ridden way as I walked the ancient, vibrant, sensuous streets of The Eternally Fabulous City with my son Max, whose 13th birthday we were
Even without frequent breaks for Prosecco, the delicious sparkling white wine that Romans drink like water, sightseeing would have been intoxicating.
We set out for our walk from the centre of the city: from the mad Piazza Venezia, to be precise, which is not so much a square as a traffic system that makes Hyde Park Corner look like a mini- roundabout in Reigate. Walking past the white marble of the Monumento Vittorio Emanuele II then turning left, we climbed steep steps leading up to the majestic and blissfully quiet Piazza del Campidoglio on
Capitoline Hill. Designed by Michelangelo, the statue-studded square contains three palaces, one of which is the Palazzo Senatorio, Rome's town hall. The other two form the Musei Capitolini.
The hill's picturesque position and cooling trees would have made the gardens behind the Piazza a perfect place for a picnic if I'd been organised. I wasn't. So we feasted instead on the fantastic view of the Roman Forum.
Then it was down the steps, and past a statue of those mythical founders of Rome and sibling rivalry, Romulus and Remus, suckling the She-wolf. Turning right on to the congested Via dei Fori Imperiali, we were flanked on both sides by ancient columns. As we navigated our way past the ice cream and pizza stalls (not to mention small armies of centurions waiting to have their photos taken), the Colosseum loomed into view.
Even for jaded sightseers, it is spectacular. Though only half the original building remains, it is still the largest structure in Rome, measuring nearly 60 metres high and 156 metres across, with room to seat 87,000. My Arsenal-mad son was so impressed with this arena dedicated to man's inhumanity to man that he was speechless. And not a red and white shirt in sight.
After all the climbing and excitement, we needed to chill, so we skirted the park in the
Colle Oppio, just behind the Colosseum, and watched children tearing around on roller skates.
Max hadn't had a pizza for a couple of hours and was beginning to get withdrawal symptoms so we went in search of sustenance. We veered to the left and back on to the traffic hell of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, up past the Piazza Venezia and, bearing left, battled our way through the pre-siesta crowds on Via del Corso, the Oxford Street of Rome. Turning left down the Via del Caravita we found peaceful sanctuary in this wonderful old street full of delicatessens and churches, churches and more churches. Walking straight up, we hit
the Piazza della Rotonda. There, in the blazing sun, we wolfed down pizzas before waddling across the square to the Pantheon.
We thought we'd seen everything after the Colosseum. But I'd forgotten the sheer drama of Hadrian's circular temple, strikingly modern-looking but based on a Greek design. It was the first pagan temple to be converted to a Christian church, and one of the world's largest free-standing domes. Inside, it is perfectly spherical, cool and dark save for the light streaming in from the round hole in the roof. We stood, we looked, we marvelled.
But not for too long. The sun shone, the scooters roared, the Prosecco beckoned, and Max
was ready for his 23rd gelato of the day.