Live Like a Roman

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Sory and photos by Carol Stigger carolstigger@sbcglobal.net
additional pictures by Manos Angelakis

Rome Neighborhood

Living in Rome like a Roman
Enjoying the Eternal City from a stylish apartment

I’ve been to Rome many times staying in pensiones, hotels, and with friends. My daughter, Pam, and 14-year-old grandson, Cameron, were keenly interested in the country that has captivated me. Traveling alone, getting lost is part of the adventure. As the leader of their trip of a lifetime, I did not want any unexpected adventures. With my daughter and grandson’s goals in mind – “I want to live the life” – Pam; “I want to see the Colosseum” – Cameron, I began planning seven months in advance. The first bump on the road to Rome was finding that my favorite hotel was booked and so was my alternate.  Other hotels in the center are too pricey, and hotels outside the historical center require a commute.

Rome Apartment near Piazza Navona

Life in the heart of Rome

I consulted with Kit Burns, president of Doorways, Ltd. (www.villavacations.com)  and learned that a vacation rental apartment in the historical center could be less expensive than a decent hotel. She suggested a rental just a block away from Piazza Navona, one of the most beautiful piazzas in Europe. The apartment was more than we expected with two bedrooms, two full baths, a completely equipped kitchen, a tastefully decorated living room, and wifi. The little side street was quiet and picturesque.

We set off to see Piazza Navona, which was mobbed, then on to Piazza Rotunda and the Pantheon. Only an eel could slip into the Pantheon. We cooled off by the fountain and continued on to Bernini’s marble elephant holding an Egyptian pyramid. We went into the 12th Century Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, which Cameron was interested to learn means Saint Mary above Minerva. The church is built on top of the temple of the Roman goddess. Inside, I explained the symbolism of the statues, candles, altar, and silver hearts for answered prayers.

Rome Sunrise

We walked on to Largo Argentina where an entire block has been excavated down to its ancient Roman streets.  On the steps of one of three temples is reputed to be the site of Julius Caesar’s murder.  VICE Gelateria is right on the corner. Cameron was amazed that he could order two or three scoops of different flavors in one cone. As for the whipped cream on top, had he been a Victorian lady, he would have swooned.

We finished our excursion with espressos at Sant’ Eustachio where I bought coffee for the apartment.  At a small grocery close to our apartment, we picked up cheese, lunch meat, snacks, bread, pastries, and yogurt, plus just enough fruit to last through breakfast. Once home, we were particularly grateful to have an apartment. We were so tired that just thinking about dining out was overwhelming.

Rome Pantheon Interior

Early risers

We got up early, eager to beat the crowds and shop at an outdoor market while the produce was still pristine. We arrived at Piazza Navona at 7:45. The water in the fountains sparkled and the marble gleamed as if it had been polished overnight. The few people were walking purposefully through the piazza, and an exercise class was in session. We walked on to Piazza Rotonda. The enormous bronze doors of the Pantheon were closed, but a sign said it opened at 8:30. At an outdoor café, we ordered cappuccinos and rolls to top off the fruit and yogurt breakfast we had at the apartment. We were early enough to enjoy an unencumbered view of this 2000-year-old architectural wonder.

Rome Pantheon Oculous

When the doors opened, we shared the sizable expanse with just a few other tourists, ample room to admire the statues, Raphael’s tomb, and try to tell time by the sun shining through the oculus.

We walked on to the Jewish Ghetto to buy bread at a bakery that is reputed to bake the best bread in Rome. The walk, itself, is a history lesson with 500-year-old buildings still being used as apartments and shops. We went on to Campo di Fiorie market where we bought locally made cheeses and meats, farm-fresh produce, and fruit. 

For lunch, I fixed a caprese salad with our market purchases and served it with fresh bread. We relaxed until 3:30 when Cameron declared it was gelato time. We walked back to VICE, then boarded a tram to cross the Tiber to the Trastevere area. Here, ancient buildings lean against each other and the lanes are so serpentine it is easy to get lost.

Rome Sancta Caecilia

With just one wrong turn, we arrived at one of my favorite places, the church and courtyard of St. Cecelia, the patron saint of music. The enclosed courtyard contains a fountain, benches, and roses. A relatively unknown feature of this church is its underground excavations. For a small fee, you can go under the church, walk on Roman streets, and see the walls of Roman homes plus artifacts dating back to the third century.  We shared this large excavation with just five other tourists.

Roman guy

The Roman guy

The next day was Cameron’s big day with a three-hour tour of the Coliseum, Palatine Hill, and the Forum with The Roman Guy. The lines to get into the Coliseum look like the population of Montana, so guided tours that skip the line are a sensible choice. Selecting a tour company is the problem. Some offer multilingual tours of up to three languages, so more time is spent in translation than in imparting information you can understand.

The Roman Guy (www.theromanguy.com) offers individual and small group tours in one language all around Italy, and we found our tour outstanding. Our Roman Guy, who happened to be a gal, was a font of knowledge about ancient Rome. We explored restricted areas of the Coliseum including the dungeons and retraced the steps of gladiators. After that, we climbed to the third tier for a magnificent view of Rome and learned that vomitorium is not a room for overstuffed Romans, but a design feature that allows 50,000 spectators to spew out of the Coliseum in three minutes. The tour of Palatine Hill took us through the neighborhoods where Rome’s rulers and nobility lived in splendor and ended in the Forum at Julius Caesar’s funeral pyre.

Rome Vatican Square

Beating the crowds to St. Peter

We left the apartment at 7:30 a.m. for a pleasant 20-minute walk to Vatican City. This is the only time of day you can breeze right in St. Peters – through metal detectors and Swiss guards checking to see that shoulders and knees are covered. The main portion of the church was open, and there was no line to enter the treasury. Here, we saw ancient religious relics and vestments. When we left the church about 9:30, the line wrapped around the colonnade – a wait time of over an hour on a hot, humid day,

After a light lunch of cheese, bread, and salad in the apartment, we set out again. Cameron took on the challenge of the 124 marble steps to the entrance of Santa Maria Aracoeli before we all climbed the stairs to the Campidoglio designed by Michelangelo. I showed them a talking fountain, reputed to impart advice to Romans in ancient days. We walked by Trajan’s Market, a 2,000 year old shopping mall now a three-story ruin in restoration with pieces of columns laying on the ground.

Rome gelateria sign

Cameron reminded us it was gelato time. I promised them the most famous gelateria in Rome, Giolitti’s near the Pantheon. I was dreading the lines. Happily, I got lost and realized we were one street south of Giolitti’s and right in front of an uncrowded gelateria: Don Nino Gelateria & Pasticceria, Via Borgognona, 11. In addition to many flavors of artisan gelato, the shop has freshly made Sicilian pastries.

Rome Chocolate Dessert

A neighborhood restaurant

In the evening, we took the bus to meet a friend for dinner at a trattoria she had discovered recently. A great restaurant one year may have “gone tourist” the next with inferior food and a wait staff that moves patrons in and out like U.S chain restaurants.  Il Bocconcino, Via Ostilia 23, is a neighborhood trattoria a few blocks behind the Coliseum.  The pasta is made in their kitchen, ingredients are purchased daily from local markets, and desserts are imaginative. Their pasta carbonara is rich and creamy and the best I’ve had in Rome in twenty years.

The waiter assured us the 20 minute wait for an off-menu chocolate and cream dessert would give us an excuse to walk home slowly and enjoy Rome’s monuments and piazzas lit beneath a starry sky. We followed our waiter’s advice and strolled home past ancient monuments and splashing fountains.

As for enjoying Rome from an apartment, Kit Burns was right. Pam got her fill of “living the life,” and Cameron saw more Roman ruins in one week than most people see in a lifetime. We appreciated the home comforts of the apartment and the freedom to enjoy meals at home on our schedule instead of finding restaurants and timing our meals to their serving hours.

 

 

 

© November 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.

 

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