When hoping to visit Rome’s many ancient attractions it was suggested, due to the Eternal City’s maze of ancient roads and manic traffic, that I do so via Vespa, the stylish, iconic Italian-made scooter-bike featured in the 1953 Audrey Hepburn film “Roman Holiday.” The logic was that a Vespa could motor in between lines of crawling cars and taxis and slip down narrow streets and alleyways.
IC Bellagio, an Italy-based travel company, part of the worldwide Virtuoso travel advisor network, offered just such an opportunity, but I was a little nervous about driving what is essentially a moped in Rome’s vehicular vortex while trying to navigate with a map.
“Oh you won’t be driving the Vespa,” said IC Bellagio’s Andrea Grisdale. “You’ll be riding on the back.”
Say what!? Me…on the back of a moped? I’m a 50 year-old roundish square who’s never sat on anything with less than four wheels. “We’ll see,” I thought.
I basked in the warmth of a sunny Sunday afternoon and watched the street below from the scenic, 11th floor rooftop patio of my lodging – the Hotel Mediterraneo – waiting to be picked up. The classic, art deco digs near Rome’s Termini train station was perfectly centrally located to start the swing. When I saw the red Vespa roll up to the valet corner entrance, I went down to decide whether or not to go through with it. “Lorenzo,” who resembled a cross between actors Roberto Benigni and Peter Sellers, handed me a helmet and suggested I wear my glasses to keep from getting bugs in my eyes. (Oh, he had me sign a release form, too.) The next thing I knew my arms were around his waist and the wind was in my hair as we zipped along the tree-lined Via Veneto. Shortly into the four-hour tour I was relaxed and confident enough to not even hold on…I even took a moving “selfie” video and posted it on Facebook!
“Let’s go see the world’s biggest ‘slaughterhouse,’” Lorenzo joked, referring to the Roman Coliseum and its’ barbaric history. In between spins through the streets, he stopped at various, often little-known, scenic vantage points, so I could get off the Vespa and take photos while he dispensed colorful, historical facts. When I asked the name of the church we’d passed on the way to Trevi Fountain, Lorenzo smiled and shrugged, “There are over 600 churches in Rome, so…”
The Vatican City, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Fontanone del Gianicolo, the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio, and Appian Way were each reached and described – and it was fun to stop and talk Italian politics with Lorenzo at a café for a cappuccino break (I chose a tall, cold Peroni beer) – and the joy of scooting between fashion houses and gawking tourists along the Via del Corso – and all throughout Rome before being safely returned to the Mediterraneo in time for dinner turned out the highlight of my trip. Viva Vespa!
For information visit ICBellagio.com
Michael Patrick Shiels may be contacted at InviteYourself@aol.com His talk show can be heard weekday mornings in Lansing on 92.1 FM.