During the summer of 2014, I traveled in Europe for a few weeks- mainly the UK, Ireland, and Greece. On the way from London to Athens, I had an 18 hour layover in Rome, and I decided to make the best of it.
My first stop, after dropping my stuff off at my hotel, was the Colosseum. To say this structure was awe-inspiring is an understatement. It’s beautiful and breath-taking and powerful. After the Colosseum, I made my way to Trevi Fountain, via the metro.
Upon exiting the metro, I found myself in this gorgeous piazza. After snapping a few pictures, I sat down on a bench to rest and take it all in. Sitting about a meter away from me, reading, was Maurice, a little, old Italian man dressed in a pressed blue short-sleeve button-down tucked into oversized pleated gray slacks. Somehow, we struck up a conversation. Exchanging pleasantries first, he learned that I lived in Shanghai. “Why would you want to do that?” he asked. I shared a few of the reasons why I loved Shangers, but he wasn’t buying it. That’s when I learned that he was fluent in Mandarin! Like…he can read and write it, too! Obviously intrigued, I asked him if he’d ever been to China, to which he promptly informed me that he hadn’t and that he had no desire to go to China. “Why, then, did you learn Chinese?” “I was bored,” was his reply. Who does that?!? Oh, I’m bored. I think I’ll just become fluent in Mandarin. Needless to say, I was impressed. And bewildered.
Next, the conversation changed. His next question caught me off-guard, and was the sweetest question I’d ever heard. “Do you have a love story?” (Cue the “awwwwww” from the audience.) Not only was I melting from the sincerity and Italian-ness of his question, but I was suddenly sad to answer that, no, I did not, in fact, have a love story.
“I had a love story. But my wife of over 40 years died a few years ago. It’s just me.” Now doesn’t that just hit ya in the gut?
He shared more of his love story and his life in Rome with me before I realized that, while I was enjoying this conversation, I was on a timeline and needed to see more of Rome. The sun was slowly lowering in the sky, reminding me of my dwindling time left in this lovely city. I politely asked Maurice to point me in the direction of Trevi Fountain, a place I’d been told I must see while in Rome. Instead of showing me which way to go, he insisted on walking me there. I realized that putting up a fight didn’t matter. He was going to show me anyway.
Trevi Fountain was unfortunately under construction, so it was a bit of a let-down. Sweet Maurice felt personally responsible for not knowing this. Taking my friend Linner’s advice, we found a gelato place near the fountain where I got the most delicious gelato ever. I tried to pay for it, as a thank you to Maurice, but he insisted, saying this was his city, and I was his guest. Being so independent, it was hard for me to accept. But I eventually just said thank you.
Gelato cups empty, our stomachs wanting more, Maurice asked me what I had planned for the rest of the day. “Ummmm…I’m just gonna wander around and figure things out,” I replied.
“Do you want a tour guide?” he timidly asked.
For a second, I contemplated saying no. What if he’s a serial killer? OK, that’s a bit extreme. But still. He could have ulterior motives or something. Hemming and hawing over the decision, I figured, why not?
Maurice and I then proceeded to have a lovely evening. As we strolled through the cobblestone streets, I was in constant awe of the beautiful buildings, adorable Vespas, and foliage. The only photo I managed to take of Maurice that day was on one of these streets.
How cute is he? He sorta looks like an Italian version of my grandpa.
I lucked out with my tour guide! Not only did I see the typical touristy stuff in Rome, I got to see the stuff “only Italians do.” One of my favorite experiences was when we tried to throw a coin on the top of the ruins for good luck. I made several attempts, but didn’t quite make it.
We wandered down by the river, where Maurice helped me bargain for two watercolor paintings- one for me and one for my friend Melissa, who I was meeting up with in Greece. Crossing a bridge, we happened upon a very famous restaurant whose name escapes me at the moment. Anyhow, the door was covered in Michelin and other food awards. The foodie in me really wanted to try it out, but Maurice wanted to see what else there was to eat. After checking out a few places that didn’t seem quite right, we headed back to the Michelin restaurant. This was a good choice for sure.
We both ordered the spinach ravioli, and let me tell you…it was divine. Italian food in Italy cannot be beat! Seriously. Determined to repay Maurice for his kindness, I tried to pay the (quite pricey) bill. He, again, fought me on it and insisted that it was his treat. It was his city, after all, and I was a visitor. This man was a gentleman! They don’t make ’em like this anymore.
As the night drew to a close, Maurice proved to be a gentleman one last time. After warning me that Rome isn’t that safe at night, he rode with me in a cab to drop me off at my hotel. (He let me pay the taxi ride, so that was good at least.) We said our goodbyes. I thanked him for a lovely day, and I never saw him again.
I had 18 hours in Rome, and you know what? I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it any other way!