The campsite I stayed in was Flaminio Village, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Rome. If you want to pitch a tent or park a camper van, it is ideal, but if you just want a place to stay that is away from the city they have bungalows too. The train station is right across the road, the bus stop is a few metres away and it is a short journey to the bike path on the river that leads all the way into the city centre. I found all this out in the morning when I went to the information centre in the campground. The girl there was very friendly and helpful. Her mother was Australian, so she spoke english with a familiar accent. She gave me a map of the main attractions, circled the ones I should check out first, and gave me directions to the bike path that I had lost somewhere the night before.
I left my luggage in my tent and only took my crumpler bag with my usual kit (laptop, camera, phone, passport, guide book). Once I found my way through the traffic to the bike path it was hard to believe I was still so close to Rome. Long grass encroached on the sealed path as it roughly followed the direction of the river passing sports grounds and even an equestrian centre. There was a steady stream of joggers, dog walkers and other cyclists out and about on a Sunday morning. As the path neared the city, the signage became more inconsistent. It is great that the path exists, but it seems a bit piece meal with the way it has been implemented. Following the path I came to a set of stairs going down, with no choice but to hop of and walk down. Thankfully there was only 10 or so steps, but the poor woman on the fully loaded touring bike next to me found it difficult. The contrast from the Loire à vélo in France could not have been more distinct.
The path led me to a ramp of cobble stones up to the street level again, where I rejoined the chaotic traffic. Crossing the river and riding back a little way in the direction from which I came, I could see the massive crowds gathering. The Rolling Stones happened to be playing at the Circus Maximus that day so in addition to the usual peak season tourist crowd, there were blockades, concert goers and an entourage of security. With the bike it was actually and advantage as I could quickly weave my way through the pedestrians without concern for traffic.
Coming into the old city of Rome I was struck by the magnitude of it. Everywhere you turned there was piece of history. Some archaeological sites fenced off on the side of a road with explanations of discoveries dating back to the first century A.D. I made my way up the cobbled street to explore the ruins of Marzio field where a building with arches like a miniature colosseum and three columns still stand. Here I found the remains of the oldest quadriportico in Rome, dating back to 146 B.C. After milling around here for a while in constant awe of the buildings that surrounded me I turned back onto the street and headed up to Campidoglio. I parked the bike and went up the steps to explore. Here there was a crowd of people queuing to enter the Michaelangelo exhibition, in honour of 450 years since his death. I considered checking it out, but with the mass of people, I decided I’d rather spend the time exploring the city. Down from the Campidoglio is the impressive white marble structure of the Altare della Patria, adorned with bronze statues.
Eventually I turned down the cobbled street, past the Colosseum to the entrance of the Palatino. At the place where I entered there was the Arch of Titus, dedicated to the emperor after his victory over Judea in A.D. 70. Weathered over time, you could still see clearly the sculptured panels showing the sacking of the temple, carrying away the seven branched candlestick, and the procession of Jews, now captives of Rome. It was chilling. The Palantino is a huge area of Roman ruins, and I wandered up and down exploring the sites where this once great empire existed, now mostly reduced to rubble.
Exiting the Palatino and the Forum, I found myself on the opposite side to my Surly, and had to walk the way around through the crowds to get to it. It made me really appreciate how good the bike is for getting around the city, as the walk in the hot sun seemed to take forever. Grabbing my bike from where I left it, I check the times for guided tours, and saw there was one starting at the colosseum in a few minutes. I bounced over the cobbles with my bike and headed down there. Riding a bike around Rome on these cobbled streets and negotiating the mass of people was great fun, and the Surly Crosscheck was perfect for it. I think I would have felt very nervy on a regular road bike.
I joined the tour for the colosseum, with a crowd of mostly americans, but also another couple from Brisbane and a family from Mexico. The tour guide was quite a character, and as he went around asking everyone they came from, he made reference to Australia as being the home of Russell Crowe, from the Gladiator movie, that was actually filmed in Malta. Having a guide’s perspective and insight was really valuable and I got a lot more out of the experience while having some fun. The colosseum is immense and given the amount it has been plundered over the years by the Vatican and the numerous earthquakes it has withstood, it has survived quite well. I was surprised to learn in fact that most of the Roman monuments where used as quarries by the Catholics to build the Vatican, with the Pantheon being an exception because they turned that into a fancy church.
From the Colosseum I headed north taking in the Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Palazzo Chigi and found myself at the Piazza del Popolo. I climbed the hill to the top where I stopped to survey the city below. It was only 7PM but I was wrecked. I found a park to sit for a while under the shade of a tree and watch the world go round for a while. As much as I wanted to keep going, I thought it best to start making my way back to camp for a big bowl of spaghetti and an early night. Rome had been an amazing experience, immersing myself in this ancient history that had such a significant role in shaping the world. To see, to touch, to feel the remnants of a civilisation thousands of years old was incredible.