At 3AM the alarm sounded, but we were already awake. Tossing and turning, we always get excited the night before a proper vacation starts. When I had been asleep, I had been having a dream about my friend Katy getting married on a moving bus that was circling a fountain in the middle of what looked like an Italian mobster movie set. The bus was full of adorable but ill-trained blonde labs who got paw print on my satin dress, and no one cared, including me. This is how my brain prepares me for the flight to Rome. Fantastic.
I had wrenched my knee at the gym two days prior to vacation (of course), so the only thing (laundry notwithstanding) that I am worried about is keeping pace with Hubby, Mr. Lets-See-If-We-Can-Somehow-Climb-To-The-Top-That-Building-Over-There. Which ordinarily is quite interesting. We’ve been escorted out of a few building (access interdit!) but we’ve also climbed things like the Arc de Triomphe and the Tour Effeil (but did we have to climb them both in a single day?) I am always rewarded for these adventures by a glass of something adult and a happy husband, so I never complain. After looking through the little guide book we’ve used to plan our visit, I have packed enough drugs and Voltarol (think: Ben Gay) for our vacation.
Breakfast of champions
So with big circles under our eyes, a note for the flat-sitter, a disturbing lack of coffee, and a nagging feeling that I need to do laundry, I pop some pills and we get into our taxi. Bring on Rome.
The last time I was in Italy was March of 1995, on back-packing trip with two large handsome American men, one of whom was my boyfriend. So on the bucket list, sex in Italy has been ticked off the list. Back then, we skidded through Rome because the heat and the rain and the crowds were overwhelming, so we grabbed lunch and got back on the train and headed to Firenze, where we spent two days relaxing and touring in the sun.
So Rome is a new adventure in every way. Rome is our first holiday while living as expats. Rome is six unadulterated days in a hotel, with proper luggage, hot showers, dinners out, art shopping, cigar smoking, piazza dancing, quality wine drinking, and grown up sex. Ah Rome.
The art and beauty of Roma is overwhelming.
I missed it in my 20’s and had no intention of missing it now.
We have paninis and beers in the Amsterdam airport on our connection and we listen to the announcements that make us giggle every time we hear them. In Amsterdam, they call your shit out if you fuck around and are late to your plane. As in, by name:
VICTORIA SHROPSHIRE this is your final boarding call to flight 1205 to Rome. You are causing a flight delay. If you do not come immediately to gate 42, this flight will leave and your luggage will be offloaded.
They run a tight ship here, we notice.
Unlike in Rome, where no one seems in a hurry to do anything. Including on-time flights (we circle the airport twice) or getting you out (takes 30 minutes on a shuttle bus to get to the terminal) or getting out of the way (the shuttle bus scratches mirrors with another bus as it squeezed through a too-small opening) or driving you to the hotel (our pre-arranged ride was late, and we drank an entire bottle of wine in a nearby café while waiting (1).
All of which lulled us into some strange sense of travel security that was quickly smashed by the driver of our hotel taxi (and every other bus or taxi we took) who drove like a maniac. Like the traffic cameras were all secretly clocking them for Formula One pole positions.
ROMA TRAVEL TIP #1: No matter how excellent the wine, if you’ve had too much of it (on top of pain killers) you will toss your paninis after a ride of any duration with an Italian taxi driver.
That night, after showers and settling in, we proceeded to overpay for a glorious steak dinner with two more bottles of wine (speaking of pace cars) just blocks from our hotel, then crashed into a sound sleep. For about 4 hours.
Which is when we awoke in pools of sweat, roasting in our little* hotel room. We turned the thermostat off. But it wouldn’t turn off. We opened the window, which let in a nice cool breeze (it was mid-February) but also the noise from the street below, which started around 5 am with delivery trucks. On our way to breakfast, we asked about the Geriatric Temperature Settings and were asked by the fashion model hotel clerk, “did you open the window?”
Why yes, we did. (Did I bat my eyelashes? I might have.)
“OK then,” handsome hotel clerk says, looking at me plainly.
“OK then, what?”
“The temperature settings for the hotel are set to ‘winter’ so if you want to be cooler, you must simply to open the window.” He smiles at us with what I can only describe as the Italian version of “Bless Your Heart” and we catch our early bird taxi to the Vatican. Surviving that, we had a quick espresso. (3)
(And we sleep with Roma Truck Deliveries as our early morning wake-up call. All Week.)
We start with a tour of the Sistine Chapel. My favorite panel is the one I call “Drunken Moses”, which is a panel as far from the altar as possible, and away from the inevitable pack that gathers under God and Adam. MOSES THE DRUNKEN AND DISGRACED. Who knew this gem was in the Vatican? In the Sistine Chapel no less. I felt less like of an imposter after having viewed it.
ROMA TRAVEL TIP #2: If you want to view the Sistine Chapel, pre-book the walking tour that starts one hour before the museum opens to the general (ticket-holding) population. You will not regret it. The general way that most people see the chapel is with 300 other folks, all squeezed in like sardines, looking up and trying to sneak photos without the Swiss Guards catching them(4). If you go early, you not only get a nice history lesson (in beautifully spoken English) but you get 20 minutes to wander around the Chapel with only 20 other people. AMAZING.
Overwhelmed by art appreciation, I may or may not have cussed in one of the holiest places on Earth.
The bronze used to make the canopy in St. Peter’s Basillica was sourced by melting and reforming pagan items and ornaments that the Pope(s) confiscated from pagans. I think this makes it the most amazing repurposed piece of art in the world.
The Holy Doors were open, since 2016 is a Jubilee Year, but again, not really a photos opp for a MethaJew like me. Around 10 am, we left in order to escape the swelling crowds, and congratulating ourselves on not visiting this city in the height of summer with its crowds and madness. Hubby Mr.-Lets-Climb-Up-There led the way as we (paid to) climb to the top of the Basilica. The way up (and down) is close and narrow and shallow, tilting steps with little air/windows are not for the faint of heart. (Hubby had to climb part of this at an angle, as his shoulders were wider than the passageway.) And at the top, the view is worth it, and I reclaim my title as Mrs.-We’re-Here-Why-Would-We-Not-Do-This.
We also climbed to the top of the Vittoria “wedding cake” one afternoon because as we were strolling through the Forum, Hubby said, Hey there are people up there. I popped two more pills and we were off. The views were not as good as those from the top of the Castle (yes we climbed that too) but tiny glass elevator that gets you to the roof was trippy.
For a leisurely lunch, we walked into Piazza Navona, bought some cigars, drank a bottle of wine, and watched local artists work as we wait for the Chiesa de di San Luigi dui Francesi to open at 15:00.
Chiesa de di San Luigi dui Francesi houses Carvaggios
that cannot be seen anywhere else.
The only thing more ubiquitous than selfie-sticks are artists. Actual artists.
Artists of mainly excellent ilk can be found all over the city. Oftentimes, instructors hovering over artists in the Vatican courtyard, in piazzas, overlooking bridges, sketching in churches. Opera singer students give free recitals to gain audience exposure and develop composure in every other piazza.
If you want to be an opera singer or an artist, and you have the means,
get on a damn plane.
ROMA TRAVEL TIP #3: Stumble in to any church in Italy and see amazing artwork to rival famous museums. For example, The Church of Mary Magdalene has been lovingly preserved its paintings have survived centuries on display. And Michelangelo’s famous Moses sculpture is in a small chapel in the bordering neighborhood to the Coliseum, past the tourist carts and gelato shops. If a cathedral is open, and mid-service, stumble in.
Per day, we walked ~7 miles, drank ~4 bottles of wine, and I popped ~20 pain pills. The weather was blue skies and mid-60s the entire time, with only one night chilly enough to need a fleece, but with my personal insulation and general BAC, it was all good. One evening, Hubby was so drunk we almost caused a scene in the Lindt store, but all-in-all we managed a perfect wine-painkiller-ratio for the duration. And no bail money was needed.
Having binge-watched the entire series of Spartacus on Netflix prior to vacation (Hey, you do you travel research, I’ll do mine…) The Coliseum tour of the pits and the partially reconstructed stage was a highlight – and when push came to shove, Russel Crowe won out anyway (“Are you not entertained?!”)
Seafood, fresh pasta and veg, gelato and leisurely strolls, sniffing the leather products that hand in every doorway from Trevi to Trastevere, the days were filled with sunshine and art and food and wine.
We had a glorious vacation all based from our sweat box hotel (which, in its defense, was crawling distance from Trevi Fountain). We walked around political protesters at Piazza di Monte ci Tovio and enjoyed picnic style wine and cheese at Piazza Colonna (creatively interpreting the Marcus Aurelius column battle scenes).
Capuchin crypts. The original repurpose, reuse, redecorate trend.
Suck on these bones, Pinterest.
We walked through the entire city – from the Vatican museums and cat sanctuaries, to chapels and Capuchin crypts. We ate endless seafood and pasta, and found chocolate and orange gelato that tastes like Christmas.
And the wine. MY GOD THE WINE.
And to go with that wine? Fresh produce and seafood everywhere you look. #Heaven This is one of the stalls in piazza di San Cosimato in Trastevere, where I might retire.
In the blink of an eye and a (third?) trip to a Pharmacia to restock, we were enjoying our last mild Italian dusk, smoking cigars in the Parthenon piazza while listening to a Pink Floyd cover band, chatting with the Russian maître D (about his Italian girlfriend who might kill him), who had remembered us from two days prior and gave us the best table on the square.
When can we go back?
(1) The good news is that this is Rome! So it’s hard to get a bad bottle of wine, even in an airport lounge café.
(2) Little, as in, when you sit on the front edge of the bed, your knees are 3 inches from the wall that separates bedroom from bathroom. The entire room was about 16X16 feet which included a full size dresser, dressing table, queen size bed and two bed side tables. All with about 6 inches space between.)
(3) The only thing as consistently good as the wine in Italy? The coffee. Damn.
(4) Suisse Guards will yell at you trained to yell at you like a Marine Gunnery Sergeant; they are allowed to yell at you (no talking in the Chapel), manhandle you, remove you, confiscate your phone or camera, and make no apologies for it. I instantly developed a crush on the tall blue-eyed one with the scar on his chin.