Rome, a city of ancient ruins; narrow, cobblestone alleyways; dozens of shades of crumbling, ocher buildings; giant lavender wisteria in full bloom; hundreds and hundreds of churches. It is a city which you can take by storm or where you can savor la dolce vita. On this visit, we avoided the major tourist attractions. We had dashed through the Vatican and Colosseum in our younger years. This time we came, we saw, and we searched out Pat’s favorite chocolatier in the world, Venchi.
Pat is an addict of the darkest and richest chocolates; he starts almost every day with a small – or large – piece. When I mentioned there was a Venchi store near the Spanish steps, he ran around our apartment like a kid on Christmas morning, “Can we go? Can we go?” On this trip, we have no agenda and no reason to have an agenda. Of course we can go.
As we burst into the store, I introduced the sales girl to their biggest fan. She explained the percent cacao of the various bars and the difference between bio and regular and gave us a taste. We left with a small bag full of chocolates, a fabulous gelato and a promise to return before we left Rome (which, of course, we kept).
For three days we wandered up one ancient street and down another stopping at most every church we passed. If for some reason I kept walking, Pat would call out, “Hey Julie, you missed a church.” We share a passion for church art – art in its native habitat. Given Rome has well over 500 churches, the city is a veritable church art safari. One church, a bit off the tourist beaten path, boasts Rafael as the architect, Bernini the sculpture and Caravaggio the artist. Yet this church is rarely mentioned in a guide book. That’s Rome.
As lunch or dinner neared, we began to notice restaurants, searching for those which were cheap, cozy, off any major squares and nearly full. We used the price of a margherita pizza as our gauge to discount the obvious tourist traps avoiding any places where the simple pizza cost more than seven euro. Over the ensuing long meals, we dissected each course, tasted each others choices and compared this meal against the last. And, of course, we washed down everything with a carafe of house wine. Roman cuisine is at its best when it is simple. My favorite dishes, I could not discern the exact spice, could never replicate the simplest of vegetable soups or the most tasty red sauces.
One evening, we returned to the Piazza del Popolo to shoot the square in the late day light. We arrived early so Pat could scope the best angles and set up. I sat on a bench and watched two performances of a Michael Jackson street entertainer – who I might have sworn was the King of Pop – and an intense soccer game between ad hoc rival teams of teenagers. By the time the game broke up, every kid on the piazza was part of the match. No one seemed irritated as the ball whizzed out-of-bounds or whacked off the shoulder of a hapless passer-by. Then, as the sun set, Pat motioned he was done. We wandered off to find a place for dinner.
At daybreak, I threw on yesterday’s clothes and ran out to catch the early morning light. St. Peter’s appeared to float; a peach and yellow mirage in the “golden hour” of dawn. I climbed up on a bridge, stumbled and nearly dropped my camera in the river as I tried to balance and reach over my head for the perfect shot (Pat, I swear, I would have dove in after it). Once the light grew more intense, I sought out a cafe near our hotel. Waiters in crisp white shirts and black vests dish up freshly baked cornettas and perfectly foamed cappuccinos for a paltry two euro to the early commuters. Mouth watering, sublime.
When I returned to our apartment, Pat glanced through my photos and chastised himself for not joining me. He committed to wake up early the next day – another promise which he kept. “Maybe we should come back and live here for a few months next year.”
“Really? I can do that. I’m positive I can do that.”
I am writing this from the Positano, Italy on the Amalfi coast. When I return to Budapest, I’ll post a bunch of Rome pictures. Until then, ciao!… Julie
Categories: Western Europe