I have expressed before that I am not a big fan of cities. Well, Rome certainly classifies as a city, a big one at that. Getting lost in Rome was not my idea of fun. Sometimes we learn that our best experiences can come when we least expect them. This is why I travel.
My first trip to Rome was a couple of years ago with my two older children. We had booked a hotel and had planned to stay for three nights. After two days of braving the crowds, cramming into the subway, standing in lines and walking way too many miles, we decided to leave a day early. My kid’s arms were practically bruised from me holding them so tightly. It was when we returned to Florence that I was told that I had to experience Rome at night.
Two years later, I got my chance. My companion had been called for a quick business trip, we would be in and out of the city within 17 hours. Taking the train in, arriving after dark, and leaving the next morning. I was thrilled!
The night was simply magical. The city was nothing like I had remembered it to be. Sitting at Trevi Fountain, marveling at its beauty, it was like a dream. Last time I was here, it was in the heat of the day and I had to battle 900 other tourists just to get a photograph. All while holding onto my kids for dear life so I wouldn’t lose them. Now, here I was, just me and these glowing sculptures, the sound of the water splashing into the pool, filled with the wishes and dreams of those that visited that day. It was incredible.
The stillness, the quiet, left me in awe.
One of the most important lessons in traveling is to let go of your plans and allow yourself unexpected experiences. Had I stayed on the itinerary, I never would have gotten this chance. My deepest traveling experiences have always been unplanned.
“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.”
Where there once was thousands, was now just a scattered few.
No traffic leading into Vatican City? The last time I was in Vatican City, I waited in line 2 hours just to get in the museum!
The next morning was meant to be a whirlwind tour of the city before heading back to Florence. We got out early and were able to beat the crowds. The fact that it was off-season and a little rainy helped too. We went back to the Corte di Cassazione, the Italian Supreme Court. Tommaso spoke to the guards and got them to allow us in for a quick peek. It was magnificent!
Next was Piazza Navona, built by the Romans in the 1st century AD.
As a history lover, I was in Heaven!
“Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city.”
In just a few short hours, I was able to fall in love with this city that is admired by so many. I was able to find my Rome. Rome on my terms.
Here’s where the getting lost part comes in…
Tommaso had to leave me for a bit to take care of his business at the Embassy. Shortly after he left, I got a quick phone call saying that I was going to have to make my way to the train station and get back on my own. Some business came up and he would have to meet me in Florence.
I don’t know the way! The station is on the other side of the city! What do I do? I was on Via Veneto, the fanciest street in Rome, in one of the highest end hotels (using their wifi). “Just ask the concierge, you’ll be fine.” he told me and quickly hung up.
It was raining and all the love I had for this city quickly turned to panic. I got a map from the concierge and allowed her to draw a line showing me the quickest route. She told me the streets will turn a lot and it may get confusing. Great, I thought. I walked out of the hotel, opened my umbrella, studied the map and started walking.
I wish I had more photos during this time, but my anxiety really got the best of me. I got lost. I had no clue where I was and no idea which way to go. The map was soaked and had ceased to do me any good a mile ago. I was asking for directions as I walked and followed each turn I was directed to take. I just kept getting lost. I was scared, I was alone and I started to panic.
At some point I stopped and leaned up against a wall to study the map once more. “Laurel! Get it together!” I told myself. Something took over at that moment. I remembered navigating this very same city, alone with my children. Why is it that I am so afraid now? I took a deep breath, looked around me then said, “You are in Rome! Make the best of it!”
From that point on, I took it all in.
Something changed in me at that moment. I felt the confidence inside of me grow. I felt this feeling of independence come over me. I was no longer scared, I was empowered.
I stopped two teenage boys and asked them, “Dov’è la stazione?” (Where is the station?) They kindly directed me down an alley on an unpaved driveway. At this point, I’m in for the adventure and I followed them. They told me they were going to the school and I could just go in the other door through the church. When I entered the church I would see the doors on the other side. Just go through those doors and I would see the train station just on the left.
I parted ways with the boys and entered the doors they directed me to. I was in a hallway and not sure whether to go left or right. I went left and found myself in the church offices. It must be the other way. I turned around and walked through another set of doors. I found myself in this most beautiful and enchanting little courtyard. I decided that getting lost was a good thing and I sat down for a few minutes.
I was hoping it was okay for me to be there. I got up and I walked through the church doors. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. I walked in and what I saw took my breath away.
Here I was, in the largest and most beautiful church in Rome. I’m not even really sure how I got there. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. How was I ever afraid? I stood there, in silence and I couldn’t help but smile.
I looked across the sanctuary and, just as the boys had told me, was another set of doors. They lit up like a beacon, leading my way. I was reluctant to go through them, I didn’t want this experience to end. I hesitantly and slowly made my way to the doors.
I walked through, turned left, and there it was. Just as they said, the train station.
I made my way through the gypsies pulling at me and begging for money, I bought my ticket, boarded the train and off I went.
It’s experiences like this, places like this, and people like this… This is why I travel.
Why do you like to travel? Ever been lost while traveling? Tell us about it in comments below!