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Roam - Around Rome During It’s Off-Season Glory

Lee Fryd

Ruins of the Palatine, as seen from the Circus Maximus -- "When the sky is pink, time for a drink." (Photo: Lee Fryd)

Roma! Ancient ruins abut modern design. Carreras park in front of castles. Art shows you the face of God. The city is a sprawling megapolis of serpentine streets. But, not all roads lead to... well, where you want to go.

Students study in the courtyard in the Oratorio dei Filippini, one of Rome's hidden treasures. (Photo: Lee Fryd)

It's not so easy to stumble onto the classic Italian restaurant, the cool retro bar, or their uber hip meatpacking district. But we got all that and more from Pierpaolo Meschini and Antonio Rinaldini. Former architects, who exude warmth and charm, their Roam-around-Rome private tours cater to each client. Within an hour of meeting, Paolo and I were strolling arm in arm, as he spun tales of the treasures in his beloved city, as a raconteur amusing royalty.

We walked into the only church where prostitutes were allowed with works by Raphael and Caravaggio; a working library belonging to a Baroque convent and church, whispering in awe, even though we had the room to ourselves; an orange grove courtyard that lovers favor; a hilltop Church destination for society weddings; and Benedictine Cloister of the original Regina Margherita Hospital that most only visit on a stretcher. He took me to the Villa Farnesina, once owned by a man so rich he lent money to the Pope, keeping the Papal crown as collateral and the Papal insignia in his coat of arms. Because we were alone, a guard revealed a hidden panel with sketches Raphael made directly on the wall before being called to the Vatican.

Another afternoon, Pierpaolo commissioned Piero Assogna's driving company (autonoleggioassogna@gmail.com) to tour Rome's surrounding hilltop vistas. In the setting sun, the Forum ruins glowed a bright salamander. "Ah," said Pierpaolo, "when the sun turns pink, it's time for a drink."

Pierpaolo Meschini and Antonio Rinaldini. (Courtesy Photo)

It's truly a labor of love for Pierpaolo. An architect who has lived in Rome since 1980, four years ago, he turned what he did for his visitors into a thriving business. "I take you by the hand as a friend," he says, "And if you trust me, I can show you not only the Sistine Chapel and Spanish Steps, but also smaller places that, as Romans, are part of our lives, but you would never find on your own."

Visiting Pierpaolo's favorite bar brings a smile to his face. (Photo: Lee Fryd)

"My aim is also to prevent you to fall into tourist traps," he added. For example, the restaurants in the Pantheon square attract tons of tourists, but rumor has it, only one of them even has a kitchen. A careful listener can hear the microwave beeping.

"Rome is built in layers. Every century or decade leaves something, so we find the history of Europe in our streets," Pierpaolo pointed out. "Here, Ancient Rome remains alive. It is a metamorphosis, but Rome really is the eternal city. It has never stopped living since the 8th century BC."

He says waiting out the tourist season has its perks. "Most Americans come from April until July and in October. But August, even if it is hot, is one of the best times to enjoy Rome: the days are long, the nights are warm and the town is less crowded," he noted. "The winter is again, very nice. Even if days are not so long, you escape the crowds." We loved going in January. The plane was empty and the sales were on.

So there you have it: Every month is a good time to visit Rome. Its streets, a pentimento of the past, are an open museum, spread before you, as a lover's embrace.

For more information, visit www.roamaroundrome.com.

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