Tag Archives: Rome

Spanish Steps

Flower Seller

Arriving in Rome on a Saturday, my wife and I hiked from our hotel by the train station to the Spanish Steps with the intention of winding our way back towards one of our favorite restaurants. I had two lenses with me on the trip – a 24-120mm f4.0 and a 50mm f1.4. I bring the 50mm for these walks where the available light is low.

We arrived at the top of the steps around dusk to a bustle of activity and an amazing view of blue from the sky and gold from the street lights. Knowing we were pushing ourselves on the first day, this burst of energy revitalized us for the rest of the evening.

Ubiquitous to our trips to Italy are the street sellers with everything from glowing toys they toss in the air to flowers offered while eating in a restaurant. I found this flower seller taking a break from what must be a hard way to make a living. He looked tired, and the night was still young.

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Rome

We found Lavori in Corso by accident. Returning from the Coliseum we saw a small shop with books on a table near our hotel. We didn’t go in at first as the writing on the front door gave the impression they were undergoing renovations, but my wife insisted, intrigued by what turned out to be a wine bar with walls lined with books and bottles. For the next three days, this became our afternoon resting place where we could enjoy a glass of wine, some nice mellow music and the company of Nello, the owner.

It was here, on our first day in Rome that we decided to experience the city rather than the sites. We had seen enough museums and art for one trip. Now, with the weather improving, we were going to explore Rome, enjoy the food and the wines, and the people, like our host Nello.

Rome surprised me. I expected something, well, more North American for some reason. Tall buildings. People scurrying. Traffic. Instead I discovered a small town inside a big city. No tall buildings and the same ambiance as many of the small towns we had visited on our way here. And a wonderful balance between cars and transit. We elected to get the Roma pass, which in addition to providing free entry into a few places, came with three days of free transit. My first use of the pass in the subway was challenging, but there were plenty of friendly people willing to show me how to get through the turnstile.

One of the highlights was a walk we took through a number of piazzas. We took the subway to the Spagna station and started at the Spanish Steps. It was late on a Monday afternoon and the number of people milling about and wandering the connecting streets surprised me. From here we headed towards the Trevi Fountain then to Piazza Colonna, Piazza Rotunda (Pantheon), Piazza Navona, ending at Campo de Fiori. From here we re-traced our steps to Piazza Navona to a restaurant called Pizzeria da Fancesco for a delightful end to the day.

On our last full day, we headed to Trastevere, ostensibly the grittier part of Rome but now, with tourist popularity, becoming gentler. We stopped at a place called Dar Poeta Pizzeria for some truly awesome pizza. Back at Nello’s place for a glass of wine, he suggested we have dinner at a friend’s restaurant nearby and gave us a note. Good thing as the place was packed but when we showed the note, we were whisked right to a table and enjoyed a great final meal in Italy.

We know we will be returning to Rome, sooner rather than later, and we can take in some of the sites then. But I’m glad we took the time to just take in the city itself and meet the people, who never shy away from sharing where to go or where to eat.

The Violinist

It was the eyes I noticed before anything else. They pulled me in. Walking along a side street in Florence I came across the violinist, encamped in front of a small wine shop playing for whatever coins people would share in exchange for some lovely music.

I came across a number of street vendors on my trip through Italy. Many sold knock-off fashions, or odd gooey balls that would spat on the ground forming a face reminiscent of two fried eggs. Mildly amusing for two seconds, they merely became annoying with repetition. Though a face or two came to mind when I pictured an alternative destination than the ground. As evening descended, their target switched from the ground to the air. At times it looked like fireflies as many blue glowing balls floated gently back to earth.

Street music was popular. In Venice we listened to dueling bands on St. Mark’s square from the Café Florian. Another time we came across a trio on one of our wanders. We spoke with them for a moment as they tried to sell us their CD, but guitar, violin and tambourine music is not high on our list. I can sympathize with their world of trying to sell digital music by the side of the road in this world of MP3 players. Oddly, the same trio seemed to be around every corner, though we were lost more often than not, so it could just have been us. But I swear we passed them in a narrow alley, each of us off to another destination.

In Sorrento we met a solo guitarist on the main street who would sing as you passed by. His singing and what was merely strumming his fingers across the strings only caused us to speed up. Fortunately, he stayed in one place. In San Gimignano, we listened to a harpist while strolling in an olive garden, followed by a glass of wine in the adjoining courtyard entertained by a guitarist and the company of a couple from Australia.

Rome was more intrusive. Musicians come right into a restaurant and start playing. Usually there are two of them. One would play an accordion or guitar and the other something to keep a beat, but his role was to walk around and collect money while the other musician kept playing. I found this form of extortion annoying, as I was a captive audience paying for them not to play, but to leave. Someone selling roses often followed the musicians. However, everyone was always polite and there seemed to be an implied understanding that everyone is just trying to make ends meet.

But the violinist in the street didn’t try to sell me anything. After his eyes I noticed his clothing; the gray suit, sweater and shirt buttoned up to the neck. His white socks peeking out between his shiny black shoes and his pants. Sitting on a collapsible stool, he played, staring at people as they walked by, his green violin case a place to show your appreciation for his music.

No extortion. He was a musician.

Piazza

It was the piazza that left the strongest memory of Italy. The crossroads of many streets form a square, or a piazza. Every city has them and they are collection points for people. And each one is different. In Rome, I went from people milling around on the Spanish Steps after work to artists showing their talents to restaurants lined around the outside, each place providing a different character; a different flavor of Rome. There is one for your every mood.

In Venice, I came across the Jewish Ghetto. I had been wandering around Venice and until I came across this square, I hadn’t heard the sound of children playing. Amongst the memorials of a horrific past, children played soccer and ran around without a care. There was something special about that moment. Yes, there was irony, but it felt right.

While a piazza generally comes with a church, often very old with beautiful artwork, it also comes with wine, cheese and an opportunity to watch people. I’m sorry it’s not something our forefathers thought to bring across the Atlantic. It’s not that we don’t have any; it’s just not the same. I remember following a small alley and entering a small piazza, finding a local trattoria and having a wonderful meal.

Yes, I will remember the piazza. And the wine. But that’s another story.