When you’re newly arrived in Rome, after that long flight, part of you just wants to stay in your hotel bed and snooze.
The other part, of course, can’t wait to get out and explore one of the world’s most exciting cities.
Pete and I had no choice but to get going; we’d enrolled for a guided tour, “Rome In A Half Day With Electric Bikes.”
Which is why at 9am, fighting waves of doziness, we’d walked across town, past the incredible sculptures and churches and piazzas and bustling craziness that is Rome, and were waiting outside a bicycle shop at the famed Circus Maximus.
“You here for the tour?” the bicycle shop proprietor asked us in halting English. We nodded, and he swiftly ducked into his shop and came out with bikes that were the right height.
A tall, elegant young woman with long blonde hair appeared. “I’m Monika, your guide,” she greeted us and a couple from the US hovering shyly close by.
“Welcome to Rome. In the next few hours, you’re going to see more of this city than some locals have seen!” Monika flashed a dazzling smile.
She showed us how to activate the bike’s engine when going up hill, and soon we were gliding through the ancient empire on our wheels.
I found myself goofily grinning as we went. What fun, whizzing past the same stadium where ancient Romans had raced on chariots.
“We’re between the Aventine Hill – the southernmost of Rome’s seven hills – and the Palatine Hill,” Monika, an art historian, halted us to explain.
Though she’d possibly delivered this spiel hundreds of times, she sounded as enthusiastic as if she’d only just stumbled on this knowledge herself.
Soon we were back on our bikes, heading up a steep road – but with the flick of a switch, we were gliding up faster than Road Runner.
“This is the Giardino degli aranci – Orange Tree Garden- Monika halted at a beautiful little park with sweeping views of Rome below us. “I’m going to show you a little secret.” She pointed at a dome that looked quite close – then led us through the park, closer to the dome, which began to look way more distant. “An optical illusion,” she nodded.
Monica had other little secrets to share;; she took us to an ancient monastery where we took turns peering through the keyhole, only to see: well I won’t tell you, just in case you ever do this tour!
After taking a few pictures, we found ourselves whizzing down to some of Rome’s most iconic landmarks: the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and then the Pantheon.
I had worried, when first signing up for this tour, that we would risk being bowled over by Roman traffic, but Monika knows the city like the back of her handlebar: she led us down a labyrinth of ancient narrow streets, not wide enough for cars and charming to explore.
“Now we’re at the Pantheon. I’m going to let you have 15 minutes. Go get a coffee, or wander into this incredible temple. I’ll mind the bikes,” said our friendly guide.
Pete and I found the nearest café and sat down for a quick caffeine fix. There’d been so much to take in and the tour was giving us a delicious taste of what this exciting city has to offer.
I had been here before, with my mother, but that was 21 years earlier, and Pete had never been to the Eternal City..
The tour is not only a brilliant introduction to Rome, but the information we were getting from Monika added extra depth and dimension you couldn’t get from a guide book alone.
Soon we were back on our bikes and whizzing past designer shops like Gucci, Pucci and Dolce e Gabbana (each with bedazzling window displays), to the Piazza Navona.
“There must be someone important going past,” Monika nodded as we saw a limousine rock up outside an embassy in the square, flanked by about 15 bullet proof cars with guards.
(It was the Brazilian embassy; no doubt security is tight considering that country’s underwhelming leader has allowed much of the Amazon to be torched.)
The distraction was a timely reminder that even while concentrating on the city’s ancient history, it’s foolhardy to ignore the modern-day action around us: tourists gobbling gelato; locals squabbling loudly on mobile phones; fantastic street musicians performing on electric violins, street people lingering outside high-end fashion stores.
Monika told us one of the sculpted figures in the piazza’s famous fountain, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was giving the “up yours” finger to the adjoining church. An in-house joke from one designer to another, it would seem.
“Bernini didn’t like the architect Borromini who designed the church,” Monika told us. (Though we later read that the church was built later than the fountain..)
Monika then took us across the Tiber to the Trastavere district, pointing out the ancient hospital and Jewish Ghetto along the way. Her voice shook with emotion as she relayed how poorly the Jewish people had been treated in Italy.
Finally, it was time to return to Circus Maximus, hand back our bikes and say goodbye to Monika. We felt sorry it was over. For me, the tour was a wonderful re-introduction to this vibrant treasure trove of historic monuments and lively inhabitants.
And the jet lag seemed to have vanished. Having used electric bikes, we’d got the blood flowing, but were by no means exhausted, as we readied to tuck into lunch at a locals’ café Monika recommended near the bike shop.
I strongly recommend this e-bike tour for anyone visiting Rome, whether you’re a regular visitor or a first-timer; and you only have to be moderately fit!
For details go to