We have just come back from a lovely holiday in Rome. We visited many of the most famous sites - the Colosseum, the Forum, St Peter's Square, the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and so on. The sun shone, the sky was a deep and vivid blue, and there was even a gentle breeze. And it was amazing to see these iconic buildings and sculptures in real life, having seen photos of them so often before.
And yet the things that enchanted me about the Imperial City were not what I had expected. Yes, standing in St. Peter's Square or in the Colosseum or among the ruins of the Forum did take my breath away, and all these things were truly impressive, and I'm really glad I've seen them. But what I really loved about Rome was strolling through the narrow streets of Trastavere, savouring the beauty of the buildings and the joy of coming out of a narrow street into a sunlit square with the inevitable little jewel of a local church, or wandering around the lively Campo de' Fiori, looking at all the wonderful flowers and foodstuffs, and trying to decide what to bring home as a souvenir, or sitting outside one of the many restaurants in the sunshine, just people-watching. And the wonderful food, and the statues on every corner. And having the time to talk about life, the universe and everything with our two children-no-longer-children, with us on holiday for probably the last time.
If you had asked me, before we left for Rome, what I was really looking forward to, I would have enumerated the sites I hoped to see, and how impressed I expected to be with it all. But anticipation and reality were very different. The enchantment was not in the magnificent, in the impressive, but in the vivid light, the mellow paint of the buildings, and the serendipity of wandering freely, open to what we might discover next.