As an introvert, I like to explore the universe at my own rhythm, sit in quiet cafés with my notebook, and forget about the world while I explore it. Thanks to my usual naïvety, I had no clue I just landed in the world's most visited city of the past two millennia. With a massive 7.4 million visitors per year, Rome is loud, crowded and very much in-your-face. The city is crawling with street vendors and hordes of tourists with cameras and selfie-sticks pointing in every direction. No wonder it felt a little too intense for my introvert taste. After just a (sleepy) afternoon around town, I ditched my must-see list and invented my own version of a fun (solitary) city trip in Rome.
When I booked my flights for Rome I had my romantic holidays all planned out. I would visit the birthplace of Cesar and Russel Crowe, sit in local cafés to write my memoirs à la Eat Pray Love, fall in love with an Italian boy, discover Rome by night on a Vespa and I would never come back. Movies, books and social media do sell well the Italian dream! I did everything but that.
© Photo credit Francesco Iacarelli
On my first afternoon in the city, I took a free walking tour around town. I walked from Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore to Via Dei Fori Imperiali, the historic highway to all iconic landmarks of Rome. I cried of happiness when I first saw the magnificent view on the Foro Romano (Roman Forum). I was exhausted from my early flight. The weather was beautiful, it was winter time, the trees were green and the sun was shining. I felt emotional. I took a moment to let it all sink in.
I then headed to Piazza Venzia, and climbed the stairs up to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli. The journey to the top offers a splendid panoramic view of Rome. It is said to have inspired poets and writers like Edgar Allen Poe, Henry James and Miguel Cervantes. I sat above the city for a moment, contemplating from the distance the crumbs of a Roman Empire I was yet to see.
I entered the old and splendid church of Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli. It looked like it was made of gold thanks to the donations of millions of tourists. I found the worn-off floor absolutely beautiful, more than the Catholic treasures spread all around the church. If you are quiet, you can spot rainbow lights through the tainted glass. Behind the church is an exit to a quiet Piazza. I escaped the paid entries to more sights and walked back downtown pass the Colosseum. I laughed at the street-performance of the Invisible Man. The performer stopped to ask me to pay for my right to laugh. A little in choc, I decided it was time to go for a Pizza and head back to the Hotel for a nap.
After a power-nap of about four nice hours, I hit the city again for an evening walk. Head light and joyful heart, I ended up at the fabulous Fontana di Trevi. The sound of the water was calm and soothing. There was lots of space to sit. I spooned on my meringue and chestnut Gelato from Il Gelato di San Crispino - the best ice-cream in town - and contemplated the beauty of quiet Roman winter evenings. I was exhausted but happy, drained but determined: tomorrow was gonna be different. It was time to ditch what was on everyone's to-do list and explore Rome my own-way: Introvert-style.
The next day I decided it was time to escape the city. The tours of my interest required weeks of booking in advance, and I was craving for some alone time and peace.
I spent my coins on a metro to Ostia Antica (€1,50.- each way) and had the best solo afternoon trip. Ostia Antica is an old Roman village right outside of town. It is left alone in its own bubble of peace -just like introverts - with nothing but a train station to get there. Surrounded by nature, the archaeological park is in remarkably good shape, ideal for quiet souls looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city of Rome. It is also great for kids who can run freely through the old ruins and invent their own worlds.
It costs €8.- for a Regular Ticket and €5.- extra for the Audio-Guide. It takes between 3 to 5 hours to complete the visit. I highly recommend taking the Audio-Guide as you may otherwise not get a clue of what you are looking at. There aren’t many (any) panels around explaining what is what, nor any numbered path to help audio-guide folks on their numbered map. I enjoyed the audio description stories even tho I was at the wrong place half the time. I went along with it and happily walked around the old park by myself for a couple of hours.
What impressed me most were the remains of polychrome mosaic and baths at every street corner. Public baths used to be the social place where villagers would meet and hang out. I learned that a spa is made of three baths at different temperatures, changing rooms, steam rooms and special places to engage in physical activities. I still wonder which kind of physical activities the Audio Guide kept referring to…
My next days continued off the beaten tracks. I found moments of grace and poetry at The Sanctuary. A little refuge within the means of Italian Glam seekers or for those who don’t mind paying double the price for double the pleasure. The Sanctuary also offers Yoga lessons and a Spa Retreat. I took a hot tea and sat on a comfy couch for a couple of hours, dreaming and writing, surrounded by a tropical jungle, away from the rain. I ended the day at a slightly more affordable spot, the Rifugio Romano (Rifugio Vegan). A restaurant just behind Termini Station, with tasty vegan cuisine and a very cute waiter ;-). Definitely worth a visit.
I met with an Italian friend for the rest of the weekend. We both love techno music, share a passion for movies and good food. Life felt easier and much more fun all of a sudden. Born and raised in Rome, Julian knows its ways around the city and how to win over an Introvert.
Our first stop was at Julian's favourite restaurant Salotto Caronte. A cosy yet elegant setting with chesterfield couches and a few tables. For dessert, I had one of the most delicious Tiramisu! An Italian commodity. A tourists idea of heaven. To finish the evening we went to the movies to see Star Wars during its Opening weekend. Multisala Barberini is one of the largest locally run Movie theatres in Rome. They show many movies in English and Original Version (with Italian subtitles). The best seats to bubble are in the first couple of rows, which Italians avoid like the plague. It was awesome!
As we like eating, our second restaurant stop of the weekend was at Ops! for an all-you-can-eat Vegan Buffet. You can choose from about thirty different hot and cold plates and you pay by the weight (yes, every food trip counts). On top of amazing food, the restaurant's atmosphere is peaceful and perfect to succumb to hour-long deep conversations.
Finally, no travel is complete without exploring the local electronic music scene. Rome is home to some of the best talents of the Industry and the birth place of a new Italian wave of deep hypnotic techno. The most notorious club in town is Ex-Dogana, which has been given a lot of attention since its opening in 2015. The club is set in an old Roman cultural complex in San Lorenzo (the area where young and cool people live). Stripped down to its bare four walls, the nightclub's main room has a raw but romantic style. The space is absolutely beautiful, the artistic direction interesting (we saw Robert Hood that night), but the sound system and acoustics does let a sound nerd a bit down. Another good club worth a visit is The Rabbit Hole at Traversere. Smaller and more underground.
Itinari Tip: If you like it quiet, visit Rome during Winter time. Temperatures still rise at about 10-15°C, planes and hotels sell for cheap, queues to historic landmarks are short and quick, and remaining crowds are much more bearable. You may even catch an Italian for a tour on Vespa if you’re lucky!
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