We took a six hour bike tour of Appian Way in Rome on Sunday. Rome is a smorgasbord of sights and sounds and things to do and it becomes overwhelming after a while of navigating and learning about stuff on your own so I decided we needed a tour of some sort. I was actually looking for a tour of Vatican City when I stumbled onto a highly rated bike tour. It seemed that people loved this tour of the ancient road into Rome which is only part of the tour. It was built in 312 B.C. and has oodles of historical and religious significance. It spanned 350 miles and was a straight shot from the Roman Forum (downtown Rome) to modern day Brindisi allowing trade and access to the East. It is said to be the road on which Peter had his vision from Christ and headed back into Rome to be persecuted.
I am not really a biker of any talent and for that reason I chose the private bike tour thinking that at least it would only be four people waiting for me and not twenty. I can ride a bike on a smooth road and I am fit enough to make it up a hill or two, but give me terrain and I turn into a cursing mass of concentration and irritation. If you add a healthy dose of traffic to that (where my babies are riding) and some ancient, large stones that pave part of the path and make for some technical mountain biking, then I am officially far out of my comfort zone and doing some serious Adventurieting (anxiety and adventure).
The Appian Way (these are the easy cobblestones)
Roman drinking fountain
I am going to take a moment to talk about biking and walking in Rome. It seems like each country has a nuanced set of pedestrian rules for sure and I am assuming biking rules, but this is the first place we have been on bikes in traffic. For example, if you are in London, you better be in a crosswalk and crossing with the light or drivers will hunt you down. I have seen it with my own eyes, but at least there is no question as to when one is supposed to walk across the street. In Rome, there are crosswalks and a few crosswalks at lights. I like the crosswalks at lights because there is no question as to when you should walk across the street. There are many crosswalks without lights and those make me nervous because the cars go very fast. By observing the locals, I have learned that you wait for a break in the traffic and then cross the street. The cars will stop for you. It is very intimidating though, with busses and scooters, in the dark, on a curve in the road where drivers can’t see what is around the corner. Seriously people, I just don’t have that much faith. Scott drives me crazy because he just forges ahead, and we like ducklings, follow. I have developed some techniques to crossing the road.
I look for an Italian mother with small children and cross with her and if that is not available, I wait for a group of people and cross the street like a wildebeest. It’s as simple as that. Our biking guide, Michele, told us that since there aren’t a lot of bike paths in Rome, bikers are allowed to ride where ever they need to and we did, but not without trepidation (on my part anyway). I didn’t know who I should be most concerned about, me or the kids. They were getting along just fine, the guide having an in depth discussion with Scott about how to introduce his five year old to biking since our kids were such strong and capable bikers. I finally stopped trying to make my own safety decisions and just followed blindly across busy streets and over bumpy roads telling myself to enjoy the view when the group got way ahead of me. I figured if they lost me, it was their fault for not waiting and their responsibly to come and find me since they were all such talented bikers.
We stopped to watch a bride. Michele our guide told us that this church like many in Rome, began as a pagan temple and was repurposed to be a Catholic church by the Romans.
Ironically, I got stuck swimming upstream against this group of cyclists. I had lost my group at this point and wasn’t even sure if I was in the right place. I just pulled over and watched the bikes fly by.
We stopped and toured San Callisto Catacomb. They were founded at the end of the 2nd century and became the first official cemetery of the newly established Roman Church. Archeologists have found the tombs of over 500,000 people buried here including seven popes. The patron saint of music was also buried there and when her body was exhumed in 1599, more than 1000 years after it was buried, it was found perfectly preserved.
We biked on through back roads and busy roads and paths and parks. We stopped to admire a well preserved part of the aqueducts.
What astounded me was that there were people barbequing in a meadow on one side of this beautiful structure and golfers enjoying the day on the other side. We rode just a little farther and stopped to admire a working aqueduct which my kids and other kids climbed on and people stopped to wash their hands in the flowing water.
Michele told us that in the summer heat the flowing water helped to keep people cool and heathy. I had been wondering how growing up around such history would affect a person and so I posed the question to Michele who has grown up in and around Rome and lived in the city most of his adult life except for five years in the U.S. and other traveling. He said that people take it for granted and don’t visit the sites.
We took a break at a 600 year old farm where Ana keeps her goats and makes cheese every day.
I’m glad it was near the end of the 30 km loop because after eating my weight in cheese and bread and sharing a bottle of wine, I was no longer in an athletic state of mind. We feasted on the usual cheese (aged 4 months) and the fresh, “only on Sundays” cheese, both salted and plain.
We finished up our ride dodging tourists near Constantine’s Arch and the Colosseum. It was surreal to me to be nonchalantly wending my way through this mass of people with the Roman Colosseum oh, just right there, and look there is Constantine’s Arch, and over there are more Roman ruins. It was surreal.
Many thanks to our wonderful guide Michele and Top Bike Rental