"Domus Nova Bethlem, buon giorno!"
"Buon giorno - Eric Bentzen, Danimarca. Parla inglese?"
"Ah…ok...ahe...andiamo a Roma in guigno. Ha una camera doppia dalle sei alle diciotto?"
This was more or less the conversation I had, when I called the hotel in Rome in late April to book a double room for our holiday, June 6th to 18th. We were lucky.
The heat is intense when we leave Fiumicino Airport and it is even worse in the 13:37 Leonardo Express for Rome.
We have deliberately chosen the beginning of June for our vacation to avoid the sweltering summer months. How were we to know that this would be the hottest June since 1782?
Well, we don't know that yet. Like in 2001 we are staying at Domus Nova Bethlem in Via Cavour just opposite the imposing Santa Maria Maggiore Church and near the railway station Termini, from where all roads lead.
Caffé Fantini is just around the corner, and we stop here for refreshments under the parasols, when we have bought week tickets for the buses and metro. Traffic rushes past in a frenzy to go wherever it needs to go.
We are in no hurry. We are here for 12 days and have time for a much-needed siesta, before we take the bus to Largo di Torre Argentina and from here the tram to Trastevere.
Our preferred wine bar, Enoteca Trastevere, is still where it used to be in Via della Lungaretta. In parasol shade we ask for water and a glass of the white wine, Greco de Tufo. How nice to be back!
Nothing seems changed. The sturdy woman in black sits by her regular table with her afternoon beer, and the old Yorkshire terrier lies in the doorway with his head on the paws looking out from under his fringe. Every now and then the territory is inspected and marked with drops of ownership, and some passers-by get an authoritative yelp.
A Japanese (?) stops outside the bar to sing Italian serenades. Strange to hear "O Sole Mio" sung by a Japanese in shorts, blue plastic sandals and a red cap. But then again, why not? However his feeble voice could do with a bit more olive oil.
The waitress sits down to chat with the woman in black. They could be daughter and mother. The even older grey-haired woman could be Grandmamma and is treated with loving respect, but she is probably just a neighbour. The three generations of Italian women all freak out by the sight of a very small and very blond tourist all dressed in pink. There is a lot of kissing and hugging and playing and talking. Baby language is universal. When the parents prepare to leave, a big farewell-scene takes place and the kid, who has probably never got so much attention, waves back with enthusiasm.
Next to the café a longhaired Italian man tries in vain to make a telephone booth work. One must admire his stamina when time and again he inserts the same coin, which the telephone regurgitates immediately. Finally he gives up swearing about the damned Italian telephones that never work.
Many pass by our oasis. Like us some are tempted by the parasols' shade, and there is a buzz of multi-lingual conversations. This is Rome: Sit down anywhere and life unfolds.
Osteria der Belli
We stroll the neighbourhood and somehow loose our way in the labyrinth of narrow alleys. However we find our way back and dine at Osteria der belli. It is good. For starter Helle gets thin slices of smoked swordfish and I Sardinian ravioli. As main course we have Saltimbocca alla Romana with a delicious tomato salad. With this the house red wine and mineral water. We finish off with espresso.
During dinner a street band with a saxophone, bas, guitar and violin plays very well and we happily contribute when the plastic cup is passed. A couple of small boys with accordions try their luck, but are ushered away by the waiter.
When later we head down towards Viale Trastevere and the tram, Via della Lungaretta is crammed with people. They are mostly tourists, but also Italians. The whole street has been turned into one big marketplace where street traders have put up tables with anything that just might tempt a tourist.
Also we don't remember seeing quite so many beggars back in 2001. One of them is sitting up against a wall. At his side is a mother dog with four very small puppies. They lie completely still and next to them is a cardboard sign claiming: "Abbiamo fame…" - "We are hungry". The puppies are fat and sleepy and do not look hungry at all. A gipsy woman carrying a child on her arm walks up in front of you with her plastic cup extended so it is hard to avoid her. We do not remember such a pandemonium from the last time we were here.
Bus no. 70 stops right outside Caffé Fantini where the English owner walks among the tables making the guests feel comfortable. He talks a lot and we don't get to bed until past midnight.