I promised myself that I would backpack Italy.
I am told if you want to know a people, go into the countryside. This I did. I spent a week in Norcia, a small hamlet (?) in the Umbria region, in the foothills of the Sibillini Mountain National Park. What a wonderful place. Fresh mountain air; some of the friendliest, most gentle people.
While in Norcia, I stayed at the Guest House of the Monastery of St. Benedict, and I definitely recommend it. The accommodations are simple, spartan, but very comfortable. Best yet, the monks are American, and will go out of their way to help you find your way around. The stay is free (though they would appreciate donations in return); and the monks provide the meals (again, free, and simple but fulfilling). The best part? They also brew some of the best beer in the region. And, neither here nor there, but they just produced an album recently topping the Billboard chart.
And of course, there is the food.
Norcia is known for its boar meat products: one can do no worse than ordering a plate of “salcissia” or “salumi”, with a glass (better yet, a bottle) of “vino rosso”; savor the food and wine, and watch the world go by. (Neither here not there, but “Norcia” serves as the root word of another Italian word, “Norcineria”, i.e., a pork’s butcher shop.)
(I could not leave Italy with any of the goodness above. It’s considered farm products not vetted by USDA, and could not enter the US legally. Sad, considering any number of other, much less savourable things entering the country on a daily basis. Our loss, really.)
After Norcia, I spent a week in Rome. For being such an ancient city, the youthful energy there is incredible. I am staying at an area known as Trastevere, sort of the equivalent of Greenwich Village in New York City: quirky, off-beat, but so full of energy. There are a music school, a number of jazz clubs; and one often finds a joint or two blaring good old dirty downhome American blues.
The food, of course the food, is really quite diverse. Sure, you will find the good old Italian staple; but you will also find–surprisingly–quite a few Irish pubs (and I had my fill of Guinness); as well as Chinese and Indian eateries. I stayed at the Casa Santa Sofia. In front of the Casa is Piazza Di Santa Maria ai Monti. It is often packed throughout the day, and late into the night; with young mid-20’s to mid-30’s. Roman law permits open alcohol containers in public; and there’s plenty of that here, which makes for a boisterous setting. Nearby is said music school; its students would also gather here after class with their instruments, for impromptu jams.
(Casa Santa Sofia is a sort of B&B/Hostel: certainly no Hilton, but clean, inexpensive, and very comfortable. It is located at the intersection of Via Cavour and Via Dei Serpenti, essentially the heart of Rome. From the Casa, one could almost walk in any direction and find things to do or see. It is run by the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Ann. Thanks to the Sisters, I saved close to 30 Euros traveling from the Casa to Leonardo Da Vince Airport: instead of taking a taxi, which would have cost me 50+ Euros, they recommended public transit, which cost less than 20 Euros.)
It’s said, the first impression is often the lasting impression. I am glad that my first impression of Italy is Norcia, and Trastevere, Rome.