We looked at the ruins for a few minutes, but we quickly started to notice that the whole area smelled like urine. We had seen people urinating in public throughout our trip, but the smell seemed too strong to be coming from a few indiscreet guys peeing on things. Also, it didn’t smell exactly like urine, just sort of like it.
As we wondered what was going on, we noticed a couple of cats down in the ruins. We watched them for a minute or two, and then noticed a few more. Pretty soon, we were seeing cats everywhere in the ruins.
And then we realized: the ruins didn’t smell like human urine, they smelled like cat urine. Basically, it smelled like a huge litter box.
A few days later we were at the Pantheon. It was late and dark, but there were still a lot of people around. The actual building was closed, but we were walking around the outside looking at the architecture when I noticed something moving a few feet away. Then, I saw it again. By the third time I saw it, I realized the moving objects were rats, running around the ruins to the side of the Pantheon. I was freaked out. While I’ve seen rats on the streets of many cities before, I’d never seen so many. At any given glance I could look over and see a few scampering around. This seemed strange to me, given the notoriety (and shear numbers) of Rome’s cats.
Yet another day, while we were walking toward Trastevere for dinner, we looked down at the Tiber river and saw something swimming. We stopped to watch it for a second and I realized that it looked like an otter. (Laura argued that it was a huge, dog-sized rat that like to swim, but eventually I convinced her that that explanation didn’t make sense for a lot of reasons.) I don’t know for sure if it was an otter, because I don’t know if otter live in the Tiber, but its size, shape, color, and behavior were all very much otter-like.
We watched the otter-thing swim toward a cluster of plants on the bank. The Tiber, like many big rivers running through major European cities, is lined by tall stone walls and has a walkway down near the water’s edge. We were up above, but as the otter saw toward the plants, a guy who was reading a book saw it too. He got up to get a closer look. However, because he was so close to the water’s edge he didn’t have a good view, so we tried to yell directions from up above. It was kind of impulsive and based on his response I don’t think he spoke English, but it was nevertheless clear that we weren’t the only ones who were surprised to see an otter in the Tiber.