Being abandoned has never felt so advantageous.
Rome being a big city with much in it to see, my travel mates decided that they would leave our hostel without me and pursue their own agenda, leaving me to my own devices. Not that this bothered me very much, as aimlessly walking the streets of a city is not without its charms, but I wouldn’t have minded some company.
At this moment, though, I’m glad that I’m not listening to even to my iPod let alone having a conversation. I am on my way to the Vatican City, to see St. Peter’s Basilica in all its opulent glory and the Sistine Chapel of Michelangelo fame. At first my route—the straightest line I could make out from Roma Termini Train Station to the Vatican, which is on the complete other side of the city—took me down busy streets thronging with activity. Pedestrians boldly cross streets in front of formidable oncoming traffic and the drivers of motorbikes seem blind to signs and signals.
I’ve now wandered onto a thin thoroughfare that undulates up and down hills, the noise of the cars and busses and tourists blocked startlingly effectively by the plaster-fronted buildings. This hilly street is lined with shops of porcelain and glass, tiny grocery stores and pizzerias, and crossed by dozens of other streets just like it.
Being conditioned by big cities, I look left and right as I cross each intersection, despite the complete lack of moving vehicles in this area. But now, coming at me at full force, is a glimpse of the Colosseum itself, its unmistakable arches and impressive height imposing even with just this slice of a view.
Halting in my tracks, I turn at a right angle to follow this unexpected windfall of an opportunity. I had been resigned to saving the Colosseum for tomorrow, when I went on the walking tour offered by my hostel, intending to do the Vatican today and the rest of Rome tomorrow. But my solitude means that my plans can change in an instant, and I gaze at the monolith of history growing steadily huger as my feet carry me forward. I pass under a footbridge holding photo-snapping tourists, and as I emerge on the other side the noise and traffic resume.
The Colosseum, with its green yard extending only a few meters before it is cut off by a main street and a metro stop, is predictably surrounded by tourists and those who would love to have their money. Passing between all of them, I make my way down the wide steps to cross the street and take my own tourist pictures of the magnificent relic. I can’t get all of the edges of the building into the frame of any of my pictures. Its enormity is such that it’s all I can do to squeeze in a little sky. Putting my camera away, I can just about fool myself into imagining that the growling of the traffic behind me is the roar of crowds watching swordfights, that the stands selling miniatures of Michelangelo’s David and little keychain Colosseums are actually selling fruit and olives, and that everyone I can see is not wearing jeans and tee shirts but togas and sandals.
Under the cloudless blue sky and warm November sun, I can’t help but think that, if all roads lead to Rome, then, in my case, all roads lead to the heart of it.
Urban Wildcat by Esther Barth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License