The first thing that hit me when I reached Rome was the familiar big city grime and filth. But Rome is unlike any other city in the world. It has a dark, angry quality to it. I couldn’t put my finger on why the city made me uncomfortable. Was it the passive aggression I was exposed to? Months after I’d returned it hit me like a blunt weapon, the modern, the present, is an imposition on the city. There are no skyscrapers, no business district, no swank malls. Roma is all cobblestones, piazzas and gothic Italian. You can’t shrug of the feeling that men in chariots and togas will suddenly accost you on the streets. Instead you’ll be haunted by the sound of wailing ambulances jumping traffic lights. Everywhere you go the ancient has aggressively marked its territory.
When in Rome eat where the Romans eat. Unless you’re okay with Italian food cooked by Bangladeshi chefs, served to you by a Punjabi speaking waiter. If you’re a Catholic girl like me, taking the Hop on Hop off bus to the Vatican is guaranteed to give you a sense of catching up with other sanctimonious idiots you went to church with. Especially if you’re an outstanding Catholic like me and have been standing outside church for most of your adult life. And then because the sheer pressure of ticking off things on your ‘to see’ list will get to you, something will go off in your brain and you will loose it completely, resulting in a mammoth fight with your friends. Our guide had warned us it would happen. Apparently he’d seen family members fight like it was judgment day about to miss the last train to heaven!
On the other hand if you’re a history buff, Rome is a wet dream. Or if you’ve been brought up on a steady diet of big budget Charlton Heston films, then Circo Massimo, the Pantheon, Palantine hill and the Coliseum will look like used movie sets to you.
After you’ve walked till your feet have been denuded to stubs, grab some beer and chill at the Fontana di Trevi fountain. It’s a great place to people watch. Watching honeymooners showcase their love could give you diabetes but that’s just an occupational hazard. After about an hour of that you’ll want to pretend to drown in the fountain. Of course you’ll also get a standing ovation from the 300 odd people watching you make a fool of yourself.
The food’s not great which is why we took our cute guide’s advice and headed to the Jewish quarter. Except hopefully you won’t be as daft to go there on Sabbath and hopefully you won’t order a lasagna that’s best fed to the pigeons. There was that little detail I’d missed on Jewish dietary laws that forbid the mixing of meat and dairy products. Imagine tucking into lasagna with no cheese and no béchamel sauce. Shoe leather would have tasted better.
Don’t forget to-
Look up or you’ll miss the beautiful detailing of Roman buildings
Fill your water bottle with water from the ancient aqueducts. It’s safe and free.
Buy tickets to the Coliseum from the walking tour guides. You may just be taken on yours by a charming mop haired Cockney accented Italian. Plus you’ll skip the long lines outside the ticket counter.
Take cheesy pictures with the gladiators with their fake six packs and afterwards haggle with them over money. Be a cheapskate Indian. You have a reputation to maintain.
Book a hotel near the Termini if you’re traveling on a shoe string budget.
Buy street art at Piazza Navona. I still kick myself for not doing it.
Get your big city attitude on. It’s Rome and it’s full of hardnosed hustlers.
(Nina Sangma is Hille Le’s Travel Editor. She earned it by travelling ceaselessly for thrill. We are proud of her madness and her choice of stewards.)