Riding through the Italian countryside quite early on a Sunday morning headed north to Milan. After the ten minute taxi race through the empty Sunday morning streets of Rome. A soft light glowing sideways through the pale grapevines shedding their yellow leaves and those tall spiraling trees that seem to ride the ridge of every hillside, whatever they are, turning gold as well (weird as I thought they were cedars?? quoi?)
We return to Switzerland today, land of sauerkraut and people in boxy clothes wearing practical shoes (not unlike Maine). We will miss Rome and its fluid spirit and celebratory, passionate people. The people in Rome own the streets like nowhere else, except maybe southern Spain; they are always IN them. We both fell in love with the place, tossed a total of Three Coins in the Fountain Trevi, which was splendiferous) for the good luck to return someday.
My favorite thing about Rome is all the extra syllables. For example, you watch a tennis match on tv in italian, the score becomes not thirty-love, or ace, but thirty uh love uh, or ‘ace uh’. And you hear this everywhere as English creeps into the lingo. I just love the generosity implied in all the extra entirely unnecessary syllables Italian offers. It completely cracks me up. And the hand gestures. I cannot imagine laying claim to fluency in Italian someday without having mastered the accompanying hand gesture as well. So much said with just a brief motion this way or that.
"The glory that was (is) Rome" as they say is still with us. Especially the Roman Forum which we loved and spent an entire day “roamin”, toting a yummy picnic we picked up at our fave deli near Via Vittoria (prosciutto cotto [regular ham], smoked mozz slabs, some other cheese they guy insisted I try, fresh green olives [the kind that only one guy at the Trenton Farmers' market sells], some sundried tomatoes, all smashed between torn open slices of 'pizza' bread -- and a coke and mineral water to go -- whadda picnic!) We ate on a large stone among the ruins and hiked up to the Palatine. FYI, if you are ever inclined to visit the Forum, which of course you would be if in Rome, try and enter from the Via di Gregorio, which we did not (we ended our tour there). See the Colisseum first, then walk down the street a little to enter the Palatine . Paul disagrees – a hobby of his – thinks entering via "downtown" old Rome, the way we entered through the Via Imperiale is better. I would have preferred to start at the top, the ancient "Beverly Hills" of Palatine area and work down to the old temples and ruins. Either way you do it, the ruins of old Rome are intense and amazing. Put you in your place, they will. Felt a little like the Grand Canyon to me. Really really old. There are actually two layers of ancient Rome, and you can see them revealed right before your eyes.
Buy a ticket to cover the Roman Forum, the Palatine, and Colisseum (pretty cheap for all you get), and it’s good for 24 hours in case you get tired and want to come back next day. (Check the time ticket was sold.) We missed last call for entrance at Colisseum and went back the next day after St. Peter’s; a MEGAwalk along the Tiber River if there ever was one. I thought we deserved some kind of tourist award or something at the end of that hike. We insisted on walking everywhere we went to know the place better. But metro works well as do busses. Oh, we did take the little bus down via del Corso a couple times, but such short rides it doesn’t count. The rides were short cause I was looking for the Vodaphone store to top up my UK sim card and the number was 417 via del Corso and so I looked at one side of the Via and saw it was like 116 and figured we had to go way downtown to get to 417, but of course I didn’t know at the time the numbers on either side of Italian streets have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Got on the bus, turned around, looked at the numbers on the side Vodaphone was on, and got right off cause it was right there! Duh…
Food tip: In the St. Peter’s area, avoid any place on the Via della Conciliazione leading up to St. Peter’s; instead have a great lunch with locals at the De’ Penitenzieri wine bar a few blocks south of St. Peter’s. Great sandwich (panini) of fresh Mozz, roasted peppers, and, get this, squash blossoms, on an amazing sesame brioche roll. With a beer it’s heaven. And cheap too. We got two sandwiches to go one day (ate there twice) and water for 7 euros. Took it to the bridge and sat on the stairs near the sans abri hangout and had a nice quiet meal.
Other eateries worth revisiting are Babette’s on Via Margutta (near the Spanish Steps, our neighborhood the whole time –a little pricey but good food and wonderful people), Old Bear on Via del Gigli d’oro, and Il Brillo Parlante, next to our second hotel, The Hotel Valatier, on the via della Fontenella. The food downstairs (only tourists seem to eat on the street) is amazing and cheap, wine perfect (all the wine we drank here, including after dinner vin santos, lemoncellos, and stregas, was delish and cheap compared to US. No sulfates to spoil the taste. The Valatier Hotel, an older hotel, was like staying onboard an ocean liner, compact but we liked it – all marble everywhere. Mirror on the ceiling! What a view! Lotsa marble in Italy. Great breakfast at both our hotels, including homemade yogurt at the Hotel Forte.
We are tea fans and thought naively that we’d have to go to one of the “tea Rooms” just to have a nice pot of tea in the afternoon as this is a coffee town – get us going for round two of the day . Not so. My advice, avoid places like Babbingtons and other tea rooms. Most places that serve coffee and have table service will make you a nice pot of tea for about 3 or 4 bucks. Tea Rooms per se will charge you ten bucks for the same thing. Total rip, although Babbington’s tea was very good. (Our hotel did nice tea with fab cookies for 4 bucks.) The pastries at Babbingtons were yucky. The Brits have never been able to put a decent pastry together, (Gilli’s Pavlova a luscious exception). Tea is their thang.
We 've had amazing good luck with hotels, restaurants, cabs, trains, never waiting in line for anything, even the Vatican Museum. (I just LOVE traveling off season!) You can book online and forward the receipt ticket to your hotel’s email address and they'll print it out for you – FYI same with train tickets via Trenitalia (register there first) online or plane boarding passes – or the hotel can book for you, as with restaurant recommendations and dinner and hotel reservations.
St. Peter’s? Something of a letdown. I wasn’t so surprised as disappointed; it wasn't a patch on the Basilica in Seville, just lotsa muscle and power emanating from the curved, non gothic dome, heavy duty statuary, megacolumns, mosaics (low maintenance) and verboten areas. But the Vatican museum (do rent the recorded guide thing, cheap and informative), especially of course the Sistine Chapel, aye carumba! Happily there are benches all along the wall in there so you can stare upward for a length of time (guards sshhhing everyone every few minutes, I liked that) without permanently deforming your neck and spinal column. And stare we did. The amazing thing is that Michelangelo hadn't done any fresco work when he started the ceiling at the age of about 30. By the time he was 60 and painting the Last Judgement on the endwall he was the master fresco artist of his day. His self- portrait is said to be in face of the skin held by the saint just below Jesus who was skinned alive for his faith. Michelangelo’s work is stunning, moving, the colors not to be believed, and well worth any amount of grunt work one might have to do to earn the money to get over here and see this stuff.
Lotsa good art in the Museum. So much to see. Dose Popes knew a good pieza arte when deya see it. Anna nowa we canne goa anna see itah too. The statuary can be somewhat startling as many of what would be the more attractive male figures are missing their pipis, hacked right off by who knows whom. We were disturbed by this. And I could not help but wonder about recent scandals having to do with the Pope and his minions. They don’t call it the Holy “ See” for nothing.
The Hall of Maps (the first thing you enter) was a total mindblower, divided as it was into the Church’s conquests in the East to the right and the West on the left. A football field length of ‘ownership’ when the Pope “ruled” as the kids like to say. And he did. But just climb up the hill later beyond the Piazza del Populi (our fave piazza in Rome) to the Borghese Palace or the Medici crib up behind our wonderful little hotel (Hotel Forte) on the Via Margutta (an artist haven of a street, but pricey) and you’ll get a quick snapshot of who really ruled Rome back then as you look down on St. Peter’s in the distance. A view not to be missed, well above the top of the Spanish Steps, which is a hellish crazy place in the afternoons.
I was less impressed with the Pantheon than I thought I would be. Yes, structurally it’s a wonder, but the refitting as a christian church put me off – as an instant Roman I resented it – and I would like to have seen it as the Romans built it all pagan and strange with a ‘pantheon’ of gods.
The trick to enjoying all these sights is getting there early in the morning when all the rest of the tourists are sleeping in, enjoying their cappuccinos, and pretending to be rich people living lives of leisure. If you make reservations at Vatican Museum, Uffizi, etc. make them for early morning, so not only will you avoid the queues, but you’ll be fresh, and you’ll have a quiet hour or more to yourself to enjoy the place before the flood of tour groups sporting “here we are” flags arrive to clog the floor.
There is an upside to these groups, which we discovered while at the Colisseum. You can glom onto an English speaking group for part of their tour of the site, whatever it is, and learn a few things. NOTE: there is next to NO printed information given out at ANY sites of interest in Rome, so either do your homework before you go, bring your own map, hire a private guide (we met a couple of cool ones) or wing it and interpret the entire experience through the limited lens of your narrow experience, i.e., project your own twisted mind on to what you see, which is the egotistical way to tour Europe . This is a lazy approach I simply cannot condone. We used the Lonely Planet guide to Italy almost exclusively and a nice old Frommer’s I had and both were very good, if somewhat cursory re history at times. If I went to the Forum again, I’d hire a private guide. They sounded really knowledgeable and fun. In fact , I might do that for five days for the whole city.
We never got to Trastevere or to Monti or to several museums (modern art) or to walk the vast gardens of the Borghese, and I’ll be forever in search of the white truffle with fresh pasta now, but it was memorable, and it’s there, waiting ...