I have a deep affection for Italy that stems from my childhood when I lived in Naples with my family for three years. I was just seven when we left - my father was stationed at the Naval hospital there - but I still retain many fond memories of our time there. My parents decided, and I am so thankful for their foresight in this matter, to live off base so that we could more fully experience Italian life. We rented the top floor of a home from an Italian couple who lived downstairs. Although I didn't realize how extraordinary the experience was at the time, I look back with gratitude on those years where I was exposed to many of the elements that I now strive for in my own life. Giussepina raised chickens in the backyard and grew most of their produce in their bountiful gardens. They had a brick oven in which Dominic would bake pizzas - I don't actually remember eating the pizza, but I do remember watching him pull them out of the oven and being absolutely fascinated. Dominic was a member of the Carabinieri and well connected in the community (if there's anything you need, he knows a guy), though Giussepina rarely chose to leave the gates surrounding the largely self-sufficient home that they had created. I don't wish to live so removed from the outside world, but I do want to strengthen my connection to - and reliance upon - the home that I live in.
Thirteen years ago my parents, brother, and I returned to Italy while I was still in graduate school just prior to the time that I aged out of my military dependency. We took a MAC flight (now called AMC flights, they are available to servicemen and women and their dependents at no to low cost) to Europe and then rented a car to travel through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. We spent several days in Naples including one memorable evening with Dominic and Giussepina. They live in the same home, are even more self-sufficient than before, and are likewise more withdrawn from the world outside their gates now that Dominic has retired. They prepared the most amazing meal for us and the hours that we spent with them are among my most treasured from that trip.
But back to present day and this trip to Rome. Although I know my folks took my brother and I to Rome before we moved nearly 30 years ago, I don't remember much of anything so this felt like visiting for the first time. I flew out on Wednesday evening and arrived Thursday morning (Running Man flew in earlier in the week). By the time I arrived at my hotel in northern Rome it was nearly lunchtime. After grabbing a bite to eat and unpacking my bags, I spent much of Thursday afternoon and Friday - during which time Running Man was at work - on the balcony of our room either reading a book (I read three books during my trip) or knitting. I also enjoyed a nice long nap on Thursday and sleeping in every morning that we were there other than the last day when we got up "early" in order to start the long trip home. Here's a little peek at my view during much of those first two days.
|Our view from inside the room looking out|
|Despite the fact that we were surrounding by buildings, I was also surrounded by trees and enjoyed hearing birds twitter nearby as I relaxed.|
|You can see some of the immense apartment buildings that dominate the city from this view.|
After relaxing on the balcony that first afternoon, I spent time wandering through the neighborhood and soaking up the sights. There were a number of embassies for countries from all parts of the world nearby and they ranged from large and palatial to one that, oddly enough, looked like a house built at the beach in the 1960s. I particularly enjoyed the little bits and pieces I could see of courtyards and gardens behind the walls and gates of the nearby apartment buildings. Thursday night after Running Man got back from work we stopped in a nearby neighborhood restaurant for dinner. The meal was absolutely amazing - very simple foods with only a handful of fresh, quality ingredients. We started dinner with this - prosciutto and mozzarella di bufala (mozzarella made from the milk of water buffaloes instead of cows). You are looking at the first meat to pass my lips in more than 2 1/2 years. Although I don't intend to change my vegetarian status on a daily basis at this point in my life, I had decided prior to arriving that prosciutto is indelibly tied to my experience of Italian food and that while I was here I would indulge myself.
|I can't even begin to tell you how delicious this was!|
On Friday morning, after a long night's rest, I awoke refreshed and relaxed. I spent several hours on the balcony and then headed out to check out Basilica of St. Agnes, a nearby church built in the 7th century that we discovered via geocaching. Although we didn't think to bring our GPS, Running Man looked up caches in the area to see what might be nearby. For those of you who aren't familiar with geocaching - it is a high tech treasure hunt whereby participants hide caches all around the world and post coordinates online for others to find. Some caches are large and include "prizes" and some are small with room only for a log for people to record their visit. It is also an incredible way when visiting a new town, city, or country to learn about local sites that might otherwise escape your notice. Although we didn't have the benefit of a GPS to help us locate the exact hiding spot, the online description of the cache, the hint, and the pictures posted by others who had been there gave us a good idea about where to look. Despite poking around when I arrived, I did not initially find the cache. Nevertheless, I took the opportunity to visit the grounds of St. Agnes (the church itself was closed to the public for several hours in the afternoon) and I passed a very pleasant half an hour or so there.
|Inside the walls of St. Agnes, but outside the church itself, is this beautiful altar to Mary. While I was there, several people came in to pray here.|
|Although I am not Catholic, and I do not know if the person for whom I am knitting this prayer shawl is Catholic, it felt right to knit a few rows here in quiet meditation on health, comfort, and love for its recipient.|
|A view of the Basilica of St. Agnes with the altar to Mary seen on the right|
Running Man finished up his workday by mid-afternoon and I returned to the hotel to meet up with him. After getting changed into casual clothes, he and I set out again for some geocaching adventures. We returned to St. Agnes so that he could take a pass at finding the cache (which he did, as he usually does), we could explore the grounds together, and we could visit the church itself which had reopened by that time.
|A view down the road leading to the church - here you can see the wall on the opposite side of the street. The geocache we were searching for was hidden along this wall.|
|Looking into the church from the doors in the back - although I spent time on the grounds earlier in the day, the church itself was not open to the public until later in the day.|
Our second geocaching stop of the day was at Villa Torlonia, a large home with extensive grounds and a number of other buildings that was built in the early 1800s. Again, with no GPS and only a hint and some photos to guide us, we searched for this cache while trying to remain inconspicuous (one of the "rules" of geocaching is to not tip off muggles, also known as non-geocachers, to the presence of a cache). I'm not sure how large the grounds were, but my guess is that they encompassed 10 acres or so (update: Running Man, who has a much better sense of spatial relations, informs me that the grounds encompassed something closer to 50 acres). Needless to say, there were a lot of trees. Nonetheless, we managed to find this cache, too. And yes, it was - again - Running Man who found it.
|The cache was hidden in this tree - one of thousands on the grounds|
Friday evening we finished up the day by having dinner with one of Running Man's coworkers and her family in their home, along with someone from the UK office and his family. The food was incredible, the company outstanding, and it was an immensely enjoyable way to end the day. We arrived for dinner at 8pm - late by US standards, but typical by Italian standards - and got back to the hotel about midnight. It was probably my favorite evening of the trip.
I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming days, but now I'm off to attend to "real life" here at home. Happy Friday, friends!
"Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning." ~Giotto Bondone