Sunday, 25 August 2013

When in Rome...

Where do city-dwellers - accidental or otherwise - holiday? Since I left the dim lights of the rural Midlands for the allure of London I have found myself drawn to other cities for my vacations, unable to bear the thought of life (albeit life taken at a relaxed holiday pace) without a plethora of dining options, culture on tap and no need to hire a car and drive anywhere.  London has spoilt me.  Not for me are the package deals for two weeks spent in towering hotels that could house entire Eastern European national populations.  The thought of a pool surrounded by lumps of ever-reddening skin swigging free neon-coloured cocktails from the open bar brings me out in hives.  I once tried - and failed miserably - at doing a beach holiday. Sure, I could read a book on the sand for a couple of hours but then what?  More of that? Well ok then, I guess I could take it until lunchtime.  But when I discovered the plan was to repeat for a further six days, I had to give up.  I found myself a bus, and got the hell off the beach and into the nearest big town - where I found streets to wander, cafes to sit in, spaces to write and read that were blissfully free of sand. I was much happier. This was my kind of holiday.
And so now I know my limits. For holidaying I need a decent-sized city, with enough museums and art galleries to visit if it rains or if I feel in need of a little cultural injection. I need a plentiful supply of little cafes and bars, with decent coffee and/or wine.  I need easy access  to food, but not the kind that sits limply under heater lamps in stainless steel catering dishes, slowly cultivating E-Coli or some other biological horror.  I want to be able to wander at my leisure, exploring a place under my own power; preferably without the need for shuttle-buses, over-priced taxis, tour guides flailing golfing umbrellas or any form of audio device constantly pointing out all the things which someone else deems note-worthy or remarkable, when really all I want to do is go and examine an intriguing (yet unmentioned) sculpture of some naked men helping little tortoises climb into a fountain.
Which is one of the many reasons I so liked Rome.  Rome is beautiful. It is unarguably beautiful. Regardless of what you might say about the number of people in the city's streets, and the constant bustle. You can even bash the cleanliness of the roads if you must, although frankly anyone who doesn't live in an immaculately sanitised Swiss city should take a closer look at their own streets before casting aspersions on those of Rome.  (Sure, if you wear open-toed sandals your feet get a bit grubby as you walk around, but honestly, London can produce similarly dusty hooves in my experience.)

But if you're busy looking down at your feet in Rome, you're really missing out. Raise your eyes and you'll realise you're surrounded by enormous villas and immaculate gardens, surprising sculptures and the ancient remains of a staggering civilisation. Rome is old. Seriously old. There is a refreshing lack of hideous modern architecture of the kind thrown up in London, Manchester, or Paris to plug bomb-made gaps in the cityscape.  Even the newer buildings (and 'new' in Rome is a term which may mean 'the past ten years' or even 'the past 200 years') that have been added to Rome, such as the monumentally huge central railway station, are tastefully modernist. But much of the city remains as a sort of memorial to the millions of people who have called Rome home over the last 2000 years.
Yes, there is - as in any major city - a fair number of other tourists. But you're not obligated to spend your holiday following the crowds from one rammed tourist destination to another. Simply drop back off the main drag, and you can wind through pretty, quiet side streets all on your own, save for the odd Roman going about their everyday lives.  
You find restaurants where the menus don't come with photographs of each dish and descriptions written in four different languages. A small hairy dog greets you on the doorstep of a bar, and the other patrons next to you are not clutching travel guides and trailing hot, bored children.  Forget the Sistine Chapel and its hoards of visitors. You can find equally ornate paintings on the ceilings of the little nondescript church that sits on the corner of the kind of small square you can find all over Rome. 

In a city on holiday there is no need to adhere to the usual timetables that bind you at home. So you've slept through breakfast? Why, yes, yes you can find yourself some gelato for breakfast...You're on vacation! You've lost track of time counting ornamental fountains? Who cares, you can have dinner as late as you like.  Rome is the kind of civilised continental city where daily life continues late into the evening; you can go out for dinner at half ten, and then on to drinks, before wobbling home on your Vespa in the early hours of the morning.  The locals have suffered influxes of tourists for hundreds of years, so they are pretty tolerant of today's visitors if not actively welcoming and friendly.  In the summer the city has reliable sunshine and cloudless skies, and proper, serious heat.  And when the city gets too hot in August, there are plenty of shady trees to sit beneath, with a refreshing Aperol Spritz in hand.  With nary an all-inclusive buffet in sight.


  1. I have never been to Rome but always wanted to go. It is also a very romantic city, isn't it? Do you have something to tell us Flora?

  2. Think you'd like it Muriel - you should go. Very beautiful place, and romantic too, yes. But nope, no news there, Muriel...step away from the hats!

  3. Yes, I've enjoyed visits to Rome a few times. My first trip was part of a backpacking trip, where we pitched up in Rome on our way back from Brindisi after visiting Greece. Like you, I prefer travel hols to the beach ones, although I don't think I'd dare ride a Vespa in Rome, even if Hepburn did in that movie!

    1. I've met lots of people who seem to have back-packed their way to Rome, Rashbre. But yes, far fewer brave enough to ride through the city on a Vespa...way less traffic in Hepburn's time!

  4. I love your description of Rome! We rented an apartment in Rome with our four children in 2009, for two weeks. The soles of our feet were black until we got back to the US, but we didn't care. One of the happiest times of my entire life.

    1. Would have loved to have spent more time out there. I envy your blissful 2 weeks, Patience. Sounds like you guys had fun!


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