Today it is raining, Sunday and I have guests.   Not the greatest of combinations wherever you happen to be.  The problem really is the rain, torrential downpours interspersed with breaks of grey mizzle. The type of rain that can and does go on for days, dismaying my Italian colleagues who grumble about the weather – too hot, too humid, too cold – as much as their British counterparts.  It’s that type of day where the traffic, ill-tempered at best of times, becomes ferocious, speeding through the sodden streets and spraying unfortunate pedestrians as it passes.  To cross the road you now have the additional hazard of several inches of stinking water flooding out from overflowing drains, as well as the ubiquitous parked cars to weave between to reach the far side.

Even in good weather on Sunday I often stick to my local area since much of Rome closes, making unbearably crowded whatever does bother to open in the centre.  But today hospitality demands I make the effort.  Fortunately these particular guests have stayed before making the delights of Coliseum and Pantheon well worn and I don’t have to trek round them yet again. Less fortunately they know exactly where they want to go and I need to find open bars where we can sit and chat over a coffee.  On any Sunday in Rome this can be a tall order.

We start off catching the tram to the Vatican for the invariable duty of getting rosaries for the roman-catholic friends of my guests.  This is an easy task at any time – there are a myriad designs and flavours to choose from in any of the pilgrimage shops round here, though my suggestion that we could more conveniently buy one in the centre and just say it came from the Vatican was shot down this time. Apparently only the authentic articles would do.  In this case, as the intended recipients are two girls of primary school age, the authentic articles my guests select are sparkly pastel plastic in glittery brass tins with prints of St Peters on the top bought from one of the numerous African street vendors.  Apparently said guests’ desire for authenticity does not extend to paying the inflated Vatican sanctioned prices of an official shop.  I checked the bottom to ensure the ‘made in China’ stickers had been removed before they were wrapped. 

As we wander back into the centre the day deteriorates.  Firstly and embarrassingly I get slightly lost.  Even after three years here the winding back streets, so charming on the postcards, are tortuous in driving rain when trying to find the bar you have in mind that you are sure is open on a Sunday.  My guests start to look frazzled and are getting soaked as we trudge on.  I privately admit I’ve failed to find the bar and settle for looking for any place that’s open. Twenty minutes later I find one, which my guests then reject as too crowded and noisy.  Crowded and noisy?  This is Rome I nearly retort but choose instead to grit my teeth as we head back into the driving rain. Finally with some desperation I remember there’s a smart bar in Feltrinelli’s bookshop that may be open. Our luck even improves as far as finding a vacant table and at last we sit down to a deliciously rich hot chocolate. 

A little stuck for alternatives to the well-trodden tourist sites we do a spot of shopping on Via del Corso, Rome’s main shopping drag and one of the only parts of central Rome open on a Sunday.  We call into Etam’s, long foundered in the UK, but whose flagship shop here seems flourishing and fills a definite gap in the market for reasonably priced ladies smalls.  Here we pick up some bargains and finally satisfied head back to the warm and dry of my flat.

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