We’re on a short break in Rome – our first here for over a decade. First impressions of this trip are that I like this city even more than recently-visited Paris. I say even more because Paris is stunning: second to none architecturally (I love those roofs) and magisterially laid out thanks to Haussmann. And everything pristine. But because of its wide boulevards, it feels a very busy city to walk around – the centre, at least.
In contrast the centre of Rome is muckier: facades of walls crumble a little; some of the streets are littered; there’s even detritus in Bernini’s fountains on Piazza Navona (the French would never allow this!). But there’s also an atmosphere about central Rome that is enchanting. The layout is like a series of interlocking villages. Grab a coffee or meal al fresco on any of the side streets and it’s like village life. As you watch the world go by, 3 wheeled vans will deliver food to your restaurant, momentarily blocking the way. A couple of cars will queue up behind and start beeping vigorously. Out will come the delivery boy: “eh, ok, I’m going!”, he’ll communicate by gesticulating in the air. But in Rome, no-one means anything sinister merely by gesticulating and raising their voice.
And that’s another reason I love Rome: the Romans! (I mean the present day ones). Ever lively, ever a twinkle in their eye, ever mischievous. In 3 short days, we’ve had plenty of fun with them. One taxi-driver insisted we go up the glass lift at the rear of Il Vittoriano. He’s done it twice, even though he suffers from vertigo. “Here’s my tip”, he explained, half serious. “Stand in the corner of the lift, and don’t open your eyes til you reach the top”. Another Roman insisted on taking our photograph – a wondrous view from the Tabularium of the Capitoline Museum, across the Forum toward the Colosseum. He took endless photographs, and then explained he owned most of the houses that lined the Forum, with a view onto it. Wow! we thought, until his sniggering family explained… he didn’t.
The history in Rome is, of course, remarkable. We did the Forum plus Palatine – the latter the site of the Emperor’s palace, a mind-bogglingly vast construction. Poets of the time apparently opined it made your eyes water just to look at it, and the Pyramids pale into insignificance. The Colosseum is a must visit, but minus its canopy that protected the spectators, always a furnace in summer. I wonder if that canopy protected the women-folk? Of 55,000 spectators, they comprised only 5000, and were forced to sit on the highest (and least prestigious) tier of the amphitheatre, on wooden seats. Here’s my big tip for the Colosseum: if you haven’t pre-booked, buy tickets from the Forum entrance just down the way. There’ll also get you into the Colosseum, without the inordinate wait.
In the end, the pleasure of Rome is just being there. We liked nothing more than strolling around the many piazzas, listening to the Piazza Navona gypsy band (guess where?), eating pasta/pizza in a “restaurant antica” tucked down a side alley – a glass of prosecco to hand – and then gorging on the best ice cream in the world (no disputes there). Yes, it’s touristy: I may purchase a selfie-stick just to swat away the innumerable selfie-stick sellers, or over-zealous waiters inviting you into their restaurant. But that’s all part of the charm. As is watching the equally over-zealous Rome police as they chase away a migrant selling selfie-sticks in the wrong place. I feel a bit sorry for those migrants.
So, it’s a big thumbs up from me for historical, lively, lovely Rome. Come here before the end of June, from when on even the Romans tell you it becomes intolerably hot and humid. By all means plan your visit – but not too much. If a taxi-driver doesn’t take you a scenic route, or a waiter charge you 10% for a city tax that doesn’t exist, or a bizarre street performer ask you for a tip in his sweaty wig for cutting a carrot with a guillotine – yes, look out for him – you haven’t really connected. When in Rome…