One of the barometers I use when grading how much I enjoyed a city is its liveability and homeliness. To me, New York City is the ultimate place on Earth, and somewhere I’ve always longed to live.
To be cliché, it’s all about the hustle and bustle of the steel and glass utopia. The feeling and knowledge that you can go out at any time of day and there will be things to do and things going on regardless.
I love looking up at the vast array of skyscrapers and feeling metaphorically lost in the concrete jungle. Living there would be an absolute dream.
Yet when I went to Rome in May, an excellent birthday present from my girlfriend, I came away feeling a lot different.
For as much as I enjoyed the variety of attractions, food and culture in Rome, I couldn’t seem to come to terms with the fact that Rome didn’t have that ‘traditional’ city feel.
There was a distinct lack of skyscrapers, for one, and its tallest building – Torre Eurosky – is over five times smaller than the Burj Khalifa – the world’s biggest. Its public transport wasn’t up to scratch either and although it had a metro system, a system that serves other major cities so well, it was woefully subpar in that aspect.
But in the five months I’ve had to reflect on Rome, I’ve grown fonder of it, and that’s mainly down to a growing appreciation of its differences which set it apart from a lot of other places.
I bemoaned the transport and was left disappointed by some of the things I’d associated with my affinity for the Big Apple, but what I now realise is just how amazing Rome is.
Here we have a city that hasn’t caved in to the convention of building upwards and overthrowing tradition in favour of modernisation. Instead we have a city that clings to its roots, yet still maintains a wide appeal, keeping it on the list of the world’s 20 most-visited cities.
Whether it’s the hallowed walls of the Colosseum, the birthplace at Palatine Hill or any of Rome’s picturesque streets, there’s always an air of past entrenched in the present.
It’s the preservation of Rome’s identity that makes it such a special place and, in some areas, unbelievable. The Pantheon, a former Roman temple, was that authentic that it almost had a tacky-Vegas feel to it. It was though I had seen this scene replicated time and time before, so much so that its mocks had, a little, jaded the reality.
But this was real, Rome is the legitimate enterprise.
And thinking about it, the public transport system isn’t really a sham, either. Perhaps it could do with an upgrade and if I lived in a less convenient place within the city or surrounding areas then I might be hoping for better, but it would be a disservice to miss most of Rome by being underground. It is a place that deserves to be explored by foot so not to miss any of its charm and quality.
And my favourite part about the city? Well, as a Geography geek, it has to be the fact that that within Rome is an entire country.
Yes, Vatican City, the world’s smallest nation is an enclave enclosed entirely inside Rome’s city limits. The Vatican Museums and the fames Sistine Chapel may tickle one’s fancy, but I found that far more of my breath was taken by the astounding St Peter’s Basilica, one of the finest places of worship on our planet.
With a design and intricately decorated dome that has largely influences other cathedrals in Western Christendom, St Peter’s Basilica towers over all of its neighbours and offers up the opportunity to capture stunning views over the Vatican grounds and outside Rome.
So when I head back there next week, I’m going to make sure I really soak Rome in. It might help that I will be attending my first AS Roma game at Stadio Olimpico after recently deciding to follow the team I’ve always had a soft spot for, but there will be time in the itinerary to revisit certain sites and sample new attractions.
But whatever happens when I return to Rome, I’ll go in with a different perspective, a new-found appreciation for a city I now love – almost as much as New York itself.