Let's see. Rome. Rome. HOW AMAZING IS ROME??? Seriously. Even the name. Rome. Like Home, only with an R. I love R's. See, I can't even talk about it sensibly it is that cool.
I know its sounds ridiculous, but Rome is like a classic novel or movie or Harry Potter or such… It gets so much hype that you don't really expect too much in the end, because seriously can anything be THAT good? You just sort of have a vague sense of you should see it/read it/go there and see for yourself but it's not a priority because you're off discovering new and undiscovered things for yourself and this old classic, standby, will always be there, ready and waiting for you to pick it up. And when you do, you're absolutely blown over in amazement, and you suddenly realize that THIS is why there was all that hype to begin with, and you can't believe you've waited this long but at the same time you're glad you have, being older and more experienced and more able to appreciate the wonder and the beauty and something else I forgot.
More accurately, the things IN Rome are like classic novels and movies… Individually they have this effect. Put them together and… wow.
So yes. I liked Rome.
Where to begin. The day was not auspicious. There was a ridiculously early wake up call, and, as is my wont before early morning flights, I did not get enough sleep. Fortunately I am very near the Stansted express these days. I dragged Charley out of bed and off we went. Tried to doze on the train and failed. Checked in, waited aaaages in the security line when all I wanted to do was have a lie down. This I did at the gate, but didn't sleep until in the air. When we woke up we were in Rome. Rome!!
Passport control. The ONE time there is a huge line in the non-EU side I am traveling with an EU passport holder. Charley waited on the other side looking smug. We walked into the tiny budget airport and I was amazed to find there isn't an ATM. I am constantly being amazed when there isn't an ATM. Perhaps at the Republika Srpska bus station in the outskirts of Sarajevo it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise but in Rome? Never-mind. I had a few euro coins from Slovenia or somewhere and Charley had euros. We bought our bus and metro tickets and set off.
In what seems like no time we were dumped off at what looks like a shady flea market but it actually the metro stop (or at least doubles as). We were amazed because my guidebook said it takes 40 minutes. Pessimistic Rick Steves! (I shouldn't be so quick to judge I find out on the way back.)
Happily we tromped onto the metro, commenting happily on the speed and difference between this and the Underground. "I love how the train doesn't stop all the way before the doors open," Charley said. "These seats are so slippery!" I said, sliding into Charley and then, less comically, into the Roman woman sitting beside me, trying her best to ignore our banter.
We got off at Termini station, emerged into the sunlight, and blinked like blinded rats. I wished I'd brought my sunglasses. I stared at the map then stared at my surroundings, and wished I'd brought a compass. Eventually, thanks to my excellent deductive and map reading skills, we found our way to the hostel. I stared longingly at a gelateria we passed by, but soon enough we were stepping through the galactic-age automatic door to the reception at Yellow Hostel. (For more on the hostel, see my review – grr it's not published yet.) We got our keys, chucked our stuff in our room – including our coats, whee sunlight – and headed out to a nearby pizza joint recommended by the guy at reception.
Several slices of pizza loaded with tomatoes later we stumbled again into the sunlight, basking in the warmth, practically twirling in delight. Ah, London, what you do to my sanity! Anyway. We rushed onto a bus, feeling very clever for figuring out how, and jerked and jolted down into the center of Rome, getting off one stop too late.
And so it was that we passed through Piazza Navona on our way to the Pantheon. It reminded me of my visit to Brussels, and stumbling upon le grand place. Only in Rome, you keep stumbling, square upon square of amazing places, till you feel like Alice tumbling into Wonderland. But with the ability to stop for gelato!
We stared up at the eons-old Pantheon while I finished my cono, taking pictures from the outside and grumbling about the McDonald's presence on this sacred square. Inside for a history lesson from our guidebook and gaping up at the dome. We trotted to near-by Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva and stuck a 50 centime piece into the slot to look at Michelangelo's Christ bearing the Cross, then through to the Church of San Ignazio. As Rick Steve's suggested, we sat down to gaze up at the Baroque ceiling. "Is that a helium Spiderman balloon?" I asked. It was.
We left the church and followed the tide of people along the busy narrow streets to the sound
of running water and soon found ourselves face to face with the Trevi fountain. Amazing! It's a myth that if you throw a coin into the fountain you ensure yourself of coming back to Rome. I'd already seen enough that I knew I wanted to come back, and besides, I love stuff like that. So in went our coins (a bit complicated as we'd already used ours for lighting candles in San Ignazio so we had to use some of Charley's English money – I hope it still counts!) and after sitting awhile admiring the view we walked on.
Wander-ers all, soon we found ourselves near the Cappuccin Crypt, decorated with the bones of 4,000 monks, and decided to go there. It struck me as the kind of place my mother would have loved – incredibly creepy. You're not allowed to take pictures but I bought some postcards and gazed a while at the scenery. I wonder how I'd feel at my bodily remains being used for such a purpose. I suppose if you're dead it doesn't matter, but…. "You will become what we are now," indeed.
Walking up the Via Veneto I suddenly thought I was in Beverly Hills. Palm trees and villa-style buildings… ahh, the US embassy! But what were all these police doing there? They were really out in force, hard to believe it was just normal security. Maybe it was some sort of cop meet-up place. Feeling a bit foot sore we decided to try one of the cafes along the Via Veneto, but they were all a bit too posh looking for our pockets so we gave them a miss for one down a cozy side street, pleasing in both its friendliness and thriftiness.
Strolling back an hour or so later we suddenly found ourselves embroiled in a huge anti-war protest outside the embassy. Ah. Hence the police. Head lowered we maneuvered through the crowd but the solemn mood couldn't last. Rome at dusk is a beautiful sight. A slight chill descended necessitating the need to return to the hostel to fetch out hastily discarded coats, but that hardly signified. Laughing as we ran for our lives in front of speeding traffic to cross the busy streets, we dodged the flocks of birds rising to the skies from the trees around Termini, disturbed
from their resting places, and skipped back to the hostel. Stopping to chat with some fellow travelers (Aussies celebrating Australia day), we got back on the bus and went to Campo de Fiori with the help of directions from some passers-by. We ate at a restaurant in the guidebook, before realizing we could have eaten at a cheaper restaurant off the square since it was too cold to sit on the square and enjoy the atmosphere, which was half the point. But the food was so good it was difficult to care!
Our intention was to go on the night walk across Rome, but we'd inadvertently done it, practically, earlier in the day and were exhausted from the early start, unaccustomed amounts of walking, and all the excitement, so after wandering around the square some, we decided to catch the bus (joy riding because we couldn't find anywhere to buy tickets – but don't tell the inspectors!) back to the hostel and call it a night.