After Lucerne, we took a long train ride down to southern Italy. Destination: Rome.
Riding the train into Rome, my mind went back to all the stories I read about pickpocketing in Europe. If half of the stories I read were true, Rome is one of the worst cities in Europe for pick-pocketing. Naturally, I was a bit more cautious/alert than in other cities.
We get off the train and start walking away from the tracks. Immediately, a large African man approaches us and wants to shake our hands. My eyes immediately look for my Aggie ring (forgetting that I’d left it at home for safekeeping because it gets loose in the winter when my hands are cold). “What does he want?” I ask myself. With all those stories rushing through my mind, I’m on high alert.
So I’m quite surprised when our mystery stranger turns out to be a Deacon from Kenya! In three short months he was going to be ordained a priest! He simply wanted to meet new people, hear where we were going, and wish us well. No clearer sign could God have sent to say “Stop freaking out. Not everyone is going to try to rob you. Relax and enjoy your time in the Eternal City.”
I’m ashamed of my initial thoughts. I had such prejudices based simply on what I had read. I almost didn’t include that story in this post, but I chose to leave it in. It’s a great example of how travel can force you confront your assumptions. You realize that for all the ways we are all different, there are many more ways that we are all similar.
Getting to our Airbnb host in Rome was rather difficult. It turns out that she had only given us half the directions (it was her first time as a host) and the promised 10 minute walk was closer to 20 or 30. Aaaannnd we were hungry. Aaaannnd had no local money. We had leftover Swiss francs, but no Euros yet. Unable to find a money changer and needing to figure out where to go, we discreetly looked at a map from a shop corner and tried to fill in the rest of the directions.
20 minutes later, we were fairly certain that we were REALLY close to the flat. We kept wandering around the block trying to identify exactly which set of flats would lead to our host. Eventually, God had mercy on us and sent the host out to look for us. We were in the right place after all! Leading us into one of the 6 or 7 paths branching out from the central area, our host guided us the rest of the way.
She had a really nice apartment! Plenty of space, kitchen area, laundry facilities. Check it out here.
After settling in, we went out for a walk to get to know our surroundings better. After a bit of rest and food, I was much more mentally present and noticed something that surprised me.
Rome is kind of dirty. Pieces of trash were everywhere. Streets and sidewalks were in great need of repair. Graffiti was on everything that could be reached (including trees!). It appeared that the locals didn’t really care about keeping the city clean. Definitely not what I was expecting.
When we got over to the Imperial side of Rome, we saw quite a different story. This area was very well kept. Sparkling clean and shiny. After all, this is where most of the tourists go and spend money so it makes sense.
As we were walking around our first morning exploring imperial rome, the weather turned nasty rather quickly. Fat rain drops began pelting us at an alarming rate so Katie and I dashed to the closest building, which happened to be a church (not really that surprising in Rome), and went in to explore.
It turns out that we had sought shelter in Santa Maria in Cosmedin which contained a first class relic of St Valentine (skull). In the crypts below was an altar to Hercules. Apparently the lower rooms used to be an entire temple dedicated to Hercules before a church was built on top of it.
As we walked outside to check on the weather, we saw a street hawker with umbrellas hanging from both arms. Did God send us aid in our hour of need again? Yes, albeit indirectly. I’m fairly certain the hawkers were drawn by the tour group of 30+ that staggered in after us. I jumped on the opportunity to buy an umbrella.
Thus armed, Katie and I considered our options. To our right there was a long line, in front of us the rest of the city was waiting. We opted for the city and set up to explore.
Mouth of Truth
I found out later that the line that we so easily ignored was for the famous Mouth of Truth statue. Legend has it that if one tells a lie with their hand inside it’s mouth, it will be bitten off! If you’ve seen Roman Holiday, you might recognize the statue from the movie. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it! It’s very good.
We generally tried to avoid the most busy areas as it was off-season and there were many great sights without lines at all, but this is one that I wish we hadn’t missed. Especially as we were standing less than 50 feet away just waiting for the rain to calm down. Fail.
We hit many of the big ticket items that day as they are all rather close to each other.
By this time we were getting hungry. We found a secret gem of a restaurant by the Pantheon called the Seminary Tavern. It looked like a really expensive restaurant, but the menu prices said otherwise. We tried it out and the food was fantastic! We had the best Tiramisu I’ve ever had. Oh, and we got a half liter of a great white wine for 5 Euros. That was 1.25 euros per glass at a restaurant!
We stopped by Trevi fountain and threw the obligatory money into the fountain. Assured of our eventual return, I did a little reading about the fountain . Did you know that an average of 3000 euro is thrown into the fountain every day?? That money is collected and used to feed Rome’s homeless! What a great use of the money.
Old Bridge Gelateria
I couldn’t end this post without talking about a great gelato place we heard about near the Vatican. Our tour guide Angelo pointed Old Bridge gelateria out to us as we walked past. After the tour finished, we remembered his recommendation (as if we ever forget dessert recommendations) and walked over to check it out.
As we approached the store, the man behind the counter began chatting with us in the friendly Italian way. We got the surprise of all surprises when we found out that less than two weeks before he was in Fort Worth watching the cattle drive! How cool is that?
That encounter made me wonder how many times we have similar chance encounters without realizing it. The friendliness of a young Italian revealed a connection that we probably wouldn’t have found out about otherwise. Plus one for Italian friendliness/hospitality. I look forward to the next time we can return to Rome. I’ll make sure to stop by Old Bridge and see if anyone has recently been to Texas :-).