The cobblestones, wet from an earlier rain, shone under the light from the cafés surrounding the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. It was evening in early November, but the air was warm enough to sit outside, as Matt and I were doing, each of us enjoying a large glass of wine.
We were admiring the illuminated front of the basilica that sits on the west side of the piazza, which is named for it. Like just about everything else in Rome, the church is a mix of the ancient and the simply old, its main body and bell tower constructed in the twelfth century, its façade of pillars topped with Baroque statues of saints tacked on some five hundred years later. We had been dazzled inside by mosaics, graceful columns (thought to be originally from a temple to Isis). Christians have been worshipping Mary on this spot since at least the fourth century and the thick air shimmered with incense and age.
The mass was now over, and its participants were spilling out onto the square. Some of them clustered around the steps of the fountain in the middle of the piazza. This is what some people call the heart of Trastevere, the once-working-class district whose narrow streets are now home to trendy stores and artist’s studios. Others call it the heart of Rome.
Matt and I weren’t talking, instead we were just enjoying the chance to sit and rest our legs. We had been busy over the past two and a half days visiting the Forum, the Palatine, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the house where Keats died, Saint Peter’s, and the Castel Sant’Angelo. Our hotel was located a few blocks from the Coliseum, which rose at the end of the street like something from a movie, or our dreams.
A man with an impressive moustache and an accordion approached our table, singing of what I don’t know, lost love perhaps, for his voice quivered dramatically, his eyes rolled to heaven. Matt and I, in an expansive mood brought on by wine and exhaustion, were the only ones to applaud and tip him when he was done. He bowed with a flourish before moving on, his baritone voice hanging in the misty evening air.
Shortly thereafter we made our way through the rabbit warren of Trastavere’s alleys to Da Lucia, a trattoria on a quiet side street where strings of white lights and laundry lines criss-crossed overhead. Here the charm that lay over the evening continued, as we got the last unreserved table and watched as the unrepentant waiter shrugged and turned away other tourists without even offering them a later seating. We feasted on pepper spaghetti (loads of parmesan and fresh pepper but no butter or cream), spaghetti alla gricia (pecorino cheese, pancetta, and olive oil), a very thin piece of beef rolled around sweet peas and covered with a spiced tomato sauce, veal stew, and of course, more wine.
Of course, as romantic and sexy as this all sounds, we weren’t in fact starring in La Dolce Vita. Despite our pretense that we were carefree lovers there would be no passionate kissing or dancing in fountains. After dinner, we returned to our tiny room at the Hotel Lancelot where we crawled as quietly and carefully as we could into bed, at the foot of which 18-month-old Tommy lay asleep in a very small crib. Although we had enjoyed our dinner with abandon, we knew we’d pay the price for our late and heavy meal and copious wine consumption when he woke around 4:30, popped up, and grabbed Matt’s toe, giggling and refusing to go back to sleep.
For all its extravagance this was a working vacation. However, the fact that we were able to call it a vacation at all was made possible by the presence of Matt’s sister, Becky. It was she who, while we enjoyed our evening out, patiently fed Tommy morsels of pizza, drove trucks with him up and down our bed, tried to clean him using the shower in the miniature bathroom, and cuddled and comforted him when this shower proved to be the most terrifying ordeal he had ever undergone. She was such an expert and competent babysitter that when he fussed at bedtime, she realized he wanted her in the room, and responded by turning out the lights and lying on the bed next to his crib. When he cried a few minutes later, she said, “I’m still here, Tommy,” which calmed him enough that he fell asleep.
My point here is a simple one, and it’s one I’ve made before, but I think it bears repeating: one way you can turn a trip with kids into a dream-worthy vacation is to bring along some help. What form that takes is up to you. I happen to be blessed with a sister-in-law who is a singing, dishwashing, diaper-changing breath of fresh air who is always infinitely patient with my children. Your help may take a different form. But don’t be afraid to look for help, don’t be ashamed that you need it, and by all means – don’t forget to budget for it! I used frequent flier miles to pay for Becky’s plane ticket and it was worth every hard-earned one.
Today I’m dreaming not only of this romantic night in Rome, I’m looking ahead to our trip to London this summer and thinking about dinner for two at the River Café and possibly a play at the Globe Theatre. And I’m no mere dreamer – I have every intention of finding the help I need to make this a reality.
So what’s your dream this Monday? Please feel free to share a link to your own inspiration below, making sure you link directly to your post, not your site’s homepage and that you link back to this post. Questions? See About Monday Dreaming.
Photo of interior of Santa Maria courtesy of Scottjlowe via Flickr
Photo of Colosseum courtesy of Matt Taylor via Flickr.