You get up in the morning and get on the exact same plane from the same company, knowing already how the destination looks like. It’s nothing you haven’t seen or heard of, you say to yourself drinking your overpriced coffee in an airport lounge. So you kind of lack enthusiasm, thinking there is so little time in your life and spending it visiting the very same place in the same season like you did last time is an insult to the limited amount you have left. Of course, you might be terribly right and if there is a second you believe you’re wasting your time, get off that plane and choose another destination to spend time and money on.
But you could also be terribly wrong, because one can never know a city in a lifetime, let alone a couple of days when you desperately try to scrap the surface, checking out all the places from your tourist list. This is the exact reason why you should come back to a place you’ve loved visiting – because after doing what tourists do, the second time you go there you will draw your attention more to what the other people do, to what locals are up to. You will not try to compete for the best tourist photo or the best pizza that you ate in a very famous place, but rather wander on countless streets, knowing how to get from one place to another and having the courage to walk off an established path to create your own. Of course it will not be an unique one, the streets of Rome are so ancient it’s impossible to count the number of steps they have been paved with until now. But you can build your day just like a puzzle and I promise you it will not look like the others.
I started mine with a great sunbath in the sky, being the luckiest alive for having a window seat in the plane. There is something so uplifting in thinking that no matter how ugly the weather seems down below, up above there’s always the sun rising and tanning the clouds on one side, letting them pour their sorrow down with the other. So I wasn’t even mad for leaving a rainy place behind, because I knew deep down that’s literally just a raincoat the sunny weather wears on bad moods. The good news is that when we landed, spring seemed to wait for us just like we waited for her, so we left our luggage as fast as possible, took a quick refresh and got into our comfy shoes because boy, we knew we’re about to walk – A LOT. We went out for a slice of pizza. Of course we did. It’s an insult brought to the city to eat a sandwich for lunch in a place where pizza is the answer to every possible culinary question you might have. So we chose a place only locals (and luckily, we) knew about in the Farnesina zone called Panificio da Ponti. After a well-deserved feast, we took off to the center of the town. But you know how they say, things never go as planned. On our way to Piazza di Spagna, we saw this beautiful bridge Ponte de la Musica Armando Trovajoli. As soon as we got out of the car, I knew the feeling of being back in the place I truly loved kicked in. We weren’t doing much on that bridge – just taking pictures and walking along, watching the Tiber stroll beneath us, carelessly and completely ignorant to anyone watching. That moment I realized something changed from the last time I stepped my foot into Rome: this time I was watching people, not places. So I put my camera down and stopped to look around a bit to see what this particular bridge has to offer on a chilly Monday afternoon. There were people walking their dogs, people running, people taking photos or just passing by, looking at their phones or reading the newspaper while walking. It felt weird – isn’t Monday supposed to be one of the grumpiest days of the week? Why are people acting like it’s Saturday morning and they have all the time in the world to get somewhere so they don’t have to rush? What’s wrong with these people, why are they running for keeping fit and not for getting to work in time?
And then it hit me for the second time. People breathe differently here – people feel differently. And that is why even if by convention we do share the same amount of hours, the Italians always seem to have longer and stress-free days. I haven’t noticed that before because I wasn’t paying attention to the human cells creating the tissue that keeps Rome alive – I was just watching it as a body to examine, as a place to conquer. This is also a fault in travelling – when you go to a place, your main purpose is to feel like you’re winning. Even if there’s no competition, you need to come back from your holiday with evidence that you’ve seen that place, that you’ve walked that road and you’ve done all the things most people do. Because that’s the human nature based on fundamental achievement, transposed into a certain amount of information meant to enrich your knowledge.
But what if you just stepped back, left your phone in the bag and simply refuse to make a plan on purpose? They all say all roads lead to Rome and that is partly true. But once you get to Rome, where does the road lead you?
That’s up to you to decide. Of course you can walk off the path from the first time you set your foot into the town. But there’s also another way, a more relaxed one, based on previous explorations and plans that help you create an image that might be closer to what Rome would really look like. If you were to describe a person, having an opinion only based only on clothing and the first three words that person says might be a bad start for an honest image. It works the same with cities, too. Of course you can never learn enough about one place, as it’s something more to discover each day. But letting time settle things in your head and then coming back to visit the same place again offers you not only a great perspective of the outer world, but also of the inner one.
So as you eat an ice cream from the gelato place you already went to last year and completely loved might not feel like a unique experience, but you need to go deeper than that. You are not the same person as you were last year – you might even have chosen some different flavors with another tone in your voice and decided to devour it watching people embracing the sunlight, sitting on the Spanish steps and refusing to let the time pass through them. Last time I saw those stairs they were under construction and it was late at night, so I could only imagine from pictures what it would be like to catch the sunset there. Now I got the chance to feel it on my own skin. So I captured the moment, climbed up the stairs and always looking back, to make sure the sun was still following my lead. I got to the great promenade up high and I gasped – what was there to see left me speechless.
Hundreds of people were just sitting on the steps, talking in all sorts of languages and laughing. But most important, they were all there for one reason – we were all there to recharge our batteries with energy provided from the sun. We were all but one big crowd enjoying the most beautiful and also the saddest part of the day, when sun kisses the earth goodbye to let the night take its place – but only to come back triumphantly in the morning again. I swear the time stopped for a second and all shivers went down my spine, up to my arms and down to my toes. I was electrified by the feeling of being part of one bigger thing, of sharing the pure energy of sunlight. Such an effortlessly way to enjoy being alive. So I couldn’t agree more with two things Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin said in two of his songs: first things first, we DO leave in a beautiful world – yeah we do, yeah! We do! And secondly, seeing something like this on a Monday made me look straight into the sun, put a wide smile upon my face and hum peacefully: You make me feel like I’m alive again.
It’s hard to get out of that magical place. And even if you leave, your mind is not entirely lucid, not just yet, since you are surrounded with great walls of Italian buildings, beautiful people having an elegance of their own – not in what they wear, but in what they are. So you get back to Plazza del Popolo and you catch that confusing moment between daytime and night time, when the light knows it can’t stay, but it also refuses to leave completely, so it blue and nostalgic, making it harder for everyone to let go of the day. Feeling something like this in a place like Plazza del Popolo, with people hanging out and enjoying their lattes like it’s a thing the day can’t go out in style without makes the whole nostalgia thing almost bearable – and that coming from a part-time unpaid nostalgic is a pretty serious statement.
So you stroll on the streets, aimlessly wandering to some place you have a vague idea of, completely ignoring the time and focusing on what people might think, on how are they feeling and most important, on what are they transmitting. Italians walking along on Via del Corso on a Monday evening taught me how not to lose myself in the process of living by some common sense rules that need to be followed.
Just because it’s Monday that doesn’t mean it has to suck.
Just because it’s the sunset that makes you nostalgic that doesn’t mean that you have to be that way.
And just because you’ve seen a city once that doesn’t mean you’re not prone to come back and discover completely different things in the exact same places that left you speechless a while ago. One can feel an infinite amount of things regarding the same situation, because einmal ist keinmal, after all.
So what if I’ve already visited the Trevi Fountain and dropped a coin to grant my wish? Now I know where all those money from the Fountain go and I can sleep better at night. Now I know where I can get the best pasta and have the Pantheon right in front of me while eating them without having to try to please my picky self. And now I know how to get to one place from another with no phone battery or map.
Even after a week of exploring Rome like a professional tourist in the past, I can still find it completely amazing, nothing like I’ve seen or felt before. And I still have so much to learn, discover and explore. Wandering has never been more exciting, knowing now the main paths. In order to create a new path, you need to know what the main things are that you’ll be avoiding.
So go on, travel the world if you like.
But please remember to always come back to the places you loved, because I promise they will not cease to surprise you.
Rome, I feel like I’m in love again.
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