One of the world’s most famous cities and yet, up until a few weeks ago, I’d only ever spent about 36 hours there and that was more than 7 years ago. Although I’ve traveled to Italy on several occasions, Rome had never really interested me. I’d visited, seen the top sights and I thought I was good, more eager to explore other regions of Italy and not the capital city. Then on my second trip to Rome I suddenly realized how very wrong I’d been. In fact, Rome quickly found a new place in my heart, something I never thought would happen. I was traveling in Italy with Monograms Travel, a company with whom I’ve traveled before and trust to help me enjoy a fun independent getaway. They did more than that though, thanks to their unique blend of services and connections, my few days in Rome transformed what could have been a run of the mill trip into a very special travel experience.
Setting the stage
My one and only trip to Rome had been a mad dash around town to see as many of the city’s most famous sights as I could. Vatican City, the Colosseum, the Forum, Spanish Steps, and so on were all on my hit list. I somehow managed to see every single one of Rome’s top attractions in a day and a half. It was a tourism marathon and, not so surprisingly, I left not really appreciating any of them. I was just ticking things off a list to say that I had literally been there and done that. What’s even worse, although I never really realized it, is that I didn’t learn to love the city in any meaningful way. It was fine, but nothing special; hence my failure to return for seven years or so. Enter Monograms Travel. Since I had traveled with this self-proclaimed untour company before, I knew what to expect. Namely, that they would in large part leave me alone to explore Rome in my own unique way. What they do facilitate though in every new destination are transfers, the hotel and a short tour of the city, featuring the top sights for which it’s so well known. In Rome, that meant a half-day guided tour of Vatican City, the Colosseum and the Forum, all with a professional to lead us and all with skip the line passes and other VIP perks. Visiting these important sights with an expert proved to make all the difference and not only was I able to revisist the city’s most famous landmarks, I also gained a much better understanding of the geography, which helped when it was time for me to explore on my own. The idea is to help the traveler tick those items off the list easily and with an expert guide so that the rest of the time can be spent exploring independently. I love that, I love the fact that they don’t have any desire to hold the traveler’s hand, far from it. No, instead they’re there to help us as travelers design our own adventures, to forge our own paths, albeit with a little help along the way.
That help is delivered through the assistance of what Monograms calls a Local Host. These pros are the on-site experts who can help with everything from mapping out a walking route to recommending restaurants. They’re always available whether guests decide to consult them or not. In my case, the Local Host proved to be invaluable when it came time for me to organize what I wanted to see and do. Not just point something out on a map, she literally hailed a cab for me, instructed the driver where to go and I was off. Over the course of several days I meandered around Rome, visiting all the places I knew I wanted to see from the Aventine Keyhole to my favorite sight in town, the Pantheon. The Local Host recommended neighborhoods where I could enjoy a nice dinner with friends and was even there to assist me on my way to the train station when it was time to visit Sorrento. Local Hosts can also help organize optional tours offered through Monograms, several of which I enjoyed. Private tours of the Roman underground, a delicious food tour and more, these optional excursions really helped create a more well rounded trip and, ultimately, helped me fall in love with Rome.
Learning to love Rome
When asked about favorite places, I always say that Paris is my favorite city, and it is. But many of the reasons why I love Paris so much are also found in Rome, a fact that frankly surprised me. Not every city has an aura surrounding it and it’s not necessarily a result of age or interest. London, for example, lacks this unique quality, but both Paris and Rome have it in spades. They have a certain look and feel, cities well varnished by time and millions of residents over the centuries. Rome in particular has kept true to itself over the millennium, absorbing past generations instead of replacing them altogether. The net effect is a city that bears the imprint of those many years, a city that is fun to wander around aimlessly because you honestly never know what you’re going to find. Yes, I enjoyed hanging out in the Piazza Navona with gelato in hand, but I equally enjoyed walking around neighborhoods that remain nameless to me, just admiring the atmosphere and what it was like to be present in the moment. Sitting outside with friends enjoying a meal, lifting a glass of Prosecco in a silent cheer to a golden sunset, getting delightfully lost down a seemingly endless array of side streets; these are my favorite moments in Rome, much more than seeing the Sistine Chapel or trekking up the Spanish steps. Those private, independent moments are what endear us to new places, it’s why we travel and my trip with Monograms facilitated this in a way no one else could have.
Travel is intensely personal. We are all individuals and what we enjoy, or not, is a matter of our personalities and nothing else. I thought that I didn’t like Rome, that it was too chaotic and messy, which it can be. But on this most recent trip I had the great fortune to discover its good qualities, to see beyond the negative and learn to appreciate the city in its own right. That was important for me to do and today I surprise myself by knowing, almost instinctively, that Rome will be a city to which I return many times. Not unlike Paris, it now has a sway over me and I honestly can’t wait to visit again and enjoy another opportunity to get to know it even better.