Wednesday, September 30, 2009

free in Rome

While staying at Marco and Caterina's farm in Lazio, we spent each weekend on our days off going to Rome.

Although we have seen so much of Rome before when we studied here or when we returned here during our Europe trip, we just can't get enough of this city. What was the most amazing this time is how little money we spent, and I have to just gush about this now.

The first weekend Marco and Caterina were going to Rome to visit Marco's sick uncle in the hosptial, so they dropped us off in the early afternoon. We hopped on a metro (one euro each) to the Coliseum, where we found some Americans coming out and asked them for their used tickets which we then used to get into the Forum and Palatine Hill (so this was free). We then walked to the Capitoline Hill (free) and through the historical center to the Pantheon (free), sat and had our lunch (which we brought from the farm, so free) in a bookstore, and then walked over to the Trevi Fountain (free) and splurged on some gelato (3 euro each) - we both got chocolate and lemon, yummm. We also stopped at Boromini's Baroque church, which is obviously free. We took a metro (again, one euro each) back to meet Marco and Caterina to go back to the farm. Overall, this trip to Rome cost 10 euro, or about 15 dollars total.

The next weekend we took a bus from the farm (2 euro each) to a town where got on a train to Rome (no one ever came to sell us a ticket, so free) to a metro (one euro each). We went onto the Aventine Hill (free), when to a park overlooking the city (free) and into Santa Sabina church where there was a wedding happening (this is also free). We then went to another church to see a Bernini masterpiece of a sculpture (free), then to another church, Santa Maria in Trastevere, where we saw ancient gilded mosaics of the highest quality for, you guessed it, free. We decided to treat ourselves to some pizza - and we spent about 3 euro on this. We then sat in Piazza Farnese and enjoyed a free concert put on by Amnesty International and stole some wifi from a local apartment, where we called people, checked email, uploaded pictures, for free!

We then spent the night at Giorgio's - who is an old friend of Caterina's - so, free accomodation. We then got up in the morning and ate some of the delicious breakfast food he offered us - yogurt, cereal, coffee. We then headed out to see Michaelangelo's satue of Moses, free, and then went to see 9th century mosaics in Santa Prassede for free. We then caught the end of a church service in one of rome's four most important churches, St. Maria Maggiore, for free. We grabbed some bread and meat to eat for lunch at a supermarket for about 4 euro and headed to another church with gorgeous ancient mosaics, San Clemente. Then about a block away we paid one euro each to go into a tiny secret chapel San Silvestre - which you must ring a bell and pay a nun to enter. We then took a metro (one euro each) to a train (again, no one sold us a ticket) to a bus (where they also didn't take our ticket, so it was free). This second weekend in Rome cost a total of 17 euro, or 25 dollars.

Okay, so you get the idea. The last weekend we saw the Ancient Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill, The Imperial Forum, and the entire Vatican Museums, including the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's and Michaelangelo's Pieta sculpture - all for free. We paid only very little for transport and some food from a supermarket. Again, I think the total came to something like 25 bucks for both of us.

Here are some of the most famous and perfect works of art in the world, which we enjoyed for free:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

satisfaction in Lazio

We stepped off the flight from Rome delirious with jet lag and excitement. Everything was familiar. The overly pretentious uniforms of authorities, dirty floors, short men, beautiful women in impossibly pointy shoes. Ah, Italia.

We found our way onto two trains, using a payphone in between to call our host and let her know we’re coming. Marco and Caterina picked us up at the station in their boxy little car, looking aghast at our immense suitcases. We tried our best to act nonchalant, despite our lack of sleep and the cramped nature of our long limbs in their tiny vehicle.

They drove us to their house through rolling hills, cultivated in aesthetic ancient patches with mostly vineyards and olive trees. Their English isn’t perfect, but our Italian is much worse, so we struggled through some awkward patches with our mutual lack of vocabulary, but mostly had an easy time with conversation.

Marco is a Woodworker by trade, and Caterina has her PhD in Wildlife Biology. They’re in their mid-thirties and have only been together for about five years. They are both from Rome, but have elected to flee to the countryside and make a go of it with organic farming. Rome is ‘too busy, too chaotic’ for them. I am beginning to agree.

They produce mainly olive oil from the several hundred trees they have on their land. When they bought this place about 18 months ago, it was abandoned and the trees were all overgrown. They got a great price (150,000 euro for a house, barn and about 12 acres of land). They now have three ducks, one chicken (they had many more of these but they were eaten by a local fox), two horses, one donkey and a three-month old calf named Gina which they feed every morning and evening with fresh milk.

The food is intense and wonderful. The Italian way of eating would be peculiar to most Americans. On the table is wine, water, bread, olive oil and often cheese. The first course is served while the second continues to cook. Usually the primi piatti (first plate) is a pasta dish, and the secondi is meat. After everyone finishes the pasta dish, the second is removed from the oven a served separately. Salad is eaten at the end. Followed by fruit or sweets. Each meal lasts longer than an hour and always includes gregarious conversation.

We have had fresh mozzarella from the next town over with basil which is grown on the front steps; heirloom tomatoes from the garden in the back; a meal with clams, squid and tuna over pasta in sauce of their own olive oil; spaghetti carbonara with bits of ham; home-made chocolate cake; gorgonzola spread over fresh baguettes; gourmet coffee; figs we picked from the tree in front of the house; gorgeous and juicy nectarines. I could go on. Yes, we are well-fed here.

The life is slow in this place. We work in the morning from about eight to one and are free for the rest of the day. Marco and Caterina take a siesta (nap) after lunch for a couple of hours. We get most of the day to ourselves - reading, writing, photographing, exploring the countryside. Sometimes I go down and play with Gina, who is always nudging my sides in affection. We will be here for a month and in that time I will see if my city-girl restlessness can learn to slow. If I can stop, look out over the hills draped in fog after an afternoon thunderstorm, letting the sun warm my face, and be satisfied.