Thursday, November 16, 2006

La Dolce Vita: Tales from Italy - Rome

As promised, here is the 1st of 3 posts dedicated to our whirlwind Italian adventure. We spend a total of 23 days on our European honeymoon, most of it being concentrated in middle and northern Italy, beginning and ending with London. The following travelogues were written using a Blackberry Pearl (without a QUERTY keyboard!).

October 12 - When in Roma

Enjoying a memorable trip (2nd for me) to the Imperial City. We are staying in an impressive hotel with a giant patio and a separate balcony 100 yards from the Trevi fountain. Our entire hotel is made practically out of marble. In fact, the whole city is made out of marble. No wonder it has survived 2000+ years! As we enjoy the crisp air on our long terraza, we are planned each day's sightseeing while resting our feet after traversing the entire city on foot.

This is certainly a city to experience as a pedestrian (and not just because I feared for my life when being whisked about in automotive transportation). The roads in Rome are legendary, and each part of the city promises unique sights, new adventures, and interesting people worth sitting down to talk to. If, that is, you can get them to sit down for more than 5 minutes.

Rome's streets are its very lifeblood, coursing with hurried activity and events of all types. Nowhere in the world will you find a more passionate, vocal, proud, and at the same time important city. New York be dammed -- this is truly the city that never sleeps.

This is also the city that, for better or for worse, directly influenced the history of the Western World and the development of European civilization. Its history is written all over its ancient brick streets and eroded ruins that sit unbothered right amongst boulevards buzzing with modern life. It's a fitting analogy; masterfully interwoven wits its rich, ancient history is a bustling, vibrant, technologically advanced, and still important city.

Its marvelous cuisine -- so far we've sampled fresh mozzarella, orgasmic gellato, cappucinos that never dissapoint, authentic alfredo, prosciutto, and out-of-this-world vitello -- blows many European cities I've visited right out of the water. There is something for everyone here, from simple fresh ingredients to fresh seafood (Rome is, after all, almost a beachside town) to heavy meat dishes with rich, flavorful sauces.

Romans eat heartily for good reason: they need the sustenance to keep up with the frenetic lifestyle. Both the work and the play here requires energy. You almost don't want to sleep for fear of missing something. It takes some getting used to, but once you do, you appreciate the early-morning bustle, the almost-suicidal Vespa riders that fly through the dark narrow alleys at all hours, the throngs of pedestrians that risk their life to cross the non-existent crosswalks to board one of the many busses, the extended wine-filled lunches, the dramatic sagas of young (and old) couples who take their arguments to the streets, the early evening cocktails followed by late-night dinners, the concerts and entertainment that last well into the wee hours, and the ubiquitous bars and cafes serving one last nightcap to those who just don't want the day to end.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and it goes without saying that Rome's infinite monuments cannot be visited in one week. Even a year wouldn't be enough to explore its many hidden treasures. I would venture to guess that all the history buried under its grimy, diesel-coated marble buildings and narrow alleys remains to be uncovered for centuries to come. Its thriving commerce, exciting street life, and diversity of cultures continue to make Rome a solid powerhouse. Yes, this is truly the Eternal City, a city that will not be put to rest anytime in our lifetimes.


October 15 - Last Night in the Imperial City

We ventured out to the hipper, a little less touristy part of Rome last night. Per our young concierge's advice, we hit the streets of the Trastevere neighborhood looking for some lively nightlife and outdoor dining. Trastevere can be likened somewhat to D.C.'s Adams Morgan or a cross between New York's Greenwhich Village and Lower East Side. It's just a little less brutal on the pocketbook, it boasts some hip boutiques that can't be found elsewhere, and it's a blessed relief from the rest of the tourist-inundated city. The crowds are mixed -- families with older children compete for space in the smaller restaurant terrazas with young romantic couples carrying the requisite single rose which was purchased from the numerous gypsy-like street sellers.

The restaurants here are even more crowded than in the posh center of Rome, especially on a Saturday night when the "real" residents of Rome come out to play. Fortunately, each restaurant smelled worthy of the long wait and crowded rooms. There seems to be far less English spoken here, so it doesn't hurt to at least know a word or two. Trastevere also has its share of bohemians, scholars, and pickpockets, which you might expect in the slightly less pricey part of town across the river. There are some less-than-savory parts, but we kept mostly to the safe, well-lit, and well-traveled areas.

So far the concierge had been right on with his dining suggestions, which led us to enjoy several excellent dishes of veal, homemade pastas, gnocchi, and of course many glasses of house wine. For lunch we usually opted for the outdoor trattorias and pizzerias which offered fresh pannini, little squares of pizza with all sorts of innovative toppings, salads, and antipasto. All meals were followed by espresso and we visited the gelattorias at least once a day.

The gelatto is truly out of this world! We could eat it all day long - rain, sleet, snow or shine. Each gelattoria strives to be more imaginative than the other, concocting blends that you never really expect to find in one scoop, then heaping yet another unexpected combination on top. This topped off with the occasional heavy cream and stuffed into a freshly baked waffle cup. The businessman clad in strict suits line up along with the teenage couples, fashionable power-divas clad in all black, and moms with salivating children.

Naturally, we had to walk the food off. Staying right in the heart of the high-class shopping district -- namely the areas surrounding the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain -- of course lends itself to exploration of the retail kind. If you think the weekends are busy in your local shopping mall, try getting a foot in the door of Hermes while being pushed along by massive crowds of Roman shoppers, all the while swerving to miss the occassional biker or miniature automobile that dares to take on the pedestrian street.

Having survived some grueling crowd dymanics, I managed to purchase a few stylish garments to better tour the city in (when in Rome). We then headed to my friends Gucci, Fendi, Furla, and Ferragamo for a few treats that Rome is famous for. Oh, not all for moi, of course! Think of the lucky friends and family back home. Not to worry though, my pocketbook sustained only minor damage so far. I'm saving myself for Florence...

Well, it's been a good introduction to Rome. We saw the ancient ruins, the medieval churches, the Rennaisance palazzos, and the modern street life. We stuffed ourselves with incredible Roman cuisine and shopped till we literally dropped in the crowd-infested streets. We could stay for weeks-for months even-and not see it all. But we have other places to see on this tour.

Now it's off to Tuscany!

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