After a painstaking travel planning session, the blood sweat and tears formed some semblance of an itinerary for a weekend in Rome. This is quite a hike—my host family laughed when I told them the night before that I was leaving for Italy. The distance was unaided by Ryanair airline’s questionable customer service/sobriety. Confirmation for entry into Italy consisted of a scribble and a rip instead of a customs office. (This means that I will have to go back again if I wish to get that elusive stamp—I am hoping for a future trip to Florence.) The violent yellow of the interior combined with the insistent vending of Ryanair brand scratchcards as well as the victory music played at the end, as though congratulations for landing safely, meant that I was not impressed.
Oh, well. Veni, vidi, vici!
Rome turned out to be part paradise, part tourist trap. This weekend in March landed us right before the peak of its tourist season, though hordes of Japanese tourists carrying flags and kilted rugby fans packed the streets throughout the day. This was also my first time in Europe outside of Spain, and my first time in a country where I knew absolutely nothing of the local language. This meant that I was floored every occasion when greeted in Italian, though we came to realize that Spanish and Italian are near interchangeable.
The metro system was packed though easy to navigate because it only has two lines that run in the formation of a cross, much like in Philadelphia. The sheer volume of people using it was what presented the real challenge. Our friends studying abroad in Rome are renting an apartment in the posh shopping district near the Spagna stop. The first thing to do after emerging from the metro was to beeline for gelato and lounge on the Spanish steps (two blocks from apartment!) This neighborhood is what provides The Sartorialist with his daily material. There was a hilarious contrasting combination of the tourists—jacket tied around waist/socks and Velcro sandals/Peroni hat. I have never seen such emphasis on such ostentatious and coordinating elegance—it really put Oviedo to shame. Another contrast in Italy was with interpersonal interaction. I am an avid fan of people-watching, which meant that I viewed the Spanish steps as the ideal elevated surface for this activity. However, the Italian eye contact is brazen and unflinching; you are people-watching, and they are watching back. It is a society driven by fashion and personal effects as a status symbol. The buildings in Rome consist of a palette of orange, rust, and ivory, oozing warmth. So, waltzing past Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, past the smell of Italian leather and quality cappuccinos, and past a hundred varieties of gelato, we came upon the massive wooden doors of the Spagna apartment. We could then drop the backpacks we’d be living out of for the weekend, which felt incredibly limited when faced with the gargantuan prospect of sharing the streets with the beautiful Italians. Somehow, unbelievably so, the apartment is less expensive monthly than the Temple University-Rome dorms outside the center. Go figure.
All of the major sites are accessible from this location—they were magnified in proportion and awe by night, lit angularly with just the right emphasis of shadow to strengthen their presence. I loved that Rome’s artifacts, its ruins and ancient remnants are intertwined with the modern face of the city. Often when turning corners, you come across deteriorating columns and frescoed walls, untouched by agents of construction. I actually let out a scream when turning the corner into the plaza that holds the Pantheon. It is a monstrous vision that rises out of nothingness, hidden until just the right moment by those walking Spagna. We toured the broken faces occupying Villa Borghese, which also offers a great view of Piazza del Popolo. An Italian rock enthusiast struggled with a recording of “Hotel California” that filled the space between.
Later that night we found a safe haven in the presence of the unusually unoccupied Trevi Fountain. Without the usual crowd, it was really quite peaceful, but then again, 4 a.m. is an unusual time to be there.
By day, Piazza Navona, the Coliseum, and Vatican City occupied our excitement. The highlight of Rome, however, was Old Bridge Gelateria bordering Vatican City. We joined a long cue of people, including a line of nuns, to order. Though the wild cherry and chocolate were mind-blowing, the pistachio was the real game-changer. Viva Italia.
My favorite neighborhood of the few we visited was Trestevere, just across the Tiber River (where we witnessed a dead body being extracted from its rapids). This neighborhood contained a particularly charming bar poignantly named “Bar”. It reminded me of the innards of a pirate ship, dressed in the skeleton of a piano, pillars, red velvet, and smooth lounge music. Its crew served cappuccino out of fancy china with all of the aloof and unaware swagger of Keith Richards.
So I leave Italy with more chins and a gnocchi bloat, incredibly satisfied with the experience.