Impressions of Italy: Rome
By Anita Lum
Posted On August 30, 2020
Five months have passed and I’m finally sitting down to write about our trip to Italy amidst the coronavirus outbreak. I’ve found it hard to concentrate and honestly, have been feeling a little bit like we’re in an episode of the Twilight Zone – I’m sure I’m not alone. Last fall when we were planning this trip it would have been impossible to imagine how our world would be turned upside-down. In the span of just these few short months so much has changed and life as we knew it may never be the same. I believe now, more than ever, that it is so very important to seize any opportunity when one has the chance. If you have the wanderlust, like I do, I’m sure you are so very grateful for the moments enjoyed exploring our beautiful world. I hope and pray that we can all get out there again soon!
“You’re seriously still going to Italy?” This is what we heard over and over again in the week preceding our planned trip. While we appreciated the concern, we were growing weary of hearing this. The coronavirus panic was in full swing in Northern Italy and there were some CDC warnings for travelers to “reconsider” travel to that area of Italy. With no underlying health conditions and no plans to go to the Milan or Venice areas, we decided to proceed with our plans heavily armed with Wet Ones antibacterial hand wipes, Purell hand sanitizer gel and mini cans of Lysol disinfectant spray. To be honest, this is how I have always travelled so it was nothing new for me.
Our Delta Airlines itinerary took us into Rome via Atlanta. With mass cancellations, we had complete rows to ourselves. With less passengers to attend to, all the attendants were extra-accommodating.
Upon our arrival in Rome, we purchased tickets from the self-serve kiosk for the Leonardo Express to the main train station in Rome, Termini – just a half hour ride. A one-way ticket was €14 and trains run approximately every half hour. When we arrived at Termini Station we headed straight for the Ki Point Left Luggage office (not the one across the street from Termini – don’t go to that one!) to drop off our bags so we could spend the day walking around town. Our other option was to turn our Deuter Helion 80L rolling bags into backpacks but there was no need to carry them when there was a secure place to leave our luggage. Our AirBnB was not ready until 4PM so we had about six hours to fill. Storage costs were €6 for the first five hours. If you go, remember to grab a ticket from the machine as you get in line as they will call you by number – something that wasn’t overly obvious by the signage.
We walked to the Piazza Venezia and then stopped across the street at the Antica Roma 013 Cafe for a snack of pizza and wine. While here we discovered the absence of toilet seats. Somehow, I didn’t remember this from previous visits to Italy but it seems that these days they don’t bother installing toilet most places – for “sanitary reasons” (or so we were told). From here on in, if the guys went to a restroom ahead of us girls, they’d return letting us know if it was “Code 4” meaning, “all good, YES, TOILET SEATS!
Definitely got some steps in today . . .
From the café, we next walked to the beautiful Piazza Navano and on to the Pantheon. We made our way back to the Termini Station, fetched our bags and got a taxi to our AirBnB at Via Po 72. Due to the jet lag our internal clocks were off and none of us felt terribly hungry so we opted to search for an “alimentari” (small grocery shop) to get some prosciutto, cheeses, and wine to snack on. Lucky for us there was one a short distance from our apartment. We had 7AM Vatican Tour so we had to turn in early this evening.
Before leaving our B&B on Wednesday, I decided to ditch my purse altogether. I put on my ExOfficioWomen’s Sol Cool FlyQ Travel Vest and my Pop Fashion Infinity Scarf with Zipper Pocket. It took me a bit to get used to not carrying a purse but it made better sense to me to wear my valuables. Between the vest, scarf and my REI Kornati Roll-Up Pants, I was set! Greg wore his DuluthFlex Dry On The Fly Cargo Pants – also a great choice for carrying his passport and wallet! “Pristine Sistine” was the tour we booked with Walks of Italy for that Wednesday. Our meeting point was the green bar in the middle of Piazza del Risorgimento Square. Uber now operates in Rome so we tried them out for this outing – the vehicle was spacious and very clean and we arrived at the piazza in good time to enjoy a cappuccino and pastry ahead of the tour start time.
Ferdinando, our tour guide, was extremely knowledgeable. As an archaeologist, he was passionate about the preservation of all things. We specifically booked this tour to beat the crowds but with the coronavirus scare, there were even fewer tourists than expected so we were able to enjoy the Sistine Chapel with less than 40 other persons. It was really remarkable. We were allowed about 20 minutes for our almost-private time before the tour continued. The Hall of Tapestries was next and definitely one of my favorites. What incredible artistry in these works! One that stood out for us was a rendering of Jesus Christ. Ferdinando pointed out that Jesus’ eyes and feet seem to move as you walk past the tapestry – they really did! We learned that mica was woven into the thread and with that, they were able to create this feeling of movement. How clever these ancient artisans were.
We also learned that the statues most all probably had eyes made from alabaster or marble to give them a more lifelike appearance. Over the centuries, most of the statues lost this detail due to erosion and ransacking but there was one excellent sample still intact. It was truly stunning and it was easy to visualize how majestic those statues really looked centuries ago.
Another intriguing story was that of the sailor who, when the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square was being moved in 1586, saved the day when he shouted out “wet the ropes” in an effort to successfully complete the positioning of the 25meter high structure (wetting the ropes shrunk them and the obelisk was thereby able to be properly placed). Since the Pope had ordered silence, he feared he would be punished or even executed. But, since the advice worked, instead, Pope Sixtus V wanted to reward him. The sailor asked that his family be awarded the contract to supply the palms for the pope’s Palm Sunday ceremony; his request was granted and that contract continues to this day. I couldn’t help but think of how amazing it was to have had the presence of mind to make such an unusual request. Then for it to have been granted is almost unbelievable.
Our tour ended in St. Peter’s Church and we had the option of climbing the 551 steps to the top or taking an elevator part-way and climbing the additional 231 steps. In the interest of time, we opted for the latter, paying €8 additional for entrance. Making the climb was well worth it, especially since there were so few visitors. We didn’t have to wait for folks ahead of us in the narrow stairwell, so, thankfully, no feeling of claustrophobia. I think we encountered two people on the way up – and none on the way down. Less than two dozen people were at the top. Even though the day was a bit hazy, the views were fantastic; this was the ideal opportunity to make that climb!
After the dome visit, we walked out onto St. Peter’s Square, snapped a few photos of the guards in their colorful dress and searched for a late lunch spot. We found Vulio on Trip Advisor. It was excellent! In chatting with the owner, and his lamenting the lack of tourists, we were starting to see how COVID-19 was really starting to impact the economy. We did a bit more walking around town and eventually ended back at our B&B to freshen up. We had dinner that night at a place right near our lodging, Bucavino – a great spot for typical Roman food. Highly recommended.
The next morning, Piazza Farnese was our meeting place for our CookWithUsInRome class. Since we found that the service and price for Uber was so good in Rome, we used them again to get us to this location. Our host, Cesare, met us at 9:20AM. We were the only four that showed up for the class – again, COVID was taking its toll on businesses everywhere. First up was a short walk to the market where Cesare explained what we would be preparing that day and he purchased produce that we would need. We were also able to sample some local fruits and vegetables (the oranges and peas were so fresh and sweet!) Once the shopping was over, we walked to his studio about a half mile away.
The menu Cesare had planned included Roman herbed artichoke for antipasto, two types of pasta made by hand from scratch: cavatelli in broccoli sauce (cavatelli are made by mixing semolina flour and water) and fettuccine in a tomato sauce that cooked for about two hours (fettuccine are made by mixing egg and flour), tiramisú would be our dessert. Cesare has a great, big, warm personality; he and his assistant, Kholil, made sure that our glasses remained full of Prosecco while we cooked – the entire duration (about 4 ½ hours)! The experience was both educational and entertaining – especially when we rolled out the fettuccine– it was about a ten-foot pasta ribbon that we all took turns processing. We each rolled cavatelli by hand. Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. Prosecco servings were now replaced with white or red wine servings-or both! Our meals were awesome. When in Rome, definitely consider spending time with the CookWithUsInRome guys!
After our class we decided it’d be a good idea to walk to the Colosseum. By the time we arrived, it was a little too close to closing time so we opted to return the next day. We set out for a visit to the Trevi Fountain as the sun started to set. When we arrived, it was dark and the fountain, with all the lights and lack of crowds in the way was spectacular. We were able to enjoy a completely unobstructed view. Another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Just a few hundred yards from Trevi, we came across a pizzeria, where we had our evening meal.
Thursday morning we walked back to the Colosseum – where we probably experienced the largest crowds of the entire trip. The many vendors approaching us for tours was a little annoying so I can only imagine what it would be like in busier times. With too many choices, we opted to go into the colosseum on our own and purchase the 45-minute in-house tour. The line wasn’t long, the price was reasonable, and our tour guide was good. There is a security line but it moved very quickly. The combination ticket included admission to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Palatine Hill area (€12). We did hear that when times are normal that one should consider buying the combo tickets at the Palatine Hill entrance since the lines tend to be shorter there than directly at the Colosseum.
After visiting the complex, we crossed the street and enjoyed a wonderful meat and cheese platter, prosecco and wine at Ristorante Angelino ai DFori dal 1947. Everything was great.
Our time in Rome was coming to an end. We had plans to return at the end of the trip for a leisurely day of souvenir shopping but things didn’t quite turn out that way – we did end up being able to spend an additional day but everything but our hotel, grocery stores and tobacco shops were closed. All in all, especially in light of the world situation at the time of our trip, we were very happy with our time in Rome and felt ever so grateful for a wonderful time spent with good friends in such a historical and beautiful place. Arrivederci Roma!