Hello and welcome to the Passion for Italy Podcast. Over the past few weeks, we have been sharing messages with you from our suppliers in Italy. Today, we are back to Rome, my favorite city in the world.
Every city has a personality, and to me, it is hard to find one more vibrant and alive than Rome. The effortless mingling of ancient history and modern life never ceases to amaze me. Every visit leaves me more spellbound than the last.
Today, we meet Marilena, a guide herself, and owner of the incredible tour company we partner with in Rome.
When my husband and I were last in Rome, we planned several tours with them so that I could experience the exact same tours and meet some of the same guides that our clients always rave about once they come home.
Our first tour was with Marilena herself. The tour was the Dolce Vita orientation private tour of Rome.
It is almost impossible from any description to understand the true value of this tour.
The temptation is to think, “Ah, I’ll just wander on my own and see the fountains, piazzas, Colosseum.” And sure, you can see them. It is understanding that makes a guide so worthwhile.
This tour explains the relevance of the piazzas, the meaning behind the bubbling baroque fountains, the personalities of the artists who that live on in these works.
When you study art history in school it can be less than enthralling, but when you discover it instead of studying it, with a guide like Marilena, the history comes to life before your eyes. Suddenly, symbolism has meaning, and meaning you understand.
Marilena pointed out the Acqua Vergine that still feeds many of Rome’s most famous and charming fountains.
She explained that Pietro Bernini’s Fontana della Barcaccia, one of my favorites in Rome, was commissioned to celebrate the restoration of that very aqueduct.
Later on, at the Trevi Fountain, she showed us the reliefs above the main figures in the fountain and that they depict the discovery of the source of the Acqua Virgine.
One secret here, one legend there, she shared Rome’s secrets with us and picked up on our individual interests as well.
A tour like this feels like a walk through the city with a local friend, rather than a cookie cutter organized tour.
Walking along and chatting on the way from Piazza di Spagna to our next stop, my husband noticed a red Ferrari parked outside a building. “See the V on the side of the building?” Marilena asked, “That is the fashion house of Valentino, and for sure, the Ferrari is his.”
This is Rome, leaving us constantly con bocca aperta, with mouths wide open.
Picking up on love of Pietro Bernini’s son, Gian Lorenzo, Marilena took a little extra time to walk us inside the lesser known Basilica di Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to see two stunning angels Bernini originally designed for the Ponte Sant’Angelo, later moved for their protection.
On to my husband’s favorite building in Rome, the Pantheon, Marilena explained that it has stood the test of time so gracefully because of it’s continual use. First as the temple to all the gods, and eventually consecrated as the Christian church dedicated the St. Mary and the Martyrs.
We paid our respects to beloved artist, Raphael inside, at whose tomb Marilena explained the love the Roman people had for him as both man and artist. Telling us the city itself wept at his loss.
Leaving the Pantheon, Marilena suggested a coffee, and took us to Caffe Sant’Eustacchio, for what is still the best coffee I’ve tasted anywhere.
As we chatted after coffee, walking along the street that leads to Piazza Navona, Marilena explained why she created this tour.
Tourists come and feel overwhelmed here on their own. So much to see, so many piazzas, it’s impossible to understand the meaning or feel the personality in just a short amount of time. I think when you can walk the streets and discover with a local, it helps people to feel at home here.
Suddenly they can recognize shops and churches, see the fountains and monuments and understand them, and know themselves where to go for the best cup of coffee or aperitivo in the evening.
This feeling of welcome, of passion, and understanding is what all of her guides offer to their guests.
At the Colosseum, guide Cristina stayed half an hour extra with our group, seeing how interested we all were in what she had to say.
At the Vatican, guide Cecilia called our small group “Family” as she explained the ancient works that inspired Michelangelo and caught the tears streaming down my face when I finally got to see the Raphael rooms for the first time.
Clients always return from Rome amazed by what they learned on these tours and raving about how far out of the way their guides had gone to help them understand the city and make them feel at home.
Keeping in touch with Marilena and her staff during this time has brought us all closer together in an odd way, and she shared the following letter to let all of us know that life in this eternal city will only grow more vibrant because of this struggle.
“These truly are testing times. For Rome, for Italy, and for the world. But Rome is resilient, and will bounce back, with the events of this year inscribed only in the memory of its people and its visitors.
We are using this time to refine the experiences we offer. To design all new and exciting experiences that will captivate visitors and make them fall in love all over again with the city we are blessed to call home.
We cannot wait to welcome you back to our city. To explore, eat, and drink together and consign the memories of these difficult days to history.
Andrà tutto bene – it’s all going to be okay!
From Marilena, and Our Team”
Only this week, they shared that right near the Pantheon, where their office is also located, a little sink hole opened up to reveal an ancient Roman pavement thought to date back to the first century AD, older than the Pantheon itself if that’s correct.
Maybe Rome is trying to tell us something here. That no matter what the world or history throws at it, it will endure, this Eternal city, and it will always welcome us, whenever we can come, with ancient wonders and surprises around every corner.
Next time we meet Carlotta, the owner of our charming guest house, just around the corner from the Spanish Steps. She tells us of the resilience of the Roman people and ways they are managing to continue friendships and traditions even during these times.
We will be back soon, and in the meantime, as Marilena said, “Andra` tutto bene!” It will all be ok.