Saturday, May 9, 2015

Rocca di Papa, a Hill Town

During our stint in Rome, we took a day trip to the Castelli Romani, a group of small hill towns to the southeast of Rome. The area is famous for its wine-making. During this time of year in the early spring, the region was really off the beaten track, as we saw no other tourists.

First, we took a short train ride from Rome to Frascati, one of the larger townships, known for producing the Frascati white wine. There is a tiny center area where buses come and go, and from there you can walk along the sloping alleyways to explore the rest of the town. 

There was a really cool public water dispenser, with both "naturale" (still) water, and "friazzante" (sparkling) water. The cost was so cheap to be negligible, something like a nickel for a liter of water.

Our main destination was Rocca di Papa, a picturesque hill town. We had a really difficult time getting there. There are buses leaving regularly from Frascati to Rocca di Papa, but the only timetable we could find was at a nearby bar (you also have to buy the bus tickets here). However, the bus we were looking for didn't come for a long time. I'm not sure if the schedule was wrong or we were just looking at the wrong timetable. The best thing to do in this situation is just to keep asking locals. 

Finally, the bus to Rocca di Papa arrived. A bunch of school kids clammered on the bus, possibly going home after the school day. I believe we were the only non-locals on the bus, and we had to ask the students where to get off. After about an hour, we finally arrived at Rocca di Papa! We were greeted with the view from the top image, and we wanted to go to the top of the hill where there stood the remains of an old fortress. 

We weren't sure of the direct way up, so we just started following the road signs along a winding road. We realized soon enough that these directions were for car drivers, and we unfortunately had a long way to go.

However, luck was with us! Somehow, a guy who was working at the bar in Frascati where we bought our bus was driving past, and he recognized us as the hapless tourists who were confused about the bus timetable. He generously gave us a lift all the way to the top of the hill.

The views from the top were spectacular! The ruins themselves were just a few low stone barriers, but there were some benches to sit and take in the panorama.

Since Rocca di Papa is a town upon a hill, there are lots of homes and alleyways directly built into the side of the hill. We decided to wander down these winding paths until we reached the bottom by the bus stop, and it was such a lovely walk.

The neighborhood almost seem to cascade down in front of us, as we went through dense layers of cobbled streets and homes, all very colorful and peaceful.


There weren't too many people out in the streets, but those that we did see and greet would look curiously at us. I guess they didn't realize how their homes could be seen as an attraction to outsiders!

Small alleys would give onto slighter larger streets, and we would walk at our leisure down whatever path we thought looked interesting. There was always something to marvel at down every corner, even the dead ends.

Glancing at these homes and decorations was a bit like gathering knowledge about how the locals lived, and then living vicariously through them. There was something beautiful about this neat and tidy little community, unpretentious and unaware of its uniqueness, striving only to support the lives of its residents.

I'm sure that I'm romanticizing this place and lifestyle, and I'm also certain that every community has its own issues and longings, but at that moment, Rocca di Papa seemed to me such an ideal place to live - one of those tight-knit societies where the elderly have good knees and sit at their doorsteps, bouncing their grandchildren up and down, and the bakery-owners know the names of all their customers, and people hang out their colorful clothes on a line on their balconies, enjoying the afternoon sun.


Finally, we made our way down to the town square by the bus station. I bought some apples from a small shop and washed them with the clear water from the public fountain. We munched on them as we waited for a bus back to Rome, enjoying the view of the hill town in the fading light.

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