I am an uninformed traveler. I am not the type to read guidebooks, carry maps, or scour reviews of hostels and restaurants. When visiting a new city, I do a quick Google search for a hostel, grab a tourist map when I check in, pick 2-3 spots that look interesting, and hope for the best.
So far, Italy has really lent itself to this type of traveling. Good food is an expectation; museums and breathtaking views are to be had in abundance; the people are friendly. Even a directionally and linguistically challenged person such as myself can cobble together decent day and weekend trips.
I visited Rome this past weekend. Out of the Italian cities that I’ve visited this past month (Venice, Bologna, and Florence), Rome was particularly friendly to uninformed wandering. Since it’s still tourist season (locals say it won’t end until November-December), you can more or less follow the crowds to the major spots (Pantheon, Coliseum, Spanish Steps, Trebbe Fountain). During a weekend trip to Florence, I was hugely frustrated by the masses of tourists. I hated being part of a sweaty mass of irritable people waiting in line to see David or puff our way up the steps of the Duomo. Rome felt different. On a practical level, the streets were wider and the weather was cooler. But on a deeper level, it felt comforting to be paying homage to the same ancient remnants as thousands of other people. For many reasons, Rome has a special place in our collective consciousness. It is the originator of many of our myths, some of our most precious pieces of art, architectural game-changers, historical lessons of critical contemporary importance.
The Pantheon, in particular, instilled a sense of shared awe. The structure as it stands today was constructed in 125 A.D. as a tribute to all of the Gods. It was converted into a Christian Church in 609. Michelangelo visited the site before he started construction of the Sistine Chapel, when the structure was already over 1,000 years old. The structure serves as the final resting place for the artist Raphael, among others. Recorded messages in Italian, French, German, and Spanish encouraged guests to maintain respectful silence. The crowds were split between those with noses in guide-book holders and people stopped dead in their tracks, overwhelmed at the immensity of the dome, the blend of religious symbols, the genius behind the longevity of it all.
During our quest for dinner, we took a wrong turn and found ourselves in a Piazza constructed around ruins dating back to the early days of the Roman Empire. This was a miniscule notation on our tourist map. This type of history was casual, modern Rome built around it. We paused, newly appreciative of how young American cities are. Then we wandered onto one of the best meals I have had in Italy – an unbelievable three course plus wine meal for ten euro.
I realize this Italia-gushing is a massive cliché, but things become cliché because there is some truth to them.
On a practical level, here is the link to the bed and breakfast we used. It’s a few metro stops outside the city, but it was 115 a night split between five of us. We had our own apartment, wifi, free breakfast, and a pool. The house itself was decorated in a wonderful mashup of every place the owner had ever been – Central America, sub-Saharan Africa, bits and pieces of Europe. I highly recommend it.