After a very efficient sleep between 8am and 12pm, Gabe and I put our faces on just in time to get picked up by his boss for a small going-away party. Gabe doesn’t know what to expect so we dress smartly and are prepared for anything. I meet some of Gabe’s co-workers as we ride in a small Fiat to our lunch destination. The restaurant (which looks familiar because I had seen it next to the definition of whole-in-the-wall in the dictionary) is the perfect introduction to authentic and rich Italian food. After lunch, we drive about an hour and a half outside of Rome. As we pass monuments, buildings, or other seemingly unimportant landmarks, Gabe’s boss points them out and explains their remarkable historical significance. The farther outside of the city we get, the more the landscape gets drier and less exotic. The land almost begins to remind me of the chaparral terrain so readily available in California. Eventually we pull into a driveway. Based on the entrance, I feel it might be a zoo or some other rustic tourist destination. The first sign we see as I approach is one selling different types of ice cream. Gabe and I are still very unsure of what to expect.
We walk through the gates, step into Santa Maria Maggiore, the main church of a past village and a building that was probably built in the 10th century. Chaparral turns to oasis almost instantaneously. Flowers and plants from around the world surround ruins of this village that at one time was a passing grounds between Italian cities. The geography produces a microclimate that means all these plants grow, grow quickly, and without much assistance. There are streams running through the grounds that are so clear we stick our heads underneath and take a sip of water. The flowers are vibrant, the ruins are awe-inspiring, and the company is fun and entertaining.
I have forgotten to mention that Gabe’s boss organized this excursion on a day that the Oasis di Ninfa is not open. Therefore, we have the grounds to ourselves. In a garden that the New York Times has named the most beautiful in the world, we spend an entire afternoon drinking its stream water, running through its flowers, and learning about its historical ruins.
Only contributing to the surreal experience of the day, in the evening, many of Gabe’s friends celebrate a birthday as well as his going away, and at the end of the night we end up outside The Sistine Chapel, Petersdom, and Basilica di San Pedro. One great full day in Rome!