Revisiting the ancient Rome on my 35th birthday.
It is about 06:20 in the morning when I wake up quite unrefreshed and a little battered from the uncomfortable bus seats and the bus driver announces that we are now arriving in Rome. I get off a bit sleepy and pull the heavy backpack out of the undercarriage of the green Flixbus. I hardly have to worry about someone stealing my backpack, because it's far too heavy and bulky for anyone to take it quickly anyway. I imagine it funny how someone tries to shoulder the backpack quickly and wants to run away and already feels the enormous weight when grabbing it for the first time and immediately discards the plan with surprise and wide eyes.
I still look around the area slightly confused, until I have oriented myself, where in this large ancient city I am and how I get forward or from A to B at all.
One thing is clear, I need a coffee first thing this morning to get my system up and running. So I leave the bus station Roma Tiburtina Station and get on the metro with a 24-hour ticket to Termini, the main station in the center of the city.
I get off briefly at the station to find a cafe where I eat a small sweet pastry and drink a coffee Italiano to wake up and get clear. It's still very early on this Saturday morning and the city is barely awake. Only the city's regular little busy morning spirits, probably some of the lowest paid people in the metropolis, are already awake like clockwork this day too, trying to get the city back in order after the previous Friday night escapade. As I sit there like this, about to wake up more or less, I watch these people. They are sweeping the streets, cleaning up trash, washing away vomit, driving cabs, unlocking their stores and making coffee for zombies like me. I can't not see them. I see these people, their faces, the bags under their eyes, the old desires and long extinguished fires. Only fatigue, a sense of duty and a daily struggle for survival. Sometimes I wonder what society would do without these hardworking, unassuming and tireless poor devils if these people didn't get up every day for an amount of money that might barely be enough to survive and do these many small unimpressive and meaningless jobs that in sum, however, sustain a system. I think about it briefly, recognize the fact as such, which it is now times and dedicate myself again to my own world, before I lose myself in an eternal monologue.
After coffee, my neurons and synapses fire again reasonably sensible in the chamber behind my eyes and I decide that I want to spend my morning at the Colosseum. I'm not really into sightseeing that day, as I've already explored and marveled at the city intensively for two days about 7-8 years ago with my partner at the time.
I just want to sit near the Colosseum on my birthday and let the atmosphere of the city and the ancient world take effect on me. What better place to do that than this monumental and historic structure? Bring on the bread and the games! So I take the metro again and get off at the "Colosseo" station. I walk along the hill in front of it and find a brilliant cafe directly opposite the object of my desire. It is still quite early in the morning and the sun is not yet shining with full strength, but still warm enough on the square in front of the Colosseum down. I'm already standing here for the second time, but I'm still very happy to be standing here with my backpack in front of this eventful place of history. I pull my phone out of my pocket, grin with a big smile into the lens of the camera while I take the picture and send it via Whatsapp back home to say "good morning" to my friends and family in a very special way on this day!
It was the Cafe La Biga and I chose it because I could sit in the sun outside and had a direct view of the Colosseum. So I sit down there and order from the nice Bangladeshi employee a cappuccino, a Bruschetta Pomodoro and of course, how could it be otherwise, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. The bruschetta is a crispy fried slice of bread that has been previously dipped in olive oil and garlic. The freshly chopped tomatoes are refined one more time with fruity olive oil and at the same time, complemented by the pepper ground from coarse grains and a pinch of sea salt. On top a just plucked leaf of basil, which perfectly completes the taste experience.
I've been sitting there all morning, talking to friends and family on the phone, letting the sun shine on my face, accepting the congratulations on my 35th birthday, enjoying the lightheartedness of the moment and feeling infinitely better. Why was this moment actually so great? I think the fact of simply doing what my heart was longing for played a big part in the feeling. But also the deep inner contentment and gratitude that resided in me made this moment so special. I rejoice in the warm sun on my skin, that I am healthy, that I was born into our western society with these unimaginable privileges, the fact that I am in the best of health and vitality and that there seem to be almost no limits for me in the world. An enriching conversation with my Mam, my siblings and my friends, via Face Call, although I am just thousands of miles away from them and yet so close and connected in spirit. What an exciting and infinitely opportunity-filled time this second decade of the twenty-first century is. Yes, I say that deliberately, even though there is a lot of crazy going on in the world right now, like Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, supply chain problems, and strong inflation dominating the early 2020s. Maybe I'm just a hopeless optimist, but once we juxtapose these, yes frankly serious, problems with the infinite possibilities and prosperity of our time, I can only enthusiastically conclude that I'm infinitely grateful for being right here at this moment. But back to the action and away from philosophy!
Of course, a cup of hot cappuccino, lovingly served, a glass of water and a crispy croissant are not to be missed. I continue to write my book and talk occasionally with the guys from Bangladesh, who work here as a waitress probably below the minimum wage, the Canadians who sit next to me and then with two Americans, who then sat in the place of the Canadians. I notice the coming and going around me and meanwhile put line after line on paper.
After a while I decide to go again briefly to look at the legendary Trevi Fountain, which I unfortunately could not marvel at my last visit to Rome, because it was restored at that time. On foot I wander through the narrow streets of the city always northwest to take in the bustling city and its pulse on my way to the fountain.
No, this is not the Trevi Fountain, nor the Neptune Fountain. It is just one of many countless fountains in the city that caught my attention and fascinated me. Thousands, if not millions, of cubic meters of water had to be piped into the city from afar by the ancient Roman builders back then using aqueducts and cleverness to meet the immense demand for fresh water for fountains, baths and water systems. Back in the present, we now solve these challenges somewhat differently, but the immense need is still immense. Many winding alleys, corners, bends, up and down along with many people you cross as you walk through the city from one place to the next. Arrived at the Trevi Fountain, I am initially overwhelmed by the dimension and scale of the sight.
The enormous fountain with the majestic-looking Okeanos in the center amazes with its beauty and level of detail made of white limestone (so-called travertine) and marble. Thousands of people, tourists from all over the world flock here to admire this unique masterpiece of architecture and sculpture.
I am also overwhelmed by this sight, but do not linger too long, because the crowd scares me off a bit. I recognize in the water many sparkling pieces of money and coins from the many visitors who come here day after day and think of a great wish, while they throw the round, embossed metal piece into the clear water of the bright marble fountain. There are endless dreams and wishes, serious or superficial, hopeless or hopeful. Full of pain and fear or full of anticipation. They all end up in it I don't believe in such traditions, but still do the same to other people. I stand at an elevated place on the right side of the fountain, rummage a coin out of my purse, turn my back to the fountain and throw the coin in a high arc behind me into the water of the fountain, while I think up a wish that I am not allowed to report here, of course.
I decide to visit the fountain again later at night, when hardly anyone is still out and about. I look at the map on my phone and wanted to visit again the Pantheon, which is not too far from me in the southwest, because last time I had been so captivated by its ancient form.
Ich nähere mich dem großen Platz an dem das Pantheon steht und strahle erneut, als ich dieses Bauwerk erblicke. Ich glaube ich bin so sehr von diesem Gebäude angetan, weil es eines der besterhaltensten Gebäude der Antike ist und weil seine Konstruktion in der Antike eine bauliche Herausforderung darstellte und ein Meilenstein der Architektur war.
There behind me is written: Marcus Agrippa, Lucii Filius, Consul Tertium Fecit, which can be translated as Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, three times consul, has built this.
Apparently, acts that break with convention and make real what was thought impossible inspire me. This courage, disobedience, self-confidence and optimism to at least try, even at the risk of failure speak deeply to me and that is why I admire the pioneers of the past and also the future pioneers that may come. As I sit in front of the fascinating building, I notice again the Egyptian obelisks of the city, about which I had read at the time.
They are spread all over the city and have different stories, all of which are interesting and worth reading. Lastly, I wanted to see and marvel at the Spanish Steps again in daylight, as I had only seen them at night the last time.
Of course, I could go there quite quickly and comfortably by subway, but somehow on this day I have a special desire to walk through the city with my backpack and let everything work on me.
Once there, I climb the steps to the very top, put down my backpack and sit on the wide stone parapet and look out over this unique city. In the distance I see still so many innumerable and worth seeing buildings, which would be worth it all times that I also look at them a second time on this day.
There is, for example, the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica and especially brilliant I found then the Castel Sant'Angelo, in which I had spent probably more than two hours. But I'm not here this time to explore Rome completely, but rather because I just wanted to be here and relaxed to let the city work on me. And I do that again, sitting here and trying to capture the atmosphere, as well as the duality and presence between antiquity and modernity.
Whenever I travel to a historical place like this, I try to learn as much as I can about it beforehand and immerse myself in the history of its origins so that I can develop a better sense and appreciation for what I am experiencing. So, on my way to the Italian capital, I took a look at the eventful history of the origins of the small town of Rome in 753 BC, all the way to the world empire and its tragic fall in the fifth and sixth centuries AD.
It sometimes seems almost surreal and only like a fictional, fantasy narrative, when you wander through these cities in the 21st century, marvel at the buildings and you try to put yourself in the zeitgeist of that time with its customs and habits. When you hear stories of Hannibal from Carthage, the other powerful empire at that time on the North African coast (now Tunisia), who came with elephants around the entire Mediterranean Sea via Gibraltar and Spain and over the Alps to Italy or when you read fictional stories from the second age of the Lord of the Rings saga, you can hardly really distinguish in the mind what is wa(h)r and what is fictional, because the actual past sometimes sounds so unimaginably surreal and also fictional.
Once again lost in thought, I sit there on this parapet, staring into the distance and gazing at the rooftops of the city, visualizing in my mind a Roman family and their day's work in the year 0.
It is fascinating what different thoughts come to people at such places. Some think about how this staircase was built, some think about historical events that took place here and some others think about when they walk up the Spanish Steps, sit at the top and look down from there, that the icons Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck sat here in 1953 during the filming.
I wake up from my daydream after a while and decide to move on, because I want to treat myself today necessarily still an ultra delicious piece of birthday cake. Determined, I descend the stairs with my backpack on my back again and look for a suitable cafe or patisserie to experience the baking art of the Romans first hand. Very close to the Spanish steps I find it, it is a very great, extremely small and alternative cafe with a wonderful selection of pastries and exciting delicacies.
I enter the cafe and opt for a juicy slice of blueberry pie and an equally delicious slice of apple and cinnamon cake.
The pieces are not very large and are weighed and consequently charged per 100 grams.
Happy Birthday to the 35th Norrdine! I think to myself and grin a little dopey before me :P !
I quickly find out that it does not need very much of this sweet taste experience and one is already extremely satisfied with small amounts. At the same time I drink a cappuccino with soy milk and sit contentedly while I watch the Italians another time.
Two more pieces that look like pizza or creative tarte flambée catch my attention and appetite, so I strike again. Hey do not judge me, because after all I have not eaten sooo much today :D.
Well satiated and tastefully satisfied, I pay and leave the cafe in the small side street. Now I have to think about accommodation. I had found an amusing sounding flophouse just outside Rome by the sea, but unfortunately had to realize that there is no more room for me tonight, so I go to the Hostel Lodi in the southeast of the city.
I get on the metro at the Spanish Steps, ride to San Giovanni and walk over to the Lodi district. I check into the Hostel Lodi, deposit my backpack in the room and head out again to find a fruity dinner in the area. At a fruit store around the corner I find and cover me with bananas,
grapes, melons, apples and decide that this will be my dinner, which I will enjoy in the beautifully landscaped garden of the hostel. I sit there still a little outside, while it has already become dark and enjoy the, still warm air on this late summer evening and dream in my mind, as my further journey could look like and how it goes on from here. I fall asleep under the many impressions of the city on this day with a satisfied mind, while the metropolis around me continues to live through the night and subconsciously I know that the water in the countless fountains of the city continues to flow and splash incessantly in the darkness.
On the 11th day of my trip on 11.09.2022 I am now 35 years and one day old and start the day optimistic and in a good mood! I wake up first thing in the morning in our room and go quietly to breakfast outside in the garden of the hostel, which is laid out quite inviting.
You can hear a light scent of fresh lemons still hanging and ripening on the trees in the garden. This scent, the warm air, a strong shining rising sun and an Italian breakfast give me a perfect morning in this Mediterranean atmosphere.
They bring me coffee, multivitamin juice and two sweet pieces on a tray outside. I enjoy breakfast, but I have to realize that the Italians' food culture is very rich in carbohydrates. Just think of pizza, spaghetti, Italian sweets and chocolate. I need to get a better handle on my diet in the future and make it more varied. I go back to the room and pack up my gear. There I chat with Sky from Texas and Los Angeles, who just woke up after a long night and we decide to have a coffee together in a piazza in Lodi. We spend the morning together and have an exceptionally good conversation about a wide variety of things. We drink several cups of cappuccino, first because it tastes very good and second because we move from one topic to another, besides he tells me that he studied literature and philosophy. I tell him about my time as a mountaineer and talk about some of the insights and metaphors of mountaineering that can be perfectly applied to our everyday lives. He tells me about his fascination with philosophy, love, the complexity of women, and we share different experiences about the duality of life. I tell him that I am planning to write a book about the philosophy of mountaineering or the life of a mountaineer and that this book has been dormant in me for a long time and I feel more and more strongly that the book finally wants to be written. When I tell him about some of my experiences in the mountains he is "mind blown" and he immediately plans to climb a mountain at the next opportunity when he is back in his homeland with the awareness of the things and views I told him that morning. I suggest that I climb Mount Whitney in California with him should I come to the USA.
I think I succeeded in convincing him of the fascination of mountaineering. If you are now curious about what exactly those things were, I'm afraid I have to put you off. This story, this book is extremely important to me and still needs some time until I can publish it. He still has some questions for me about Berlin, Germany and the people who live there, because the German culture has always fascinated him when he studied philosophy.
After an incredibly enriching conversation and a "warm" embrace of two souls, we go our separate ways. Sky wants to explore Rome, while I decide to unpack my laptop and my external hard drives to continue taking care of my soon to be tamed data chaos. I don't feel like doing this administrative org stuff, but I just can't put it off any longer if I don't want to lose track of it all. There are so many great pictures and videos from my tours, but I can only share and prepare them if I can find my way through the abundance.
After my work was done, I wanted to go to the soccer stadium to watch the Lazio Rome vs Verona game. I thought I was on my way in time enough, but due to my inability to understand Italian, I stood for ages at the wrong subway line only to find out that I was waiting in vain and had to take another line to reach my destination. I lost so much time as a result that I arrived at the stadium about ten minutes late.
That won't be a problem, I thought, I'll just miss the first ten minutes of the game. When I got there, however, I had to learn to my incomprehension that there is no more admission to the stadium after kickoff if you do not have a ticket. However, all ticket counters are already closed. Completely irritated and incredulous, I accept the fact and resign myself to the fact that I probably can not see the game live today. So, dissatisfied, I go to the snack stands across from the stadium and order myself a snack and something to drink while I follow the progress of the game via the live ticker. I realize that the game was probably lame to yawn and I had not really missed much. I decide to wander around Rome a bit more and continue listening to my audio book about the Roman Empire.
In the end, it was a war of nations, mismanagement, megalomania, and arrogance that brought down this almost eternal and unchanging empire and ushered in the demise of this great, if controversial, civilization and era.
However, while I put one foot in front of the other here in 2022, I walk back to the hostel and decide to take the night bus via Venice to Zagreb in Croatia that very evening, because I finally want to start my journey east. So off I go! I make my way to the bus station and take the night bus. I listen to the stories from ancient Rome while the bus driver drives me slowly but surely to northern Italy.