How not to stick to an agenda when scampering around Roma

As plans oftentimes do, my meticulously detailed agenda of gawking in appreciative wonder at a majority of Rome’s “Top 10” tourist sites, was derailed from the get-go. With less than 24 hours left in magnificent Roma, I still hadn’t seen St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps or the Villa Borghese Gardens.  Running late, I had somehow inadvertently strayed from my original itinerary of devoting only 30 minutes to each spectacular structure, squandering precious hours as I lost myself deep in contemplative musing whilst meandering along the decrepit paths of the once glorified Colosseum. Yikes!!

With the mid afternoon sun beaming its merciless rays upon my parched Canadian skin, my stamina was wearing low, my sore and blistered tootsies anxious to “put their feet up”  - more than eager to languish in a centuries old trattoria and rest up in anticipation of the next adventure.  No longer able to ignore my now incessant hunger pangs, my rumbling tummy reminded me that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  Figuring that I could quickly run into a pizzeria, grab a bite to eat and sprint towards Vatican City - still leaving me ample time in which to continue playing tourist.

 As all well-travelled globe-trotters know, the best dining experiences are inevitably found in random “hole in the wall” bistros located well off the beaten track.  Veering off the main road, my pink-sneakered feet hobbled along winding pathways and laneways in search of such an establishment. Criteria being that it had to offer delectable cuisine in a visually appealing venue reminiscent of a family run kitchen serving up five star Michelin worthy repasts, all for a reasonable 15 Euros or less, including vino, of course!!  Is that really asking for too much?  Apparently so, for such an eatery was not to be found, as either the ambiance was not quite right, or the menu was overly touristic, catering to the masses of hamburger loving foreigners.  Lacking the “quaint factor”, dismissed for not being “Italian” enough, possessing little ambiance and welcoming atmosphere, each prospective pizzeria was deemed unsuitable for my finicky tastes.  Wasting precious minutes scampering from café to gelaterie to pizzeria, my quest to stumble upon the perfect locale ultimately culminated in my getting hopelessly lost, sandwiched amongst the throngs of tourists haphazardly racing in every which direction. Yikes!!

Now what? To make matters worse and stopping me dead in my tracks, was the mesmerizing allure of a spectacular handbag shop, hawking gorgeous Italian leather satchels in a rainbow of kaleidoscopic colours, seductively tempting me with 50% off discounted prices. To my utter dismay, the boutique was padlocked tightly shut, closed between 1:00pm and 6:00pm, its proprietor most likely partaking in an extra long leisurely Mediterranean siesta. There was no question in my mind that I would become the exuberant owner of an exquisite “one of a kind” purse, a luxurious carry-on in which to cart my truckloads of souvenirs home in. 

As it was now only 4:00pm, I had another two hours in which to languish around this unique emporium in the hopes of rescuing my “handbag in a window”, squandering away minutes and hours camped out on its storefront sidewalk. Wasting too much time waiting, my gnawing hunger pains now affecting my ability to concentrate, I begrudgingly set out in search of any type of eatery, whether an exorbitantly over-priced tourist menu or an “ambiance-less” fast food joint. “Ambiance shmambiance”, who cared at this point, after all, food, was food and I needed sustenance now!!
Pizza as art work - only in Italia!

And this is fast food pizza?? - Yum!!

Confident that I would be able to find my way back to the handbag shop, I ran up one street, down another, turned a corner, sprinted past the ultra chic dress shop (the one with the headless mannequins staring at their reflections in the bejewelled mirrors – kind of cool, but freaky all at the same time), past the antique shop, the jewellery shop and a multitude of other storefronts.  Did I actually think that I would be able to remember how to backtrack back to the boutique – not!! Yikes!!

So far my plans to traipse on sacred ground in contemplative wonder at St. Peter’s Basilica were thwarted by my foolishly frittering away valuable sightseeing hours searching for a picturesque trattoria and even further decimated by wasting time hanging out on a random sidewalk in front of a padlocked storefront. 

Oftentimes the best laid plans do not come to fruition, replaced instead by another set of interesting adventures, the “Gods of travel” somehow mischievously forcing one to embark upon a different path than originally planned. Had I stuck to my meticulously detailed agenda, I would have missed the sights and sounds of Roma at play - the hustle and bustle of the comings and goings of everyday life - a spectator of the ordinary and extraordinary - a never to be forgotten memory of the afternoon that my pink-sneakered feet scampered along cobblestoned paths, carving out unique travel tales along the way.

Come scamper along with me as I veer off the beaten track in my quest for the perfect dining experience, inadvertently discovering a wealth of unique travel experiences along the way…

Pink Sneakers on the Go Helpful Tidbits of Info:
  • Read guide books, inform yourself about your destination, but do not despair if you are unable to see and do everything on your “Top 10” must-see list.
  • Oftentimes, the most-beloved travel memories are those that just randomly happen.
  • Experiencing the everyday ordinary is another way of connecting to the soul of a city.
  • If you must spend hours upon hours traipsing around a foreign city searching for the "perfect" dining experience, take a chance and let go of your artificially created vision, and venture into a completely different dining realm.
  • Remember to always let landmarks guide your way - you will not get hopelessly "lost" if you keep track of those "guiding" structures.  How do you think that I was able to backtrack back to my handbag shop and acquire my "soft as butter one of a kind" gorgeous satchel?
  • If, in a pinch, attempt to venture out and try the tourist menu that caters to the hamburger loving foreign masses – and experience a uniquely Italian spin on a foreign imported staple. You just might like it.

Next week– Where oh where do my pink-sneakered footprints end up?? Stay tuned!!

My Pink Sneaker Marathon Around Rome - Reflections on the Colosseum

Guide book in hand, map tucked inside my bag, pink sneakers laced up and ready to go, I was all set to sprint around the “Eternal City” in my quest to leave no stone unturned and discover all of its ancient ruins and temples – the remaining hundred or perhaps thousand monuments that I was determined to digitally document, and, of course, blog about - all within a reasonable 24 hour time frame. Yikes!!

 As plans oftentimes do, mine started out with a detailed itinerary, meticulously listing my estimated arrival and departure time at each monument.  My rudimentary math skills approximated that I could spent about 30 minutes at each tourist site, enabling me to view 20 “not to be missed” locales within a 10 hour time frame, leaving 2 hours for eating, 4 hours for sprinting around town and 8 hours for sleeping.

 Manageable in theory – of course!  Do-able – highly unlikely!  Insane – most definitely!

Why, oh why, had I foolishly followed the advice of a friend who had once travelled to Rome long ago, advising me that two days would suffice in this ancient metropolis, allowing me ample time in which to immerse myself in the archaeological wonders of yesteryear?  Let this be a lesson to all of you would-be travellers out there – take a bit of time to do your own research, listen to the advice of others, but, in the end, make up your own mind about where to go and what to see.  I had now placed myself in the unfortunate predicament of being unable to walk in the footsteps of history and mingle amongst long-dead artistic geniuses, whose creative imprints were stamped on virtually every standing edifice.  The option of telephoning my place of employment to let them know that I will be extending my three week vacation into a month long sojourn might not go over that well, and it would not be one I would be overly eager to embrace.  After all, I needed a job in order to finance my gallivanting around the Italian coast, indulging in mouth-watering pasta dishes and acquiring pricey designer leather goods.

Thus, the Pink-Sneaker 24 hour marathon had officially begun….

First on my list was the Colosseum, an impressive amphitheatre dating back to antiquity, a spectacular entertainment complex specializing in gladiatorial contests and competitions – guts, gore and blood spectator sports involving large scale massacres, where men fought to the death, brutally pitted against the other in blood fueled battles.  Even animals were not exempt from these cruelties, mercilessly hunted and slaughtered all in the name of fun and games. Emperor Titus, upon inaugurating the 100 day sports festivities in 80AD, allegedly wiped out 5,000 animals in a single blood-soaked event, culminating in the extinction of a species of lions and elephants unique to North Africa.

Traipsing along the crumbling facades, I couldn’t help but be somewhat relieved that the once imposing structure, one that had deliberately inflicted such inhumane atrocities upon humans and animals alike, was no longer a functioning entertainment venue –  but merely an ancient concrete stone edifice that had once symbolized the power and glory of former Roman Emperors.  

In 407, Christian Emperor Honorius outlawed gladiatorial combats, and a century later in 523, the sport of wild animal battles was also banned.  Its purpose no longer justified, the arena fell into eventual disarray and decline, felled by a powerful earthquake in 847.

As I wandered along the ruins of the once imposing structure that is the Colosseum, I wondered whether the multitudes of multi generational tourists who were also meandering along its decrepit paths were as poignantly aware as I was of the enormity of the barbarity that had been inflicted upon man and beast alike.  Each step that I placed on the dilapidated stones brought a flood of emotion, as I imagined what it would have been like to have been a slave, prisoner of war or unfortunate caged animal trapped within the confines of the parameters of its closed walls, forced to partake in a blood sport culminating in its own demise.

Now that I had seen the Colosseum up close and personal, appalled at the atrocities that had been committed against man and beast alike, I was eager to sprint ahead and embrace a more tranquil and spiritually uplifting venue.

Eager to traipse along more sacred ground, my pink sneakered feet practically raced towards an oasis of peace and comfort, St. Peter’s Basilica, located on the grounds of Vatican City.

That was the plan – but, as plans oftentimes do, this one got slightly derailed. Yikes!!

Come walk into history with me as I scurry around Roma and discover the past….

Next week – Do my pink-sneakered feet actually manage to find their way to St. Peter’s Square?  Stay tuned!!

Roma’s Tiber River at sunset – a picture perfect Roman postcard

With less than 36 hours left to appreciate and indulge in all things Roman, my pink-sneakered feet were anxious to get going and sprint from one archeological monument to yet another, and cram in as much sightseeing as daylight hours would permit.   Having chalked off almost all of the “Top 10” attractions on my “not to be missed” list, thus leaving the hustle and bustle of a hectic action packed day behind me, I graciously embraced the luxury of basking in the calm and peacefulness of nightfall.  Meandering along the Lungoteveri, the boulevards that line the embankments of the Tiber River, I was grateful for a little bit of down time in my quest to discover the “Eternal City” from a nocturnal perspective.  I couldn’t help but be amazed at how completely different a city appears with the setting of the sun, offering a glimpse into a seemingly alternate view of its daylight companion.  The approach of dusk witnesses an unexplainable shift in attitude and demeanour, the fading glowing horizon gently ushering in an unseen yet intensely soothing oasis of tranquility.

It was as if a bewitching wizard had magically waved his wand and sprinkled a bit of much needed “ultra relaxing fairy dust” upon me, as my mood instantaneously lightened, washing away the stress (that all frantic tourists inevitably succumb to – especially those who foolhardily attempt to cram in 10 days of sightseeing in a 12 hour time frame) of my frenzied “hopping around” Roma adventuresome day.

 As the sun’s rays bid adieu to day, blushing the heavens a radiant orange pinkish hue, Roma appeared to magically transform into an effervescent rainbow of twinkling lights and shadows – its magnificence re-awakened under twilight’s seemingly mysterious guise.

A mesmerizing melange of dusty pinks, vibrant oranges and saffron colours playfully shimmered from the heavens, elevating the intricately carved arches of the ancient bridges below to a heightened level of perfection.  The luminous brilliance of the Tiber’s sparkling water added an element of mysticism and romance to a picture perfect postcard.

If you haven’t wandered along the winding path of the River Tiber, Pink Sneakers on the Go highly recommends ambling along its cobblestoned paths at sunset.  You will not be disappointed as the haunting and spellbinding beauty of the setting sun glimmering off the ornate marbled statues will be imprinted upon your soul forever.

Come amble along the Tiber and fall spellbound under the mystique of Roma…come travel with me….

Next week – where do my pink-sneakered footprints lead me? Stay tuned!!

Three coins in a fountain – Splish splashing in the Fontana di Trevi

Tradition has it that if you throw a few coins into the Trevi Fountain, you are ensured a return visit to the “Eternal City”.  Not wanting to miss an opportunity to secure a guaranteed sojourn back to this splendiferous Italian capital, I was determined to place my pink-sneakered feet in the famous fountain, channel my inner Anita Ekberg, and exuberantly splish splash my way into “La Dolce Vita”.  Little did I know that there are strict laws about bathing in spewing fountains and that playfully re-creating a 1960’s iconic movie moment could be viewed upon as nothing short of cuckoo and not the recommended thing to do on one’s “Top 10” sightseeing options list.

Well, if I couldn’t giddily cavort in a gushing geyser, I could easily fling a couple of coins into a cascading fountain and play out a scene from “Three Coins in a Fountain”, and hope for the best, whether a possible chance on romance or a return voyage to magnificent Roma.

But, first, I had to get there.  Not one to depend upon maps in order to guide my way around a foreign city, I instead leaned towards taking a quick peek at my travel books to get the gist of where I’m heading and start walking towards my destination. This was my preferred way of travelling, as I would haphazardly end up taking the longer, but, more interesting route, arriving at my designated touristic sight several hours later – slightly tuckered out, yet immensely wealthier, for the sights and sounds that inevitably accompanied me on my pink-sneaker journey across a bustling foreign metropolis.

Hoping to save a bit of time, I hopped on one of the “Hop on, Hop off” tour buses that frequent all of the European cities, only to be stuck in major traffic in one of the busiest intersections in Rome.  Sitting on the top deck of the bus, sweltering in the late May heat, my top and shorts drenched in sweat, it literally felt as if I were glued to my seat, trapped in a quagmire of heat, sweat and sticky humanity.  With nary a shady leaf to lend coverage to my now sunburned scalp, I happened to spot a few enterprising vendors anxious to make a few bucks and sell 5 Euro umbrellas to the 20 or so melting, shade-less, top deck passengers, grateful for a welcome respite from the scorching rays of the unforgiving Mediterranean sun.

Gaudy bright green umbrella in hand, I languished in my seat until I could stand it no longer, my pink sneakers itching to traverse upon cobblestoned ground, I jumped off the bus lickety-split, and merrily sprinted along the congested pathways to freedom.  Freedom from the constricting limitations of the meticulously mapped out route of the tourist bus – a superb option for those willing to be spoon fed a basic and standard itinerary of the “must-see” tourist locales – but one that I was not anxious to follow, desiring to instead forage out on my own and discover unusual and quirky venues, and tell the tale of interesting adventures along the way.

Traipsing up and down side streets, alleyways, and dead-end laneways, I eventually stumbled upon the famous Italian fountain, the sound of its cascading and bubbling waters enthusiastically greeting me as I turned the corner and came face to face with the ornately carved massive structure.  Standing an impressive 85 feet high and 65 feet wide, the Fontana di Trevi is the terminus for an aqueduct that supplies all of the fountains in central Rome with flowing water. Legend has it that parched Roman soldiers were led to a sparking and refreshing spring by a virgin, the site where the Trevi Fountain was later erected.

Myths, legends and traditions abound around this magnificent gushing fountain, the best loved one being the obligatory coin toss into its pristine burbling water.  Grasping the coins in your right hand, with your back facing the fountain, the pieces of silver are tossed over your left shoulder, magically rewarding you with a future trip back to enchanting Roma.  Not a bad deal at all, just for scrounging around the bottom of your sac for loose change, in the hope of securing a return visit. Pink Sneakers on the Go can attest to the validity of this time-honoured tradition, as this was my 2nd visit to the Trevi Fountain in 25 years – and judging by the 25 year gap in between visits, looks like my pink-sneakered feet will once again be traipsing on Roman territory 25 years from now.  Now that’s taking “planning in advance” to the extreme next level!!

Tossing one coin into the fountain rewards you with a return visit to Rome, tossing two coins represents a new romance on the horizon and three coins culminates in marriage. This got my brain whirling -what happens when you toss in a pocketful of change?

The shining, glimmering and glistening silver coins of all denominations do not just randomly languish at the bottom of the fountain, as they are collected each fortnight and distributed to various local charities. I read somewhere that upwards of 3,000 Euros in loose change is gathered daily from the depth of the fountain!!

Legendary figures of all shapes and sizes are intricately carved into the mesmerizing Baroque structure – from the impressive figure of Oceanus, symbolizing the sea, rivers and lakes – to the horse drawn shell shaped chariot upon which he majestically presides, ruling over water in all its forms.  The calm and tranquility of the sea is symbolized by a regal and obedient horse juxtaposed alongside an impatient unruly horse, which, of course, is a representation of the tumultuous and unpredictable energy of the sea.

Gleefully flinging a handful of Canadian loonies, dimes, nickels and Euro coins into the sparkling Fontana di Trevi, eyes mesmerized and transfixed watching the silver haphazardly splash into the shimmering water - the catchy melodic Doris Day song “Que Sera Sera” (Whatever will be, Will be), playing over and over in my mind - I wondered what other adventures awaited, a treasure trove of memories ready to be discovered.

Come splish splash with me and fall under the magical spell of the enchanting Fontana di Trevi…come traipse around Roma with me…..

Next week – Where do my pink-sneakered footprints take me? Stay tuned!!

Pink Sneakers on the Go Helpful Tidbits of Info:

  • The gushing fountain is supplied with water originating from the Salone Springs, a 20 km distance from Rome.

  • Centuries ago, it was believed that drinking from the fountain ensured a prosperous life as well as a guaranteed return visit to Roma.

  • The word Trevi represents the three roads (tre vie) that converge at the site of the fountain.

  • The famous fountain is a shining movie star in its own right, spotlighted in numerous films, such as  “Three Coins in a Fountain”, ”Roman Holiday” and “La Dolce Vita".

  • Be prepared to jostle your way towards the Fontana di Trevi, as it is a well sought out tourist attraction, drawing thousands of tourists each day.  Just have patience, and slowly wrangle your way through the crowd as you inch your way to the edge for a once in a lifetime photo op.  You will not be disappointed!!

All roads lead to Rome - a Pink Sneaker Roman Holiday

“All roads lead to Rome” was clearly a fitting and appropriate metaphor for the hustle and bustle that greeted me as I placed my pink-sneakered feet firmly on Roman territory.  Rome was the last stop on my whirlwind Italian adventure and did not disappoint, its stunning architectural legacy visually seeping out of every nook and cranny of this former ancient empire.  From the impressive centuries old Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica and The Pantheon - just a fraction of some of the remaining remnants of a once thriving ancient, political and economic powerhouse that ruled much of Europe from the 1st to 4th centuries – to the crumbling and weatherworn stones of generations old trattorias, Roma is an open-air museum showcasing the grandeur of Roman glory and imperialism.

And I had less than two days or 48 hours in which to traverse up and down the Spanish Steps, throw a few coins into the magical sparkling Trevi Fountain and gawk in appreciative wonder at the magnificence of the multitudes of historical heirlooms that the “Eternal City” had to offer.  Yikes!! I clearly was not going to be getting the recommended eight hours of sleep on this last leg of my Italian journey.

“Rome was not built in a day” was the phrase that kept frantically repeating in my mind as I struggled to figure out how to incorporate sightseeing, shopping and savouring delectable Italian cuisine, all in a two day time frame.  How would it be possible to view and photograph the hundreds, if not thousands, of ancient arches, monuments and architectural wonders within a 48 hour period, when it took artistic geniuses at least a couple of centuries to build those same structures?  I wouldn’t be doing them any justice if I just haphazardly sprinted from one monument to another, lingered for a 5 minute photo op, and then scrambled onward towards archeological edifice #55, in my quest to see at least 2,005  ”not to be missed”  ancient ruins? Had I travelled half way across the globe to not see the magnificent wonders of yesteryear?

My vision of languishing in a quaint Italian café, being doted upon by charmingly accented foreign waiters, quickly fell to the wayside as I now had to tweak my itinerary and narrow my sightseeing to a more realistic limit of a maximum three venues.  Traipsing around this bustling metropolis of 2.7 million inhabitants would be a marathon event in itself, as I needed to cover several kilometres of territory in a relatively short space of time.  My best options were to choose the three that were in somewhat close proximity to one another – the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum - as the parameters of distance would be relatively short, therefore permitting me the luxury of devoting several hours at each wondrous edifice.

Thus began my “Roman Holiday” adventure, a pink-sneaker triathlon of sightseeing, shopping and savouring mouth-watering cuisine in magnificent Roma.

 Come traipse along with me as my pink sneakers sprint along the roads and cobblestoned paths of this “Eternal City” in my quest to leave no stone unturned in discovering the ancient Roman ruins…come travel with me...

Next week – Where do my pink-sneakered footprints find themselves?  St. Peter’s Basilica?  The Trevi Fountain? The Colosseum?  The Spanish Steps?  Stay tuned!!

Pink Sneaker Helpful Tidbits of Info:

-       Rome is a bustling metropolis of more than 2.7 million inhabitants and covers an impressive 450 square kilometres.

-       Just as “Rome was not built in a day”, it is practically impossible to see all of the monuments, churches and archaeological heirlooms in just one day.  Plan to spend at least 3 days or more in this fabulous city in order to gain a better appreciation of its majestic grandeur.

-       Did you know that Rome has 913 churches?

-       When booking a hotel, make certain of its proximity to the centre of town.  While our hotel brochure stated that it was located in Rome, it failed to advertise that it was actually located 45 minutes by car in the far-out suburbs.  Quite an extensive commute indeed!

-       Pink Sneakers on the Go recommends one to journey to Rome during the months of May or September, when the weather is cooler and the city is not as congested.  August is sweltering and oftentimes it seems as if all of humanity has descended upon the city.