Graffiti. So much sad sad graffiti. Crappy tags on almost every surface. Every now and then, a pathetic half-assed attempt to paint over it. It’s not art. There are some well done murals, but they are few and far between, scattered among the seldom cleaned trash bins, decaying buildings, and smells from origins of which I would rather not know. This is Rome. I expected my first encounter with the great city to be more, well, magical. But after a couple of days, all I have found is a sense of a sprawling decaying urban European center not unlike so many others I have visited. Not to say that the city isn’t welcoming and in so many ways, enchanting. Of course it is, it’s frickin Rome! I guess after all these years of anticipation, like so many things we build up in our hearts and minds, the real thing tends to be a letdown. Am I speaking sacrilege? No, I really want to LOVE it. It is, after all, our Italian Honeymoon tour!
The fact that our initial lodgings turned out to be a bit less than advertised didn’t exactly help the situation. We used AirBnB for the first time. It was a great service; everything was checked and double checked, reserved and paid for beforehand, so there were no last minute surprises. Except for the fact that the private bathroom we were promised was not quite private. Having a private room in a private residence with a bathroom in our room for our Honeymoon is what we expected. This was our own private room in a very nice flat, but the bathroom was downstairs across the “common area” and kitchen. So in order to visit, you had to suit up and traipse across the flat. Though it was supposedly ours only, I am certain there were other visitors. Don’t ask me how I know…. Oh, and did I mention we had to be quiet as we walked through the living room area as there was another guest sleeping there off to the side cordoned off by room dividers. Yep, that was his “room.” I wonder what he paid?
Not to say that AirBnB is bad. Far from it! I love the service and think it is a great boon for the planet, entrepreneurialism, and travel freedom. In fact, I’ll tell you just how truly AMAZING it is in my next few posts as I regale you with beautiful tales of the Italian countryside, fresh herbs and fruit right outside our flat, and being serenaded by the local church bells. But for our introduction to the service in Rome, the age old motto of “Caveat Emptor” rang out loudly in my cranium.
The big sights are still there, the Coliseum, Forum, Spanish Steps, Vatican City, etc, etc, and so on. And they are beautiful as advertised. Quite awe-inspiring actually. Imagine the history! Gladiators slaughtering one another, Christians being torn apart by lions, the Vatican helping the Nazis horde Jewish gold. What? Too soon? I’m just saying, the history is impressive, it’s just not always flattering.
It doesn’t help that at every tour bus stop, every attraction, and every train station, there are clone swarms of what seems to be the same Bangladeshi man aggressively hawking shitty hats, cold water, cheap Chinese scarves, some strange little squishy toy, and the ever popular iphone selfie stick for taking better self indulgent “look at me” photos from further than an arm’s length out. It may be years before I get the mind numbing sound of “selfie?” being half-heartedly “shouted” at me every ten feet. It got so bad near the Spanish Steps that one hawker aggressively pushed some “free” flowers on my wife, gesturing that, no indeed they were free. Sure. After we stated, “No, Grazie” abut ten times, he initially took them away after, of course, asking me for some cash. After my final, “No, Grazie!” He uttered some ancient curse at me and I, in turn, cordially invited him to have sexual intercourse with himself. A group of these guys recently attacked and tried to rob a U.S. policeman on Holiday. I wonder if my jerk of a rose pusher was one of those weenies. Oh how I longed to go Gladiator on him myself and take a rousing wack at his skull with a blunt object of some kind. Somebody will soon, I’m sure. Had I done so, undoubtedly the crowd would cheer me on as they did the warriors of antiquity and I would be showered with praise, gold, and virgins (which my wife would not appreciate).
Speaking of virgins… Then there’s the romance. Couples kissing out in the open, seemingly lost in their passions, sharing a gelato and groping one another in the parks. Swarthy fellas hooting, gesticulating, and whistling at the ladies as they go by. Innocent enough, but the fact that they are oogling my wife is a bit annoying. Although she is fabulously attractive and sexy as hell. Hey, she can’t help it, that’s the way God made her. Hallelujah. But it is our Honeymoon after all, so I could be just a bit sensitive. All in all, not too swept away by the whole romance thing in Rome. It’s not like the old movies with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, zipping around on Vespas, drinking espressos, and just generally being fabulous.
No, we came to Rome amid various warnings of pickpockets, roaming bands of thieving gypsy children, and scamming taxi drivers. Not exactly a warm welcome to this once great city. It’s hard to sit back and enjoy your time here having to keep one eye out for marauders and one hand on your wallet. For all the outward leanings, this city is sadly living below it’s potential. As for the inside? Well, that is where the city gets it right. The food and the gracious hospitality. Like most sprawling metropolises I have visited, you do have to have a discerning eye for a good restaurant. Ask the locals, get recommendations, and normally, if they have pictures of the food on their windows, RUN!
Steer clear of the touristy areas and you can find some truly wonderful eats. But here in Rome, it’s hard to do as their is a tourist trap everywhere you turn. After awhile you just say, “Hey look, more ruins… Wooptadeedoo!” Be vigilant and you will find some seriously tasty treats – the best part of Rome! Like Luca’s the local Trattoria in the artsy area where we were staying just east of Termini Station with incredible caponata, friendly waiters, and a genuinely welcoming atmosphere. The cacio e pepe was quite rich and flavorful here.
Then there was another random find in Nana’s Vini e Cucina near the Spanish Steps. Oh what wonderful pasta alla amatriciana! The deep rich smoky bacon, tart tomato, and savory parmesan lovingly smothered the perfectly al dente bucatini as well as my taste buds. The flavor still haunts my memory. Truly a great foodie find, made all the better by our new waiter friend Salvatore who amped up our experience by providing us with two rounds of Limoncello gratis for our “Luna di Miele.” Grazie!
In keeping with the “get recommendations from locals” motif, Salvatore recommended the leather shop just next door which my wife, Kim, had been eyeballing all through dinner. It turned out to be another great find, as the brand new hand made brown/black fine Italian leather belt that adorns my waist can attest to.
I guess my first visit to Rome could have been more romantic. And we will have a another shot at it after our stay up north in Cinque Terre for a month, and I will do my best to adore the city. Just be aware, that if I do not come back to the states, it’s probably because I cold cocked some jackass trying to push a damn “selfie” stick on me after I have thrice told him to “Feckoff!”