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Report 876: Living The Month of October, 2005 in Rome: an Experiment in Becoming a Local

By Max Barrett from Massachusetts, Winter 2005

Trip Description: Entire month of October spent in Rome attempting to live a more normal Roman's life style.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Rome

Categories: Vacation Rentals; Shopping; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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This trip really started five years ago when we first saw and fell in love with Roma. Our second visit confirmed our love affair. After we returned from that trip and were talking so positively about Rome and how much we loved it, my daughter laughingly said “Maybe you’ll retire there!” My husband Max, who, by now has started calling himself a Roman, immediately started a campaign to see if indeed we could do such a thing.

I researched my family roots to finally find that my grandparents, who were born in Italy, had naturalized in the early 1900’s thus making it impossible for me to move to Italy and obtain dual citizenship. We then decided before we could consider retiring to Rome we should try a visit for a longer period to be sure that was really what we wanted to do. So we decided to take a month long vacation in Rome to see if we felt the same after we spent some time living there the same way Romans do, not as tourists. That’s when we started our long search for an apartment to rent for the month of October. We wanted something centrally located in a nice neighborhood with a full kitchen and separate bedroom so we could attempt to live the way we would if we were retired. A test, of sorts, to see if we could adapt to the life style and still have our love affair with Roma.

We had so many different websites saved as favorites we couldn’t tell which was which and sometimes couldn’t remember why we thought a particular one was worth saving. Most were either too small or too expensive or too far from where we wanted to be. Finally, my husband discovered Slow Travel, which is where we found exactly what we were looking for, Rome is Home (see review).

We contacted the owner, Massimo De Majo, who was very friendly and took all the information he needed and asked us to send an email to him telling us about ourselves and why we wanted to rent an apartment. We did so and after many emails back and forth we sent a deposit for our reservation for the month of October.

Most of the travel reports we’ve read seem to follow a logical progression. I’m going to omit the flights to and from Rome because the negative airline had little to do with our experience in Rome.

By pre-arrangement with Massimo our plane was met at the airport by Gino, our driver, who quickly got us in route to our destination. I should say Gino got us quickly on the road because we did not have our luggage; it was delayed! We were greeted at our new home for the month by Massimo, Biancamaria (his wife) and Delfina, their 5 year old daughter.

The apartment was being given a once over by Ronnie, the weekly cleaner so we took a quick peek at apartment then all went to the Campo de Fiori, by means of walking down a street to a “secret” passageway for a quick bite at Il Carbonara. It was a bright, sunny, warm day and the restaurant had al fresco dining, how perfect! We all choose light pasta and roasted vegetables and salad, which worked well considering how tired we were.

This meal proved to also work as a get acquainted meal and our trip was now off to a spectacular start. We finally got to meet the people we had corresponded with for several months already having formed a long distance friendship. Now we knew our instincts were right! When traveling it’s always the people who have the power to make or break the enjoyment of a wonderful place! These three were definitely makers!

After chatting, planning for future get-togethers and dining we returned to apartment for a much needed rest. The trip to Campo de Fiori was the first of an almost daily routine we followed for the entire month. Massimo, Biancamaria and Delfina left us at apartment after Massimo explained how to use things like washer/dryer and little Delfina showed us how to open the sofa bed in the living room in case we had company! The apartment was exactly as nice as it was represented on the website and should work out fine for our needs.

After resting for what by now was the normal time Romans took a long lunch break and rest we talked with another Italian friend from our first two trips to Italy, Vanni, the Tour Guide who advised us that we could accomplish some quick shopping right on our street in several good shops for any items of clothing we needed due to our luggage being delayed. This fit in perfectly with our plans for trying to live “as the native do” if you need something get it in the neighborhood whenever possible. So off we went to shop; the test was starting with a bang!

We shopped for at least one complete set of clothing interspersing each shop with a stop for a cappuccino at Bar Rossana on the corner while Max brought purchases back to our apartment three doors away. Eventually we found everything we needed to at least be able to get out of the clothes we had been in since leaving Boston the day before.

Max, by then was becoming hungry so we continued our walk and ended up at the Campo for the second time that day. This time we chose another shop and Max ordered his first Panini of the trip and I had a gelato with fresh strawberries. It was now early evening and we sat and people watched for a while before deciding we needed to get something to cook for Sunday since the Market at the Campo would change from produce/meat market to an artisan/craft market on Sunday.

We walked down to the meat shop and purchased pollo cutlets and stuffed mushrooms then went across to flower stall for flowers to place on dining room table. We then decided to call it a day and head home. Thank goodness for the elevator in our building since our apartment was on the third floor (Italian style) and I was pretty tired. Oh by the way, did I mention that I have a large boot on my foot and am using crutches, since I broke my ankle four weeks before we left for trip????

Sunday started out with cappuccino and pastries at Rosanna’s, then a walk around neighborhood to pickup postcards and other sundry items. We ended up following the long way to Campo De Fiori where the Artisan Market was already setup and doing a lively business. We purchased a cane for me for when my foot got stronger, a light weight scarf and a few Christmas gifts to bring back to the States. Another cappuccino at Bar Campo De Fiori, which soon became our favorite place to sit when visiting the Campo; and where we made many friends before we headed home to check on the luggage situation.

The luggage would not arrive that day. American Express, who originally booked our flights for us, suggested we go out and purchase a few things to sustain us and gave us a “Baggage Delayed” allowance to spend. So off we went to shop a little more. The only problem was that not much was open on Sunday.

We decided to try Via Nationale where we stayed on our last trip since they had some larger shops. Max had intended to purchase a leather coat, (nothing to do with the American Express allowance) and the first shop we found open on Via Nationale was a leather shop. He found exactly what he was looking for, purchased it and we left to return on Thursday to pick the coat up after alterations.

Over the years of traveling we have found that shop people, whether owners or employees are the easiest people to meet. When we shop we socialize at the same time and usually have a fairly good time whether we are shopping for ourselves or gift giving. Many times if you explain why you’re there to the shopkeeper, their effort to help grows exponentially.

I had success finally at a Benneton store where Laura waited on me, whisking around store selecting items for me to try while I sat on a bench she had moved into the dressing room so I could sit. I bought three outfits that mix and match and we headed for home. Oh, by the way it had been raining all day and now it was simply pouring and there were no cabs in sight.

We started walking and when we get to the bottom of our street saw a trattoria, Der Pallaro, brightly lit and quickly filling with customers, lots of laughter emitting from the open doorway.

Max said, “Why don‘t we have dinner here and you can cook tomorrow?”

I agreed and Max left to bring the packages to our apartment while I waited at the doorway to secure a table. The owner, dressed in a traditional costume saw me standing with my crutches and said, "Table?"

I replied yes for two, and she quickly decided to place me at a front table in the covered alfresco section. I found that she was Mamma Pallaro and quite a character. By the time Max returned a bottle of sparkling water and a bottle of wine had been placed on the table without my asking. Next came a large variety of appetizers from braized fennel to stuffed seafood, all absolutely delicious. This course was followed by bowls of pasta in a red sauce with lots of grated cheese. Just when I thought I had eaten enough to last two days, the main course arrived - roasted pork with a light gravy and a plate of potato chips. Once we devoured that course a slice of a light lemon torte was delivered to each of us.

In between all this food we joined in the conversation with folks at the surrounding tables (four from California and a father and daughter from the US we had met at the Benneton store - their luggage also lost!). After lots of laughter and truly full to the brim we asked for the check expecting it to be a slightly expensive experience; the waiter asked if we had one or two bottles of wine and when we reply one, said 40 Euro! Amazing! This food, was definitely peasant style with no pretensions of grandeur but extremely good and certainly affordable. We ended up recommending this to many tourists we met over the month who were asking where is a good affordable place to eat.

At one point we met a couple from Canada who we returned to Pallaro with for another meal, this time inside. The second meal was equally good, some of the appetizers were different, and the main course was beef rather than pork so it appears you are served whatever is freshest for that particular day; the same way native Italians shop.

Margaret and Stan agreed this was a great place and said it was the most fun they had at a meal during their entire trip. They especially liked the idea of not knowing what was coming next, something they had not tried before.

Rather than continuing this on a day to day basis, I am now going to switch to the highlights of the month. Let me say now that it took approximately two days to adjust to the life style although the first two weeks were somewhat difficult at points due to the need to be placing phone calls constantly regarding our lost luggage, clarifying situation over and over with various offices, (whether by phone or in person on the other side of town) and waiting once promises were made for deliveries of luggage that never happened.

Massimo, Biancamaria and Delfina came one day to take us to the countryside for the afternoon. They wanted us to see where they are remodeling a house in Sutri and to see some very special Etruscan ruins that few tourists get to see. The ruins were near Sutri and were spectacular. Carved into the hillside we saw an ancient amphitheater then walked a little further to tour the underground church. Originally Etruscan then subsequently taken over and used by the Catholic church this ancient temple and necropolis was now in dire need. The frescoes inside, while still vibrant in spots were sadly crumbling down. The temple was adjusted to a more normal lay-out, including the stations of the cross. A font still stands by the inside entrance and the frescoes here were more complete than those inside. When you turned to leave, the castle across the way was framed perfectly in the entrance making for a beautiful departure.

After leaving here, we headed for the home in Sutri so all the dogs could be fed. Sutri was part of the old pilgrims road out of Siena. A tale of woe regarding contractor’s (three and counting) went along with the ride and quick visit to their work in progress. Location, location, location; the site was beautiful and I am sure that soon enough they will be loving their beautiful home. Next, a lovely luncheon at Lake Bracciano at a family run trattoria across from the beach. After which a short stroll (remember the crutches) on the beach and then a return home. This was indeed one of the highlights of our entire trip.

Since one of our goals was also to take care of our Christmas shopping while in Rome we scored almost immediately by walking across the street to Ibiz. Bags, belts, chairs if you want; beautiful items and priced nicely. Better still, we met Elisa, one of our friends-to-be. During the following weeks hardly a day went by without passing through this shop. Obviously we were able to cut off a big piece of the shopping list, but the best thing was the way our new friendship was headed.

Elisa had opted to take over the business when her parents wanted to leave it to start new careers, saying "I did not want the tradition to die, too much of the workmanship is disappearing". How lucky for us that she made this decision, she is an excellent designer and very adept with her workmanship.

She introduced us to her Mother and told us about her Father’s restaurant il Quinto-Quarto. Of course the next evening we went and not only had a very delicious meal with her father explaining every item on the menu to us before hand in English, but met a long-time friend of Elisa's who had stopped for dinner with a date. All items on the menu here were typical of old style Roman cuisine and well done. This was a extremely fun evening with lots of conversation and laughter.

One of my favorite places in Rome is the Forum. On this trip we had the time to actually walk thru it. Just thinking of the Forum awakens my imagination. I can readily envision the early Romans going about their business in this political arena. Sitting on a stone in the Forum could be something I'll want to do over and over again. I also wanted to see the Forum at night and we found that this could be accomplished by going to the Museo Capitolini just prior to dusk. We found a cab that would take us to the top so I did not have to deal with the hassle of the multiple steps. Once there we went to the side of the Museo and as darkness came, were able to take the pictures I wanted with the various ruins spotlighted.

We had been told by one of Max's nieces, who spent a year during college studying in Rome, that we should try a place to dine in the Jewish Ghetto. We certainly had the time on this trip so decided to go at lunchtime. This is a very small place and in order to have a meal there you have to sign up to join their "Social Club". Joining means you simply fill out a card with your name, there are no fees, you keep half of the card and Sora Margarita keeps the other half.

We arrived, were seated and asked if we have a membership card, a fresh set of cards were given to us and once we filled them out we were given menus. The menus were written completely in Italian. The young man sitting at the other half of the table saw that we were struggling with menu and offered his assistance, since he spoke both English and Italian. Once this was accomplished, we placed our order and were served the delicious Jewish fried artichokes this place is famous for as an appetizer. I had Gnocchi with pomadoro/basil sauce and Max had a peppered pasta dish similar to ravoli. Both meals were the best we ever had. Desert was not something to sneeze at either. I had a cheesecake sort of torte with dark cherries. All meals here were very reasonably priced. We would return to this treasure once more later in the trip and look forward to more in the future.

While we did not feel as though we had to spend a lot of time on this trip sight-seeing we did return to some of our favorite places. Among those were visits to The Pantheon, St Pietro ie Vincoli to visit Moses (my favorite Michangelo sculpture), Pizzia Navona, The Colosseo as well as some new found favorites such as Centrale Monte Martini, (an old power plant-turned museum) which is a true treasure that few people seem to know about. If you've never been here it is a definite must do. Here they have not removed the old power plant equipment, it has simply been left right where is was and interspersed with varying statuary, frescos and mosaic tile work. The contrasts of these pieces which originally were in storage in the Capitolini against the starkness of the huge, black power plant equipment was startlingly beautiful.

There also was an electric bus (#116) we had never taken before that took us from the Campo De Fiori to Vialla Borghese Gardens bypassing small streets along the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and other pleasant views of upscale neighborhoods as we neared the Gardens.

To list all of the churches we visited here would take too much space, however one highlight was in Trastevere, San Francesco a Ripa where Bernini's "Ecstasy of Beata Ludovica Albertoni" is on display. Another gem visited was located in the Jewish Ghetto area, Palazzo Cenci, which was an open courtyard full of sculptures with more sculptures on second floor balcony of Palazzo.

One Sunday morning's trip to the Artisan market at the Campo resulted in a vendor offering to bring her book of designs for young children's attire to our apartment to choose something for my sister's first granddaughter. Laura Falciatori took ordinary items and embellished them with her own designs. As arranged Laura appeared one morning with her sister Paola who is a lawyer who told us she would be happy to help us obtain our residence permisso when we returned. Max and I went through Laura's book of designs and selected a couple of fairy designs to be placed on pullover shirts for Isabella along with her name, as well as another gift with different design Max spotted in her book as a gift for someone else. Laura said they would be completed the following week and she would call to make arrangements for delivery. When Max offered to give her a deposit she declined saying "No, you pay after you approve completed projects." A week later, Max walked to a prearranged location to meet Laura and pickup our order. The entire cost of the items was less than I would have paid for the same quality in US without them being personalized and embellished with a design.

One of the prime evenings we spent was a dinner with the travel guide from our first trip, Vanni Martelli and his wife Kanva at Luigi's in Piazza Sforza Cesarini across the street from the Chiesa Nuova. This was the first time we met Kanva and found her to be as delightful as she was beautiful and gracious.

That evening just as we were being seated in the courtyard, another guide from our first trip and his wife appeared at our table to say hello as they were going to their apartment, which was located at the end of the courtyard. Paolo and his wife were pleased to see us and had apparently been told by Vanni that we would be there that evening. The dinner was absolutely wonderful, I had a pasta dish with the tiniest clams I've ever seen and cherry tomatoes that will remain firmly fixed in my mind until I am able to duplicate it in my own kitchen. The evening was delightful, full of promises to get together again when we return and while lasting the standard 3 1/2 hours it takes for a proper dinner over too soon as we had so many things to discuss and were having such a good time.

Speaking of cooking in my own kitchen, some of the dinners I was able to cook during this trip included freshly cut veal prepared as saltimbucca by the butcher in the Campo along with dishes I was never able to prepare at home due to lack of availability of proper ingredients like Fried stuffed zucchini blossoms or fresh caprese with the ripest of tomatos and the best mozarella available. All of these ingredients were readily available at the Campo at prices lower than lesser quality available in the States any time you wanted them. If the butcher had no saltimbucca prepared it was no problem just wait a minute or two and he'd prepare it especially for you.

As I said previously we intended to try to fit into the small neighborhood where we were living for the month, so we spent most of our time there either in various shops, daily visits to Campo De Fiori, whether to shop for food or just sit the Campo De Fiori Bar and people watch while making friends with the wait staff and owner of Bar. There we met Claudio from Morroco, Ana from Serbia, and Antonio from Bangledesh. They became friends who we hope to see again soon. When we visited for the last time prior to our flight to US, everyone was warm, hugging and wishing for our speedy return and hopeful we would indeed correspond via email. We have already corresponded with them via email and will continue to do so as soon as we have firmer plans for our return.

Our other most visited haunt in the neighborhood was Bar Rossana which was two doors from our apartment. This was a small bar with alfresco seating outside, owned by Rossana with her son, Christiano as the bartender. Here we got our daily morning cappuccini, sometimes adding a pastry, our evening beer/wine and aqua frizzante and an after dinner drink Christiano introduced Max to called Mirto. Rossana also served a daily lunch buffet that you would expect took six people to create, which she prepared daily all by herself! The food was incredibly good and very inexpensive. Christiano took up the mission of teaching Max Italian and often would crackup anyone listening by challenging Max, asking him to respond to his question properly in Italian. When Max made a mistake Christiano would very firmly say "Repeat after me…" This routine caused Max to start a notebook that he never went to Bar Rossana without that had notes of phrases Christiano had taught him.

Another place we frequented several times was a specialty women's clothing shop called Beba, where I met another Rossana who was the saleperson and also a seamestress. I first met her when I took the slacks I purchased at Benneton to be hemmed. That visit led to the purchase of a very different sweater set and a new jacket with very sleek styling. Zuri Badash, the owner told of his exit from Tunisia due to the inability to flourish as a businessman with the regime in charge and how much happier he is in Rome. He told us he came to Rome, felt at home almost immediately and quickly adapted to the lifestyle of the locals and hence was accepted. He continued that since we had already started that process we should have no problems when we return since Rome was already "at home in our hearts".

Once our luggage finally arrived (2 ½ weeks after we did) I was free to shop for things I loved rather than things I absolutely needed, hence several additional visits to this unique shop were made.

Of course, as I said before no day was complete without a stop by Ibez to visit Elisa. The evening before our departure to the States, Elisa and her Mother met us at Bar Rossana for a quick drink, her mother left for another appointment and Elisa's fiancee, Artero joined us to chat for a bit and say goodbye as we would be leaving before she opened her shop in the morning. The last person we spoke with that evening was Rosanna who gifted us with some wine from her bar, wishing us well and a quick return from her and Christiano. It was an evening of tears especially for the kindness these new friends had extended to us and the way they accepted us in their midst. Again travel IS all about the people you meet!

The most important question to be answered was apartment availability and costs, which meant visiting a Real Estate Agent as well as talking to people in neighborhood who may know of something. Since the apartment we rented for the month worked so perfectly for us in the aspects of size, equipment and location we feel something similar would also work when we return.

The answers from the realtor were indeed more positive than expected and in one case if we were in position to make the move at the time we were in Rome we could have gotten a newly refurbished apartment in the Ghetto with a gourmet kitchen and balcony for the amount of money we had already set as a budget. Further investigation gave us even more hope of finding what we wanted by simply planning to rent on a short term basis (a month or two) when we return and choose from what recommendations realtors and neighborhood locals could point us to. While this may seem a little scary, it would give us the opportunity to choose exactly what we wanted and which neighborhood we preferred.

To our way of thinking this trip accomplished answering all the questions and any reservations we may have had about the feasibility of us moving to Rome for, as Max says "as long as it works." Because we came back with such positive feelings and an even more profound love of Rome our next mission has become finding out what we have to do and how soon can we accomplish the move? We will begin the tasks with finding out what we need to have accomplished and what we need to have on hand prior to applying for a visa (not possible any sooner than 90 days prior to departure). Obviously this will be a tedious chore but the end result will most certainly be exciting for us.

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