As much as I love travel and the thrill of discovering new cultures and meeting new people, I also enjoy familiarity. I think I’m not alone in this. I like getting to know an area and feeling at home there, seeing familiar faces, having a chat with the neighborhood shop owners, and establishing my favorite bar and bartender. I don’t think I’m unique; it’s human nature. It’s normal to desire feelings of security, belonging, and comfort.
When I first began traveling regularly to Rome, I unconsciously began to cultivate this feeling of belonging. It wasn’t difficult – Rome had me from the first Buongiorno.
Since 2009, I’ve made Trastevere my home away from home, in Rome.
I always return to the same internet cafe, shop at the organic and gluten-free market Canestro, and buy fruits and vegetables at the open air produce market in Piazza San Cosimato. In this way, I get a tiny taste of what life would be like if I lived in this neighborhood in Rome.
I’ve gotten to know the guy who makes my cappuccino in the morning and my spritz in the afternoon, and other people in the neighborhood who recognize me to this day
It’s not only that I like familiarity and comfort, but finding a room in Rome that fits my budget, and has a comfortable bed, a decent shower, a bidet, and that’s not dark and danky and crazy loud can be a bit of a challenge.
If you’ve ever been to Rome on a budget, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It can get ugly.
On my last trip to Rome, I was a more than a little disappointed when the apartment that I normally rent became unavailable. Che casino! Now what?
As usually happens, things have a way of working out. A friend of a friend had a lovely apartment in the historic center of Rome, on Via Del Corso.
Arrangements were made for my friend, Amelie, to meet me at the apartment (the owner was out of town) and deliver the key and any instructions I needed for staying there.
The door to this apartment was one of those big, beautiful, solid wood doors, with an old fashioned, three bolt lock and a long metal key, notched on each side.
Amelie gave me a detailed lesson on how to lock and unlock the door, and which side of the key is which. Flat side up. Three clicks right to open. Three clicks left to lock..
In high spirits for being back in Rome and finding the sun shining, I locked the door and walked part of the way home with Amelie to have a little catch up chat.
Upon my return to the apartment just ten minutes later, I could not open the door. I felt my stomach flip. I had left without my hand bag or cell phone because after all, I was only going to walk a few blocks down the street and I had the key to the apartment. I began to scroll my mental list: no credit card, no money, no cell phone, no identification. I didn’t know anyone in the immediate area, and I don’t know Amelie’s cell phone number even if I had found someone kind enough to let me use their phone.
I worked on opening the door for fifteen or twenty minutes, counting each click and then imagining the door magically opening. That wasn’t working, so I began to contemplate how long I’d have to wait in the stairwell before someone would show up. Finally, in frustration and desperation, I banged on the door of a neighbor, Mark, who luckily was home. The apartment owner had let him know there would be someone staying in her apartment while she was away – thank goodness!
After another lesson on the mechanics of opening the door, I thanked Mark and decided to stay in for the evening. Surely things would be easier after a good night’s sleep.
I rose early the next morning and walked over to the Ponte Sant Angelo to see the Bernini angels as the sun was rising. I had a glorious morning walk across the across the bridge for the first time, the warm Mediterranean light reflecting the bridge and buildings in the river below. I felt happy and carefree, lucky to be in one of the most beautiful cities in the world on a sunny day with nothing to do besides just be.
Or so I thought.
After wandering around taking photographs for a few hours, I decided to head back to the apartment for lunch. One of the advantages of staying in a room in the historic center of Rome is that it’s so convenient if you want to drop off a bag that has become cumbersome, change shoes, or have a bathroom break.
And the next problem arose.
I arrived back at the apartment only to discover that the toilet would not flush and it wasn’t something I could tackle on my own. I’d been left a name and number to call for anything not related to keys. I was able to get a plumber, but I’d have to meet him the next day.
I felt annoyed that I was losing precious time when I could be out enjoying Rome.
The next day I awoke early and decided to walk to Sant Andrea Della Fratte, the church where the two angels Bernini originally carved for the Ponte Sant Angelo live, and take some photographs. I could easily make it back in time to meet the plumber.
There was a light rain so I took an umbrella from the stand by the door thinking how convenient as I hadn’t brought one of my own.
Just as I was heading back to the apartment it started to rain. I opened the umbrella and it came apart in my hands.
I started to get a bad feeling about the apartment and everything that went with it.
I couldn’t help but think if only I’d been in my usual place in Trastevere, none of this would have happened. I know this is a bit childish, but I’d arrived in Rome very tired after a press trip and I had a small cold. I wasn’t expecting to have to manage real life problems.
Even though I was of course familiar with the area (I’d walked down Via del Corso dozens of times), I had not established any relationships with the locals. I’d not been there long enough to feel at home or become a regular in any of the restaurants or bars.
It didn’t even feel like the kind of neighborhood where you could meet locals, unless they happen to be between the ages of 15 and 20.
The truth is, I was missing the comfort of having a familiar face to help me out, or listen to me rant about the fact that even though I was paying to stay in this apartment, I still had to give up time to meet with a plumber and then clean up the mess left behind.
For the first time, I felt restless and uncomfortable in Rome. I had only scheduled a week there before going home, and this was not what I wanted or expected.
Somehow this apartment on Via del Corso, as nice as it was, just wasn’t in the right neighborhood. I didn’t feel like my free-spirited self there, and it seemed the problems I was encountering, small though they were, reflected my discomfort back to me.
Would my experience have been different if I’d stayed in Trastevere?
What about you? Do you have a favorite city you return to? A favorite room, apartment or hotel? What do you like about it?