Sunday, June 22, 2008

Italian Adventure: Rome (Part 5)

Part 5: Rome

Rachel: While talking with other travelers, we kept hearing that Rome is a good place to go - some people even said it was their favorite place. We weren't even going to go, as we had heard so much about crowds, congestion, pollution, tourist-traps and pick-pockets, but we had a hunch that we may just like it (we also wanted a change from the small-town scene), so on Thursday 11/15, we took the train to Rome - and we were glad we did. In Arezzo, we were only a 1 hr 40 min train ride away from Rome and it would have been a shame not to go there. We ended up liking Rome immediately, and liked it more the longer we stayed. We found the traffic and tourism to be worse in Florence. Rome was a great city for wandering, maybe one of the best in the world. And it was warm, and after some scattered showers the first day, sunny with not a cloud in the sky. Who cares about visiting museums when the entire city of Rome is a sight unto itself? It's true, it's true, we loved Rome! What a pleasant surprise!

James: On the train to Rome we sat with a friendly lady from Poland who was living in Arezzo and was going to see the Pope on a day trip. She invited us to not only stay with her in Arezzo if we returned, but also with her parents back in Poland (we have their addresses just in case). In Rome we stayed in a perfect little hostel called "Casa Olmata" near the Colosseum. The hostel is seven long flights of stairs up to a roof top terrace with free Internet, communal dinners, and an unbeatable view of the city, especially at night. We ended up getting our own room on the 2nd floor for about $35 a night. The couple running the hostel were great. If you think it couldn't get any better, it also includes free breakfast (coupons for a hot drink of your choice and a croissant at a local cafe), free movies every night, and they cook and serve free full course dinners with wine twice a week Rick Steves discovered this place when it first opened, and includes it in his guidebook, so that most people staying there have Rick's book. Mirela, the owner, says that Rick is very handsome and funny (Che pasa, Signor Steves?) He stays there once a year he likes it so much.

Rachel: We walked all over Rome during the four days we were there, seeing the Colosseum, Palatine hill, the Roman Forum (superb ruins!), the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, Trastevere, the Capitoline Hill, St. Peter's Basilica, and many other old buildings and churches that you can't help but stumble upon as you wander around. Another great thing about Rome is the street cats. They live around town, especially in the ancient ruins. In the city center, there is a thriving colony of street cats that live in a large area of ruins that is closed to humans. It was a sight in itself, as you could view the whole area from the modern street level (about 20 feet above the ancient street level) from a piazza surrounding the ruins. All the sights we saw were free (we didn't do any museums). We ate each day at "Brek's," a self-service restaurant with very tasty food (you get tired of pizza stands after a while). Rome is also an excellent place to roam around in at night. The Colosseum and many ruins are lit at night.

James: The second morning we were in Rome, we got to see a huge political demonstration and protest right outside our hotel window. For about two hours, thousands of people of all ages marched by in the streets, with banners, flags, drums, songs, chants - you name it. It seemed to be a mix of many different groups: There were labor supporters, environmental groups, the Communist Party, anti-war protesters, anti-WTO protesters, social reformers, the Socialist Party, Northern Italian separatists, and many others. Italy has a very strong liberal political current, although the conservative parties have usually controlled national politics. There is a history of political struggle in Italy that has resulted in violence at times, and the government seems to dissolve and reform continuously. It was great to see so many young people here who care about making the world a better place. It was certainly a good photo opportunity.

Rachel: We got to know the young travelers at our hostel (we were the oldest by far) at the communal dinner at the spaghetti party on Friday night. They served a tasty vegetarian dinner and the company was excellent. There were Italians, Canadians, Australians, Japanese, two ladies from Iceland and Americans eating with us. I got a little disgusted with some of their young and cocky attitudes--we were never like that of course. On our floor, a group of young Italians were in Rome for a weekend of good times. One of their group (and I think there is always someone like this in any such group) was the loudmouth class clown type. He kept shouting "Lucca" at the top of his lungs. James had gone to download some photos on the internet and I stayed in the room and relaxed. It was dark and deserted and I heard one of the Italians yell long and slow, "Loooocca…" and then he repeated the name, yelling it louder and louder. It sounded pretty creepy and I watched the clock hoping James would bust a move back to the room. I am not sure whether Lucca is a real person, as he never responded. That night, it would be perfectly quiet, then we would hear "LUCCA . . . LOOOOCCA!" from down the hall and we'd bust up laughing. Soon we were doing it ourselves everywhere we went. If we get another cat, we're going to have to name him… you guessed it "Lucca!" Actually, we met the Italians at dinner that night, and they were very polite, just full of youthful zest and exuberance.

Our last day in Rome, we split up for the afternoon-James to take photos and I managed to wander around on my own without getting lost. I went to the Pantheon and sat down to people watch. I joined with others cracking up as a little black poodle humped the leg of the little boy who had him by the leash. That little dog was something else. If the little boy walked around, the dog bit at the leash, and if he stopped, the dog started humping his leg! The little boy seemed oblivious to it all.

During our entire trip, I could count the overweight people I saw on one hand. Based on my observations, the reasons for this appear to be that their portion sizes are about 1/2 of what we are used to; their food is not smothered in processed cheese like our versions of Italian (and Mexican) food; they rarely snack on junk food and pops; their bread and food is made with basic wholesome ingredients and lacks the long list of artificial colors, flavors, additives, preservatives, etc., the desserts and sweets are never sickeningly sweet or rich or covered with thick frosting like ours, and their fruits and vegetables are very fresh and taste crisp and sweet unlike the mass produced chemically ridden produce we settle for at our "supermarkets." In Italy, it is definitely quality over quantity.

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