Monday, August 05, 2013

Viva l'Italia: Rome

Dan and I are back from two weeks in Italy, and what an adventure it was! It was the first time for both of us...delicious food, beautiful architecture, Renaissance art, and many, many churches for Dan...what's not to like? We did encounter difficulties along the way, but we still hope to return someday.

After a very long journey we finally arrived at Fiumicino airport where we bought our Roma Passes, then took the shuttle bus to Termini station...we passed sunflower fields on the way and I saw a beagle from the bus...so far, so good. Then it was onto the Metro to our B&B near the Colosseum, except that a woman blocked my entrance when I tried to board the train. I realized my wallet was stolen and confronted her, but she and her counterpart denied it and exited just as the doors were closing and the train pulled out of the station. I was freaking out and feeling foolish as I should have been more aware, but I blame exhaustion (and nausea) from the long journey. A passenger pointed to the alarm on the train, but it was too late. Some English-speaking passengers told us to go back to Termini to file a police report, so we got off the train at the next stop, waited for the next train, returned to Termini, looked for the police station, which took quite some time, all the while dragging our suitcases, thankfully not that large or heavy...what a way to start our trip! Lesson learned: Take a taxi. Or wear a money belt, which Dan did for the rest of the trip. Luckily there was only a bit of cash in my wallet at the time, but it was still upsetting. While I filled out the police report, Dan waited in the lobby and saw many other travelers arrive at the police station with similar stories of theft. At least I wasn't alone.

Eventually we made it to La Finestra sul Colosseo, and after being shown around and getting settled, we walked to the Colosseum for the underground tour. We saw two more beagles on the walk over! The Colosseum is huge and impressive, and I am glad we did a tour. The guide was informative, and it was neat to be able to go underground, as well as up to the third tier, where there were great views of the Arch of Constantine and Palantine Hill, the ruins across the street that we would visit the next day.

Underground Colosseum
Underground 

Looking down
Looking down 

Arch of Constantine
Arch of Constantine 

Colosseum & Arch of Constantine
Magic light 

After a lil' nap, it was time for gelato. We walked to Gelateria Fatamorgana, where I had gianduja and pistachio, a pre-dinner snack. We wandered around, went into the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, then found ourselves in a park, where we saw two more beagles! Eventually it was time for dinner, pizza at Li Rioni. I had the margherita, and Dan had sausage. We also had fried salted cod, which was surprisingly very tasty. The red wine was slightly chilled, which we enjoyed. Despite the rough start, it was a good first day. Day 1 beagle count: 5

The next morning after breakfast our host received a call from the police that my wallet was found! So we went down to Termini after breakfast to retrieve it. The police officer did not speak English, and I do not speak Italian, so I don't know how they got it back. Everything was in it, except the cash of course. Still, I was thrilled and surprised to get it back.

Then we were off to the Forum and Palantine Hill, where we did not take a tour. I tried to make sense of things with the Eyewitness Italy guidebook while Dan listened to the Rick Steves audiotour on the iPod. It turns out we got things all backwards. A tour might be a good idea.

Columns
 Columns 

Arch detail
Either the Arch of Titus or Septimius Severus. We got kind of mixed up.

Somehow we made our way to Palatine Hill, which is massive. We only walked around a bit. There were nice views of Rome, with Vittoriano and St. Peter's in the distance. The Vatican was our next stop, so we took the Metro across town and eventually found the entrance. There was a looooong line, so glad I made reservations!

Swirly staircase at the Vatican
Swirly staircase

The museums were so crowded. We started in the Pinacoteca, where the galleries were quiet and one could actually look at the paintings. But everywhere else was a zoo, so many tour groups. We felt like we were being carried by the crowds...couldn't really see the art. We found our way to the Sistine Chapel, which was spectacular, though we were packed in like sardines. We found a spot to sit down and admired the ceiling with Dan's binoculars. Then we climbed the dome of St. Peter's.

View from St. Peter's dome
View from St. Peter's dome

View of the Vatican Museum
Vatican Museums from St. Peter's dome

Saint backs
Saint backs

St. Peter's
St. Peter's 

After we climbed the dome, we attended mass at St. Peter's. We were surprised by the English hymns, and found out at the end that the choir was visiting from Canada! Dan said the communion wafer was paper thin. After walking around the basilica, I was ready for a snack, so we headed to Vice for our second gelato in Rome.

Second gelato
Pistachio and hazelnut 

We returned to the Colosseum neighborhood, where we saw the two beagles again! We had dinner at Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, where we started with eggplant parmigiana...mmm. (Since eggplant was in season, I decided to order it whenever it was on the menu.) Dan had the wild boar, which he said was gamey. I had my first pasta in Rome! And it was so good! Thick, chewy noodles in a delicious cheesy sauce with prosciutto and pine nuts. Yum. It was a good second day. Day 2 beagle count: 2

Wild boar
Gamey 

Pasta alla Romana
Pasta alla Romana

After breakfast the next morning we took the Metro to Piazza Barberini and walked up Via Vittorio Veneto, what a ritzy boulevard! It took awhile to find the entrance (a theme in Italy), but eventually we found the Galleria Borghese, which I really enjoyed. There are set appointment times, so only a limited number of people in the museum at once. So you can see the art! Each room was a treat for the eyes...beautiful sculptures, fancy furniture, and paintings covering the walls and ceiling. I thought the audioguide was excellent.

Villa Borghese
Garden behind Galleria Borghese

Water fountain
Water fountain

I was getting hungry, so we took a taxi from Villa Borghese to Campo de' Fiori. The farmers market was still going on. I thought these were pine cones and seed pods, but Dan said pine nuts and hazelnuts, maybe. [Note: Furry ones are chestnuts, not hazelnuts.]

Pine nuts and hazelnuts ?
Seeds and nuts

We got pizza bianca and sandwiches at Forno. We saw the baker pulling out the pizza bianca from the ovens...hot, chewy dough...yum. It was so good that Dan decided to go back for some cookies too. Then we headed toward the Pantheon, and saw a beagle! We passed Piazza Navona on the way.

Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona

Dan & Fountain of the Four Rivers
Dan & Fountain of the Four Rivers 

I got a granita di espresso con panna at Tazza d'Oro. Espresso slushy with fresh cream...so good. Alas, this was the only one I had during the whole trip.

Granita di espresso con panna
Espresso granita with cream

The Pantheon was very crowded. And every few minutes an announcement was played, asking everyone to be silent. But then the noise would start up again. Kind of like my classroom. The dome was impressive.

Pantheon
Pantheon

Light from the Pantheon dome
Light from the dome

Then we walked to Trevi Fountain. It was a complete madhouse. Insanity!

Trevi Fountain
Just like the one in Vegas, or so I've heard

We continued on to the Spanish Steps and Trinitia dei Monti, first stopping at Piazza Sant' Ignazio and looking inside the church. Then we walked toward Piazza del Popolo, passing lovely views of Vittoriano and St. Peter's. We sat at the piazza, ate our cookies from Forno, and people-watched for awhile, then went inside Santa Maria del Popolo. After the church I was ready for gelato, so we crossed the river looking for Al Settimo Gelo. It was a pretty walk through another ritzy neighborhood, we passed lots of people enjoying aperitivo alfresco on a Tuesday evening. Eventually we found the gelato shop, and after sampling several flavors, I settled on pistachio and strawberry sorbetto. How is the sorbetto so creamy?

Flower cart
Flower cart 

Al Settimo Gelo
Third gelato

After our pre-dinner snack, we tried to figure out how to get to dinner. We took at taxi to Cesare al Casaletto, a trattoria not in the city center...at least not on our tourist map. It wasn't crowded when we arrived, but the place was hopping by the time we finished. I heard only one other table speaking English. Dinner was delicious. We started with poplette di melanzane (fried eggplant) and suppli, fried risotto balls stuffed with cheese. I had pasta again, cacio e pepe, and Dan had fried lamp chops. The Romans really know how to fry food that tastes light and crisp. Then the dessert sampler, which was translated as "cookies" on the menu. But it had a mini creme caramel, panna cotta, and tiramisu with the cookies. Yum yum.

Cacio e pepe
Tonnarelli cacio e pepe

Fried lamb chops
Fried lamb chops

"Cookies"
"Cookies"

After dinner, we took the tram to Vittoriano, then the bus to the B&B. Another great day in Rome, but sadly our last. The next day we were off to Orvieto. Day 3 beagle count: 1

Despite the heat, crowds, and pickpockets, I hope to return again. So many things to eat, sights to see, neighborhoods to explore, and beagles to spot...

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