Rome from My Lens – Diary of an African Girl
My very first (and so far only) solo foray was to Rome, Italy. It was no “Eat, Pray, Love and be one with yourself” kind of trip. I actually ended up on my own by accident. I wish the story of how I ended up on my own was as simple as my friend getting sick or having a work crisis to deal with. What actually happened was that plans were made when my male friend was single, and then he got himself a girlfriend and decided it wouldn’t be appropriate to travel alone with another woman. Understandable, yes, but annoying nonetheless.
It was too late to cancel: money had been committed, visas secured and twilight was still in the August summer air so I packed my (very small thanks to low-cost airlines) bag and headed off to beautiful Roma.
I’ve always been a budget traveler because I want to visit as many places as possible, each requiring money and seeing as I don’t own a bank yet, limitations apply. I’ll only splurge if there’s a good deal to be had. The two things that I always consider when booking hotels are the location and the negative reviews. I read everything ever written on the internet about the area to make sure that it’s safe, genuinely close to public transportation (some places will say ‘’a short walk” and not tell you that they consider 40 minutes to be “short”) and not too far off the grid. I also read negative comments on Tripadvisor or other sites. Even if a place has hundreds of good reviews, if there’s a common trend in the negative comments (everyone complaining about ratty sheets, for example) then think twice about whether that’ll be an issue for you.
My hotel was nothing fancy, but decent and in the suburbs of Rome, about a 15 minute bus ride out. No problem, on paper. What nobody told me was that in the thick of summer, many services slow down to a near crawl. Buses won’t always follow schedules and you might spend some time waiting. I spent a good two hours waiting on one Sunday morning. Thankfully, I didn’t have anything planned for a specific time that day and with the long summer days, I didn’t mind the slowness too much. It made me slow down too, and really take the city in.
Of all the places for a solo foray, Rome proved itself to be top-notch. I booked a series of city tours including the Vatican (St Paul’s), ancient Rome and the Colosseum, and a night walking tour through the old city. I always take guided tours because I love to hear the stories of how things were built (and sometimes destroyed). I love to hear how it all came to be. Rome has so many layers of history that make it even more fascinating. Did you know that it’s actually literally a layered city? Each new city was built on top of the last. Then there is the magnificence that is St Paul’s. No words can do justice to its grandeur.
Ever since I first saw the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, I’ve had a fascination with arches and their symbolism so I was almost giddy with how many there are in Rome and how beautifully they have been preserved.
The Solo Experience
I was nervous about travelling alone, but the tours I booked took up all my time and when I wasn’t on a tour, I walked through the beautiful streets randomly and actually allowed myself to get a little bit lost. It was magnificent, particularly because I would turn a corner and find the most amazing town squares with all manner of activity, architecture and curio shops. I’d sometimes stop at a bistro to have a glass of wine and watch the very touristy but still entertaining acrobats and other performers.
My only disappointment was that the night walking tour was cancelled and I wasn’t informed about it so I sat waiting and forlorn for a few hours on the rim of an ancient fountain. A random young couple who were very intrigued by my skin then came and took pictures with me, which made me laugh.
A lot of native Italians from other parts had travelled into the city to visit the Vatican and I think many of the children (and adults, if I’m honest) from out of the capital had not been exposed to many (or any) black people. They stared at me and touched my skin, but I never once felt violated or objectified. It was plain curiosity, and wonder, and for the most part, the stares were appreciative. One man stopped me on the street and said “You’re such a beautiful creature! Where are you from?”“Uganda”, I told him, never prouder.
Romans will make you feel beautiful.