Touring Italian city with natives an ideal way to sightsee, save
BY ELEANOR HENDRICKS MCDANIEL
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
For many people, the best part of travel is getting to know the natives and how they live. Just look at all the insider travel guides and articles out there. So it was with this thought in mind that my sister, Valerie, and I couldn’t wait to see our friends who live in Rome.
Ann Moon Malusardi has resided in the Eternal City for most of her life with her husband, Frederico, whom she met when she, a talented dancer, was touring Italy with an African-American dance troupe.
They live in the trendy Ponte Milvio section of Rome. Ponte (Italian for bridge), Milvio has crossed the Tiber River since 109 B.C.
Valerie and I wanted to experience a typical Roman’s life so we met Ann one morning to accompany her to the Mercato Ponte, an extensive outdoor market across from the historic bridge.
‘Time out’ at Italian bar
Overloaded stands displayed vegetables, fruit, flowers, meat, fish, antiques, clothing, shoes, small appliances and more. After making our purchases, it was “time out” before heading home.
We went into a bar to buy cappuccinos (in Italy, only a morning drink), and then took them out to a sidewalk table. An Italian “bar” is a cross between a pub, a sidewalk café and Starbucks that’s suitable for the whole family.
Inside, you may order and drink while standing at the bar. But if you prefer to sit outdoors, most establishments have waiter service at a higher cost.
On the way back to Ann’s home, we encountered a couple of her neighbors. After chatting briefly, the women kissed both cheeks goodbye – a common Italian custom. Ann proceeded to tell me about her African-American girlfriends who also live in Rome. She has met them over the years through a sorella- (Italian for “sister”) to-sister network – one woman introducing her to another.
After stowing our purchases in the condo, we decided to go out for lunch. The midday meal in Europe is more than a sandwich and a soda. Usually it’s the main meal of the day, complete with several courses.
We walked to one of the Malusardis’ favorite restaurants, Il Buchetto (The Little Cave). Ann said they have the best fish in town. It may be the freshest, because as we entered, we passed a large fish tank. I chose a pasta course with seafood. The bill for three people, including a liter of house white wine, came to $50 (at the rate of exchange at that time), which was much less than at a tourist restaurant.
After eating, Ann took us to a nearby shopping area. I asked her, “How do the Italians manage the high price of things?” Her answer: “They know where to shop.”
‘Location, location, location’
We squeezed into a funky little shop, Il Merchantino. The tight interior was packed with women’s sportswear, shoes, belts and handbags. Valerie, having resisted buying shoes selling elsewhere for more than $300 a pair, scooped up three pairs for less than $90 total.
“Location, location, location” also applies in Rome. Valerie and I chose to stay at the Hotel Mediterrano, a four-and-a-half-star hotel located just a few blocks from Termini Stazione, the main railroad station.
We actually walked to the Mediterrano when we arrived in town by train from the airport. At that hotel, we could either go by foot or catch a bus to some of the major sites such as the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Vatican.
We had booked an exclusive suite on the top floor and down the hall from the rooftop restaurant where, every morning, we enjoyed a full complimentary breakfast buffet. From our balcony, we had a wonderful view of the city since the hotel is located on the highest of the legendary Seven Hills of Rome.
Designed and built in 1936 during the Art Deco period, the Mediterrano Hotel has been refitted with all the modern conveniences and what today’s guest expects: a spa, a gym (in fact, two), gourmet restaurants, room service and Wi-Fi.
Where locals dine
For a couple of evenings, we wanted to get together with another friend, Mary Ellen Brown, an “ex-pat” artist from Chicago. Not wanting to fumble around the huge city at night, we took a cab from the hotel (which came to about $15 dollars,) to meet Mary Ellen and her husband, Francesco Chioccini, at their favorite restaurant, Il Chiodo Fisso (The Fixed Nail).
It’s a small family-run restaurant in the Balduina section of Rome, which has good food with reasonable prices that mostly locals frequent. Try their scrumptious thin-crust pizza and fresh seafood dishes. I always ordered my favorite: gnocchi with meat sauce.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have Roman friends, but if you chat up any friendly Italian, he’ll be pleased to tell you about his favorite places.
Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel is a seasoned travel journalist who enjoys writing about history, culture, food, wine, and some of the people she meets along the way. Her travels have taken her throughout the United States, Europe and other countries. She lives in Ormond Beach. Follow her on Twitter: @ellethewriter and read her blog, flybynighttraveler.com.