Last weekend I finally saved myself the embarrassment of being an Italy enthusiast that has never visited its capital by heading up to Rome!
As my gentleman’s guide book says, ‘In ancient times all roads led to Rome. The modern traveller from the North has the choice of three main roads and two main railways.’ Coming from the south, I had the choice of a short flight or a ridiculously long train ride. For some reason I opted for the latter, meaning I have spent fifteen hours on trains in the space of three days. The journey was something that probably had to be lived through to be believed, and I think that I shall devote a separate post to it, lest I mar the Rome experience with my very British complaining.
So, let’s fast forward to the fun bit: I arrived at Rome! And it’s beautiful.Those of you who know how I feel about Florence will know that it is to Rome’s greatest credit when I say that I liked it almost as much. I would even dare to say the same, but obviously will have to go to Florence one more time to check (heh heh).
In Rome I met up with my friend Mariana, a fellow language assistant who’s been placed in Reggio Emilia – conveniently, Rome is about exactly between us. We only stayed for two nights, which worked out as a day and a half to see everything. And we saw EVERYTHING. Well, everything except the Sistine Chapel ceiling (and walls, and the outside of the building in general) – for which I will have to return.
But the amount that we did see was phenomenal. Colosseum? Check. Pantheon? Check. Forum? St Paul’s? Piazza Navona? Spanish Steps? Trevi Fountain? Check check check check check. Unsurprisingly, we were absolutely exhausted come Monday afternoon and goodbyes!
Some of Rome’s most famous offerings: The Colosseum and the Pantheon
Mariana and I were both completely blown away by the sheer scale of everything. There’s always that fear when one goes to visit sites that are as famous as those in Rome that they will never quite live up to the pictures or your imagination. Not the case here. It is impossible to be anything but awestricken by the ancient centre. We were unlucky that both the Spanish Steps and the Trevi fountain were covered in scaffolding (we visited them anyway of course), but it’s not just the main places of interest – there is beauty and stunning architecture everywhere you turn, to the point where I was starting to become a little nonplussed by it all. We would see a beautiful church and just be all ‘oh, there’s a church here.’ Take a quick snap and move on. I’ll call it sight saturation.
Just another Roman church – anyone else think it looks suspiciously like the Duomo in Milan?
Despite just exuding magnificence, though, Rome seems an odd choice for the capital city. Sure, it’s more or less in the centre of the peninsula, and it is incredibly important in Italy’s history, but that’s just the thing: Rome feels stopped in time. Everywhere was either deserted or swarming with tourists – where were all the normal Romans? Certainly not anywhere near the centre. And while the historic buildings are absolutely gorgeous, what was there beyond that? No one seemed to be really doing anything, everyone was just admiring. Quietly. Turin, Italy’s estranged capital, seemed to me far more geared up to be a bustling industrial hub than Rome. It’s a romantic more than practical capital. There are only two different lines on the metro, for example, and although it was straightforward and efficient and all that you’d want a metro to be (except empty), if you compare it with the huge tube maps of Paris and London it all just seems a bit underwhelming.
As a tourist, though, that’s just a reason to love Rome more. We were luckissimo with the weather: the clear, bright, sunny days were perfect for wandering around the centre. The cherry on the Roman cake for me? The river. I love a river. The Cam is my favourite, the Thames isn’t bad, but walking along the banks of the Tiber on the far side of the city, with trees draping their autumn leaves over the wall alongside, was pure bliss.
Me and the Tiber, St. Peter’s right in the background!
In fact, we managed to snatch quite a few moments of tranquility in between rushing from monument to monument. With the short time that we had we were keen to see as many of the famous sites as possible, but if I were to return, which I hope I will, I would devote a lot more time to the hidden aspects of the city. Rome is remarkably peaceful, and in terms of little undiscovered corners and tucked away coffee bars, it’s the city that keeps on giving – from beautiful craft shops through to a woman busking traditional Ukrainian songs (identified by Mariana, not me!) to a man jus’ chilling doing tai chi in the park – there are constant reminders that the spirit of Rome can be found in so much more than what you get on the postcards. It couldn’t have been a better first look at the city, nor a better weekend.