My hitchhiking issues resolved, we set off from Pisa for Rome. We aren’t at the edge of the highway long when a couple of Alfa Romeo convertibles whiz past, then screech to a halt. We are in luck. It’s two friends heading for Rome and they will take us all the way. Mike from Toledo gets in the lead car and I climb into number two. Both Alphas burn rubber as they accelerate onto the highway. This is my first introduction to serious Italian driving – skilled and way too fast.
My friendly driver practices his English and manages to gesticulate and make eye contact while whipping around curves. At first I see death around every bend, but gradually relax. He knows what he’s doing. In a little town we stop for lunch, paid for by our chauffeurs, and get to Rome as dusk is falling. Lights are coming on, but the city is still bathed in sunset. The guys drop us off at the youth hostel on one of Rome’s seven hills and speed off.
The next day is Sunday and we head to St. Peter’s square. Everything is grander than I imagined – the symmetry of the square, the Basilica’s facade, the soaring interior, the spiraling marble pillars of the altar, all overwhelm – just as they are meant to.
The Colosseum takes my breath away – so perfect and imposing from the outside. Inside, I climb the rows of seats, look down on its ruined floor exposing the underground enclosures and imagine the slaves and animals held there until their fights to the death.
Most impressive of all is the Forum. We walk down its streets, past ruined temples and shops, then climb the Palatine Hill to the villa of Olivia, wife
of Augustus, and a view over the center of ancient Rome. I can hardly believe I’m standing here. Edgerton, Wisconsin seems very far away.
All this in one day. We are suffering from history overload – and the heat – and decide the best cure is the Ostia Lido. Due to silting in over the centuries, Rome’s ancient port of Ostia now lies three kilometers from the sea, but the beach still bears its name. After a swim, we spread our towels on the sand and unpack our provisions – bread, salami, a straw-covered bottle of cheapest red, and the best cherries I have ever tasted. They’re known as ‘duronis’ (big hard ones) and are addictive.
We congratulate ourselves on being in the perfect spot on the perfect day – living the life.
Next – Florence and Shades of Mussolini