Viva Italia! Part I: Rome

The lovely Minkus has left to strike it rich in the big city, and I am stuck in rainy/intermittently sunny Sackville for the time being, so it seems a good time to reminisce about our trip to Italy for the next few posts.

Mink and I spent a little less than a week in Italy in the middle of July. It was hot and sunny and dusty and exhausting and we planned as little as possible, and I loved every minute of the experience. Beirut’s song, “Postcards from Italy,” is perfect to listen to (not just right now, but always. And possibly on repeat). Also, the video is whimsical and it is the kind of movie I would make about people and places and things if I were to start making movies:

Sidenote: Most of my photos from this trip have a slightly hazy, grainy quality to them, so it looks like I have a crappy camera or a crappy eye. I attribute this to my occasional inability to remember to adjust my light meter, but I actually really like this quality in photos, so I apologize for nothing.

After Mink and I returned from Prague, we had one brief night at home in Vienna to do laundry, pack our bags again, and have a drink with friends before jumping on a plane. We took a 4 a.m. cab to the airport in order to catch our early-morning flight to Rome. I had hoped to see my good friend Brittany while we were there, since she was working in the city on a six-month placement, but it just so happened that she was visiting Vienna and Budapest the week we were in Italy! But we only had so much travel time, as did she – and I know we both enjoyed visiting the cities the other had been living in for the year.

The flight was only an hour and a bit, and we caught the shuttle into the city and figured out the metro system – only two lines, child’s play in relation to London or Paris – to get to our digs while we were in Rome. We were located about a 5-minute walk from the Termini Train Station, and on our way we passed beautiful ruins amidst the graffiti-splashed concrete typical of a large city.

The structure pictured above was clearly abandoned, and it had a fence to discourage delinquents from using it as a home or drinking venue, but the ancient wall in the next photo had busy streets running through it. This was my favourite aspect of Rome – the modern and ancient architectural elements seemed to blend together seamlessly into one fabric that was constantly rippling with a positive energy I felt from the moment we got off of the shuttle in the center of it all.

Our hostel was an adorable little place called Shiva’s Bed and Breakfast, which had only two guest rooms and mercifully included air conditioning – a necessity for visiting Rome in July. After a much-needed catnap, it was still just past 1 p.m., so we set off in search of pizza and adventure. The Colosseum, Rome’s most famous landmark, was a 10-minute walk away, and it appeared with little fanfare on our left as we ambled down a main street. But it was breathtaking as we got closer!

Again, I was most delighted by the crazy drivers careening around the structure as if it was any old building to get around – minus the myriad tourists gawking up at it and presenting traffic hazards, of course. Not pictured: the large man dressed as a gladiator who wandered about the base of the Colosseum asking if ladies would like to pose with him in front of his supposed fighting grounds… including a feigned romantic kiss shot! We couldn’t pass up a face-to-face encounter with a gladiator, even though it was an obvious tourist trap. His name is Thomas and he told us he loves his job but he only does “the kiss” shot with the pretty ladies… Sure, Thomas.

We meandered about downtown in the hot sun, just wide-eyed tourists ourselves. Statues of Caesar are everywhere, of course. SPQR, which stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus, or “the Senate and People of Rome,” is also a common sight on the walls as well as for touristy fridge magnets.

Another blend of the ancient and the modern:

An immaculate and impressively large government building:

The Trevi Fountain, which in this photo looks like a bunch of statues hanging out on their own, but actually had a million tourists teeming around it:

We also found the square with the Pantheon, which is as incredible as one expects.

The entire square in which it is located, called the Piazza della Rotonda, is cute, although every piazza we happened upon was unique and beautiful in its own right, and I’m sure they all have fascinating histories. This row of homes borders the opposite side of the square:

The circle of light inside of the Pantheon:

The entire structure is a work of architectural genius.

An elephant statue we found in a piazza nearby:

The statues and buildings and ruins of Rome are indescribable – and these photos and words, paltry representations of the real thing that they are, don’t even begin to do the city justice – but it also has a great street art scene. The most impressive art, which I didn’t get a chance to photograph but of which Mink has photo proof, was the graffiti on the metro cars. In Vienna, this type of artistic expression would not fly at all, but they seem to embrace it in Rome – some of the pieces date back to 2007 (as this video shows), and they are still complete:

Our favourite metro car art was a piece done of one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – appropriate, as they all have Italian-artist names. Here are a few examples of the street art I did capture:

Stealing!

Alice in Wonderland, done in pastels on a sidewalk by an old man wearing headphones.

We were exhausted by this point, so we stopped by the river for some cheap wine and snacks.

The windows onto the river, another anonymous innovation:

Mink and I were having a great time by ourselves the river, but two gentlemen who did not speak much English at all insisted on sitting close by us and attempting communication. We politely told them we were leaving the city in a few hours (untrue) and really had to leave right away. We got up the stairs of the riverbank and proceeded to run until we were out of breath to escape the rather tenacious Italians. We were celebrating a successful escape when I realized that I had lost my lens cap somewhere in the chase! There was no way we could go back for it, but I was pretty bummed – it’s been broken since I got it, but I somehow managed to keep it on there (minus one close call in Dublin). Such is the nature of adventure – but small losses often up the stakes.

We returned to our area of town in the evening, and found a nearby restaurant for some homemade pasta and red wine – at 8 euros a liter, you can’t really go wrong. The adorable 70-year-old owner kept coming by to ensure the meal was to our liking, and he even enticed me to try the gelato for dessert. It was three kinds of awesome.

Not feeling like venturing too far afield that night, we decided to skip going downtown in favour of finding a local bar for a few drinks before bed. Apparently (and unsurprisingly) the area around the train station is not the most affluent or popular for going out, so there were few options. We settled on a bar with a front window covered in dense fake foliage and no sign… classy. The place was abandoned except for the bartender and her friend, so we had the run of the entire huge back room. More red wine enhanced our pool-playing skills dramatically, and we played a few games while placid plaster sculptures of goddesses and athletes looked on encouragingly.

We fell into bed exhausted a little while later, excited to be up early to explore more of the dusty, busy city the next morning.

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