The title of this blog says it all. Rome. I do not even think I need to write a blog post about this place because the name of this city carries so much with it. I also know there is absolutely no way to cover every single moment that my breath was taken away, my heart began to race, or I was completely overcome with awe while I was in the Eternal City.
But as always: I try.
And per usual: I succeed.
I went with some friends who had a music conference conveniently being held right near the Villa Borghese. A short walk through this enormous park humbles you especially when you realize that it belonged to one family. In fact, much of Rome was dominated by the Borgia dynasty. And they do not let you forget it with monuments, statues, churches and other buildings with their names scrawled across claiming their city and also granting it to others. There were also countless homages to the Farnese family and especially Giulia. La Bella Farnese. She was everywhere and all she had to do was seduce a Pope.
This aspect alone would have been enough for me. Touring all of the glorious monuments dedicated to this beautiful and sophisticated woman. And yet, this was but the tip of the iceberg and what followed was almost too much to take it. The first night, walking through the darkness, we came to a dimly lit section of ruins. The old market stalls littered with columns that sat about 20 feet below us where Ancient Rome used to be. Catching my breath, I leaned over to look, trying to imagine people trading goods thousands of years ago.
Ruins on my first night, how wonderful. And then I turned. Down the street masked by the dark, I could just make out what lay before us. The Roman Forum. Shrouded in darkness like looming shadows, each column and building began to slowly materialize. But how was this possible? How was it that I was standing here looking at new and old Rome in a single instance? It is hard enough for me to form sentences in Italian that are grammatically correct, but this moment it was hopeless. I just kept repeating, “Wow.” Over and over again. “Wow”. I think that translates though. At least if the word didn’t, the awe on my face did.
And what was waiting at the end of this road? The Coliseum. At this point, I could not speak in Italian or English, I just kept mumbling and gaping. We arrived at the Coliseum at midnight and it beckoned us welcomingly with its towering illuminated presence. There were no words. No feelings. No modes of expression for how I felt in this moment. I had to just stand there and take it. Not do anything but look. There was this desperate need inside of me to do something to honor or worship this monumental feat, one of the most recognizable structures in the world. And yet there was nothing that could possibly suffice to fully revere it.
This was just the first night mind you. I hoped my fantasies of Rome would not be completely dashed and overshadowed by this epic moment. And Rome did not disappoint. Rome brought it’s A-Game and took me on an adventure every moment.
Over the next few days I would start my journey at Villa Borghese or Villa Medici (my Rome home) and trace my way back to the large monuments that would serve as landmarks to find the next. The Spanish Steps, The Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon and so forth.
On my first day adventuring out alone, I had a list of sites I needed to see so I wandered the streets, spoke with the locals, and gaped at the city. I climbed the Spanish Steps, watched tourists at the Trevi Fountain, went to the top of the Altare della Patria and then set my sights literally on the Roman Forum. In my mind, I would be able to fully admire the Roman Forum in an hour or so. Wrong. I spent almost my entire first day there. I wanted to see every single thing. Everything. My heart started to race and my palms began to sweat at the thought of missing even the smallest stone. So I walked up and down both sides of the streets for hours and up the side roads that took you to the heart of the old city.
I ended at the Coliseum and of course the line of tourists that rivals even the scariest Greek Myths was actually real. So I walked along the outside comforted by the fact that I had thrown a coin in the Trevi Fountain the night before. So I’d obviously be back. I now had to make some decisions about the rest of the day. Being by oneself in a new city seems like it would be intimidating and lonely, but doing exactly what I wanted to do and doing it on a whim was the best way to see this place. I literally said aloud to myself, “Vatican! Why not?!”. I didn’t have a map and was relying in my instincts (which according to my family in terms of geography are sub-par) and street vendors for directions…and gelato. One warned me it was quite a walk and to take a bus. Nonsense! I am not missing anything including walking along the beautiful bridges over the Tiber river.
He wasn’t kidding. It was quite a walk. But when I finally found it, I felt such an epic sense of accomplishment that I would not have done it any other way. And then like Cinderella at the ball, I had to rush to be back before a certain time. I was going to a concert right outside of the Villa Borghese as part of the music conference. How exciting to listen to gorgeous classical piano from the front row after an inspiring day.
When I arrived and met up with my friends before the concert, they were eager to hear what I had done and I proudly announced, “Ho fatto tutto di Roma!” And this one can be added to my section of Hannah Moss’ incorrect Italian translations. My thought: I did everything in Rome! My friend gently explained to me that it meant, “I did everyone in Rome”. You live, you learn, you yell inappropriate things at classical concerts in front of dozens of music scholars.
The next few days were a whirlwind of art, architecture, food, and friends. I spent them exploring on my own again and seeing such sights as the Pantheon- which rendered me to tears. Piazza Farnese- This woman had it going. Original Caravaggios quietly lurking in churches. The Galleria Borghese housing the famous portrait of Lucrezia Borgia and an entire room dedicated to renderings of Venus. Castel Sant’Angelo- like a giant out of some fairytale. Piazza Navona- with its monumental fountain and churches. And then there was the Villa de Medici.
This was the alternate location of the music conference and second piano concert. I felt like I had been plucked out of time and space as I wandered through the grounds and gardens at night overlooking all of Rome. I could barely tear myself away to make it inside for the concert. The electrical feeling from the palace was almost too much.
Not as much excitement, however, at being told we were going to extend our Roman holiday for a few more days! I jumped up and down and wanted to do a Maria-like twirl akin to the Sound of Music but realized I had done an ample enough job the night before of publicly embarrassing myself.
The next few days we roamed Rome (it’s ok to laugh at my hilarity) and had a marvelous time. We found nooks and crannies I had missed in my epic sweep of the city and ate Roman delicacies with new friends. It was a wonderful adventure and even more fun to explore with my Italian friends who knew where the best everything was.
On our final night, we went to a spot that is not widely publicized that overlooks the Roman Forum. Under the strangely un-obscured stars, we stood on a ledge that dwarfed the Roman Forum and just stared. How was this possible? I can still feel my heart fluttering as I remember this moment. A friend who lives in Rome and is an architect described to us how these ruins would have looked and what they would have been. He filled in the blank spots of the missing columns and roofs that had crumbled and painted a stunning picture for us. It was the perfect farewell to Rome.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” she has a fabulous line about the character of Rome. She writes, “There’s a power struggle going on across Europe these days. A few cities are competing against each other to see who shall emerge as the great twenty-first century European metropolis. Will it be London? Paris? Berlin? Zurich?…They all strive to outdo one another culturally, architecturally, politically, fiscally. But Rome, it should be said, has not bothered to join the race for status. Rome doesn’t compete. Rome just watches all the fussing and striving, completely unfazed, exuding an air like: Hey- do whatever you want, but I’m still Rome.”
It is in its very own league. I loved that description and when I arrived there I completely understood its sentiments. Rome is Rome. There is nothing on this earth that can or will trump the Eternal City.
I am already dreaming about going back and knowing my coin is somewhere in the Trevi reassures me that it won’t be too long.