My last day in Rome was the most chaotic, convoluted and unconventional. Its been a long time since I have experience that level of exhaustion. With foolhardy determination I decided I would walk the approximate mile from my hotel to the Trevi Fountain once again; easy for a mountain girl, right? You should know the answer by now, nothing is ever easy for me… Let see how this goes.
Phone in hand, camera strapped on like a feed bag, and a multitude of euros stuffed in my purse, I stormed out of my hotel ready to take on the streets of Rome. Unfortunately the streets of Rome were more than ready for me. What seemed like a simple cab ride away the day before turned into a massive undertaking as I trudged through ancient winding streets past accidental monuments and landmarks, eager to see as much as I could on the way to my goal. A goal that left me lost, exhausted and in sore need of caffeination.
A small detour towards the mighty arches that break up the city led me to stumble through the doors of a tiny Roman cafe begging for an Italian coffee and a pastry. I don’t know how many of you have had Italian coffee but American espresso drinks Italian coffee when its hungover from too much wine and GoT the night before. It’s what I imagine angsty youths in back ally coffee houses stand in circles and sip cup for cup while onlookers chant their names until one passes out from a caffeine overdose. These black coffee brawlers read Hemingway and Faulkner over the bodies of the fallen while the victors lounge on velvet couches that vomit stuffing as long legs subtly shift to hide that their owners are wired to the moon. It was heaven and hell in a fairy cup. I loved it.
Upon leaving the magical coffee, I caught a glimpse of a cute fountain further down the street and decided to abandon my path. This resulted in surprise, surprise, me losing the path and getting lost. I ended up wandering down a ways and found myself in front of the Castle Sant’Angelo accidentally; t’was a happy accident though. As it was early in the morning still there were few tourists to interrupt my exploration of the exterior of the unusual circular castle and the nearby architecture. There is a lot I can say about Rome but the sculptures might have been my favorite. The intensity of the faces were memorizing. The pain, the anguish, the joy carved so delicately from the blocks of marble as if the emotion was hidden inside the stone waiting to be found by the right hand.
Next to the river and past the Castle nestled under a grove of trees resides a large street market filled with artists and families hidden from the heat. In the early hours of the morning I meandered through the stalls as small Italian men and women began to prepare their wears for the day. It was soothing that little world under the trees; a key chain glistening in the sunlight here; the soft rustling of canvas as paintings were arranged; the scent of cigarettes, coffee, and the mornings baked goods drifting through the air; the spell broken by a postcard caught by the strong breeze of the Tiber as it blew through a gap in the branches out into the warm Italian sun.
Although I had spent the day before at the fountain today I felt different. They say that visiting a monument such as this isn’t as impressive the second time; that it doesn’t take your breath away; it’s not as impressive; but I disagree. This time I got to sit on the steps at the bottom of the fountain and appreciate its majesty. No one pushed me to toss my coin and run, I could look at every detail at my leisure and I did. There is a story carved into the face of the fountain detailing its existence. I was able to read that story word for word until I had my full and then I started to read the people; the ones who dreamed their whole lives of throwing a coin in the Trevi fountain and finding love, or happiness, or a wish come true. There were those like me who sat and reveled in its blinding brilliance under the bright sun and then there were those who were there for the picture and the picture alone. I may have photobombed a few overly posed images but who could blame me…. I promise no family photos were intentional ruined by this blogger though!
Eventually the heat and desire to see more, so much more drove me from my beloved spot at the foot of the fountain and I went in search of the Spanish steps and the Piazza Barberini but not before snagging an Italian gelato for my troubles. And boy were there troubles… Let me say this loud for all the kiddos in the back: DO NOT TRUST GOOGLE MAPS.
Let me set the stage: one lonely tourist on the streets of Rome trying to avoid any man who talks to me because stranger danger. Unfortunately, some men see solitude as an invitation (it’s not). In my haste to get away I closed my handy-dandy map and turned down the first highly populated street I found. I walked several blocks until I could no longer see said man and then reopened my map and continued to follow my new route. Or what I thought was my new route…
One mile later and closer to the Trevi Fountain I realized my error. Upon the closure of my map it reverted back to the first map I had loaded that day: the Trevi Fountain. So guess who got to go traipsing through the streets of Rome, back to the creepy man and down a block so he wouldn’t see me, back up the street the next one over, and one block down the road to find the Spanish Steps directly in front of me. I was that close. That. Fucking. Close.
Having walked an extra two miles a la the Hobbit (there and back again) I camped out on the steps to figure out my next move. They were a lot more impressive looking in the Lizzie McGuire Movie to be perfectly honest. I scoured the internet for nearby attractions as I had lost all faith in my hand dandy map apps before settling on a nearby park, the Villa Borghese, with incredible sculptures. (I like me some carved stones). I wanted to break into the Villa Medici to tour their gardens but unfortunately the Italian military and their large guns seem to frown on fence hoppers like myself…
Thus I hung my head in shame and wandered down the hill to the Piazza del Popolo which houses the Basilica Parrocchiale Santa Maria del Popolo and the Santa Maria in Montesanto Church. I spent a fair amount of time wandering this large square taking photographs of the iconic lion fountains and hiding in the growing shadows. I tried to record the echo of the triad of church bells resounding across the square but was interrupted by a persistent flower salesman who slid a rose in front of my camera lens. I am a sucker. He sweet talked me into buying three roses (which I pressed and now sit on my dresser here in Varanasi) and a wish bracelet before releasing me to the hot Italian sun once again. When in Rome, right?
I spent the remainder of my strolling down the Via del Corso. I aimlessly wandered with no direction in mind, stopping wherever my camera desired playing the typical American tourist as I squatted and leaned for the perfect shot, the optimum angle, the goofiest pose to decorate the background of tourist photos. I explored the Chiesa di San Giacomo, Basilica of SS. Ambrose and Charles, Mussolini’s office in Rome with its single dark door (it’s now a history archive), and the Altare della Patria where I roamed the museum halls for several hours pretending not to speak english as I basked in the art, the history, and the air conditioning. You get the idea.
As dusk dawned I slowly headed towards the Palatine Hill to look over the ruins of the Roman Forum as the sun set. However, I never made it tho my destination. I ended my day at the Colosseum where my adventure began what felt like a lifetime before, basking in rays of sun that filtered through the gaps in the architecture as dusk set and lights of my map slowly winked out into oblivion. Fuck.
Mapless, I tried to find the Hill to gaze out over Rome but it wasn’t meant to be. My lack of Italian and sense of direction led me to the Basilica de Santa Frascesca Romana instead. I spent the setting of the sun talking to two Sisters who spoke little english and gazing out at the forum down the hill from their doorstep before braving the courage to walk down the hill and back to my hotel, hopefully, without a map. Again.
Have no fear, underdog is here. Despite my complete lack of direction, navigational skills, willingness to ask for directions, and all around city knowledge I did have one thing going for me, I did a tour the day before. Having hiked from the Colosseum to the Trevi fountain the day before and my hotel to the Trevi fountain today I was able to cobble a map in my head of cross landmarks. Its amazing what details one can remember in moments of terror and desperation. Now before you begin to awe and gush at my remarkable skills under pressure, I should mention that I already made note of an escape route previously that morning when I happened to cross routes not once but thrice that day at the Piazza Colonna which happens to be the plaza in front of the Italian Prime Minister’s home; its kind of hard to miss even for me.
Thus it was only a process of retracing my steps from the morning to the Vatican and then following my nose (and my stomach) to the incredible bruschetta I had the day before. Call me cautious but I needed to have it one more time before I left. Just once more did that heavenly mixture of toast, cheese, and tomato need to pass between my lips. Just once. That’s all I asked. You can see where this is going right?
No. The universe was against me. The Italian food gods deemed me unworthy of such delight. I had too much good luck finding my way back to the path. I did not deserve such pleasure. I sat in the bustling Italian restaurant. I ordered my bruschetta and a pizza for I hadn’t eaten since the coffee that electrified my nerves that morning. And I waited. But what was presented to me was not crispy bread topped with savory buffalo mozzarella and fresh red tomato bursting with flavor. No. It. Was. A. Salad. Rabbit food I say! There was a mix up with the order and the Italian couple next to me who had been watching the poor lone American girl order burst out laughing at the disappointment on my face. They knew it wasn’t what I ordered and yet I did not have the words to say so.
So I sat. And I ate my rabbit food that had my savory buffalo mozzarella and my bright red tomatoes bursting with flavor but it wasn’t the same… it would never be the same. There was no bread. Fucking. Salad. It didn’t matter that the pizza was heavenly and that the waiters all stopped to stare at the blonde American girl putting away a whole dinner pizza on her own following an accidental entrée salad. It doesn’t even matter that the walk home around the Vatican at night was calm and magical as the street lights glistened against the marble walls, all that mattered was my fucking bread that never came. Oh Rome, you cruel mistress, how you tease me.
On that note I left Rome exhausted and covered in blisters from my miles of trekking as I scoured every inch of the city, nervous as I prepared for the new adventures that lay ahead, hungry as I leaned against the car window on my way to the airport dreaming of mozzarella and tomatoes and crispy Italian bread in a cafe I’ll never see again, and alone…
P.S. I’m sorry there are no pictures with it this time. WordPress and I are at war over the ability to publish posts with pictures; the posting button goes away as soon as an image hits the screen. Its maddening. This has been a four-day posting struggle and I’m very near homicide… I will get images eventually. Until then my favorites are on my Instagram: nolaneyleftbehind