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When in Rome… you eat lots of food and miss your flight

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Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
The Roman Coliseum, which dates back to its construction in the year 70

My month-long stay in Europe in June was not exclusive to Spain and its wonderful sangria— my adventures also included a weekend escapade to Rome, Italy.

My first entry in my series of Europe commentaries a few weeks ago examined the distinct variations of the Spanish language. Although Spain had its fair share of unfamiliar lingo, it wasn’t impossible to keep up with it.

Visiting Italy meant interacting with people who spoke Italian. (Who would have thought?) It’s a language I did not understand, and I was pretty sure my profound ability to perform the stereotypical Italian hand gesture didn’t count as being fluent. This was the first time I would encounter a language barrier.

I was thankful that Italian— along with other European dialects, including French and Portuguese— are all founded in Latin roots, Spanish included. As a result, there are root words and phrases that all seem to indicate similar meanings in all these languages.

Español still had its uses in Italy, after all. And, luckily for me, some of the locals were pretty savvy with the language in their own right.

When our dialect failed us, we would interact with people through the use of body language. It was like an Italian version of Charades.

In frequenting the city, our group also Googled key Italian phrases that would at least make us somewhat competent if we needed to communicate. “Mi scusi,” “prego” and “grazie” — which translate to “excuse me,” “you’re welcome” and “thank you,” respectively— at least made it possible to order food, of which we consumed plenty.

Our first stop in the historic city was a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria in an alleyway that locals and tourists walked through so frequently that it made it quite the spot to people-watch.

Davis was our charismatic host— equipped with some knowledge of English, a friendly attitude and the ability to amusingly poke fun at our uncultured ways.

As we ordered our two thin-crusted pizzas, savory pastas and beverages, Davis never failed to inject his form of slapstick humor during each of his visits to our table.

Whether he was pantomiming holding a smartphone and taking snapshots of the food (of which plenty of our gal friends were guilty) or simply grabbing an empty water bottle and casually whacking my friend Daniel (the justification for this escapes me, but it’s still freakin’ funny), Davis— complete with his persistence in getting people from the alleyway to eat at his establishment— was a joy.

Gelato truly defined our culinary experience in the historic city. We had some pretty stellar flavors of savory ice cream in Spain, but it’s only fitting that the most delectable version of gelato we’ve ever had is from the very place it was patented.

Italian strawberry gelato is still the best kind of ice cream that’s ever graced my taste buds.

Speaking of out-of-body food experiences, a decently sized restaurant adjacent to the Vatican City was home to one of the greatest meatballs of all time. There has never been a favorite meatball that I can refer to— I mean, it’s only a meatball; it’s almost an afterthought— but Italy changed that forever.

The savory texture of the meat, the seasonings— all of it culminated in utter joy in my mouth. I jokingly referred to it as the Michael Jordan of meatballs, but there truly is life before the Italian meatball and after. All other meatballs are shams.

The trip didn’t consist of merely food— although I wouldn’t have complained.

In the outskirts of Rome, we stayed at the ancient village II Castello del Duca, that, according to our Airbnb host Fabio’s profile, dates back to 1000. The apartment we resided in— II Cavaliere— was part of the village in Rome’s district of Settebagni.

The Fontana de Trevi, which features sculptures such as that of the Olympian Poseidon, is a famous landmark for tourists. As legend indicates, tossing a coin into the fountain ensures a trip back to Rome.

Our apartment was incredibly spacious and more than accommodated the six of us who were away for that weekend. Courtesy demanded that the two men slept in the same queen-sized bed in the living room, while the other two pairs of gals slept in separate rooms.

No complaints— the living room provided instant access to an outdoor balcony that overlooked the Tiber Plain, according to Fabio. At night, with no city lights to wash out the scenery, the stars were as clear as I had ever seen them. As I took in the universe, a shooting star at a distance— the first and only I’ve witnessed thus far— seemed fitting.

Settebagni train station was a 10-minute walk from Il Castello del Duca. We used public transportation as a means to access a majority of the landmarks in Rome, including the Fontana de Trevi, the Coliseum and the Vatican City— complete with a tour of the cathedral and Sistine Chapel. It was enlightening to witness such an important, cultural and religious work of art in the Pope’s home of all places. Most of us have witnessed these landmarks through the Internet, such as Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” but to see them in such a tangible environment felt as if the uncultured swine inside of me suddenly morphed into a historic art enthusiast.

We roamed (Romed) the cathedral, where I made a little prayer in one of the distinct areas inside the church for worship, and my friend stole some holy water (no big deal).

Casually residing in a random district in Rome, the Fontana de Trevi, or Trevi Fountain, is an enormous structure, made up of inscriptions and sculptures, such as one that resembles the Olympian Poseidon.
Per tradition, we threw a coin into the fountain, symbolically declaring that we will one day return to the city.

Our last day featured a visit to the Coliseum. Although we didn’t go inside, the structure, dating back to its construction in 70 and host to God knows what over the last two millennia, felt very Roman, if you will. Almost instantly it felt as though I was in the movie Gladiator, ready to take on all-comers (but we’ll leave the fighting to Russell Crowe).

Our final evening concluded with a trip to a nearby grocery store outside of Settebagni station, homemade food (featuring my famously prepared steaks) and an appropriate family-style dinner to cap off one of the greatest weekends of my life. A few of us stayed up till the wee hours of the morning enjoying cups of wine, which may or may not have contributed to the urgency that ensued the following morning.

Our flight from Rome to Valencia departed at around 9am that Monday. Most of us— slightly tipsy still— were still scrambling to get pieces of our luggage together at about 7am, and it didn’t help that at about 7:15 or so, our taxi canceled on us because Ill Castello del Duca was outside of its operating zone.

With no other alternative, we made a mad sprint to Settebagni station, took the train to the central point in Rome and hailed a taxi there. It was still about a 30-minute drive to the airport.

The ancient village II Castello del Duca has a balcony that overlooks the Tiber Plain. The village dates back to the year 1000.

We made it just in time… for airport management to tell us that we had arrived too late for our flight. People were already boarding the aircraft that was supposed to take us back to Valencia.

Much to our chagrin, we purchased a ticket for later that afternoon that would take us to Madrid and connect us to Valencia.

We mentioned throughout the trip how we would love to spend another day in Rome, but it wasn’t supposed to be in the airport. Alas, irony always has the final laugh.

Our Monday consisted of airport cat naps and plane rides. Nearing midnight, we had finally arrived back in Valencia. It was a long day, and it was nice to finally be back in our home away from home in Spain.
Between Spain and Italy— and their unique vernacular, food and the occasional flight or bulls fiasco— June was easily one of the better parts of my life.

It was a month filled with fantastic experiences and even better people.

A coin toss into the Trevi Fountain wasn’t necessary for me to figure out that I’ll one day make my return to not only Rome, but Europe in general.

Reminiscing is fun and nostalgic, and even though these ventures were about two months ago, they feel so far away now. It’s only more of a reason to aspire to travel even more and discover new places.

I’ll be back— and, plus, I still have a hot date with a meatball.

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When in Rome… you eat lots of food and miss your flight