Originally published on TheMiamiStudent.net
The “American” breakfast at our hostel in Rome was a pathetic attempt at scrambled eggs, bacon and pancakes. We’d been given pineapple juice, which is apparently common in Italy but foreign to us, and coffee in a clear glass instead of a mug.
Everything about Rome felt like a colossal mistake. As we walked downhill after breakfast, in the direction of the Colosseum, I tried not to think about how horrible it would be to walk back uphill at the end of the day. My mind kept replaying the night before in quick flashes — the manager at our first hostel pointing off the map entirely to show us where we were; our hurried decision to leave; bartering for some of our money back; the taxi ride across town to a new hostel.
In an attempt to start the day fresh, I considered all I knew about Rome. I tried to remember when I’d first learned about the Colosseum, when it had become one of the things I wanted to see most. It must have been in middle school, though it seemed longer ago than that. I’d been fascinated by Ancient Rome — the gladiators that had fought in the giant arena; the legends about battles and children raised by wolves and love affairs that had ruined empires.
I saw us getting far enough into the city, crossing an intersection, looking to our left, and finally seeing it — a giant testament to a civilization of the past, right down the street, looming over the buildings and the road, magnificent, like in all the pictures. We wanted the version of Rome from “The Lizzie McGuire Movie.” That Rome had vespas zooming down the streets, wishes in the Trevi Fountain that actually came true, and glinting sunlight in the corner of each frame. Lizzie’s Rome had been magical.
But when we’d walked far enough on Via Cavour and it finally came into view, down one of the streets to the left just like I’d thought, something inside me was immediately let down. It wasn’t as big as I’d imagined.
Even as we got closer, nothing changed. It looked exactly like the pictures I’d seen since I was in middle school. Beautiful, incredible for the simple fact that it had been there for nearly two thousand years, but not as impressive as I’d hoped.
I stared up into the sun at the perfectly symmetrical openings and the cracked façade, but I couldn’t shake my disappointment. It occurred to me suddenly that the moment I’d thought was guaranteed to happen while I was abroad wasn’t likely to happen at all.
I think I’d anticipated that just seeing the Colosseum would trigger some kind of monumental, life-changing feeling. I’d walk away wiser, having been affected simply by the sight itself. But I wasn’t. There was no instantaneous feeling of realization, nothing that made me feel any different than the person I’d been five minutes ago. It was just the Colosseum.
“Just the Colosseum.” What was wrong with me? How was it possible to be disappointed by the Colosseum? More importantly, if the Colosseum wasn’t living up to expectations, was there anything in Europe that would?
As we explored the rest of Rome, dodging peddlers every 20 feet trying to sell us “selfie-sticks” or knock-off sunglasses, I couldn’t decide what disappointed me more -— the fact that seeing the Colosseum hadn’t forever altered me, or the fact that I’d assumed it would.