Sunday, September 14, 2014

At Home In Rome: The Love Affair Continues

You might think that an 8.5-day visit to Rome would not excite me much.  You might think that, after last year’s 9-month fantasy trip, I would not have that much to see – or that I’d be immune to the city’s charms.  You might wonder whether I’d get bored by walking through the same neighborhoods and seeing the same sights.  If you thought any of those things, you could not have been more wrong.  My heart sang for the past 9 days.  Just driving from the Fiumicino airport to the city center – and getting close to my Campo de’ Fiori apartment – was ridiculously exciting. 

The first impression I can report is that – even after so many times – Rome’s beauty still blew me away.  The major sights are still awesome.  The Colosseum still knocks me out, Piazza Navona still dances with energy, the Pantheon is still perfection, Piazza del Popolo’s majesty still impresses, Caravaggio and Bernini still grip your eyes and cast their spells, walking along the Tiber still feels like magic, and St. Peter’s presence still commands. 

St. Peter's in the background
Piazza Navona on a cloudless day
A late summer evening along the Tiber
The best espresso in town
And for me at least, familiarity has vanquished any trace of contempt.  I understand the pleasures of wandering in a new city.  I appreciate the fun of getting lost and struggling to find your way on a first visit somewhere.  But I have to say that, at least on this trip, knowing Rome so well enhanced this trip by orders of magnitude.  Knowing the city like I do was wonderful.  I loved being able to find exactly the espresso I wanted, how to get right to the church I wanted to see, and how to find my friends for one of the day-trips that we did.  Feeling at home in Roma – and even on three occasions randomly running into old friends (Toni, Silvia, Antonio) while walking around – flat-out rocked!

But I also found time for a couple of excursions to places I’d never gone.  On my first day, still groggy from jet lag, I went with Paola, Armando, Valentina, and Xeno to Ostia Antica.  I always wanted to go there, but this was my first time!  It’s worth a visit.  Ostia was the port city for ancient Rome.  An incredible set of ruins from the old city still exists.  Touring the ruins with Xeno(pedia) is a treat – the guy knows everything!! 

At Ostia Antica
The remnants of an ancient synagogue at Ostia Antica.  I didn't see it mentioned in my guidebooks - but Xeno knew it was there!  It is believed to be the oldest synagogue in Europe - and the oldest one ever found outside of Israel.  
I also went with Kat and Francesco to Villa Pamphili – the biggest park in Rome.  Villa Pamphili s a little out of the way if you’re only hanging out in the center.  But it’s well worth the quick trip.  It’s vaster than Villa Borghese, and it’s not quite as manicured as Vila Borghese.  But this huge park does not have many tourists, so it feels much more like a Roman experience.  There’s a nice little cafĂ©/restaurant where you can sidt outside, and the villa itself is really grand.

Kelly, Giulio, and I also went for a day-trip to the medieval towns of Civita Castellana and Narni.  The latter in particular, which is in Umbria, was tremendous.  These towns are a pretty simple train ride away from the Tiburtina station.  Definitely consider going to Narni! 

Within the city itself, my new favorite sight is the Tempietto del Bramante.  This tiny commemorative tomb is considered a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance.  Some experts believe it was built in 1502!  It’s stunning.  Plus, it’s all the way up on the Gianicolo Hill (up above Trastevere), so it’s a bit beyond the hubbub of the center.  When I went there, I was the only one there.   

The other over-riding emotion on this trip was how incredible it was to visit this jewel of a city and to have friends there to see.  Being able to catch up with everyone was a joy.  It felt like way more than a vacation, and I feel very lucky.  How many places can you visit in the world where you can go into the best bar in town, and have the bartender call out your name?!?!?

OK, now I have to do some work - and plan my next trip.

With Federico at Barnum
With Sonia in Piazza del Popolo