The Joys of Coming Back

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. Few cities that we’ve seen are better for strolling than Rome is. It’s at once monumental (tall buildings, grand architecture, monuments from every era) and compact (a wealth of things to see within a few-mile radius). You never know, when you turn a corner, what you’re going to encounter. 

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. We’ve had a wonderful week in Rome, looking after a pretty, light-filled apartment near the Vatican and two sweet, soft cats (Roodle and Kenji).

The daily market we frequented in our neighborhood of Prati

So we’ve been having a leisurely visit, this third time in Rome. We revisited some of our favorite pieces of Renaissance art—works by Bernini, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, and Pinturicchio in the Galleria Borghese, the Vatican Museums, and various churches. We also saw a special exhibition about Italy’s best female Renaissance painter (and one of the best of either sex), Artemesia Gentileschi, and explored the Vatican neighborhood near our apartment, which was new to us. (We didn’t spot the Pope, though.)

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!)

The very modern parade passes the 1st-century AD Colosseum

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.

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