EXCLUSIVE | Three Gay Days: Rome Part One
Rome stimulates the eye, palette and mind, but the greatest Roman pleasures are the Romans themselves. Just when you want to yell Basta! ("Enough!") to classically chiseled statues, a new one will smile, zipping by on a Vespa.
With powerful social mores around family and religion holding sway, "gay" can be a complicated lifestyle in Rome. Catholicism's long, closeting shadow certainly doesn't help. But, in one of Rome's greatest ironies, it seems less like a city of God and more like a city founded to celebrate the human body -- mostly the male one.
Despite Benedict XVI's papal influence, you may see more public nudity on any giro ("stroll") through town than in Rome's museums: naked bodies carved in public squares, fountains, even embedded in the concrete of some buildings. No surprise that so much of gay Rome prefers it al fresco.
Doing as the gay Romans do, however, sometimes requires an ArciGay -- or ArciLesbica -- membership card (Via Goito 35b; +39-06-64-501-102). Although foreigners are often forgiven, many nightspots deny or charge for entrance without this "proof of identity" from the national LGBTQ association. With it, admission is usually free.
Absorbing Rome's 'Best Of' in three days is possible, but with a week you will see a different city entirely. No matter how long you stay, though, settling into Rome's utterly human rhythm will leave you a little Italian inside -- it's hard to let go of leisurely, wine-soaked, multi-hour dinners and gelato combined with post-meal meandering.
LAY OF THE LAND
A three-millennia-old work-in-progress, Rome can seem profoundly confusing and absurdly convoluted. The city is enormous, but the main drag of tourist musts, loosely centered around , is relatively manageable area.
Most of the ancient wonders, including the Colosseum and Roman Forum, are south of the piazza in the Centro Storico. To the north are the Villa Borghese and Spanish Steps while eastward lie the and the central train station, Roma Termini. Crowded among the winding baroque and medieval streets to the west's Trastevere area, are Piazza Navona's Bernini fountain, Campo de'Fiori and the Pantheon. The Vatican City lies further west, across the wandering Tiber River.
Central Rome is best seen on foot. With some of the most frenzied and chaotic traffic west of Istanbul, driving and buses in the city center are a nightmare. Even crossing the streets can be hair-raising. Have confidence, and don't hesitate. If you have cold feet, just follow other crossers.
Finding a comfortable, well-located, and explicitly gay-friendly or LGBT-owned accommodation is Rome is not easy. Luckily, same-sex partners traveling together can expect tacit understanding from most hotel staffs.
Well-positioned to the sights for the price, the gay-owned Ares Rooms (Via Domenichino 7; +39-06-474-4525; 30+ EUR) are comfortable, if spartan. Halfway between Piazza Venezia and Roma Termini station, the bed and breakfast is a short walk through a park to the Colosseum.
Along the oh-so-chic Via Veneto, and just below the sprawling, private estate-cum-public gardens of the Villa Borghese, The Westin's Excelsior (Via Vittorio Veneto 125; +39-06-470-81; 315+ EUR) more properly resembles a palace than a hotel. Easily Rome's most opulent hotel, with exceptional amenities and a staff to match, this is pampering at its finest.
Within sight of the Spanish Steps and the chlorinated, Hollywood splendor of the Trevi Fountain the La Sistina, outpost of Casa Howard Boutique Guesthouse (Via Sistina 149; +39-06-699-24555; 150+ EUR), is undeniably unique. The work of top Italian interior designer, Tommaso Ziffer, even the aptly named Zebra Room is elegant.
Hugging Campo de'Fiori and Piazza Navona, the Albergo del Sole (Via del Biscione 76; +39-06-687-9446; 65+ EUR) is better located -- and more reasonably priced -- than most other accommodations. The rooms, while comfortable, won't inspire staying in -- or impress unexpected guests.