Rome, the Eternal City. Those words alone conjure myriad visions of the ancient and the modern. Over 3,000 years in the making, Rome is a city that defies expectations: epicentre of the ancient world’s most powerful empire; home to one of modern Europe’s most vibrant cultural experiences. It’s a city to stimulate the senses and captivate the imagination, at least that’s what I’d read before leaving.
My main concern arriving late one Friday night was less the glory of Rome’s ancient splendors, than to survive the taxi ride from Fiumicino airport. The driver seemed determined to uphold the stereotype of Italian drivers as barely functional lunatics. We took one corner with such velocity and violence that I flew across the back seat and crashed into the door. The driver didn’t seem to notice.
The last time I was in Rome, I was 18-years old and travelling cheaply around Europe on an Interrail pass. I didn’t have money to take cabs in those days, and I’d begun to wish I still didn’t as we bounced over cobbled streets narrowly missing scooters and pedestrians. I particularly enjoyed the way he managed to overtake two cars simultaneously on a two lane road. My senses were officially stimulated.
My last Roman holiday was more than two decades ago, and it’s a mystery to me why it’s taken so long to return. You could spend weeks exploring Rome and come away with only a limited understanding of this great city. Three days was enough to get a feel for it, and to know that once again I’d need to come back to investigate further. Although this time I vowed to be back in fewer than 20 years.
This is a city to explore on foot, a city full of surprises where every turn of the narrow cobbled streets reveals more glories of Rome, past and present. Whether beautiful piazzas filled with cafes and restaurants; ancient churches, that look dusty and unloved from the outside, but which hide exquisite interiors; the Vatican City-within-a-city; or architecture that drags you back a couple of millennia.
Not that this means you don’t have thousands of other tourists for company to pull you back to the present. At times it can feel swamped with tourists. Rome is expecting around 25 million visitors in 2016, in part driven by Pope Francis’ announcement of a special Jubilee. The Vatican itself expects close to 6 million visitors this year, not that there’s any self-interest involved in all those ticket sales.
We spent our time wandering the atmospheric streets of the Jewish Quarter, Trastevere and the beautiful Tiber Island. We ate and drank our way around the historic area surrounding our apartment on the Piazza Santi Apostoli. An area that included the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Altare della Patria and Piazza Navona. There’s so much to do in Rome I barely noticed that I’d not visited the Colosseum.
It might seem odd to come to Rome only to skip its most famous ancient landmark, but my party had started the party early and visited the Colosseum the day before I arrived. Nothing lost, it’s been there since AD 80 and I figured it could wait until next time.