Travels in Rome
As my first experiment in working while traveling, I decided to visit Rome. I also brought along my girlfriend in order to celebrate her birthday, which happens to fall alongside mine at the start of September. I booked a room in an apartment overlooking Piazza Del Popolo, the most northern part of Rome’s city centre.
As luck would have it, we unknowingly positioned ourselves in the best spot to enjoy the city, at the very tip of Rome’s trident, the three main streets that intersect the city.
As a way to get our bearings, we set out on the first day to get lost in the winding side streets of the city. I was quickly struck by the beauty of the vivid, but complementary colours of the city walls, as well as the extravagant oversized doors and intricate numbers that lay above the entrance to every building. There seemed to be a coherence that created harmony among disparate elements, and even the occasional graffiti seemed to blend in among the surroundings.
Around every corner stood another all encompassing building or larger than life statue, far more than any individual would have time to study or fully appreciate in a lifetime.
Among the bombardment of Roman artefacts, I’d notice the occasional Egyptian statue, that I was later told was taken during the roman’s annexation of Egypt.
Walking ten minutes in any direction and we would undoubtedly stumble across any number of huge historical monuments, be that the Pantheon, Vittorio Emanuele or the Colosseum. Along with the endless number of beautiful fountains and awe inspiring churches.
At each of these locations the crowds are attracted in droves, you’ll also find an abundance of beggars and street vendors of all kinds trying their best to sell the full gamut of useless tat.
Restaurants also have their fair share of quick witted touts, pouncing at any opportunity to steer you into their establishment. Luckily for us, on our first night, we were treated to an authentic four course Italian meal, cooked for us by friends of my girlfriends family.
We found out that contrary to the way Italian food is conveyed in the UK, the typical dishes of pasta and lasagne are rarely served with sauce, and are instead served plain. The flavour is purely concocted from the freshness of ingredients alone.
This meal was undoubtedly the best meal we had all week, but we were also given local recommendations for the best pizzerias and pasta restaurants in the city.
Another interesting custom, is for the restaurants to only start serving around 8pm for evening meals. Having seen that for the most part, restaurants only serve pizza or pasta, I was keen to see how this diet effected the local people. To my surprise, the general populpus was not overweight, especially compared to the people of my home city in London.
Having experimented for many years with my own diet, and repeatedly reading the beliefs of people who claim the benefits of cutting carbs, I could only conclude that the quality of the pasta, ingredients and lack of sauce plays a huge factor in the supposed unhealthiest of pasta. I've come to believe that many of the detrimental effects are somewhat exaggerated because of the comparative lack of quality carbs we eat in the UK.
The other local highlight of the food in Rome is the Galleto, which again, unlike the tourists who gorged themselves on huge tubs of ice-cream daily, appears to be an infrequent treat, which again accounts for a huge loss of sugars from sweets and deserts when compared to the UK diet.
With all these insights gained on the first day, we tried for the rest of the week to avoid the rabble where possible and to blend in with our Italian friends.
With Italian phrase book in hand, we enjoyed coffee’s at the bar with locals, so to avoid the additional cost of sitting. It’s customary for locals to meet at their favourite coffee spot to catch up over shots of espresso at the counters before heading to work.
Unlike the gym bunny Brits, very few people look like they work out. Most people's bodies lacked any bulbousness through regular gyming. The few occasions we saw anyone doing any exercise, it was normally running, which seems to be relatively popular, along with the national sport of football.
In terms of traversing the city, it’s unusual to see bikes. The most common form of travel is via microcar or moped. Mopeds and motorists sprawl the streets and driving laws are particularly lax. Road rage appears to be a pre requisite to driving, as every car shunts its way through traffic as though driving a bumper car. Even mopeds perform near death manoeuvres on a regular basis, which appears to be all too normal to the locals. A lack of traffic lights mean the numerous zebra crossings become an entertaining dance with death several times a day.
The Poliza meanwhile, can be found sprawled across the city in mini gangs having chinwags while looking cool in the sun. Even their crisp white uniforms suggest the relative irregularity that these police ever get dirty.
Generally however, this came as no surprise as the vibe of the city was overwhelmingly friendly and safe. Other than the the one occasion where I received a dramatic telling off for attempting to pay for a 40c bottle of water with a 20 euro note, there was not a single moment of animosity.
Despite 95% of people we met preferring to speak in Italian (One of the few countries that prefers to dub movies in their language rather than subtitles) Most people were happy to humour our awful attempts at speaking Italian and were happy to help us improve our pronunciation while actually guiding us in English.
Toward the midway point of our stay, it was Natasha’s 24th birthday. After several glasses of presecco and golden hour vanity shoot, we headed down to the Trevi fountain to enjoy the night sky and picturesque views.
During our stay our local friends had given us a brief history of the unification of Rome, as well as explaining some of the unique laws of the Vatican. Even in the centre of Rome, it’s plain to see the influence of the Catholic church with nuns openly mingling with locals and tourists.
Like many of the monuments in Rome, the Vatican is a tourist hotspot, and we reluctantly refraned from spending two hours in a queue to get inside, but we did visit the many other less saturated venues including the Colosseum, Castel Sant'Angelo and the Pantheon.
While we couldn’t help but stray into touristy areas at times, we did our best to emulate the locals. Some of the less talked about highlights for me included looking through market stalls and foraging for unique inspiration from Italian books, as well as the many art-house cinema posters we stumbled across.
The Italians are rightly proud of their culture, and perusing through their literature and magazines surfaced a number of interesting visuals that I think could work commercially.
In terms of where I enjoyed my time most. I would have to say it was in the City’s park, the Villa Borghese, which overlooks the Piazza Del Popolo, where we were staying. The park is also packed full of historic sculptures and museums containing many masterpieces, but it was also just a hugely picturesque landscape of beautiful trees, colourful skies and wildlife.