Friday, August 23, 2013

My First Third Impressions of Rome

I. Romans will really go out of their way for you. During the first 12 hours of my third Roman holiday, I was given rides three times by total strangers. The first lift was from Nadia and Guliano, the couple from whom I'm renting an apartment on Via Amadeo Cencelli, about 10 minutes (on foot) from the Arco di Travertino Metro station, 15 minutes or so (by car) from Roma Termini central train station. If the ride and the week's worth of breakfast food that they've bought for my arrival doesn't make me immediately feel at home, Nadia and Guliano themselves certainly do. They are both retired journalists (two books that Guliano has written are displayed on a table by the entrance of the one-bedroom flat), and Guliano was born on May 11, four days before me -- though, as he cheekily points out, "many many years before you!" Charming.

II. You haven't really seen the Italian capital until you've experienced it from the back of a motorcycle. During the third ride of my first day -- courtesy of the Italian friend of a British expat with whom I struck up a conversation about Italian people (whom he hates because, as he sees it, they're shallow) -- I noticed two things: First, safety first in Rome. In all the months I spent riding on the back of motorbikes in Thailand, nobody ever offered me a helmet (although Adam in Bali did), which is why I was surprised when my driver insisted that I put on his spare one. Also, Rome is even more beautiful and the monuments and statues even more breathtaking at night when you are speeding through it and past them al fresco at 35 kmh, or however fast that thing was going. I've got to remember to retrace the path from the Colosseo to Arco di Travertino at 2am before I leave.

III. I've never really been one for congregating on a city sidewalk and calling it a party (which Berliners love to do). But when you've got a clear view of the Colosseo in the background, I'm totally in.

IV. Wow, Italians and Italy really seem to have a bad reputation among the non-Italians who live here. Before the Italians-bashing Brit declares the Portuguese in Lisbon infinitely superior, the Pakistani man who works behind the counter at Chicken Hut, where I had my first Roman meal (chicken biryani) launches into a rant against Italy, which he calls the worst country on earth (though he has no answer when I ask him why he'd choose to live in such a vile place), and then proceeds to name the best ones: The U.S., Canada, England, all, incidentally, English-speaking.

V. Aside from the proliferation of kebab stands (which seem to have become a hot new trend in European cities in the last decade), not much has changed in Rome since my last visit in September of 2004. The Colosseo is just as I left it (in ruins but stunning), and I managed to make it from the Metro station across from it to the Hangar (where I once ran into my friend Andrew, who I didn't even know was in Rome, on my first-ever night in the city) without the benefit of a map. But since this is my first time here as a travel writer, I'm noticing details that I never really picked up before: the large number of picturesque steps throughout the city, the litter and cigarette butts that mar the cityscape (Italians seem to smoke even more than the Germans do!), and all the majestic statues perched atop buildings (which I previously thought was an architectural phenomenon unique to Berlin until it was all over Venice and Bologna, too).

VI. I've already had the best slice of pizza of my life (better than anything I ever devoured on or near St. Mark's Place in New York City), though I don't believe I'll ever again be able to find the place where I had it. I'm starting to worry that when I book my flight from Rome to Tel Aviv for one month from now, I'll have to reserve two seats instead of one. Time to find a fierce local park to go running around!


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