Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ruined Romans

We were feeling his pain
March19th - March 31st.  We've been battling colds with persistent coughs, stuffy heads, achy bones, scratchy throats, and a little lethargy. We feel a little like our friend here, but we rallied and enjoyed our time in Rome to the fullest.

Speaking of ruined. This map got a work out!
We arrived in Rome via Barcelona on Vueling airlines, Spain's version of Easy Jet, with no difficulty.  It may have been the smoothest travel day yet, but we were still quite a distance from our airbnb apartment. A taxi ride from the airport is a luxury on our Nomad's budget, but we try and take it easy on entry days since we often don't know the city. But once we learn the terrain we walk or use public transport during our stay and, if practical, we use it to reach the airport or train station for the next leg. In this case we splurged on a taxi from the airport to our front door.

The bridge we used to cross the Tiber River to the city

One of the more interesting aspects of traveling this way is you don't always know what your front door looks like. It's not like pulling up to a hotel or going home to Mom's. After a good 40 minutes the taxi parked between a sketchy looking motorcycle repair shop next to a restaurant that looked like it hadn't had guests (or at least changed the decor) since the 70's. Luckily our lovely host, Federica raced around the corner to welcome us with hugs and to help with our luggage. It was a good thing since she lead us through some creaky green gates that led up a switchback driveway past several apartment buildings until we reached the top of the hill. Of course. If she hadn't been there it would have been challenging to find.

I can see Michael and I getting matching Vespas some day
As always, the apartment was great. In this case, lots of personal style and thoughtful decor made it Nomad worthy https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/406693  Enjoying life as a local starts with living in someone else's home, and as long as you don't have to step over laundry, deal with weird stuff in the bathroom, and the bed is comfortable ( we are traveling with our beloved pillows from home - it makes all the difference) then we are fine.

Most often our homes-away-from-home have matched or exceeded our expectations. We've got our airbnb search criteria down and we zero in quickly on the places that work best for us on price and amenities - and now we look really closely at the pictures for clues as to what the space is really like. I think airbnb should hire us as ambassadors at this point!

Meanwhile, back to Rome. Our neighborhood was truly residential  - definitely not on the tourist maps, although we were only a 20 minute walk from the Vatican. We were on the opposite side of the river from the center of Rome, but just a short metro ride away from the heart of the city. 

We seem destined to live on hills wherever we stay
As we explored our side, we found an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and street markets selling everything you could possibly need. Or not. The Aquarium store was next to the barbershop, that was next to the Kebab joint, that was next to one of dozens of coffee houses, and so on. And as much as I love shopping, you can see in this next photo there was no real need to top-up my summer wardrobe.

Open back? Leopard strapless? Too hard to decide.
However, just down the street there was an excellent grocery store. Odd that I didn't find a fresh food market nearby, but this place was great. But the really great find at this store was Marco! My new found friend and superb store clerk. He was so helpful and very funny. His English was delightful and he was committed to learning all about Seattle and our travels. He helped me find the ingredients for Banana Bread - baking soda and vanilla being the odd ones, and of course that earned him some of the final effort. It wasn't my usual Blue Ribbon winner, and in fact he declared it a little too sweet for his taste, but it earned me a lovely bottle of Pinot Grigio as a going away present on our last day. We will definitely stay in touch.

Whew! Found it all with Marcus at my side. Although he didn't believe me that you could use Bicarbonate in baking.
Who needs a blue ribbon? Thanks Marco!

I did have the most fabulous pizza almost every day from a hole in the wall about a half a mile from the house. There was a line out the door every day for a reason.

In Rome's 'rustic pizza' shops fresh pies are lined up on a hot stone counter. They are cooked as large rectangles and you buy your pizza by weight, so you can try several flavors from an array of a dozen or more. If you choose a mix it goes in a box - in my case the 6" x 9" chunk was scored, folded and  wrapped in wax paper for immediate consumption. For my daily delight I settled on a large, just-out-of-the-wood-burning-oven slab of sweet cherry tomatoes,sassy green olives and cheese.

Linus obviously disapproves of me having more pizza, but Snoopy is all for it.
Am I leaving out art, history, culture and religion? Sorry! We got great big helpings of those as well.It started with our 'must have' free walking tour covering the highlights.We also took the free Vatican walking tour a few days later. Once we had our bearings and had the metro figured out we were off and, well, walking.

Still pondering this one. Worth some coins in the pot.
Fresh cold water from unlikely spigots found all over town
Michael had not been to the Vatican before so it was a much anticipated visit. We attended mass at St. Peter's on our first Sunday and then stood in awe of the interior of the basilica and it's saturation of art and history. We stepped outside to head to our next stop but instead we were swept up in a throng of 40,000 people gathered to watch several big screens while keeping an eye on a very tiny window on the top floor of the Papal palace as Pope Francis delivered his fifteen minute Sunday address. We saw both - but if you have even a drop of anxiety when it comes to crowds you would not have survived this ordeal.
This shot doesn't begin to show the Holy See of humanity!
One must-see I didn't know about was the Vatican Museum. And even after encouragement I wasn't sure I wanted to see a bunch of musty relics collected (pilfered?) by Popes. Boy was I wrong about this one. It's almost hard to describe the artwork and the opulence to be discovered in every new hallway of the Papal Palace that housed this museum. Of course there were Egyptian treasures, and so many marble statues you might think a goodly portion of the Roman population had been turned to stone. By the way in statue heaven everyone gets their body parts back!

Just one of many mind boggling hallways in the Vatican Museum
And gold. There was a lot of gold. But it was the truly magnificent paintings and frescoes that made me dizzy. That also could have been from looking up the a lot of the time, but mostly because they were real. In place - painted by every famous Italian master you can imagine. Did I mention the Sistine Chapel? I didn't even know you could go there! And there was so much art to go around there were electric plugs drilled into masterpieces that most museums would die for.

Just a glimpse of what lies overhead
The weather in early April wasn't bad and we were able to avoid long lines. Having said that, our colds were keeping us on a slower pace than normal and we didn't try and do too much. We took in two free classical music concerts at the English Church and a lovely performance of opera, ballet and chamber music combined at another cathedral. I am afraid my churches are all running together at this point - but if you travel like this, be sure and check posters outside of churches because we've found there is always something wonderful to see or hear that you might not find otherwise.

I loved this angel. She can be my guardian any day. 
We took a great day trip out of the city to Castel Gondolfo where generations of Popes have cooled off at their official Summer Palace. It was a lovely sleepy afternoon ahead of the tourist season. We had a great lunch with a view of the lake, played some backgammon and just lived in the moment. On the train ride back we followed Roman ruins all along the Appian Way.

The trusty train that chugged up the mountain for our day out.

A lovely lunch, backgammon, books and a bottle of wine. All is well. 
The view most of the way back to Rome
Michael was able to put together another outstanding football experience. He watched The Lazio vs. Parma Match at Stadio Olimpico and had another great story to tell including purchasing his ticket in a sporting goods store where the door was flanked by bouncers and there was a solid police presence.

The store where Michael worked his way in and came out in one piece.
Match number 12 on our trip! A great part of the adventure.
Too soon it was time to leave. But we are looking forward to Istanbul and seeing dear friends there.Thanks again for following along. This blog is a good excuse for me to keep track of our adventures - and we appreciate your comments.

Fondly - Debbie and Michael

1 comment :

  1. Good for your fans too that you're blogging your gastronimic, art and architecture adventures. Another time maybe come down to S. Spain around Seville, where I am. It's another world.

    Right, on to Turkey.....