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Rome, Italy

"Rome should’ve been named “Florence” so that the city’s name could’ve been better in-sync with how damn fragrant the place is [a smell like floral — Florence is close to floral?]" --- Unfortunately, these are just the sort of quality thoughts you get when you’re travelling two–three hours by train from Roma Termini to Florence. Either way, when we finally heaved our suitcases off the train and into the ancient dirt and dust of Rome, we were ready to start exploring.

Everything in Rome came with a perfume. Whether it be soft and musky, woody and overpowering, heady with the scent of bread and garlic, or even just the faint smell of old books. Even our airbnb in the neighbourhood of Rione I Monti came with a smell (though, less perfumed than it was slightly stale and odorous). In Australia, the perfume you get is usually something sprayed on, but in Italy --- and more particularly, Rome --- it's as if it is ingrained, soaked into the walls and floors and solidifying into something of its own species.

Everything is a landmark in Rome, aged well beyond 100 years (that’s probably considered brand-spanking new over there). There’s so many apartment buildings with pronounced chamber-like doors with these tiny, rusty elevators inside like sophisticated cages that take you to your desired floor. You could turn the corner of a bustling coffee strip and suddenly be taken to a street filled with centuries-old architecture and statues. I’m pretty sure that’s actually how we got to the Pantheon, an ancient church in the centre of one of Rome’s many shopping districts.

Despite most taps being deemed unsafe to drink from, water appears an endlessly boasted feature here, with many water fountains spurting water out like there’s just too much to give. Even our space-tight airbnb had clean tap water. Water is like a display of wealth in Rome, maybe even some symbol of pride to reflect back on its country.

I learned that the style of driving here is necessarily defiant to the way we drive in Australia. Cars speed and cut in everywhere with brakes considered a somewhat optional feature [I realise that a lot of Australians do this too, but it actually appear to be encouraged rather than frowned upon in Italy]. As a pedestrian, you have to pretend you don’t see the cars speeding towards you and act on a death wish. Even at pedestrian crossings you can see the cars squeezing past pedestrians like an impatient buffalo moving through thousands of ducks. Yep, that’s the simile I chose to stick with. These tiny smart cars populate Italy for a reason: they can fit in anywhere, even between a running centimetre's gap on the freeway. I had to restrain myself several times from calling out to our driver that he was too close to the car in front.

And what's most amazing is watching this all go down (from afar). Rome is both an ancient city as well as a densely populated one, and watching these two parts interlace is amazing. Like any other night in Rome, hundreds of tiny cars pass through the sort of buildings that must have been around for centuries. The idea that ancient sites like this can become commonplace is beyond me. In Perth, we pass under the Northbridge Tunnel; in Rome, we pass under structures that might as well be the Arch of Titus or Constantine.

Some Highlights

  • Coffee? Super cheap. Costs just €1.60 (roughly $2.00 AUS). Get ready to wait in some crazy lines though — Italians prefer the crowd-over-the-counter method here.

  • Practice “gratzi-eh”. You’ll notice the visible appreciation the better you say it.

  • "Bonjourno" = day. Good day. As Yujun learnt the hard way, you will get looks if you use this phrase at night.

  • Dogs everywhere. Frenchies are a thing here. So are labradors!

  • Dinner is curiously expensive. Eat in where you can. Pasta can get boring after a while, anyway. We wined [juice'd] and dined a ton on steak and veggies and saved heaps.

  • Go to at least one museum (Museo Nazionale Roma, for instance) and appreciate how far history can go.

  • Colloseum — cool, but I regret we had to do it in the cold rain. Ignore the people outside trying to get you to buy a tour from them. Most will charge double what the tickets are inside.

  • Seagulls are monstrous and nothing like the cute little flappers we have in Australia.

  • Don’t Uber. They’ve taken away all the cheaper ride options and the availability of them is quite limited. Use MyTaxi or Ola instead.

  • Leather goods are cheaper here. But beware of chain stores. If a store looks rather dodgy, use cash instead of card. Some might trick you into thinking the transaction didn’t work and then charge you twice (RIP our extra ten euros).

  • Cross the streets with a death wish or don’t cross at all.

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