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RCJ Column #8 Rome

(published in the Rapid City Journal on Sunday, June 28, 2009)

Dear readers,  Sorry about the temporary lack of photos to accompany the Rome column.  My crashed hard drive is being restored and I will have it (and all of my ‘lost’ photos!) sometime next week (Aug  25); I’ll insert photos then. 


Aaaaah, Roma!!  The seven hills, the seven thousand atmospheric outdoor cafes, the seven million jostling, perspiring, tourists!  Che bella….. aroma!!! 

It’s June and it’s hot and it’s Rome.  Nothing I can say in my scribblings is going to add one iota to what has already been written/recorded/photographed about the gargantuan place in history held by sites like The Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, The Forum, The Pantheon; the list is nearly endless.  If you have a chance to visit this city and experience these wonders for yourself, grab it.  Unless you’ve been here, your notions of the ancient Roman Empire and the current Italian capital are surely diminished.  Herewith, instead of droning on about the obvious, I thought I would share a few travel hints for you to use when you finally do visit. 

First, if you come in the summer, insure that your hotel is air conditioned.  The whole hotel, not just the lobby.  Trust me.  Many hotels, museums and churches are not air-conditioned, so be forewarned.  For the most part, buildings heat up quickly in Rome’s hot, muggy climate (think Black Hills in July, then add 90% humidity), with the exception of the churches.  I can’t decide whether it’s because the stone buildings retain the cool naturally or whether it’s due to lack of body heat.  The Italians don’t attend regularly anymore; the churches (NOT St. Peter’s) will be relatively empty.  They’re cool, they contain some of the most important works of art in Rome and admission is free.  You can’t beat that combo. 

Second, if your hotel advertises a ‘romantic rooftop garden café’ named, for instance, Terrazo di Paradiso, and you’re planning to surprise your love with a dinner and a bauble, do check to see if the ‘Terrazo’ has actually ever been open.  In our 200 year old hotel, when we inquired, we were most indulgently informed that ‘the Terrazo is a work in progress’.  (I didn’t mention that, in America, we don’t really consider a 200 year schedule ‘progress’.) 

Third, pack an umbrella (or sunhat) and binoculars.  You will be standing in line in the scorching sun and unless you want to be endlessly pestered by vendors with overpriced, oversized paper cocktail umbrellas, you are advised to carry your own shade.  Unless, of course, you’ve packed a kimono, in which case the paper umbrella will charmingly complete your look.  Binoculars (or a good zoom lens) will expose detail you’ll otherwise miss.  

Fourth, the Sistine Chapel is not in St. Peter’s Basilica, so don’t wander around making a pest of yourself and asking silly questions of the Swiss Guard.  They have dead and living popes to attend to.  To see the Sistine Chapel, a little preparation will go a long way.  You will be walking a long and diverting obstacle course through the Vatican museums along with a hundred thousand other Michelangelo fans, who will suddenly stop for a photo of something you can’t see and a  Domino effect with occur.  Like train cars piling up at a derailment.  This will happen at least five or ten times in the hour it takes to go from the ticket office to the door of the Chapel.  Make sure your brake shoes are in good working order.  

Once you finally achieve the Chapel, you will stand (unless you stand rudely close to someone who has taken up residence on the tiny bench that hugs the perimeter of the chapel, causing them to leave), craning your neck to see the ceiling, because it is 68 feet high and the Chapel is not large. (see: binoculars, above.)  It is nearly impossible to see the entire ceiling from one vantage point, but you will be borne along by the throngs, so you’ll likely see most of it before you are whooshed out the exit.  Also, despite repeated taped and live warnings against talking and taking photos, nearly everyone is talking and taking photos in this sacred space.  You can easily tell who attended parochial school in their youth – they are quiet and taking no photos.  

Lastly, have a pizza in Rome.  You owe it to yourself.  But do not believe the guidebooks and rush off to Pizzeria Baffetto for what is claimed to be the best pizza in Rome.  No offense to Mr. Baffetto (well, maybe a little.  Signore Baffetto is rude to his servers and his customers because of the pedestal he has been on), but the BEST pizza in Rome is actually made by his children (who, I’m thinking, got fed up with his tantrums and their stingy allowances and opened their own place) at Pizzeria Montecarlo near the Piazza Navona.  You’ll be surrounded by animated Italian families enjoying the most divine combination of crispy, paper-thin crust, lightly singed edges, deliciously balanced toppings and the fastest service imaginable.  However, and consider yourself warned:  do not eat pizza in Rome if you ever plan to have pizza in the United States again.  They are not of the same species.  Being in St. Peter’s Basilica is probably the closest to heaven most Roman Catholics will ever feel; eating Montecarlo’s pizza will have to suffice for everyone else.

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