of pork. To go with this a carafe of the house red and a liter of water. For our digestion we finish with grappa. 45 Euro for it all.
The day after my stomach still remembers this meal, but more about that on the next page.