Thursday, May 1, 2008


It was not our intent to cycle through Rome. But we arrived at the airport at 5 pm in fading light, and we found out that bikes were not allowed on the express train we intended to take to the hotel we booked for the first night. So we got on another train. We sat huddled with our map of Rome, trying to figure out which stop to get off on. Emerging from the station, it was dusk and the streets were wet from a recent thunderstorm. We donned our bright vests and with John's sixth sense of direction, we headed off, sharing the streets with scooters, Fiats, and Smart cars, all traveling faster and maneuvering much quicker than us.

We merged onto a street of rain-slicked cobblestones that began to curve, and as we turned we saw the Colosseum. There was a backdrop of clouds highlighted golden by the setting sun, and the arches illuminated by the last light, a collision of the ancient and modern. It was magical.

The next day we decided to avoid the train to get to our campground north of town. We got different stories -- bikes allowed after 9 pm, bikes not allowed anytime, bikes allowed only on some trains. So we cycled. It was more like mostly pushing and some pedaling through the city center. But we saw several sites, and we must have been a sight, too, based on the stares we got as we wheeled our way around with bikes fully loaded with panniers. Eventually we reached the bike trail that follows the Tiber River, passing beneath ancient bridges, and to the campground.

For the next five days we were regular tourists, without bicycles, blending into the crowd. We walked from morning until night, visiting all the biggies -- Vatican City, the Forum, the Colosseum, museums, churches, and fountains. We took public transport everywhere, and felt secure and welcome wherever we went.

The day we left Rome we headed south on the same bike trail on the Tiber River. Towards the old part of town the path turned from asphalt to cobblestone. Besides the discomfort, it also made progress slow, made even slower by the flat tire John got from glass on the trail. But we pushed on, leaving the bike trail and exiting Rome through the gates at the Via Appia. As we went south, there were fewer cars and bigger cobblestones. Most of the trail were interlocking cobbles maybe five inches square, but some sections had very large stones, a couple of feet square. These dated from the time of the Romans, and one could still see the grooves from the carts etched in these stones. It was quiet, bumping along under a canopy of trees, and we felt like we were transported back in time.

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