Pedestrian alleyways lined with trattorias, osterias, ristorantes, enotecas (wine bars), gelaterias and shops of all kinds intersect at odd angles, punctuated by piazzas offering a few tables and chairs in front of a small bar, great for people watching. This is Trastevere, across the Tiber and south of Vatican City, considered one of the oldest and most-colorful neighborhoods in Rome.
In the evening, Romans, used to standing for coffee, (it’s cheaper than if you sit down), gather in front of establishments with drinks in hand. There seem to be no laws against drinking in public. The conversation and friendships among groups of men are markedly more affectionate and animated than I’ve witnessed elsewhere.
The mealtime and drink rituals here go something like this: morning coffee and a croissant, mid-morning coffee, lunch followed by coffee, mid-afternoon coffee, aperitivo (happy hour after work that can be a good deal, including a buffet of tapas and a drink for 8-10€), followed by dinner (3 to 4 courses), wine and a coffee.
Coffee means a shot of espresso, with cappuccino acceptable for the first cup of the day but considered déclassé after 10 a.m. as the belief is that coffee aids in digestion and milk obstructs digestion. As a tourist, your request for an afternoon latté will be tolerated, albeit with a rolling of the eyes or a snicker.
Like all wonderful places that get “discovered” and popularized, many locals lament the gentrification, hip nightclubs, high-end restaurants and hoards of ambling tourists that have supplanted the daily life of this once more-earthy and working-class neighborhood. Of course, not knowing it in the past, I find its Medieval cobblestone streets and piazzas lined with sidewalk cafes and filled with friendly crowds and polished performers to be charming. And, for a step back in time you can always duck in to one of the many churches, the most famous being Santa Maria in Trastevere, the first official Christian place of worship, founded in the third century, and devoted to the worship of the Virgin Mary. There is much that could be said – and no doubt has been – about the roles and perception of women by the Roman Catholic Church, but I’ll leave that for another time and instead share some photos from my strolls in Trastevere.