As far back as I can remember, I’ve had the pull to discover the unknown, appreciate different settings, learn of different cultures and views — all the joys of traveling to parts unknown. From bus hopping solo across Canada at 15, to hitchhiking Thailand in the back of open pickup trucks through nighttime monsoons, I’ve always looked back at the adventures with appreciation and longing for more.
In that regard, Rome has stood in stark contrast as an anomaly. So little did I enjoy my trip there in 2002 that it not only left me with wanting to never visit Rome again, but also tainted my view of Italy completely. The city was vicious in every regard – scammers and pickpocketers abound, taxi drivers whose meters never worked, and restaurants that continuously seemed to figure out how to double or triple charge on your bill (and as I later learned, on your credit card as well). People were unfriendly and everything seemed overly touristed out to feel like visiting an amusement park rather than one of the oldest cities in the world. The final nail was that it was the sole city where I had been mugged by befriending ‘locals’. I recall standing in front of the Trevi fountain and upon hearing that the meaning behind tossing a coin in is to express to the gods to contrive a way to return to the city, I immediately withheld my coin and returned it to my pocket.
Fast forward 12 years, and although I had by then visited and enjoyed other cities in Italy, I was still firm in my belief that Rome was a city to avoid … after 3 days in the ‘eternal city’ though, I am a convert. I might even say it could even be one of my favorite cities now… A complete 180. People were friendly, restaurant staff were helpful, by no means gouging, and the food was incredibly great quality, and the Disney like atmosphere seems to have been tamed (not eliminated) giving way for the depth and charm of Rome to shine though. In contrast the few things I did enjoy previously, do not exist anymore (namely the view and the tiramisu at the Hotel Cavalieri). Did I change, or did Rome?? The fact that when I had first visited, I had just exited my startup after pouring 2 years of my life into, and which had left me emotionally drained, was lost on me. Those were soul searching and trying days — Rome had been the first test of getting back up. Perhaps it was me and not Rome? It is the ‘eternal city’ after all. More than likely, I’ve changed. I eventually got up, bounced back, and became more open again thanks to many people along the way. Especially one in particular who happened to share an amazing meal with me at that long overdue restaurant that I saw 12 years ago, and which was the only place I dreamt of returning to all those years…
To my regret, this time the Trevi fountain was closed for construction. I would have thrown a few coins in to guarantee a return.