Possessed by Roma

I’ve been thinking about Italy a lot lately. I’m not exactly sure why, although a number of things come to mind now I’m writing about it.

A blogging friend of mine has recently introduced me to her ‘other’ blog – titled ‘Browsing Rome.’ Along with our tweet-chats of travel, the travel taste buds are definitely being tantalised!

I recently dug out my old travel journals, and have revisited my earlier journeys…the wonderful Roma featuring in 2 of them. Even with the dodgy hostels, bed bugs, sleazy Italian Lothario’s, Roma stands out in my mind as the place that made an ever-lasting impression on me.

Roman ruins

I’ve gone through my photos from my European journeys, my feet getting itchier with every viewing.

I’m just about to turn 34. My first trip to Italy (anywhere further than Singapore) was 10 years ago this September when I was 24, young, eager and naïve. My life-long friend Karina and I embarked on a 6 week backpacking trip around Italy…The September 11 terrorist attacks had just occurred, and we had made the decision to still go – as ‘we only lived once’. Our families were freaked out…especially my Dad, who tried to stop me from leaving at the airport, scaring Karina in the process (perhaps it was his dark, looming prowess). We had the most amazing experience, of which changed us forever (and it actually ended up being possibly the safest time to travel). I can clearly remember now sitting on a street corner, outside of one of the ancient churches, watching the tanks roll by; and then having our backpacks full of 5 week old, sweaty clothes searched by tall, dark, machine-gun toting soldiers at the Roma train station (whilst scratching our infected bed bug sores).

Ah Roma, I miss thee so.

Tell me, has any place you have visited ever possessed you? 


I thought I could drown my sorrows…but my sorrows learn’t to swim. Bono

Ponte Vecchio and bank of Arno in Florence, It...

Image via Wikipedia

I first heard this quote in 2001 whilst sitting in a Backpackers hostel in Florence, Italy.  I was drinking nasty, cheap wine, whilst battling feelings of missing my boyfriend at the time, wondering why he hadn’t emailed me yet, and stressing because I was really enjoying my freedom. And so I sat, pouring my thoughts into my travel journal, hoping that I could write or drink away my moods.

At that moment that one of the mates walked in on me (I had been backpacking with 2 friends). In seeing me sitting there, and being a tad tipsy himself, he quoted Bono to me:

‘I thought I could drown my sorrows…but my sorrows learn’t to swim’.

He had thought it was a relative quote for the moment. And it was – to the way all of us were feeling at that specific time in our journey. At the time we were all on a real downer for one reason or another, were physically and mentally exhausted, had been over-thinking and dwelling of silly stuff, and were really hanging onto some anti-social moods (this is according to what I wrote in my journal).

It was in that moment that I realised how similar we all were. This thought carried through to the next day when Nigel and I realised that the result of trying to drown ones sorrows with cheap wine – that I’m presuming only poor backpackers drank whilst in Italy – was the feeling of self-pity and a very sore head.

First Reflections of Paris

The greenery and the lushness of the countryside prevent my lids from closing.  Thoughts that I may never see this again are enough to battle the immensity of twenty hours without sleep, and almost a month of nights in strange places, surrounded by unusual people, being munched upon by bed bugs in Italy.

I don’t want to sleep.  I want to take it all in now as there is not much time left.  But the dream of sleep is beckoning to me…dangling the carrot in front of my eyes, tempting me to enter into a blissful lapse of unconsciousness.

The man diagonally from me is in his mid 40’s.  I would say he has a Sting-esque look about him.  The eccentric lady directly across from me keeps signalling to her friend.  I think she fancies him…

The clouds swirl like candy floss over the fields as the train passes through, which form seemingly perfect rectangles of green and brown.  Crops of trees poke up here and there, and as we move on it is pleasant to see that they take the rightful place that they should over the land.

The eccentric lady describes the countryside as ‘magnifique’, as she feigns tears.  It is truly ‘belle’.  I am in love with the world and all it has to give.  There is so much beauty out there.  At times like this I think of Grandad – he would be happy for me.  If only he could feel again what I am feeling…

On arrival in Paris I am stunned. I adore it.  Paris is amazing, beautiful, logical and friendly.  Such a difference from Italy!  There is something magical about this place, with the abundance of grass, trees, benches to sit on, real food, people who smile, couples that walk arm in arm with each other.  The streets are clean! Everyone seems to have respect for all that is around them.

Later as I sit under the Eiffel tower, I note that it is smaller than I had expected. It is pretty, and surrounded by gorgeous parkland.  The only thing that puts a dampener on it are those pesky people selling tacky tourist souvenirs.  As we walked to the tower a hoard of them had just been unleashed onto unsuspecting tourists.

I like it here – I really do.  We have walked the streets, strolled along the River Seine from the Notre Dame cathedral, all the way down to the Eiffel Tower.  We passed the Musee des Orsay, taking in the people and the streets.  France has this sense of style about it.  Not the over the top ‘I am hot’ kind.  Just classy, casual – ‘I know who I am’ – I like it.

Notre Dame was also smaller than I had expected.  We had crept up on it from behind, crossing the River Seine and entering a park behind it.  There was a lady peacefully reading a book and I could just picture myself doing it.  It was a quaint little park, with benches, manicured green grass, lines of trees, and of course a few tourists.  From that point it appeared that one could not enter thus we did the photo thing and moved on to the entrance.

Notre Dame is a gothic cathedral.  I have a fascination with gothic architecture – the grotesque images, the curvatures, eccentricity and darkness of the style stirs something inside of me.  On entering the cathedral, the main source of light is from candles.  It is very dark. The walls and roof are aged and grimy.  I feel the urge to pray, even though I am not religious.  I had finally found the right place.  I purchased and lit a candle and finally said goodbye, ‘I love you and miss you Grandad’.  I cried.  He would have loved this, and I know he would be happy for me.  Life goes on, and we all find our place if we go out and look for it.

Italy was amazing.  It blew my mind away.  France crept in and stole my heart.