December 2014, Christmas has just passed, and New Years was looming. I embarked on my first holiday with friends, a week long trip to Italy to celebrate New Years drenched in various wines and cheeses.
Our trip started in Florence, we eat heartily and drank by the bottle, the type of holiday where you settle into a fruity Chianti and divulge every thought in your mind in the safe confines of your friendship. Countless pastas, cheeses and creamy bechamel sauces tantalising our palates as we ventured across the cobbled streets into the cradle of the renaissance. Here we tasted wine, we sampled cheeses and indulged in lasagne so perfect it could not be described as anything other than art.
You may be asking yourself, “I thought this was about Rome?” It is, but I like a dramatic build up and the wine coloured memories of Florence are romantic enough to start this journey.
My friends and I travelled from Florence to Rome on New Years Eve 2014. The weather was biting and we got charged 38 euros for a 20 second cab ride, everything was going exactly as planned. With a full day ahead of us we decided to take advantage of the clear, cold skies and start our site seeing journey. First up, the Spanish Steps, a stairway of 135 steps climbing to the Trinitia dei Monti church and…oh they’re completely covered in people watching a street performer, okay, that’s not ideal but we have plenty more to see, onward to the Vatican!
‘Preparation of midnight mass you say?’ Figures.
I guess we could go to the Colosseum, that’d be fun!
Also Closed…They’re setting up for a big New Years Eve fireworks display. I turn to my friends, each of us a little more disappointed with every attraction we’re turned away from. We’ve got another stop lucky, the iconic Trevi Fountain, you can’t close a fountain we laugh nervously.
Wrong! You can absolutely close a fountain, and not only can you close it, you can drain it, cover it with scaffolding and fences. I’m sensing a pattern at this point. So what’s left of Rome we ask, we’ve been turned away from history, left on the very streets we so eagerly wanted to be walk on. If history wasn’t going to welcome us we had to look to the future, and right now our future looked like Piazza di Santa Maria, 4 bottles of red wine and freshly made spinach and ricotta stuffed pasta manciotti shells.
And so here we were, culturally deprived and mellowing into the evening with a bottle of red wine each. We had to save this night, we were too far from our hotel to go back now and get changed, so we powered through and decided that since we couldn’t be a part of Italian culture for one night, we’d bring British culture here to Rome and have a pub crawl. Many drinks were had, so many in fact we befriended we a couple of american soldiers who took a fancy to our accents, and all of a sudden, we’re a troop commanding our way down the side streets of Rome looking for alcohol and tiramisu.
The night flew by, midnight drew nearer, we’d already taken a box of toilet roll from a bar because our hotel had none, and one of my friends was eyeing up a tissue dispenser because apparently we’re all kleptomaniacs on holiday, a decision had to be made.
“Where are we going to ring in the New Year?” I asked
“The Colosseum!” shouted our cadet friend, and off we went, except, there’s 6 of us, and only one cab, within a flash of which, my friends are riding off into the lamp lit streets of Rome with one army cadet whilst I stand shivering on the pavement with the other.
“Get the cab behind” my friend shouts, gesturing to the flashing lights of a police car beside us. “That’s a hard no” I say.
“Screw it, we can both run right?” I hear my cadet say before lunging into a sprint after the cab. So here I am, my body rattling against the cold in nothing but skinny jeans and a hoody, standing in a trail of icy cold dust as I watch my one link to the outside world, quite literally, running away from me. My mind was reeling, I was stranded in Rome, my phone refused to connect the internet, Uber didn’t exist yet and I couldn’t speak a word of Italian, I had no other choice but to start running too! After a few days of heavy eating and a night that had me 2.5 bottles of wine in, running was definitely not an enticing option. I caught up to Cadet, he smirked at me and dived into the nearest alleyway, ‘great’ I thought, ‘I’m being led to my death’,
“Let’s take a shortcut!” he screamed. ‘How does he know this is a shortcut?’ I thought.
A dead end, the alley was closed off. I was sensing a very specific theme in Rome.
“Let’s jump it!” another volley from the Cadet.
Before I could even feign shock, up he went, climbing a chain link fence, my anxiety spiralling with every clawing he made, up and over he went. I swallowed my fear and took the leap, utilising zero strength whatsoever and slipping straight back down to the ground. Only from this angle did I realise I could roll under it, and so I did. The cadet was impressed.
Back to our run, it was nearing midnight, we’d been on the run for 30 minutes, I was panting, attempting to keep up with the Cadet as he sang the American national anthem. I’d tried to picked up my pace as the Colosseum came into view, the bitter cold kept me from sweating profusely but I reached my limit with the run. I stopped to catch my breath against a crumbling wall, a buzzing ringing in my ears. I checked my phone, still no service, 12 minutes til Midnight, ‘I’m going to spend New Year’s with a wild American Solider aggressively heaving against a wall in Rome’ I thought. Suddenly, as if by magic, my phone came to life, a single bar of service, it rang, my friend on the other end.
“Where are you?” she shouted down the line. I explained what happened and how far we ran.
“We’re by the Colosseum, where are you?!” My voice shaking, I replied. They’d reached the Colosseum and were searching for us. She threw some vague descriptions of her locations at us “by a statue, some trees around it”, ‘Great’ I thought, so we’re looking for a statue. In Rome. Piece of piss.
I half ran, with a stitch, side by side with the Cadet who had started chanting the american national anthem as we neared the crowd preparing to watch the fireworks show. We scoured each and every face we passed in hopes that we could find each other, the crowd got thicker, we pierced it as a unit. Me searching for the familiarity of my friends, the Cadet searching for his drinking buddy. Time was dwindling, and so was my patience. We bounced from statue to statue, searching and searching, I got another call, I glimpsed the time 11:59pm, it would be 2015 in a matter of seconds. My friend called “YO!” announced the other Cadet, “Gimme my bro” I passed the phone over to my Cadet, they exchanged some words and he hung up, grabbed me by my arm and made a beeline towards a small crowd near a statue, with trees.
At the front of the crowd, in hoodies and waving their arms, I caught sight of my friends, we ran towards each other and the crowd erupted, at first, I let my ego think it was for us but really the Colosseum had reached it’s countdown and let off it’s first round of fireworks celebrating the New Year.
The Cadets tried their luck for a New Years kiss with my friends, one succeeded, one was reminded that he was married and I was happy I finally got to see something in Rome.