My birthday was coming up. Again. And it would be the first one my husband would not be there to take me out to celebrate the day. I knew I would feel it in my bones. To start a different tradition in the new normal, I decided to take myself out. Way out. I would go to Rome for my birthday.
I would take the Red Arrow, Frecciarossa, from Milan where I had been working. Two hours and 55 minutes from city center to city center. 297 km/h. In birthday style.
After a hearty breakfast and a short nap, I arrived…to a different time.
I took a red double-decker ‘carriage’ to the Colosseum. I was intrigued by this massive amphitheater measuring 190 by 155 meters (620 by 513 feet) built in the city center on the grounds of the former palace of the decadent emperor Nero. It was opened by Emperor Titus in 80 A.D., only a year after the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii.
Traveling through the city center, I passed many beautiful structures. When I could see the walls of the Roman Forum, I knew I was approaching my destination.
I got out of the carriage. The horses looked exhausted after navigating through the city.
It was a gorgeous late September day. I admired the great works of the Romans, and was in no hurry at all …
…to enter the Colosseum. I decided to linger outside for a while. I knew the hunts and wild animal fights usually took place there in the mornings. I could almost hear the cheers of the crowd, over 50,000 people packed inside…watching the combats and waiting for the public executions that usually started around noon. Later, in the afternoon and early evening, they would witness gladiator games and combats.
Finally I went inside.
Looking up from the ground floor, I could ‘see’ the elaborate private boxes where the noble and upper-class families enjoyed non-stop entertainment. The more gruesome, the better. The plebs tightly packed on the marble seats of the upper tiers.
Although there were about 100 drinking fountains for the spectators sprinkled on the upper floors, the underground hosted most of the facilities.
There were fresh water pipes of lead, cisterns for gathering rain water, latrines for the patrons and an elaborate system to handle all the waste generated at the arena on daily basis. The stalls housing wild animals and the gladiators’ chambers were also underground.
Most of the gladiators were slaves, condemned criminals or prisoners of war, but there were also a few freed men who wanted to become famous and rich…by keeping up a winning streak. Looking up from the lower levels at the ecstatic spectators must have been frightening. The masses expected bloodshed.
I climbed stairs and walked the ancient corridors pondering about the four centuries this arena was in active use. The entertainment here was elaborate and expensive. At some point the cost accounted for about 1/3 of the Roman annual revenue.
Over the centuries, this amphitheater was damaged by storms and earthquakes. It fell in disrepair by the 6th century, and finally became a quarry for building materials for forts, palaces and churches, including the St. Peter’s Basilica.
As a result, about 2/3 of the original structures were destroyed, until the restoration efforts started in the 1990s.
Now I needed to balance all these past horrors with some beauty. I hopped on my ‘carriage’ again and traveled through the city center past the impressive Parliament building.
I hopped off at the Castel of St. Angelo and decided to walk to the Vatican.
It was quite a walk, but luckily I am well-trained by Dylan. Approaching the St. Peter’s Basilica, I was suddenly thrown back in time.
I briefly ‘saw’ my husband happily sitting in that square all those years ago.
But that picture had already been taken. He was not there. Instead the place was very crowded. Hundreds of people were lining up for entrance.
I decided to continue my walk and visit the Vatican museums instead.
I needed to experience beauty. Art. Food for my soul. And there was plenty. Like this famous painting of Adam and Eve by Wenzel Peter.
Fantastic paintings in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
And many sculptures, ancient and modern, like the “Sphere within Sphere” by Arnoldo Pomodoro in the museum gardens.
Not to mention a large collection of icons and other paintings.
What surprised me was the sizable collection of Egyptian artefacts.
At the end of the day I had seen a lot. I had also walked a lot, over 20,000 steps. I was completely ready for a meal freely allowed on birthdays. Quattro Stagioni. Pizza at an Osteria next to my hotel.
I wish you all…a Happy Birthday if you happen to have one, or just solid, ordinary days this coming week. Those days are the best. Be here and breathe deep.
92 thoughts on “Birthday. Solo in the Fast Lane.”
Holidays and birthdays. They can be challenging. I wish you well as you traverse these days, dear Helen. Blessings of love and best wishes, albeit belated, for a wonderful, peaceful next trip around the sun.
Thank you, dear Carrie. I know some tough times lay right ahead. I am still unpacking, so to speak, my recent trip. Started from the top of the “suitcase” and now lifting up items in the middle. So the next trip will need to wait while I try to decide from where to take off…my home airport might be changing in the next six months.
I wish you love and peace…and all of the very best as that home airport changes. 💕
I know that trip was bittersweet for you. Your husband would have been proud of you for being so strong. Better days are coming, my friend. Love and hugs ❤
Thank you my friend. You are the one being strong right now…sending you much love and a big hug ❤
Thank you tiny. ❤
Happy Belated Birthday Helen. I’m glad that you are finding new ways to celebrate, live, and love. Hugs, Brad
Thank you, Brad. I am trying to find my way in the new normal…lots of things to work through remain. Hugs to you too.
Oh, tears in my eyes, again, Helen!
What a magnificent birthday; even though saddened by a great loss.
Your description of the Colosseum had me thoroughly engaged; hopefully, I will get to visit one day. I sit mesmerised by your journey, Helen; and your wonderful storytelling.
Happy Belated Birthday. And I agree; your Birthday Dinner was thoroughly earned… ❤
Thank you for your kind words, dear Carolyn ❤ My birthday was certainly a bit adventurous and bittersweet at the same time. I am happy I went on this trip to experience history…although some of it was personal and sad. It helped me to lift my sights and gain new perspectives. I am still unpacking…
Rome has much to offer during this time to occupy your eyes and thoughts…and stomach, too. But I truly loved seeing your tribute to your husband in the midst of your current Roman Holiday. He was a handsome man! Wishing you a wonderful year ahead… ❤
Thank you, Cyndi. My trip was a long one, a combination of taking care of my father’s estate, some work and some vacation days. I am so happy I took some time to just look around. It was helpful to me in so many ways. Still enjoying those memories.
Happy Birthday, Tiny! You deserved that trip to Rome.
Thank you, Hien. I really enjoyed visiting Rome and Venice again, and the Pompeii ruins for the first time on this trip.
Sending love and birthday wishes to you. I am sorry you are feeling such loss.
Thank you kindly, VD. I’m doing a bit better after my trip.
hugs and birthday wishes –
Thank you, Beth!
Roma and Quattro stagione sounds just right Helen! As we embrace the old we face the new. Happy belated birthday my friend ❣️🎂🎉💛
Thank you dear Val. I have to confess I also enjoyed a surprise birthday cake after my speech at the conference in Milan the day before, and a box of Italian bakery sweets I received as a birthday gift there.
Good for you Helen 🙋💐🍰
My birthday’s are going to seem kind of dull now. 😉
Happy Birthday! 🎂
Thank you kindly, my friend!
Happy birthday my friend. Mine was last week and James’s is today. These are fabulous photos but I know you are still reeling from the losses you’ve suffered this year. And so I’m gonna keep you lifted up and ask that Jesus grant you His peace that transcends all human understanding and that day by day you find comfort in knowing that both your husband and your father loved you very much and that they walk with you still and always will. Love and hugs, N 🙂 ❤ xoxoxoxoxo
Thank you, dear Natalie for your beautiful words and prayers ❤ And Happy Belated Birthday to you both! XOXO
You’re so very welcome dear Helen! Thanks for the belated birthday wish!!! ❤️😘xoxoxo
You are as BRAVE as the gladiators of old! 20,000 steps ~> Dylan HAS trained you well.
Don’t know about the bravery…but over 20K steps in one day was probably was probably a record. I know Dylan was proud of me when I told him in a text message.
I have a lot of catching up to do here…firstly, happy birthday to you, secondly, what a wonderful yet very bittersweet adventure you’ve been on in Rome. Hugs to you, friend…I’m going to read through some past posts now.
Thank you, Susan. This year brought losses and hurricanes. It has not been easy, but I am doing quite a bit better now after my long trip.
Happy birthday, Helen! Fabulous photos of Rome. Time goes so fast, it was almost 2 decades ago when we visited Rome, it didn’t have the train like this. So glad you enjoyed the beauty, art, and food. Take care. ❤
Thank you, dear Amy. Happy you visited Rome again with me. I have to say that the high-speed train was a great experience…so fast and comfortable. And Rome always offers a lot to experience.
Takes courage for you to go back…
Thank you for these beautiful photos. 🙂
Happiest Birthday to you my friend. I am so happy you went to Rome! I am truly sorry for the loss and the pain, but happy you had the love that created it. The bitter, with the sweet. ❤
Thank you for your most wonderful comment, my friend. The bitter with the sweet – that’s how I will need to look at it.
You are brave, well done for making the most of your life and thanks for sharing all those beautiful experiences with your excellent photographs. Belated Happy Birthday.
Thank you, Susan. Luckily I am used to travel alone due to my many work trips…so this was an opportunity for me to “tag on” some vacation days and look around.
Happy birthday Helen. You have a wonderful attitude to life. Thank you for sharing this beautiful experience with us ✨💚
Thank you for your birthday wishes and kind words, Karen. I am glad you came along on my b-day trip ❤
I’m sorry for your loss. All days are difficult to start but especially those which are special for some reason. We have to create new ways to celebrate, new ways to explore and still feel enchanted by the world around. It sounds and looks like you did just that in celebration of your birthday. ❤️
Thank you, Rebecca. You are right in that some days are quite difficult, and I’m sure there are more to come. I am happy I decided to stay in Italy and go to Rome that day. The whole trip helped me to gain some new perspectives.
Happy belated Birthday wishes dear friend!Although it’s hard without him,you’ve to adjust yourself to the new phase of your life.Magnificent your photos of the archaeological treasures of Rome,glorious the compilation of the paintings and sculptures displayed on your brilliant post!Many Happy Returns,dear Tiny 🙂 xxx
Thank you for your kind wishes and words, dear Doda ❤ Rome is certainly a fascinating city to visit, no matter how many times. Happy you enjoyed the post 🙂
What an amazing amount of sight seeing you managed to fit in to your birth day. And it was a great way to start a new birthday tradition. I am sending lots of hugs and good wishes for the year ahead.
Happy you enjoyed my virtual “birthday cake”, Gallivanta. I actually need to confess I got a real surprise birthday cake at the conference I spoke at in Milan the day before. And it was good 🙂
Oh, that’s brilliant!
Happy Birthday, Tiny! Bittersweet for sure, and this will be a year of many new “firsts.” I think of you often. *hugs*
Thank you for birthday wishes and hugs, Barbara. Yes, a year of many firsts, of which I have only experienced two to date, his right after the funeral and mine recently. Being in Rome certainly made it a bit easier.
Bittersweet – but your bravery and determination to choose beauty truly inspires me.
Thank you for your kind words, Kathy. Much appreciated.
Tiny – Your post was really about life, sad, beautiful and true. I think it’s fabulous you picked such a wonderful side-trip for your birthday, new experiences, memories and all! Happy Birthday – Susan
Thank you, Susan. I am happy I did the side trip. It ended being a beautiful day amidst some sadness.
Thank you! That was perfect. And I agree what your friend wrote just before me. You are brave and intelligent. Hugs❤❤🐩🐩🌞🌞
Thank you, my dear friend, for your beautiful and kind words ❤
Happy Birthday, sweet Tiny. Wow, what amazing pictures. It must be breathtaking to see all of those things in person. Thank you for sharing. Hugs
I am happy you enjoyed my little birthday tour. Thank you, including for the hugs, dear Mags!
Thank you dear Mags. I am very happy you enjoyed the little tour of these historical places in Rome. Many hugs.
What a splendid way to celebrate your birthday, Helen. I love the relaxed photo of your husband. (Thanks for including it in your post.) I’m sure many memories from the past came flooding back to you as you walked alone in that busy square. Your photos as always are superb. Hugs to you. xx
Happy you came along on my ‘birthday tour’ of Rome, Sylvia. It was enjoyable albeit somewhat nostalgic and sad too. I remembered quite vividly the trip we made so many years ago, but at the same time I tried to remain in the present and take in the experiences. It was like a walk on a tight rope 🙂
Happy birthday, and thank you for sharing these lovely pictures and your thoughts.
Thank you, Meg, and happy you enjoyed this little tour.
Happy birthday Helen!! And WOW!!!
Thanks for sharing your day. You photos are stunning…i feel like I was there!
Thank you dear Lorrie ❤ Happy you came along to Rome, my friend.
And OH! What a trip! I can honestly tell you your posts have given me a bit of a travel bug 💜
Happy birthday! You definitely treated yourself alright😀 I don’t know of a better way you could have possibly spent your birthday.
Thank you! It was a great day despite some sadness. I’m happy I got to do this trip.
A belated Happy Birthday! 😀 What a unique and magical way to spend the day and you give us a treat of a post on Rome. I’ve always been fascinated by the Colosseum and you give new insights. Your photos are beautiful… still a bittersweet day, I understand. These special days without loved ones are hard and I admire your courage and strength to start new traditions, ventures. Hugs xx
Thank you for you kind words and wishes, Annika. It was an emotional day, for sure, but I tried to keep busy 🙂 And after all that walking. ‘looking’ and finally eating, I was happily ready to hit the pillow 🙂
Moved. Happy Birthday Helen.
Thank you, David.
Sending you virtual hugs, dear Helen. ❤
Thank you, Carol ❤
Happy Birthday dear and bravo to you for making a new birthday tradition. Sending big hugs. Xoxo
Thank you, Sue! It was a nostalgic, but good birthday. Thank you for the hugs! XOXO
Most welcome. Lots more where those came from.
Machtig mooie foto’s en wat te laat maar alvast een fijne verjaardag
Ik ben blij dat je de reis genoten hebt!
Happy Birthday my beautiful friend!! So sorry, you had to start a new tradition…but I hope bright things are in store for you. I would of loved to joined you on this glorious event. XO Laurie
Thank you, my friend! When faced with a situation like mine, one will need to accept (not easy), adapt and somehow find a way to continue…and it is getting a little better with time. Hugs
Happy Birthday! Rome looks awesome. I love how you created a wonderful “new tradition.”
Thank you, Sheryl. Rome is one of the most interesting cities I’ve visited…and a good place to try to start a new tradition.
Happy Birthday dear Tiny! It is hard when you celebrate it alone, and remember better times with the one you love. What beautiful vistas of a previous age you wonderfully portray. Birthdays have lost their excitement for me, though my wife loves to make them special as I do for her, as mine will come up in a couple of weeks, and my brother’s is today. Praying that you find comfort and strength through this time.
Thank you, my friends for your kind words and prayers. And early Happy Birthday wishes to you. I am sure your wife will make it as special as always.
So very difficult, but as you came to realize the only way to offset this sadness you feel in your bones, is to go out and create something powerful and amazing in life ~ and what a way to start a new tradition. Uplifting and inspirational ~ awesome Tiny, it makes me want to embrace life as I see it in your photos and writing. Wishing you the best in this new year for you.
Thank you for your kind words and encouragement, Randall. I am trying to find myself again in this ‘new world’. I am sure there is something new and amazing to discover once I can see clearly, there has to be.
Happy Belated Birthday. Sorry about your loss. It seems that you had a good traveling birthday. thanks for sharing.
Thank you kindly, Corlia. Your paintings are great.
Happy belated birthday and virtual hugs for you! Traveling sometimes helped in many ways ❤ and traveling Rome never disappoints 🙂
Looks like our birthdays were close to each other..
Happy Birthday to you too, Indah! This longish trip really helped me in many ways to accept and internalize my “new normal”. I am still digging in my “virtual suitcase” for other stops I made.
I’m glad to see you made the best of your birthday, it’s really the only way to get through sometimes, so sorry to find out you’ve lost someone so close — I salute your positivity and send love and light your way from the Cloud x
– Esme Cloud doing just that ❤
Thank you for your warm greetings, love and light from the Cloud, Esme ❤