When in Rome...
14.09.2009 - 14.09.2009
“Turn right on the Lungotevere Della Farnesina in 1 mile.”
“Turn right on the Via Anicia in 400 feet.”
As we made our way down the Viale di Trastevere, the cool, clear voice of the GPS lady was a calm in the storm that is the streets of central Rome. Even her Italian was impressive. Scooters whizzed by at maddening speeds, cutting in front of cars, driving on the wrong side, whipping up onto sidewalks; cars made their own lanes wherever possible – 2 lanes, 3 lanes, 5 lanes; small alleys the width of a compact car but intended for 2 way traffic popped up at every corner, some so narrow we had to pull the mirrors in on our sub-compact just to avoid scraping along the old stucco walls of the tall buildings on either side; but I was smug. We had this licked.
“Turn right on the Via Dei Genovesi in 200 feet.”
Sure, it was madness, but we had the GPS lady. So what if she had turned us the wrong way shortly after leaving the Rome airport and had taken us down a long dirt road that ended in a locked gate. Anyone can make one mistake. Right? Besides, she sounded so certain, so confident, so self assured.
“Turn right on the Viale di Trastevere.”
Uh-oh. Do you know what happens when you keep turning right? We chose to ignore the obvious and kept doing exactly what the GPS lady said. What else could we do? We were lost in a maze of tiny alleys in the middle of historic Rome.
When we passed the same statue for the 3rd time, we had to admit: Houston, we have a problem.
And so began our 10 day adventure in Italy.
Maybe we were overconfident. Maybe we grossly underestimated just how difficult driving in Italy can be. Maybe we hadn’t done a very good job mapping out our destination because of our ill-fated confidence in electronic technology. Whatever the reason, I spent the next 5 minutes cussing at the GPS lady while a fierce sweat broke out on Matt’s forehead as he tried to delicately maneuver our tiny car through even tinier streets having absolutely no freaking idea where he was going.
Through blessed luck or divine intervention, we finally saw it: our hotel. Santa Maria Trastevere was like a tiny oasis in a maze of confusion. An old cloister centered around a delicate orange grove, the little hotel’s gate welcomed us inside. We were here. We were in Italy.
It was late Monday morning. Having caught a 5:30 flight out of Knoxville after only 2 hours of sleep on Sunday morning, we had a 10 hour layover in Philadelphia that we spent with my best friend and her husband who live in the city. We then flew out of Philly at 6:00 p.m. and spent a miserable 8 ½ hours trying to sleep in a ridiculously uncomfortable airplane seat. After about an hour of the drift and jerk-- you know, when you drift off and your head dips forward…a little drool escaping onto your chest….and then you suddenly and violently JERK back upright and awake and sheepishly wipe the drool off your chin while you covertly look around to see who just witnessed your idiocy-- I just gave up and spent the next 7 hours with my eyes closed, figuring it was the best I could do.
But now, we were here. All the planning, the expense, the uncomfortable flights…it was all worth it as I looked around me at honey colored buildings climbing with ivy. It couldn’t really be this lovely, could it? We had chosen to stay in the Trastevere neighborhood, across the Tiber River from the historic center of Rome. With only one day in Rome, it was close to what we wanted to see, but just removed enough to also give us the flavor of a cozy Italian neighborhood. It delivered everything it promised.
Trastevere is simply a lovely little neighborhood. Old buildings in warm yellows and oranges rise around small cobbled alleyways and green vines and flowers seem to climb every possible surface. Fresh smelling laundry in bright colors spills out of every window and flaps quietly in the breeze. People stroll everywhere, men in aprons stand and smoke cigarettes outside a small pizzeria, a little dog stares out of a shop door, and women laugh and carry shopping bags across the piazza. The color and vibrancy of the place literally hit me like a wall. I was staggered and felt like I could scarcely take it all in.
We were afforded an early check-in (“Hallelujah!”) and trekked out to find our first Italian meal. We had identified a good choice in advance using reviews and guidebooks, but you know what they say about the best laid plans. After walking up and down the same block 3 times (and starting to feel like we did when we passed that statue for the 3rd time), we noticed a small sign in a window identifying a black, dusty little corner as what USED to be our restaurant. So, we just walked until we got to the next place.
We turned a corner and it was littered with happy little tables. Margherita Osteria Pizzeria in Trastevere was the grand prize winner for our first lunch. It was exactly what I imagined a little pizzeria in Rome to be. We were quickly seated at a warm little outdoor table on a cobblestone street. Within moments, we had water, the house red wine, and stuffed fried olives. We also had a fabulous pizza with mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, ham, and pecorino cheese. We were weary, but the wine went a long way toward making everything better.
The first lesson I learned in Italy: Everything looks better through rose colored wine glasses.
We only had one day to see Rome, so we headed across the Piazza Trilussa toward the bridge across the Tiber River. On the way, we stopped at Di Checco for some gelato. I chose caffe (coffee) flavor and Matt chose something he had never heard of: Nutella. And so began Matt’s Italian obsession with Nutella. We never did figure out what it was. Was it chocolate? Was it nuts? Who knew? It was spreadable happiness and that’s all we needed to know.
We sat in the Piazza Trilussa and ate our gelato, savoring every creamy bite, even licking the dripping runs off our hands. It was that good. We might have savored it a bit too long, though, because the next thing we heard was thunder. We only had one day in Rome…so we carried on. We managed to get across the bridge before the torrential rains hit. We ducked under an awning and laughed like kids in the rain until it slacked off.
We spent the next few hours walking through historic Rome and seeing as many wonderful things as we could. We walked down to Palatine Hill and walked around to the Coliseum. We walked under the Arch of Constantine, we walked past the Forum. I really can’t explain how we felt when we saw them. So much time. So much history. So much beauty in the architecture. It was incredibly awe inspiring.
We stopped at a fruit vendor and grabbed a bag of grapes that we ate contentedly as we wandered through the streets of Rome.
We walked down to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Piazza Navona…it was all simply amazing. You could hear the voices of 1,000 ancient Romans whispering around you… “We were here.”
When we simply couldn’t walk another step, we headed back over to Trastevere where things immediately became a little slower, a little quieter. We stopped at a neighborhood bar called Freni e Frenzione. We ordered up a couple of mojitos and learned that with a drink, you got a free buffet. This was not your American bar-style buffet of stale nacho chips and greasy chicken wings. No sir. The bar was elegant and was covered with baskets of fresh bread, bowls of spicy Mediterranean cous cous, marinated olives, tangy pasta salad, rich hummus with crostini, chick peas with marinated vegetables, fresh vegetable crudités, fruit, and bowls of wonderful creamy dressings like greek feta, pepperoni, or basil. After a few mojitos and a few trips to the buffet, we didn’t need anything more but a good night’s sleep.
I slept like a child with the voices of 1,000 Romans whispering in my dreams.