After a morning of watching the sun rise over Rome, making some cheap coffee we found at the grocery store and then heading out to take a morning tour of the Colosseum, we decided to spend the rest of our day exploring the ancient hilltop town of Tivoli, just a short distance outside of Rome.
I like to think that if taking the train is an option, then that will always be the better choice. So, when we went to Tivoli to visit the water fountain gardens and the mansion museum estate of Villa d’Este, we were obviously going to take the route that included the views of the Italian country side via rail travel.
Getting to Tivoli from the Historic Centre of Rome is fairly easy, but paying attention is important. The trip consists of taking the Roma-Pescara Line from Rome’s Tiburtina station and in short time, arriving in Tivoli, which has its own station.
Here’s the paying attention part- from the centre there is one transfer on the subway on the way to the Tiburtina Station, it’s likely the stop where there will be other confused tourists getting off. We missed it on our first try, doubled backed and saw some familiar faces from our train doing the same. However, after that blip, it was smooth sailing and nice views all the way to Tivoli! (Here’s a Google map from Trastevere to Tivoli)
When arriving, I read that there is a bus that takes you directly to Villa d’Este from the train station in Tivoli, but what’s the fun in that? Exploring a new town by foot is what travel is all about!
We walked down a small hill behind the train station, crossed a bridge over the river and made it into the town. To be honest, we didn’t know the way, but that’s what signs are for. We found the historic center, visited a bakery, got some pizza and kept walking and following the signs pointing to Villa d’Este. It was probably a 20-30 minute walk, fairly simple to navigate and much more interesting than a bus ride. Besides, I know the bus wouldn’t have had snacks and we have priorities to keep in mind here.
Villa d’Este is a 16th century villa in Tivoli and it is an Italian state museum listed as an UNESCO heritage site. It is most famous for its water fountains, gardens and hillside views.
Leaving Villa d’Este, we opted to walk through town again and ended up taking an alternate route, this time wandering into the medieval quarters. As we entered this ancient place, things got a bit more bleak, spooky and grey, we felt the air chill off and the lights started to dim before our eyes. Also, it was now sunset.
Through the stone walls, from the other side of a giant door made of wood, we heard the pounding of piano being played with passion. This very much seemed like a place that Dracula would come to reside.
The smell in the air was a bit sour or bitter sweet, the scent of smoke from fires combined with, well, I don’t think the historic plumbing is as developed as back in the more moderns parts of the city…
Cats roamed the streets and laundry hung from the windows, but we did not see another soul. Maybe something mysterious does exist in this part of the town, or perhaps it was just dinner time.
On the train ride back to Rome, we were thirsty, hungry and with a backpack that lacked snacks. Being later in the day, all the shops were already locked up tight for the night on our walk through town and gas station Twinkies didn’t seem like a very authentic Italian option. However, I did have a couple of oranges I scored from a tree back in Tivoli.
We wanted to be sneaky about eating the fruit while on the train, not to draw attention to our consumption of the forbidden public transit food. I peeled into it, being careful not to spray the juices or make any messes. The scent was strong and the consistency was right as I could feel the perfect plumpness between my fingers. I readied myself to discreetly engorge on the nutrient filled, hydrating and much needed sustenance of an authentic Italian country orange. That is to say, I went big with it with no time for a taste test, as the whole fruit entered my mouth in one bite. I chomped down and let the juices flow down my throat and it was at that moment that I got my lesson in the importance of knowing the different strains of produce and that the old heirloom varieties were replaced for a good reason. This was the most bitter thing I have ever bit into, and this is coming from someone that enjoys an occasional bitter grapefruit. My best guess is that these were chinotto fruit, generally used for flavouring and not as a raw consumable. The lesson here is, basically, if this is what they had to eat growing from the trees prior, then there is a very valid reason why spice trading and merchant ships were such a big deal in bringing flavour to Italy and Europe. I know I would pay money to not have to eat that again!
We arrived back in Rome with our thirst for adventure quenched for the day, but still left with a literal need for hydration. We got off the train, wandered back to our apartment and enjoyed some sweet oranges from the market we purchased along the way, freshly squeezed and mixed with plenty of amaretto.