Have you ever wandered around a strange city with a map in your hands and confusion written all over your face, squinting your eyes at every road sign and double checking your map whilst trying to see which nearest local looks most approachable for directions? I did this one day in Rome and you know what, doing all of the above really does scream ‘TOURIST’ – not that there’s anything wrong in that, that is what we all are ultimately. But if there’s small ways of at least making yourself NOT feel like a tourist, isn’t it worth giving it a go?
I had planned my route for my first day in Rome as far as I could possibly remember and I had planned to walk. Rome is an extremely walk-able city and I wanted to take full advantage of that, especially since the weather was so good. 5 minutes in to my journey, I was completely lost. I’d taken a wrong turn and that was it. A series of wrong turns inevitably followed and my map-reading skills were proving to be pretty shocking. I was on the verge of giving up and finding a taxi or a metro station but then I stopped and decided to fold away my giant map and put it in my backpack. I decided there were plenty of road sign’s to guide me and so I picked up pace, turned my face into a more confident one, I even casually checked my phone every now and then and generally created the illusion that I wasn’t just a massive, lost tourist. What I realized shortly after was how different I felt just from making those tiny changes and also how nobody seemed to take any notice of me, all of those pesky waiters standing outside cafes suddenly didn’t want my custom. Was I really blending in with the locals?
It probably wasn’t just my change in attitude that boosted my confidence but also the fact that luckily for me I had been to Rome just 6 months prior when the city was cold and Christmassy with chestnuts roasting on every street corner. That was a birthday weekend away with my parents and this was a two day stop-over on my summer adventure around Europe and I was excited to see a different side to the city that I fell in love with last Winter. This was also an opportunity for me to fully embrace the solo traveler way as the rest of my tour buddies had all flocked to the Vatican; which I’d already seen and didn’t feel the need to see again just 6 months later. It would also be the first day since the start of my travels that I’d be completely alone. So a day roaming the city was exactly what I was looking forward to.
As I continued to stroll the streets of Rome, disguised as a local, subtly skimming the different road signs from behind the shade of my sunglasses, one sign stood out to me; reading ‘Piazza Venezia’. Alarm bells started ringing, I knew this place. I’d been there before and the image of the Altare della Patria was suddenly in my mind. Before I knew it, the image became reality as I could see the large monument in the distance and I was slowly getting closer and closer to it. I knew that once I arrived there, I would know exactly where to go.
It was from Piazza Venezia that I walked the edge of the square in the direction of Via del Corso, one of the main shopping streets of Rome. This street was special to me as I’d stayed there in the Winter, in such a prime position and I was so excited that I’d managed to find my way back. Via del Corso leads to so many touristic gems in Rome, it’s a great start and end point for a day in the city. After browsing in a few shops, I wandered through the small side streets in the direction of the Pantheon. I had remembered these streets so well and in particular a gelado place where I ate the dreamiest canoli. I had to return to try the gelado and two scoops of pistachio and dulce de leche definitely did not disappoint.
Beside’s eating giant gelados, my two main aims were to discover Piazza del Popolo and revisit the Spanish Steps that had been closed for renovations in the Winter. Six months later, they were still closed but instead of feeling disappointed, I just came to the immediate conclusion that I’d have to return to Rome for a third time! I did everything else I wanted to with my day and above anything else, I spent my first full day exploring a city solo and the feeling was great.
By the time I wanted to make my way back to the hotel, I knew I was on the right track but was proving to be a bit of a lost tourist again. The map had made another appearance and I was getting a tad frustrated at this point that I wanted to get back and rest my feet before going to Trastevere for a big Italian night out with everyone that evening.
In my confused state on one street corner, a man approached me and asked if I spoke English. Immediately I assumed that he was lost too and was about to ask me for directions, which would have been a very silly thing to do given my current stance and facial expressions. But in fact, he told me he was on his way to Termini Station and asked where I was trying to go. My hotel was just around the corner from Termini so if he was going in the right direction, I must have been too. He walked with me for a minute or two, telling me that he was from Spain and I told him I was traveling Europe and that I’d be going to some parts of Spain soon. He seemed interested and was very friendly. Termini was straight ahead and I told him that I was confident of my whereabouts now so we parted ways, I thanked him and he wished me well on my travels. In that moment, I felt a sense of trust in strangers. Some of them really are just there to help out other strangers, who are just as lost as they are in a strange city.
This day in Rome reminded me that we are all tourists in a country that isn’t our own, as much as some travelers feel so strongly against that word. The way we decide to spend our time in a foreign country defines the type of traveler we are but essentially, we’re all just tourists. We all need to whip out the map sometimes, feel that frustrating state of confusion when we’re lost and be forced to interact with other people, be it tourists or locals. As much as I tried to make myself feel like I wasn’t a tourist at the start of the day, I wasn’t once denying it. It was a fact, I just needed to ignore it enough that I could boost my confidence and in return, I was able to concentrate and get where I needed to be, pretty much completely independently (except from the kind help of the Spanish tourist).
Honestly it was very tricky to narrow this post down and to not turn it into an out-pour of the love I have for Rome as a city. As I discovered later on into my trip, out of all the places I went cities were not my preferred places to spend time. Rome, however, is an exception to this.
NEXT STOP: Pisa, Italy