bY kIMBERLY rose
I was in the eternal city of Rome with my five friends from my study abroad program. None of us knew each other before the program, but I felt like I had known them my whole life after only a couple of weeks. I couldn’t have been happier – to be in Rome with them, but there was something holding me back. I knew there was one thing I really needed to do, before I left the next day.
I wanted my time in Rome to be romanticized, adventuresome – just like one of my favorites, the Audrey Hepburn classic, A Roman Holiday. I wanted to wander the same streets and have the same love for the city that the Romans did. I needed to become acquainted with the Rome that the locals knew. On my last evening in Rome, my friends and I were going to ride a Vespa and see Rome through the eyes of a local.
“Here we are! The scooters - how beautiful,” Rachel screeched. Before us, stood rows of the shiniest red and white Vespas. Rachel couldn’t contain her excitement, and while I tried to stay cool, neither could I. We met at the entrance of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, as requested by the Vespa tour company. They provide the scooters and drivers (since we’re far from skilled enough to drive safely throughout Rome), and then we would enjoy the night of our lives. They were nice enough to schedule this tour only hours in advance, so I was every bit of grateful. I persisted in making this night happen, despite the short-notice, and emailed just about every Vespa company out there until one finally said yes.
Before we received our helmets, we instantly called dibs on which scooter we wanted (I went with the classic red). After signing a waiver or two, we were ready to go. We snapped pictures of each other on our scooters until our drivers came to greet us. It was painfully obvious we were obnoxious Americans, no matter how hard we tried to fit in. Nonetheless, the drivers were welcoming and friendly, despite their sub-par English vocabulary. They had their own unique Italian charm to them and I couldn’t wait for our night together. Right from the start, they offered to take photos, to teach us Italian and were polite through it all. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of Italians to ride with. As badly as I would have loved to drive a Vespa on my own, navigation and other vehicles would have undoubtedly been an issue, so I would have to tackle that job another time.
Our tour was at night, so we were fortunately going to see Rome lit up and more beautiful than ever. As the tour was about to begin, I could feel my muscles grow tense. I remember thinking to myself, “How fast do these scooters even go? Would I hold onto the beautiful man in front of me or are there handles of some sort? Would we talk during the ride or stay silent?” The thoughts running through my head were endless.
There wasn’t much time to think. As soon as I was on the Vespa, my driver, Giacomo, started the motor and led the blazing trail of Roman scooters. I wrapped my arms around his waist and closed my eyes. But as soon as we roamed off into the Roman sunset, all of my thoughts and nerves went away. It was exhilarating.
As the night grew darker, we rode faster and deeper into the heart of Rome. “Wow, you really know how to drive this thing,” I shouted. Someone like my mother would say Giacomo was driving “recklessly”, weaving through multiple lanes of traffic quicker than any car. “Well, that’s what happens when you drive in Rome for 20 years,” he snickered.
I grew fond of Giacomo’s companionship. We spoke of his past, living in Rome, and my favorite, A Roman Holiday. The twelve of us explored streets I wouldn’t have seen otherwise and familiarized ourselves with the many monuments to enjoy. One of our stops was the top of Gianicolo Hill, giving us a gorgeous panoramic view of Rome. Much to my surprise, the tour guides provided champagne bottles to end the night on an even more sparkling note. We all took pleasure in popping the bottles and pouring the glasses. Despite our differences in languages and cultures, we all laughed and smiled. Maybe we were smiling from our bubbly drinks, but it was undeniably a night for celebration. Returning from our view of Rome at our feet, we drove through many tunnels. With all the bright lights and the wind in my hair, I felt infinite.
While the experience was immeasurable, unfortunately, my time exploring Rome wasn’t and the tour was coming to an end. I felt like I was just experiencing the best of the eternal city and its people, but it was time to say ‘ciao’. “Rome was lucky to have you, Ms. Rose,” Giacomo expressed. They dropped us off at a local hotspot for bars and clubs, giving us recommendations in our long goodbyes. We exchanged hugs and kisses and were off in our different direction. I hoped I would have another chance for that feeling again - to see all of Rome right in front of me, to feel that rush.
I realized something important that night – experiencing Rome close up. I came to know that Rome was much more than any other place full of people living their lives. The eternal city was about feeling every emotion in every moment. I looked at the monuments and felt the history behind them. I looked at the people, and could feel the love within, whether it be the love for each other or the general love for life – it was all there. And when I looked at Rome, in all its greatness, I felt my love for the city and the culture. It was just like Roman holiday, after all.