Freshly returned from Rome, Travel Editor Stephen Scourfield remembers marvellous manifold experiences in the "urbs aeterna"
As you read this, I’m just back from Rome, having joined the inaugural Qantas flight direct from Perth to Rome. In fact, it is the first ever direct connection between Australia and continental Europe. It’s a prestigious moment for both Rome and Perth.
Given all that Qantas is doing out of Perth now (the Rome flight joins London direct and the announcement of flights to Johannesburg from November), chief executive Alan Joyce jokes that perhaps the name should be changed to WANTAS.
Mr Joyce was addressing a host of VIPs and dignitaries, including some from Italian tourism and Rome airport, at a rooftop party presented by Tourism WA.
They were encouraging tourists to come to us, just as I do encourage you to visit Rome, this eternal, layered city. He explained that the 102-year-old airline’s initials stand for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services.
Mr Joyce also revealed that Qantas has flown three Popes during its history — John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Paul VI. Probably never revealed before is that one of the conditions of flying Pope Paul VI was that he had a bed on board. So Qantas got him an inflatable bed. “It was strapped down,” Mr Joyce says.
CURIOSITY & CULTURE
I had spent the afternoon walking around the Vatican City with friend Giancarlo Alu, an authority on Christian architecture who has been a guide there for 61 years. He literally wrote the book and is motivated, energetic and sharing of his knowledge. He tells me: “Culture comes from curiosity. Without curiosity, we only have the cancer of mediocrity in society.” Ah, the complex, educated minds of Rome. (More from Giancarlo in a story soon.)
Another inspiring person met in Rome has been Australia’s Ambassador to Italy, Margaret Twomey. She arrived in 2020 and has been through the “dark and frightening” days of COVID here. She is emotional during her speech, but cheery at the thought of the new Qantas business class pyjamas she’s been given. Hers have worn out during the no-fly years, and the friendly folk at Qantas have re-wardrobed her.
The first time Margaret came to Rome was when she was nine years old on a family holiday. They were supposed to connect at Rome Airport, but the onward flight was cancelled and the whole family settled in to spend the night in chairs at the airport. She remembers vividly that they were red vinyl.
Another new friend made here is Noongar man Olman Walley (I know his dad Richard and met Olman when he was a boy, but he wouldn’t remember that). Here to help Tourism WA promote our State and its ancient landscapes and old culture, he spoke and played didgeridoo at both the flight arrival celebrations at Rome Airport and the VIP party. And he did so with inspirational strength, dignity, humility, and a true commitment to human connection. And we can all learn from that. Olman and wife Sharna own and operate Boorloo Aboriginal Cultural Experiences. He says: “I love to share our stories, history, music, dance and knowledge of our wonderful ancient culture.”
It’s been hot in Rome — high 30Cs. And so the mind turns to gelato, of course. And it’s cherry season, so it turns specifically to cherry gelato.
And so I go into an all-natural gelateria and order a cherry gelato in a cone.
“No,” says the woman behind the counter firmly.
“No cono.” She flails an arm towards the window. “Have you seen the weather? You have a cup!”
And as I sit outside in the searing heat, I’m glad I haven’t got a cone, with the fast-melting (and delicious) cherry gelato running down my hand.
CHOOSE YOUR LUCK
Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps. All the great sights of Rome have to be done. Some say that if you throw one coin in the Trevi Fountain, you will return to this eternal city. Guide Alessandra De Vivo tells me there’s also the belief that if you throw two coins, you will get married, and if you toss three, you’ll get divorced: “You can choose your luck.” (Alessandra is a terrific guide, leading nicely narrated, gentle walks, and also gives Italian cooking classes with chef and sommelier husband Sab. artandfoodinrome.com
THE GLOVES ARE OFF
Alessandra says temperatures in Rome have been higher than usual since May. At 11am this morning it was 37C. I have sympathy for The Glove Shop, opposite my hotel. I’m staying at the Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora, on Via Vittorio Venento, right next to a gate through the ancient city walls (built about AD270 by the Emperor Aurelian to protect Rome from invasion by non-Latin-speaking “barbarians”) and adjacent to the Villa Borghese gardens. Rome’s backstreets are full of specialist shops with beautiful products — especially fine leather bags. And gloves.
HOT PHONE TRICK
I know it’s been cold in Perth, but phones really heat up on a hot day, when you are shooting lots of images, recording video, using maps and generally giving them a workout (in that 37C). One trick is to put them on airplane mode. This basically stops them doing anything except being a camera. Then use GPS maps which don’t require internet connection — maps.me or pre-downloaded Google Maps.
ONE IN THE EYE
. . . and after a big morning sightseeing, is there anything more soothing than a Roman pizza lunch? Roman pizza came into its own in Rome probably more than 200 years after its debut in Naples. Traditionally, Roman pizza was prepared just with tomato sauce, fiordilatte mozzarella and perhaps some basil leaves scattered on top — the red, white and green of the Italian flag. Look for tiny holes around the edge of the pizza, which hint that it was made from light and easily digestible dough. Good Roman pizza is all about high strength flour. And I find super, lunch-sized pizza in Rome for $14. The trick is to be just a bit away from the main tourist spots (even one street) . . .
For example, travellers heading for the Colosseum (and everyone should and surely will), might eat in the Monti neighbourhood, just a short walk away from the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia. Of the 22 rioni (districts) in Rome, this is now one of our favourites.