Cupolas of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Santa Maria in Monte Santo and San Pietro
How does one come to fall so compellingly and passionately in love with a place? A city that at first glance was boisterously noisy with overcrowded buses and metros and the ever-present roar of car engines as impatient motorist maneuvered vehicles like frustrated Formula One drivers and raced along ancient city boulevards at superstrada speeds.
Traffic was anything but pedestrian friendly, crossing a thoroughfare like the one between Piazza Venezia and the famous Victor Emmanuel monument (you know the “wedding cake”) was a serious cause for trepidation. There were no lights!
The maze of dark forbidding narrow streets packed with cars parked almost upon each other unexpectedly change names from one block to the next. While terrifying Vespa riders, intent on defying death, weaved in and out of traffic and between parked cars, often times riding against traffic in a desperate search for daylight. Like a violent jolt the cities frenetic pace forced me to realize I had to keep my inner radar going 360 degrees at all times.
Near famous historic sites and popular piazzas jittery, dirty, poorly-clad youngsters lurked about, sometimes accompanied by veiled young women in trailing dark skirts grasping babies to their chest, forever on the lookout for an awestricken unsuspecting tourist to beg, pilfer, or pickpocket. A friend actually had her purse stolen while she was sitting in a taxi waiting for the traffic light to change!
Most disappointing of all, the spectacular baroque architecture and sculpture that adorned churches and grand fountains were black from a century of automobile fumes. Under the soot one could hardly make out the unique features of a building facade much less marvel at the hidden mosaics.
Soon after we arrived, my teenage nephew was prompted to say “Aunt Jackie, we don’t need to see Rome, let’s go back to Florence.”
That was Rome 20 years ago. Before the massive clean up and refurbishment that took place over the next several years to prepare the city for the millennium Jubilee year 2000.
Hardly a vestige of that city remains. Rome is once again as pristine, alive, and captivatingly beautiful as it appears in the picture postcard 1954 movie, Three Coins in a Fountain. No one with a sensitive heart, a penchant for romance, or a love of history can resist its most obvious and endlessly unraveling charms.
Traveling with a group of friends a few years ago to attend a wedding in Florence, I found myself alone on a day the others had opted to go off on a sightseeing daytrip to Pompeii. Determined not to be put off by my alarming first impression years before, I mapped a course from the hotel to the Villa Borghese Museum, stuffed the map in my coat pocket, and set out on a dismal overcast January morning.
No sooner had I left Hotel Cavour a light misty rain, almost like snow, began to fall. Since I had forgot to pack an umbrella there was no point going back. I would continue on and pick up an inexpensive umbrella from a street vendor along the way.
Exiting the Metro at Via Flaminio, I wasted no time getting lost. The signage in the Villa Borghese Gardens pointing toward the museum never brought me there. Obviously, I must not have followed the arrows correctly. After all, how large could the Park be? Eventually I had to find the place.
10 minutes became 20, then half an hour, then later. I was still lost, getting wetter by the dewdrop. Too embarrassed to fuss with a map in the rain and leave no doubt of my tourist status, I continued to search in vain. The park was gloriously green despite the slight chill of winter, so I decided to just calm down and see where the maze of paths would lead.
As it turned out, I never found the museum, and could not even discover a path that would lead me out of the gardens and back to civilization. I did find the impressive Villa Guilia. It was closed.
My search continued amidst lush winter evergreens and statuary marred by graffiti. I knew enough to say “dove museo Villa Borghese?” (where is the Villa Borghese?) But my poor grasp of Italian made me hesitate to ask. I feared the response would be rattled off too quickly for me to comprehend.
By this time, I had been whistled at by men on passing mopeds, one even insisted on following me for several nerve-racking minutes! On I walked. There was no reason to be frightened; after all I was in the middle of a major city. It would be only a matter of time before I’d find a way out of this labyrinth.
A sign with arrows pointed toward the Piazza di Spagna! I wondered how was it possible I had gone so far. Di Spagna is a full metro stop from Flaminio! I followed the arrows a distance. A little beyond some sculptures I came to a walled parapet proceeded by a few steps. Curious, I ventured to explore what might be on the other side…an overlook perhaps.
And oh…ah! What a sight!
I forgot my discomfort and damp clothes. From a high vantage, it seemed the whole of Rome was spread out to welcome me. Wonderful cupolas, terra cotta tiled roofs, soaring bell towers. And far in the distance, the almost dim dome of St. Peter’s could just barely be made out in the dusty mist. The blue gray sky and light rain made it ever so much more beautiful. Tired and wet, I never found a vender with umbrellas. What I did find was energy to gaze for a long while. Then, I thought to look down.
What should I see? Way, way beneath me, many stories below, Bernini’s Fontana della Barccaccia, the famous fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps. The wide square and Via Condotti were alive with shoppers bustling about despite the rain.
Familiar ground, I had found my way. I knew where I was. Such a view! Balissimo! Such sublime beauty! Nothing gives one a sense of ownership like getting lost in a place and finding one’s way however accidentally. The city had won me. From that day, Rome has remained with me. It is my personal treasure. Every year I can’t wait to return. My heart is here. I know someday I must live here.
Someday has arrived and I invite you to join me as I fulfill a long held dream to call Rome…home.
With my Mom’s health now on the mend the time is right to make the leap. Postcards from New York readers have no fear, the blog and ezine will continue weekly but in the future I look forward to dividing my time between these two remarkable cities and hope you will join me as I chronicle the Rome adventures in Postcards from Rome the blog and ezine for Live in Italy Now.
As I make the transition, I look forward to discovering the Eternal City in a far more intimate way then I ever have as a tourist and frequent visitor. I would love to have you along as I learn my way around, get my bearings, and by hook or by crook become a resident of this endlessly fascinating and yes, a bit intimidating city.
If you enjoy the brief sketches of New York captured in Postcards from New York then you will love Postcards from Rome as we bring you the sights, sounds, glorious fountains, grand piazza’s, hotspots, places on the beaten track and entirely overlooked not just in Rome’s historic center and seven hills (the areas best known to tourist) but in the many diverse neighborhoods (there are 22 called rioni ree-oh-nee) as well as nearby towns and villages, places farther a field like Florence, Orvieto, Bologna, Milan, Venice, Naples and much more. After all, Italy…all of Italy will be our backyard.
Just like a colorful postcard we want to become your one-minute vacation to the Eternal City, a welcome diversion from the demands of your busy day filled with helpful tips and advice to help you better enjoy Rome and Italy on your next visit.
Do you love to travel? Love Italy? Love Rome?
Italy is one of the world's top travel destinations because of its beauty, its history, art, culture, food and most of all, its people. So no matter whether you are an armchair traveler, planning a visit, cherish memories of past visits, have secretly thought you might one day be an expat and live here, you’ll find Postcards from Rome a handy guide and useful resource. Best of all…it’s FREE, click here to join the adventure.
Where in Rome will I hang my hat? I don’t yet know. Of more concern, my Italian is not fluent. Broken Italian has served me as a traveler to communicate in hotels, museums, restaurants and even with always encouraging and tolerant Italian friends. How well I will fare obtaining a tax ID (codice fiscale coo-dee-say fees-caa-lay), a bank account, negotiating water and electric service in places where no English is spoken, you’ll be along to discover as well as…
- What is available to rent and purchase in and around Rome for short stays or long term
- The best way to navigate the necessary paperwork and the infamous Italian bureaucracy
- Rental agencies in Rome and around the country where some English is spoken
- Expat groups to help smooth the transition
- How to find a little pied-è-terre in Rome for less than you think
- How to finance the purchase of a primary residence or 2nd or 3rd home in Italy.
Why Rome and not Postcards from Venice, Postcards from Milan, Postcards from Capri, Sorrento, Portofino, or Ischia?
All of Italy from the Alps to the Boot is irresistibly beautiful. Over the years I have visited many regions and fallen in love with the mountains and lakes of Piedmont and Lombardy, the pristine countryside and seductive hilltop villages of Tuscany, Umbria, Le Marche, the quaint and memorable little cities of Lazio and Emilia Romagna. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing city, village and country life in grand hotels, small pensions, private apartments, in magnificent villas and palazzo’s as well as farmhouses, monasteries and abbey’s. Country life à la Under the Tuscan Sun is too remote and tame for my taste. I’m a big city girl.
While I adore Florence and Bologna, the “buzz” of Rome ignites my imagination with endless possibilities. Despite my first off-putting experience Rome has always felt uncannily familiar. I feel strangely “at home” as if I’ve lived here all my life. The mad paced traffic, screeching metros, and speeding buses mirrors New York’s energy especially at rush hour, but that is where the comparison ends.
Walk the cobbled streets behind the Colosseum or bordering the Vatican in Prati, the narrow alleyways near the University in the San Lorenzo rione, or along the Tiber in Trastevere and it quickly becomes apparent Rome is a cluster of many small villages bundled together to form a metropolis. It offers one the advantage of living a village life “local and communal” yet be part of a “big” city with more history, art, sculpture, architecture, ancient monuments, culture and countless restaurants than one can hope to explore in a lifetime.
Will it be one of Rome’s villages or a surrounding suburb that beckons? Come along and find out and at the same time get the inside scoop on…
- Where to dine with locals and not spend a fortune
- How to work legally in Italy
- Places to brush up on your high school or college Italian or begin to learn the language
- Terrific week-end flea markets and antique fairs
- The perfect place to while away an afternoon or evening in Rome’s #2 most popular sport… people watching (# 1 has to be talking to each other in person or on mobile phones)
- Where to learn the art of cooking “Roman” style cuisine
- How to get into a Papal audience on short notice
- The best night spots, clubs and theaters
- How to find your way around Rome’s labyrinths of winding streets, nooks and crannies
- Recommendations for great little Rome hotels and pensions for 100 Euros or less
- Open-air food markets to overwhelm your taste buds
- Beautiful piazza’s to enjoy an expresso or glass of wine and do absolutely nothing, or perhaps admire the incredible architecture that surrounds you and brings history to life
- Where to find monks who still sing the Liturgy of the Hours as they have since the Middle Ages
- Off-the-beaten track art exhibits and little known museums
- Great parks for an impromptu picnic or leisurely stroll
- Where to find incredible duty free antiques and artifacts you can bring home
- The best places to enjoy unforgettable “homemade” gelato
Almost everyone who has ever visited Italy has made the leap if only for a moment and imagined what it would be like to live in this amazing country. If you have, or if you would just like to learn more about living (a month, or two, all year or some part of it), retiring, working, or starting a business in Italy, than Postcards from Rome is for you and we invite you to join us (click here).
Every week we will share what we learn not only about “la bella vita” (the beautiful life), the fun stuff, the great food and wine, the people, the breathtaking landscapes and countryside all the things that make Italian life so sought after but also the complications, the everyday challenges of living here, the “dark side” the faltering economy, the falling Dollar to Euro, mistakes made along the way and how to survive it all.
If nothing else you will discover great places to visit, wonderful restaurants and things to do on your next or very first trip to the Eternal City. Simply click here and sign-up, remember it is free. You can choose to receive Postcards from Rome as a Blog post, an email in your Inbox, or as a RSS feed that appears on your Home Page (just click on the orange button on the far right side of the homepage).
Samuel Johnson, speaking of 18th century London, once said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Much the same can be said of Rome, after more than 25 centuries there are no end of wonders to uncover because familiar sights and experiences frequently reveal new secrets.
Come with me and discover these secrets as I realize my dream and Rome becomes “home.” Let these adventures inspire you to follow your dream whether it is to visit or live in Rome, another part of Italy or some other foreign place. Believe it truly is within your reach and armed with the terrific insights, tips and perspectives you will gain from Postcards from Rome you will make it happen.
Let’s discover Rome together click here now.
Photo by Gianfranco Crimi
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