Monday, September 12, 2011

The Charms of Not-So-Must-See Rome

Our second day in Rome we intended to repeat our efforts of the previous day and tackle Vatican City. We woke up early but took our time getting ready, saying goodbye to Richard and Kim as they headed to Siena. We had breakfast and vaguely tidied the tent house, causing ourselves to just miss the hourly shuttle and create a spare 40 minutes to continue doing nothing-much with. It was during that time that there was a knock on the vinyl door and an apologetic Kim requested Courtney’s assistance down the driveway.

Our poor Aussie friends have had nothing but trouble with their persistent rental van, and this time while rinsing it off they discovered a bubble on the tyre. It was really weird, like a hernia on the side of the tyre, not even a piece of inner popping through the join but the tyre itself. To be honest by the time we got down there Rich had it pretty well covered and the only assistance we (Courtney) could offer was a ride to the nearest auto shop to see if they had a new otyre for them.

Kim and I sat in the tent house and had a gossip in the shade while the boys did boy things. They returned amidst an air of success and Richard and Kim were off once more, albeit via the auto store. In amongst the excitement, Kim had told us about a public transport strike in Rome, and we witnessed for ourselves the huge queue waiting for the shuttle, some of whom had been waiting so long they had seen the previous shuttle come and go without making it on for lack of space. We decided that with our early start long gone in a sea of lethargy and a strike in our midst, it might be a better idea to spend the afternoon riding around the neighbourhood of Trastevere and save Vatican for later.

Our not-so-trusty GPS got us into the old medieval neighbourhood, nowadays a bohemian centre for those living out the Italian dream, mixed in with old Italian Nonna’s descended from the first inhabitants of Rome. The only thing we knew about Trastevere was that it sounded like our cup of tea and that it centred itself around a main piazza (as most Italian areas do), so we parked up and wound through the streets in the general direction of the piazza.

Holding the square down was a big beautiful fountain. We love our fountains so we were instantly sold, even before we took in the cute little church with frescoes and sculptures and the trattorias that dotted the remaining sides. We sat at one that had comfy looking couches at a few of the tables and spent 15 or 20 minutes taking photos from our vantage point and skimming the very-helpful Lonely Planet City Guide to Rome for places that might be worth a gander in Trastevere.

When we reached the point of starting to skim other neighbourhoods and still hadn’t been served or even handed a menu, we decided to leave in search of a traditional Italian pizzeria Courts had found in the City Guide. It wasn’t far and it turned out to be on the edge of another square, this one full of cars that could only make it into town that far before the roads got too narrow, and shaded by Nonna’s washing hanging out the windows above.

We didn’t end up eating at the recommended Pizzeria, but next door. This place was the best little eatery we could have ever hoped to find. The interior was decorated just like the picturesque square outside, with doors and windows painted around the walls as though it were a courtyard. There were ceramic tiles showing the house number of each imaginery house, a town clock in the middle and even rows of laundry draped from the ceiling.

We ordered a bottle of local wine, which turned out to be red although we hadn’t realized it originally, and both started with carbonara, which was invented in Rome. A traditional Italianmeal generally has about 7 courses from antipasto through to dessert and so the portions are smaller than we might have elsewhere. We followed our carbonara with real Italian pizza and real Italian bruschetta and finished our wine before leaving in search of real Italian gelato.

It took us awhile to find as we saw seats in the shade at an inner city playground and had very little choice in the matter as our bodies dragged it away from the heat and cobblestones. We bore witness to a crazy drunk sauntering through the small park, at first stopping directly in front of a child on the slide, hopping up and down on the spot and pulling faces. A woman I assumed was his mother looked on carefully, but later on the child seemed to be there by himself. The little boy wasn’t the drunks only port of call though as he begged a couple of ladies eating their lunch for some coin. One of them offered him half her lunch but she was apparently  rejected and the resulting conversation (which we couldn’t hear) caused her to pack everything up and leave in search of safer territory.

It was not long after that we left ourselves, taking the long way back towards the bike still hoping for gelato. After a brief distraction at the nail polish counter of a department store, we found our hearts desire only a hundred metres away from our parking spot. We used our newly learned authentic-gelato-spotting skills (banana flavour must be grey, not yellow, the containers must be stainless steel, not plastic, and the gelato must be flat, not piled up) to evaluate our pickings before selecting the best flavours they had to offer. We sat outside to take our time with the days indulgence and I couldn’t resist pulling out my new nail polishes to play with, nail geek as I am.

It was a very content and overflowing Pen and Courts that climbed up on the bike and rode heavily home, and a settled and crashing Pen and Courts that fell into the tent house and spent much of the night moving as little as possible. The crostini and cheese we had bought to have as a light dinner remained unopened and while the sounds of tour groups and drinkers (oh how many walks of shame I heard in the early hours of each morning – Him: “Well, what about the awkwardness?”, Her: “WHAT awkwardness?!”, cue defiant horror) drifted through the night, we barely batted a well-weighted eyelid.