A Few of My Rome Rituals

I was planning on doing a review of The Borgias today, since it premiered on tv yesterday. I’ve been excited about it for over a year, so last night I hunkered down in my bed and prepared for 15th century decadence, lasciviousness, crime, and fashion. Just as my tv automatically switched over, something strange happened to my satellite and I couldn’t get the channel. Strangely, I could get Keeping up with the Kardashians and just about every other show I didn’t want to watch. Ah, such is life.

So, tonight instead of The Borgias, I decided to do a little list.

You’ve probably heard someone say that the definition of insanity is doing “the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Well, you can throw most of that out the window when you travel.

One of the best parts of traveling is not just going to the same location over and over but sometimes visiting the same sites over and over.

Since I had the Borgias on my brian, I was thinking about Rome today. I suddenly realized I have a few must see/do things that are starting to become like rituals. I’ll keep going back to do the same thing again and again because every single visit offers something new, different, special, and, now, a little nostalgic.

Here are 5 of my (non-history related) rituals in Rome

1.  Stop for gas in the taxi from the airport to Rome

This one is beyond my control, but it has happened twice now with two different drivers. Both of them stopped at the same gas station and both left the meter running (naturally!). I think I would almost feel a little sad if my next taxi driver actually drove me straight to Rome.

It also says something about how magical Rome is to me because I know I would be enraged if someone did this to me on the way to any other city. Sure, I was mad the first time, but the second time was just comical. I think the third time would be. . .wait for it. . .charming.

That being said, the taxi ride into Rome is always a favorite of mine. The drivers I’ve had so far have been so proud of their city and seemed to genuinely enjoy pointing things out. There’s nothing like that first glimpse of an ancient ruin amidst all the chaotic traffic to make you realize that you’re somewhere very special.

2.  Take this picture:

It’s through the Arch of Septimus Severus at the Forum. The scene never fails to make my heart flutter.

I can't put my finger on exactly why it does that to me or why I feel compelled to take this picture. Something about it makes me feel like I'm peeking through a really big keyhole onto something undiscovered.

It's the way the light is always a little different, making the ruins glow. It's knowing how many stories and secrets those ancient ruins have seen and now hold deep within them.

I know the view probably won't change much in my lifetime, but I'll keep taking the picture as long as it makes my heart flutter.

3.  Eat at Vineria Il Chianti

The second and third time I went to Rome, my family and I stayed near the Palazzo del Quirinale, the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic. I really like this area and will continue to stay there if I can.

It’s a short walk from the piazza where the palazzo is to the Trevi. On our first night, we were tired and we had nowhere to eat.  We stumbled down to the Trevi and then, luckily, onto Vineria Il Chianti.

We sat on the patio, packed into tables under umbrellas, nearly bumping elbows with fellow tourists and locals alike. We had great wine and delicious pizzas as we watched tours march down the side street toward the Trevi, following silly, brightly colored flags or wearing matching bandanas. We were in Rome and life was good.

Since then, we've ended up there at some point on our trip, either intentionally  or unintentionally, and it has always been a really pleasant experience.

4.  Eat gelato at the Trevi

What do you do after dinner at all hours of the day while vacationing in Italy? Eat gelato, of course.

I know most people would say you have to go try San Crispino gelato if you’re near the Trevi. And you should. I’ve seen it on a lot of lists for the best gelato in Rome. There’s a reason it is on those lists, it is actually very, very good.

But my favorite gelato spot is right next to the Trevi. If you’re looking at the fountain, it’s to your right, on the corner. That should be all the direction you need, it’s pretty hard to miss.

The shop is small and full of tourists. The gelato probably isn’t made on premises using organic/local/rare ingredients, but I don’t really care.

Almost every night, my dad and I got coconut gelato to help give us the strength to walk up the hill toward the Palazzo Quirinale. You know what? It worked.

Why coconut gelato? Because theirs just plain rocks. I've done lots of research on this and it's the best I've had so far. It's very creamy, full of coconut, and makes me oh so very, very happy.

Yeah, I'm definitely biased.

They also might be trying to win me over, though. I once got a huge piece of dark chocolate in my stracciatella. It is really easy to win me over with hunks of dark chocolate.

And then there was that time one of the guys working there started hitting on me in front of my dad. He switched to French when he learned that I studied it in school and that my dad didn’t know any French. Too bad mine was so rusty because I have no idea what that guy said to me. Looking back, it had to have been pretty saucy if he couldn’t say it in front of my dad in English. It's a shame, really. Think of all the free coconut gelato I might have had access to. . .

5. Throw a coin in the Trevi

What can I say? I’m superstitious. I don't care if it's touristy or cheesy. If there’s any chance it will keep me coming back to Rome, then I’m doing it.

Honorable Mention goes to Antica Enoteca, near the Spanish Steps.

We have a way of stumbling onto it in the afternoon, after lots of window shopping, just when we need it the most. I've never eaten a meal there, but it's perfect for taking a little time to relax and have a glass of wine. They have a good selection of wines and the atmosphere is great. It's dimly lit with wide arches and a long, wooden bar.

So there are a few of my Rome rituals. I have some history-related ones and will post them later.

I'm curious, do you have any rituals in any of your favorite cities? What are they? Any for Rome?


Do Not Beware the Ides of March (or the Cats of the Theater)

I'm postponing my second Siena post until tomorrow because today is—dun, dun, dun—the Ides of March. Which really just means it's March 15th. The Ides themselves aren't particularly ominous since every month has an "Ides" according to the Roman calendar.

The Roman calendar had three fixed days in each month named Kalends, Nones, and Ides. The exact date on which they fell in each month originally varied because it was based on lunar cycles. Later, the dates became fixed.

Kalends was the date of the new moon and became the first day of the month. Nones fell on the day of the "half moon" but became the 9th day before the Ides. And, finally, the Ides was probably the date of the full moon but became somewhat fixed as the 15th of March, May, July and October and the 13th of all the other months.

Before the year 153 BCE, the Ides of March was also the start of a new year and even included a celebration for the goddess of the new year, Anna Perenna. Get your wine and party hats out!


I, for one, think this makes way more sense than starting a new year in January when it’s cold and miserable. The Vernal Equinox is close and spring represents a rebirth and the beginning of the growing season.

But no. And do you know why? Any guesses? Politicians, perhaps? Of course!

According to this article, Rome couldn’t keep control over an outlying province and they wanted to elect new Consuls so they could take care of it. The only problem was that it was around December and elected Consuls started on the first day of the new year, the Ides of March. So they bumped the new year up to the Kalends of January.


The next time you’re freezing your arse off because someone thought it would be “fun” to pack into a square with thousands of others and watch some silly ball drop at midnight, you can blame ancient Roman politicians.

So, as you can see, there’s no real need to beware the Ides of March.

Unless of course a soothsayer tells you to beware them. In that case, it wouldn't hurt to watch your back. Especially if your name is Julius Caesar and the year is 44 BCE.

I won’t go into all the fiddly details here because there are lots of places in print and online for that. The short version is that tension had increased between Caesar and the senate for some time over Caesar’s growing power. A group of senators plotted his assassination and carried it out on this fateful day thousands of years ago.

As the story goes, Caesar was on his way into the Theater of Pompey to meet with the senate because the senate building in the forum was under construction. As he entered the theater, a soothsayer stopped him and warned him that he was in grave danger on the Ides of March.

Caesar pointed out that the day had already arrived and he was still ok. The soothsayer answered back that although the day had come, it had not yet passed.

This is where the famous line from Shakepeare’s play, Julius Caesar, comes from:

Caesar: Who is it in the press that calls on me?

I hear a tongue shriller than all the music

Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.

Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.

Act I, Scene II

Once inside, Caesar sat down. One of the senators, Tillius Cimber, immediately came forward with a petition to bring his brother back from exile. The senators involved in the assassination plot gathered around them closely, offering their support of Cimber.

Cimber then reached out and pulled at Caesar’s tunic. Caesar cried out “Why, this is violence!” just as another senator attempted to stab him. The rest of the group quickly joined in and began stabbing at Caesar. By the time Caesar was dead, he had a total of 23 stab wounds.

In Shakespeare’s play, Caesar’s famous last words are “Et tu, Brute?—Then fall, Caesar!” as his best friend, Marcus Brutus, stabs him.

In actuality, there does not seem to be a consensus about what he said just before he died. Suetonius wrote that he said nothing. Plutarch wrote that when he saw Brutus in the crowd of conspirators attacking him, he pulled his toga up over his head and fell to the floor as if resigning to his fate. I have also seen multiple mentions that Caesar reportedly said a Greek phrase to Brutus: “Kai su, teknon?” which means “You too, child?” Perhaps this is the inspiration for Shakespeare's famous line.

And so ended the lives of one of the most famous and, perhaps, infamous leaders in history.

Today, you can visit what is left of the ruins of the Theater of Pompey. They are located in a square in Rome called the Largo di Torre Argentina, which is south of the Pantheon and between Campo dei Fiori and the Forum. Only a small part of Pompey’s theater is visible on the west side, amidst the ruins of four other temples from different centuries of Rome's history. Apparently the actual spot of Caeser’s assassination is located somewhere in the square.

For some reason these ruins are one of my favorite spots to visit in Rome. They aren’t particularly grand but they do have quite a story behind them. There’s something about how I always seem to end up stumbling on the square while on the way to somewhere else, seeing the ruins, and then getting hit by this feeling of “Wow, this is where Caesar died.”

I think in part of why I love this square is because it has always been quiet when I’ve seen it. People seem to walk on by without stopping. It is one of the places where the past quietly meets the present. Real life isn’t drowned out by tourists flocking to a site. Rome seems to offer so many of these opportunities.

Here’s a video, for example, showing that part of the Theater of Pompey is now in a restaurant called Da Pancrazio:[youtube=]

I'm also fond of the square because it houses the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, a no-kill shelter for Rome’s homeless cats. I remember figuring this out for the first time in 2001. I was leaning over the railing going “Oh, look! A cat. . .another cat. . .and another? Um. There’s lots of cats here, what’s the deal?” They all look really well cared for each time I’ve been by the ruins. It just seems like a smart idea to use an open space like this for that purpose.

If you can somehow orchestrate a way to stumble on this place, that’s the way I’d recommend seeing it. Rome has a wonderful way of surprising you with the abundance of its ancient sites if you let it.