When In Rome…

32 hours. From the moment I bid farewell to my home in Melbourne to the point where I dropped my bags on my adopted apartment floor in Rome, a whole day plus a third of another had transpired. “Welcome to Rome!”, my excited taxi driver proclaimed in broken English as he helped me unload my luggage from the boot of his cab. To his credit, he negotiated his way through Rome’s traffic with nonchalant ease. He earned his tip.

My accommodation in Italy has more or less been booked exclusively with AIRBNB and my initial experience with Paola’s place here in San Giovanni has been nothing short of positive. Not that I’m entirely new to the service (I’ve used it a couple of times before in Australia) but the experience of others suggests that it can be hit-and-miss, despite what photos and reviews may illustrate. But I’ve lacked for nothing here, a one bedroom apartment complete with an open lounge, fully functional kitchen and bathroom. I even have coffee. I HAVE A STEREO HI-FI!

My first full day in Rome came after twelve hours of sleep which saw me fully awake by 5am local time. The only semblance of pre-planning prior to my arrival was an underground Colosseum tour scheduled for early in the afternoon, thus I spent the morning acquainting myself with the local neighbourhood — and there were first impressions aplenty of a foreign city in just a few short hours.

My host in Florence provided a worthwhile suggestion prior to my arrival in Italy — ”you should always look up, because you will never know what wonders you will see” — in Rome though, if you don’t look up, you could be killed. Somewhat melodramatic I know, but the traffic in this city, particularly in peak hour, is on a completely different level to anything I have experienced. You can even see it in the parked vehicles, drivers who essentially take the view that — ”if there is a space there, I can use it” — apparently, parking lines are mere guides and sidewalks are fair game too. The prevalence of motorbikes and scooters ensures that traffic light changes are a joy to behold. Seeing these two-wheeled gazelles lined up in bunches of a half-dozen or so before they dart off into the distance is pure poetry in motion. Effortless chaos!

The main reason I booked this tour was for the opportunity to explore the Colosseum’s famed underground, as well as gain an insight into its historical significance to Rome at the time of its construction. The fact that Emperor Niro originally founded the site as en extension of his home is a little known fact. Subsequent rulers elected to build the ‘Flavian Amphitheatre’ as a gift to the Roman people, although if you consider some of the activities which were held here, its not hard to imagine that it was a way of keeping the poorer citizens of Rome in check.

The marvels are as much in the construction than in the events it once staged. The precision in building arches minus any iron-clad support is a testament to the Roman’s ingenuity in engineering. Similar detail went into the flooring and canal irrigation system which provided an ample supply of water to the underground for the many labourers that worked there at its peak. When you add the housing of exotic animals and the gladiatorial games which were the showcase of this once great arena (the first great stadium) you get a perspective of how fantastic it must have been to bear witness to the Colosseum in its prime.

A ticket to the Colosseum gives you access to the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill, which I leisurely embraced after lunch (for the record: a Porchetta Panino, the first of many no doubt). Although not as impressive as the Colosseum, the ancient ruins littered across these sites are a true indication of how old this city is, experts believe that people were living here approximately 1,000 BC and that the Hill is the home of the original Romans. It is also steeped in mythology, where Romulus and Remus encountered the she-wolf Lupa who raised them, before Romulus ultimately killed and murdered Remus, thus giving Rome it’s name. You can be rest assured that every ancient ruin you come across in Italy is accompanied by a tale of violence and myth — real bedtime stories for the wickedly inclined.

So concluded my first day in Ancient Rome and after almost 12km of walking by my estimate (not to mention a host of steep stair climbing in and around the Colosseum) I was pretty much done and dusted and set for an early night, my choice made by a wicked storm which engulfed the city for much of the evening and overnight. This in fact delayed my start the following day, which was left open to chance. Some housekeeping in the way of a European SIM card purchase (which was only completed this afternoon) and public transport pass for the duration of my stay in Rome, was in order before I rode the Metro (subway) into Barberini.

It wasn’t until I surfaced in Barberini that I realised how far I am from the heart of Rome. This appeared to be the CBD, the buildings were taller and shops more numerous. I could easily spend a day shopping in this district which may well be the case come my final day in Rome come June. I’m glad for not having secured accommodation for my final stay just yet as it will give me some time to ponder how close to the Vatican I need to be in order to negotiate the many things I’d like to do before I depart for Dubai. Having convenient access to the Metro is super important as it’s the fastest means of transport in Rome.

As I embarked upon my search of the Pantheon, the scenery really became interesting, with the small laneways and streets that Rome is famous for beginning to open up before my very eyes. Everywhere you turned, there were restaurants, gelatarie, cafes and souvenir outlets. There was clearly more of tourist bent about what I was seeing but it was hard not to be captivated by every nook and cranny which offered something in the way of satisfaction, no matter your taste.

As I rounded the final laneway, the Pantheon stood before me, it’s sheer size was impressive at first glance. A slight drizzle of rain had hurdled many towards the pediment and as I joined them it was apparent that this was a sight well worth the wait. The Rotunda sits beneath a large concrete dome, which is over 2,000 years of age and remains the largest unsupported concrete dome ever constructed. “WOW!” The only word which does it justice.

I was fortunate enough be inside as the rain picked up in velocity and recorded a short video of the drops falling through the oculus. There were multiple calls for silence throughout my time inside, reinforcing the fact that this is essentially a church (there were pews and an altar, a dead giveaway really) and that many people visit this place for spiritual reasons rather than photo opportunities. Still, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the brilliance on display, both from an architectural standpoint as well as a religious perspective. Another example of Roman engineering at its finest.

The rain delayed my exit, but I eventually took flight in search of Piazza Navona, an impressive open square graced by multiple fountains and more examples of impressive architecture, this time from the baroque era, most notably the Palazzo Pamphili. The camera was out yet again and it’s hard not to keep it permanently in your hand when you’re walking through Rome. Everywhere you look there is something which is breathtaking from a visual perspective. I will need another memory card at this rate.

The heavens opened up again, but not before I managed to accomplish a few firsts for the day — first pizza, first gelati and first home-cooked meal, a delightful pesto pasta, so delicious in fact I made it again tonight. Today I bought my first coffee (I’d been making them every morning thus far with my trusty moka pot) and caught a glimpse of my first pigeon being collected by the Roman traffic horde. You know that noise when something big gets caught in your vacuum cleaner? Sounds a bit like that.

After another enjoyable ride on the Metro (public transport? I know) I elected to take in my first gallery experience by visiting the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, but not before a few important historical errands to run. The first was my visit to the Spanish Steps, which as expected were hardly visible given the number of tourists actually gracing them, but well worth the visit nonetheless. Then came the Trevi Fountain, which despite undergoing a scaffold-induced facelift, still allows for visitors to famously throw in their coins. Legend suggests that if you throw in one coin you will return to Rome, so that was a no-brainer given I will be back again in early June. However, if you throw in two coins you are destined to fall in love with a beautiful Roman girl. I stopped short at three, because I have no intention of ever getting married, but I look forward to my holiday romance kicking off in no time.

Taking in Art is something I rarely do unless I am on holiday. My last such experience was when I was in Canberra for work back in 2008 and I took an extra day of leave to enjoy the visiting Impressionists exhibition at the National Gallery. As a child, I loved Art, but as an adult, I’ve rarely taken the time to embrace it and today’s experience only reinforced the notion that I should do it more, and no doubt I will over the next few weeks. For the record: I was particular impressed with the works of Alberto Burri and Alighiero Boetti.

Tomorrow marks my first day of regional travel as I board the fast train to Napoli for a change of pace and scenery. The weather looks ordinary at the moment but should be sunny and warm come the weekend. As much I was settling into a groove here in Rome, part of the challenge of touring Italy is to never sit still and to sample as much of it as possible. The Vatican awaits upon my return to this great city, but I’m really looking forward to seeing the ancient ruins in Pompeii as well as the Amalfi Coast in the coming days.

Sleep beckons. No doubt I will be dreaming of my Italian sweetheart, wherever she may be!

Things I love: Me speaking Italian. Who knew?

Things I loathe: Selfie-sticks and those who wield (or sell) them.

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