Waking up to another lovely Roman morning felt like a bliss! I could easily get used to that! After another bellissima breakfast, we picked up where we had left off the day before and made our way to the glorious Piazza Venezia along Via dei Fori Imperiale. By the looks of it, it was going to be another scorcher! We took a seat on a bench facing the snow white Vittorio Emanuele II Monument and I couldn’t get enough of it. It looked deliriously white against the azure skies. Italians might have mixed feelings about it, but I didn’t – I was loving it… with all my vision that enabled me to scrutinize all the little details of the 19th-20th century Italy. To me it didn’t seem to uglify this ancient part of Rome.
Nearby a family of four were having their own lesson in the history of Italy as the oldest member seemed to be reading to them some facts from a guidebook. What a perfect place to learn about this monument! My sister was figuring out our itinerary for the day wearing her newly-purchased Italian flag hat. We came up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with the eternal flame in the centre of it. A little moment to reflect for me surrounded by the Meditarrenean sky… A few breathtaking photos in front of the monument later, we set out past the Capitol Hill up to the romantic Aventine Hill.
On our way we came across the remains of Teatro di Marcello, an ancient open-air threare and found ourselves in a queiter area of Rome. There was a serene ancient feel to it and mind you, we had just stepped out of the bustling Piazza Venezia!
There was a small public space with a fountain and behind it there was another movie location – the Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin with La Bocca della Verita (The Mouth of Truth) featured in the “Roman Holiday” starring the stunning Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Would you dare to put your hand into this mouth? If you tell a lie, it will close! Not to worry, it’s just a legend! There were so many people (especially Asians) queuing to get their photo taken. There must be more cutting-edge ways to tell a lie from the truth, but I think we love to play around with this idea that it could all be so simple. We wish… We decided to take our photos through a fence and get a quick look at the interior of the church. That was my first visit to a Roman church. It was a small intimate place with a strangely celestial smell that seemed appropriate for worshipping.
We made our way further and saw the Tiber banks. This river is crucial for Rome. It was really small and fragile, in a way like the Colosseum. There was St.Peter’s dome right in front of us and that led us to believe we were approaching the Vatican. We would see this awe-inspiring dome a lot through the course of that day. We weren’t sure which way to go next so we took a little break in a park overlooking the Tiber. It was a good retreat from the touristy side of Rome. There was a lingering romantic feel in the air and even a few homeless sleeping on a bench didn’t seem to diminish it. Following our gut feeling, we kept walking further as it was our mission to find Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta to see the iconic part of Rome in a keyhole… That is coming up! Getting on the hill involved a little climbing and that was good exercise! Later on did we find out that the church we saw up there was Basilica of Santa Sabina, the oldest Roman basilica in Rome. There was a wedding ceremony and it certainly looked different from what we get back home. Such a beautiful place to be joined together in holy matrimony… I wish to a newly-wed couple we saw posing for photos against a beautiful wall all the happiness in the world. I will never find out if they will last but I feel somehow privileged to have sneaked on this intimate moment. Like an old-time Italian movie… Why do I refer to movies so much…?
Anyway, when the heat was becoming too much, we found a perfect place to let the world go by… That was what we originally came here for – the Aventine Hill with overwhelmingly lots of pine trees, my first sight of Rome two days before. As I was sitting looking up into the blue skies, I felt them pumping my lungs with sublime air that resonated through the pine tops to fill my tummy with butterflies dancing to canzone italiana played by the birds. I understood why this place was frequented by Roman love birds as well! Sharing a romantic moment up here must make life seem a bed of roses and there were a lot of these all around adding a sappy edge to the scene.
. The views from up here were dizzyingly magnificent with the two massive buildings battling it out for the dominance of the Roman skyline – St.Peter’s Dome and the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument. How much history is Rome capable of accommodating?
We were giving up hope of finding Piazza of the Knights of Malta (Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta). This is where you get a view of the Dome while cheekily peeping through a keyhole. We kept straight ahead and I suddenly knew that was it! There was a small queue and I was rejoicing as if I was about to accomplish something massive in my life! By the sounds of it, there were people from New York queuing behind us. I was wondering what it is like in New York now. I knew it must have been worlds away both literally and figuratively! Everyone seemed so excited having looked through the keyhole and I knew we were up for a treat! A girl with a heavy American accent was jubilant as I heard her say “So cool!!!” That’d better be cool indeed! It was my turn now and I had my camera at the ready for a magnificent photo! Wow! That reminded me of those old cartoons we used to watch projected onto a wall in the early 90s. What a small Rome! I was seeing across three countries – Malta, Italy and Vatican! That was the mission accomplished!
A few more scenic views and we headed back down. This legendary keyhole was a lot closer than we’d thought!
There was a glimpse of the Baths of Caracalla, the second largest Roman public baths, on the right. They looked like I would imagine the Sphinx in Egypt must look like emerging in between the heated air and the blue skies. I paused to take it in…
It was now time for a much-needed meal. We walked back to this bustling part of the city where we had started off. It seemed like a touristy place and we seemed too tired to go find somewhere else to have lunch. Italian food and the way it is served is all we needed to perk up after a sweaty walk up the Aventine Hill. We found the name of some dish translated into Russian in such a funny way! Yes, you don’t mess with the Russian language, it’s too complex! I love how they serve you wine in a little cart filled with ice. It makes the whole experience feel posh. My sister looked like one happy girl munching on her mussels. They looked delicious and juicy. It’s such a bliss to see a person you love enjoying the moment and it’s fundamentally beautiful to enjoy this moment together in the beautiful Rome… Saluti, Roma!
The next stop was a purrfect place in central Rome! Largo di Torre Argentina is a large archaeological site that nowadays houses the most feline place in the city – the Cat Sanctuary. It is speculated to be the very place where Julius Caesar was stabbed over two thousand years ago. It would all look just like a pile of rubble if it wasn’t for fluffy feline emperors who took over the place! One was busy busking in the sun as we were about to enter the shelter, which requires walking a few steps down. We were greeted by the lovely Anna, one of the seven volunteers who keep the place running. She turned out to be a teacher just like me and spoke fairly good English. She was kind to show us around. It was obvious who ran this place after all! I’m more of a cat lover but I can’t say I’m crazy about these animals, not to the point that I would be comfortable to have them around me all the time. I’d had two bad experiences with cats so that sort of put me off. Cats are generally manipulative and they know how to have things their way. A lot of the cats that were sheltered here had bad experiences with humans. Some were roaming the streets and got injured, others were left out on a street… Just like the ancient Rome spread around us, they had their stories to tell. It was easy to see they were better off here and most importantly, they could be cats again – getting into a mischief and having things their way… It’s not a paradise though, because the shelter had been facing the threat of a closure due to certain financial issues. Some humans don’t make things easier, do they?
But humans like Anna make the world a better place doing what they do out of selflessness and compassion. Each visitor to the place can make a donation to support this amazing cause or even adopt a cat from a distance. This is what we opted to do. You can only adopt cats that aren’t likely to get a new home as they are too old or ill. Anna suggested we adopted a cat named Bomarzo with a disfiguring eye disease. He was nine years old. My sister filled in some paperwork and now we were proud to say we had an adopted cat here in Rome, this feline to keep us connected with the city. Unfortunately, Bomarzo has been dead for a few months now. My sister had been sending small donations to support him for almost a year before he passed away. Death is what people working here have to deal with as part of what they do… It’s nice there are people trying to tackle the problem of stray cats roaming the streets of Rome. According to Anna, there used to be quite a lot of them, but they had been trying to change that and given that we hadn’t seen a single stray cat during our stay, they’d been doing really well! We wished the shelter staff the best of luck and said our goodbyes. That was a bit of feline Rome in this ancient site. We just hoped all the animals are safe because the area has quite a busy traffic and sometimes humans beckon them to go up on a busy crossroad to follow them and that’s how one of the cats died… There are some beautiful people in Rome and what they do is amazing but of course there are things they can’t control…
It was now time for another passegiata as the evening was setting in. We had another look at the archaeological site and made our way back to the Capitol Hill where we wanted to check out the second building of the Capitoline Museums. It was about an hour before the closing time so they wouldn’t let us in. We were a bit upset but that didn’t last in a scenery like this. I had another feel of this perfect piazza watching the sun about to start going down… We also got to enjoy some stunning replicas of She-Wolf. One was made from grass and wires and looked surreal with the letters S.P.Q.R. (“Senatus Populus que Romanus”, or “The Senate and People of Rome”) that you would find a lot on the streets of the Italian capital. The views of the Roman Forum that had us sweating hard the day before were breathtaking! Walking from one street to another in Rome can be a travel in time… I knew I was standing here enjoying something that others might just be planning to visit. That would be a perfect advertisement photo for Rome! Every travel starts off with a passion (or a good marketing campaign)…
Piazza Venezia didn’t fail to admire me as the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument was getting a pinky shade transformed in the sunset… We also got to witness another wedding taking place in a church across the road. It was a beautiful middle-aged couple. They looked exhilarated as they were leaving the church and posed for their photos surrounded by cheerful friends and family. It was a feeling of joy that I found really overwhelming as they let out blue balloons up into the air. Why did all these people seem more beautiful to me than those back home? Was that their fashion sense or was that the magic of the capital’s passionate heart that made them seem so? Or was that the art of enjoying life showing through?
I felt myself still smiling as we were on our way to the Quirinal Hill, the home to the official residence of the Italian president. It was just stunningly beautiful here in Piazza del Quirinale. There was an extraordinary fountain with a massive statue facing the Palace. I heard myself say “Beautiful!” again and how could I resist it?
I kept looking into the eyes of one of the statues of a handsome male and I was utterly astonished and entranced as if those were the eyes of someone I could be in love with… Beautiful eyes are the reason enough for me to fall in love and I could definitely see myself falling in love with someone with the eyes like those. I thought I could cry with these eyes of mine with joy encapsulating me… These were the birds that ruled this place. Seagulls were just ruthless making noises and posing for photos. What a sight! And of course as we were on the highest of Rome’s seven hills, we got a perfect view of the Dome on the left! Bellissima!
On our way back to the hotel area, we took a stroll along Via Nazionale, a famous shopping street. Most shops were closed by now but it was a change of scene to watch this modern vibe of Rome. We reached Piazza della Repubblica adjoining the Termini Train Station. There was a beautifully lit fountain in the centre of it. The Baths of Diocletian were in a far corner of the piazza. There was a really busy traffic here and we had to watch out. It was just amazing here too!
We crossed the street to see an imposing cinema theatre and a treat for ladies – men’s clothes shop! Those suits we saw in a window shop didn’t even need a man to make you swoon! I was imagining a man with the eyes of that statue wearing that suit… He would certainly get my attention… I realized I shouldn’t fantasize too much as eventually I would have to go back to the sight of Russian men…
Another beautiful dinner in our hotel area, another gelato (yes, we’re living it up), just a few fantasies (well, I was still in Italy!) and we are in bed. Grazie mille, Roma! Bellissima! Bonne Nota!