After our trip to Barcelona, we took one week to visit one of my favorite cities in the entire world: Rome. In fact, I love it so much, I almost moved there about two years ago. (I even had the tickets bought and everything, but that’s a whole different story.) This trip was my first time back since then, so it was significant for me to be able to spend time soaking in the Eternal City.
Touring the city
On the first day, we booked a tour with Scooteroma, a local company that provides guided tours of the city on Vespas. I did it the first time I visited Rome, and it was just as surreal to ride around the city on a classic Vespa this time as well. The tour guides took us all over, from Testaccio in the southern part of the city, to Trastevere, past the Colosseum, and up to the top of Gianicolo Hill for a perfect view of the city. Highlight: my first Italian espresso of the trip paired with a ciambella.
We, of course, made our way to the Mouth of Truth, the Colosseum, Castel Sant’Angelo, and many walks through the Piazza del Popolo. We had dinner with some friends at Gigetto, both old and new, in the Jewish Ghetto and took a tour of the historic synagogue. A close friend took us on a nighttime tour of the Roman Forum, giving us a more personal look at the “onion” of Rome with its layers upon layers of history.
We ate a lot of gelato and even more pizza, with Dar Poeta getting two visits in our one-week stay. We walked a lot. Even though our Airbnb was close to the metro, many of the things we wanted to visit weren’t near a subway station – so we hoofed it. My feet were so sore by the end of the week, but it was well worth it.
The absolute highlight of the trip was a visit to the Basilica San Clemente. It’s a beautiful church that is impressive in and of itself, but below it is an ancient Roman house and Mithraeum, for worshipers of the god, Mithra. It was a surreal visit for me and very spiritual, in many ways. From the moment we walked below the church, it was like my hair was standing on end. In fact, at one point I wanted to explore a quiet little corner but was afraid to go there. The best way I could describe it is that I felt like I didn’t belong, even though it was perfectly open to the public. (And Gustavo, of course, yelled “boo!” which sent me about 50 ft. into the air.)
As we continued to explore the ruins, it turns out the space I was standing in was just above the Mithraeum, which was giving me some crazy vibes. My hands felt tingly and I had goosebumps. The more we walked around, the more it made sense: it’s been a place of spiritual practice for centuries. There’s a ton of energy in that place and, I think, some of us are able to feel that, even all the way down the line. It was such a cool experience. I’d love to go back to be able to sit with that feeling more and better explore it.
A day trip to Naples
Any time I can squeeze in a trip to Naples, you can bet I’m going. I love Naples. My family is from the region and, since my first visit, I’ve been able to identify elements of Neapolitan culture that remind me a lot of my family. Whether it’s spotting doppelgängers of my grandparents or seeing people on the street chatting, grabbing one another by the wrist, and leaning in to tell a secret with that classic Neapolitan flair and skepticism, it feels familiar.
From Rome, it takes about an hour to get to Naples on the Frecciarossa, an express train down the coast. (You can also take it in the other direction to go North towards Florence or Milan.) We arrived around 9am, hopped on the Circumvesuviana in the direction of Sarno – which also happens to be my grandmother’s maiden name – to make our way to the Pompeii station. Once we got to town, we stopped at a little coffee shop where the waiter looked eerily like my grandfather and who served us a delicious espresso and pasticciotto.
After that, strangely enough, we walked down the street over to one of the most famous archeological sites in the world: Pompeii.
I visited Pompei the first time I ever went to Italy, so the two are intrinsically linked for me. It’s also where I decided I wanted to become an art restorationist. While I didn’t end up going that route, it did lead me to study Anthropology, one of my better decisions in life. The ruins are, of course, huge and endless. There’s always more to explore, and I’m perpetually distracted by the many stray dogs running around on streets that have been used for millennia. I’ll always remain awed by the place.
After a few hours of exploring Pompeii, we hopped back on the train to Naples and, about an hour later, we found ourselves walking towards Da Michele, the first-ever pizzeria. They only serve two kinds of pizza: marinara (tomato sauce) and margherita (with tomato, basil, and mozzarella di búfala). And you know what? It was, in fact, the best pizza I ever had.