Wednesday, 2 November 2011 – Part IV of IV
Soon, I arrive at a very wide avenue (Via de S. Gregorio), with huge trees in the center creating a canopy that covers the sky. On my side of the road, for as far as I can see, is a sprawling park, with benches (often occupied) scattered throughout. Across the avenue, I see more sprawling park area with tiny islands of ancient foundations scattered behind and along a wire fence. I am, of course, drawn to explore further.
I see a parking lot with tour buses up the avenue a little further, perhaps an entrance into whatever I’m seeing beyond the park. I go the opposite way, not interested in the tourist scene. I walk through the park area along a path near the fence, passing some young lovers on a bench (again) and keep following the trail, every once in a while encountering someone walking a dog or a couple out for a stroll. I finally realize I am circling the apparent backside of some large historic compound, when I come around a corner and can look down on parts of the site through the fence. I continue all the way around, stopping for a different perspective of the site every time there is a place with a view.
I eventually get to the side farthest from where I began, and I am on what appears to be a beautiful, woodsy, high-end residential street. Here the view is even better, and I am amazed at how devoid of people (especially tourists) the area is. It’s almost like I have it to myself, which I admit is a little spooky at times. I hear a few catcalls along the way but don’t sense any potential problems, ever vigilant as I try to be – just a “cultural difference” as Mr. Brit would no doubt have called it.
Eventually, I reach what is apparently the “front entrance” and adjacent parking area. There are a lot of people here and some ball fields, with vendor wagons and such. I realize it is not only the architecture that is intermixed; daily life is as well. It is clear the residents have become more or less immune to being immersed in such rich history. Just another day in the life for them, as they don their sports gear, grab their equipment and engage their competitive spirit. (I later identified the site as that of Circus Maximus and the Palatino complex – really amazing!)
After all this rambling about, I realize I am a bit discombobulated directionally, and the sun is starting to set. I figure the wide avenue must lead somewhere important (or at least to tourist heaven), and I surmise it must lead to the Colisseo (again following my gut). I cross back over to the side of the road flanked by the endless park and head up the hill, hoping I am on the right path. I see a tour bus stopped on the other side of the road and strain to find a sign – ah, the Palatino entrance. I must be scaling Palatine Hill! I continue up the hill and, suddenly, the road levels a bit and there, on the horizon, is an arch, with the Colosseum looming just beyond. I’m definitely sticking with my intuition; it hasn’t let me down yet…ever!
I get to the arch and am again awe-struck by the sight of the Colosseum. It looks substantially different than earlier, given the glow of the setting sun and the fact that I am on the opposite side from where I first captured a glimpse. I take a lot of pictures from this side, of both the arena and the arch, then head around to the far side to retrace my steps from earlier in the day, taking the pictures I didn’t even think to take then, in hotel-finding mode.
I then head back into the small neighborhood containing my hotel and several eateries with sidewalk seating (so it’s virtually impossible to use the route for actual passage);it’s considerably more lively here than it had been when I came through mid-afternoon. As I enter the neighborhood, the greeter at the very first café chases me down to try to persuade me to stop and dine. He is a cheery little fellow, of Asian descent, who apparently used to live in Texas. After learning I just am not ready to eat yet (or so I told him – the place is primarily pizza, which isn’t high on my list), he tells me to come back when I am, he will have a seat for me, yadda, yadda, and does his best to charm me the whole time. Most of the café hosts are not near this enthusiastic or energetic…whew!
I make it a few feet further down the side street before a street vendor approaches, asking the same questions the café host had asked (name? where are you from?), but in weaker English, and then asking me to buy something. When I say “no thanks,” he wants me to give him my hand and a kiss. Another “NO” for him. At least he was pleasant about it. Really though? These non-Italians in Rome are a piece of work in their pursuit of tourist dollars.
After a bit more wandering, I finally settle on a little spot, Anti Luzzi Café, near my hotel with outdoor seating. It has a few tables already occupied, which I take as a positive sign since it is early by European standards. I sit at a small table a few away from the others that are occupied, always being the considerate smoker. Here too, the waitress is non-Italian (Asian). I find it interesting how many apparent immigrants I have encountered in the food and beverage business here already and wonder if it is just the more touristy joints.
I order vino rosso (red wine) and, eventually, pasta carbonara. The healthy amount of wine I receive is so-so, fine for the price. After hearing how expensive Europe is from everyone and their brother before my trip, I just haven’t seen it. Granted, I’m not the sort to go for the high-end place, but I can easily eat and drink here more reasonably than I could back home. The carbonara is very different than any I’ve had but very tasty – it specified “egg, bacon, and black pepper” in the description; I think the egg must’ve been part of the sauce. I am prepared for a surcharge on the bill like I had in Milan, given the touristy area, so I am pleasantly surprised when my tab is a flat total of 17 euro (just under $23) – 9 for the pasta, 8 for the ½-carafe of vino – and well worth it!
As I sit and mull over my day in my journal while sipping my rosso, I start to get a chill and my feet are screaming. It was hot earlier walking, but not so much now that I’ve settled down. I want to stay a bit longer, though, since the hotel is non-smoking and I still have wine left, which should help me settle down to sleep better. I want an early night so I can get an early start on sightseeing in the morning. I definitely want to tour the Colosseum tomorrow and maybe go up to the Vatican/St. Peters/Sistine Chapel then work my way down to the closer things I want to see. I need to give my boots a break though; the Metro pass may come in handy.
Then I look at my watch… While it has been a long day, I still can’t believe it’s only 6:30 pm and I’m utterly exhausted. (It makes more sense now that I have calculated how far I walked this evening, almost 3.5 miles, the longest of my Rome adventure. And this after the grueling train ride from Milan and the original ½-mile+ walk from the Metro to the hotel, with only my Milan breakfast for sustenance.) I may have to spend an extra night (or two) in Rome, but maybe at another hotel. This neighborhood is so small and secluded, and I’d rather not have to travel across town at night for more entertainment options.
Okay, now I am really getting chilly. It doesn’t help that I had been sweating a bit on my walk earlier, leaving my under-hair damp (YUCK!) The area has definitely picked up at night, although I wish there was someone to ask where it ‘happens’. Maybe I need to stop by a bar tomorrow (or whatever they call it here since a ‘bar’ is more like a soda shop from what I can tell…). At least I feel more relaxed now…couldn’t be the wine (ha, ha). I can tell because my mind is just kind of randomly jumping topics. Next up, how is it I’m not skinny yet with all this walking (compared to none at home) and less calories (both eating and drinking)? OK, maybe not that much less, between Northampton and my hotel breakfasts, given I don’t eat much at home either. Still, all this exercise…<sigh> I’m surprised my feet and knees are holding up so well.
At last, I am chilled enough (both physically and emotionally) to head back to the hotel. Yippee! The doors are open. They must have just been locked before because the guy was away from the desk. I’m not one to complain about good security. 🙂 But it is definitely even harder to find the place in the dark, since there is just a small sign on the wall that’s not lit. Good thing it’s conveniently located just a few doors down from the Carabinieri (police) station and two blocks from Anti Luzzi Café.
I get back to the room and am grateful it’s warm since I’m chilled. Plus, most of my clothes (other than the jeans) are about half-dry in roughly three hours, so I should be good on that. I am definitely thinking I am going to need another night in Rome, so I hop on the iPod and check booking.com. The prices aren’t what I was hoping for; even at this place, the rate is up to 108 euro (20 to 40 more than what my current nights were booked at) and it doesn’t show any availability for the 4th – drat! I’m also trying to figure out my path for getting to southern France, since there have been a lot of weather issues causing landslides and such on the route I was planning. Guess I’ll have to wait a little longer to figure it all out… After getting over the chill and spending time searching for options, I am feeling a bit refreshed (and a little discouraged), so I put on warmer clothes and head back out in search of a beer or two, just not quite ready to settle down yet for the night, especially if I may have to leave Rome so soon.
Surprisingly, there are multiple Irish pubs within a block or two of each other in this one tiny Roma neighborhood. Who knew? I stop at one, Shamrock Irish Pub Celio, that looks more like the upper-scale ones you’d see in the States – lots of green trim and dark wood, cute little stuck-up servers, an outside patio area (with yet another passionate couple lip-locked and oblivious to the world – if I found Paris the city of romance, clearly Rome is the city of passion), and dartboards, pool tables, and a clientele that seemed to be mostly British and local, given the accents and conversations I heard, not that there were many patrons. After the disappointing service and atmosphere – I ended up going directly to the bar after a bit of a wait and still stood there (alone) for quite some time watching the bartender within arm’s reach – I decide this is not a place I want to patronize further, so I head off in search of greener pastures.
Another pub that I had spotted earlier, Camden Town, is now open. (Unlike in the U.S., several of the pubs didn’t open till after 7 pm.) It is definitely a more down-to-earth place. I walk in, and it’s all about the footie (i.e., soccer) game on the telly. Most of the seats at the bar (there were probably less than ten total) are taken by guys who are for the most part just having a beer and a shot, as in Jaeger, which made it seem almost like home with subtitles. So, I pull up a stool. (Speaking of Jaegermeister, I am surprised, not to mention amused, to see a TV ad for it while in Rome, using a modernized version of Olivia Newton-John’s “Let Get Physical” as the only soundtrack until the brief Italian tag line at the end. Seriously, some things just cut across all “cultural differences” – I just didn’t realize Jaeger and Irish pubs would be among them…)
It doesn’t take long to realize this place is much more what I was hoping for. The bartenders, one male, one female, don’t really speak English, so we do the best that we can. Somehow, though, even with a significant language barrier, I feel much more welcome here than the last place. I am quite comfortable and join in watching the footie. The bartenders continue to make an effort to involve me, and they keep me smiling. It’s pleasant, and the Guinness is flowing (5 euro or less than $7/glass, about the same as in Vegas).
I love these European cities – little bars every few doors within easy walking distance of both hotels and locals’ homes. I could get used to this! And the place seems to have a good mix of locals with a few tourists wandering in, most of whom immediately request some Pringles to snack on. Yes, the ever-present Pringles are also offered in place of the nuts or popcorn we might find in the States.
Shortly after I arrive, the male bartender is setting me up, over my protest, with some Pringles of my own, served in a Dixie cup. A while later, after everyone’s settled in, the female bartender hops her tiny little butt up on the bar to rest and promptly tips and crushes “my” cup of Pringles. She jumps back off the bar, clearly horrified, trying to find more Pringles to offer me, again over my protest. They are out of the plain so now it’s Sour Cream & Onion or something, but I eventually “talk” her out of it. Good thing “no” and “ok” are pretty universal (ha, ha). Knowing I don’t have to drive anywhere and enjoying the atmosphere, I have a bit more Guinness than I had planned (shocking, right?), taking little trips outside now and then for a smoke, like most everyone else perched at the bar. I can see myself living here for a while, even though I’ve only been in Rome for eight or nine hours at this point.
I finally head back to my hotel, which is only a block or so away, around 10. The area seems to get livelier as time goes by, where the businesses are, but cross the street and it is residential and quite quiet. I get in the hotel with no problem and head to my room. I check my jeans again, and they seem every bit as wet as when I left. Could be a problem if they don’t pick up the pace… Then off to bed. I don’t bother to set the alarm, since it isn’t even 11 yet and I have no specific schedule the next day. I’m thinking I’ll be up bright and early, same as every other day.