Summers in Rome are not for the faint of heart. There’s heat, mosquitoes, and the influx of tourists combined with the mass exodus of Romans to the beaches and to vacation destinations, means that there tends to be a breakdown in infrastructure, such as public transit. Now, with this being my second summer in Rome, you would think I was acutely aware of all of this. But last summer was unseasonably cool, and I wasn’t working. But at least I was prepared for the mosquitoes, and managed to keep the bites to a minimum.
The temperatures started to warm up in May, when everything is in bloom and I experienced some of the worst allergies I’ve ever had. Afternoons tend to be windy, and with warm temperatures we kept the office windows open to enjoy the breeze. It wasn’t long before my cubicle and everything in it was covered with a light dusting of pollen. I rapidly depleted my allergy medication, which I had to take daily due to constant sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. So if you’re traveling to Rome in May and suffer from pollen allergies, you’ve been warned.
Then came the heat in June and July. We’re talking two straight months of high, humid temperatures in the 90s, with lows in the 70s. Our old air conditioning system at work was broken for two weeks, and public transit was unbearable, with many packed subways, trains and buses without air conditioning at all. My top-floor apartment did a fantastic job trapping the day’s heat, and despite two ceiling fans, a table fan and twice-a-day showers, I couldn’t stop sweating, especially while sleeping at night. As for running? Forget it. Temps were 75 degrees by 6am. There was no way I was running in that.
And lastly, Rome’s broken-down infrastructure. In May, Terminal 3 of Rome’s Fiumicino airport was shut down due to a fire, snarling traffic on the first day (took me 3 hours to get to work) and canceling flights for at least two weeks. And two months later, a 20-minute blackout caused hundreds of flights and practically incited a passenger riot at the Alitalia desk. City workers went on strike, resulting in overflowing garbage bins on every street (remember, it was 90+ degrees). And it seemed like half of the trains were either delayed or cancelled.
Fortunately, I had something to keep me sane.
I had seven friends visit me, from late May to early July, and their visits gave me something to look forward to. Although it was hot, we managed to do some sightseeing and a LOT of eating, giving me the opportunity to take them to some of my favorite places. But most of all, I was just grateful to be with people that I love, and to reconnect with them. And to laugh, which we definitely did.
By the time mid-July rolled around, all I could think about was my upcoming trip back to San Francisco and Pennsylvania. My 11-month work contract was coming to a close, and even though it was re-renewed until December, the UN requires consultants to take a mandatory one-month contract break after every 11 consecutive months of employment. Yes, that’s right. I get a month of vacation every year. Too bad it’s unpaid! But I’ll take it. I couldn’t help but think of large coffees, burritos, corn on the cob and that gorgeous San Francisco fog.
Before heading back to the US, I spent five days in northern Italy, enjoying cooler temperatures and even a bit of rain, which was a relief. Mantova is a beautiful little town containing the Gonzaga family’s Palazzo Ducale and Palazzo Te, both with stunning frescoes. The region is also known for pumpkin ravioli, although I found it a bit too sweet. For me, the unexpected find was Gelateria Loggeta, the best gelato I’ve had since arriving in Italy. Two words: salted zabaione. I ate gelato three times in a 24-hour period. Mantova is a winner.
I then spent three days at Lake Como, visiting my friend Laura, whom I met while running the Napoli Half Marathon in February. She lives in a gorgeous little town called Moltrasio, and took me around the area, which included a 5-mile run along the Lake, lots of seafood meals and a trip to the beach (with a sunburn to show for it). I didn’t see George Clooney, but I did run past his villa. I’ll take it.
My final stop was a walking tour in Milan to learn the history of the Duomo and to see da Vinci’s Last Supper. No photos are allowed of the painting, but I will tell you this: it is a must-see, and I highly recommend a guide to tell you the story of how this painting was created, its deterioration and attempt to paint over, its survival through war, and its restoration back to da Vinci’s original work. I found myself moved to tears (and I’m not religious). It’s a beautiful story and the painting is stunning.
I returned to Rome for a few days to shop and prepare for 3 1/2 weeks back to the US. This gave me the perfect opportunity to reflect on how this trip back felt, compared to the one I took just one year ago. A year ago, I felt anxious, wondering how long I was going to have to stay in the US before they processed my visa and I could return to start my job. But this time, I already had the answers to those questions. I was way ahead of the game this time, with my paperwork about to arrive at the Italian consulate in Philadelphia, and my appointment secured. I would definitely be returning to Rome at the end of August.
The biggest difference this time is that I couldn’t wait to go back. I actually really missed the US and my friends and family, and all of the comforts of home. I hadn’t been back since Christmas, and I hadn’t been back to San Francisco for almost a year and a half. My only worry was how I was going to feel once I got there. Would I miss it so much that I wouldn’t want to leave? Or would it be just a wonderful memory and a chance to visit friends? I had a sinking feeling I knew the answer, even before I got on the plane.