Gold veins etch into the dark earth below. The sprawl of city lights and street lamps glimmer and glow in yellow. Straight, curved, and jagged lines spider out from and into clusters of neighboring cities. I try to guess which ones I am flying over all the way from Brussels to Rome. I am going to Rome. I am going to Rome!
Our Ryan Air flight, the one I only paid 17€ for to fly from Brussels to Rome, lands at Ciampino Airport. The evening air is cool, but still warmer than anywhere else I have been so far on this excursion. It smells faintly of campfire, which is one of the best smells there is in my opinion. From the airport, we catch a bus to Stazione Termini, then it is a short walk to the Yellow Hostel. From the window of the bus, I catch glimpses of monuments here and there, but it is dark and I do not see anything I yet recognize. It will have to wait until the morning.
Morning has arrived, and the sun shines bright on Via Palestro. Our group of seven starts out from the Yellow Hostel excited for the day ahead. I had prepared a sort of walking route to see some of the big Roman sights and some of the not-so-famous places.
St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church, or the American Church in Rome, was the first Protestant church built in Rome (1880), and it is easily recognized by its large, horizontal stripes. The Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore follows shortly thereafter. This is a big and beautiful church, but, unfortunately, is has been fenced off for some reason. This did dampen our moods a little, but not too much, we knew there were many more opportunities to see incredible things. About two hours into our walk we stumble on this open park with the remains of a mammoth, ancient bathhouse. This is the Parco del Colle Oppio.
Strolling through the park, wondering at the sheer size of such a structure that must have once existed in this place, we are caught off guard by the other looming structure nearby, just down the hill a bit and across the street. There it stands, after all these years, the Roman Colosseum. It actually looks a bit smaller than we had anticipated all the way up on the hill as we are, but as soon as we managed to make our way right up to the sides of this towering arena, we realize it is truly an architectural testament to the ingenuity of the ancient Romans.
Here our group splits off and I leave to wander the park of antiquity on my own. I find a side entrance into Palatine Hill, pay my way in and begin to walk the path of the ancients. I am surrounded by other tourists, all of us with our smartphones and cameras taking photos, listening to recorded tours, tour guides, pointing, smiling, oohing and aahing. I remember the stories of Augustus Caesar and the Roman Empire at the Roman Forum, as it lies in rubble. I imagine the culture and stories of the men and women wandering the palace grounds on Palatine Hill in their togas. I see the cells of the enslaved beneath the destroyed floor of the Colosseum. There is the Triumphal Arch of Constantine, the Arch of Titus, the House of the Vestals, the Temple of Venus, and so much more. I think I may have spent at least two hours here in the park alone. From the exit of Palatine Hill, I make my way around the exterior of the park to the Circus Maximus. This is the ancient chariot racing arena. I am walking where once these races actually happened.
Leaving the Circus Maximus, I make my way to the Tiber River. Like in Strasbourg, the street is a good bit above the river, but, again like in Strasbourg, there are steps down to the water’s edge. No one else is down here, and I feel like I have the place all to myself. The River Tiber and Isola Tiberina. I wish I could have stayed in this one place all day and watched the river water flow, but there was still so many places to go.
Teatro Marcello in next on the list. What is most fascinating about this ancient place is that is has been both preserved and built upon. The arched arcade structure of the performance area is intact and maintained, but just above it, brick and mortar home or shops are kept. As much as I love theatre, this place was especially important for me to see despite it not being one of the more popular sights in Rome.
It is nearly two in the afternoon. I find a small cafe and eat lunch. From here, I can still see the theatre. I imagine what it must have been like more than a thousand years ago to see the theatre, and indeed all of Rome, in all its glory.
Next on the list is a visit to the Altar of the Fatherland. This behemoth of a monument is easily seen from all over Rome. It is easily the largest monument of its sort that I have ever seen. Naturally, I am in awe. I make my way from the cafe to the steps leading up to the altar. But of course, as is natural when one wanders without specific knowledge of a place, i managed to walk up the wrong steps. But how lucky was I to end up in a place like the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli on accident. It is difficult to describe such a golden place as this in any words that might do it justice. Perhaps I can leave this one place a mystery for others to discover for themselves.
Back down the steps I go, so find the proper steps to ascend for the Altar of the Fatherland. I find them, and ascend. I must admit, I do not do well with heights most of the time, however, I could not pass up the spectacular view that was the Altar itself and the view that can be seen from the top of the altar. I stand here, so high up in the Roman sky, flanked by massive, winged charioteers each commanding two horses. The view of Rome before me is enough for me to momentarily forget how high up I am. I can see the Vatican, the Colosseum, and other sites of antiquity. I can see so much history is one place.
I spend more time than I had anticipated atop the Altar, and the sun begins to set. I wish I could have stayed to see it set completely, but I had a mission to complete. On from the Altar I go. I stroll through the Piazza di Sant’Ignazio, I sit for a while in the Roman Pantheon, have gelato from Venchi, Rome, and make a wish at the Trevi Fountain. The night has come and I end my journey of the day by regrouping with the others on the Spanish Steps.
I wish I could go into more detail about each of these awe-inspiring places, but, honestly, Rome is one of those places that needs to be experienced. I, myself, wish I had more time here, but such is life, no? Rome in a day can be such a shame, but it is Rome all the same.