When you tell people that you are going to Italy, they are so excited for you that they bombard you with a list of activities you must do and a list of food you must eat. “You are going to cry when you eat pasta there,” or “The gelato is unreal.” Things like that. And I get it now. In fact, I am prepared to do the same thing to my friends who are planning their honeymoon to Rome next year. For the past 3 days we have been collecting itinerary items for them because we have so enjoyed ourselves.
Let’s face it. The thing I was most anticipating on this trip to Italy was the food–pasta, pizza, gelato. I’m pretty sure those are 3 of my top 5 foods of all time. I made sure to get restaurant recommendations before we left and came here with a pretty hefty list. So imagine my surprise when the first 2 meals we had were just…fine. I mean, they were tasty, but my mind was not blown. I literally thought, “Is everyone lying about how good the food is? Am I going to have to lie about how good I thought it was? Will I take this secret to my grave?” After the second meal I looked at Jon, trying to suss out what he thought about it all. But when I asked him, all he said was “Delicioso.” Hmmm…
Even more shocking is that the thing that exploded my mind the most was the sight-seeing. I came to Rome knowing that there would be a lot to see–art, history, religion, more art, and more history. I knew that I wanted to see it, but truthfully, I expected to be bored quickly. I mean, I like museums, but I don’t drool over museums. I pictured myself an hour into a museum getting antzy to get to my next dish of pasta or my next slice of pizza (turns out slices of pizza do not exist in Italy, BTW, only entire pizzas that you are meant to consume on your own with a knife and fork).
And then my face exploded.
On our first day in Rome, we met up with a tour guide, Annie (Scooter Maven and owner of Scooter Roma Tours) who had been recommended to us by a collegue of Jon’s. Originally from Minesotta, our tour with Annie was like being given a tour by your best girlfriend you haven’t seen in years. She walked us around, helping us orient ourselves and stopping suddenly every now and then on a corner to show us a “nozole” (water fountain) that is thousands of years old from which the Romans still fill their water bottles today. Or popping into a cafe to order us a special espresso that if we liked better than the other cafe’s espresso, would define what kind of Romans we would be. She sent us to St. Peter’s Bascilica at the Vatican that first afternoon. We bought 2 tickets (Due, por favore) but we didn’t know what we were buying tickets for. It turned out we were climbing stairs. Then more stairs. Then more after that. So imagine our surprise when we emmerged from the claustophobic stairwell to find a view of the entire city stretched before us.
The next day we lucked upon another tour guide, Kathy from Boston, who made the Forum & the Colleseum come alive for us. I re-learned all my 6th grade ancient civilization history in the course of 2 hours, standing at the foot of Caesar’s funeral pyre next to the house of the Vestal Virgins. It was incredible.
But the real mind explosion came on our second trip to Vatican City to take a tour of the Vatican museum with Kathy’s colleague, Silvio. At first I was pretty sure that Silvio was drunk at 8 o’clock in the morning–he took a phone call while explaining a painting by Raphael, he grunted with effort into his microphone as we climbed the hill and he cursed the ladies who were slow and couldn’t keep up. But it didn’t matter. He spoke about the art with such passion that I literally cried after we came out of the Sistine Chapel. I’m not kidding. Before we went in he told us he wanted us to look for 3 things–beauty, truth and justice. Beauty being the exterior form, truth being the soul and justice being the behavior or the actions. He showed us how that holy trinity played out along side the Holy Trinity of Father, Son & Holy Ghost throughout the museum and gave historical insight to back it all up. I came out of the Vatican feeling connected to it spiritually in a way that I did not anticipate. It was like Silvio was able to articulate what I had been trying to define for myself as an artist for years now. And that made me feel a part of the great tradition and religion of art. It was awesome, in the true sense of the word.
Don’t worry, we eventually found the pasta I had dreamed of, as well as the pizza and the gelato. And it was really really really good. Not as good as the mushrooms we ate that had been roasted in olive oil over a wood burning stove, but quite delicioso.
From what I’ve been told, I believe the food will just get better and better as we go along on our journey. For now, I am content to sit on the fast train to Firenze in my first class seat that was discounted for some reason, with a plastic glass of vino rosso and the incredible countryside whipping past our window.
I’m already planning our return trip to Rome. Not sure when we’ll make it, but I know that we will.