There's an old Italian saying: Roma non basta una vita . It means "For Rome, one life is not enough".
True enough. The Eternal City holds enough interest for several lifetimes. Layer after layer of history has littered it with monuments. You trip over ancient ruins and encounter Renaissance and Baroque splendours around every corner.
But the Romans themselves don't pay them much attention – they are too busy being Romans. This is a performing art which requires training from the cradle.
Just wander through the streets and you find yourself in instant theater, a theater with a remarkable setting and peopled by born performers.
The first essential is to be stylish, no matter what your station in life. Even the street sweepers have style.
As for the passers-by, they all seem to have stepped out of a fashion ad. Their coiffures are impeccable, their clothes immaculately tailored, their manner nonchalantly preening, their perfume dreamy. And that is just the men!
The women, oozing self-confidence, mix sexiness with sophisticated elegance, even when crossing the street – a real adventure in Rome. They sway straight out into the revving, swirling traffic. Which miraculously swings around them, or screeches to a halt to examine a particularly alluring female.
Meanwhile, the Romans indulge in one of their favorite pastimes, talking. To each other, to themselves, but especially into their mobile phones. If you are not armed with one of those gadgets, you are just dust under an emperor's chariot wheels.
It is an invention made for the Romans, enabling them to debate opinions or protest their love 24 hours a day.
One thing in particular had changed between my first visit to the city, as a penniless hitch-hiker, and my second: the number of fellow tourists. My nostalgic dreams did not include joining long queues for museums nor being bumped off pavements by tour groups, all blindly following flag-bearing leaders.
Armies of tourists had taken over the Vatican, marching quickly past Etruscan sarcophagi, Greek sculptures, and countless other masterpieces to reach the Sistine chapel.
Magnificently restored, Michelangelo's frescoes glow with color. But it's difficult to appreciate art when you are wedged shoulder to shoulder with several thousand other gawkers.
Announcements in five languages asked us to mute our voices and abstain from taking flash pictures. Nobody took the slightest notice.
Nevertheless, Rome holds enough wonders to make you forget the crowds.
I and my wife wandered into the Pantheon. Could those foot-thick bronze doors really have been opening and closing for 2,000 years?
We poked our hands into the Bocca della Veritá (the mouth of truth), just like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday , and were relieved to suffer no damage, for they say that this stone carving of a river god amputates the limbs of those of unclean conscience.
We climbed the Spanish Steps and walked down the Via Veneto, recalling the days when this was the center of La Dolce Vita.
Verde's La Traviata was being performed at the Teatro dell'Opera. The theater was packed with an audience as enthusiastic as only a Roman audience can be. At the end we joined in the ecstatic cries of "Bravo! Bravo!"
Arrivederci, Roma! We'll be back.