Part I: Roman Holiday – The Holiday
Rome provides the perfect picturesque and historical landscape for any film – and any adventure. Roman Holiday was filmed here in 1953, and stared Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in the title roles of Ann (a princess on a tour of the European capital cities) and Joe (an American newspaper reporter).
The film is one of the earliest and best romantic comedies of all time and focuses on the story of two people from quintessentially different backgrounds, who meet and fall in love during the course of a single day in Rome, but then have to part at the end of that day to follow duty and pre-ordained destiny. It is a beautifully innocent film that illustrates the complete joy of falling in love, and the utter pain of love on leaving; experiences that many of us can identify with. Perhaps for this reason, coupled with the interest in Rome itself, Roman Holiday has continued to enjoy universal appeal across the decades.
The eternal city of Rome attracts some seven to ten million visitors every year. With its incredible piazzas and fountains, artisan shops, fabulous fountains and all round stunning, architectural heritage the city literally ‘buzzes’ culture and life! Stylish men and women dressed in pastel coloured trousers and leather jackets zip through the city streets and alleyways on motorbikes and scooters. People sit at the tables of outdoor cafés to simply enjoy ‘La Dolce Vita’ (the sweet life) and there is absolutely no real rush here. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ referred to it as ‘a place to explore the art of pleasure’ and this is what it is – completely!
The sweet life of Rome
With all of this in mind, ‘Roman Holiday => The Holiday’ thus found it’s definition. The chance to live ‘La Dolce Vita’ in the footsteps of Ann and Joe, over the much longer period of five days (rather than one) and with Vivien and Kaye (my comrades-at-arms); all of us in the title role of Ann! Although it was difficult to find a newspaper reporter called Joe to join us, we knew instantly that this was going to be a wondeful, unforgettable trip! And it is from this point that the tale of our adventure begins…
[Following Arrival] Our first step in retracing ‘Roman Holiday’ is the ‘Via Margutta, 51’ – the address where Joe Bradley lived in Rome whilst working as an American Newspaper Journalist. The outside of the building is undergoing renovation, and even though scaffolding masks much of it, we’re ecstatic to have found the location in the film where Ann spends a sleepy night in Joe’s apartment remarking at the time ‘I’ve never been alone with a man before, even with my dress on. With my dress off, it’s most unusual!’.
Joe’s flat is located at the top of a stone staircase in the private inner sanctum of Via Margutta, 51. The street is noisy and people are sitting on bales of hay in the courtyard that we need to walk through to reach it.
We have no official invitation but as people watch the musicians at the front we behave as if we’re meant to be here, walking confidently behind them as if we’re part of the party, yet hoping at the same time that no-one notices. We get as far as the stone staircase and look up to catch a glimpse of the building where Joe’s flat would have been. We go no further though as a resident begins to realise that we don’t actually have an invitation, and so instead we make a swift retreat back to the Via Margutta itself; our mission for the most part accomplished.
Further along the street we notice a fountain in the wall and an intriguing, curiosity shop that wins my heart. I ask the man who owns it if he was here when ‘Roman Holiday’ was originally filmed. He nods and smiles at us with a glint in his eye, ‘Of course’! Curiosity shops – of which novels are written about – are fascinating places and I could sit here all afternoon just exploring each fascinating object but the thought of lunch draws us out of the shop and we head on to toast Rome and all of it’s beautiful monuments with Bellinis (peach juice and champagne) in the Piazza Navona.
The Piazza Navona is a square filled with an abundance of life and theatricality. It follows the form of a stadium and was built by the ancient Romans who came here to watch their ‘agones’ or ‘games’ in the first century AD.
Today people sit in it’s many restaurants and cafés and enjoy the day, entertained by the street artists and artisans and other people just walking by. In the centre of the square stands the magnificent ‘Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi’ – a fountain designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini to celebrate four of the world’s great rivers – the Ganges, Danube, Plate and Nile. All four are represented as giants with the Nile wearing a veil indictive of it’s unknown origin or source. In the heat of the day little sprinklers spray us with water and keep us cool beneath the canvas awnings of the restaurant and we enjoy the best of Italian Pasta. “Ah…this is the Life!” exclaims Vivien…truly ‘La Dolce Vita’!
At seven pm in the evening i’m exhausted from a full day’s travel and exploration and almost no sleep the night before. I fall into a wonderfully comfortable bed at the Hotel Centrale (a lovely little hotel located in a side street very close to the Via Margutta) and am probably as tired as Princess Ann was when she fell asleep in the Forum Romana; where she first met Joe Bradley…
by Jackie Moreton
Co-Founder of Abeona Adventures