photo by son (yes, the same over-zealous son - when it comes to garbage - below)
I didn't remember Rome being so crowded, and I've lived there for four years. Granted, that was close to twenty years ago. But I have visited since, including just before Christmas a year and half ago, and Rome wasn't so bad. But all this was before Pope Francis, whose immense popularity has, I suspect, moved more and more masses to Rome. In fact, we had the (bad) idea of visiting a friend in the Vatican City on Wednesday, the day of the Papal Audience, and found that even several hours after the morning audience, St Peter's Square was still jam-packed with people. Large herds of people, many of whom led by someone waving a flag, later trooped across the Tiber River near Castel Sant'Angelo, poured into Piazza Navona and from there to the Pantheon, where they all squeezed inside. This was precisely the itinerary we'd had in mind, before we saw the sea of tourists moving in compact and relentless waves.
But only a few kilometers outside Rome are some of my favorite Roman ruins, and a welcome respite from tourist crowds. For about seven century (3rd century BC to 4th century AD) Ostia Antica was an important port town, and today is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Italy.
There one can walk for hours along Roman streets and explore the remains of Roman buildings - houses, shops, temples, theaters ... all surrounded by somewhat unkempt nature that gives the site the appearance and the feel of a garden. A garden filled with Roman ruins.
(As you know, I don't normally write tourist information stuff, but as a bonus tip, I will share that if you travel with teenagers, and one of them happens to have thrown away the pizza you'd bought for lunch, mistaking it for a bag of trash (!!!), then you should stop for a panino or a focaccia with porchetta, a local specialty, just outside the archaeological site, at La Fraschetta del Borgo, Viale dei Romagnoli 761, Ostia Antica. This is an amazing place, filled with high-quality local and regional foods, and run by extremely hospitable people. The perfect conclusion to a wander through seven centuries)