I was on my way to Rome and dreaming of a gladiator with an arm cuff busting bicep and and hands to silence every ache in my body by smashing muscles right down to the bone.
Ancient Italian reliefs of dutiful attendants massaging beautiful people under grape-filled trellises had lulled me into believing that it would be a simple matter of inquiring at the concierge desk. However, it turns out that it’s not so easy to find massage therapists in Rome.
A fancy spa in a five star hotel was an option, but where is the sense of adventure in that? One of the great things about finding an independent body worker is that the pursuit takes me to parts of town that the tour bus does not, and affords the opportunity to experience local culture in a more intimate way.
On a quest for a referral, I took to the streets and decided to hit up local businesses – starting, of course, with the gelato shops. They are ubiquitous, sometimes several stores in a single block, but none knew of a massage establishment. What a reversal from Southern California where ice cream is sparse and spa offerings are everywhere.
Gaining nothing but weight, I ditched the gelato and started interrogating taxi drivers, hotel staff and beauty salons. Finally, someone with a vague recollection of a possible business, pointed to the university neighborhood on the map. I immediately set off on foot.
Rome is called the eternal city because the ancients believed that no matter how many people came and went, it would always thrive. More than 2,000 years later, they are still right, and ancient Roman architecture integrates beautifully into this modern, hip city.
For instance, there are hundreds of public drinking fountains still in use from the time of Christ. I thought they were fire hydrants at first, so it took some time to figure out that people were actually sipping from them.
There wasn’t even one second in the hour it took to walk across town that I did not experience the contrasts of ancient and modern. Motor vehicles sped past me on streets built for horses and chariots near the Colosseum. Roman women in stiletto heeled shoes navigated old cobblestone sidewalks by the Vatican with astonishing agility. A newlywed couple posed for their wedding photos on the Tiber river bank in front of a graffiti covered ancient fortress wall. Reflecting light from the water next to them and the uniquely Roman mix of history and “history in the making” was so compelling, that I stopped for a few minutes to watch them.
The combined visual feast and physical activity was already helping me feel better.
Reaching my destination, tourists were left behind and I could get a glimpse of authentic Roman culture. For example, one business sold and repaired only shutters, which I’d never seen before. It made sense from all those movies showing Italian grandmothers keeping an eye on the street, hidden behind wooden blinds. The street was alive with people of every shape size and color – reflecting again the spirit of the Roman Empire, which at one time encompassed an area that now houses roughly 48 nations from parts of Africa, Asia and most of Europe.
I finally spotted a sign that said, “Massage,” and I wondered: “Will I find my gladiator?”
Credit card on the table, I said “Two hours of the strongest you’ve got please”
A tiny woman came out from the shadows. I did not see even one big arm cuff busting bicep muscle on her. However, I took a chance and followed her to a room with a mat on the floor and bars suspended from the ceiling. I realized I was going to get deep tissue by foot, not arms powered by biceps.
She handed me some paper underwear to put on, and moments later was face down and naked except for my disposable lingerie. I wondering if it was going to be another over-exposed massage experience in a foreign country.
However, when she returned, the tiny woman covered me with a comfy blanket and began her massage with a bang. Swinging from the bars above my head, she focused all of her body weight through one big toe on a knot in my shoulder.
OUCH. The breath was knocked out of me and I almost asked her to stop.
Yeah, I know, some of my clients reading this are saying, “Now you know what it feels like Sheri.”
If you want to know what a walking massage is like, check out a video I made (starring myself) here:
Please click twice to see this video!
While I was still debating whether to say something, the pain dissipated and left in its wake relaxation. She seemed to know just how far to push me with the pressure of her heel and toes. Even though it hurt at times, it never went too far. I recognized that I was in the presence of an experienced body worker and this allowed me to let go and trust her. One by one, the little balls of tension throughout my body broke open. By the end of the session, I was taller, looked younger and felt fantastic!
It turns out she had been in practice for 11 years, and loved being a body worker. It showed. Even though the guide books discouraged tipping, I left behind a shower of money, compliments and hugs.
I had found my gladiator.
I hope this article inspires you to get a massage on your travels. It definitely helps recovery from jet lag and perhaps lead you to a wonderful adventure outside of the typical tourist agenda.