Bike: 3T Exploro
Best time of the day: Early morning
Best period of the year: All year Round
Favourite stop: Piazza Navona
The lockdown is over and ‘phase two,’ as they are calling it, has started. It is the first day in which you can go cycling. After months of forced lockdown, in Italy and in the rest of the world, you can finally go out alone to do outdoor sports within the borders of your region. There are many of us who have been waiting for this moment and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to experience the last few hours of peace in a Rome without cars.
At five in the morning the alarm rings when it is still dark outside. Slowly I get out of bed and head to the kitchen, make my coffee and start dressing like I haven’t done for weeks. The usual ritual begins in the dim light of the lamp in the living room. I put on my bib, sports socks, cycling shirt and windproof jacket. I check the battery and GPS track on my device, I fill the water bottles and from a distance I peek at the child who moves in the cot. He must have heard me while I was sipping my coffee. The bike, on the other hand, has been ready for days, oiled and clean, the same as for big occasions. After breakfast, I collect everything I need for the day and get ready to go out. On tiptoe I leave the household still asleep, close the door and put on my bike shoes. Hopefully I haven’t woken anyone up.
At half past five I turn on the front light and jump onto the saddle. The temperature seems good and the first lights of dawn can be seen in the distance. I leave the neighborhood feeling a mixture of happiness and trepidation while a light breeze accompanies me in the first minutes. What will I find before my eyes? Will Rome have changed? Will there be the usual traffic? It’s certainly good to feel free riding my bike again!
I cycle along via della Magliana and on the right side I can see in the distance the EUR district and the Castelli Romani still dozing. After a few kilometers my legs begin to turn and in a flash I reach the Ostiense Gasometer. Across the Industry Bridge (also known as the Iron Bridge) I look out over the silent and dark River Tiber. There is practically nobody around, some garbage trucks and a few taxis. I keep going on via Ostiense freed of traffic, I accelerate to the sight of the green traffic light and greet the Pyramid of Cestius, one of the most incredible and best preserved sites of ancient Rome. I quickly turn right and start bobbing up and down on the cobblestones of viale Aventino while the night fades away. Another push and I arrive in front of the Colosseum greeting the military who stand guard in front of one of the symbols of Rome. They are glued to their cell phones and they don’t even notice me. I park my bike in front of the stadium which has seen gladiators and animals show their abilities to fellow citizens for several centuries. It’s just me and a couple of municipal patrols. I enjoy this moment of peace and slowly pedal around this magnificent structure built two thousand years ago. When I enter via dei Fori Imperiali the sun has now risen and the remains of ancient Rome on the sides of the road light up in a golden color. It seems they are almost alive. The marble pulsates in the rays of the sun, sending golden splinters of light onto the buildings and monuments all around and as I cycle through millennia of history I have a happy smile on my face. It is like a journey back in time on a two-wheeled spacecraft that runs at the right speed to admire this unique cityscape. And what’s more, I’m riding a human-powered and environmentally-friendly vehicle.
I stop for a quick photo in front of the Altare della Patria (Victor Emmanuel II National Monument) where I meet the curious gaze of the soldiers who are motionless doing the steering column. I go down along via del Corso passing within a few meters from ancient to modern Rome. I cycle near Montecitorio and Palazzo Chigi (Prime Minister office), theater of the much discussed lockdown decrees of the last few weeks, and I slip into the alleys where I find another symbolic monument of the Capital: the Trevi Fountain.
I can’t believe my eyes, besides me there is only one local police car. After seeing the images on the news of the cities emptied by the lockdown for days, I am now experiencing it firsthand. And how incredible! I take advantage of the moment to take some great pictures, I move the bike, I change my point of view, I take more pictures and in the meantime I absorb the light of the day that has flooded the city with positive vibes. It is time to leave before the city wakes up. It’s almost seven o’clock and I head towards Piazza Navona. I get lost in some of the streets, I discover unknown corners while trying to enlarge the map of the GPS navigator. I enter a half-lit and half-shaded Piazza Navona. A yellow light hits the buildings while an Italian flag flutters. I feel an energy rising from my feet up to my head. It is the sign that we can do it, we can put this negative period of isolation behind us and look ahead with a new mentality, which prioritises our health, the environment and the relationships with the people we care about.
Roma quanta fuit, ipsa ruina docet.
(How great Rome was, its very ruins tell.)
A stream of thoughts envelope me as I cycle around the square. I think of how good humans are to put themselves in cages. These sensory experiences, within everyone’s reach, should be our daily bread. And instead we struggle to have new eyes to see what is in front of us. We should learn about the sunrise and watch the sunset whenever possible. Get out of the comfort zone that blocks us between our walls and take advantage of the beauty that our country has to offer, in every single region from north to south. Considering how much freedom of movement we have lacked in recent months, there is no longer any excuse, really.
I start to see some people on the streets. My smile collides with the frightened and somewhat sleepy looks of workers who are reaching their workplaces and while I enjoy via dei Condotti and the Spanish Steps alone, I realise how lucky I am to be able to do a job that I love and that includes one of my great passions, the bicycle. I cycle through the immense Piazza del Popolo and head towards the Vatican. The tour of Rome cannot miss another of the symbols of this eternal city: St. Peter’s Square. I go through a police and military cordon patrolling the entrance to the Vatican and looking out onto the empty square that reminds me of the Pope’s recent photos while blessing Urbi et Orbi. It seems a lot of time has passed since those dark days but fortunately today the sun shines on Rome and the whole of Italy and the hope is that the worst has passed.
After the tour of the historic center, I take the cycle path of the Monte Ciocci linear park. One of the last cycle-pedestrian projects completed by the city of Rome and inaugurated in 2014. I wonder how little is mentioned about this cycle-pedestrian stretch, a sort of Parisian Promenade Plantée or New York High-Line that cuts the Balduina neighborhood in two. It is now eight in the morning and I am zigzagging between dogs, pedestrians and runners to leave Rome. I enjoy these five kilometers of cycle path, safe and clean, which run between trees and buildings in a part of Rome that I know very little about. After the cycle path I enter via Trionfale, a usually busy road, that is now a highway for me and my bicycle without any cars around. I continue past to the G.R.A. (Rome Great Ring Road) and I leave the city limits to turn towards the Grottarossa — Labaro area. Here too I encounter little traffic and I wonder at how pleasant it is to pedal without cars parked in the second lane or crazy people on scooters trying to overtake me all the time. This is an area north of the city where typical countryside vistas are still preserved. Crops of wheat and olive trees shine under a gentle summer sun with poppies and flowers of all colors adding chromatic varieties to this spring palette. In the background the Sabina mountains and the blue sky turn pedaling into a meditative exercise that makes you quickly forget the hustle and bustle of cars that greedily regain possession of a city that had started breathing again.
After bypassing the Labaro district on the outskirts of Rome, I reach the beginning of the Tiberina cycle path, perhaps the most ambitious and successful project of cycle paths of the capital which for more than thirty kilometers wind along the bank of the River Tiber, from the north of Rome down to the south-west quadrant that leads to the sea. It is only nine in the morning but on the GPS device I see that I have traveled more than sixty kilometers. It is true what we say in Italy: “Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca! (Morning has gold in its mouth!)”. I grab a snack from the bag and I let myself be transported along these kilometers of quiet and well maintained cycle path. Far from the cars and traffic, the body relaxes and the mind is free to run fast by my side. Some flocks of sheep greet my passage and I meet a great variety of cyclists, from the pros who run like a bullet to the family that occupies the entire cycle path. It is not really true that cyclists are lacking in Rome. If anything, there are no safe roads and infrastructure to facilitate the use of bicycles. But for the moment I enjoy this high cruising speed and the almost perfect climate of this Mediterranean morning. I approach the city and I am surprised at how many people have a more serene expression than we have been used to in the last few weeks. The sun, the open air and the freedom to move have infected everyone and along the Tiber there is a nice coming and going of Romans who keep a safe distance and don the special masks. The Tiberina cycle path is a unique experience that I highly recommend to everyone visiting Rome, cyclists or not. It offers a unique and unexpected point of view a stone’s throw from the river that saw this city rise.
I cycle the last few kilometers looking back on this magnificent day. Before lunch I reach home, I kiss my partner and I hug my one-year-old boy tightly. The bike puts me in a very good mood. And this city gives me great emotions every time I cycle its streets. And it doesn’t matter that sometimes they are horrific, full of traffic or potholes and that Romans are considered to be crazy drivers. As the saying goes: “Rome was not built in a single day”. There is still a lot of work to do, and all together we must push to make its roads safer and encourage the use of the bicycle. But there is no other place in the world where the bike ride becomes an almost mystical experience, a journey through time where ancient streets and monuments, parks, wild green areas and a lush countryside are within the city limits, just a few kilometers from home. So arm yourself with patience, a little goodwill and a decent bike, because the important thing is to go out and discover this unique place in the world that has laid the foundations of our European culture and beyond. Happy riding to everyone!
Non fuit in solo Roma peracta die.
(Rome was not built in a day.)