Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Traveling Tips

After spending seven weeks in Rome, here is some general advice I have for the fellow traveler (particularly those spending at least a couple of weeks in one location).
1. Develop Some Routine: cappuccino every morning, pasta from the same lunch place, dinner every Tuesday at Cave Canum. Having something you look forward to and having a sever who maybe knows your order is comforting when you are somewhere where everything else seems unpredictable.
2. Your Health Matters: drink plenty of water, you need to stay hydrated, and it helps keep you stay regular :) Eat your fruit and veggies, bring the allergy medicine you might need, sleep enough. In seven weeks, you'll need every trick in the book to stay healthy.
3. Travel Well: invest in a good map and buy a couple of bus tickets just in case it rains, or you shoe breaks, or there is some place far you want to visit. In my opinion, if you always have a good map and an emergency ticket you'll feel a lot better about taking risks and exploring someplace new or walking a little further than your usual destination.
4. Watch Your Money, But Try Not to Worry About It: do some budgeting before you leave or you might spend a lot more than you plan, but also realize that plans change and maybe a trip to Almafi is worth it even though it wasn't in the budget. In my opinion, try to do breakfast and lunch on the cheap side (or even at home) and maybe try to have a nicer dinner out a few nights a week, rather than a cheap meal every night. House wine is pretty good, especially the white, but maybe splurge on a good glass of red once in a while.
5. Be Safe, Not Scared: close your purse, keep your hand on your wallet in close quarters, pay attention to where you are. Rome is a safe city, but there's no need to test things..
6. One Bad Experience Won't Kill the Trip: something will go wrong, maybe something small, maybe something major. In the moment, it won't be fun, but maybe later it will seem like it was. Don't worry if something isn't perfect, you will have other experiences too.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Nemesis

According to the Knopf guide of Rome, my nemesis is the Herring Gull. Every night, he competes with the traffic, the loud dog next door, the yappy dog down the block, and the random signing drunks to wake me up the most. To be fair, Rome also has the black-headed gull, but I think that the Herring Gull is really something special. For a rather limied sample of his voice, check out the Cornell Ornithology Lab. The link doesn't capture his laughing, catlike, or baby type sounds, which are particularly creepy late at night. To be fair, Dr. Benson has reminded me that at night the gulls often swarm above the Vittorio Emanuele Monument and it can be a rather magical sight. But, in my opinoin, it is also reminiscent of Hitchcock's The Birds! This little arrogant guy hung out on the Trevi all morning.

New Favorites

Rome has several catacombs. The last time I was here my attempted visit to them failed, and I had two failed attempts earlier this trip. But today we finally made it. The main ones are out on Apia way, and it's an easy bus ride to them. Although the area is not far, just outside of the original walls of Rome, you find yourself in pastures with country villas, and the Saint Callixtus catacombs are located in a park like area, with winding paths, and bikers and runners. I'm not sure if it was a because of our guide (P. Owen Mason; he was outstanding), but our tour particularly stressed the religious elements of the catacombs. He explained how many of those buried there were martyred "witnessing their faith" (ie, killed because they were Christian) and how the site was a secret holy place for early Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and later an important spot for pilgrims (9th century). Being shoved between various tour groups all striving to take some posed picture in the Pantheon (or any other location), whose behavior seems unholly, one sometimes forgets how Rome has been a religious tourist destination for two thousand years. Our guide today was a priest (at least I think so, he had a collar, but my knowledge of Catholic practices is limited) and it was interesting to have a reading of a tourist site so clearer grounded in religion. Obviously the site itself invites it too. But our guide also made sure to convey that we shouldn't see the place as sad (there are over 500,000 tombs, many to children) or scary (over 20 kilometers of dark, weaving passages), because for Christians death is not the end and indeed many of the symbols found in the catacombs stressed peace, salvation, and reunification with loved ones. It's a nice perspective, even for a heathen like myself.

The site is a great, quiet destination, close to the city. The grounds are grassy, peaceful, and bucolic. The catacombs themselves are interesting. But if one needs another reason, visit the catacombs because being twenty meters underground also drops the temperature and it is comfortably chilly.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Old Haunts

In an effort to escape the scorching Roman heat, I headed out to Trastevere, the area I lived in the last time I was in Rome. Breeze off the Ganiculum often softens the heat, and overhead trees along the river and those lining many of the streets drop the overall temperature by at least a few precious degrees. Trastevere is often filled with tourists, but its mostly a hot night spot, for dinner and drinks, and Friday during the day its mostly empty. My mission was to find the Corsini Galleria. Located on huge grounds filled with trees, the museum is rather small. For four euro, though, it's less expensive than many of the larger museums, and one gets to spend some almost intimate time (the museum, even on Friday, was largely empty) with a particularly beautiful Caravaggio. Taking pictures is not allowed, and this image is from Wikipedia. Afterward, I winded my way back through the streets to the many cafes and enjoyed some lunch with the various ex-pats (this one English) who tend to inhabited the trendy region of Trastevere.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tourist Guilt

At the beginning of our trip here, time seemed endless, and now as we have merely a matter of days I have to be more selective about what I get to do in Rome. Here is when tourist guilt particularly sets in. What have I been doing these past six weeks? What haven't I seen yet, what are those places that everyone who visits Rome hears about and always means to see? And I am also torn by questions like what is worth seeing again and which of my favorite places should I go back to? In this last week, I will try to frame my entries to respond to these questions.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Global World

When one thinks of cities, one often considers its international factors. New York is a space of food, shopping, and entertainment from around the world. London too is seen as an international city with a variety of communities and food from allover, particularly its former colonies. Rome too had its colonial ambitions, but the city is cast for tourists as essentially Italian and little else. But with an official population over three milllion, Italy is home to people throughout the world, especially Africa and South East Asia. Pockets of African and Asian jewelry and clothing shops, and Indian and Asian restaurants (primarily Chinese and Japanese) are undoubtedly seen throughout the city. In the streets above Merulana and near Termini (by Piazza Vittorio Emanuele), you'll find one such pocket, where one can buy Bohemian crystal from a Bangladeshi, Black Indian Silver from an Italian, and enjoy Korean food prepared by Koreans. As if Rome wasn't already an overwhelming city with all its great Italian food, wine, and traditional leather goods, there are all sorts of other styles and tastes available just around the corner.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Where to Get Away

If the speed, noise, and endless bustle of the city have you looking for a break, visit one of Rome's many parks, such as Villa Celimontana. On a late Sunday afternoon you'll find it packed with Romans, many with a bambino or two, or at least a small dog. Some have brought various games, some are singing, others just nap in the afternoon sun. Many have brought entire tables and picnics with full roasted chickens and grilled veggies. Bring yourself a blanket and settle in the grass to either people watch or follow the parrots as they fly from the high pines trees with building materials for their nests in the palms. You might catch a familiar word or two in English, but for the most part the park is also tourist free.