Thursday 4 – Saturday 6 October 2017
Meeting Mario’s friends
Mario wanted me to meet 2 friends of his in Rome: Cristina and Nico(-lina?-letta?), 2 women who’ve been a couple for 20 years, although they went through a break-up and a reunion and some rough waters lately. And Nico is moving to Washington DC for work.
We traveled from Castiglione to Rome by bus (45 minutes to Grosseto) and train (2 hours). And back the same way 2 days later. But it felt like we spent at least 4 days in Rome.
Visiting the city without a plan
To me it seemed like fun to do a short trip with Mario to the city where he also lived about 10 years ago, and to do this city trip without any touristy ‘must-sees’ or hectic schedule. After spending some weeks in ‘Straight Town’ (countryside, villages), it’s nice to be in a more gayfriendly environment again, or at least a place where there is a wider diversity of people in all forms: skin colors, nationalities, the way they dress. In villages it’s all so similar and mainstream and straight and I always feel the odd one out with my short hair and such. (Actually Rome/Italy is not gayfriendly at all…)
Posh area and churches
On Thursday we picked up the keys at an icecream shop where Cristina had left them, including two icecreams that she had paid for us as a treat! So sweet!
As it turned out we had an entire ‘palace’ of an apartment in Testaccio all to ourselves, it even had 2 complete bathrooms. Testaccio is an area within walking distance from Roma Ostiense train station.
It was very tastefully decorated even though it was still in the process of refurbishment. Cristina will move into this apartment after Nico leaves for Washington (for at least 2 years). They will rent out their other place.
From there Mario took me on a walk up the hill to a posh area full of walled villas, and 2 beautiful very old churches: Santa Prisca, and Basilica dei SS Alessio e Bonifacio.
There was also a park with beautiful views over Rome: Giardino degli Aranci.
Typically Roman dinner
That evening we walked around a lot, and I saw more of Testaccio, and an old slaughterhouse that is now turned into other functions such as a music school, art galleries, a festival terrain, cafes. Apparently there are also parties there called ‘the killer cow’: the cow taking revenge. 🙂
Just across the street from that old slaughterhouse we had a typically Roman dinner at a place called Pecorino. I ordered a steak but it was not as I had hoped (it was thin, a bit dry and with lots of white fat, not thick and juicy… it wasn’t bad but not great either).
We had a bit of an after dinner dip but both felt like making the most of the night and explore the gay area opposite Colloseum. We walked all the way over there, about half an hour again (after already having walked at least 3 hours that day).
Karaoke in gay bar
The bar called Coming Out seemed to have a nice crowd of mixed ages and genders. Without knowing it we had stumbled upon the first karaoke night of the season, which began half an hour after we sat down. Some very bad singers performed, but also this cheeky lady from the US, singing Proud Mary by Tina Turner:
Funnily enough we ran into that lady the next day in our own area half an hour away from the gay bar. So I said to her: “Hello Mrs Turner! Good performance!” and walked on and left her completely puzzled. 😀
Anyway, after a few hours in that bar we were tired and we walked home again, another half hour. My feet started to almost get blisters from so much walking. Normally I always cycle, and hardly ever walk for more than 30 minutes in a row!
On Friday we had breakfast in one of those chaotic cafes where you order here, pay there and no one really checks what you actually had.
Cat shelter in Roman ruins
One thing I wanted to see if Mario felt like it, since we had no other plans and must-sees anyway, was an area with ancient Roman ruins that now also hosts a cat shelter: Largo di Torre Argentina.
I wanted to prevent really getting blisters and then end up unable to walk at all (like happened in Madrid in 2015), so we took a tram to get there.
I made friends with a few cats, one without ears (!) and one that limped but enjoyed playing with a bird feather I found. You can’t actually go and walk between the ruins, and you can only touch the cats if they climb out of the ruins onto the stairs or the walls, and let you.
Piazza Navona and such
We walked around some more, to Piazza Navona where we had a look around (soooo many more tourists than 25 years ago, when I was last in Rome), and the Pantheon. Then we took a tram back to the house, in the hopes that Cristina and Nico would be able to have lunch with us. But they were too busy packing everything for Nico and getting that second apartment ready for renting it to other people.
Instead we had a slow, short walk-around in Testaccio, searching for a nice place to have lunch. I discovered a hair / nails / massage parlor and made a reservation for a massage later that afternoon.
We had good sushi for lunch. Then a short rest at ‘home’ and then I went for my massage as Mario relaxed at home. It was a good 50 minute massage!
We met up at the very nice neighborhood square Piazza Testaccio and had a beer and some juice there. You can just order from a bar and bring the glass and tapas and all to the benches on the piazza. And bring back the glass later. So nice.
We went for another slow walk around town (to save my almost-blistering feet), through Trastevere area that used to be very nice but is now very gentrified and Americanized. It was very crowded but I could still see the old charm. It reminded me a bit of the Jordaan area in Amsterdam.
Dinner with Cristina and Nico
We had dinner in a restaurant just steps out of the door of ‘our’ apartment. It was really nice to finally put the faces to the names and the stories. I told them they could speak Italian and I would speak English back, and that I understand enough Italian so they should feel free to speak it. But they also spoke quite good English for Italian standards, having lived in Australia for a while. Sometimes they spoke Italian to Mario which was fine as well.
Mario had told me quite a lot about them beforehand (including their relationship troubles and dynamics). Especially Cristina was super friendly and sweet. We talked about a lot of things, animals, work and hobbies, politics, and their relationship troubles, even with Nico sitting right next to her. Nico is a bit more gruff and bossy in her ways, and she had a lot to talk about with Mario. As it turned out, also about the relationship with Cristina.
I wanted to go fetch a present I had gotten for Cristina as a thank-you for letting us stay in her apartment. So I went back up to the apartment. The beautiful, old-fashioned elevator did not come, so I walked up to the 2nd floor where I found it, I thought someone had left the doors ajar. But it still didn’t work when I got in. I quickly got out, feeling something was off, and not wanting to get stuck inside it, without my cell phone or anything with me.
I walked up to the 4th floor, got the present, but when I wanted to walk back down all the lights in the hall were off. The roof still gave some light but only on the 4th floor… lower than that it was PITCH dark, really I could not even see my own hand in front of my eyes. So I had to feel my way down 3×2 flights of stairs going round! (Not having my cell phone to serve as a flashlight either.)
When I got back to the restaurant, they, too, had a power failure which lasted the entire evening! We were lucky we had already had some food, and we got their last deserts that were already starting to get too warm. Poor restaurant owners… they had to cancel all guests still about to come, and lost a lot of food and income.
On Saturday Cristina came over to have breakfast with us at a cute local cafe, again one of those chaotic ones with several lines. Nico isn’t a morning person.
All the stuff those places offer is super sweet, even croissants have extra sugar. Normally I have a sweet tooth but not so much in the morning. We shared all kinds of different pastries, including the rather new invention ‘pistache croissant’.
Cristina walked us to the station and we said our thanks and goodbyes and well-wishes for her time after Nico is gone to the States.
Mario and I got on the wrong, faster train and had to pay over €20 each extra to the conductor. And the hour we saved didn’t help much because the connecting bus was a long wait anyway, but we spent that in a nice cafe in Grosseto.
Back at his family’s house in Castiglione della Pescaia we had another meal (soup and some sausage), then I loaded my car and we, too, said our thank-yous and goodbyes and best wishes, because he is going to visit an aunt on her deathbed with his parents, in southern Italy.
Back to traveling solo and enjoying that a lot too!