Rome isn't that city. I'm sure there's at least half a dozen wonders outside it. Maybe even seven or eight.
You walk down one road and run into roman ruins. Turn the corner, bam, Pantheon. Walk around a bit more and run straight into the Vatican. Or a castle. Or a tomb.
All of which we visited. You can climb right up to the top of St Peter's Basilica - it's a long, long climb, several hundred steps up, but then you're at the very top of the dome and you can see miles away. Nothing else is even close to that height. And then you can look around at all the landmarks and historical buildings.
Most of it just runs together. There's so much. Every few blocks you walk into another historical landmark, or another important temple or another cordoned-off block containing the bare outline of a two-thousand-year-old theatre, complete with foot-high wall remnants and chunks of Ionic columns scattered where people used to walk.
I'm told Rome is the world's most touristed city. Unfortunately, it shows.
Bam, giant copper statue. Who is it? No idea - but under it, there's a guy trying to sell you sunglasses. Enormous stone ruins! Forget to bring your camera tripod? That's okay, here's someone with very reasonable prices. (He'll tell you so himself.) Wow, the Pantheon is really impressive! Let's sit down at this outdoor cafe that practically has "authentic Roman dining experience" signs and eat an overpriced meal!
I don't mean to belittle the attractions, because the attractions? Damn impressive. But sometimes it feels like the city only exists for the benefit of the tourists. Like if the world lost interest in Rome, everyone would just pack up and move . . . and all that would be left would be a new set of ruins, thousands of years of history, and pigeons poking through the discarded racks of cheap hats.
On the last day, greenity got sick, and I set out to explore on my own. I found myself heading home eventually and checked my map. I realized that the Mausoleum of Augustus was on the way, and I hadn't been there, so I set out to find it. The rain was subsiding and I wasn't feeling ready to go back anyway. One more stop.
There were no signs leading to the tomb. No great crowds of tourists, no bus stops. I found it tucked between several other buildings with no remarkable features whatsoever. There was a gate over the entrance to the tomb itself, with a sign inside that may have given information on when they were open - if I could see that far, which I couldn't.
It was strangely quiet, and I was tired of walking. So I spread out my poncho on the steps, sat down, and read a book.
The sun came out.
When I think of Rome, I'll remember the landmarks. I'll remember the sights. I'll remember the tourists, and the vendors, and the beggars.
Most of all, I'll remember sitting on a low stone wall, alone next to a emperor's tomb, reading a fantasy novel while the birds sing.