“What a difference a day makes” or so says the old saying. I would like to modify this a little to make it apply to muddle headed, jet lagged travelers by saying “what a difference a few hours sleep make”. By last evening I was feeling that I had been run over by a succession of buses but, after a (mostly restful) few hours of slumber I am feeling quite human again. The horrors of the two days of transit are already fading into the dark recesses of my memory. I have even had a chance to catch up on some laundry.
I have now had a chance to make contact with all the other members of our 2015 Italy ride and determine that they have all arrived safely. Since they had been arriving over the preceding couple of days, it was a relief to know that at least we had all successfully reached the start of our new adventure.
It is already looking the weather in Rome will be a little like groundhog day – the same over and over again. I still have not seen a cloud since we landed yesterday morning and the midday temperature is always close to 35C. And this is at the tail end of summer ! I cannot imagine why so many people would choose to travel in Europe in the middle of summer and battle, not just with the heat, but with the worst of the tourist throngs. Late August through to early October is a much wiser choice.
I have always been a little different to the “standard tourist” and do not have a lot of interest in what the guide book says I should see in a particular city. I cannot help but be amused by those that flock from hot spot to hot spot, trying to tick off all the boxes in their allocated few hours. Even worse are those poor throngs of tired looking people following some tour guide with a yellow umbrella or some other colourful object held high in the air. It always reminds me of some sort of penguin parade and it is certainly not the way that I like to explore a city.
I am however intrigued by history and every time I come to Europe it is reminder of just how thin our history in Australia really is. It is barely 10 generations since white settlement began in Australia. There have been six generations since my own forefathers arrived in Australia in 1852. I used to think that was a long time ago, however when you walk around Rome you are surrounded by the efforts of the past two millennia and a history that goes back over 100 generations. When I stand at look at 2000 year old ruins and see the thousands of clay bricks that were used in the construction, my mind tried to imagine that each one of those bricks was made by some worker’s hands.Every single ancient brick could tell its own story.
The other thing I always do in an unfamiliar city is simply wander the streets and observe the people going about their everyday lives. For me it is the people that define a city and I try to quietly observe and see what life in that location is all about. Are the people happy, busy and animated or are they sad, tired and dejected ? I try to absorb as much as possible of the essence of the place. I don’t particularly care where I walk, but I do always make sure that I know the way back to my hotel when I am done exploring. Some of the most rewarding and interesting experiences that I have had in my travels have happened when I least expected it. It is this serendipity of travel that I really adore.
Today I headed off after breakfast and found my way first to the huge Main Central Rail Station. This is only a short distance from our hotel which will make it simple when we need to catch the train to Venice in a couple of day’s time. From there I just let my feet take me wherever they wanted and found myself zigzagging back and forth until I was back at the Roman Forum again.
By mid morning the heat was starting to become oppressive and I found a quiet shady alley that ran around the back of the Forum and ended up at a small church. By this time the crowds were far behind me and I had the area to myself. I entered the church and found I was the only one there. It was a truly peaceful place to just sit and meditate in silence and comparative coolness.
Every major European city has its clusters of spruikers and touts and Rome is certainly no different in that regard. Clustered around the major tourist hotspots these guys feed on tourists like flies on roadkill. In most places they are loaded with cheap souvenirs, but it appears that a technological shift has taken place since my last trip. This year virtually every spruiker is loaded with armfuls of extendable “selfie sticks”. It is no longer sufficient just to travel to fascinating places, but you now have to do it with your smart phone suspended at the end of a long pole in front of your face so that you can tag every site with your own smiling face in front of it. Judging by the huge number of selfie stick sellers I encountered during the day, the market must be booming. Perhaps Italy is hoping for a selfie stick led recovery in their economy.
After about 30 minutes I decided it was time to leave. Back outside the sun was now burning fiercely and the number of highly overtanned females wandering around in skimpy clothing suggested that the skin cancer message had not made much impact here. By this time my sore feet told me that I had already covered quite a number of kilometres and it was time to make my way back to the hotel.
After a few wrong turns and even more right ones I was relieved to finally walk into my hotel foyer and retreat to the sanctuary of my room for a late afternoon siesta. Well you know what they say – “when in Rome do as the Romans do”.