The spell of Rome – trashy, tricky, tasty, tender
On some days, it isn’t easy to fall in love with this city.
It can get loud, pushy and trashy. Occasionally, you might stumble into a tourist trap.
Rome has kept its ancient ravening character.
But, walking on so much history is special and imposing. It feels like navigating through a beautiful museum or romantic film setting.
Today, I captured some of its spells.
Exposing its tricky parts and reporting on Rome’s tender side.
Starting with THE TRAINS. Not on time and somewhat chaotic.
We got this big ticket to ride two stations today. It was only 2 Euros for both of us. Using public transport in Rome is cheap. But tricky. We waited by the monitors to see at what platform the train would arrive. It was delayed and we had to check where it would arrive before we could disembark for a platform. Once the platform number was displayed, we had about 2 minutes to run through the station to the train. Riding the train has so far always been an adventure for us in Rome.
THE STATIONS. Most look like Pandora has released the evils of the world right there. Smears, bad light, litter, aged design.
THE TOUTS. “Selfie, Selfie?” Pass the popular sights and you will be haunted by voices repeating merchandise-mantras over and over.
Words of the day: pashmina, roses, splat balls, sunglasses.
THE CITY OF ROME. Is a great mix of contemporary and history. Absolutely love that there are no glass-steel-constructs.
Rome is funny and creative.
And often surprising. Self service sex 24h.
THE DRUG STORES. There are no drug stores! The true Roman tragedy – there are no Boots or DM or Rossman equivalents in Italy. Instead, you buy most of your cosmetics at pharmacies (for a lot of money) or supermarkets (with limited choice) or at beauty shops like Sephora (only pricey brands).
Right next to the chocolates at the cash register of a local supermarket, you can buy these.
THE VANS. They demand impossible amounts of money for a refreshment or snack. Because they can. There are no convenient stores and supermarkets are not easy to find when sightseeing.
THE ICE CREAM. With a long history of how to prepare flavoured ice – Romans brought ice from the mountains and topped it with fruit in ancient times – today Rome serves the best creamy concoctions. And equally the worst. Make sure you stay away from the parlours selling artificially coloured and overdecorated ice cream.
Look out for organic and gelato made of milk and various quality signs convincing you that you won’t be getting a shit cone. Pistachio is never garish green, nor does smurf flavour come from natural smurfs. And there should be no ice crystals in your ice cream or you know it has not been handled properly.
Roma e gelato me gusto. (Just randomly combined some pretty sounding Italian words.)
THE PIAZZAS. Italy’s piazzas are the most ostentatious in the world.
Like Piazza del Popolo.
Decorated with fountains and Egyptian obelisks.
Like Piazza Navona. It arose on an ancient Roman stadium.
Now it features the famous 17th century Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, the Fountain of Four Rivers by Italian sculptor and artist Bernini (1598-1680).
From the 17th up to mid 19th century the piazza was regularly flooded, to create a fake lake for fun boating and pretend sea battles! The extravaganza of the wealthy Italian Pamphilj family. You could afford a lot as the pope’s cousin – the Pamphilj family was doing exceptionally well when Giovanni Battista Pamphilj became pope.
THE BASILICAS. One more glorious, bigger and wealthier than the other. I think Rome must hold a world record for churches. Each has its own interesting story, miracle and secret. Amazing frescos, detailed statues, quirky domes, impressive arches and columns designed by famous Italian artists.
Churched-out for the day.
A gem is Sant’Agnese in Agone. Facing Piazza Navona, a stunning baroque basilica with the famous dome and horrifying history.
The basilica was built on the site of an ancient Roman stadium, where early Christian Agnes was martyred. She was raped in the arch vaulted chambers under the stadium, then executed. The basilica holds the relic of Saint Agnes’ skull.
I have read that the latin word ‘fornicato‘, means ‘done in the archway‘ and the contemporary meaning of ‘fornication’ derives from the horrible events that took place in those times.
Another Pamphilj story. The basilica was located right next to the family’s palazzo and functioned as the family chapel, with a special opening in the dome, so that family members could participate at mass comfortably from their home.
The dome of Sant’Agnese in Agone. Look at the overwhelming amount of frescos and your head will spin.
THE ROMAN PANTHEON. Two thousand years old and still standing! The dome is an architectural wonder. Portico, Corinthian columns, pediment. The Roman classic.
The famous oculus is the only source of natural light inside the Pantheon. Hence the fuzzy picture.
In front is Piazza della Rotonda with the photogenic fountain and another obelisk.
THE RESTAURANTS. A bit of an roller-coaster ride. Some will be heavenly, some closer to human error. Even if you do your research, there is still a chance that the waiter or cook will have a bad day. And Italy’s kitchen is an emotional affair.
The great news, for vegetarians there are plenty of meatless choices in the pizza, pasta or salad department.
We gave Rome’s popular Da Francesco a try.
At Da Francesco you need to make a reservation or you will be part of a hungry mob that starts cuing well before the doors open at 7 pm.
Location: Piazza del Fico, 29, Rome.
Da Francesco serves authentic Italian dishes and I cannot say it was bad. At all. It was good, the artichoke antipasti truly delicious.
The hand made pasta something special. With pecorino and pepper.
The traditional pizza Napoli with mozzarella cheese and anchovies. Was burned at the edges.
Washed down with Italian dark and light birra.
The restaurant was buzzing. I could see the cook handle the pizza dough creating magic fog of flour.
The Japanese couple next to us was giving endless outbursts of joy, which I managed to understand in bits (now a proficient Japanese user according to my mobile language app). ‘Oishi‘ and ‘ichiban suki desu‘ are commonly used phrases to declare general satisfaction over your meal in Japan.
The waiter, too, had a very good day.
Da Franceso was definitely a fine choice. The tiny misshap, there was no bill. But that is Italy and who am I to fuss over traditions.
Only regrets: I was a bit sad that they ran out of Italy’s seasonal signature dish Pizza Fiori di Zucca. Zucchini flours were apparently out. Which is why we compensated back ‘home’, at our eatery in Trastevere.
With a full tummy, we explored the surrounding areas of Parione and Pigna, stopping by at Piazza di Santa Maria.
I took some pictures of what I love about Rome.
The beautiful gloominess of the ancient streets, the old Fiats, vintage shop signs, the romantic restaurants extending onto the cobbled alleys, Italian humour and the unique windows with candlesticks!
With a happy tummy, full of Italian goodness, it is easy to love Rome.