Now over jet lag I there was something I really wanted to do this morning and that was to get up super early and see Rome before the city really woke up – and it was Sunday which made it even extra quiet. At 6:15 am I was the first one in the hotel breakfast bar with the daily cornetto e caffe’ and the morning paper. I had time to think about where I wanted to go first and decided to get over to the Castello Sant’Angelo when it first opened.
On the way over there by foot you get to pass all the cafes that are starting to open up and you only hear the church bells overhead, the hushed voices from the street and the sound of all of the cucchiaini (little espresso spoons) stirring the shots in the tazzine. I had a few hours before the Castello even opened so I walked down passed Piazza Cavour, crossed the Tiber and made my way down Via di Panico toward the Pantheon. I wanted to go back and check out the famous Cafe di San Eustachio. I practically had Rome to myself for two hours that morning – when I arrived to the Piazza del Pantheon was completely empty except for a couple of pigeons and some garbage men. It must be odd to be a garbage man in Rome because it’s like working in a living museum – I bet they don’t even look twice anymore. I hope I’m wrong because these garbage men have the best route in the world if you think about it.
Noodling my way through the backstreets of this are back over toward the Tiber to cross the bridge in front of Castello Sant’ Angelo. When I arrived I made my way straight to the top terrace. Amazingly no one else came up there for 30 minutes and it was only me on the top terrace of the Castello with a 360 degree view of Rome spread out before me. On this trip I was interested in collecting a few very specific views of the city that I had never had before to see if I could take in the lay of the land from a new perspective. I will say that this terrace is a must-visit terrace for anyone going to Rome because it perfectly lays out how St. Peter’s is positioned sort of perpendicularly to the rest of the city.
I spent about 40 minutes up on the roof of the Castello before coming back down at about 10am and making my way back to the hotel. I was fried. I had been going non stop for two days on foot in Rome and realized after being up a 6am and crossing Rome again on foot before 10am that I needed to catch at least 2 more hours of sleep. On the way back the city was now much more alive (even though there was a lazy aire about the place). I stopped off at a small bar in Piazza Cavour for a Prosciutto Schiacciata sandwich that was the best you could ever imagine. Schiacciata means “flattened” and this is a classic stand-up food in Italy. Here’s the difference between eating a sandwich in the USA and one in Italy. In the USA people want to cram as much stuff into the sandwich as possible – ham, turkey, cheese, roast beef, olives, peppers, and on and on…. In Italy they zero in on the one main ingredient of the sandwich whatever it is (in this case prosciutto) and you dive into it and really taste THE ingredient your supposed to taste instead of a mish-mash of 7 or 8 things. In Italy food is really and truly about essence. It’s zen.
While sitting at the bar a couple of guys came in for un caffe’. It’s amazing to watch this simple act of walking into a bar and making the smallest of coffees last long enough to have a meaningful conversation. It’s like watching a ritual – walk up to the bar, order the shots, turn the cup, stir in the sugar, swirl it around, kick it back, talk. Repeat until coffee is gone and you lick out the stained sugar crystal and head out the door.
After a much needed two hour power nap and a fresh shower I was juiced for the rest of the day. This afternoon I wanted to go hit up the top of the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. Not that I really cared about the monument because generally speaking I could care less about these sort of things – what I was after was the view from the top which in 20 years I don’t think has been accessible. The city of Rome had apparently changed this because I saw people the day before strolling on top of it. Heading back through Piazza di Popolo I stopped off at the Police and Military exposition that took over the whole piazza. All of these different modes of Italian law enforcement transportation were on display from an old Fiat 500 to a helicopter to a what else? … a police Lamborghini. I mean come on – imagine you’re speeding down the Italian highway and you’re pulled over by a cop driving a Lamborghini, that’s not even a fair fight. Only in Italy would they even dream of painting up a Lamborghini as a cop car, and it was real (and the seemingly big hit of the open air expo).
Today was the hottest of the three days and there is a trick in Italy when walking in the city that holds in the heat – just find a church and go inside for a few minutes. Churches are always chilled and have an odd quality of air in them that brings down your temperature a few notches before you head out again. Walking down Via del Corso and looping between the left and the right sides of the side streets, I made the time to go back to Piazza di Spagna because when you’re in Rome this is a sort of must-do . This is probably THE iconic locale in Rome that people think of when they think of Rome and it was looking good. The steps were as usual full of backpackers and hippies, but it’s still fun to go hang out there for a little while and take in the scene.
Rome was full of street performers doing their thing including these four guys that just spent the day sitting on the street in these silver masks collecting money. It’s kind of an odd way to make money and usually I think people give money to street performers that actually DO something – but the shot was too funny not to take.
Walking all the way down to the end of Via del Corso I made it to Piazza Venezia and onto the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. It was pretty cool to be able to finally walk up on the wedding cake (it looks like a wedding cake) and around back to the elevator to go up to the top. The funny thing was the guy that had the unenviable job of working the elevator. He was telling us that he had the world’s worst job – all day long all he does is stand on his feet and ride the elevator up and down for hours on end and with no air conditioning. He told us “questo e’ un lavoraccio” (this is a shitty job). Once on top I have to say the views were amazing and it gave me a vantage point of Rome I had never seen before.
After hitting the roof I ended up at the cafe on the backside of the monument. It’s actually on the monument and has a setting you can’t believe facing the Roman forum and Colosseum. The patio was full of Romans all taking their apertifs of Caffe Shakerato and Aperols. Just as a side note… click here to see how a shakerato is prepared – they’re great in the summer.
The thing you notice however these days in Italy with the Euro is you always feel like you’re burning through cash – and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is because you actually are burning through cash. When you buy something small – say a cappuccino, it’s 3 Euro – you pay with a 10 Euro note and you get back only coins. You buy something for 11 Euro, you pay with a 20 Euro note, you get back only coins. By the end of the day you’re walking around with no cash but a pocket full of coins. Even though the coins are worth the same as the cash, you feel like you’re wiped out every day because Italy (Europe) consumes your cash money It’s sounds funny but it is real. The Italian and the Europeans blow through cash from just daily living.
After a visit along the Roman Forum and Coloseum I was ready to hit the hotel for a shower and a break.
Later that night I met up for dinner with a third old friend in Rome, Selena who I had not seen in over 20 years. She works for perhaps the most famous Italian jewelry company and is in charge of throwing all the parties for the whales to come and buy high-priced jewelry and watches. She was telling me they have a budget of something like $2 million just to through parties all over Europe and they fly in big time customers into places like Monte Carlo for their six and seven figure spending jaunts. It’s the full 007 treatment – boats, hotels, casinos, privilege. She has a killer Rolodex of who to call across Europe for special events but she’s bored – says she’s been doing it for so many years now and working in Italy may seem glamorous but there are a lot of politics in Italy – it’s hard to grow a career and even harder to get paid well.
Then she was telling me about Italian men. She says that Italian men want mother-wives to take care of them like bambini and that in reality Italian men talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. She was telling me that by and large Italian men in Italy start all kinds of business ideas but don’t finish most of them because in the end they want the sure thing – the “busta paga” (monthly stipend). Over dinner of Cacio e Pepe and Carbonara (two insanely rich but simple Roman pastas) she was also telling me that the Socialists in Europe are ruining Europe – from Italy to Spain to Belgium she is living in the real world of what happens when countries elect Socialists into power. The quality of life for the very people the Socialists claim to want to help goes so far down they cannot even recover, and the people who vote in the Socialists just buy into the promises without ever understanding the consequences of what really happens. I get the sense that many Italians are frustrated to no end with the Italian government and the Euro. They miss the 80’s and 90’s when life in Italy was more frizzante.
On the flight out of Rome the next morning up to Frankfurt, Alitalia only had men serving as hosts, from the guy waiting for us at the front door of the plane with his sunglasses and folded arms, to the four guys serving on board (all tanned) and with names like Stefano, Gian Luca, and Antonio that served biscotti with the question “dolci o salati?” (sweet or salty?). On the flight it was a nonstop promotion for the new Alfa Romeo Giuletta from a guy who looked like a bald soccer player who couldn’t emphasize enough how cool the curves on this car were as he drove along the mountain switchbacks of some seaside Italian village. Next to me were two Germans who had no flair at all. It was clear that I was leaving the land of loose and heading into the land of the stiff. The whole body language changes when you move from Italy to Germany, and it only serves to confirm what I already knew – do Germany for business and leave Italy for fun.
Day 2 is here.
Day 1 is here