Rediscovering Rome Through My Mother’s Eyes (And on the Back of a Vespa)

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A version of this post was originally published on Pink Pangea

Rome was the first foreign city I ever went to. As a part of a month-long study abroad course in Italy, I stayed in Rome for 10 days, and that’s all it took for the city to steal my heart. Florence and Venice couldn’t compare. The following year, when I went to France and Germany, there was no contest.

When an Italian man hands you a helmet, you do not question it. You get on the vespa. Read more on Sparkle in her Suitcase.

Rome is history that you can reach out and touch with your hands. I remember walking down the street with my class as my professor pointed out an ancient apartment building, an ancient temple, the colosseum. And I remember reaching out and feeling the wall of the colosseum, completely in awe of this museum where nothing was behind glass and you wouldn’t set off an alarm by leaning in to see clearly. 

I decided that I was made to be in Rome. Following that trip, I talked about moving to Rome so much that my mother, in her distressed state at the idea of me leaving the country, offered to take me to Rome and a few other cities in Europe for a month last summer. My mom and I have been more like friends than mother and daughter for years now, but since I was living in New York while she wintered in Arizona at the time, it was going to be both an amazing bonding opportunity and a lot of togetherness.

I planned the entire trip, including hotels and activities, and used her credit card to pay for it (with her permission, to be clear). Even though I’d sent along updated itineraries multiple times, when we were traveling she had a kind of “what are we doing today!?” question for me every morning, like a little kid on a Saturday morning, all excitement and anticipation in her complete ignorance of what was planned for the day.

On our second day in Rome, the answer was a vespa tour. She was a bit alarmed and anxious. Once she realized she wouldn’t be driving the vespa, she calmed down a bit, but she was still nervous.

But the time came anyway and right around 9am there were two handsome Italian men in Leather jackets standing outside of our hotel, handing us helmets and letting us know how to hold on around their chests while they drove.

When an Italian man hands you a helmet, you do not question it. You get on the vespa.

Within minutes we were whizzing around, suddenly comfortable on the back of the motorized scooter, passing tourists slowly climbing hills on bikes, laughing inside as we zoomed past them and seeing sights all around the city, both the standard Colosseum and the cool Roman neighborhoods with no other tourists.

My mother said booking the Vespa tour was the best thing I’d ever done. This was about a week after I graduated with my first masters degree so I was mildly offended. But I can’t help but agree, though I might alter the sentiment to one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Not because I personally enjoyed it (although of course I did, I’m not crazy) but because I got to see a city I’m absolutely smitten with through my mother’s eyes.

She was smiling ear to ear on the back of a vespa, her first time in Europe in 20 years or so and her first time in Rome ever.

This whole trip was entirely different from my first trip to Rome. Instead of eating pizza from a little stand because it cost 2 euros per slice, we ate real lengthy meals in real restaurants. Instead of focusing on studying, we wandered and shopped and blazed through museums quickly to get on with the wandering and shopping.

As much as I showed Rome to my mother, she showed it to me through a new set of eyes.

She expanded my affection for the city of history, showing me a city of glamour and especially food. Even at restaurants that weren’t particularly fancy, we had spectacular food. Rome has this familial feeling, and you really get that at meal time, when your waiter is less a waiter and more a goofy uncle telling you which dishes are particularly good today and making little jokes, half-understood across a language barrier, but inducing so much laughter nonetheless.

This new Rome, with less museums and more wandering, has only deepened my affection for the city. And while the threats to move to Italy have stopped for the time being, my love for the place and desire to return soon have only deepened.

Next year, I’m hoping to take my boyfriend the eternal city and I can’t wait to see how his eyes change mine.

Have you been to Rome? Let me know your favorite experiences from Rome in the comments! 

-Darcy

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