17 Aug Stepping in Rome
22 September 2017, late afternoon, we are fully recovered from the day’s walking. Looking at the map of Rome, it is very clear the Residenza Montecitorio is wonderfully central to all the places we want to see. For me, three places are at the top of the list: The Vatican Museum, the Colosseum, and the Palatine Hill. Spaced between these places are many other significant sights.
Just after 17:30, we step out into the coolish evening air on the Roman pavements. It strikes me almost immediately how much the Romans care for their inner city. Doors are polished. The streets are clean – so clean that even a single cigarette butt is an eyesore. There are archways leading to residences or offices – all have some kind of greenery, some are decorated, and all well-kept.
From the Spanish Steps to the Trevi Fountain
For the first time, I have foot trouble, apart from blisters. I have a severe cramp in my right foot, and my ankle feels tender. Fortunately, it has worn off by the time we get to the Spanish Steps with the Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Old/Ugly Boat).
In front of me, I can barely see any steps for the hundreds of people sitting on them. I wonder how many of these people have any idea of the significance of the Spanish Steps. Apart from the history and association with the Spanish and French, there is also a very strong association with the English Romantic poets. Right next to the Spanish steps is the Keats-Shelley House, a museum dedicated to the English Romantic poets.
Niels asks me if I would like to go and sit on the Spanish Steps. I say no. Apart from having absolutely no need to do this, I am suddenly aware of a huge psychological distance between myself and others. I can only describe it as an intense sense of being removed from the crowd, although not alienated from others. This is possibly an after effect of completing the Via Francigena di San Francesco. It’s as if my sense of awareness has grown to include so much more than the limits imposed by the need to experience the moment.
Our next stop is the Trevi Fountain. This is even more crowded the Spanish Steps. I patiently ooze my way into position to take the best possible photo. Despite the dense crowd, its beauty is obvious. Niels tells me it is possible to get see the Trevi when there are no people. One simply has to come before the crack of dawn.
We both take three coins and throw it into the fountain, making our wishes. If tradition is to be believed the first coin is to return to Rome, the second, to find love, and the third to get married. Two of my wishes have been fulfilled. I’m married to a woman I love. As for returning to Rome, who knows?… The Roman Catholic charity, Caritas, collects about $1.26 million annually from the Trevi fountain. They use it for various charitable programs in 200 countries.
We make our way to a place to have supper. Sitting outside is pleasant. Being alfresco makes it feel less cramped. When the menu comes I must hide my surprise. I was expecting higher prices but it’s nearly three times higher than anywhere else we’ve been. The droves of tourists lead by guides bearing marker flags explains why. We are also in a direct line between the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain.
Live Rock Music
On the way back to our hotel, we hear a rocking live performance of “Californication” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We follow our ears and come upon a trio – lead guitar, acoustic guitar, and a most remarkably skilled bass – busking in a closed off street. Their renditions of songs by Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits, U2, Chis Isaac, and Pink Floyd are brilliant.
As we watch the performance, we are surrounded by hawkers selling kiddie novelties, possibly a drug dealer or two, the occasional polizia on patrol, an artist who does amazing work with spray paint, a portrait sketcher with huge talent, two stalls selling tourist memorabilia, more hawkers selling cold drinks and refreshments, and the like.
Audience members come and go but never numbers less than 150. Some stay to hear the whole performance. There is an open guitar case for donations. I go to the bassist when they pack up after the performance and find out more about the band. All of them are Italians living in Rome. Unfortunately, they must stop playing because their busking permit doesn’t extend beyond 22:00.
Back in the hotel, it’s hard to believe that our pilgrimage is over. There will be no setting of alarms for tomorrow in case we oversleep. There will be no pre-hike rituals and last-minute checks. Our plan is to visit the Colosseum and Palatine hill – places that have always held a fascination for me. I intend keeping every moment enshrined in my memory.