When In Rome?

I think I’m really smart. Did you guys catch the layered meaning in the title? “when in Rome”, and “when in Rome?” One is the first half of the proverb “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. The other is “when?” as in “which year?”

Because both meanings have much to do with today’s entry. Wikitravel has declared Rome the Destination of the Month for April, so before April ends I shall talk a bit about this mysterious city.

First of all, the whole idea of “when in Rome?” comes in when most of us can only think of historical Rome, and find it hard to reconcile it with the modern-day world. Neither can we really think of Rome as the capital city of Italy because the old Romans didn’t speak Italian; they spoke Latin. I’m sure those gladiator soldiers didn’t eat pizza or spaghetti either. Just what’s going on?

It can be interesting that historical Rome was so popular. There’re countless movies and games based on this setting, and it often comes to mind when we think of rich European history. Roman architecture, culture and legends are what come to mind, along with lots and lots of sand and buildings and Roman bathhouses. Oh, and churches, of course, devoted to all manner of gods. Old Rome was bustling and economically successful. But what about Rome of today?

Apparently the 21st of April was the city’s birthday, so the city does still live after all! Its Historic Centre has been dedicated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for good reason. Although you may have missed the city’s birthday, you may be right on time for La settimana dei beni culturali, which is a week in mid-May where every landmark, archaeological site and museum belonging to government agencies is accessible and free of charge! But in general, admission is free for places like the Pantheon or St Peter’s at the Vatican, which are most worthwhile places to visit as a tourist.

Rome also celebrates Labour Day, which they call Primo Maggio, or “day of the worker”. On this way there is a big rock concert in Piazza San Giovanni, which is probably ticketed, but there’ll also be big crowds in popular areas. The whole of Italy will be filled with parades and festivals so it’s well worth a visit to soak in the partying spirit.

Also, the Historical Group of Rome runs a gladiator school! You get to enrol formally as a gladiator and fight for your honour!

I know most of us will be looking out for alternative toppings on Italian pizzas, but pizzas tend to be served only in the evenings over there. Roman pizzas, unlike the pizzas of Naples, tend to have a very thin crust. They’re sold by the weight. After pizza, you can go grab some ice-cream — gelato! You get to choose if you want whipped cream on top of your ice-cream.

And if you’re a coffee addict, you’re in luck! Italian coffee is apparently much better than Starbucks fare, but you’ve got to note their usage of terms. Latte in Italy will just be a glass of milk (the one with coffee is called a caffelatte), and Romans scoff at having cappucino after 11 am, and especially after a meal, because it doesn’t help the digestion like an espresso does, and is also quite heavy on the stomach.

I wonder why I love writing travel entries so much. Maybe I love imagining myself in different places, seeing new sights and tasting different food. No doubt when I’m actually there, I’ll wish I could go home quickly. But that’s another experience of travelling, isn’t that? Homesickness.

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