13: Roma & Silcians
We escaped Sienna, and the races, with our backpacks in tow. As is the custom, we kissed Lucho and the entire Die Vole family good-bye, as if we had known them for ages. Oddly, instead of romantic promises to write, we had exchanged Skype and Facebook accounts, so would no doubt be forever electronically connected.
The hot Tuscan sun helped remind me why sparkling wine (i.e. Champagne) is usually reserved for celebrations and special occasions—the headache the morning after. CiCi and I were both moving slowly towards the train station, burdened like pack mules with our backpacks increasing the sweat that was soaking our foreheads and lower backs. Our next destination was supposed to be Provance, in the South of France. However, we soon learned that in order to go forward, we’d have to go backwards: meaning, the train westward to France, departed from Rome, a few hours east of us.
Since flexibility had become my middle name, we grabbed two tickets to Rome, and decided to see what kind of trouble we could drum up there. The two-hour train ride passed in a blink of an eye. Literally, as soon as the train took off, the rocking lulled me to sleep, and I didn’t regain consciousness until it rolled into the loud, crowded, and hustling Rome train station.
Since we’d almost been homeless in Sienna, CiCi and I had learned our lesson in lodging: book ahead. In Sienna, we’d hopped on a website called: www.HostelWorld.com, which saved us money, time, and hassle – and gave us a direction to walk from the train station. We had chosen the “apartment” option after the whiskey-chugging, smoking Aussies had kept us up half the night at the Cheap Cheap Homestay in Austria. Our apartment in Rome kicked ass.
We wanted something central, so we booked a place on the 7th floor near the Colliseum. It was a lovely building with an interior court yard. The beds were simple, clean, and nice, and the bathroom had a shower that was actually separate from the toilet. It was like staying at the Ritz after sleeping on trains, ashes, and more trains. Unfortunately, I never got to sleep there.
Eager not to lose the day, and fresh from our train naps, we set off into Rome in search of travel: food, experiences, customs, music, people. And I absolutely fell in love. The Coliseum, the Parthenon, hot Italian men on scooters, gelato, the Spanish Steps, artist, rip-off venders, and movement. To me, Rome was a clash between a modern super-city and an ancient treasure. You felt the energy of New York, or San Francisco melt into the history, philosophy, and ancient secrets that still existed around every corner. Rome was a place I could live, except for one thing – I couldn’t find a “bar.”
As day turned to night, we decided to forsake getting ready and looking pretty for the continued energy the city provided. So, dirty blonde hair in dirty blonde pony tails, we set out to find the happening area of Rome. It seemed as if we had been walking for miles, through one cobble stone street to the next, passing more points of historic grandeur that I had no idea about, through one pavilion to the next, until we found it. Exactly what we were looking for. In big, pink letters that seemed to be illuminated from God (or maybe a Roman Deity) above: “BAR.”
We had been in tourist mode all day, and needed a rest, some music, and of course, a good glass of wine. We made our way into the old stone building – which was lightly crowded, but inviting. They type of place that reminds you of a Roman version of Cheers: there’s always a seat for you, but its never dead. We pulled up two bar stools at the end of what appeared to be a magnificent wine bar.
We were both in the mood for something “different,” and thankfully, we were in the right place. As I skimmed the wine list – there wasn’t one wine that I recognized. Not the brand, not the grape, not the place, not the label: nothing. In a bit of a panic that I may end up accidentally ordering a grape-Kool-Aid style sugar bomb, I implored the bar keep for his assistance.
As I leaned forward, I tried to use the American trick of a low-cut tank top to catapult me to the front of the bar-pecking-order. And when he turned around, I immediately regretted not going back to the apartment before we ventured into night life to get “dolled up.” The bartender was probably one of the most gorgeous male specimens in all of Europe. His long, wavy brown hair just kissed the top of his square and masculine shoulders. His eyes were green on the outside, with a yellow-gold hint in the middle. And his skin is exactly what one would expect from a Roman God: sun kissed and tan. Wow! “What did I want to ask him?” I said out loud. “Probably for his number.” Cici replied, not missing a beat.
Oh, yeah, wine, a drink, we needed a drink. “Escuse,” I tried in Italian, fooling no one. “Hello,” he replied, “What can I get you?” Avoiding the language barrier, I went for one of my favorite flirt-quivers: “I don’t know, what’s your favorite wine?” He had probably heard that line before. “Damn! I’m an idiot,” I thought. But, he was kind, and smiling, came around the bar and sat between CiCi and I. At first, I was a little taken aback, because in America the “wait staff” is not supposed to sit down with you: its “them” and “us.” And I knew that fact intimately because I’d been on both sides of the bar many times.
My nerves calmed as Jura, our new bartender friend made some suggestions. “Have you ever had wine from Sicily?” he inquired. CiCi and I both responded no. “Well, my absolute favorite wine is a Sicilian wine known as Nero d’Avola. You will love it.” I was convinced I would love it, whether it tasted like a garbage bin or the most delectable juice I’d ever tasted.
As Jura slid back behind the bar, he grabbed two large wine glasses and filled them half-way full, gliding them in front of CiCi and I, respectively. As we enjoyed our fist sip, he began to tell us more about this amazing Sicilian wine. The grape was called Nero d’Avola, Nero, meaning “black” and d’Avola, meaning from the town of Avola, in the South of Sicily. The wine, like Jura, was a big, in-your-face type from the south of Sicily. The grape is indigenous to Sicily, which means it is especially compatible with the growing conditions and soil. Its dark color and bold fruit played a lovely tune in my mouth and hung around awhile for a long and soft finish.
CiCi and I had met our mates for the night: Nero and Jura. As we sat and talked with Jura, we learned he was an art student and night-time bartender with a quarter ownership in the bar. He said it was his idea to post the big pink sign reading “BAR” in front of the building to encourage young, blonde tourist, as ourselves, to enter, drink and enjoy. When he said this, I had a sneaking suspicion he’d seduced more than one female traveler with his wine knowledge and Nero. With another sip, that though faded, and I went back to starring at his green eyes.
The night rolled on, the bar closed, CiCi turned in, and I ended up staying to finish my glass of Nero. Luckily, the morning goodbye was not a traditional Italian event, but rather me sneaking back to the apartment, sans Jura’s information, but with the label from the Nero d’Avola we’d enjoyed. I laughed at myself for caring more about remembering the wine than remembering to stay in contact with Jura. But, we had a train ticket to Provance, and were headed onward and upward.