The Scribbler

26 September 2011

Bella Roma – day one

Driving into a darkening city, flashes light up the sky. A glimpse of domes.

Our room, a quiet haven on a back street, just a short walk from our first real Italian pizza. Thin crust, and a perfect blend of vegetables and cheese. And our first delicious gelato. Bubblegum strawberry, intense lemon and nutella like chocolate, creamy smooth.

View of Rome from the Palatine Hill

Bella Roma

We sleep soundly after our long, late journey.

Up and fuelled with a good choice of breakfast in the hotel. Then off for a walk into the city to find the venue for our Segway tour. Fabio, our guide takes the group for some Segway training, but having ridden before, we’re soon experts and at ease, whizzing around and even executing a synchronised Segway high five.

Soon we’re trusted out on the roads, dodging the manic Italian traffic as Fabio leads the way the Colosseum. Beneath blue skies, arches tower high above and we fill in the gaps to imagine this vast arena full of people and surrounded by statues, including the giant one of Nero that gives it its name.

Then it’s onto another scene of ancient sport – the Circus Maximus, home of the chariot races. Now just a large expanse of field with a rise in the middle. But underneath the warm Italian sunshine and against the backdrop of ruined villas, you can conjure up the sounds of hoofbeats.

Here Fabbio also shows us a useful tip. All around the city there are little drinking fountains that look like fire hydrants spewing out a constant stream of spring water that’s perfectly clean and safe to drink. Put a bottle underneath and fill or stop the end with your finger and shoot a jet of water into your mouth to quench  your thirst.

We’ve moved away from the tourist crowds onto one of Rome’s famous seven hills, passing beautiful villas behind walled gardens. We stop at a gate for a surprising view through an archway of trees with St Peter’s dome framed in the centre. And then move into the quiet shade of an orange grove, a romantic spot that reveals a panoramic view over the city.

Back down the road and up the Palatine hill this time to get a view over the Imperial Forum, and into the past when this was a city of a million people.

Trevi fountain

Trevi fountain

Then we fast forward through the centuries as we enter a square designed by Michelangelo that now houses the National museums full of  Renaissance architecture and treasures.

The tour’s soon over, but we have a covered quite some ground and have a better understanding of what’s to see and do in the city. We leave our chariots reluctantly. Travelling by Segway is a lot of fun.

Our feet take us to another famous sight – the Trevi fountain. Amidst the lunchtime hubbub we hear before we see it. Then it explodes from the side of a building. White marble pours out in the shape of Neptune and sea horses. The crowds pose for pictures and throw their coins.

We retreat to a nearby cafe for lunch – Parma ham and sweet melon, bitter rocket and rich tomatoes. Cool and sharp to revive our parched mouths.

Re-invigorated we head to the Pantheon, the Roman temple of all the gods and a triumph of architectural design. The vast high dome would be impressive to engineer now, let alone thousands of years ago. Sadly the old gods have been driven out by Christian gaudiness, gold and marble. I wonder how they feel about it?

Sightseeing done, we drift into a lazier paced afternoon, strolling into Piazza Navona. Another fountain around which street artists ply their trade in still lifes and caricatures. We stop and listen to a band of old guys playing mellow jazz style, double bass, guitar and a guy who plays the saxaphone as naturally as breathing.  We stop for delicious gelato on the way back to the hotel.

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