Roma, Amor

Colosseum by night

It was probably inevitable that Rome would be my first continental European destination, this time in Europe; if anything, it’s perhaps surprising that it took me this long to get here – both in terms of my now having been in Europe for four months, and just in general. I have, after all, been a devotee of the ancient Romans for more than half my life now.

I have to assume that it began with ancient history in year eleven; though I own that it was more than just the history books that fed it. I don’t remember exactly, but I was clearly enthralled enough by what I was studying (I had a very good teacher, those last two years of school) to prattle on about it enough that people recommended me fiction to read. It was that year, when I was fifteen and sixteen, that I read Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series (which should not be dismissed based on the frothy over-indulgences of her romance novels), and Lindsey Davis’ Falco series (which may not be historically accurate, but really brought to life Rome as a place). There was, too, a novel I’d read some years previously, the third in a series by a New Zealand author, Tessa Duder, about a young swimmer from Auckland in the 1950s/60s, who came to Rome to swim in the 1960 Olympics: Alessandra: Alex in Rome.

Coming to Rome, then, is the fulfilment of a dream I’ve had since I was fifteen. It means walking the same streets as people I idolised as a teen (I’m not saying I was a normal teen). It feels like a big deal.

Logically, I knew Europe was close and that I could go to places, but it wasn’t until a colleague was talking about her weekend to Berlin that I remembered this as something I, too, could do… I think I booked something the following day. It had to be Rome; of course it did. And now I’m here, really and truly, and it’s both hard to believe and so very, very real.

My flight was nearly an hour late leaving London, for reasons unexplained, so the free walking tour I’d booked in to for Friday evening was already looking unlikely when I landed; that, at least, made it easier to deal with waiting nearly another hour before my shuttle left – and then spending another two hours on that shuttle, for what is allegedly a 25 minute trip (granted, it was rush hour on a friday night; it was never going to be quick). Several thoughts: I am never driving in Rome; these streets were really not built for cars; everything is amazingly beautiful. We drove around the walls of the Vatican (probably as close as I’ll get this trip; my feelings on religion aside, I am keen to see the art and architecture, but I’m just not sure I can fit it in), over the Tiber, and past countless monuments and famous buildings. It was exhilarating; so many places I had read about and seen pictures of.

But finally, some ten hours after leaving my flat in London, I arrived at my hotel – hotel Apollo, on the Via Dei Serpenti, a narrow little street that leads directly to the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum itself. That was definitely a sight worth seeing in the dying light of the day, lit from within.

My hotel room is tiny – single bed, not much room for anything else – but comfortable, with breakfast served of a morning on the sixth floor terrace, with a view out over the city. I must take a photo; it looks like everything you imagine a view of Rome to be. After a little downtime, I headed out into the city: down to the Colosseum itself, first, and then through the winding, narrow streets in search of dinner. There is something exhilarating by being surrounded by people speaking other languages; there was a group of rowdy Italians next to me at dinner, and a group of Spaniards and another of Germans in tables across the way; if anyone else spoke English primarily, I didn’t hear it. I had pizza, and a house red, and stopped for gelato on the way home; it was all amazing.

This morning, I had a walking tour booked: we went down into the forum, up the Palatine hill, through the amazingly preserved house of Augustus, through Livia’s house (also surprisingly well-preserved given it was discovered and opened to the public much earlier), through the ruins of the Palatine palace, and then onwards to the coliseum. Our guide was an archaeologist, and while I wish she could have gone into more detail, I was probably the only person on the tour with a solid grounding of the history, so I suppose that’s not unfair. Most of the group was American, plus two middle-aged women from Sydney (in fact, even from the same part of Sydney as my family; they both live on the northern beaches).

I don’t know if I can describe what it felt like to walk on actual stones trod upon by actual Romans. We walked down the Via Sacra, and I– because I have an imagination– could visualise what it might have been like during a triumphal parade. I could have spent a lot longer in the ruins, just wandering around and imagining, and I may actually do that: I’ll have to pay to get in again, but if I have the time, I think it would be absolutely worth it.

After the tour ended, I stopped for risotto ai funghi (and, okay, a glass of wine), and then a gelato, and now I’m resting my feet and recharging my batteries (phone; camera; self) before I head out again this afternoon. It’s warm, 24C and feels warmer, and the skies are blue and clear and perfect. Honestly, I could not ask for better.