I dream of Italy all the time, probably to an unhealthy extent. Ever since I studied abroad there in 2005-6, it has become a part of me, and when I’m away from it for too long, I have withdrawals (real ones). I was recently challenged to share 3 things I love about my favorite city. The city came to mind first, but the 3 things (and probably 37 others) quickly followed.
Rome. I can’t even tell the story I want to tell right now without introducing my first favorite thing, so here we go:
1. The Colosseum
For some reason, we decided it was a good idea to take an overnight train from Torino, where we were living, down to Rome to start our first trip ever to the eternal city. We got off the train at 7 am and dragged ourselves to the nearest cappuccino, pulling out a map and trying to pull ourselves together to make a plan. Well, “let’s go to the Colosseum” sounded like a good place to start.
I’ll never, EVER. Forget what happened next. It didn’t matter that we had hardly slept or that we were definitely disoriented. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know where we would sleep that night, nor did it occur to us that we were all still carrying our backpacks while we went to explore the sights. We stumbled out of the metro at the “Colosseo” stop and herded up the stairs with the rest of the crowd and BOOM.
I don’t know what else I was expecting, but there was the Colosseum, right in our faces.
All that history, all those games, all of that culture, whether I was ready or not, was suddenly there in front of me in all its timeless glory. It towered over us with such authority that we couldn’t possibly pay attention to the swaths of people still piling out of the metro station around us.
I simply can’t describe it more to you; you have to go do this for yourself. When you get to Rome, get on the metro and go to the Colosseum. Don’t approach it from the street, come up from underneath it, you will never forget the way it makes you feel.
Perhaps it’s fitting that 4 years later I moved to Rome and worked for the Colosseum Pub Crawl, where this magnificent sight was literally my “office” every night. I have a special relationship with the Colosseum and it started that first day in Rome. I am in love.
2. Rome by Night
You cannot thoroughly experience Rome unless you see it in silence, without the crowds. When you combine ancient architecture with modern light displays, you get a home run, and Rome is full of them. Spend your day exploring and swimming in the sea of people, then go to dinner. Have a glass of wine with your penne al salmone and tiramisu. Take your time. In Italy, they don’t turn and burn tables. Once you get a table, you’re welcome to stay for the entire evening, eating slowly and enjoying the experience. When it’s late enough, as close to midnight as possible, it’s time to take a walk.
You can hit St. Peters (the view is best from the road approaching), Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and, of course, the Colosseum, and they will be the most magnificent structures you’ve ever seen. Accompanied by emptiness, silence, and lights, you will have them to yourselves. The Colosseum! To yourself! It’s an incredible sight. Take a photo, because you will be among the few who have actually seen it in such a state.
3. Rome for the Locals
Spend 3 days in Rome and you will see and do what everyone else sees and does. Move there and you will experience the city as a home. When we moved there in 2009 we got an apartment in San Giovanni, about a 10-minute walk from the Colosseum (pinch me). Around the corner was a lively market with daily vendors, yet because of the location 10 minutes beyond the Colosseum, there were no tourists. I am convinced Romans like to disguise their local spots so that tourists can’t see them or won’t find them. Our grocery store eluded us for a few weeks before we realized it was right under our noses, or actually quite literally under a street. It was brilliantly masked on the outside with a brick wall and just a little door, while the inside was a massive grocery store (with great prices).
We got to know the most delicious, most affordable places to eat in Rome (it’s not a cheap city), the best gelato, and the best perches to people watch. It was our Rome, and it becomes so much more than a tourist destination when you give it some time to show you its true colors.
There you have it, and now I’m dreaming again…