I was moved, almost to tears, by my first impressions of Rome a few hours ago (that said, it may have just been the exhaustion of the previous assignment coupled with the six hour, sleepless flight I’d just endured from Ethiopia that delivered me to the Italian capital at five in the morning. But let’s go with the first option).
Dropping my bags at a most charming boutique hotel in the central precinct at sunrise, I set off with all the excitement of a child waking on Christmas morning to wander the cobblestone walkways of ancient Rome.
Within a few minutes, I’d drifted into a central square and an audience of towering gods and mortals carved from stone, before settling onto a pew in a nearby basilica where I was overwhelmed by my good fortune to be here and the sheer beauty of the church’s centrepiece – the playfulness of the cherubs, the expressiveness of the angels, the detail carved into the marble torsos of its heroes, the divine inspiration of its creators. The art and workmanship held me in awe. It was, simply, beautiful to behold – a soaring testament to man’s artistic endeavour.
That was two hours ago. Since then, I’ve ambled further into the historic precinct, soaking it all in and marvelling at my surrounding. What is so remarkable is that you can turn the corner of an obscure lane-way and suddenly be standing before the Pantheon, a towering obelisk or a fountain of giants carved by the hands of Bernini. Churches – not a few, but more than you can stumble across in a week of wandering – house some of the most beautiful Renaissance art in the world. Mesmerising. It’s a city built around its major art works. Buildings dripping with character and history, the ornate ironwork of balconies overhead, the intricate carvings of the grand, timber doorways, the detail of even the smallest fittings and the abundance of stone and marble carvings, weathered so smoothly by the ages you feel compelled to caress them.
Of course, what makes this even more incredible to me is that I was in Ethiopia less than 10 hours ago and so much of its capital, Addis Ababa, is still fresh in my mind. The difference between the two ancient civilisations, I kept thinking, is remarkable. There’s a lot to be said for your experience being heightened when two extremes are enjoyed close together.
So now I’m sitting at a cute little taverna in a quiet lane-way, savouring a carbonara pasta and salad, a stones throw from Rome’s great Colosseum. Two young waiters are standing in the doorway bantering playfully at the pretty women who walk past. In Italian of course. What a lovely, lyrical language it is to listen to. It’s a city brimming with tiny, unexpected, pleasures.
From here, I’ll probably pass by the Colosseum again where the tourist lines are sure to be building by now but, I can assure you, I have no intention of being distracted from this visual feast by the facts or embellishments of history. Today, I could not be more delighted than to just wander Rome at a leisurely pace and take in these exquisite surroundings.
It’s a blissful moment; my Italian holiday could not be off to a better start.
Postscript: I made it just five metres from the restaurant before I found these two battered old chairs (below) at Pasticcerera Credenza, facing out onto the junction of two cobblestone lane ways. With a sax playing somewhere in the distance and an eclectic procession of people meandering past, could there be a more perfect place to sit and enjoy a cappuccino while I scribe this post?
….actually, quite possibly.
At this rate, I’ll be lucky to make it back to my hotel.
Tomorrow: The Vatican and the Sistine Chapel.