Roman holiday

Rome’s faded grandeur was completely overwhelming and four days in the Eternal City was hardly enough time to do it justice.

At the end of our brief stay, I felt real regret that I gave such little time to a city – not to mention, country – that I’d dreamed about visiting for so long. From the moment we stepped off that overnight train from Dijon, our days were filled with interesting and stimulating experiences, in no small part due to our friend Stuart who went out of his way to share his great passion for the city he now lives in. We stayed with him and his partner in a wonderful and sprawling four bedroom apartment in the heart of Rome’s old quarter, a stone throw from all the must-see sites that pop out on tourist maps.

The steps of the Santa Maria in Aracoeli
Josh and Stuart climbing the steps of the Santa Maria in Aracoeli

However, as my friend Mike would say, Rome is “hella sketchy”. After spending so much time in restrained but beautiful Paris, Rome felt so romantic and free…and dysfunctional! Saying that it has things in common with the developing world is not a total exaggeration, even though there’s still a lot of wealth around. The day before our last, we went out to the westernmost part by the sea to visit some friends based in Lido Nord. At the station in central Rome, Josh inserted his ticket into the machine and passed through the gates without a problem. Meanwhile, I had managed to lose my 1 euro train ticket and stood before the gates going through every conceivable crevice in my handbag. In less than a minute, an Italian family sitting just inside the terminal motioned to Josh to re-use his ticket to get me in. But before he was able to act on their suggestion, a guy who was exiting motioned for me to enter as he was exiting – never mind my ticket, his face and hands said. I thought the entire scene was hilarious and how nice everyone was being – and then we entered the graffiti-saturated and crowded train and I could see why they aided and abetted me to fare evade. Josh immediately had heat-induced visions of the poor Jews who were put in trains to go to concentration camps. I thought it was a completely over-the-top and inappropriate comparison – the trains were bad, but they weren’t that bad – and when we popped out the other end our new Italian friend Stefano commented that didn’t we think that the trains were like something out of Schindler’s List?

Out by the Mediterranean we spent a wonderful day with our friends Rakesh and Vijay, dipping our feet into its warm waters, shopping in stores like Benetton and eating huge amounts of gelato and pizza – the latter being more delicious than anything we found in the city, which apparently isn’t the greatest for cheap Italian food.

Buffalina pizza
Buffalina pizza

In Rome, I saw sites that had only existed in childhood books and my imagination. The most mind-boggling thing about seeing what remains of the Roman Empire is that it really did exist, and that I was able to see thousands of years of history crowding for space in the present. I couldn’t absorb it all because every site was grander than the next, but I did have the recurring thought that what may feel like forever really does pass eventually. Buildings and tombs may last thousands and thousands of years, but not people. So the way things are in the world now will undoubtedly change and as one empire falls, another one rises.

On our last morning, we also squeezed in a few hours inside the Vatican as well as St Paul’s Basilica and the latter in particular felt like a symbol for the Roman Catholic empire. I actually started to feel physically ill seeing so many statues of past popes in the vein of Roman gods and emperors.

The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum

And thinking of the inevitability of change, I’ll always associate Rome with the time and place where I found out that I landed the dream job I blogged about back in June. So a big change is about to happen in my life. I have a lot of work ahead of me, and still some loose ends to tie up from Chiang Mai and Paris, but I can’t wait; as one chapter of my journey ends, another one begins.

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