“Italy has changed. But Rome is Rome.”–Robert De Niro
“Paul! How was Rome?”
“Read my blog”
That’s how I imagine the conversation is going to go when I return to London. In fact I’d wager that that’s what the conversation will be like 5-10 years from now whenever someone asks me about Rome.
“How was Rome?” is not a question that can be answered. It really isn’t. For each and every person it’s going to be something different. Frankly this city deserves an elongated response or maybe even perhaps a short novel written about each visitor’s experience.
For me, visiting Rome was more than just a weekend trip to forget about schoolwork for a while. I may have originally booked the trip for that reason but what I realized right away was how immensely important Rome is. Forget about the sheer age of this city on the Tiber river. What I found amazing and borderline overwhelming was how culturally significant Rome was and is to, not just the Western world, but all of humanity. Think of the impact this city has had on human history and then try to not be awe-struck by this truly beautiful city.
But enough with the theatrics.
Spending a weekend in Rome (really though you should try and stay as long as possible) is a lot like living in a giant open-air museum. Each neighborhood and every street corner has something important to say. Rome creeps up on you. It’s not like Paris where the avenues are so broad that you have a quarter mile of empty space around each attraction. Take a stroll through centro historico and you’ll inevitably be confronted by some piece of antiquity or a renaissance masterpiece. Last night I went to get some gelato and as I was enjoying my delicious treat I heard the sound of rushing water. I walked down a narrow street and as the crowds began to swell I looked up and was staring at the incredible Fontana di Trevi. Earlier in the day, as I was making my way to the Vatican, I turned a corner and suddenly there stood the Pantheon. I haven’t been to any city that is like that.
The food is a given. It’s fantastic. Familiar yet foreign, it makes you realize what a travesty the Italian food chains are that we have in the U.S. Really you can’t go wrong food-wise but there is an important caveat that merits consideration. If the menu is written in both Italian and English or if there is a big sign in English then do not eat there. You won’t die but you may want to after you realize that you’re cheating yourself out of some of the best food in the world.
I now turn to my spiritual advisor, Anthony Bourdain. My addiction to his fine travel programing is pretty much solidified now (right up there with Coke Zero) and Tony delivered once again with his recommendations for Rome. After meeting two Israeli girls that were touring the Vatican with me, we went to Pizzarium, which is a little hole in the wall about 2 blocks from the Vatican walls. It’s pizza but not like you’ve ever had before. Some of the strangest combinations you could think of that somehow, against all odds, just work. I had one slice of, pretty traditional, prosciutto and tomato and then a slice of pizza with fish eggs, scrambled eggs and some kind of deli meat. It took me a while to get used to it but it wasn’t bad. Taking Mr Bourdain’s advice yet again, I went to get some Porchetta (roasted pork) at I Porchettoni. It was amazing. Incredibly simple (just roast pork on a bread with a big bottle of Peroni) but incredibly tasteful. Porchetta is basically a de-boned pig, stuffed with herbs, and then slow roasted. Fantastico.
One of the things that makes Rome visitor-friendly (judging by the legions of tourists choking the city maybe it’s a bit too friendly) is that the city is not as big as you might think it would be. I think a lot of that has to do with 1) It’s a world famous city and 2) when you look at a map of Rome the scale is greater than you’d normally anticipate. The metro works well. Some people have characterized the central station, Stazione di Roma Termini, as the center of hell but I haven’t had too many problems with it. By no stretch of the imagination would I say that it’s the nicest train station I’ve ever been to but I still think it’s better than some others I’ve been to (Jules-Joffrin; Paris).
Ah, I should write a little about Easter in Rome, or more specifically, the Vatican. Do not make the mistake that I made this morning. Yesterday, after I finished my free walking tour (my new preferred way to see a new city) and I asked my guide Giorgio about what the procedure is for going to St. Peter’s Square for the Easter Blessing, all he said was “si you must get there early. probably around 8 am”. I had anticipated waking up at 4 am and dragging my ass over there, so 8 am sounded just delightful. I instead woke up at 6 am and immediately showered and changed then jumped on the A-line metro to Ottaviano station (the closest to the Vatican). It was 6:48 when I arrived at Vatican City and I was perhaps 1 of the first 1000 people there. I actually got a place in line that put me right up against the rail that provided me with a great view of the square. After about 30 mins of waiting I was chatting with my fellow pilgrims and they all began talking about getting their tickets checked. I thought that maybe they meant they had tickets for the seating area of the square but then I soon realized that since only 3000 people could be admitted (they expected 80,000 to show up) this year they had made it a requirement to reserve a ticket prior to entry. I did not have a ticket.
I was disheartened that I couldn’t fulfill one of the prime objectives of my trip to Rome but I then became grateful that I didn’t have to wait in line for 5 hours and could instead do more sight-seeing that I would’ve otherwise been forced to do without.
I’ll end by saying that I loved Rome. I wish I had more time here. I’m a little sleep-deprived and I think I might have a little bit of sunburn (yay sunlight!) but it has been totally worth it. I’m writing this now in my hostel room and it’s late afternoon. I hate the fact that I’m wasting my precious time here and writing this blog but my legs are tired, the sights have been seen and I wanted to write this while my memories are fresh. Time for a nap and then some cacio e pepe for dinner.