Roaming Rome by night and day

At three am, the only sound around the Pantheon is the constant trickling of water in the piazza’s fountain. Bathed in orange light, I lie underneath the bronze doors, many times taller than I am, and contemplate the meaning of the word insignificance. I also know that, for this short span of time, this building that has been gazed upon for centuries belongs solely and absolutely to me.

Roma

The Colosseum is the same; just before sunrise a car will circuit leisurely around the crumbling stadium, but once it disappears there is no one in sight. This is the moment when there will be no tourists wearing absurd hats in the foreground in every single one of my pictures.

The night is the time to contemplate the must-see attractions of Rome. It’s so much simpler to picture how life moved around the meandering streets when these buildings were still in use.

While this is one way to see the Trevi Fountain, the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, and St Peter’s Basilica, it may not be the ‘ideal’ way.

roma day

The energy that buzzes through the city during the day is just as intoxicating as the serenity of night. The sight of frustrated families, gaping tour groups, young locals locked in an embrace, harried shopkeepers, suited businessmen, men in uniform and everyone else either going about their lives or drinking in the splendor of Rome reminds me that Rome is not just a museum or a history book; Rome is alive.

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The girls in the window (an encounter)

(Originally published on Allora, Viterbo. The above image is a vintage-looking postcard I picked up in a tourist store… looks a bit different nowadays!)

 

I’m walking down Via del Corso, my eyes set ahead on the Palazzo Comunale. A movement draws them away and up to the second storey of a bright yellow apartment building, where two young girls around eleven or twelve hang out the window looking down at the street.

A middle-aged man, looking harried, strides determinedly below them.

One girl, wiry and brown, elbows the freckled blonde. Puffing up her cheeks and pursing her lips dramatically, the blonde girl leans out the window. A glob of spit rolls along her lips.

It hangs for a long moment.

The brunette pouts, ready to be disappointed, when the ball of saliva drops with a plop on the balding man’s head. I get a glimpse of wide-eyed laughter before both girls duck quickly inside.

The man jerks, wipes his head, and looks up at the cloudless sky, his brow furrowing. He continues on his way, wiping his hand on his pants.

The brunette peeks tentatively over the window ledge, and when she sees the man rubbing his head she collapses onto the other girl in a fit of giggles. They look eagerly down the street for more victims, but only see me, on the opposite side of the road, my eyebrows arched in a way that indicates that I saw the whole performance.

The blonde’s hand flutters to her mouth, which has popped open to form a perfect O. They disappear, lithe as cats, into the dim, dull house.

 

BEIJING

From my diary:

15th April 2012- Beijing

Arrived, snarky and bedraggled, and our crazy taxi driver nearly killed us on the way to our hotel.

Imperial Courtyard Hotel in Beijing is in the Hutongs, a crazy mix of old style buildings and a hip shopping district and all at once exactly and nothing like what you expect China to be.

Side note: is snarky a word?

Not from diary:

Last time I stayed in Beijing, it was in a big chain hotel.

This little place in the Hutongs looked like the set of a theatre, tucked away down some seedy looking alley.

I got devoured by mosquitoes which wasn’t good, but everything else about Beijing was!

Why I travel/ Culinary Adventures

This story was originally published on Allora, Viterbo and in In Brief Mag, ‘Edible’.

A wriggling, splashing fish is thrust towards my face. The man holding the net grins at me with crooked yellow teeth and says something in his melodic language.

“He wants to know if it’s ok,” translates a local into English.

“Uh… yes.” I smile at the man and nod vigorously. He slams the beam back over the wooden fish tanks that hang off the houseboat and into the murky river.

I’m with my father and his business associates in Yunfu, China. It’s a muggy rural town with banana trees and huge walls of greenery lining the dirt streets. The houseboat belongs to a local family who serve lunch in their living room.

A huge silver bowl and ladle is brought out quickly by a lady with long streaks of grey in her black hair. Inside the bowl are floating pieces of the fish that was flapping around in my face five minutes earlier.

She serves me first before moving around the table. Bobbing to the surface of my bowl is the whiskered face of the fish, eyes milky white and mouth gaping open.

The table stares at me expectantly. As the guest, I receive the delicacies of the dish and must pull the flesh off the face, dig out the eyes, and suck out the brain.

The fish head isn’t even that bad; the previous week in Foshan I was encouraged to eat slimy grey sea worms and various pieces of offal. As I didn’t relish spending the next few days perched over the toilet seat, I managed to decline without offending anyone.

Whenever I’m at a restaurant, I have to contain my reactions over a basket full of live snakes, a tank of scorpions, or a giant caged crocodile, in case my gracious hosts decide to order them for me. When I began digging enthusiastically into the pile of leafy green vegetables, they shook their head in bafflement and went straight for the ‘good bits’.

This is why I travel. I have to encounter different ideas of hospitality and generosity, reconcile them with my own and embrace them. Every meal and every encounter from the moment I leave the hotel room to the moment I return is a test of character, a challenge I delight in overcoming, or sometimes delight in failing to overcome.

I try not to wrinkle my nose, I take a deep breath, and I pick up my chopsticks.

 

Itineraries

There’s something just so darn exciting about making up an itinerary, isn’t there?

Seeing a holiday in tangible form in a diary or on the computer makes it a bit more real. It’s pretty impossible to imagine how everything will go down once you get to your destination, but it’s always good to pretend you can map out most of the details.

While planning has its benefits- mainly that you won’t be stuck sleeping in the train station because you forgot to book a hostel during the London Olympics, or Oktoberfest, or any large touristy event- I discovered in my last Europe trip that spontaneity has its charms too.

I remember in Seville, Spain, when we booked into our hostel. A guy around our age stomped in with his heavy backpack and asked if there was a room available that night, was given an apology as the whole place was booked up. That kind of thing would have sent me into a panic attack but he seemed pretty calm to just wander off to the next place.

This was my itinerary from the first Europe trip with the girls:

I posted this originally in August for a November departure. I was pumping myself up during the long winter by looking up hostels. We originally planned quite a lot to begin with but relaxed towards the end of the trip, planning only a week or so in advance.

What do you like to do when planning a holiday? Are you a go with the flow person, or do you like to have a plan so you don’t miss a thing?