Berlin to Roma. What a difference. From German to Italian (the former of which I understand maybe 15% of, the latter of which only 2-3%). From 77 F / 25 C and rain or overcast skies to 90 F / 25 C and humid sunshine. Turkish doner to peninsular pizza. From a city risen from the ashes of world war and the neglectful domination of a dictatorship even afterward to a city of antiquity built layer upon layer (often rebuilt from ashes). Both former enemies of the United States – one the best friend of the American government and the other the best friend of the American people.
The differences are jarring, honestly. After spending a week in Germania – probably my ninth or tenth week in that region, overall – I’ve returned to Latium for the first time since July 2011. After spending thirteen days traveling solo, I’ve met up with friends who have put me up in their flat in Garbatella (a southern neighborhood in Rome). Even in an apartment building that appears to be nothing fancy from the outside, the floors are all of marble and there’s fresh espresso at any hour of the day or night. It is Rome, after all.
It’s essentially impossible after spending a week in Berlin not to compare wherever I visit next back to my home away from home in Germany, the same as every place I visit stands in contrast to my home in the United States. Two things have struck me in the past few days.
First is the obvious one: the culture of the two places. (I should note here that I’m in a residential neighborhood – the nearest hotel is quite a ways away.) The people here move at a slower pace in some ways and much quicker in others. Walkers saunter – they do not march. But they don’t sit in cafes and chatter. They take coffee standing at a bar rather than seated (in most cases) and studying or relaxing at café tables. They most certainly do not take coffee “to go” anywhere. (They have perhaps the finest espresso in the world, but they down it quickly and get on with their day.)
The bars are scattered around the local vicinity (for readers in the U.S., in Italy, a “bar” is a sweets shop, a coffee seller, and a place where one stops for a glass of wine on the way home after dinner). I’ve never been much of a sweet tooth, but in my first 24 hours in Roma, I consumed as much in sugary treats as I have in the preceding six months. I have eaten pizza twice and been really impressed one of the two times and satisfied with the other (I am a pizza purist in that whatever is closest to whatever I grew up with is the pizza I think is best, but I do appreciate all varieties of the dish). Here’s that comparison with Germany: the cheap and quick food in that country may be kebap – here, it seems to be pizza. (When I say “seems to be,” I use the qualifier because I spent two weeks on the coast of Italy and have accrued about a week’s time in Rome, but a lot of my experience has been in tourist zones, which tend to give a skewed perspective – however, if that is what comprises the reality of the traveler, it’s just as important an observation and more useful even than those regarding low-tourist areas of town.)
I arrived at FCO (airport) late Sunday night – too late for public transit – so I looked into cab rates, which are flat rates to and from the airport. Here’s a travel tip, if you’re also arriving late in Rome: the fancy car service I hired cost me the same as (or less than) a cab, and a friendly old Italian man met me at the airport with a sign bearing my name. Keep this in mind when you fly to Rome!
I’m glad to be here in Rome. The heat and humidity are oppressive to my delicate sensibilities, but the scenery is unmatched. More to come.
Follow the whole summer’s activities on this main control page.