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Finding Time In The Eternal City

 

Italians don’t walk fast … they enjoy the journey. Often there is a lot of discussion and small adventures along the way, issues to be resolved, experiences to be shared.

Rome is a city to be explored, not to simply be seen. Walking is a wonderful way to unlock its many secrets.

Take fresh fruit and water with you on a walk, and a receptive attitude.

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The people dress smartly but are very relaxed, comfortable in their day-to-day lives. Laid back, not belligerent or aggressive.

The traffic is busy but I am told there is order amidst the chaos and confusion.

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I am returning from a three-hour walk before breakfast, one that has taken me from the hotel we are staying at to the Colosseum and back.

It’s amazing to see this magnificent stadium that dates back almost 2000 years in the first light of day. To see the archaeological landmarks that have dotted the pages of history books from the days of the Roman Empire.

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My plan is to be back at the hotel in time for breakfast and then join the organised walking tour of the Vatican at 10am.

The Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir is on a music tour of Italy, singing at a series of cathedrals from Rome to Venice over the next 16 days. Tonight there is a rehearsal at a beautiful church around the corner. That is at 5pm.

The rehearsal is for the following night when the choir will participate in mass at St Peter’s Basilica.

The pedestrian crossings are such an allegory of Rome. They are everywhere and sometimes odd places, not always distinctly marked but effective.

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It’s that come and go feel that is effusive, infectious. First on, gets right of way. So far I haven’t seen any close calls … or traffic accidents for that matter.

The crossings, it seems, were created in ancient Roman days when raised steps were out across the muddy or dusty roads for pedestrians … yet evenly spaced so horses and the wheels of carts or carriages could fit through.

I like that.

On this morning, just as I am about to cross the Tiber River, I see a little part of life play out at an intersection as traffic came off a bridge.

This older man, shabbily dressed and with white stick … not a cane for those with sight impediment and not a walking stick.

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Half a dozen motor scooters pulled up at the lights and he came out to berate them … to get them on the white line. Was he a former policeman, was he a motor racing enthusiast?

No, it looked more like he was just engaging with life from an unfortunate place in it.

At the next change of traffic lights to red, he was berating car drivers.

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This was too good an opportunity to miss so I got the mobile phone camera out. But he was evasive, dodging about and hiding his face.

Then he turned and asked for money for the photo.

I had a euro in my pocket. It was the best euro I had spent.

He went straight to the street vendor with a corner stall selling refreshments.

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Rome this first morning has been interesting and exciting. It’s good to grab an early morning coffee at a bar, along with people on their way to work and dog lovers saying hello to each other and their pets doing the same thing.

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Making it back to the hotel in time for breakfast, the group of 60-plus choir members and supporters are busy getting ready for their walk to the Vatican and a tour of the museum.

I hook on to the end of the group as they make their way through the morning traffic … there is so much to see. Photo opportunities at every turn, at every corner.

Then a fruit, fish, meat and vegetable market is too good to ignore.

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I’ll just walk through, grab some photos and take in the sights and smells of the street.

By the time I get out into the daylight again our group has gone off in the distance.

I grab glimpses of them across the road, across the roundabouts. And wonder how can a group of people, aged from 18 to 80, make their way so fast in a busy city.

Nearing the Vatican walls I lose sight of them again but think I know my way to the museum entrance. Instead the vast expanse of St. Peter’s square opens up in front of me.

No, this is not the place. A quick consult of Google maps puts me on the right track.

Yet when I turn the corner, the sight is remarkable. Lines of people, three or four abreast, stretching perhaps 400 metres to the entry.

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What! How will I find them in this crowd? How will I catch up?

Yet there is a separate line for pre-booked tickets and I try that.

Close but not close enough. I see the familiar shock of white hair and beard of a choir member about 10-12 people ahead. But he cannot hear me and the woman collecting tickets cannot let me any further.

I missed the cut by two minutes .. oh well, guess I’ll just have to spend the day ambling around the back streets.

So I turn, remembering some advice I’d been given.

“I preferred being around the streets and walking, seeing sights.

“Rome is very, very photogenic.’’

Walking back past the lines of queuing people has a big impact. Such a pilgrimage for so many.

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How many have travelled from little villages throughout Italy and from around the world?

How many tourists have lined up to see the journey of the Catholic Church through time, and the riches of the religion?

While wandering I keep looking to get to the far side of St. Peter’s in order to get a particular shot of the dome … and the city skyline.

The dome dominates the landscape from most points. I will do Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps in the morning.

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As the heat of the day kicks in you wonder whether to take that unlikely pathway up the hill to a possible fresh view. And then you get to the top and catch the breeze, the outlook and you realise it is best to go the extra yards.

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At another point I cross the road to a centuries-old archway and gate. Step through and you are transported to a peaceful oasis, away from the noise of the traffic.

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Couples walk along tree-lined pathways, others walk their dogs on the lawns.

On the street I discover a vendor selling the biggest water melons I had ever seen. Maybe half a metre long and red right through inside.

Perfectly picked. Maybe from Spain, I’m told.

They remind me of the peaches in Greece because of the size.

I pass taxis on a rank where their drivers wait for the depot phone on the footpath to ring, rather than radio controlled messages.

Little street-side fuel stations are no more than 10m long and with one attendant.

Maybe that’s due to so many motor scooters being on the roads.

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And there are little shopfronts … maybe five metres wide – where they service and fix the scooters.

There are seven hills in Rome and as I make my way back past the Vatican to the hotel I feel as if I covered each of them.

My walk reminded me of the way we complained about the cramped conditions of a Boeing 777 compared to an A380, and the fatigue of a 20-hour flight.

Today I have seen people sleeping on streets, park benches, in alcoves of churches and buildings. Like in most cities in this world. Homelessness does not discriminate.

One woman was just sitting on the pavement near one of the running water taps so common here. That was her life.

Not begging. Just sitting. Waiting. That was it.

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There is a saying that comes to mind. Take my hand or let me give you a hand, let me show you the way, let me help you on your journey …. they are all words probably from the same quotation linked back through the ages.

Prendi la mia mano, ti mostrero la strada, that is the translation.

It says much about the attitude of Italians, especially towards modern-day refugees from the Middle East and from Africa.

They have tried to accommodate these people who have sought refuge on their shores.

Yet it puts huge strains on the Italian population, due to the different cultures and the sheer weight of numbers.

This is in a country of about 60million people but of a land mass equal to about that of the two smallest Australian states of Victoria and Tasmania.

My mother used to have a saying on the farm if we had unexpected people for dinner … just put another couple of spuds in the pot.

It was a way of making do … of giving a hand.

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