Travelling through the Middle East for the last few weeks was fine, as it is getting hot (and when I say hot, I mean HOT - 47 degs C was the hottest day), and so it is the low season there. Tourist numbers were low, even in Israel. But here we are in Rome. In July. With the rest of humanity.
Or so it seemed today, as we ventured into the centre of the city, to retrace some steps from our first visit here 15 years ago. The tourist spots and routes thronged with people. The Pantheon was full. I remember being there in November 1998, standing inside in silence, with only two or three other people there with me. Today, there were hundreds. Lots of American accents, some German and some very pale Scandinavians. All it seemed with at least two kids in tow. Have I mentioned I detest crowds? Especially in the heat?
I have never before truly appreciated how lucky I am to be able to travel outside school holidays, and to be able to avoid the peak season in Europe in summer. Even Bangkok at Christmas/New Year is better than this!
And yet, because we have the luxury of time, because we're living in an apartment (airbnb - thanks Nicole for the recommendation you didn't realise you had made) in a real, middle/working class, section of Rome, we can escape the tourist routes. It made me feel sad for all the tourists, because only about 50 metres from Piazza Navona, there were beautiful quiet streets, the type of streets you go to Italy to see, and they were empty. Stuck to a timetable - not just because of kids, but with jobs too - the tourists missed these streets, the streets that were always my enduring memories of Rome, long after the Colosseum or Vatican. And here at my apartment, there is a small street market every morning just two minutes walk away, just past the bar where we can get coffee in the morning, and beer/wine in the evening, and just past the small pizza place, and just before the gelateria, and a small square where people sit in the evening. And even though I am in Rome in July, I know I am still lucky.