With a few days to travel around before the start of my program, the good ol’ nothing-but-ticket-and-car approach to exploring led my dad and I to the east coast of Italy. In contrast to the more metropolitan cities and places we have visited, it was a nice change to discover the more serene region of Abruzzo.
Abruzzo is a mountainous region located between the Apennines and Adriatic Sea bursting with natural beauty; a whole third of its territory reserved solely for protected nature and national parks. Our first destination took us all the way east to Pescara, a fantastic seaside town known as the main commercial and largest Abruzzese city. Traveling before the height of tourist season makes it so we can stay in great oceanfront hotels like the Hotel Carlton, less than a five minute walk away from an equally wonderful dinner at the Esplanade Hotel’s rooftop restaurant. Our drive back east took us through the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, one of the largest and most biologically diverse areas in Europe.
About an hour outside of Rome, our last night landed us in Tivoli. This ancient hill town’s charm and picturesque setting is a definite place worth visiting from Rome. A small city filled with treasure, Tivoli gives you a taste of an ancient Roman town complete with rivers, galleries and villas, including its top attractions like Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este. Finding hotels is scarce, but places like the B&B Panoramica will accommodate your stay like family.
On Friday, I checked-in to my program and have without a doubt fallen hard into the arms of Rome. With the loveliest apartment looking right out onto the Campo dei Fiori, I could not have imagined a more perfect place to live. As one of Rome’s major squares, I get to be greeted with a beautiful open market full of fresh fruits, vegetables, flower sellers and vendors in the morning and left with a hub full of live music and busy restaurants celebrating late into the night.
Even in the short amount of time since we arrived, I have slowly but surely started the transformation of what I hope will be a “local” in the city. Multiple daytime walks have led me to become acquainted with the large and dynamic Piazza Navona and restaurants like L’Insalata Ricca and Da Pancrazio, both of which have had repeat visits.
For our last “see you later” dinner, my dad and I dined at the upscale and delicious La Rosetta. Famous for being the first restaurant in Rome to offer fresh fish every day, there is no doubt why chef and owner Massimo Riccioli’s restaurant is dubbed the best place in Rome to eat seafood. With an octopus salad for antipasti, red mullet for the mister and baked Sicilian sea bream for the lady, our dinner was a seafood lover’s paradise. Though on the pricier side, you will get nothing less than top quality seafood and a wonderful experience at La Rosetta.
With a beautiful Palm Sunday to wake up to the next morning, Sunday’s morning exploration included basking in the sun on the Piazza di Spagna’s monumental stairway, the Spanish Steps. Built in the early 18th century to link the Trinita dei Monti church under French ownership to the Spanish square below, the Spanish steps are a wonderful gathering place to sit down, do some people watching and take a relaxing break.
Less than a mile south is the infamous Pantheon, the world’s largest unreinforced dome first commissioned by Marcus Agrippa and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD. Inside of architect Apollodorus’ dome, you can find the fascinating construction of intersecting arches to the oculus and tombs like that of the great painter Raphael and Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy .
Yesterday was the first day of class and being in a different country, surrounded by new people, speaking a foreign language, is not a typical first day. Despite those “first day jitters”, any sense of fear or doubt has been completely washed over by a sense of peace and my forever-growing infatuation with one of the greatest cities in the world. My heart is bursting with happiness and I cannot help but smile when I think about what I hope to very soon call ‘la mia seconda casa’.
Fino alla prossima!