When in Rome -or- Wutza Matta Fah You??
Mark Twain once said that travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. I’m learning this the more and more with each trip I take. Travel to me is not only a chance to see and learn about other lands. It’s a chance to catch a glimpse inside the lives of people of other cultures and creeds. To walk in another’s shoes. It’s also an opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and see myself for who I really am. It’s a reminder of how much of a tiny space I take up in the world and how quickly I should NOT be to judge others.
As I write this we’re on our flight home to Toronto after a whirlwind of a trip to Italy. I would have like to have stayed longer of course, but we could only afford to be away from you both for a week. We couldn’t put your grandparents through another week of… well… you know.
The ride from our hotel to the Leonardo da Vinci International Airport for our trip home is still fresh in my mind. We were zipping through the streets of downtown Rome and happened to come upon the Roman Coliseum one final time. I couldn’t help but look around at all the other drivers and feel a bit sad. They probably pass by this two thousand year old structure daily and don’t even notice it’s there.
I first saw the Coliseum last Sunday when I was out for a morning run westbound along Via Nazionale. I turned south on Via del Serpenti. As my eyes adjusted to the distance of the long street I could see that I was not only going downhill but I would eventually run straight into a huge wall at the end of the street. Thinking I should turn back, I suddenly realized it wasn’t just any wall, it was the Coliseum!! My heart rate was already elevated from the running but now it seemed to have doubled thanks to my serendipitous discovery. I couldn’t help but run that much faster. I snapped a few pics with my phone while I circumnavigated the ancient structure and literally had to hold back some very manly tears. It was THAT moving.
I shared my story with your mom once back at the hotel (Windrose), showered, then the two of us headed back out to explore the Eternal City. I had Google Streetviewed the shit out of Rome for two months prior to arriving there. I felt as though I was one of the locals and had a good working knowledge of the geography. I’m proud to say we didn’t get lost once during our whole trip. Well… not for long anyway. I’ve always been of the mind that in order to really experience the true meaning of travel, you have to get lost and find your way back. Only then do you really appreciate all you discover along the way.
Your mom and I aren’t people of faith but I’ll be the first to admit that while touring the Vatican I had a deeply religious experience. Seeing all the artwork in person that I had studied in university was beyond moving for me. And when I saw Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” I got teary-eyed. I stood directly below the fresco painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel looking up at it until my neck felt like an overcooked piece of asparagus. And despite the no photo and no video warnings from the security staff, I may have accidentally snapped a couple of pics when no one was watching. Sadly they didn’t turn out so well. Devine intervention perhaps? We’ll never know.
The thing about walking around the streets of Rome is that you’re never far from something ancient and mind-blowing. It seems that every corner we turned offered us some kind of incredible facade, obelisk, a set of columns, or even the ruins of some fenced off ancient neighbourhood uncovered while digging a new subway tunnel. It’s a powerful feeling to stand on a spot where ancient Romans stood thousand of years ago. You get caught up in an ebb of ancient energy. It’s like the sites are trying to tell you their story.
I think one of the most amusing parts of our Italian adventure was our train ride from Rome to Florence. We paid a little extra on the advice of friends and purchased two Business class tickets. Apparently the cheap tickets get you a seat on a train that smells like pee. Anyhoo, we sat next to a lovely couple. He was from Belgium and she from France. They spoke impeccable English so we conversed for a good part of the hour and a half trip. I noticed immediately that the gentleman was reading a script. I asked him if he was a writer and he replied, “I’m an actor”. He took an interest in my tales about my time in the Toronto film and television business. He talked a little about the film he was working on for the BBC. All throughout our conversation I felt something so familiar about him. I really didn’t give it too much thought until your mother rotated her phone to me and showed me a photo of the man from his IMDB profile (Internet Movie Database). It was actor Ronald Guttman. He’s been in a zillion movies and TV shows but most notably for me was his role as Lt. Melekhin from “The Hunt For Red October”. He was the Russian sailor who Alec Baldwin’s character bummed a cigarette from to break the ice after the Americans boarded the submarine. I told him i remembered him from that movie and he replied with a grin, “Get the fuck out! You remember that?”
It was a nice moment and being that I’m not one to get starstruck, I requested no autograph or photo. I didn’t however, take a photo of your mom and just happened to get Ronald’s right arm in the shot.
Florence, to your mom and me, was much more beautiful than Rome. Much cleaner too. We checked into the Hotel San Gallo Paradise and took a fifteen minute stroll down to the historic part of the city. Like Rome, it was surprisingly easy to navigate the streets and every corner seemed to turn up something photo worthy. We dined on the best pasta and pizza we’ve ever had and being that we were on foot for 90% of our travels, I can easily boast that this was the first vacation I’ve had were I LOST weight despite how much I ate/drank.
The highlight of our Florence adventure was getting out of the city for a day into the Tuscan countryside. We hopped on a bus to San Gimignano the Siena. We stopped in Greve in Chianti and the Tenuta Riseccoli vineyard where we enjoyed a few glasses of wine. If and when we return to the region, your mom and I both agreed we’d skip Greve and the wine tour and spend more time in San Gimignano and beautiful Siena.
The train ride back to Rome was uneventful. No actors to sit beside so I took in the beautiful countryside as it flashed by at 265 kilometres and hour. Rome seemed to have arrived faster than Florence did on the last train ride. Keeping in mind it was our last night in Italy we quickly checked back in the Hotel Windrose then set out to explore a final time. We took in the wonderful Piazza Novona, watched the sun set from the Spanish Steps at the Trinità dei Montiat church, then dinner at the Pizzeria La Fiorfiore. After dinner we saw the Trevi Fountain alight one last time.
The trip was brief but life-altering. We learned much of the history of Rome, Florence, and Siena. But above all we learned more about ourselves. That’s what travel does. But for now… the flight attendant with the large hips keeps bumping me despite how far I lean out of her way.
The best advice I have to offer… don’t believe what you’re spoon fed from the Internet. Put the e-devices down and go see for yourselves. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that there’s a big beautiful world waiting for you and it’s so much better than anything you’ve read about it.