Hidden Rome by pedal power - Part Two
My Rome innocence lost in the vibrancy of the previous day, it was time to see the more hidden sights of this ancient metropolis. This time by bicycle.
We rose with dawn and joined the rush of people heading for Campo de’Fiori to meet our excellent guide Valerio again. Being on a bicycle was a pleasant shift of pace after the swiftness of our Vespa tour the night before. As well as being a mini-workout, it allowed us to absorb the atmosphere in much more detail along the way. I thought it might be a little hairy navigating the Roman traffic, but Valerio expertly guided us and made sure we knew exactly when to be aware and when it was OK to just ride defiantly down the middle of the street, slalom-like if you so pleased (very satisfying!).
After cycling through quiet backstreets in the gentle September sunshine, we dismounted to see the spot where Julius Caesar was assassinated, the ruins now a sanctuary for cats.
Rome used to be a city of cats, but this initiative neuters and spays any stray cats found. As far as Valerio is concerned this is a big shame - not only does he believe that the bountiful feline presence was a symbol of the city but but also that they provided essential pest control of mice and rats. Whichever way around, a plethora of cats were languidly sunning themselves in the very place where Caesar met his violent end.
Cruising up to the Colosseum we passed through an eco-fair. Awareness of green issues and sustainability is a relatively new thing in Italy, Valerio told me so it's good to see that people are starting to show more interest.
In a secluded side street we called in at the serene monastery Santi Quattro Basilica, somewhere we would never have found ourselves. Here, nuns make a vow to stay in the grounds forever, never leaving again after they cross the threshold. A big commitment!
Up until the late 1800s it was also an orphanage and if put into the care of the nuns, the same rules applied to the children. It might seem a harsh fate, but many would not have survived, had they not been passed to the nuns through the small wooden revolving door, big enough for only a small child.
The serene cloister is the only place where the nuns can enjoy the open sky and it held a very special atmosphere. I could have spent all day there, entranced by the extraordinary tranquility.
Things are of course very different now and there aren’t many European candidates willing to take such strict vows. This means that the Catholic Church is having to look further afield for people willing to commit to a life in service of the church. Many now come from Africa and India. I loved the way Valerio had a little chat with the sisters through the tiny little window, exchanging the latest news and gossip. They must look forward to his visits, bringing rays of the outside world into their cocoon.
Two churches and a wedding later (just watching!) we found ourselves on the Aventine Hill overlooking the expanse of the city spread out at our feet. No disrespect to the vista, but in my opinion Rome is one of those cities that is even more spectacular up close. It is of course outstanding from afar but in my eyes it is in the detail that Rome really shines.
The Romans were masters of creating and recreating reality to suit their needs. They were genius spin-doctors and the temple of Venus and Roma, divinities of love and the eternity of Rome respectively is a classic example of this. The significance of the synchronicity of AMOR and ROMA can not be ignored by anyone, least of all the newlyweds who would come here to do joint sacrifices for their love for each other and their city. Like a one-stop shop for dei
Fate would have it that we were in Rome for the very first festival of Roman Empire re-enactors gathering in the Circus Maximus. Here my wish of seeing history in action was indulged to a degree I could not have imagined. Not only was there a proper Roman tent camp set up, there were people in costume engaged in ancient crafts and gladiators were staging fights.
Did you know there were several different kinds, all with different weapons and types of body armour, each designed to make for an interesting fight with different types of opponents? I definitely didn’t! In a true reflection of the diversity of the Roman Empire the participants of the festival hailed from all over the former Empire.
Our time with Valerio was at an end and after saying our goodbyes, we sunk gratefully into wobbly seats in a tiny little side street restaurant and ordered a huge lunch. We had learnt our lesson on avoiding the main squares from the evening before! I had a traditional Roman pasta dish, large enough to feed at least two, if not three people. I didn’t finish it, but I did eat way past the point of being full. Rome is not kind to the waistline!
That afternoon we traversed through town, passing by the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps. I have to say, that by then my brain was like a fully soaked sponge, refusing to take in more than fleeting impressions of what I was seeing. Despite the crowds, it was a stunningly beautiful ramble, cinematic flashes of vivid, sunlit images of these famous sights filling my mind.
Clearly I have to return. Rome really is a place that cannot be done properly in a mere couple of days. The layers of history are profound and complex and I look forward to digging deeper into this remarkable place.
In fact, I already have my beady eye on what looks like a sublime apartment on the Go With Oh portfolio. In my dazzling daydream, this apartment is the setting for next my Roman Holiday, stunning enough to be a film set. I can just imagine lounging around this apartment, like a modern day Audrey Hepburn feeling ever so vogue (even if it would be impossible to actually look as chic her!). Located in what has been called one of the most beautiful streets in the heart of Rome it has a terrace to die for and an interior courtyard with a fountain. Recently renovated, the super-stylish décor is set off by exposed roof beams that reveal the 16th century origins. Check it out and see if you don’t fall in love with it too!
So yes. Rome, I will be back. Until then - ciao!!
We were kindly hosted on the Secret Rome by Bicycle tour by Dearoma Tours. As always, thoughts and opinions are my own.