A first visit to Rome is amazing. A second or third visit is great in a different way. The first time, you race to see all of the most important sights of Ancient Rome (the Coliseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, imperial palaces) and Renaissance Rome (St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums, and other galleries). The next time you come to Rome, you have the gift of free time. You can set your own agenda: revisit places you loved before, or explore second-tier sights, or just enjoy Rome the way Romans do—by strolling the streets on a balmy evening, lingering in cafes, or treating yourself to incomparable gelato.
This summer, we’ve been asked back to do two housesits that we did last year: in Rome and then on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. With no lodging to pay for (we get that free in exchange for taking care of the cats, watering the plants, and keeping the apartment clean), we don’t feel a tourist’s pressure to get our money’s worth out of each day. That’s a luxury.
So we’ve been having a leisurely visit, this third time in Rome. I’ve gotten reacquainted with some beloved paintings that I discovered on my first trip. Melissa has sat in various spots around the city and sketched. We’ve watched the LBGT Pride Parade, walked or ridden buses all over the city, explored the old Jewish Quarter, visited some churches we hadn’t seen before, and taken an outing an hour from Rome to the Villa D’Este in Tivoli. The hilltop gardens there, which are famous for their elaborate 17th-century fountains, were a disappointment because the fountains weren’t working—a fact that wasn’t mentioned until we got to the entrance! I’ve also been savoring the chance to watch World Cup matches on live TV. (Go, Mexico and Iceland!)
One of the benefits of house sitting is getting to live like a local resident for a while. That means simple pleasures like being recognized as a repeat customer at the meat and produce stalls in the local market, saying hi to Massimo the doorman in our building, seeing what new restaurants have opened in our neighborhood since last year and which old favorites are still here.
With our strong sense of wanderlust, Melissa and I usually seek out new places and new experiences. But, as millions of people with a favorite vacation spot know, there’s a special delight in coming back to a place you’ve loved before.