It’s funny, the things you remember about your travels.
This morning I was corresponding with my friend Chris about an upcoming trip. I’m flying into Paris, but don’t yet have an itinerary. Germany? Spain? Italy … Rome?
In 2007 [Vueling] stranded us at Fiumicino for something like 13 hours as they made up an endless string of excuses about our flight’s delay. When the airplane finally did arrive, it sounded like it hadn’t been tuned up since 1937. The flight attendants didn’t know how to work the buttons and broke into giggle fits as the cabin lights flashed on and off. And as much as I enjoyed the disco effect of the improvised strobes, I was dismayed to land in Paris at 1:30 a.m. and learn that Vueling hadn’t bothered to put our baggage on the plane. So I served as a makeshift interpreter between a bunch of exhausted, emotionally volatile Italians and an indifferent French baggage-claim claim clerk at CDG until about 3:30 a.m., when our luggage finally showed up on another flight. Alas … there were no taxis to be found, so Esteban and I didn’t make it to the hotel until about 5 a.m. GRRRRR.
Recalling that unhappy memory prompted me to revisit my 2007 travel journal and photos tonight. I wasn’t surprised to be reminded that my Fiumicino airport adventure was just one small thread in an enormous tapestry of rich experiences.
I still haven’t decided where I’ll end up in a few weeks. (Suggestions are welcome!) But in the meantime, I thought you might enjoy my memories of Rome all the same.
The vacation must be working, because I’ve lost track of my days. (What day IS it, anyway?!)
Armed with a map and a sense of humor, Esteban and I headed out early. It took a bit of experimentation to find the right bus stop but we were soon on our way to the Colosseum … until we made the impetuous decision to leap off at Largo Argentina.
It was extraordinary to be in the middle of this busy, modern city and look down at the ruins of these temples, jutting out of the ground like old bones. Even more remarkable? The ruins were overrun by cats. Sleeping cats. Eating cats. Grooming cats. Cats, cats, cats!
Esteban and I decided to cover the rest of the distance [to the Colosseum] on foot. … We gaped at the Vittorio Monument as we dodged the traffic. In Rome people don’t drive so much as hurl themselves into space at impossible speeds and with dubious precision, while gesturing wildly with one hand and honking vigorously with the other. Pedestrians don’t stand a chance.
… we stopped for a few minutes at Trajan’s column. I was awestruck that something so ancient could still be so evocative and so vibrant. The noise of the traffic disappeared as the past became my present.
Nearby, we surveyed the ruins of the old public market. It didn’t take much imagination to envision the shopkeepers’ stalls below, or the apartments that once clung to the surrounding hills.
We followed the crowds through the forum …
… past the Palatine Hill, past Constantine’s Arch, and right up to the entrance of the Colosseum.
Esteban wanted to sit and just take it in. But I wasn’t done exploring, so I shelled out €9 to climb to the top of the Palatine Hill. The view from the top was spectacular: Even after her death, Rome still dazzled.
But what most moved me was taking a drink from a fountain that’s been flowing for 2,000 years.
For all I knew, an emperor or a senator had once stood at the same spot to quench his thirst. Maybe a gladiator stopped here on his way to his last battle—or maybe just an ordinary woman like me. I stood there for a long time, thinking about the nameless throngs who had tread this same path.
Tuesday, September 25
Esteban wasn’t up for another long day of walking so we agreed to meet at our shady Palatine spot at 1:30, and I took off on my own. I took the bus all the way to the Colosseum and used the remaining time on my [monument visit] ticket to jump the queue and walk right in.
Within moments, I was surrounded by shadows and ghosts.
It was difficult not to picture this place filled with eager, bloodthirsty spectators in search of entertainment. I could almost hear the roar of 45,000 people echoing through the halls and feel the heat of the sun on the stands.
But as night fell I saw another side of the Eternal City — one that is more peaceful and contemplative. I thought about the centuries of human history this old city has witnessed, of the millions of lives she has shaped. And I thought about how every one of those lives has become a tiny little tile in the wondrous mosaic that is Rome.