First Impressions from Rome

Pope Clement XIII had the Palazzo del Quirinale built as a summer palace on Rome's highest hill to escape the stench of the Tiber River.

Pope Clement XIII had the Palazzo del Quirinale built as a summer palace on Rome’s highest hill to escape the smell of raw sewage which flowed down the Tiber River.

We round the corner to enter the Quirinale Plaza and catch our first sight of The Vatican.

We round the corner to enter the Quirinale Plaza and catch our first sight of The Vatican.

This is my first visit to Rome.  My wife, Florence, has visited Rome on five occasions prior to this visit, so she is excited for me to experience awe and wonder of The Eternal City.   She loves to describe the sights I am about to lay my eyes on for the first time, and she is eager for my reactions.  However, her descriptions do little to prepare me for what I am experiencing.  There is simply no way to describe Rome to the first-time visitor.  It would be like trying to explain Disneyland to an alien.  One must see Rome for oneself.

Florence loves roasted chestnuts.  I bought cookies.

Florence loves fresh-roasted chestnuts.

As we start walking from our hotel near the central train station, I begin to notice the numerous locations that sell pizza.  My comment – ‘Look, another place that sells pizza!’ becomes tiresome, so I begin noticing shops with baked goods.  I had to stop.  After stocking up on a few essential goodies, we wander toward the President’s Palace, known officially as the Palazzo del Quirinale, the historic home of thirty popes dating back to the 16th century.  It is the sixth largest palace in the world and the largest home to any head of state.  From outside we have no idea about the scale of the palace on the inside, and the guards at the gate were not about to let us wander in to see for ourselves.

Mythological figures and horses seem to emerge from the rocks and pools of the Trevi Fountain.

Mythological figures and horses seem to emerge from the rocks and pools of the Trevi Fountain.

Descending from Piazza Quirinale on Rome’s highest hill, we see crowds of people ahead.  A quick check of the city map confirms they are converging on the Piazza di Trevi and the iconic Trevi Fountain.  There is so much happening artistically in the massive fountain that I can hardly take it all in at one time.  Also, I now realize how fortunate we are to be visiting Rome in the off season.  I think we would have had to wait an hour or more to get the photos that were available to us just by walking among the crowd to the edge of the observation area.

The Spanish Steps leading to the church above are the widest in the world.

The Spanish Steps leading to the church above are the widest in the world.

A few blocks beyond the Trevi Fountain is the Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Plaza) and the Spanish Steps.  These 135 steps ascend to the Church of Trinitá dei Monti.  This day was the eve of The Epiphany, the day when the three magi appeared in Jerusalem following the birth of Jesus, so there was still in place a Nativity scene on the upper terrace of the steps.

Massa, the lovely sales clerk at Vinovip near the Trevi Fountain, cheerfully offers samples of liqueurs, which I am happy to taste.

Massa, the lovely sales clerk at Vinovip near the Trevi Fountain, cheerfully offers samples of liqueurs, which I am happy to taste.

We encountered numerous sights on our initial stroll through the city.  The fascinating thing about Rome is one can walk a mere block or two in any direction and suddenly you come upon a park, a plaza, a fountain, a palace, or one of the dozens of architectural wonders which abound, and we have barely scratched the surface.  Fortunately, Florence scheduled our stay here for a week.  She knew not to cut short our time in this great city.  All these legendary places are now coming to life right before my eyes.

Mexico De-Mythified

The town of Tepoztlán as seen from the surrounding hills.

The town of Tepoztlán as seen from the surrounding hills.

I have spent little time in Mexico prior to my recent move to Cuernavaca. I admit my mental images of Mexico have been dominated by two media-transmitted stereotypes. The first image is right out of movies like The Magnificent Seven or about Pancho Villa where the local people are peasant farmers and the bad guys are horsemen with big sombreros and bandoliers of bullets crisscrossing their chests. In these movies it is always hot, everybody is perspiring, and Banditothere is no water to be found for miles.

The second image comes from movies and news stories portraying drug cartel violence where the bad guys drive shiny Escalades or Humvees, carry machine pistols in their thigh holsters, and are seldom seen without an AK-47 held across their chests. (How they keep those SUV’s shiny while driving on dirt roads all the time is a mystery.) These guys have either just killed a bunch of rivals and innocent civilians, or they are prepared to do so if anyone interferes with their drug transaction to move a few bundles of cocaine across the border into the United States.

Sundays at the market in Tepoztlán are the busiest days.

Sundays at the market in Tepoztlán are the busiest days.

As it turns out, I have seen little evidence of poverty, violence, or water shortage. The grocery stores are immaculate. The open air markets have amazing selections of fresh fruits and vegetables at great prices. The arid reaches of the northern desert are nowhere in evidence in the central states. And I have not heard a single gunshot at any time during my first week in Mexico.

My first impression of the cities is they are clean. Even with a scarcity of garbage cans, garbage and litter get picked up regularly. The countryside is a mixture of open space, scenic mountains, and pine forests stretching beyond the horizon. The weather is mild even in January with daily temperatures in the 70° – 80°F range. With these considerations, Mexico is pleasant.

The State of Morelos in Central Mexico is lush, fertile, and scenic.

The State of Morelos in Central Mexico is lush, fertile, and scenic as seen from this mountain view.

The best part of Mexico is the people. On the drive from the airport, I commented to our driver, Vicente, that people seemed less reserved than the local people of the Central American countries we have visited. To which he replied, “Nuestros corazones están abierto.” Our hearts are open. And he is right. I have not felt the suspicious eyes of people watching me like I am an exploitive American. (Latinos have stereotypes of Americans, too.)

It is with a sense of ease and comfort that we begin to settle into our daily way of life in Mexico. We have experienced some of the culture and history of Mexico along with some amazingly good food. These are some of the benefits of living here, and we have barely scratched the surface.

living in Panama