Thursday, December 4, 2014

Amazing Facts About Rome That Guidebooks Won't Tell You, by Manny Gonzalez

Our Guest Blogger, Manny Gonzalez, continues his travel account on Rome.

Amazing Facts About Rome That Guidebooks Won't Tell you
By Manny Gonzalez

There are hundreds of guidebooks about Rome, but few of them will give you fascinating and truly useful information, such as I am about to give you. Pay attention.

Where to Stay in Rome. Most guidebooks will helpfully tell you to go find a pensione, a boarding house most likely run by nuns. If you want nuns surveying your every move, this is indeed one option. Here are some others that guidebooks usually miss:

Termini Train Station, Free. Rome’s main terminal has toilets, some seating, and a roof. Close to the heart of town; has its own Metro stop.

Also Free, St. Peter’s Square Sottopassaggio. (Don’t pronounce it, sleep in it!) Left of the Piazza (and a few hundred meters outside the Colonnade) you will find this underground passage, finished in brick, with a ramp for rolling luggage. It leads pretty much nowhere, so foot-traffic is light. Dry, lit. For bathroom facilities, hop back to St. Peter’s (see below).

Rental apartment. Prices from Moderate to Heart-Stopping. Staying a few days? Try renting an apartment. For about 400-500 euros a night, you can get an apartment with a rooftop terrace, views of Rome, and occasional hot running water (recommended). Or, for about 80 euros, you can get a one-bedroom with kitchen.

Hotel. Heart-Stopping. The Hotel de Russie is commonly cited as the best hotel in Rome because of the Hollywood stars who reportedly stay there, but I thought the breakfast buffet was drab, and the room even drabber. The Hassler used to be commonly cited as the best hotel in Rome because of its location at the top of the Spanish Steps, but the rooms are seriously space-challenged, even for Europe. As for me, the hotel I personally like best in Rome is in the Via Veneto-Villa Borghese area; it’s just a bit farther walk from the tourist attractions, but has bright, sophisticated, spacious rooms, a very nice breakfast buffet, and a rooftop with stunning views. And it’s a few euros cheaper than the Russie and the Hassler. Ma naturalmente, you don’t expect to get such valuable information for free.

Scoring a Toilet in Rome. There are only a few public toilets in Rome (which is nonetheless a few more than there are in New York City, where there are only two public toilets for all of Central Park and virtually none for the rest of Manhattan). One of them is on the left side of St. Peter’s Square, though there is often a bit of a line. Another one is underground in the Piazza di Spagna; look for the stairway beside the newsstand. Other public toilets are rumored to exist, but this has not been independently verified (meaning: I followed the street signs several blocks, but eventually the trail ran cold).

In most cities a good place to find a toilet is a mall or department store. Unfortunately, central Rome is remarkably department-store-poor.

One thing Rome does have plenty of is cafés and bars. Need a bathroom? Absolutely the thing to do is walk into a bar like you own the place. Go straight up to the cashier or bartender, look him in the eye, and ask “Il bagno, per favore?” [bahn-yo, just like in the Philippines]. If you can’t manage this, just say “bagno?” while smiling and trying to look like you don’t really need to go. Usually you will get a cordial reaction, plus a five-step answer in Italian. Ignore the answer. Instead try to find some stairs that lead down to a basement, where most bar-restaurant-café bathrooms in Rome are located. This is useful advice. It worked for me. (Ma, certo, io capisco un po’ d’italiano…) You’re welcome.

The Cheapest Restaurant with a View in Rome. After trying more than 50 or so restaurants during my six-week stay, I can tell you with conviction that the cheapest restaurant meal in Rome (and that includes McDonald’s) is a pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice, though the charge is by weight). By the way, this is not a thin-crust Roman-style snacking pizza, but a Southern-Italian Highly-Calorific, Stick-to-Your-Bones pizza. The pizzas are visibly already cooked, on a counter or in a display case; if you can’t see the pizza already cooked, it’s not a pizzeria, even if the sign outside says so.

Though they’re found pretty much all over town, the most useful pizzeria I identified was the Pizza Florida in Largo Argentina, which is a kind of plaza where the center is occupied by sunken Roman ruins. The Largo isn’t a major tourist destination but is fairly central, an easy walk from the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Campo dei Fiori, and the Victor Emmanuel complex. Pizza Florida doesn’t look like much from the outside, but has a pizza crust that’s crunchy yet moist, and the toppings are imaginative and hearty; for about four euros, a pizza with drink makes for a satisfying and affordable meal. Buy it, walk across the street to the ruins, lean over the rails, and contemplate Ancient Rome; Julius Caesar was killed somewhere nearby.

(And the counter personnel are three sisters, all cute.)

How to Eat Even Cheaper in Rome. There are “super-mercatos” everywhere, and all of them will sell you a Coke and 100 grams of good prosciutto (ham) for a total of about 2.50 euros. 100 grams is called “un etto”, and prosciutto is called “prosciutto” (pross-CHOO-toh), one of the better ones being San Daniele. Deli-section attendants in Rome mostly don’t speak English; better practice: oon EH-toh dih pross-CHOO-toh suhn duhn-YELL-eh, pehr fuh-VOH-reh. If you skip the Coke, you save another 50 cents. For water, find a public faucet — there are hundreds, and most look like this (see picture); the water is supplied by some of the original Roman aqueducts, and is quite drinkable, though in the interest of full disclosure I need to tell you that some Ancient Romans went sterile from lead poisoning.

Good Things to Spend Money On in Rome. Since you will have saved so much money with my tips on restaurants and super-markets, and free accommodations in the train station, sooner or later it will occur to you to spend money. Here are good ways to blow your wad:

• 50 cents for a candle in most churches. Say a prayer for a friend, an enemy, or a relative. (I quickly went through 50 euros this way, there being many churches in Rome — over 800, and six weeks is a long visit. I ran out of friends after three churches, but have lots of, ummm — aunts.) The churches I liked best were Santa Maria in Trastevere (colorful) and San Andrea della Valle (celestially luminous at mid-afternoon, go at exactly 3 p.m. when it opens). If you decide to visit either, write down the name and street address, as most taxi drivers recognize only four or five church names in Rome and San Andrea isn’t one of them. And half the churches in Rome are named Santa Maria Something, so practice saying Trastevere just right, or write it down.

• One euro each for nice refrigerator magnets. Some places charge 2.50, but if you hang loose, sooner or later you will come across exactly the same magnets for just one euro. Because I like you, here’s a tip: keep your eyes open as you walk from Trevi Fountain to the Spanish Steps.

• Rosaries, religious medallions, and so forth. But not just anywhere. The closer you are to the Pope, the higher the price will be. After exiting the Vatican or St. Peter’s, walk fast. Walk far. The price drops 10 percent per 20 meters.

• A four-hour Segway tour for 80 euros; it will take you to almost all the sights; it’s a lot cheaper than a limousine, and a lot safer than renting a Vespa scooter (which I did, too, vaguely hoping that someone who looked like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday would hitch a ride, but no such luck). Come on, do it! Ten years from now you will have forgotten the money, but will still remember the thrill of zipping through Rome on a Segway.

The Least-Appreciated Tourist Attraction in Rome. If you are like most tourists, you will go through Rome in military fashion, hitting each famous tourist spot, taking a picture, and moving on. If you do this, you will miss — The Pines.

Though much of central Rome is pretty bare, there are many pockets of greenery, heavily planted with Rome’s favorite tree, the Italian Stone Pine, also known as the Umbrella Pine. They grow to 80 feet and spread wide at the top, casting a dense and welcome shade. Sooner or later you will see some; and I earnestly recommend to you to stop a moment and drink in the beauty of these trees.

The Best Ice Cream in Rome. A lot of guidebooks, misty-eyed over its being made fresh daily, cite San Crispino as the best gelato in Rome. For some tastes, and using a strict interpretation of the recipe for gelato, perhaps it is. But if you want to know the opinion of the free-market economy, the best gelato in Rome is by a wide margin Blue Ice, which has literally dozens of shops all over town, whereas after 20 years in business San Crispino has only five. In the movie Eat, Pray, Love, Julia Roberts is shown with what is supposed to be a San Crispino cup on a bench in the Piazza Navona. But I know this exact bench. It’s just half a block from a Blue Ice, and light-years away from the nearest San Crispino. I am thus 99 percent sure that Julia was actually eating a Blue Ice in this scene.

Wannabe-snobs will argue that only a mom-and-pop outfit could possibly make the best gelato, but that’s just a circular argument. Blue Ice’s gelato has a creamy texture that more closely resembles ice cream, and arguably disqualifies it from being called gelato. But let’s not get technical; the average tourist, if blindfolded, will prefer “creamier and thicker” (Blue Ice) to “harder and icier” (San Crispino).

There. That’s my two cents’ worth on this subject, which has caused a lot of name-calling and more than a few fistfights.

The Sexiest Statue in Rome. (Parental Guidance: Gratuitous Erotic Art Discussion. Better than 50 Shades.  You should probably go to confession after reading.) I have two candidates for your dispassionate consideration. One is Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, in the Galleria Borghese. Bernini worked a lot for popes and cardinals, but snuck in subversive sexy stuff whenever he could. Apollo sees Daphne in the forest and is immediately on fire with lust for her proud, upturned breasts and tight, nubile body; he chases her; she plays hard to get; he catches up, feeling her smooth, alabaster flesh against his aroused manhood; his powerful hands are about to grasp her hot, moist, throbbing femininity…

Then she turns into a tree.

My other nominee is “The Ecstasy of St. Theresa,” also by Bernini (who had a mind much like mine, or so it would appear from his artistic output). See picture. As she wrote in her diary, St. Theresa dreamt that an angel penetrated her repeatedly with a spear, arousing a sweet pain that started in the depths of her belly and spread in waves throughout her body. Almost everyone who has seen the statue and read the diary has little doubt what’s really going on here, so let’s call a spade a spade: this angel is giving St. Theresa’s dream a happy ending. In plain, unvarnished language, St. Theresa is feeling the earth move. Not to beat about the bush (so to speak) the look on her face is unmistakably that of a woman whose bell is ringing.

I’m pretty sure of this, having personally seen this expression at least twice in my life… I think.
So there you are — amazing facts about Rome that few guidebooks will tell you.

I do have some serious advice if you plan to go there. There are two kinds of tourist in Rome, those with a checklist, and those without. If your aim is to impress your friends back home with what you saw, go with a checklist. However, if you want to really enjoy Rome, I strongly urge you to lose the checklist, just wander around on foot, and discover this fabled city in a more relaxed and personal way, as I did.


This article first appeared in the Philippine Star, reprinted by permission of the author, Manny Gonzalez. Copyright 2013 by Manny Gonzalez.  A resident of Whistler, Canada, Manny Gonzalez is a Director/shareholder at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa in Mactan, Philippines.
The pictures are courtesy of Manny Gonzalez and Wikipedia.

Read also
Manny Gonzalez Reviews Paris Restaurants
How To Do Rome in a Day, Part 1
How to Do Rome in a Day, Part 2 
The Most Beautiful Women in Rome

Tags: Rome, Italy, travel, holiday, sightseeing, Manny Gonzalez

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