First, we arrived. We were in transit for around 36 hours (12 hours wandering around Tokyo, 12 hours in the air from Tokyo’s Narita Airport to Abu Dhabi Airport for several hours, and then 6 hours in the air to Rome). As soon as we arrived at Leonardo Da Vinci Airport it was very clear we were in a totally different place to where we had been. The space has an instantly grungy feel about it. My first impressions as we left the airport were that there is a level of activity and disorder here that is just integral to the Roman experience.
After only one or two hours of being here I thought if Rome were a real person it would be a cross between a funky, stylish and gregarious young friend and a very grumpy old man in need of some love. There is a combination of incredibly well-cared-for monuments and public places populated by hoards of tourists and locals mingled with a lot of quite dirty and neglected spaces. This impression however could be a result of us arriving on New Years Eve and staying in an area near Termini, the biggest bus and train station in central Rome. Like most areas around central transit stations in large cities, this one has a kind of edgy, dirty feel to it.
We are staying for the first few days in a hotel on the 5th floor of an old building. The lift is old and tiny, one of those ones in a cage where you can see all the cables and cogs working as it comes, and one which is rickety and seemingly unreliable compared to the new ones we have become used to in newer buildings. Our room is simple and we have three beds between four of us in a single room. There is scaffolding on the building with shade cloth over it (which looks like it’s been there for about ten years) though no construction work appears to be in progress. It just means our room is dark and our window opens to a shaded scaffold. On the up side the staff here are super friendly, the place is clean and hospitable, it is a hotel room in central Rome so I’m not complaining. It does make for an eerily silent and dark experience whenever we have any downtime in our room which is a funny kind of bubble to exist in.
We went out for an early dinner and let the jetlag get the better of us. This translated to sleeping through New Years Even despite being in a place that is well known for it’s New Years celebrations, and waking at around 4:30am on New Years Day. We headed out in search of some remnants of celebration and perhaps a bit to eat. There were quite a few dishevelled looking people wondering around on their way home. We walked less than 10 minutes down the road and stumbled upon the colosseum. It was such a wonderfully surreal experience as we approached this ancient stadium and began to realise where we were, and then a fight broke out a bus stop and I noticed I was wading through broken glass from the public revellers who had been drinking here the night before. Time to turn around.
New Years day was a fairly relaxed one getting acquainted with the local area and preparing for our week ahead. To our great delight, some good friends from home back in Sydney were here on tour and we met with them at the Trevi Fountain for an aperitif. After speaking on the phone my friend has asked “where shall we meet” and I had said, “well it can’t be that hard, let’s just meet at the spot where everyone throws their coins into the fountain”. I must have tempted the gods with my flippant comment. We arrived at the fountain and there were literally hundreds of people in a throng all around it. There were so many people in fact that you had to watch your eyes as you walked through the crowd as the ‘selfie-stick’ epidemic has taken over. This is a stick you attach your phone to so that you can take pictures of yourself. I had to laugh. The fountain itself is impressive in it’s grandeur and beauty. A statue of Poseidon stands front and centre with stone horses and people falling all about him and the Agua Virgine (the fresh water brought to Rome from the countryside) pours out and around and below.
Somehow miraculously we found our friends just as the sun was setting and meandered down picturesque allies full of people, trattoria, gelateria, leather goods and hawkers of more selfie-sticks and other trinkets. We talked and walked down the cobbled pathways and the crowds and then turned a corner and before us was the Pantheon, the longest consistently occupied building in Rome and perhaps all of Europe. It has been there and in use for over 2000 years. The foundations are 7 metres below the rest of Rome as with most older buildings and ruins because the city has been built upon the shoulders of it’s predecessors and that is how far higher it is now than then.
We turned another corner and found a large church with looming columns and facing that a humble establishment selling alcohol which was just what were were after. We ordered four Campari Spritz and enjoyed the parade of antipasti that came with them – gherkins, olive paste on toast, some kind of pickled pepper delight and pretzels for the kids. It was lovely. There is something special about meeting up with people from home in a foreign place.