I Hear a Ghost, Meet the Bathroom Nazi and Hit a Bucket List Goal – Day 3 in Rome

The Villa Borghese museum. Although it was called a villa, it was never lived in. Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissioned it in 1613 as a showplace for his art. It is considered one of the very earliest art museums in the world.


This was a totally amazing day; the sun was shining with a high of 77 degrees. Perfection! It is crazy what a bit of sun can do for heretofore dampened soul.

I almost royally screwed our day up this morning. My little OCD heart has a penciled list of Calendar of Events; each date listed with ideas, suggestions and commitments. I thought today was our tour of the Colosseum. Oops! It was actually our day to see the museum at the Villa Borghese. It is mandatory to purchase advance tickets, as they are always sold out.

Before we left on this trip, George decided we should schedule events for early in the morning so we could have the rest of the day to whatever we want (loosely translated: he can take a nap). This morning, poor guy was tired and his feet were aching. “Whose idea was it for us to get going so early in the morning?” he demanded, totally forgetting. Of course, I didn’t miss an opportunity to throw him under the bus, and I let him know it was him.  Should have kept my mouth shut, because he soon got even.

Oh my, the Villa Borghese! The Borghese family rose to prominence in the 16th century and helped fund the Baroque architecture style of the city. They also collected the best of ancient Roman art. These days, their property is a large park, filled with different museums. Central Park would be our closest comparative location. As they were fabulously wealthy, this museum is a top world class collection of early Roman art, as well as multiple sculptures by Bernini, including incredible paintings by Caravaggio (one of my personal favorites).

When I finally figured out we weren’t supposed to be at the Colosseum, I had a bit of a panic. It is much further to our new destination. Couple that with sore feet, aching leg muscles, and a very grumpy husband, we had a bit of trouble getting out the door. Confident that I knew which subway stop to get off on, we limped aboard – and totally disembarked at the wrong location.  This is why a person (me) should not take the high and mighty attitude with their spouse.  The park is far more sizable than I thought and we had to backtrack through the park for at least a mile – all of it uphill. On foot. George was ready to quit before we got there, and I could hardly blame him. I apologized repeatedly, he muttered incessantly, and we continued. Actually, we didn’t have a choice, because there wasn’t anywhere to stop to rest or any rides to be had. Fretting, I kept looking at a map of the park we found on the ground. The tickets are timed and it is warned that if you are late, you lose your time slot. Our tickets were for 9 am and we made it at 8:59; huffing, puffing and red faced.

Screen Shot 2019-05-10 at 1.20.59 PMIt was worth the early morning workout. What an incredible place. At least I thought so, George would probably not agree. There is something so personal about ancient Roman sculptures. I swear I wouldn’t be surprised if they all don’t start chatting to one another as soon as the museum is closed. They are so lifelike.  Perhaps when the museum is closed, they all stretch, look at one another and start making fun of the tourists.  When originally  sculpted, they were painted to look like the real person. The marble we see today was underneath. With the sculpting so realistic, the painting must have been amazing, as well.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s daughter was the model for this statue. You can bet this caused some talk around the dinner table!

George lasted for half of the first floor and left to sit outside on a sunny bench with two old Italian men. I wandered alone, savoring each piece, wishing I could converse with them.  Think about all of the tales they could tell about the last couple of thousand years.  About an hour into my revery, there was the sudden sound of loud breathing – like someone who was on oxygen. I even turned around to apologize, because I thought I was standing in front of someone in a wheelchair on oxygen.  You could hear their breath, along with the sound of the oxygen machine. It was very loud. The acoustics are pretty good in the rooms and at first I thought the sound was being thrown around by the room. Nosy, of course, I looked around to see who was the heavy breather.  But I couldn’t locate anyone.  Then I thought I heard it coming from another room. But there wasn’t anyone fitting the bill there either!

I looked at the other people. They seemed totally oblivious to it, ignoring this increasingly loud sound. I’m talking loud here. Why didn’t anyone hear it but me? I started walking from room to room, trying to locate the source of the noise. The breathing got faster and more irregular. The sounds of someone in distress. Where the heck were they? Again, nobody seemed to hear this but me. It now sounded like it was being amplified into every room. Was this a publicity stunt?  Some kind of artistic theatre?  I looked in the staircases and searched the rooms for speakers. Now the breath sounds were coming faster and the quality of the breathing seemed worse. Suddenly, there were gasping sounds – like the air had been cut off and it was choking him. A long, loud gasping, groaning sound was made and then it was suddenly quiet. And nobody seemed to notice. People chatted, laughed and walked around peering at the artworks.  I seriously wondered if I had lost it.

Okay, this was just a bit too close to a Twilight Zone episode. A famous Caravaggio painting (see below) took on new meaning as I stood in the room where it was exhibited.

Caravaggio painted Saint Jerome (who was a doctor) at the behest of Cardinal Borghese around 1605. Perhaps I was hearing the ghost of the skull, looking for a little attention.

I finished the museum and I went outside to find George, a bit shaken from my experience. He was still sitting with the two elderly Italian men, who didn’t speak a word of English.  They gave me huge grins and poked George and laughed.  They were totally enjoying George.  I told him about the sounds and he said they had heard a loud scream that sounded like it came from the museum. I didn’t hear a scream, but perhaps it came from another visitor who heard the same thing.  Maybe it is a museum stunt to make people think there is a ghost in the museum. But it was totally weird how nobody paid it any mind. Spooky Dooky if you ask me!  I should Google it to see if there are any haunted stories associated with the Villa Borghese.

As usual, I needed the ladies room, which is back inside the museum. A tiny, squat, older lady generalissima in a military uniform sitting at the official  potty desk glared at me and motioned for me to show my museum ticket. Which George had. Back outside to fetch the ticket. As I again reached the bathroom, a loud shouting match broke out between the Potty Policewoman and another Italian lady. From what I could gather, the woman’s daughter had her ticket and she had gone ahead into the toilet. They screamed at each other and the woman stomped into the toilet anyway. I meekly showed my ticket and joined a long line. This huge museum has two toilet stalls. Italian women must have incredible bladders.

After a long time, a woman emerged from one of the stalls. Her hands were dripping and she looked unhappy. I’m not sure why they were dripping, because my toilet had barely enough room to turn around – and there was certainly no sink in there. Sometimes it is best not to know the answer. Anyway, there wasn’t any toilet paper in my stall. Erg. I came out and said “No paper” to the line. Woman speak a universal toilet language and they all started digging in the purses and sharing Kleenex with each other. As I walked past the Potty Police, I said “No paper in toilet,” thinking I was being helpful. She gasped, rose to her full height of 4’ 10” and screamed “NOT POSSIBLE!!” Actually it was in Italian, but the meaning was quite clear. She tried to grab my arm and drag me back to the toilet, presumably to dunk my head in the bowl for insulting her toilet. With great dignity, I wrenched my arm free and made a run for it – not looking back. I could hear her screaming as she pushed women aside to get to the stall. I thought of the poor woman who was using it at the time; it couldn’t have been pretty.

This seemed a good time to quickly move on, and we looked for some sort of transportation.  George was limping seriously at this point.  A kiddie train tram was stopped near the door and we jumped aboard.  George quickly figured out this was a really stupid ride and wanted to get off.  We inched along with children’s songs blaring on the overhead speakers.  There were a number of stops near exits of the park, but the driver totally ignored George’s waving and asking to get off. It was pretty hilarious.  We were only a few seats behind the driver and he would peer at us in his rear view mirror and drive on.  A true train engineer in charge, he apparently decided who he would pick up – or let off. He would stop, people would come up to pay and he would say something rude, then drive off without letting them board.  They were left in the dust, yelling for us to stop. If he liked their looks, he would stop and let them on, even if it wasn’t at a stop. I found it fascinating.  And he refused to stop anywhere near an entrance or exit where we could find a taxi or subway.  This was one strange park!

Enough was enough and George wanted off. The driver stopped to yell at some people for an unknown park infraction and we jumped to the ground.  We walked to a park restaurant and rested. I persuaded George to go on one more adventure.  We took a trolley ride to the Tiber river, to the site of the Milvian Bridge. This is the oldest bridge in Rome, over 2,000 years old. It is a major historical Christian site. Constantine was the first emperor to convert to Christianity. Prior to his reign, it was a death sentence to be a practicing Christian. After he became emperor, it was a death sentence to be anything but a Christian. And it all started on the Milvian Bridge. Constantine was co-emperor of the Western part of the Empire, Maxentius was the co-emperor of Italy and Asia (he had just bumped the Eastern emperor off – there were originally three of them at the time. Connie marched on Rome to do battle with Max in a winner takes all battle for the empire. Up until this point Constantine believed in the multiple Roman gods.  Legend has it that the Christian God spoke to Constantine the evening before battle and told him to paint the first two letters of Christ’s name on their shields. This would ensure victory. He arose and had all of his soldiers write the letters on their battle regalia; the battle was fought and Max was killed. And Connie became a Christian.

It was an interesting battle. Think about it for a minute.  They were right outside the gates to Rome.  The Tiber River runs along the outside of Rome at this location.  Max did a stupid thing; he exited Rome, crossed the river, and put his troops with the river to their back. In order to get the thousands of troops across the river, he built a pontoon bridge next to the Milvian Bridge. Connie just shoved them backwards until they were forced into the water. The troops panicked and the pontoon bridge turned over when they tried to retreat across it. Thousands drowned in the river. Max was up on the Milvian bridge riding his horse, trying to get across with his retreating army. In the hubbub, he and his horse were knocked off the bridge and Max also drowned.

Connie was sole emperor and Christianity became official. This changed Europe, and much of our world – and it all started on this bridge. One interesting footnote: There is a plaque dedicated a few years after the battle, and it does not mention any of the vision from God, or painting symbols on their shields. It was about another 70 years before this story became the official version!

Visiting the Milvian Bridge was on my bucket list – and now I have seen it! We stood there and discussed the battle, walked the bridge and had a whale of a time. Now days, young lovers come to the bridge with padlocks. They write their names on them and lock them wherever they can find a spot. All along the edges of the bridge, there are names, dates and declarations of everlasting love. This is how you make graffiti romantic!

Bucket List Victory! I’m standing on the 2,000 year old Milvian Bridge. Imagine horses and men running in confusion across it as they retreat back to Rome. Maxentius’ horse was crushed by the huge numbers of soldiers and fell over the bridge, taking the emperor with him. Can you see the padlocks on the chain, left by lovers as a symbol that their love will last forever? Is this cool or what? And I was there!!!

We made our way back to the hotel, and George has been resting his sore tootsies. We bought gel insoles for him today, and it seemed to help. But he is having a tough time and his stamina is being challenged.

He was surprised that I didn’t want to sit in the hotel room and watch him snore, but I went off on my own after I got him settled and had a grand time. I found a kitchen store! At first I was crushed because I couldn’t find a gizmo that I didn’t have already. At last I spied an amazing cantaloupe slicer. You cut the melon in half and slide the slicer on the inside of the melon. It cuts out a slice and leave the rind intact. How sweet is that? Next I found a real grocery supermarket and bought salad, fruit and a big box of tomatoes. No overeating at a restaurant tonight! It all looked so good.

When I got back, George wanted to know if I could go find some good take-out Indian food. Okay, that should be easy in Rome…..actually, on my walking I had seen an Indian restaurant. I asked him what type of meal and he said a nice tofu curry would taste good. I mentioned that tofu may not have hit Rome with the same fervor it has in Portland, Oregon. And I was right. He had some very non-vegan chicken curry and I had a beautiful salad with vegetable curry. When in Rome……

Tomorrow really is the Colosseum and the Forum. I have arranged a small group tour, and we need to be there by 8 a.m.. Poor George, another early day. He’s already making plans to find an old Roman column to sit against and read his book. I’m going to pretend I am a vestal virgin keeping the perpetual flame lit in the Roman Forum. If they had relations with a man, they were sewed alive in a sack and thrown into the Tiber River to drown. All they had to do is avoid men. This is sounding better all the time……

The Villa Borghese is filled with the sculptures of Bernini. Truly one of the most beautiful sculptures I have ever seen, it depicts the Greek myth of Apollo and Daphne, as she turns into a Laurel tree. The Greek word for laurel is daphne. If you don’t know the tale, look it up. This is the same Bernini who became the Baroque architect of Rome in the 17th century.

Author: Traveling Grandma

As an aging mother of six and grandma to seven, travel was always a dream. Diapers, work and an eccentric high-maintenance husband just seemed to keep those trips a distant desire. Eventually, however, the kids potty trained, lived through the teenage angst years and left the nest to start their own families. Work still gets in the way for my husband, but it does help pay for the trips! Can't do much about the eccentric, high-maintenance husband; after 36 years I have reconciled that he will never pick up his underwear. He's my partner for life, travel companion and can always be counted on to do something totally odd. It makes for a good story, and besides - without his major financial contribution, we would sitting at home year after year, watching yet another rerun of NCIS. Due to a major health scare, I recently retired - and love retirement! I have always LOVED to cook. My love of food, and birthing those babies, led to an 85 pound weight gain. After joining a weight loss program, I shed the weight, went to work for them and found a new career. For me, it was a dream job. How many people can say they loved their job? I got to work together with people and help them live a healthy lifestyle, and lose weight. And it changed the way I cook! Instead of coating foods with fat and/or sugar, I've learned to bring out the real flavor in foods and keep them healthy. It's a joy to travel the world and explore new foods. I'm always on the lookout for different foods and willing to try almost anything. George, my husband, is always aghast at my choices. He's looking for a McDonald's while I'm trying to find the best local eatery. Checking out grocery stores and food forums in different countries is endless fun. Bringing back cooking ingredients keeps the memories alive every time they are used in a recipe back home. Paprika from Budapest, Sumac from Turkey, dried squid from Japan....what a lucky person I am to experience it all. Life is interesting everywhere, and there is always something humorous to be found, even in my own backyard of Mt Hood, Oregon. I love to journal and people have been telling me for years to become a writer. As Medicare is now a prominent part of my life, I figured this was as good a time as any. If I don't do it now, I'll be writing stories about my neighbors in the nursing home. A big trip will probably be whacking along in my walker to the day room to watch the Travel Channel. I take heart that Colonel Sanders started his finger lickin' fortune late in life because he wasn't afraid to try something new. So here I go!

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