If Rome were a person, she’d be that relative you have that is in her golden years… the one you look to for advice who is a deep well of wisdom and life lessons, but the lines on her face tell of the adversities and challenges she’s had to overcome to survive. In essence, Rome is a well preserved senior citizen. At nearly 3,000 years old… she looks pretty darn good.
There is so much to do and see in Rome that it would be nearly impossible to summarize the Eternal City in one post. Thus I am writing a three piece story on how to explore Rome like a champ aka a different view of Rome aka Rome is freaking awesome and I can’t bottleneck all my photos and feelings about her into one post!
This first segment is for the adventurers who seek a unique view of Rome seen from the lush countryside, full of rich history and sprawling landscapes; an intimate exploration of Christian heritage and Roman engineering. Tickle that adrenalin itch and abandon concern for anything other than just enjoying yourself in the true tradition of fun.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “All roads lead to Rome.” In 312 B.C. the Appian Way was one of these roads constructed to connect people to Rome. It was one of the several enormously long roads that extended from Rome to the corners of its domain and was traveled by military troops, merchants and peasants alike.
The Appian Way has survived bloody wars, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the evolution of time. The remains of this stoned path are still intact for people to traverse and enjoy the glorious country landscape in the outskirts of the city, as well as witness ancient Christian tombs scattered along the road.
A fun and adventurous way to explore Rome’s surrounding areas is to take a bike tour. Before leaving the U.S. I did my research to find the company and tour that best suited my travel aspirations. The tour I chose was The Red Bicycle’s Appian Way guided tour: a four hour, 15 mile tour of the Roman countryside including Appia Antica Park, Christian Catacombs, Aqueduct Park and the local water springs of Santa Egeria.
Although The Red Bicycle offers six enticing tours, the fusion of history and nature sold me on the Appian Way Tour. Bear in mind, you do not have to be an athlete for this adventure, while it does exact physical effort, you take breaks and make stops at lovely sights along the way to regenerate while your tour guide fills you in on rich Roman history. Riding on uneven terrain, cobblestone streets and the rugged Appian Way takes a minute to adjust to, but you’re supplied with a mountain bike with hearty tires so utilize those gears and adjust accordingly, put a little thrust into the peddle and you’re on your way!
Traveling can easily intercept physical activity and when you’re exploring Italy and your diet consists of bread and pasta three times a day (ok, maybe 4 or 5, I won’t even mention the gelato…), this is a fun and rejuvenating exercise to balance all the tantalizing consumption. It just so happens to be accompanied with ancient remains, catacombs, aqueducts and so much more… revert back to your child-like ambitions and let your legs lead the way on this fun adventure!
Another great aspect of taking the bike tour is that you get to visit several sights that you otherwise might have had to plan separately. If you’re visiting Rome, Christian catacombs are a really cool experience that I recommend you have. This bike tour and post are all about a unique perspective of Rome. While you’ll naturally be drawn to the tourist hotspots like the Colosseum and Vatican City, which will be included in the 2nd and 3rd installations I’m writing on Rome, the Catacombs are a breath of fresh air as they’re not extremely crowded, relatively quick to explore (about 45-60 minutes) and provide an intimate experience. When visiting a big city like Rome, I’ve found that the places you have the lowest expectations for end up being incredibly memorable because you get to be yourself naturally as you explore, not the version of you with the battle armor against hordes of other tourists being shuffled through like cattle as you try to snap a quick pick of some ancient statue that your tour guide emphasizes is important for a reason you didn’t hear but everyone else is snapping a pic of it so you do just that… Yes, we’ve all been there. Yes, let’s be honest, it sucks.
The Appian Way tour takes you to the Catacombs of San Callisto, an underground sanctuary featuring four floors with tunnels of burial tombs. Dating back to the 2nd century, you’ll find crypts of Popes, martyrs and Christians with family tombs and frescos of antiquity. Many Christians died while hiding from the Romans underground and as a result there are a massive amount of tombs.
If you’re going in the summer time like we did, the Catacombs are underground offering cool refreshment from the hot Italian climate. Now I didn’t do any research on finding Catacombs prior to our trip, but my boyfriend did and he found the one that he wanted to go to most was actually the Catacombs of St. Domitilla. After being pleasantly surprised at how awesome the Catacombs of San Callisto were, he was underwhelmed by St. Domitilla because much of it was blocked off to the public making the tour extremely short and lacking the depth we experienced at San Callisto. Not that I’m trying to catacomb-bash here as it’s personal preference that dictates your enjoyment of any sight, but the Catacombs of San Callisto provided a more thorough and bountiful experience to him than the Catacombs of St. Domitilla.
Also included on the itinerary is a ride through Aqueduct Park and local springs where you’ll stop to receive a short history of ancient Rome’s amazingly modern and ingenious water system. The Aqueducts were built as a way for Roman’s to retrieve clean water from distant sources to hydrate and bathe the townspeople as well as source their elaborate plethora of fountains. However, their progressive architectural methods were hindered by great enemy forces who cut off some of the water channels, leading to the decline of the Roman Empire in the Medieval era. Alas, today you can see the remains of monumental constructs of great ancient Roman engineering whose concepts roots, though evolved, are still utilized in our modern civilization.
This tour legitimately provided me with a heart warming and authentic experience that I blab about anytime the word Rome peaks in conversation. Part of what makes an amazing tour is an amazing tour guide. Musa, at the Red Bicycle, migrated from Senegal in 2007 and has become an expert on the Roman countryside thereby infusing our tour with knowledge, life and energy.
Don’t forget that when in Rome, do as the Romans do and savor every single experience. Speaking from personal mistakes, don’t get caught up in the tourist mindset of seeing it all. Focus on seeing what speaks to you most, be open minded about new or unfamiliar things and allow yourself to be carried by the culture of your location and the presence of the moment, your enjoyment lies in your ability to let go and wander.
Tips for the bike ride: