First Days in Rome

by Aysha Griffin on March 23, 2017

Via Venezia, Rome

Via Venezia in the heart of Rome

From our apartment on Viale di Trastevere, the Number 8 tram (across the street) takes us to its end at Piazza Venezia in just 10 minutes, and we are in the heart of the Centro Historico.

The tram and bus systems are easy, especially with Google Maps (you can download an offline version to use if you don’t get a local Sim Card or use roaming). SEE BELOW FOR PHONE AND TRANSPORT CARD INFO.

While any guide book (like Rick Steves’ Rome and Lonely Planet Rome) gives detailed information, history and significance of each site, I am after the feeling, and am frequently overwhelmed.

A short walk and we come upon Chiesa di Gesú, the first Jesuit church to be built in Rome. The outside is plain but the inside a Baroque spectacle. Besides all the gold adornments, statuary, and paintings of heaven, hell, saints and such, the soaring ceiling is a complex masterpiece of trompe l’oeil… 3-D at its best, (and earliest… remember, perspective had only recently been discovered in the early Renaissance with the use of mirrors) convincing the viewer (er, faithful adherent) that you’re looking deeply into a vibrantly real scenes.

Chiesa del Gesú

Chiesa del Gesú – panel of America. Each of the continents are depicted. Note the indigenous regal woman killing what looks to be a bear.

part of ceiling of Gesú Church in mirror

part of ceiling of Gesú Church as seen in a long mirror.

Then came the Pantheon, considered the most influential building in art history. From the back, it’s a big, round rough-brick exterior, but from the front, with its Greek-style portico, it is magnificent.

Pantheon from Piazza della Rotonda, continuously a gathering place for 2,000 years.

The Pantheon from Piazza della Rotonda, continuously a gathering place for 2,000 years.

As I walked beneath the portico (dating from Emperor Hadian, 120 A.D.) to enter the main temple, I was stopped… not by the crowds or surprisingly few security guards, but by a sense of its magnificence. A visceral “wow!” I stood at the doorway for a minute or more, unable to move, just sensing the age, perfect symmetry and extraordinary connection through time and space to the countless millions of famous and “regular” lives that had also stood in this awesome place.

Piazza Navona, Bernini, Baroque style.

Piazza Navona was once the site of a vast stadium and racetrack, now surrounded by Baroque buildings. The fountain (Fontana del Moro) was remodeled in 1653 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, credited with creating the Baroque style.

Amid the crowds of tourists, busy Romans, the vast cadre of unemployed youth (I’m told there is a 40% unemployment rate) hanging out in the piazzas, especially in the evenings, I can still find for myself a sense of connection to the past that is both extraordinarily familiar and wildly unexpected. Ahh, Rome!

More soon, and please leave your comments and share this blog. Thanks!

Notes on Telephone and Transport

I went to the Vodaphone office and bought a Sim card and 4 months of service for 40€. I can’t say exactly how many calls and data it includes but I was assured it would be sufficient. WhatsApp (text messaging and audio calls) remains my Mexico cell phone number (essentially an ID) and is the way most popular means of communication all over Europe, as it is free. So, if you are traveling in Europe and have a smart phone, you should setup (and understand) WhatsApp beforehand. If you have a carrier contract, you can likely add on an international roaming package but be sure you understand the costs.

I bought a monthly pass (38€), based on the calendar month, at a Tobacco shop. It includes trams, buses and metro. However, due to the lack of government – I mean, really, Italians consider themselves without an official government at the moment – no one is enforcing using a ticket or pass on the trams or buses. I’m told you need one for the Metro, but individual tickets can be purchased for 1€ on site. With trams being so easy and fast, I’ve not yet figured out the buses or Metro, but Google map directions are invaluable in getting from point A to B. 



The Worst Part of Travel

by Aysha Griffin on March 19, 2017

… and why going to Rome is worth it even if Cancun Airport sucks

“The worst part about travel is the travel part.” So said my dear friend and travel writer, Judith Fein, as I blithely assumed that my extensive preparations for this trip from Mexico to Rome would be seamless. I insist my travels always are.

Spanish Steps, Rome

Spanish Steps on a rare, gloriously warm and sunny day in mid-March. See more Rome photos below.

I can report that I left San Miguel de Allende by on time and arrived two days later precisely on time at Fiumicino (Leonardo Da Vinci) Airport to be met my Santa Fe pal, Richard Seager, whose dream it was to rent an apartment in Rome for a month and had invited me to accompany him. But, in between San Miguel and Rome, I was not spared aggravation.

Cancun. Can you say, “tourist trap?”

Cancun is this traveler’s nightmare. It is tourism run amok, exuding an arrogance that often accompanies success. While international tourists flock to high-rise all-inclusive resorts – which I consider “gulags,” safe from interaction with Mexicans and their deep cultural heritage; albeit sometimes accompanied with real poverty – those using the airport for any other purpose are left with no seating, no wi-fi and absurdly expensive taxis for transportation through a hideous commercial district to get to and from what is absurdly called an “airport hotel.”

A few miles and $15 later, I was deposited at the (Dis)Comfort Inn, the closest and cheapest hotel to the airport ($89 USD including tax) that I’d booked months before, thinking I’d spend my next day, before the overnight flight to Frankfurt and on to Rome, doing client work and relaxing in the sun.

The restaurant was closed at 9:30 p.m. as I stood in line to check-in with the single agent. Half an hour later I was in my room. Nice and clean like the chain hotel it is, but no wi-fi in the rooms, no pool, and no services. Stranded between a gas station and truck repair facility, the only food option was a Subway sandwich or Burger King, but at least a mini mart sold wine and I drank half a bottle and slept well.

The next day, having to check out of my room by 1:00 p.m., I was directed to an airless glassed-in cubicle where I could access wi-fi and do some work. I had until 8 p.m. before check-in for the Condor flight to Germany. The weather, windy and gray, at least did not taunt me with my fantasy of poolside tanning.

The Cancun Airport challenge: Could I ignore the crass tourism, the airport hawkers, the posh shopping mall through which travelers were force-herded before finding their boarding gates? Could I curb my judgments of the overly-tattooed and shabbily dressed sporting gaudy mariachi sombreros, the loud and obnoxious, the expensive nutrition-less slop called food, and my embarrassment of being part of this species? Could I remember I was on my way, my first visit, to the Eternal City?

Finally seated in the last row of a packed plane, grateful for an empty seat between myself and a dour fellow who ignored my greeting, I settled in to pass the 10 hours dosing and watching “From Rome With Love,” which I’d downloaded on my laptop, a new super-light MacBook that the brilliant Pinterest queen, Louise Cottrell, helped me set up before leaving Mexico.

Frankfurt Airport was a breeze – fast pass through EU immigration, good food and free wi-fi – and soon I arrived in Rome, was greeted by my friend, picked up my bag, walked through customs, met our driver and arrived at our apartment in Trastevere that was even better than the Airbnb description and photos.

The worst part of travel was over and, as is often said about childbirth, women forget the pain. I put mine behind me. It was another seamless joourney and the experience of Rome could begin.

Here are a few photos from our first marvelous day. Stay tuned for how I was frozen at the entrance to the Pantheon, the incredible 3-D trompe l’oile in Chiesa del Gesú, hanging out with Couchsurfers on a Friday night in Trastevere, my local vendors, new friends, Sunday at Porto Potense market and much more.

Have you been to Rome? Do you have recommendations or stories? Please share in the comments below.

Trevi Fountain, Rome

Trevi Fountain, Rome. Recently renovated and glorious.

gold mosaic, Rome

The gold! The exquisite light of the Divine. The magic of mosaic… heaven on earth.

Iggymo and me at our first of many Egyptian obelisks.

Iggymo and me at our first of many Egyptian obelisks.


Cuba’s Finca Marta: A Model Organic Farm: Part II

December 16, 2016

Continued from previous post on Finca Marta, Part I     Fernando’s vision is broad, sincere and actually working: “I want to demonstrate that’s it’s possible to improve rural life and expand opportunities for the workers. There are lots of farms; many led by professionals – academic agricology projects, organic farms on a bigger scale […]

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Organic Farming in Cuba: It’s Not What You Think

December 16, 2016

Cuba’s Finca Marta: A Model Organic Farm: Part I West of Havana, 45-minutes’ drive, past the billboard announcing the province of Artemisa, an unmarked dirt road leads to Finca Marta, an impressive model of organic practices, integrated systems and respectful human relationships. But please, do not get too excited that this is the future of […]

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How Real Was The Grief Over Fidel Castro’s Death?

December 12, 2016

On Nov. 30, five days into the declared nine days of mourning for the death of Fidel Castro, I arrived in Cuba – on my 9th trip in 4 years – with a group of American travelers. Like some of my Cuban friends, I conjectured (in a previous post) that Cubans would compensate for this […]

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In the Wake of Fidel Castro

December 4, 2016

What is a trip to Havana without music, dancing and mojitos? My group of 11 U.S. travelers and I were about to find out. The Cuban government, which controls most aspects of everyone’s life, declared that there woulld be no music, no dancing, no alcohol and all public events would be cancelled for 9 days […]

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Opportunities and Challenges of Donald Trump’s Presidency

November 10, 2016

The world awoke to a surprising reality on Nov. 9, 2016, that a sleazy businessman – who has said and done the most outrageous, vulgar and hateful things – was elected the 45th President of the United States. I wandered in a daze all day, under chilly gray skies, unable to focus. Everyone I passed […]

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Cuban profiles

August 20, 2016

It’s the people, the encounters, the relationships, that make any travels special… or, for that matter, our lives, wherever we find ourselves. And this is especially true in Cuba. Here are a few special souls I’ve encountered.  

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Scenes from Old Havana

August 15, 2016


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Paladares in La Habana

August 13, 2016

Since Cuban President Raul Castro permitted a number of categories for self-employment (Cuesta propistas) in 2011, some 500,000 people are estimated to now run their own businesses in Cuba. Most popular are taxis, paladares (restaurants) and casas particulates (like B&Bs), although bakeries, digital print shops, beauty salons and spas, etc. are sprouting in neighborhoods around […]

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