Just before Christmas, I went on a pocket-rocket journey of spirited discovery with Ashley, one of my oldest, dearest chums. (Hello Ashley. Remember when you got told off for splashing the sandpit water in reception class. And then you cried. Loads. Haha. Love you too.)
We panicked about the possibility of five days without marmite, got stuck on a train to Gatwick with a man who was fierce in telling us, pre 8am, that we had shamed Jesus and were both in possession of a one way ticket to hell (thank you very much, kind stranger), discussed my excessive spinach consumption whilst trying to settle pre-flight nerves at Gatwick, and then we got on a plane to Italy.
It was like a school trip on steroids. Here are some things that I learnt in Rome.
If he gives you roses, it's not because he thinks you're a pretty English girl. En route back to our apartment one evening, we stopped off at the Spanish steps and climbed to the top. It wasn't necessarily the most moving or inspiring part of the trip, but when six red roses were thrust upon us by a wandering gent ('oooooohhh ladeeeeeeez, you so pritteh, pritteh English girl'), I thought 'oh, how lovely, this was worth almost suffocating on the Metro for.' Five minutes later, myself and the not-so-much-of-a-gent were practically conjoined as he badgered me for Euros and ran his grubby hands along my sleeves. One minute later, the red roses were cruelly stripped from my palm. Romeance is well and truly dead. (At prime tourist spots anyway.)
The Colosseum was built in 8 years, which is the best kind of bonkers. When we pulled up outside Rome's most iconic architectural attraction, it stripped the air from my lungs for a moment. Not many things can be crumbling, mournful, and vulnerable, but austere and imposing and fabulous all at once. I cannot comprehend that human beings created something so magnificent in less than a decade. It would have been beautiful. It is beautiful; far too beautiful to have played host to such inhumanity.
Culinary orgasms are an actual thing. Towards the end of our trip, we took a pilgrimage to ice cream parlour 'Il Gelato di San Crispino'. Elizabeth Gilbert raves about it in 'Eat, Pray, Love', and as a huge fan of the book, and a dedicated trustee of her literary wisdom, there was no way I was going to visit Rome without living this part of her adventure myself. I love my ice cream. I'm genuinely thrilled with a Mr Whippy or a few spoonfuls of Carte D'or (I'm a cheap date, I know)....But this ice cream. It was something else. I have peaked on frozen treats. It was the BEST THING I HAVE EVER TASTED IN MY ENTIRE LIFE...SOMEBODY BRING IT TO ENGLAND AND FEED IT TO ME, PLEASE.
Italian bus drivers are mental. It wasn't just 'Eat, Pray, Love' that came to life in Rome. Oh no. We lived a scene from 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' too. 'Take it away Ernie...It's going to be a bummmmpy ride!' I feared for my life on multiple occasions.
"Pantheon has the word 'pant' in it." Some people travel to beautiful cities and have defining moments of creative or intellectual genius. Others travel to beautiful cities and say weird things just before they fall asleep. Unfortunately, I am the latter. I remember the moment these words transpired. I was passionate. I was enthusiastic. I was certain that I was saying something truly profound, something that might just change the world and everybody in it. Newsflash: it didn't. But you're welcome anyway. Pantomime has the word pant in it too.
I am not a banana, but apparently I look like one. Fortunately, I'm not the only one in this world with bizarre sleeping habits. One night, I woke up to a kneeling Ashley running her fingers across my cheek, her wandering hand flopping onto my breast as I startled her with a weird, 'what-are-you-doing?' grunt. We both collapsed back into static slumber immediately, but a debrief over breakfast soon confirmed that she was dreaming about a giant banana. She was trying to peel me. It was one of the creepiest and greatest realisations of our lives.
If you want to have your mind blown, you need to go to Vatican City. Vatican City, to me, feels like the kind of place where a placid unicorn could glide gently through the Italian sky and you'd just smile and say 'oh hello, good day to you', without so much of a flicker of realisation that you are alive in the real world and have just encountered a placid unicorn. It felt as if we were wandering through an extravagant dream. After touring the Vatican museums (think nude statues, an array of magnificent ceilings, and a bloody massive bath tub), we climbed 551 'my-calves-have-DIED-and-I-feel-like-this-wall-is-caving-in-on-us-oh-wait-it-actually-is' stairs to the top of St Peter's Basilica dome. There have been few 'fuck, it is so good to be alive' moments greater than standing up there. Never has the exchange of pulled muscles and the acute risk of a panic attack been so satisfying.
Selfie stick sellers are the most irritating humans to ever walk the planet. I have my very own selfie stick. It is attached to me. It is called MY ARM. Oh look... I have another one. It is not attached to me. It is called MY FRIEND. Take your selfie stick and waft it in a different direction. Stop trying to behead me with it. Please very much. Thank you.
The whole city is a museum. Basically, Rome in its entirety is thoroughly beautiful; absolutely fucking beautiful. You know when you wake up from a hideous nightmare just before the crazed monster is about to swallow your flailing legs? You know when you have that sudden, terrifying, spectacular realisation that you are completely in love with another human being? You know when it's Sunday morning, and you're in bed, and a day filled with perfect nothingness stretches out before you? It's as if all of these wonderful feelings have manifested themselves in the sprawling grandeur of the city: in the curvature of every building, in the rickety, cobbled streets, across every breath-taking horizon. You get the sense that it all means something too. Quiet history seeps through its architectural veins: a city so monumental, yet somehow so modest. Elizabeth Gilbert penned a sentence about her desire to be Rome when she's an old lady. I totally feel her.
'Uscita.' It means 'exit'. And it is the only Italian word that I can utter with total confidence. USCITA! It feels so good to be so bilingual.
Rome, I love you.