Sunday, March 01, 2020

Buongiorno! A Morning Run Through Rome...

It was a frosty February morning in Rome, as I repeatedly peeked out of the hotel lobby window in desperate search of a few rays of sunshine gracing the cobblestone streets. I had already mistakenly stepped out pre-sunrise, realizing my error when I instantly burst into full body goosebumps tall enough to make a pufferfish jealous. This was my own fault, of course, having wishfully packed only shorts and t's while glancing at the projected 60+ F degree highs promised by my "smart" phone. But the ultrarunner in me knew better - had this been a race trip, I would have (rightfully) brought the entire gear closet. But family vacations, by design, are often blissfully delusional long before the destination arrives.

(Roma)
The hotel staff suggests 'perhaps one more espresso'? Espresso was invented here, after all, and along with gelato and Aperol spritzers, seems to be a universal Italian cure all for conundrums. The suggestion would normally be awkward to a runner warming up (far too long) in the lobby, but when smothered in copious amounts of Italian generosity spoken in the melodious tempo of their language, it is a sirens song. Mother Nature felt it too, and necessarily broke us all from the spell with her shower of light. The lit windows conjured a joint declaration of "O sole mio! Our day has arrived!", and I headed out the door with a nod, pufferfish bumps and all.

(At the Caffe Greco, where espresso was invented)
The warm colors of Rome could not be contained by Winter's thin veil, blooming in chorus with the sounds and smells of a waking city. My morning run had a mission, as it always does on the first day of family vacation - get a lay of the land, and find some unique venues in between the tourist spots that each family member would enjoy. For my wife, Christi, that would be the alleys full of street art and historic buildings, some uncrowded shopping for local fare thrown in, and perhaps a nice outdoor cafe near a fountain to contemplate the afternoon. For Sophie (13), it would be the best, and fullest, dog parks where the people watching never disappoints. For Quinn (8), a string of gelato shops that would keep her hands sticky and a chocolate smile on her face for most of the day would be nothing short of heaven. And for me? Well, I'm just excited the family sees the morning run as a positive thing. To be instructed to explore at full pace, eyes wide open, is the proverbial icing on the panetonne.

(Heaven!)
Every route in Rome (or "Rohmmma" as they deliciously say here) is a cornucopia of the marvellous capacity and inspiration of man- and womankind. Running, with its time-distorting meditative metronome, amplifies the appreciation factor.

(The Trevi Fountain)


The Trevi Fountain, for example, is not just the work of art that set the standard for all Vegas hotels, but also marks the geographic point where three aqueducts collectively brought so much fresh water to Rome that it was literally bursting from the ground. Can you imagine, in the year 1629, visiting a city where fresh water, the very essence of life, came naturally to every street corner? It would be the definition of Eden.

(I'm so used to churches these days, I tried to combine its unique chill with the bliss of a trail we all know)

A few km's later, I ran near a school during "kid drop off", and watched the parents all leisurely catch up with each other as the church and school bells rang. So familiar! Gossip sounds much better in Italian though. The many parents with dogs were all headed to the same park, so I followed the parade of leashes to the top of the hill. St. Peters Basilica, the largest church in the world (and quite honestly, the only one you will ever need to visit), stood across the river, fanning in its majesty. To see this citadel in the 1600's, filled with glorious art that transcends all language (and inability to read any), I wondered...it would be hard to dispute that following this God thing would not have its rewards.

(Some great street art)
A few narrow alleys led me to some amazing graffiti street art, and plopped me out near the Colosseum. Built in 80 AD, Nero's grand stage was a place where Romans could watch the re-enacted battles of Rome for free (thereby controlling the historical narrative) and gladiator fights (the pro athletes of the day), killing thousands of slaves each year for entertainment. The crowd was even allowed to give a thumbs up/thumbs down to determine the fate of those in the arena...that sounds A LOT like Facebook to me, si? ;-)

(At the Colosseum)
A group of runners were headed down to a river path, so I followed them to chart a new way back. "When in Rome...", as they say, "...run where the Romans do." My previous misconception that there weren't a lot of runners in this city was quickly tossed aside as I joined the masses chugged their way down the car- and scooter-free paths.

(Ummmm, what are you up to Quinny?)

I was blissfully lost in time and place, an ultrarunners favorite state of being. By not thinking too much about that fact, and trusting the intuition of my steps, I found myself at the hotel doorstep again soon enough.

The hotel staff was eager to share an espresso and relive the 25k run with me, no matter how long it took, again catalysing all that is great about this culture. They do enjoy taking a moment to celebrate what the day has brought.

When I lived in the USA, Rome was half a world away. Now that we live in Austria, it's a 90-minute flight, but feels just as foreign and magical once you land. Truly, belissimo!








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