Kym Hamer, an Australian expat in London, joins us today as guest blogger to share her version of a Roman Holiday — one of several trips she has made since having the continent of Europe and all of its history on her doorstep. Notably, for Kym, Rome doesn’t need Gregory Peck to be irresistible!
After 12 years away, I recently went back to Rome.
My only previous dalliance with the Eternal City was part of a “12 cities in 20 days” type tour that at the time, seemed to be the best option for getting a taste of Europe in the three weeks of holiday I had available from my job in Australia. You see, when you’re coming from the other side of the world, the flights are long and expensive, so there needs to be a pretty high rate of return for the time and money invested.
It was an amazing holiday. I visited a whole range of places — some hotly anticipated, some moving me unexpectedly, some not quite what I had hoped for. Each got 1-2 days with an experienced tour guide who made the queues disappear, added humour to the gruelling schedule and brought each city to life with her own blend of historic narrative and personal storytelling.
But each stop allowed no more than a brief and flirtatious encounter, the faint ripples disappearing almost as quickly as they were made by the time I’d left. Each major European city, Rome included, made its impression but was quickly over-run by the next.
Living the dream in London
When I moved to London from Melbourne more than eight years ago, it was the third time I travelled to the UK’s capital in four years. The first time I had been drawn for a week and the second time for four days — both times before a longer “whistlestop” tour of the sort just described. And on both of these visits, I split my time between “tourist” and “traveller,” between the seeing what I wanted to see and the aimless wandering: immersing myself in the city streets, using the local transport and chatting with the natives. One way and another, I got the true taste of the city that was to become my home just a few years later.
I love history and I’ve read it — beginning in the guise of historical fiction (by the likes of Jean Plaidy) through to Simon Schama, Alison Weir and several others — since my very early teens, always trying to imagine what those real worlds, leaping off the pages in front of me, were actually like.
Once I’d moved to London, suddenly I felt I was living the dream (albeit one never particularly aligned to that city). I still stand on Waterloo Bridge at night, gazing at all that history along the riverbank reflected in the Thames, pinching myself and wondering: “Wow, how did I get here?”
Was it a love of history that had tempted me across the world? Not really…there were other candidate cities, but the “right” circumstances conspired with a passionate fling to bring me here. And just as you never know where things might lead in life, the fling came and went, yet London had captured my heart.
The grass still looks green(er)
But my yen to explore means there’s always a sense of looking over the fence (so to speak) with curiosity. What’s it like over there? Would I like it? Be disappointed or even worse, nonplussed?
Which leads me to Rome and some of the other cities I’ve visited since living in London. Being able to hop on a plane (or train — the Eurostar is a pretty fabulous way to travel) and, in just a couple of hours, walk the historic cobbled laneways of a completely different place is an extraordinary experience for any Antipodean. Only a few short hours is required to separate oneself from the familiar and the habitual.
European travel has an especially strong hold on my bucket list. For the most part, Australia’s history is both inextricably linked to and considerably newer than anywhere on the Continent, even though some of the names and boundaries may have changed since I first learned of these faraway lands in the schoolroom.
Of course, nothing can ever take you back in time to know truly what it was like standing at The Green at the Tower of London or inside Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland’s Boyne Valley or atop Hadrian’s Mausoleum — now known as Castel Sant’Angelo — in Rome.
But in the Eternal City, there’s a deep sense of generations past, not just battles won and lost and the rise and fall of the empires that at one time or another shaped “the world” — but also everyday trifles, evidence of the “day-to-day” living of previous generations (take, for instance, Trajan’s market, the “shopping” centre where people went to buy their fresh produce). Both strands of history — the extraordinary and the quotidian — are accessible and visible everywhere.
There’s always a part of me that feels a little nervous when I first arrive somewhere new — a piece of me that says, “You could stay in the hotel room tonight, read your guidebook a bit more and be really sure when you set out tomorrow morning.” And it takes some mustering of courage to stop dawdling and plunge right in.
I’m always glad, invigorated actually, once I set off but I guess that essential human-ness in us wants to avoid the risks and keep ourselves safe and sound.
The Rome I had encountered on our first date, before moving to London, had grown faint and unfamiliar. But on this second Roman Holiday, I surprised myself by diving right in to its sights, sounds and smells. I was out the door just an hour after checking in to my hotel. Not for me the lolling about to “recover” from my travels. No way. I had only four days and I wanted to fill it with…well, Rome. It was an immersive experience I was after.
So I walked down from Quirinale in the darkening streets as night fell, map in one hand, camera in the other, my eyes filled with wonder and excitement. A stranger in the night if you will: with no local knowledge, limited lingo (si and grazie get you only so far) and quite frankly no idea where I was going. Tingling and a little breathless with the thrill of discovery somehow I found my way through the warren of streets to the Fontana di Trevi.
And the four days flew by. I walked and bus-sed and walked and Metro-ed and walked and cruised and walked some more. Compact and exuberant, Rome spreads its charm around every corner. The noise and busy-ness were energising although the traffic in some of the piazzas less so.
(I always imagined piazzas to be intimate and bustling, even green, rather than spacious, concrete or filled with litter. So the Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori — the latter translates into “field of flowers” — were amongst the few “oh, is that it?” moments.)
A piece of my heart
From my coin toss into the Trevi on that first night to my final morning meandering in the warm rain through the gardens of the Villa Borghese, my second encounter with Rome has moved us beyond the acknowledgement of two passing strangers. But while we are not yet close friends, there’s a piece of my heart that’s indelibly stamped with a sense of delightful possibility.
Will I return to the Italian capital for a gentle kiss, for one more embrace perhaps? I don’t know but it’s exciting, exhilarating, a little self-conscious and filled with promise.
Just like Rome.
Born and raised in Melbourne, Kym Hamer has worked in London in sales and marketing for the past eight-and-a-half years. She writes the popular blog Gidday from the UK. Also follow Kym on Twitter: @giddayfromtheuk.
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Random Nomad interview with an American who has taken the “phile” in Anglophile to an extreme.
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Images: Some enchanted moments from Kym’s second date with Rome. Clockwise from top left: Off peak at the Trevi Fountain (“busy, yes, but somehow still magical”); the Vatican from the battements of the Castel Sant’Angelo; sunlight pouring into the Pantheon; the Giardino del Lago at the Villa Borghese.