This has to be my hardest ‘destination leave’ to date. I seem to ground-hog these words within 24 hours of every post-departure onward journey. This cycle began with a broken hearted Parisian au revoir, then of the more notable farewells it was bises to charming Bern, salut to sexy smart Zurich, Cloonified Como, Venice (sigh), the every-single-one-visited Greek Islands + Mediterraneo plunged waters, adios to late Autumn t-shirted Barcelona, stately classed Madrid, local-phile Sevilla… and now everything aged, endless and sparkling that is arrivederci Roma.
When you hit Silver ‘On The Road’ Class (you’ll know when you self-status upgrade), it takes more than a church, a piazza and a horse drawn carriage ride around a pretty tree-avenued park to give a destination any kind of lasting admiration. The experience needs to be shiny… better than anything you can cap with the accolade of having been there and done that. It needs to gape your jaw and leave you at least momentarily oohed and aahed, widen your grin, make you smile, glisten your eyes, spark your imagination to let loose on a history past. It needs to be a journey better than any plan or guide book pre-read. And right now my unbeatable shut me up destination is Rome.
My first visit to this city was an early 20′s breaking in the backpack adventure with some equally fresh out of university mates. There were money belts, water purifying tablets, photocopied everything, typeset itineraries, multimillion dollar travel insurance policies and embassies alerted to our arrival. We checked into what was then, and still is now the ghetto of Stazioni Termini, famous for not much more than cheap rooms and forgettable food.
At the more prominent sites of the Forum and the Colosseum there were groups of gypsies targeting naive tourists with fake new-borns thrown into their arms or newspapers shoved in their faces to distract as pocket pilferers went to business on their victim’s zippered cash and traveller’s cheques. I think this market evolved thanks to guidebook danger and annoyance avoidance bullet point lists of the day. Nowadays I actively avoid reading up on the latest self-attentive precaution… common sense is a wonderful thing.
The virgin trip memories are of queuing for Baci flavoured Giolliti gelati then crowd watching around the corner at the city enclosed Pantheon, struggling to remember italian translations for multiple zero’d pre-Euro currency, late night slabs of pizza and Peroni and a backpack full of 35mm film.
A few years later I returned with my mother. Many post-study traveling students share this time with a parent/parents as a first step to graduating from I’ve-grown-up-a-bit school. We had a ball sharing platters of spagetti and oil drenched antipasto, winding our way through a history of Catholicism at Vatican world and stumbling upon Versaci fashion shows in Piazza Navona. In true Italian style one night we squabbled over spilt milk on the Spanish Steps… the whole idea of us traveling together at that point being a complete and utter global disaster. All was rectified the next day over a white flag flying gelati, or perhaps it was a Napoleon – it was definitely sweet and a good excuse to re-indulge.
No matter how thorough your itinerary for Rome there’s always an ocean more of yet to be discovered moments for your return. Take in the low-lined cityscape view from Piazzale Napoleone in the gardens of Villa Borghese. Piazza del Popolo, Barbarini and di Spagna are wonderful open spaces to immerse yourself in sunshine away from the sheltered narrow labyrinth of cobbled streets (ladies leave the Blahniks at home). The towering Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, the Forum, a few dozen galleries, a meander of Via Condotti and a sunset stroll along the river… you’ve barely scratched the surface.
Rome is my perfect degustation of architecture, chaos, love, dirt and charm, walking, chatting, eating and drinking. As a visitor you couldn’t pick a more ‘for the tourist’ destination, but there’s plenty of opportunity to get away from the touting menus. Step into a side alley and you’ll find Romans celebrating a culture that is in no hurry to change, one that’s loaded with passion and a strong sense of family, and a city that will have you coming back for more and more seconds.