By: Collin Daulong
Recently Caitlin and I went to Rome, Italy for a little R&R before the season heats up as well as to do a fact finding trip for an experience we are planning for this fall.
Before we got to Rome, Caitlin gave me some disclaimers (as she lived there for nearly 7 years before we met) about Italians, the city and their pace of life in order to prepare me (an admittedly “type A” American) for the potential culture shock. I decided in advance to go in with an open mind, and try to embody the adage of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Armed with this mindset and my wonderful tour guide, we set off to one of the most ancient cities in the world. Here are some things that I learned:
1) Life is not all about money and working yourself to the bone. One of the most clear distinctions that I noticed between the States and Italy (at least Rome) is that their daily rituals prioritize quality of life over work. A long (at least by American standards), leisurely lunch – with vino of course – certainly sets the rest of your day up for success and feels downright luxurious in comparison to a quick sandwich or salad next to my computer while working. A nightly passeggiata (walk around the neighborhood) was not only good for digestion but worked wonders for my sleep schedule (even with 11 pm dinners).
2) Do not expect things to be on time, or even open necessarily. One thing that we are accustomed to in America is hyper-vigilance of hours of operation, timeliness of public and private transportation and strict adherence to a schedule and deadlines; in Rome this is not so much the case. This is not necessarily a problem if you are willing to approach it with an open mind and fully immerse yourself in the culture (both positive and negative) of Romans. Realizing that most restaurants close around 3 and do not re-open again until 7 or 7:30 is hugely helpful in planning for meal times.
3) The food is simply amazing. In my experience, Italian cuisine relies on simple, fresh ingredients that are cooked to perfection. There are not many meals that I had over there which were overwhelming flavor bombs (like a triple bacon cheese burger) but all the flavors and ingredients were appropriate, delicate and delicious. The portion sizes were also interesting: they are moderate and leave you feeling renewed after a meal, not like you need to take a nap from a food-coma!
4) The riding was unexpected and it over-delivered. When you think of riding in Italy, most people think of Northern Italy in the Alps, which is what I thought as well – until I went to Rome. I took a tour around ancient volcanic craters and quaint, colorful hillside towns, and it blew my mind. Within a 45 minute drive from the city center, our friend Linus and I departed on a 30 mile mountain bike ride leaving from a beautiful lake side town, Castel Gandolfo (known as the pope’s summer residence). We rode around a couple of mountains with increasingly impressive vistas and fast flowinig single track. On our way back to Castel Gandolfo we passed through a town, Nemi, where we had ridden the day before with Darius Arya, one of our celebrity tour guides. The single track was amazing here, the dirt was tacky and fast and there were just enough technical features to keep you on your toes.
5) It is important to have someone with local knowledge. When we were walking around Rome we saw enormous groups funneling into all the same museum entrances and restaurants; this lead me to believe that these were the best places, or where we needed to be going, but this was far from the truth. One of the most important things I took away from our trip is that you need to be guided around like a local – not like a tourist – to experience the true Rome. Some examples of this would be that we would go to restaurants off the beaten path and away from the high traffic tourists area because that is where real roman food is. Food around the major monuments is overpriced and less authentic. Another example of going with a “Local”: we went to see Saint Peter’s Basilica at the most inopportune time, Friday evening. The line was enormously long and they were actually closing down for visits due to a Papal mass. Our local friend shuffled us around to the back where we gained access and were fortuitously seated within 20 feet of Pope Francis.
We will be taking a mountain bike trip to Rome in the fall. If you would like more information, please follow this link!