What to do on one’s first full day in Rome? Visit the Vatican perhaps? The Colosseum? Perhaps taking in one of Rome’s numerous churches? (seriously, they are to Rome what pubs are to Ireland). With a two-year old in tow, museums, monuments and sites of historical significance prove to be the unwise choice on day one. A toddler screaming “I want to go on the sliiiddddeeees” as you gaze in rapture at the roof of the Sistine Chapel is not the situation I want occurring as the Swiss guards taser Ashley and me, and then proceed throw us out of the Vatican’s backdoor.
Not feeling quite up to any of these time-tested attractions, what with their long lines, overly aggressive souvenir vendors and gypsy pickpockets, we instead chose to avoid tempting the Vatican’s law-folk by renting mountain bikes and making for the delights of the Appian Way. Beginning near the Colosseum, this Roman Road was used to connect the Empire’s capital with the port city of Brindisi. Although much of the road has been replaced, some of the original stonework still remains and it was a thrill to ride our bikes over flagstones that have seen the wheels of Roman chariots. You can actually kneel down and feel the ruts that have been made by 2000 years of wheeled vehicles running over them. Those chariots must have had excellent suspension, because the “bumpy bumpy” as Lily described it, was considerable and led to a tender rear region by the end of the day. As we knelt there, a Policia van cruised by, the cops looking out and probably saying to each other, “Look at those bloody tourists, fawning over a friggin’ road. All these flagstones do is fuck up my suspension.”
In addition to other well-considered choices concerning our little girl, the “Appian Way on day one” had partially to do with the fact that was closed to traffic on Sundays. A good thing too… I had heard that Italians approached the art of driving automobiles in the same way their guru Mario Andretti raced Formula One. It would be putting it mildly to state that the Italians drive aggressively. (Ash almost blew chunks on the van ride to our apartment). They seem to settle into the driver seat with a twitch that unconsciously says, “Watch out everyone. I think that this Fiat can do 100 miles per hour up this narrow cobblestone avenue and no Vespa, pedestrian, or baby in a stroller is going to get in my way.” Add to that the honking, manic gesticulations out of the window, flicked cigarettes, and occasional vocalizations, “Pezzo di merda!” or “Figlio di puttana!” and you would understand the scope of the Italian driving zeitgeist.
After having negotiated the cars, Colosseum and a couple of tram routes that were not for bicyclists to ride down, we arrived at the beginning of the Appian Way, right at the gates of old Rome. And what a beginning it was! There is still actually a gate… and a huge wall. Rome was once a walled city and parts of the wall still stand. Remarkably, much of the road, ruins and buildings of Old Rome are still in use today. This is something that takes some getting used to for an Australian, fresh from living in America, where sites of national significance are usually cleared of the general public, protected and preserved for future generations. This does not seem to be the case in countries with a plethora of history. Perhaps it is due to being surrounded by history day in and day out, it makes it cheap, like pennies, “I’ve got so many of these things, screw it I’ll just chuck them.” Well, one hundred pennies make a dollar, and one hundred dollars makes… well, one hundred dollars. I wonder when these countries with an overabundance of history are going to wake up and discover that their complacency is resulting in the pennies being lost in the proverbial couch forever. But anyway, who gives a shit.
One of the great things about the Appian Way is that there are plenty of things to visit along it. Due to laws banning burials inside the city gates, many of the Roman Empire’s wealthy chose instead to be interred just outside the city walls. This led to many grand tombs and monuments dotting the sides of the road as we rode along. Add to that the catacombs of persecuted Christians and you have a full day of sightseeing. We took a tour of the Catacombs of San Callisto, dropping down over twelve meters underground and exploring a maze of passages, vaults and chambers. Lily was well-behaved throughout, except when our guide paused to pass on some interesting tidbit, at which point she would begin to wriggle, push and resist our attempt to quiet her, all while loudly exclaiming, “What is that man saying?” There were other parents with nice, quiet children on the tour… we were just those parents today.
After a well deserved lunch of paninis, gelato (and a couple of beers for daddy) Ashley and I experienced our first Italian coffee. Unbeknownst to us, we managed to commit a small faux pas by ordering our cappuccino after noon. Apparently the Italians never order cappuccino after lunch… and never, never ever, after eating anything with tomatoes in it. Oh well, if they didn’t know we were tourists before…….Riding back with the now anticipated traffic, we paused to look at the Colosseum . Standing there, with Lily asleep in her bike seat, I looked at Ash and said, “It has been a good day in Rome sweetheart. Just mind those marauding gangs of gypsy children, they’ll cut the bottom right out of your backpack and have your credit card buying a Vespa by nightfall.”