I’ve been sitting here most of the day, clicking through the 750 photos I took while in Italy, and it’s been a pleasant way to replay our time there which now, seems a million miles away. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
I took an old-fashioned journal with me, thinking I’d write since I wouldn’t have access to a computer for any real time. And although I did write, I’m so out of practice doing so with a pen and paper, that my thoughts left me before I could finish sentences. We were so busy, packing much into each day, it was challenging to find time to sit and write anything, and when I did, I wanted to close my eyes for just a bit to catch my breath. Stare at the ceiling in our room and wonder who had lived there (and it’s a very old ceiling…)
When I travel, I long to know what it’s like to live where I’m staying. It matters. I enjoy walking through streets that are off the regular path, and shops that aren’t on anyone’s recommended list. In fact, I enjoy this sort of time spent in a place more than seeing attractions most of the time. It gives me a better sense of who the people are, and what it might be like to be one of them even though I know that it will never be quite right. To some extent, this was possible for us in Rome, Sorrento, and Galluzzo, the small town we stayed in outside Florence. And it must have worked, because I now know that people from each of these areas are distinctly different, and fiercely proud of it.
In Rome, we stayed in a very small apartment a short walk from the Campo di Fiori on Via dei Cappellari. The streets everywhere are paved with small square, black cobblestones planted in an arching pattern. Buildings plastered in muted, warm colors rise three or four stories across passageways sometimes only wide enough for a tiny car to pass by. Windows are shuttered against the heat, which at times, is oppressive, and others, interrupted by breeze from a cross street. Via dei Cappellari is such a street.
A variety of tiny shops that don’t quite make sense together line the way past our apartment: furniture makers sand and varnish chairs and tables, a spotless motorbike repair shop takes in customers, a dress boutique waits for shoppers, and an antiques dealer fans himself in the dim lighting of his shop. We wondered each day how any of them could keep afloat tucked away as they were, with so many others hid in their own tiny areas of such a huge city.
Our apartment was three flights of stairs up through a tiny door that was nearly impossible to open with the skeleton key we were given. Thankfully, we never did see the person whose apartment we tried to get in at first, thinking it was ours. And it wasn’t so bad after we did get into our apartment to find that an air conditioner was available as long as we were willing to pay 5 Euros a day. But there were no clean sheets or towels, and when the MoH tried to use the telephone to call the rental company, it didn’t work. No surprise since it looked like a relic from the ’50’s. At least there was a large plasma screen — until I blew a circuit breaker with my flat iron the next morning. So much for our converter, hmmm?
So much for anything remotely close to what I’d consider a “good” hair day for the next couple of weeks. Note to self: Tell Dan the Man haircut dood that I will not be having a cut this short again no matter how thrilled he is with the way it looks. The hat came in VERY handy.
The MoH and I left the RTR & his big brother in the apartment under the AC — literally — while we ventured out to find a phone and food. We found the phone, but figuring out how to use it was another story all together. Yes, it’s explained in tourist books. Embarrassing, but true. So the rental company was contacted about the linens and they were promptly delivered. Woo-Hoo!
Rome is a gritty place. There are scooters everywhere, and the traffic even in tiny streets, is something you have to keep an eye on. Once you realize that the key is to step into the street, make and keep eye contact with the driver, and move quickly across the street, you’re fine. Unfortunately, that only seems to work for the cars. The scooters are not as trustworthy.
There are cafes everywhere. Cafes and bars and gelato shops line nearly every street, and deciding which one to go into doesn’t have to be a science. We never did figure out exactly what “tourist food” was because every meal we had in Rome was exceptional whether it was pizza near the Pantheon, or clams and mussels in wine and garlic in Trastavere across the Tiber. And the pasta? Mmmm…who knew that Carbonara could be made so many different ways.
We walked everywhere in Rome. We walked until our feet ached and our knees weren’t sure how to act when we finally were able to sit. We walked and sweat more than I thought it possible to sweat. No wonder the Romans wore togas. Or was that the Greeks? A nice breeze ruffling a skirt would have been quite nice as long as a puff of Gold’s powder was available. More than once I noticed Italian men and women on their way to work; the men in beautifully cut suits of rich fabric and the women in smart linen trousers and stylish tops. Not a drop of sweat on any of them. How do they do it? That could never be me, wrinkled damp human that I am. Thank goodness for the cool quiet, shaded streets we often found on our way to one place or another.
Often when we travel, we’ll mark a map just to see how much ground we’ve covered. It would have been too challenging in Rome because we often wandered. Sometimes on purpose, and sometimes because we were lost. The MoH and I rarely agreed that we were where we thought we were or supposed to be, so bitching and moaning ensued. Not him. Me. But that’s what happens when you put two strong-willed people together in a strange place with two large young men in tow. I know I tested his patience this vacation more than I usually do, but there wasn’t a cork large enough in Rome for my mouth or my opinions. I’ve never been very good at following.
So what did I truly enjoy?
- Walking around the corner of a tiny street shrouded in the shade that early evening imposes on the city and seeing the Pantheon amongst the buildings that have grown around it over the past 2,000 years. It was beautiful, and early in the week, not as crowded as it would become by the weekend. I had my first taste of Italian gelato sitting on the wall next to the Pantheon, trying desperately to keep the deep, dark chocolate from dripping down my arm and onto my white bermudas. My camera wasn’t so lucky.
- Seeing the cat hospice at the Largo Argentina Ruins. It was twilight, which in Rome is about 9PM, and since the city has physically risen over the past few thousand years, the ancient area is at least a couple of stories lower than street level. We never quite figured it out, but someone was setting up a show of sorts, displaying edgy contemporary art with music and a light show. But as we looked more closely, we noticed cats. Scores of cats in the shadows. All colors and sizes. On one corner of the square, you can venture down a flight of stairs to talk to them, give them a few pets, and marvel that in a city the size of Rome, someone would provide such a place for them. Amazing.
- Sitting in the Campo di Fiori with the MoH the first night in Rome. We watched a talented street entertainer mimmicking passers by, the armed Carbonieri, and the young people they were keeping an eye on. A guitarist’s quiet music was a perfect accompaniment to the show seen satisfyingly from our tiny cafe table. The evening was warm, and a breeze across the square made everything just right.
- The walk through the Borghese Gardens after we saw the gallery. Sure we were hot, thirsty, and hungry. Okay, so starving. And sure, we had a detour caused by some construction going on. But it was beautiful, and I thought that it would have been a perfect place to sit and nap or picnic, if figuring out how to get the whole picnic thing right could have been a possibility. But no one complained. The grounds are completely shaded and there’s a large wading pool of sorts. People wearing bathing suits were sunning on towels. It was quiet. Fountains appeared here and there, and it was all I could do NOT to sit on the edge of one and dip my feet in since diving was not an option. As we finished our trek through the grounds, my favorite view of Rome was there, right above the Piazza del Popolo all spread out in front of us.
- The wine and the espresso. Neither was as expensive as the Coke the boys drank or the birra the MoH ordered. Of course, the ground espresso I purchased to make in the apartment each morning ended up opening in my suitcase during our travels, and for the remainder of our vacation, I sported dark smudges on my undies and smelled like coffee, but who’s complaining?
- The spigots that can be found throughout Rome. All you need is a bottle. The water is ice cold and free. I don’t know where we would have been without it because it wasn’t as plentiful in Sorrento or Florence and we missed it.
- The ORANGE purse and wallet I purchased. I guess I like orange after all.
The low points?
- Begrudgingly, the throngs of people at Trevi fountain. I suppose in thinking about it now that we could have stayed up later and then ventured to see it, but everyone is up until the wee hours of the night anyway, and transitioning to Rome time, we were lagging. On second thought, getting up very early would work best. Everyone is asleep after a night full of revelry, right? It could be magical.
- My older son admitting that he was not impressed by the Colosseum. He told us he was really looking forward to seeing it, too. I’m sad for him because a life spent building up expectations and nothing being able to meet them is a tough life indeed. He does tend to have a half empty cup about life at times. It breaks my heart.
- Tour groups. They were like a virus. They took up vast quantities of space everywhere forcing everyone off the sidewalks and up against the walls of any space they oozed in to. They arrived, they armed their point-n-shoots, they shot, they left. One after the other. Hoards. It was beyond annoying.
- The Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s jaw droppingly beautiful ceiling was actually reduced to a room full of people standing shoulder to shoulder with a grouchy guard incessantly hissing, “Silence!” to the noisy masses who seemed to be there only to try and sneak a photo of something they wanted to be able to say they saw, instead of think about how it was painted and by whom, or why. Very sad.
And something unexpectedly lovely to end on a positive note…
- St. Paul’s Basilica in the very late afternoon. No lines, unearthly light streaming through the windows, voices from the mass taking place echoing through the building…Breath-takingly beautiful. And Michelangelo’s Pieta? Oh. My. It brought tears. Maybe I was just tired, but still.
Cost so far minus airfare?
Private Shuttle to Apartment: $120 (Okay, so this was convenience just because we had to stop by the rental office, then get to the apartment. The airport is not close to the city and the office not close to the apartment. I was at the “whatever” stage of booking.)
Accommodations: $650 (Not bad for 4 people for 4 days…)
Food: $475 (No junk food. Yes, they have Mickey D’s. Some cooking in the apartment, fruit, wine, gelato, salami & cheese, and some very nice dinners. Did I say wine?)
Attractions: $300 (The Colosseum, The Forum, Palatine HillThe Borghese, The Vatican…I forget what else…)
Train to Sorrento: $120 (Inter-City train)
Orange Purse & Wallet: Priceless (Okay, so it wasn’t, but it was in my suitcase when we left, so I didn’t get to collect on the tax that I was charged. What. Ever.)