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Published: March 1st 2014
Sirens blare from an ambulance racing down the cobblestone street, the familiar European “wee-doh, wee-doh” sound echoing through the warren of narrow alleyways. The street is lined with ancient apartment buildings, each accessed via huge, often graffiti covered doors. The pedestrians, dressed as if they just exploded out of GQ or Vogue magazine, easily avoid the disturbance, stepping to the narrow sidewalks without missing a stride.
Waiters with ties, vests and aprons stand in restaurant doorways offering colorful menus and describing delicious sounding specials in multiple languages. Outdoor tables covered by umbrellas keep the occasional light rain away. The smells of fresh baked bread and strong coffee drift from richly decorated eateries. Diners lean towards each other at tiny, round tables indoors. They talk with their hands as well as their voices. Even if you can’t understand the words you can hear their passion for the meal.
Shopping is done in small markets specializing in particular products. The cuisine is simple, so only the best ingredients will do. Giant blocks of cheese each with a different texture, taste and smell arranged artistically behind glass in an antique display case. Freshly baked bread, sometimes still warm
in racks behind a flour covered baker. Beautiful cured salamis and hams hanging above a counter in front of an artfully lit display of cold cuts, all waiting to be hand sliced by a white aproned expert. Colorful seasonal vegetables brightly stacked in front of hole-in-the-wall shops. Each ingredient comes from a different store. Just add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a sprinkle of oregano or arugula and perhaps one of many types of olives or sun-dried tomatoes to make a delicious meal.
Modern stores selling the latest designs are located next to small shops containing yards of material and a single sewing machine, the seamstress laboring over a new creation. Wonderful art and sculpture studios next door to futuristic fashion houses. Ancient architecture from a legendary past mixed fluidly with modern, highly styled office buildings. An historic past seamlessly intertwined with a vibrant present.
Rome is distinctly alive amidst thousand year old ruins. While history abounds, life is lived to its fullest. This city is what legends are made of.
As we rapidly approach our 1000 day anniversary of the vagabond life, we have again decided to not only change countries,
but to change continents. After spending 6 months in the deserts, beaches and bars of Baja California we were ready for some city life. Maybe exchange the beaches and sunsets for some culture and cuisine.
We have avoided Europe so far in our travels, mostly due to the perceived expense. We have learned a lot in the last 2 ½ years about being frugal while travelling and we thought that perhaps now might be a good time to put our acquired knowledge to the test. It is off-season now in Europe and apartments and flights are somewhat less expensive than the busy late spring to early fall prices. If we picked large cities with good, inexpensive transportation and if we didn’t choose apartments directly located in the tourist zone, renting by the month instead of shorter terms and if we prepared a large portion of our meals in the apartment, we could probably live within an only slightly increased budget.
Rome seemed like a good city to begin our European tour. It has generally moderate weather, temperature wise, in early spring. If we got lucky with limited rain it could be a good place
to start. Neither of us have been to Rome in the past, so it was definitely a must visit city while we had the chance.
We left Baja and made the one day drive back to our home in California’s Wine Country. We checked in to our favorite cheap hotel for a couple of busy preparation days. We were happy to have an opportunity to visit our son in San Francisco and enjoy a delicious Indian meal, a treat we had missed in Baja. We invested in a few new wardrobe items, realizing our worn beach attire wouldn’t work in Europe. We dropped our car off in storage and caught an early shuttle bus to the airport to begin our journey.
We had a great flight scheduled, with only a 45 minute layover in Washington D.C. It always seems harder to travel east instead of west. Leaving early in the morning in California meant we would arrive early in the morning in Rome, but late in the night California time. Never good when arriving in a new city. Hopefully we could sleep a little on the long flight across the Atlantic.
We took advantage of our new landlords transport offer from the busy Leonardo da Vinci (FCO) airport in Rome to our new home. It was a little challenging to find his parking spot on the road outside the baggage area, but we were happy he spoke perfect English. He was very informative and because it was Saturday and traffic was light we took a scenic route along the ancient Via Aurelia, in use since 200 B.C. We got our first view of St. Peter’s Basilica from a scenic overlook on our way to the Aurelio neighborhood we live in.
Our apartment is quite nice. It is small but has high ceilings and nice windows that open on a courtyard on one side and an excellent view of the Basilica on the other. We live on the 5th
floor and don’t have an elevator. Not pleasant after long walks all day, but the great view to St. Peter’s easily makes up for any discomfort. At sunset, when the lights to the dome come on and the sky turns orange, it is breathtakingly stunning.
We have a tiny kitchen with a 2 burner gas stove. Our
utensil supply and toaster oven seem geared more toward breads and pastas which is excellent for us. Our small refrigerator insures that we need to shop daily which has the benefit of making us interact with the citizens of our neighborhood daily.
The Aurelio neighborhood is a generally working class suburb located on the other side of the Tiber River from Central Rome, just south of the Vatican. We live just 400 meters south of Vatican City and must pass through it on our way when we walk into the city. It’s funny to think of passing through another country in order to get to downtown of your city. I can’t think of anywhere else that could happen.
We have spent our first week leisurely exploring the city. The weather has been sunny and cool. By afternoon it is comfortable enough for short sleeves while sitting in a sunny piazza. Because we are here for a month, we have plenty of time to pick an area to tour and spend a whole day walking the entire neighborhood. We learned the bus system quickly and it is excellent and inexpensive. Rome also has a great
Metro, but because the buses go everywhere and we have a convenient stop in front of our building, we have not used it yet.
We spent one day walking through the Gianacolo, a park area with a great view over the entire city from the west. Our walk took us down the hill into the ancient Trastevere neighborhood where we found cobblestoned alleys lined with ancient houses. The alleys lead to ancient churches that look out on wonderful fountain filled piazzas filled with students from the local schools.
Another day we went to St. Peter’s Square to see the Pope give his weekly address to the gathered thousands. We went back later to tour the Basilica and hope to return another day to visit the Museums and Sistine Chapel. It is convenient to visit as it is only a 6 minute walk from our apartment.
We spent a day walking from Piazza Popolo down Via del Corso to the famous Trevi Fountain. Along the way we stopped at the touristy Spanish Steps and had a cup of coffee in the oldest coffee shop in Italy (and maybe Europe), the Café Antica
Greco on Via Condotti. We took a few minutes to see Via Margutta, the home of Gregory Peck in the movie Roman Holiday.
Another day took us to the memorial for the first king of Italy, the huge Vittoriano located in Piazza Venizio. 360 degree views over the town from the roof were gorgeous. It was our first day of light rain, but conveniently we waited it out in the giant Pantheon located nearby. Another day took us exploring the area between Piazza Navona and Campo di Fiori. Yet another took us to the Borgo neighborhood near the Vatican. We enjoyed crossing the Sant’Angelo foot bridge across the Tiber from Castel Sant’Angelo to downtown.
We were told that is now illegal (although loosely enforced) to eat picnic style in the squares. To save some money we have been packing small lunches of local meats, cheeses and fruits and discreetly having quick feasts in historic spots each day. Not as exciting as some of the fancy cafes, but the thrill of breaking the rule adds to the excitement of the day. Conveniently located fountains throughout the city allow us to refill our water bottles for
free as the locals do.
We have enjoyed our stay in Rome so far. We are glad to have plenty of time as another adventure seems to be around each corner in this beautiful city. We plan on taking day trips to nearby cities in Italy but for now, Rome is the place to be.
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