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Friday, July 6, 2012

Rome- la vita bella

Sometime in early spring Catalin and I hatched a plan to move out of our apartment, go to the seaside and then fly out to Rome. Due to scheduling all these things had to happen in a seven day period. A la madre (meaning Oh Shit). I prepped for the move as much as possible in advance so that after the seaside we could simply move boxes and clean the apartment. It was more grueling for Cata and our dear friend Bara who drove to Medias and back the same day (9pm - 5am). Of course you know how things go, I caught a cold after visiting the seaside which made me little help during the move. Luckily I was mostly over it by the time we got to...



ROME! The eternal city still has me in its trance. Just as in previous trips I did advance research into historic sights, beautiful piazzas and tasty dining options but nothing could have prepared me for Rome. It is a living museum of art, culture and history. Whereas in Prague or Vienna I hardly interacted with locals Rome's vibrant characters extend at minimum a warm smile and more often a jovial chat ending in "Ciao ragazzi!" Whoo and you should see the Romans argue. Hands wave, fingers pinch the air, and voices rise. They have all kinds of gestures to express themselves (short video here). As you would expect we hit all the tourist hot spots while in town: the Colosseum, Forum, Vatican, etc. You can't possibly see everything the city has to offer but I feel like we got a good taste. Here I'll touch on my favorites from the trip, a few tips (aka what I learned from this trip) and Rome's surprises.


FAVORITES:
-Staying with a local
This was my second time using Airbnb.com, a short term room or apartment rental site, with great results. We had a loft to ourselves in our host's home and  an entrance key to come and go as we pleased. Staying with a local left me with special experiences I wouldn't have had otherwise. Our host Salvatore , a retired business owner, told us about the Pope's Sunday blessing (yup we've been blessed by 'Benny' ;) and other helpful tips.  Salvatore had a big apricot tree whose ripe fruit I ate everyday at breakfast (I'm not exaggerating, these things were delicious). One night we walked in right when Italy had won the Eurocup semifinal. Salvatore's wife was so overjoyed she kissed my cheeks and hugged me. It was a true Italian experience. Little things like this I won't soon forget.

-Triamisu and Coffee
I love how Italians do coffee. No frills for breakfast just hit the cafe bar, order a damn good {insert coffee of choice here, mine was cappuccino} add a cornetto and go. In America fast/easy to access coffee is usually... how should I put it? Total crap. No way around it. Gas station coffee, though I've never had it, has a reputation all its own. And don't expect much from a drive-thru cup of coffee. Mmm Italian cafe's don't offend the senses in such ways. I'm glad they take coffee so seriously- somebody has to!

-Sistine Chapel / Michelangelo 
Some of Michelangelo's beautiful work at the Vatican.
What can I say? It is considered the most impressive work of art ever created by a single human being. It is striking at first sight but with the audio guide I was able to appreciate it much more. We visited the chapel first and then browsed the museum afterwards.



-Roman fountains
I am certain that every summer visitor to Rome leaves praising the city's free flowing, ice cold, drinkable water fountains. This ancient tradition of free flowing water for all carries on today all over the city. Some fountains are fancier than others but all provide a refreshing drink. I would love for my home state of Texas to adopt this idea. Of course not all fountains are functional, some are just plain
beautiful thanks to artist such as Bernini who left his mark all over the city.


Aventine Hill at sunset.
-Trastevere
While cruising Rome (by foot) you might begin to wonder, where are the quiet alleys and romantic nooks? Hmm well they can be hard to find in the center where things are loud, bustling and alive. For me Trastevere was the romantic Rome I'd seen in movies. It was peaceful, historic, and the perfect place to get lost for a few hours. Get thyself to Aventine Hill as well near dusk, it was another one of my favorites.








ROME TIPS:

Lines-
10am was the golden hour for us at the Vatican. Just a 35 min. wait.
Don't wait in line too long. This tip sounds irrational but just go with me on this. Have you ever seen ten people try to go through a door at the same time? Major blockage. The same thing happens at the entry gates to Rome's historic monuments every morning between 8-11am. Too many people are trying to 'beat the line' and thus they end up in a long one. There was no line at the Colosseum when I walked by at 3 o'clock. It isn't always easy to plan schedule wise but try and check other things off your list at 8am (sleep maybe?). Instead of standing in line visit another monument or one of the many open air sites like the Spanish steps. The Colosseum line was ridiculous when we wanted to enter at about 11 a.m. so we went to the Forum first; much shorter line and your ticket is also valid at the Colosseum so you get to skip the Colosseum line!

Clothes-
A scarf worth a thousand naps.
There are lots of clothing tips for Rome online. Mine for summer boils down to loose linen and silk. Wearing these two fabrics feels so much better than heavy cotton or tight synthetics. It also looks fresh. To my surprise I reached for my knee length linen skirt and dress most on the trip-- it really is cooler to have legs covered in light fabric. Lesson: Try to bring breathable bras/underwear as well. My strapless was suffocating and so I went without it with my dress (don't worry nothing showed!) Shoes? Honestly forget 'fancy' you need need need comfortable walking shoes. 2 pair is best so you can change it up. Lastly Cata and I didn't go back to our room until the very end of the day which meant we walked the sweltering Roman Forum and ate a nice dinner in the same clothes. I imagine many tourists don't go back to change either. So from my experience short shorts and a tank top look out of place at dinner but a longer skirt and silk tops felt more appropriate. Not that anyone will bother you about what you are wearing. All this Rome/Italian fashion stuff is a bit over exaggerated in my opinion. My only observation of my fellow Americans (as we were all waiting in line at the passport check point) was that there is a definite line between wearing nice comfortable clothing for a day in Rome and looking a mess. Sun protection is absolutely necessary in Rome's summer heat. I used an umbrella and fan to keep cool but you could also just buy one of the many cute hats from vendors. Lastly bring a large cotton scarf. Ours offered a clean place to sit and/or nap anywhere we happened to be plus it tripled as a cover up for church. Used it literally every day in Rome.

Audio Guides-
Trastevere audio guide was one of my favs. So fun!
Download audio guides in advance / print maps (or use  a fancy iphone). We always have a budget for trips and trust me audio guides for each historic location add up. I downloaded a bunch of Rick Steves' free guides and used them with great success.

Roma Pass-
I think most tourists arrive in Rome and immediately purchase their transit pass (now costing 16 euro for three days). We had every intention of doing the same thing but a few hiccups prevented us from doing so until day three in Rome (see Rome surprises below). By then we had realized that it was actually cheaper to just pay per ride (1.5 Euro) than to buy a pass. The reasons being that A) there is really only one metro stop in the historic center of Rome, the Colosseum stop and B) The bus system is not easy to navigate at all so we didn't bother with it. About the buses: Stops are not announced on the bus and the driver only stops if you tell him too. Sounds like disaster for a tourist! We only used transit to get into town and to go back home at the end of the day. Things are not that spread out so walking is not bad at all. I enjoyed it actually.

Leather-
When I come back to Rome, I'm coming back to this store.
Who hasn't heard of the quality of Italian leather? Prior to our trip I decided that this would be my Roman souvenir. I had heard great reviews of a small genuine Italian leather shop that made all its goods on its premises. The place is called T-nobile and I recommend it highly. I went in hoping to buy a leather wallet for myself but walked out with a beautiful purse instead and the satisfaction of knowing I'd bought a locally made, quality item. I don't have a website to direct you to since this business chooses to function by word-of-mouth only. It is a great place where you're bound to find something, plus the staff are very helpful and friendly. Address: Via Nazionale, 7, Trastevere



Rome's Surprises:


Transit strike- 
A few buses run on strike days, but they are packed!
If you come in the summer there is a chance you'll have to endure a day without mass transit. This summer they are happening about once a month on Fridays. The strike was not so much a problem once we were in the city center, but getting to the center was a 3 hour ordeal. Also the Colloseum was closed due to the strike. A fact we came to find out once we got to the entrance gates. It was by far the most frustrating day in Rome. If you are going to Rome this summer find out if/when there is a strike while you are in town (they are usually announced in advance). Also the strikers don't aim to prevent people from getting to and from work, so during normal 'going to work' and 'coming home from work' times most transit is working, including the metro. This means you can still move around on a strike day but only during a very specific time frame. If you miss that window of opportunity, as we did, you'll be taking a cab home.

Rome is dirty- 
Simple as that. There are surprisingly few trash cans around the city which seems to encourage littering. Trash and dust are everywhere. This is another reason to bring a utility style cotton scarf. We used ours to sit anywhere we found shade without worrying about getting dirty bums :)

Tourist traps abound-
More than any other city I've visited Rome feels like a giant tourist trap at times. 'Eat outside the city center' they say, 'don't eat from the tourist menu' they say, 'avoid looking like a tourist' they say- BAH! In Rome, touristy restaurants are a dime a dozen. It is hard to avoid sitting down at the nearest pizzeria for some food when they all have tourist menus and you've been walking in the heat all day. I did not expect it to be so hard to avoid eating at a mediocre tourist restaurant but it was. My advice is research in advance if you can, and listen for Italian when you walk by the restaurant. The more locals the better obviously. I hate restaurants that have waiters waving you in, those tend to be the worst. Of course on a desperate afternoon with no other options in sight, we stopped and ate at such a place. This too is part of the experience of being a foreign person in a foreign land.

So would I go to Rome again? Absolutely. It is a lively place full of charm and history. Not to mention good food when you find the right place. Rome and Paris are now tied as my favorite cities in Europe. Sorry Bucharest, for me its Roma tutta la vita!




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My story:

Girl meets boy.
Love strikes.
Boy moves to Romania,
girl (now engaged) follows suit.

I'll be living abroad for the first time in my life beginning January 11th 2011. Follow this blog if you want to see my adventures.

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