I’d watched all that Rick Steves had to offer on visiting Rome, and I’d been there once before, so on my second trip, the plan was to hit all the sites that I hadn’t gotten to the first time, cocky as heck with all my knowledge.
On my first trip I’d worn blue Keds, and I’d walked an average of 12 miles a day (because I don’t waste money on public transportation in a walkable city!). I’d found the soles a little thin, and the cobblestones a little rough, so I thought I’d try a thicker sole on this next trip. I knew from experience that there’s nothing worse than breaking in new shoes on a trip – I’d made the mistake of wearing new spiky-heeled boots my first time to Vegas in order to look sexy, and instead I followed my friends down the Strip, Quasimodo-like – and I told myself that wouldn’t happen again.
I would be in Italy during January, so I had the potential of snow and rain, and I wasn’t checking any luggage, so whatever shoes I chose, I had to wear the whole time. I didn’t want to look like a tourist (white tennis shoes, HELLO), so I settled on a pair of flat boots that would keep me warm and I had already worn tons of times. I even tested their resilience on a rainy day in LA, and they were PERFECT.
Then, the Appian Way happened. According to damn liar Rick Steves, the Appian Way is a beautiful stretch of historic road surrounded by grassy fields and trees where Romans and tourists walk, bike, and have idyllic picnics. You can see the original aqueducts, it’s where the saying “All Roads Lead To Rome” comes from because it is literally THE original road, and it’s where Jesus appeared to Peter.
What the Appian Way ACTUALLY is, is a hellscape demon place designed to trick you into selling your soul for the promise of living for five more minutes. It’s a tiny, uneven cobblestoney ancient road with no sidewalk, built for tiny humans who were tinier then because it was BC times and they didn’t have vitamins or protein powder or modern vehicles that whiz by WAY too fast.
I had already walked a few confusing miles through Rome to get to the start of the Appian Way, and so, once on it, each cobblestone felt like it was slicing through my foot. And I was like a cartoon, flattening up against stone walls so cars could pass. I even began to doubt if I was on the right road, because there were NO OTHER TOURISTS, which is unheard of for Rome. I was all alone, wondering if God was testing me and pulling the same “Quo Vadis” stunt on me that he pulled on Peter.
I finally made it to my destination, the Saint Sebastian Catacombs. I ate a late lunch at the one restaurant across from it, which was up a HILL (and which was recommended by damn liar Rick Steves; but I was starving, I had to trust him again). It was WAY too nice, and clearly not made for tourists; octogenarian locals wearing 3-piece suits gave me strange looks as I Quasimodo’d myself to a table, screaming, “SANCTUARY! And breadsticks, please, yes.” I unzipped my boots under the table, and I swear steam billowed out.
In the Catacombs, photos weren’t allowed, and there weren’t any dead bodies, so I guess it was KIND OF worth the death-defying walk there? Plus I was distracted during the tour because 1) there was an annoying guy who wouldn’t shut up, and 2) I was dreading how I was going to get back. I knew I couldn’t walk that route again and live to tell about it; either my feet would be bloody nubs, or I’d be plastered to the front of a truck, perhaps voluntarily. Death by arrows was beginning to look pretty good.
In the gift shop, I noticed people buying bus tickets for a ride back to Rome. Apparently these Einsteins had all ridden the bus there in the first place. I hobbled in line and bought one – the one time in 3 weeks that I would take a bus in Europe. I ended up getting on the wrong bus, going the wrong way, but that’s a story for a different day.
When I got back to my hotel, I re-looked up the Appian Way and saw this gem: “Try to walk the Appian Way on a SUNDAY, the only day when TRAFFIC IS NOT ALLOWED.” And apparently, if I had just kept going past the Catacombs, I would’ve made it to the idyllic part where picnickers dine and angels flit about. Sigh.
I understand now why so much emphasis is put on soldiers taking care of their feet in war. My feet were just one entire blister for days; after a nail fell off, my frugal self broke down and bought a pair of sneakers from a store across from the Vatican (on sale!). I hobbled to some stairs, sat amongst the beggars, and tore off my boots. I wore the new shoes for the rest of my 3-week trip around Europe, looking more like a tourist, but feeling like I was walking on pillows, lugging my useless-but-beautiful broken-in boots the whole way.