How to walk 20,000 steps (10 miles) per day, all week long, and not lose weight? Visit Rome and enjoy the delicious pasta every day.
We love Rome, we love Italy, and so we saved this wonderful country for the latter stages of our Vagabond journey, as a sort of gift to ourselves.
Rome itself really is magical. Prior to our first visit a few years ago, we somehow had the impression Rome would be a huge and densely urbanized city, but we have found it to be charming and accessible.
On our recent visit, we walked everywhere, only taking the metro once during the week we were there.
Living Like Locals
We stayed in a lovely apartment in the Trastevere district, about a mile downstream of the Vatican, on the west side of the Tiber. It is outside the old Imperial Rome (the name in Latin means “beyond the Tiber”), but close enough to walk to all the major sites.
We quickly came to love the Trastevere. It is primarily a residential neighborhood, although just touristy enough that pretty much everyone we encountered spoke workable English. Most of the people on the street were locals. Fabulous, animated conversations abounded. Shopkeepers greeted neighbors in a knowing, friendly fashion as they passed in the cobblestone street. Many of the restaurants remain family owned and managed.
All over Rome, relaxed restaurants serve typical Roman food. Did you know that 99% of restaurants found in TripAdvisor searches in Rome are classified as serving “Italian” cuisine? We had delicious pasta every day, except for the occasional pizza.
If walking is a good exercise for people our age, then we must be in the peak of conditioning.
On one particular day, we racked up 12 miles, according to the “activity” meters on our cellphones. That included lots of steps and hills.
When we weren’t walking that day, we were standing in 92-degree heat listening to a tour guide explain the history of the Colosseum and Forum.
We enjoyed our pasta, but we worked it off!
Our two-story apartment fronted directly onto a charming little cobblestone street. All of the charms of the Trastevere were literally at our doorstep.
It was very nice, but along with the convenience of location came noise at night.
As we said, we were living in an authentic Roman neighborhood. Locals tended to gravitate to the narrow cobblestone street outside our apartment, just below our bedroom window, for late-night conversations, after the bars closed and before they went their separate ways toward home.
When we went to bed, typically by 11:00 PM, all was quiet. But around 2:00 AM, the loud, animated group conversations (all Italian, of course) would commence.
We had to wonder: When do these people sleep?
On our prior visit to Rome, we met and befriended a nice younger gay couple. One of the guys was Roman, the other was from Sicily. Commenting on the regional differences, the Sicilian told us, somewhat disapprovingly, “Romans are loud.”
At the time we found it amusing. Now we came to understand what he meant.
A few hours after those rambunctious, late-night Roman conversations would finally taper off, we would be startled by the harsh sounds of garbage men noisily tossing bottles and metal objects into the hollow bins of their trucks, again right below our bedroom windows. It was enough to wake the dead.
Few apartments in Rome have air conditioning. Ours did not. The weather was quite warm, and so we slept with our windows open and fans blowing.
The earplugs we have carried throughout all of our travels — which until now we had seldom used — proved essential as we adapted to life in the Trastevere.
Religion and Art
The churches in Rome are the most incredible in the world. They are massive in structure, passionate in design, and filled with incredible works of art. Indeed, after Rome, churches elsewhere are simply lacking by comparison.
Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere
One of the oldest and most impressive churches in Rome is a basilica called Santa Maria in Trastevere, a short walk from our apartment. The exterior barely hints at the beauty within. The columns were taken from old Roman temples and reused to build the church. Its frescoes, dating from the Twelfth Century, are a wonder to see. They could make a believer out of a nonbeliever.
Frank remains a practicing Catholic. He loves the fact that the Roman Catholic mass, wherever it is celebrated across the globe, always follows the same format and uses the same prayers. This allows him to recognize and participate in the mass, even though the local language may be unfamiliar.
In Rome, Frank went to Sunday mass at a church just around the corner from our house in the Trastevere, where they offered a service in English.
Indicative of sinking attendance at Catholic churches all over Europe, he counted a total of only seven congregants in the spacious old church.
However, this being Rome, a training ground for clergy, the mass was celebrated by no fewer than seven priests, all of them from Africa and the Indian Subcontinent. They seemed to be preparing for future assignments in the English-speaking world, perhaps in the U.S.
If you remember the film, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” this was the Roman Catholic equivalent — “Seven Priests for Seven Parishioners.”
Ah, but the art in the churches of Rome! It truly touches the heart and soul. It is bold and passionate. Here are some of our favorites:
When we came to Rome a few years ago, we thought we had “discovered” Caravaggio’s art after stumbling upon several of his paintings in a small church near our apartment. Now it seems like every souvenir shop in Rome sells books and calendars featuring his art. “Well, we found him first,” is how we explain it.
Madonna and Child
Mary and Baby Jesus – there are countless pictures of the Blessed Mother and the Christ Child in the churches of Rome.
One might think that artists would shy away from a subject their predecessors had already captured so admirably, in such reverent beauty, but still they kept at it, one after another.
An old favorite, Saint Sebastian
Sebastian, a Roman soldier, was tied up and shot with arrows by his own troops because of his Christian beliefs. Despite the gruesome images, Sebastian recovered from his piercings, only later to be clubbed to death after attempting to admonish the Roman Emperor Diocleitian about his sinful ways.
Apparently, depicting a clubbing was less appealing to the Renaissance artists than a beautiful, bare-chested guy tied to a post and pierced with arrows.
Oh, the statuary!
And finally, we love the beautiful statues.
The Eighth Hill
Just behind our house in Rome’s Travestere neighborhood there rose up a large hill. We consulted a map and determined that it was called Janiculum Hill.
One Saturday we decided to explore it. Up, up, up we climbed, continually upward, on a series of concrete and stone stairways, until we reached a dramatic fountain at the top.
We discovered it was mostly parkland up there, especially on the east side, facing the Tiber River, which afforded truly amazing views of the entire City of Rome below. On the north side we could see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
“Ah,” we thought! “We have discovered one of the fabled Seven Hills of Rome!”
Only later did we learn that Janiculum Hill is actually not one of the Seven Hills. Along with the Vatican Hill, it is on the opposite side of the river from old Imperial Rome, where the Seven Hills are located.
Be that as it may, the Janiculum Hill was a wonderful place to visit because of the bird’s-eye perspective it gave us on the Eternal City below.
We also found on Janiculum Hill the Irish Embassy. It is housed in a very stately manor that seemed befitting as the outpost of a Roman Catholic country in the Roman capital.
In the early 1960s, a cousin of Frank’s from Ireland, Padrick Campbell, was stationed in the Irish Embassy in Rome. Paddy worked in the Irish diplomatic corps. His mother Josie and Frank’s mother Kate were first cousins.
A bit later, Paddy was stationed at the United Nations in New York. He used to visit Frank’s family in Philadelphia.
Paddy was charming, smart, warm and witty, and always well dressed. He died young, killed in a car wreck while stationed in Australia. The wreck was caused by a drunk driver. To Frank and his family, Paddy’s sudden loss felt like the death of JFK.
We did not get inside the embassy gate, but Frank cheerfully posed for a photo, outside the building where Paddy once worked, up there on the Janiculum Hill.
Green Screen Photos
A few weeks after visiting Rome, we returned to the Leonardo da Vinci Airport over on the coast, for a flight from Rome to Philadelphia. The airport featured a series of large, beautiful color photographs of Rome. We posed in front of them.
Look below and see if you can tell which pictures are “real” and which were taken in front of those posters at the airport!
Bound for Bologna
After a glorious week in the Eternal City, it was “arrivederci, Roma!”
Our next stop was Bologna, three hours north by train….