Monthly Archives: November 2009

La Prima Notte: The Evening Passegiata

I arrive early for the tour hosted by Context Rome (affordable selection of walking tours) and make a round of the piazza. Piazza Navona is alight with activity and it is no wonder Maria has suggested that I have a glass of red wine and observe life unfolding on the square. I feel more like a gelato and kick off the evening with a stracciatella.

There are three fountains in Piazza Navona, with the Four Rivers in the center. The fountain represents the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio de la Plata and feature gods from each supporting an obelisk (another one, there are reportedly 13 throughout Rome). Behind the fountain is the Church of St. Agnes. Legend has it that Agnes a virgin martyr persecuted for her faith was forced to disrobe at her death scene where upon the 13-year old girl’s hair grew long, overflowing to cover her naked body from onlookers.

Caterina, our docent and native Roman of both Italian and German descent, meets us at 6pm sharp. There are five English-speaking participants waiting outside Ai Sogno, a toyshop on the Piazza Navona: a couple from Miami, a mother and son from Texas and me.  She shares stories of Rome as we walk through the piazzas and winding streets, pointing out facades of buildings that upon restoration uncovered frescoes underneath.

Click here for photos from the first day and night.

Roman Holiday: Hotel Locarno

When choosing a hotel for this trip I consulted every site imaginable, reaching out to both friends and family for advice. A friend and colleague in the events business recommended the Locarno, a hotel where she had stayed on a business trip a few years back.  I was on the fence for quite awhile, debating between the Empire and the Locarno, traveling as a single woman it was important that the location be central and safe, with easy access to the front desk should something go awry. I chose the Locarno based on her recommendation and the opinions of other single/married women to whom I proposed the options.

With an address close to the Villa Borghese Gardens, the shopping districts (Via Babuino & Via del Corso) and the Metro, the Hotel Locarno is centrally located in a quiet street adjacent to both the river and the northern entrance to the city. Hotel Locarno could be an ideal situation for business and leisure travelers, but buyer beware. From my experience they cater to pairs, families and groups; single adults are not high on their priority list.

I booked the hotel through Expedia, and consciously chose to reserve a room in the hotel (as opposed to their annex Hotel Anahi located nearby). Prior to my arrival I emailed them to ensure that the room in the hotel would be non-smoking and then asked if they would also be able to arrange for luggage storage.

Upon arrival at 6AM, I was told that I would have to wait until the proper 2PM check-in time, no surprises (yet). While having coffee in the salon I surveyed my fellow “neighbors” noting older couples, families with children, and a selection of business travelers, mostly in groups of two and three.

I spent the day touring and returned at half past two eager to unpack, freshen up and change into cooler clothing. Exhausted I went up to the check-in counter and was told that not only would I not be staying in the main hotel but that the room would not be ready for another 45 minutes. For those of you who know me I’m fairly easygoing and accommodating, I rarely get angry and don’t enjoy conjuring my “Brooklyn” side to deal with these things. But their carrot as I waited was a complimentary drink, as if a glass of wine were going to help! I would’ve fallen asleep at the bar, and told them as much. Miraculously a short time after, a room (still in the Annex) was available.

The double room was located on the fourth floor of a pensione, accessible by stairs and an elevator. I went ahead of the bellhop to inspect the room. It was adequate and quaint, with a small patio. The bathroom was a good size though it only had a bathtub (more on that later), and the window looked out onto an air shaft. I found out later in the week the shaft also housed the pipes for the septic tank (the one night I thought it was raining). I was grateful for the cell phone rental when I realized the room did not have an alarm clock. And found it amusing that the television was out of order, as if the annex knew that I didn’t watch TV. The annex was quiet for the most part, save the two times I was awoken by a domestic dispute in the neighboring apartments. Actually it was quite comical a la The Honeymooners listening to the drunk husband and complacent wife shouting at one another in Italian, cursing in English.

Luckily before disembarking from the plane, I read Rick Steves Back Door Travel Philosophy (page 17 in the 2010 Rome guide) and made a promise to myself to make the most out of every moment good or bad, during my travels. Advice that almost always comes in handy the moment you walk out your front door.

Il Primo Giorno: Ancient Rome

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” – Maximus


eternal flame for the unknown soldier

The crux of the ruins and the Forum lie behind Via Venezia and the monument dedicated to Emmanuelle Vittorio II, Italy’s first king.  Manny must have made quite a splash—his monument is enormous featuring detailed carvings of battle shields and arms.  Military stands guard 24/7 watching over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the flame a cenotaph and reminder that not all those who fall in the name of peace are known.

All roads lead to Rome...the phrase stems from the Romans expert construction abilities. What better evidence, then the Colosseum. One of the most renowned tourist attractions in Rome, it is quite impressive on the approach, the elliptical shape ominous and majestic from a distance. It makes the Roman skyline almost mystical. A good portion of the original structure of the Colosseum was destroyed in a series of earthquakes, and you can see where the original foundation began from the band of white floor stones just outside the entrance. From the travertine stone to the Tuscan columns with Doric, Ionic and Corinthian detail, there is no doubt why the Colosseum’s structure will remain an architectural achievement.


il colosseo

This landmark has been a focal point not only in history books but in contemporary art, literature and entertainment and it’s hard not to envision caged men and beasts entering through the arches into the city (like Maximus perhaps?). The fervor of a hungry audience (much like today’s reality television viewers) rumbling with excitement.  Imagining an audience of 50,000 spectators (across all economic levels, tickets were distributed to all the people of Rome) crowding the Colosseum just to be a part of the spectacle. The highlight of their week: the humiliation and death games.


Ill prepared this first day on how much to carry and what to wear (obviously NOT a long sleeved shirt with a light corduroy jacket and scarf), I probably should have waited until I was well rested before visiting the Colosseum. I fell victim to the “unscrupulous private guides” lurking the entrance perimeter, and paid an additional 4€ to participate in an English-speaking tour that nearly put me to sleep.

Il Primo Giorno: Via del Corso

Piazza del Popolo

early morning, my first day in Rome

Leaving Locarno I make my way to Piazza del Popolo. Known as the traditional north entrance to the city, it is the starting point for local Romans on their evening passegiata. The center of the piazza features a 10-story Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome in 1589. A trident of streets leads people to the heart of Rome: Via Babuino (to Piazza di Spagna), Via Ripetta (along the Tiber River) and Via del Corso (toward the city center).

Via del Corso runs from Piazza del Popolo to Via Venezia, the famed roundabout that boasts traffic as crazy as il Palio di Siena. It is known for its shopping, and most resembles the stretch of Broadway that runs south of Union Square (New York).

City life is similar to my hometown though it appears more colorful and light. I find myself amidst the hustle and bustle of commuters, families with school children (déjà vu a la Park Slope) and my fellow tourists. My first impression of the eternal city, is its walkability. There’s no reason one could not cover a lot of ground over the course of a week. Though one truth is certain: the cobblestone streets are unforgiving, and aplenty. It is an absolute must that you bring the right walking shoes. And despite what you might hear, sneakers are not taboo, Romans wear them and other sensible footwear, too.

modern art rome

Pz. Parlamento

Rome is a city of undocumented (in my prep research sources noted anywhere from 400 to a thousand) churches; and they are everywhere.  Behind piazzas, around corners, secretly lurking down narrow alleyways and streets. There are just as many monuments and archaeological ruins, and I’m pleased to say that I found a random selection of complementary modern art sculpture.

Passing the Piazza del Parlamento I take a left and wander off the beaten path to find the Fontana di Trevi dry, with not a drop (turned off for cleaning) of water spouting. Quite a sight to see, considering the rows of spectators lining the perimeter in anticipation for the grand water show. I admire the magnificence of the sculptures and continue south toward Via dell’ Umilta, stumbling onto the Quirinale–one of the Seven Hills of Rome. Busloads of children and escorted tours alike populate the Piazza.

The walk south toward the Imperial Forum is lovely, and the weather fantastic. The sky is a clear blue, the sun bright and high with a steady temperature in the mid-70s. La dolce vita indeed!

Roman Holiday: Getting There

The plane touched down in Rome just after 6AM, an earlier arrival than planned according to the pilots: Una bella giornata a Roma…and it was, once we got past the archaic, queue-less customs counter. The herd of arriving passengers was more of a cattle corral, literally.  I wish I had the sense to take a photograph!

Luciano from Leader Car Service met me at the gate, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to Niki for suggesting I schedule a car. It was such a pleasure knowing that once I retrieved my bags from the carousel, I would not have to worry about how to get to my hotel, a daunting task for most travelers. Luciano’s route took us from Fiumicino which is located south of the city, along the Tevere/Tiber river to my hotel (Locarno, via della Penna 22) which is in the northern part of Rome. The route along the Tiber gives me an opportunity to orient myself as we make our way through the city. Fino domenica Luciano, arriverderci.

Where I'll Be Staying

hotel locarno area

I check-in (no hotel room until 2pm) leaving my bags in storage to have breakfast in the salon. The hotel is tastefully designed in historical turn of the century decor, think provincial/renaissance. It almost reminds me of the boutique hotel I stayed on one of my first trips to Paris. The salon is filled with travelers, mostly English-speaking though it’s not that easy to determine which countries. The breakfast buffet includes yogurt and fresh fruit, pane e burro, salami e formaggio, scrambled eggs with sides of meat, and a selection of sweet breads and tarts, juices and milk (including interestingly enough soy).  Waiters take orders for caffe, espresso and cappuccino. Refreshed with a full stomach and a body rejuvenated somewhat with caffeine, I set out for my first day in Rome.


Up Next: Via del Corso.


letting go:
does it matter who found what?
a sum of all parts.

we are not under attack.
let’s keep doors open.

what is important:
recognition for good work,
breathing in a life.