Cats, Columns and The Colosseum – A DAY IN ROME
Welcome to Rome
I stepped out of the arrivals terminal and was greeted by a swish of the cool breeze that also carried a cloud of rapid-fire Italian. Stepping lightly past a young couple muttering into a map, I checked the time: 11:00 pm. “Figures,” I sighed. Rewind about forty-five minutes. Picture us running out of the airport and out onto the dimly lit surrounding streets. Our mission: Find the bus station. We wouldn’t need to ask anyone or consult a map. No! We would use our extremely sharp traveling senses!
Then picture us wondering around trying to find which way to go on the road out of the airport, no footpaths, reaching the end of the airport car park, finding a small police booth and asking which way to go. Looks of disbelief, plus the information that there is no bus to where we wanted to go, at least not in the surrounding 5 km, and with no footpath to walk on, only freeway, as well as it being too dark to walk and too late to catch any bus, they waved us back to the terminal. With plan A shot down, we all agreed that it was time for plan B. Dragging ourselves back to the airport terminal, we hailed a yellow cab whose metallic rims shone through the darkness. Sitting back against the soft leather seats, I could finally relax with the knowledge that we were on our way to our accommodation. Breaking the silence, our taxi driver cheerfully smiled back at us as he ran a red light. “Welcome to Rome!”
Accompanying a Cat Around The Colosseum
I awoke in the morning, after only six hours of sleep, to my brother and mother chanting together in Hungarian as the sun flitted through the window’s metal grating. “Róma Ránk Vár, Róma Ránk Vár, Róma Ránk Vár.” It took a few moments for my tired mind to comprehend and adjust to my surroundings, but as soon as it did, I jumped down from my bunk bed, a giddy mess of excitement. “Rome Awaits Us!”
I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we stepped out into. As we exited the Metro, we were thrust straight into a crowd so thick that I physically couldn’t move my limbs. At first we tried to fight it but soon realised that the sheer power of peak hour couldn’t be fought. With a few cats thrown into the mix, we surged ahead, becoming one with the swarm. “All roads lead to Rome…if you can get past the traffic!” I whispered as the light at the end of the tunnel came into view. Stepping out into the sparkling dawn sunlight, my breath halted, and I stared ahead unable to comprehend. If what my wide eyes were telling me was really the truth, right in front of me, in all its ancient grandeur, stood, The Colosseum.
Grabbing a slice of Margarita pizza from one of the corner vendors for breakfast, we climbed up and into the inner sanctum, using one of the colossal time-worn stone staircases. The steps were so worn down from the feet of Romans and tourists alike that dents the size of small ditches stared back, as if they were gaping holes in the void of time. After reading countless books, watching so many movies and documentaries featuring this wonder of the ancient world, it was surreal to be standing right there myself.
I watched a glossy black cat weave its way through the outdoor exhibits, and we followed in suit, the resounding snap of cameras never far behind. With history class still in session, we made our way down and out of the architectural splendour, heading onwards to see The Foro Romano (Roman Forum).
Secrets and Stories at The Roman Forum
We moved down the charcoal coloured streets, stopping only once for a quick detour to a park that was once a chariot racecourse stadium of its day. Unfortunately, the ravages of time had taken their toll on the Circus Maximus and what was a spectacular arena two thousand years ago, was now nothing more than a simple lawn, muddy in places, attracting the locals walking their dogs or children kicking a football.
We arrived at the blackened amber gates to the entrance of Palatine Hill, the gateway to the mystical ruins of the palatial complexes, now calling my name. We joined the mass of fellow tourists who were waiting just as breathlessly as I for the doors to open. For some unknown reason, they were closed to the public until 11:30 am. When the gates did open, the four of us slipped past the clamouring horde and entered inside as one of the first, which was one of the benefits of being able to use the same entry tickets we had bought for the Colosseum.
We made our way through the gardens, the petals moving in time with the wind, giving off the illusion that they were dancing. The tinted hues of a rainbow glittered in the sky as we explored the gleaming palace grounds and ruins. I glimpsed a different world through the marble and stone, a single wisp of a former glory restored the lives of the ancients through my imagination. “What secrets do you hide?” I whispered to the walls. Chiselled statues lit the way down the rocky slopes, and it was here that we ran out of our precious water. It seemed the universe converged to assist us, for turning a sharp corner, we suddenly came face to face with a natural spring fountain, its rusty glow lighting up the smiles on our faces.
Pizzas, Paninis and The Pantheon
Making our way down through the Foro Romano, we left one world behind and entered into the new, walking past the modern postclassical architecture of Rome, with golden turrets blinding us momentarily. Our feet lead us off the concrete pavement and onto a catacomb of cobblestone streets, transporting us straight to the magnificent dome structure that is The Pantheon.
Stepping inside, the overwhelming buzz of outside vanished and even though the inner sanctum was packed to the brim, I had the sensation that everything was peacefully silent. Looking up at the enormous cupola, my vision began to tremble as I felt myself become a part of the vast paintings that stretched across the wall. I floated with the cherubs and flew with the angels, swirling through a galaxy of soft colours that came to life in vibrant bursts of beauty. I immersed myself into the spirals of history and became one with the massive columns and arcs.
When the strong grip of the past released me, I realised from the violent bouts of growling emanating from my stomach, that I was very hungry. Finding a small cafe on a street corner, we occupied a circular table and ate a lunch of paninis, pizzas and grilled vegetables, all made fresh and served piping hot before heading on to our next attraction: The Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately, when we came into the small piazza, we found out that the fountain was under renovation, and the crystal water was not flowing. Glamorous decorative statues lined the stone rim, but those who have visited and seen the fountain before will agree with me when I say that it just wasn’t the same. I imagine that without the construction workers and ladders, it would have been glorious.
Gelato Glorious Gelato
We needed a bit of consolation, and that was when my twin brother, Lalika, and I remembered Gelato! Of course we hadn’t really forgotten it; we just decided that it was the perfect time to bring it up. A charming Gelateria a few blocks away entranced us immediately, and we exited minutes later, marvelling at the taste of the sweet lemon, rich dark chocolate and creamy butterscotch. It was so good that we both got four scoops – enough to send most people into a diabetic coma! With our cups overflowing with gelato and slowly melting onto our hands, we began winding our way up and out of the maze of the narrow cobblestone streets, coming out to the base of a grand staircase from where we ascended a hill. For a moment, I thought that we were at the Spanish Steps, but I was about two kilometres off. It turned out to be the Piazza del Quirinale, at the heart of which is the Italian Presidential Palace. This explained why the guards standing outside were dressed like 19th Century Hussars. Here we turned left and started heading towards the real Spanish Steps.
A Stroll Through The Streets And The Spanish Steps
What struck me here was the manner in which nearly all the buildings we passed, were so ornately decorated. As we walked, I was witness to generations of architectural styles that spanned almost a thousand years, including a Renaissance church with intricately carved marble angels who flew gracefully above saints and deities, protecting them. I walked through the streets of Rome with a deep sense of gratitude for being able to learn in this way and explore the Earth in this way, opportunities I don’t take for granted.
Coming to a collective halt, we found ourselves staring down at the remarkable Spanish Steps, eyes as wide, at the immense Piazza di Spagna that awaited us at the bottom. It was another surreal moment in the day, as apart from the architectural splendour that the steps displayed, we were standing in the same exact spot where teams from the popular TV show – ‘Amazing Race’ had stood. I admit, this is one of my favourite reality tv shows.
We entered into the bustling atmosphere below with a happiness that couldn’t be bottled. When we reached the bottom, we realised that we had forgotten to count how many steps there were. We promptly raced back to climb the stairs again. In the end, we walked up and down the Spanish Steps three times finally coming to the conclusion that 135 was the same total sum. The locals who were sunning themselves on the stairs waved goodbye languidly as we made our way down to the start of the touristic Via Dei Condotti.
A Country Within A Country
Passing by countless boutiques and restaurants, over and under the celestial crescents of the city bridges, we finally came into sight of The Vatican. Rising to the heavens in all its majesty, glowing angelically, it bathed in the light of the slowly setting sun. We joined the swarm of people in front of us and wound our way through the cream coloured pillars into a country within a country.
Awestruck, our attention was held by the magnitude of this square and the thought of the role that it had played over the course of the last two millennia. It was only twenty minutes later when I looked to my right that I saw the line. The line that would lead us inside the Vatican stretched so long, it literally extended into another country! With twilight claiming the world around us and darkness cascading downwards from the sky, we agreed to give it a miss this time. But I know that I’ll be back someday soon to see this hallowed part of Rome.
Passing through the Piazza de Venezia, whose fountains sprayed through glamorous aqueducts and whose buildings displayed architectural zeal, we came out next to a large and bustling bookstore. I was magnetically drawn in, my inner passion for the written word going off like a fire alarm. We exited half an hour later, with me protectively carrying a red paperback, clutching my precious purchase. My parents had just gifted me with the latest historical novel from Philippa Gregory, The King’s Curse and I was twitching at the opportunity to read it.
We made our way up the street towards a strip of restaurants and I tried to resist the desperate urge to start reading my book right away. As I was running over the techniques of how I could read and walk at the same time, we stopped in front of a restaurant decorated with warm wooden panels and vibrant green vines, the facade adorned with large glass windows that invited us in. Here we had a delightful dinner of Pasta and Pizza (the latter for the third time in one day!) all washed down with cold glasses of zinging lemonade.
An Ode To Rome
Returning to the streets, we discovered the city transformed, now glowing with a warm radiance against the midnight sheen of the dark night sky. We then walked across the dimensions of time and space, ancient and modern, young and old, to find ourselves back at a metro stop and on our way back to our Guest House for the night.
Twenty-four hours ago we landed in Rome, and I simply could not have imagined just how much culture, learning and pizza we would pack into one day. My mind was a buzz at all the things I had seen, and I was a more than a little worn as we left the precincts of this enchanting city. By the flickering white light of the metro, I whispered a ‘thank you’ and felt the invisible pull that this city wove with its ancient charms. The hum and soft lilting of the train lulled me into semi-consciousness, a kind of an aware-asleep-state.
“Arrivederci Roma. I will see you again soon”.