Massimo wore a plaid shirt and a red knit tie. He held my name on a placard, greeting us within a few minutes of our exit from Fiumincino, the international airport 25 minutes outside of Roma. The lobby was hot with money changers, taxi booths, hopeful family members and patient nuns. The tour groups coalesced as ever-expanding molecules, a mass of white sneakers, fanny packs and otherwise midwestern fashion sensibility.
The drive was five Euro more than a taxi – well worth it to have a driver meet us, drive safely and deliver us intact to Calisto6, our bed and breakfast in Trastevere. Behind the graffitied door lied a hidden gem tucked in a building from the 1400’s.
As we drove in, industrial shifted to suburbs, giving way to gritty streets and finally opening into a wonderful neighborhood filled with life. Trastevere (“across the Tiber”) was formerly outside the city walls, and is not so far from the old city filled with turistas, but it is a world apart, even on first impression.
Our room is delightful, our private bathroom luxurious, our view over a sea of restaurants, Vespas and Fiats not quite expansive but filled with the sounds of the neighborhood.
It is siesta. Ali Sun embraces it. I join her. We wake at 5pm, freshen up, gratefully leave our bags behind. We walk through a maze of streets, alleys really. Each one with a restaurant, ten tables outside or maybe six; the ubiquitous row of mopeds. We cross the Tiber, enter the old city. Ancient narrow back streets may reveal a pharmacy, a jewelry shop or a homeless beggar with a baritone voice who might have been a late night DJ in decades past.
Emerging from a tall, narrow street, Piazza Novona takes our breath away. It is timeless and modern, ancient and vibrantly alive with performers, artists, turistas, ristorantes and surely an army of pickpockets who wear no uniform.
Ali Sun climbs the steps of Sant’Agnese in Agone; I follow. The church is weighty – far taller than it is wide, with a glorious frescoed dome, stained glass and heavy benches, perhpas mahogany. We light a candle for a dear friend.
Castel Sant’Angelo, also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian, is imposing. We’ll try to see the interior before we move on. Perhaps its best as a mid-day tour, away from the heat of Roma in August. We follow the Tiber back to Trastevere, and dine at one of those lovely patios, enjoying grilled vegetables, melanzane di parmigiano and whole grilled sea bass.
Twenty hours of travel, nine hours in Roma, its a blessing to experience the magic, history and vibrancy of this city. I’m grateful and brought to tears by this opportunity we have opened.