When my parent’s contacted me about meeting them in Rome I was thrilled. Rome is one of those cities that as human beings, we owe everything. Democracy, architecture, philosophy, even the birth of Christianity stems from the Roman influence. To see their city, the hub of all of this power and history was a dream come true. My parents were completing a tour from meeting my sister in Thailand, then cruising up from South East Asia, and finally their last stop in Rome. However incredible and beautiful of a city as Paris is, it’s amazing how sometimes you need a break from it – from wherever you live! A change in scenery, a change in the routine is always welcome in my books. I happily packed my bags and was ready to take my flight to Rome.
As much as I love travel, the part I enjoy the least is getting to the airport. No matter how prepared you are, how well packed, how organized, how many variations of your boarding pass you have, there is this unshakable frantic energy. You have to be at the airport X amount of time before your flight, how are you getting there, what stuff to leave out to pack the next morning, etc. At 4:30am the morning of my flight, no matter how many times I may have packed a suitcase or flown before, my internal dialogue was just as scattered as ever.
“Where’s my passport? Here it is, okay I’ve got my purse… where’s my chapstick? I’ll brush my teeth and then pack that away… wait what time is it? Should I eat something before? No, just wait and get all of this organized first, then see if you have time! Right… so will I need this coat? It’s cold here, but it won’t be once I get there… but I’m always cold on the flight… but do I want to be hauling this around if I’m only going to be wearing it to and from the airport? Wait, where’s my boarding pass?! Oh yea, it’s in my passport. Wait what was I thinking about? Oh yea my jacket! No, I won’t bring the jacket. Did I throw my pajamas in there? Yep, oh but wait I forgot my socks! If I’m bringing these shoes I should bring a different pair of socks… what time is it? Will this lotion be okay, I mean this has to be under the liquid limit right?! Ugh, I should have looked that up last night. Will they consider an eyelash curler a weapon? Nah…well, you never know…whatever, I’m bringing it. Okay, wallet, passport, ticket, bag… keys, okay lets get rolling… lock the door…wait did I leave any lights on? Well now that I’m back inside I might as well do one last swoop… yea I think I’m going to bring my coat”.
As my flight was early that Sunday morning, I had to catch the first metro of the day, at 6am to Orly airport outside of Paris. Soon I was wheeling my little carry-on bag down the deserted streets. The only sound aside from the thunderous cacophony of my rolling bag on the cobble stone streets were the whisking sounds of the city cleaners’ brooms as they swept up all the cigarette butts which littered the streets from the rocking Saturday night before. The trip on the metro was much smoother and more straight forward than I had anticipated it to be. After all I was heading on a metro line I had never ridden before, to an airport I had never seen, with a cell phone that had no minutes to use Google maps! (Honestly how did we travel without Google maps before?!) It was my first trip where I only had a carry on bag, and boy was it was blissful. Not having to haul an enormous suitcase through an unfamiliar airport, not having to stand in line to check your bag, not having to print off baggage tickets?! That’s what I’m talking about! I just wheeled my little self right through security and was soon sipping a cafe latte at Paul’s waiting to board my plane. After a quick flight, I stepped out into the Italian sunlight and was in heaven feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin, the smell of the breeze, and the space! I hadn’t realized how much I had gotten used to the air in Paris, or the squished quarters, but suddenly I wanted to have a Fraulein Maria moment and just run around with my arms stretched wide and celebrate in all of the greenery and open sky!
I arrived in the afternoon and had the rest of the day and evening to myself as my parent’s ship wasn’t getting in until the next morning. I had a nice nap, then set out to explore what little of the city I felt comfortable that I wouldn’t get lost in!
As evening settled in, I realized that I was succumbing to life’s most ancient motivator – Hunger. I decided that I would head out in search of some Italian cuisine delights, all within a couple blocks radius of my hotel (I didn’t feel like wandering the Roman streets lost and alone on my first evening). As a wandered down the tiny narrow streets, I found a quaint little restaurant, and after seeing that the menu had pizza, I eagerly swung the door open. As I stepped into the restaurant a squat older Italian man looked up from the table he was setting and shouted “Buonasera! Sola?!” I shyly nodded and smiled responding with a soft “Buonasera signore” and held up one finger to single that I was indeed “sola”. “Sola! She’s a sola! One table sola! You sit here!” he roared, and although he was loud there was definitely no judgement or malice in his announcement. I did however feel a twinge of embarrassment when every person in the restaurant had looked up to see who this ‘sola’ young lady was at the door. After walking the gauntlet of eyes, I took my seat alone at a table set for four and decided it was definitely necessary to order a half litre of wine.
After slowly and happily enjoying my pizza margarita and my copious glasses of white wine, I started to think about comfort zones,about stigma and about being alone. I was surprised at my own comfort and ability to thoroughly enjoy myself out on the town, in a restaurant all alone. I didn’t feel the need to rush to get out of there, I didn’t feel the twinge of embarrassment or self-consciousness when people looked over at me, I just felt happy. It was in that moment that I realized how far I have come since arriving in Europe. I remember being a teenager and the thought of doing something alone was just mortifying! To be dropped off at the movie theatre to meet your friends alone, ugh! To have to eat lunch alone?! No thank you! But as I got older, like most people, my confidence grew and I became much more independent in pretty much every aspect of my life. Except… the whole “eating alone at a restaurant”. If I had to eat alone, and wanted something from a restaurant I would usually op for the take-out or pick up version so I could casually pick up my meal or have it delivered and save myself the public “humiliation” of the restaurant staff and fellow patrons knowing that I was going to be enjoying this meal alone. Why do we have that stigma?! Where did this all stem from? Even in coffee places, sometimes we see a person having a muffin on their own but they’re usually buried in a book, or their cellphone or their computer. I can’t even recall a time where I have been out to a restaurant and seen someone who was eating alone, let alone someone who looked like they were enjoying eating alone! I started to wonder what had changed in me that has made me feel comfortable and okay in this typically “company required” activity.
To be honest, it was the first time where I had complete confidence in the fact that I was no less loved, no less worthy, no less valued or desired than anyone else in that restaurant. I felt strong and secure in the fact that I have wonderful, hilarious, amazing, talented and beautiful friends, who if they had been there with me, we would have been welcoming people to join in the fun at our table. I felt loved and supported and valued by my family, and I suppose for the first time I felt like I was really happy and confident in myself – in what I’m doing for myself at this point in my life, what I am striving for, and what I have accomplished. I suddenly felt awash in the love and support of my friends and my family in that moment, and it brought me such a quiet sense of calm, comfort and happiness. (Thank you!). And if you ever find yourself getting drunk alone over a pizza some time, think of me and know I am sending you love, hugs, laughter and a huge high five (and I’d probably be topping up your glass for you)!
The next morning my parents arrived and after a bouncing, hugging, snuggling, joyful greeting by yours truly, we hit the town. It was so great to be able to just relax and not have to “pay attention” to the details of direction once I was joined by my parents. It seems like such a little thing, but since living in Paris, and basically every single little thing I do is new and more difficult and you never fully know your surroundings, you’re always searching for familiar makings, or streets, signs, art, anything that can help you maintain your sense of direction. As my parents had been to Rome before they knew their way around the city and I was able to just mindlessly follow along and soak up the amazingness of the city.
We decided to do one of the most ultimately touristy things to do in one of these historical cities, which is the infamous ‘City Bus Tour’. Now some people will be saying “What’s wrong with taking a bus tour?!” while others will be thinking “OMG really? That’s so cheesy”. To both of you I agree whole heartedly. But honestly, as much as it kind of screams to the world “HI I’M NOT FROM HERE!”, I have absolutely loved every single bus tour I have ever taken and it has shown me aspects of the city I would never have gotten to see on foot, and has given me windows into places where I went back later on to explore in more detail. From Paris, London, New York to Rome, I would highly recommend this embarrassing form of transport because it gives you such a great over view of the city with some neat historical facts, and lets face it, it’s so darn easy! The bus we took was one we could jump on and off of whenever we pleased for two days, so we used it much like a city taxi which was fantastic.
That evening we went for dinner, then strolled around the streets. Rome is beyond magical in the evening. I truly believe this is the most romantic city I have ever visited. The streets were busy, safe, friendly and filled with gorgeously lit fountains, sculptures and architecture, but without the day time crowds. I loved every second.
The next day, we started early and went out to conquer more of city. We started off at Saint Peter’s Basilica and ended up getting yelled at by a group of people who were scattered about in a “line”, who felt we had cut in front of some of the members of their group. When we tried to explain the misunderstanding, a short, boarder-line elderly man come right up close, and started squaring off with me and yelling in my face! Being taller than this agressive little fellow, I turned to faced him and calmly said, “Wow, this is very Christian of you sir, looks like you need to get in there more than I do”. Obviously this only further infuriated him, to which he responded with “Pfftch! Ughh ffffffttttt! Chhh!” (which was really clever).It honestly was such an awful experience, considering the religious value of the place, and how these people were behaving that I was furious and almost didn’t even want to go in. I don’t think this is the place to get into my views on the History or Physiology of Religion (two of my favourite courses in University), but will just say this – “If you are a religious person, and you are going to your religious capital, it might be a good idea to turn up the values and principles of your religion, even if it’s just for appearances sake”. Otherwise you just look like an ass.
I was so put off by the experience in the line up, that I felt a huge sense of displeasure while being inside the Basilica. While the architecture was impressive, and the art beyond my imagination, I found it so hard to get past the idea that the true values and wealth of this great site and great religion was not in it’s walls, or it’s artifacts, it’s historic relics, paintings or sculptures, but rather, that it’s true weight – as with all religions – lies within the the values, moralities and actions of it’s disciples.
Rome is one of the most perfect examples of the power of collaboration between artist, architect, philosopher, and God(s). Some of the greatest architectural feats that draw millions of people to Rome are the incredible temples of religions passed. Gods and Goddesses, temples, faiths, rituals and practises cast aside to make way for something new, something more relevant. As anyone who has studied the history of world religion knows, over time these paths and disassociation with certain faiths gave way to new beliefs, and on and on until thousands of years later, a young Canadian girl can find herself inside St. Peter’s Basilica.
When it comes to the city of Rome, one of the first things people usually think of is the Colosseum – and for good reason! This incredible structure was built in 70 AD and was originally named ‘the Flavian Amphitheatre’. The name was later changed to Colosseum, from the latin word ‘colosseus’, some say in part because of the large statue of Emperor Nero’s construction near the arena, and others because of it’s own sheer “colossal” size. Either way, the name couldn’t be more fitting. This incredible feat of architecture and human imagination still commands an enormous amount of awe and respect in Rome’s landscape as it covers nearly 6 acres of space.
The Colosseum was commissioned as a gift to the Roman citizens, where they could come to enjoy various forms of entertainment, and would also serve as a physical symbol for the strength and power of Rome. The most famous form of entertainment held in the Colosseum were undeniably the Gladiator battles.
And what entertainment it was! As we all got to experience through the epic film ‘Gladiator’, as Maximus challenged our enjoyment of the bloodshed with “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!”.
I can’t deny that the moment I stepped foot inside the Colosseum I was in awe of how ENORMOUS it was. No photos or movies prepared me for the magnitude of it. Imagine an entire hockey arena, made entirely of stone, but without walls – letting fresh air and sunlight stream through perfect enormous archways. In fact, the Colosseum was so perfectly constructed to hold these large crowds, that we still use it’s construction models for our modern day sporting fields; even the term “Arenas” stems from the name of the ‘playing field’ in the Colosseum where the Games were held. It’s hard to imagine that all those years ago, the Romans had already figured out numbering their over 76 exits, as well as handing out tickets before the event with corresponding section and seating numbers! Yes, this means there was some lowly Colosseum “intern” who had the task of chiselling numbers into the endless stone benches. While entrance to our modern day sporting events or performances often times come with a hefty price tag, the Roman entrance to the Colosseum was free and welcomed everyone, resulting in a holding capacity of over 80,000 spectators. With the enormity of the stands, it is hard to grasp the size of the playing surface – The arena inside the Colosseum is 287 feet long and 180 feet wide! To put that into a different perspective, a hockey rink’s ice surface is generally 200 feet long and 85 feet wide. I guess you’d be thankful for those extra 105 feet when you’re running from chariots or being chased by tigers.
As we wandered up through the levels, we were able to spot some original carvings depicting some of the events of these Games. Some of the animals were obvious to discern, but others became more and more confusing as their likelihood of being present in Rome during that time seemed more and more unlikely. But the truth is, the Colosseum housed and presented some of the world’s most exotic menagerie of animals and introduced them into the events in various ways. With two levels of subterranean tunnel networks below the arena floor, there were more than 32 animal pens. These tunnels had around 80 vertical shafts which provided instant access to the arena, allowing animals to appear as if from no where. From lions and tigers, to hyenas, hippos, rhino’s, crocodiles, ostriches, antelopes, even bears and zebras, the Colosseum was never short on the exotic – showcasing to the citizens of Rome the vastness of their Empire’s reach. There was even an instance where a whale, who had died and washed up on the shores outside of the city was collected and transported into the Colosseum. It was then revealed through a series of trap doors, to the centre of the arena! What could be more impressive than that?! Oh yea, when 15 bears came bursting from it’s mouth to attack the undoubtedly awestruck Gladiators.
What I didn’t know before going into the Colosseum was exactly who or what a Gladiator was. I had seen the movie, I knew Russell Crowe was terribly mistreated, captured and sold into a life of slavery where his only hope for freedom was to win them as a Gladiator in the Games. But was this the only way? Were all Gladiators slaves? The answer is no. There were over 20 different types of Gladiators during the times of the Games, each with their own set of rules, requirements and regulations. One of the more common ways to find yourself a sudden Gladiator in ancient Rome was to have been convicted of a crime by the Roman courts – death, or take your chances in the Games. (Talk about a system that would keep you honest!) In the early years of the games the majority of Gladiators were slaves, criminals or prisoners of war, but by the period of the Roman Empire many free men would volunteer themselves to the Games seeking glory, fame and monetary success. These free Gladiators were called ‘Auctorati’. Did I mention there were also female Gladiators?!
After an afternoon packed with history and my imagination swarming, we decided it was time for a bottle of wine, and a less ‘blood-stained’ atmosphere. What could be more perfect than a beautiful sunny afternoon enjoying the Trevi Fountain followed by yet another breathtaking feat of architectural engineering, the Pantheon.
The Pantheon was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa but was rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian in 126 AD. It’s fame comes from it’s brick dome – the largest in the history of architecture, making it the most copied and imitated of ancient art works. It is so spectacular that even Michelangelo was quoted to have said it was “the work of angels, not men”. The site for the Pantheon was chosen due to the locations sacred place in Roman history. It was believed to be the location where Romulus, the founder of Rome, was seized by an eagle after his death to be carried to the heavens to join the Gods. The Pantheon is still a place of great spiritual and religious importance in the world today, and is considered by many to be one of the forerunners of modern places of worship. The name ‘Pantheon’ even further defines itself as a place of holy worship, “pan” meaning “everything” and “theon” meaning “devine”. The name could not suit it more.
As our time in Rome was coming too quickly to an end, we spent most of the evening strolling through the narrow streets, peeking into shop windows, ogling fresh gelato and being swept up in the final dance of our whirlwind romance with this incredible city. As we were turning a corner to begin our way back to our hotel, my dad suddenly disappeared. We paused looking around for a moment before his face popped up from around yet another tiny corner as he excitedly motioned my mother and I to join him in a not-so-exciting-looking side street. But oh, what a surprise! No sooner had we turned the corner then we realize we were standing in the entrance to an beautiful marble courtyard with a stunning glass ceiling, revealing a most brilliant blue colour created by the last rays of the setting sun mixing with the oncoming darkness. People were quietly hanging out of their apartment windows, passing relaxed gazes into the square. Below, at the foot of the large marble archway was a violinist, playing the most beautiful rendition of Vivaldi I have ever heard. Maybe it was him, maybe it was the way the music danced and melted into the marble walls of the courtyard, maybe it was his otherworldly outfit, or maybe it was just the perfect ending to the perfect time in Rome. Or maybe it was all of those things, all at once.