The European leg of our odyssey has come to an end after 80 days, 13 countries, around 40 trains and buses, and countless fantastic places.
Starting in Turkey and travelling through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy our last days were in Rome, to mutilate an overused quote.
Not a bad place to finish, a suitable climax to the trip, a cultural and historical apogee despite everything that’s been before.
There have been many highlights and it’s impossible to choose between Plitvice or Ljubljana or Istanbul or Budapest or the Dalmatian Coast or many other brilliant stops, from Prague to Plovdiv. But there’s no place like Rome.
If you took the “standard” post-apocalyptic movie scene – burnt out and smoking buildings, many reduced to rubble, civilisation long since departed – but set it 1000 years ago, you’d have the Roman Forum, which sprawls across the centre of the city.
Ornately carved decrepit monuments, broken yet beautiful, dot the landscape. Crumbling masonry and magnificent columns support only fresh air, their grandeur lost to the ages. The fabulous coliseum, still standing, proudly but mournfully overlooks the legacy of what was once the centre of the world.
Surveying the scene is really something, almost other-worldly.
Our meanderings also took in bridges and piazzas, fountains and forums, churches and cathedrals, villas and basilicas, parks and pantheons, even a papal address. Fantastically preserved Roman marvels at every turn.
I’ve come to realise talking about juxtaposition and the disparity of old and new and “a city of contrasts” (which cities aren’t?) is enormously cliched and isn’t in any way either new or insightful. I’m guilty of it.
But Rome isn’t a city of contrast – it’s an enormous unparalleled historical wonder.
I’m going to unashamedly quote myself here:
I would not recommend a route from West to East [Europe].
Your trip would be a gradual decline; having your eyes pop in Florence and Venice would really ruin Plovdiv…
Our way around, you build to a crescendo.
Indeed we did – Rome was the perfect end. Europe was fantastic, Rome was marvellous, life is great.
Next stop Myanmar.