Beyond the Ruins: A Roman Travel Discovery

2016-19-11-18-03-15Rome, Italy – I could hear the clacking of my heels against the cobbled streets as we walked along the via supposedly headed towards the Colosseum. At least I think this is where the Canadian stranger with the white tank top pointed to. We were running out of daylight and as we hurled ourselves down the avenue, all of a sudden there it was to my right – the Colosseum in all its grandeur! It came within sight without a warning and it left me with a gaping mouth and a face embezzled with admiration. It was… Marvelous. On one side, the sun was setting on the horizon and its rays dramatically loomed over the famous landmark. Fantastic.

Rome is one of the most famous cities in the world both of today and ancient times. I have heard of this city without conscious efforts of knowing more about it, I have answered it on my short quizzes as a student and in travel magazines, it is described time and time again as a one of Europe’s greatest destinations. It’s Rome.

A trip to the Eternal City is an oath I made to myself so when the opportunity came to go with a friend, I was quick to go on a booking spree online. Going around Europe from London is easy and relatively cheap especially with travel game changers like EasyJet and Airbnb.

We stayed in a newly renovated studio type flat with reasonable space and agreeable interiors. Paolo, our excellent host, met us immediately and welcomed us alongside a jovial orientation about house rules and access to public transport. After handing each of us a map of the city, he bid us farewell and wished us luck in our Roman adventure.

It was a pleasant afternoon and with the Colosseum being of walking distance from us (the real question was which direction), we could not think of a better place to start. If you are expecting Rome to be a city of glamour, then I assure you this is not the case. Heading towards the city centre, I cannot help but notice the dilapidated walls, dark mysterious alleyways and street filth that no one is bothering to conceal. And I liked it – I am a fan of the unpretentious. As we gazed upon the mighty Colosseum I suddenly understood why people traveled to Rome – it’s not because of what the city has to offer in the present, it’s because of what was left behind.

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Dusk came too soon as the season was not really in our favour with its late sunrise and early sunsets. We were tired but not exhausted and even if we were, Erika and I were not the type to just retreat into our flat just because we were losing sunlight. So even though the map indicated that Fontana de Trevi was on the other side of the city, we chose to get lost and locate it by foot. After passing by trinket shops and consuming moundfuls of gelato, guided by our very wrinkled tourist map, we finally arrived at the infamous Fontana de Trevi. And for every night we spent in Rome, we found ourselves dwelling upon its magic – a coin ready at hand for a quick toss. Wishfully thinking that maybe the Roman Gods may smile upon us and grant us a wish.

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Vatican

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Vatican City

Visiting Rome would be a waste without stepping upon the holy land that is Vatican City. In a gentle and inexplicable way, being in Vatican reminds us of  life forces that are more important and far stronger than oneself.

Having done my research on how to see the Pope as closely as possible without being arrested, we managed to secure such great seats at St. Peter’s Square. I find Pope Francis admirable because of his simple ways and his ability to live by example, and this is my one shot at seeing him up close. My heart sang when his Holiness waved at us from a meter away carried by a white open car. No gold capes or drapes, not even the usual Pope headgear. Just pure humility enough to shame the entire of planet Earth.

After the mass, we toured the Vatican Museums and climbed St. Peter’s Basilica. I have to admit I have never prayed so much in a four day period. But in all honesty, it felt good. It felt right. It was a unique moment of surrender – an unloading of modern life’s burdens that I have never found anywhere else. At the end of the tour we entered a truly marvelous work of art which is the Sistine Chapel. I guarantee you that few things in life will render you speechless like Michelangelo’s obra maestra that is the Sistine’s ceiling.

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Vatican Museum
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Stolen shot from The Sistine

Daytrips

Italy is a country with a long list of  good cities to travel to. And from Rome, you can choose from a number of daytrips to neighbouring scenic cities like Naples, Pompeii, Florence and Pisa. Map at hand and a train schedule we heavily depended on, we boarded for Florence and Pisa and we were not disappointed with our choices. Here’s a tip or three to make this work: Book your tickets in advance and get the fast trains, secondly, grab the earliest trains for a head start and finally book an open return or late ticket back to Rome to make room for delays.

Florence

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Firenze

To say that Florence was a beautiful city is indeed insufficient. It’s picturesque, it’s artistic and home to painfully talented artists on a mission to create something sophisticated out of blank canvasses and sticks. It’s so beautiful you can almost feel emotions bleeding out of the vias and the pontes.

Famous points of interests include Florence Cathedral, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza del Duomo and Fountain of Neptune among others. Firenze is also home to the original statue of David by Michelangelo – a creation that I can only describe as tangible perfection.

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Statue of David

Pisa

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Leaning Tower of Pisa

My friends who have been to Pisa gave me a fair warning that there was not much to see aside from the iconic leaning tower. Honestly, it was not as big as I had in mind and there were more tourists in Pisa than Florence during our trip. It was fun because everyone was doing their best to capture the perfect picture. Backs were being broken and friendships were being questioned. Small as the place may be, Pisa had the perfect vibe for lazy afternoons over coffee and tiramisu. Irresistibly so, we gave in to alfresco dining and capped the evening with cocktails.

An unexpected (mis)adventure!

On our last night in Rome, we took the train back to our flat very much looking forward to a quiet night. Maybe it was the fact that I just came from the Vatican and I chose to believe in the good of other people, or maybe I was tired from all that walking and I just had no guards left to raise, but that night on the metro, two gypsies managed to lift my passport out of my bag.

I realised they took my pouch the moment they did because they artistically squeezed into the Metro with us then simultaneously disembarked just in time for the doors to close. I am from the Philippines – land of pickpockets. I just knew.

With a panic stricken face I stared at Erika with horror – I will be stranded here for a long time unless I solve this crisis.

I will never forget the station’s name – they got off at Barberini. Acting upon instinct I cried and got off the next station on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I did not even realise I was walking out of the station until Erika screamed at me and asked where I was going.

I sat down and breathed – and I remember thinking to myself how much it wasn’t helping. I couldn’t think and I couldn’t for the life of me collect myself no matter how hard I tried. And then a male member of staff passed by and I raised my head as if on cue. I asked for help and they called Barberini Station and gave a description of my pouch.

“Rosa?” He said.

“Uh pink yes!!” I said with all the hope in my heart.

They found it. The gypsies ditched it by the lift because it was basically worthless to them. All my cards were safe and my passport was returned after half an hour of emotional turmoil. Somewhere along the subways of Rome on the night of November 18th 2015 I was hugging a Roman soldier dressed in fatigues because he found my passport after two gypsies stole it from me – his long armalite rifle swaying back and forth as it hung over his shoulder. Needless to say – how’s that for a miracle story?

From the Colossuem to the romantic Piazza Navona, to the Pantheon up to the ruins that were once forums where the wise discussed relevant matters – Rome is truly an unforgettable city. There is a reason why the world still marvels upon those ancient ruins long after they were reduced to pieces. The words we have today are in debt to their Roman origins, deep inside we swoon over their capability to dream big and to challenge what’s possible and we wish we could parallel that. We look back and admire Ancient Rome because we subconsciously feel like idiots compared to them. And so I left Rome with this at heart: aim high and aim for the divine, for in this lifetime you do not need to prove greatness multitude of times – the Romans have assured us that it only needs to be done once if you do it right. And for as long as we are encased in these wasting physical bodies intolerant to time – ambition is our only shot into immortality.

If you do find yourself planning a trip to Rome, do yourself a favour and take my advice. Walk instead of getting on those hop-on hop-off buses. Get lost in the city and imbibe the culture as long as you can. Binge on gelato and feast on authentic pasta dishes. Have a long conversation with an Italian and see how passion is in every fiber of their being from their accent to their gestures. Fear not about being lost – it’s proverbially still the best way to find yourself. And also, keep your bags near – unless you want to have a good cry in the middle of the Roman metro like I did.

 

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