The heart of ancient Rome lies in a rough triangle comprised of the Forum, Palatine Hill, and that most iconic of Roman landmarks, the Colosseum. In this article we’ll be focusing on the latter, surely one the world’s most recognizable buildings.
It was our third day in Rome, but only our second full day as the first consisted of travel, arrival, and settling in. We’d walked a ton the previous day to Vatican City and back (not to mention the miles and hours spent on our feet inside the Vatican Museum). Nevertheless, it was going to be another jampacked day of footsore sightseeing as we set forth from our hotel.
The good news was it only required about a twenty minute walk to get there rather than the hour plus of the day before. Of course, that’s twenty minutes if you’re walking directly nonstop in a straight line, and that wasn’t gonna happen. We were there not to score points for speed, but rather to see and savor Rome and all the Italian flavor we could find along the way. That’s why we always prefer to walk as much as possible when traveling. If we see a shop or a square or a building or a street that looks intriguing, we can check it out at our leisure. If we are under a time constraint, we can always mark it down as somewhere to return to later.
Using maps to navigate your way around a large and unfamiliar city can be both enlightening and misleading, sometimes simultaneously. I’d pored over several maps studiously in the weeks leading up to our trip and felt confident about tackling Rome on foot. I’m a good map reader, have a strong sense of direction once I’m oriented and don’t panic if we do get turned around a bit. But I have to reluctantly admit that on occasion Rome, and Italy in general, bamboozled me. Not completely, and we always got where we were going. Eventually. It took me a couple days to realize what the problem was. Two things, really. One, as far as I could tell there’s hardly a street in the whole damn country that goes in a straight line for more than a couple of blocks. And two, every time a street takes the slightest bend, even though you’re still on the same freaking street, it now sports a different name. Think you’re on Via Whatchamacallit? Maybe you were until you crossed that last intersection. Now you’re on Via Somethingelse, sucker, and good luck to you because a few blocks from here it’s going to be Via Somethingentirelydifferentnow.
I know what the younger crowd will say (that’s anyone under my age): Get a smartphone, gramps. Well, number one, I don’t believe in them and number two, I saw plenty of folks standing on street corners tapping and swiping away at their phones, pointing in different directions and arguing with one another and generally looking every bit as confused as we did on occasion. So I’ll stick with my map, thank you. Actually, my wife has an even better approach. She walks fearlessly up to anyone who looks like a local and simply asks for directions. Frankly I’d rather wander around sightseeing (my euphemism for being lost) for an hour than ever ask someone, but it usually works for her. Imagine that.
Italia. Where to begin? At the beginning of course, but what beginning would that be? The first day of the trip itself, or do I go all the way back to when the idea of visiting Italy first glimmered in my brain? And who knows when that truly happened? Certainly the thought had been percolating somewhere in those vast empty spaces inside my head for many years, if not decades, so long that I really can’t say where or how the notion first took root. I claim no Italian blood on either side of my family, yet I’ve always felt drawn to Italian art, food, history, language, music, and particularly football. Yes, that’s right, soccer to Americans.
I first fell in love with Italian soccer in the mid 1990’s and I’m still not sure why. Is it that much better than English or German or Brazilian football? No, but it is different to my eyes. Some combination of their style of play, the passion on display, the history and winning tradition of Italy on the world soccer stage and who knows what other intangibles all contribute to my love of calcio, the Italian name for soccer.
What does this have to do with choosing to travel to Italy? Nothing, other than to illustrate just how mysterious the whole process is of what draws us to one thing and not another. Of course, if I could explain or understand all this in some rational, scientific manner it might lose the allure that attracted me in the first place. Perhaps, in this case, the unexamined life (or notion) is not only worth living, but the better option.
So by whatever means you come to Italy, you must come to Rome. All roads lead there, right? To visit Italy without seeing Rome would be like visiting England without London, or France without Paris. We flew into Rome and spent three days there, which is only scratching the surface of the Eternal City, but that gives us good reason to go back some day.