Thursday, February 7, 2008

My Four Nights in Rome (Oct 2007) - Part II

October 8, 2007: I spent four nights in Rome, arriving Tuesday October 9th, 2007, one day after my 19th wedding anniversary. Tony was supposed to travel with me, but the airlines, as usual, screwed him once again with vacation time. So he drove me to the airport while I carried a dozen red roses in hand all the way to Rome. The flight was over an hour late due to a/c problems. I met up with Beth and Harry, who were also going on the cruise, so when we were informed the flight would be delayed, I said, “Let’s to go the bar and get a drink.” The bar was just down from the gate area. About 45 minutes later we decided to head back and sit in the waiting area. As we walked (with Harry in a wheel chair) I heard an announcement, “This is the last call for flight 718 to Rome.” We ran! Apparently when we were told the flight would be late an hour, they must have changed their minds just after we walked away. The airline had decided to let everyone on board so that the flight could take off as soon as the a/c was fixed. My heart was pounding for a long time!

October 9th Rome: The flight was uneventful. Because of the late departure, headphones and the first drink were complimentary. I had arranged transportation with and Lucca was waiting for us just after the customs area. We had gone through passport control very fast since Harry was in a wheelchair. We arrived to an overcast day but that didn’t matter to me. I was in Rome!! I was looking forward to exploring various areas of Rome and having some good food for dinner.

Beth and Harry were dropped off first, so by the time I arrived at my hotel (Hotel Giardino), my room was ready. Thank goodness Lucca was kind to carry my two suitcases up the two flights of stairs, as I would not have been able to manage them myself. After checking into room #32 and freshening up, I headed out for a few hours to wander the area around my hotel. I walked by the Trajan’s forum and column, Victor Emanuelle’s monument, up the via dei Corso, to the trevi fountain (with a ham/cheese sandwich in hand purchased from a sandwich bar), and then to the Spanish Steps where I saw many tourists sitting on the steps watching the afternoon activity. I met an older French couple that asked me how to use the zoom on their camera. They were thrilled to with my help and happily snapped away. I continued down to Largo del Tritone where I purchased a bottle of red wine and water for the room, and walked by the four seasons fountain to the Quirinale – just a couple of blocks up from my hotel.

Dinner my first night was at Armando al Pantheon, located only a few steps from the Pantheon. I had a good meal there: Verdi antipasti followed by roast lamb chops; vin santo and biscotti (41 euros). I felt very comfortable dining alone (as well as walking alone in Rome at night), as the waiter took good care of me. I enjoyed walking around at night seeing the Trevi fountain lit up, while crowds of people tossed their coins into the fountain.

October 10th: On Wednesday, I filled my day visiting several ancient Rome sights. I started my morning with breakfast and then headed out to visit the San Clemente church. It was fascinating with its lower levels (a total of three churches on top of the next), the frescos, and the beautiful mosaic of the Cross of the Tree of Life. Next I visited San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains) to see the statue of Moses, which Michelangelo created, and had been used for Pope Julius II’s funeral. It was beautiful!

I had plans to meet up with fellow cruisers Mark, Carolyn, Barb, and Marguerite, friends from Maryland, at 1pm at their hotel on via Cavour. I enjoyed my afternoon with them, especially Mark because he was a walking Rome history encyclopedia. Mark is very passionate about Roman history and I learned a lot on our “private” tour. We walked around the Roman forum while Mark pointed out things here and there. He could describe a small portion of building or block without any hesitation. Amazing! We purchased our tickets at the Palatine Hill and headed to the colosseum. There is a small museum of artifacts on the upper level, which were quite interesting to see. After, we visited the Palatine Hill. It drizzled every now and then. Around the colosseum, “gladiators” posed with tourists. It was funny to see men in skirts with their hairy legs smoking a cigarette.

After our tour I headed back to my hotel. I enjoyed a glass of wine while talking to friends Deb and Robert, who arrived in the morning without any luggage. Deb headed out to purchase a few clothes while I wrote in my journal.

Shortly before 8pm, Deb, Robert and I headed out and walked to Gioia Mia on via Degli Avignonesi, 34 (phone 06 4882784). We had an excellent dinner! In fact, I liked my meal more than at Armando’s’. The place was packed and diners at the door were turned away if they didn’t have reservations. The three of us enjoyed the antipasti: eggplant, mushrooms, potatoes, onions, cheese, etc. For my entrée I had papparadelle (wide ribbon-like pasta) with bacon and mushrooms in a light cream sauce. The ¼ liter of red wine was only 2 euros. Deb and Robert shared the same pasta dish and a veal dish, all very good. Deb and Robert treated me to dinner. Thanks! After dinner, we had a nice walk back to our hotel, stopping at the trevi fountain and piazza Quirinale to take some night photos.

October 11th: Thursday was spent at Vatican City. Deb, Robert and I had breakfast at the hotel before taking a taxi to the Vatican for our 9:15am Scavi excavations tour (I reserved our tickets before leaving the USA). It took us a little time to flag down a taxi driver, as most cars that passed by were filled with customers. Once we got a taxi, it was a short ride to the Vatican (just under 6 euros, which I paid). We had to wait about ½ hour before our tour began. As others commented on fodors, what a fascinating tour! Our tour guide was knowledgeable and pleasant to listen to. After our tour, we headed through the Basilica and then lunch at Tre Pupazzi on Borgo Pio 183. Very good spaghetti puttanesca. Deb had pizza, which I tasted and was delicious, and Robert had melon/proscuitto and minestrone soup. There were a lot of restaurants along this street.

After lunch, we walked to the Vatican museum for our afternoon tour. Along the way we passed via d. Grazie where I saw a long line of people waiting to get in for lunch. It was a small pizza place. I have it marked on my map for a future visit! I had asked Katie to fax our reservations for the museum and Sistine Chapel. I had our reservation sheet with me and we walked inside the glass door (left side to avoid the long lines) to the ticket office to pay for our tickets. Deb and Robert weren’t feeling well, so they took a taxi back to the hotel. In the meantime, Mark, Carolyn, Barb, and Marguerite arrived, as they had the same time slot for the tour. I tagged along with them as we went on our tour. The last time was I was there was in 1990, so it felt like a first visit to me. I was amazed with the long corridor/hallway with the decorated ceilings. I loved seeing the tapestries and marble statues. The Sistine Chapel was packed with tourists gazing at the ceiling. The tour lasted two hours and it was a rush tour to go through so many rooms and down long hallways. My neck was sore the rest of the evening from looking up for so long! How did those painters manage?

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking back to the other side of the Tiber river with a pistachio gelato in hand. Delicious!! I stopped to see the Piazza Navona, which was filled with artists and tourists. Cafés were filled with people enjoying a late afternoon snack and drink. I ended up at the Campo dei Fiori, also busy with people and met up with a bunch of cruise friends for pre-dinner drinks at café Farnese. For dinner 13 of us dined at Ristorante del Pallaro 9 (Largo del Pallaro 15, just around the corner from Campo dei Fiori), a place that serves a full fixed priced meal with house wine and water. The tables inside and outside were completely filled and we had to wait about five minutes for them to clear a large area for us. We sat outside, although the restaurant had set up heating lamps and plastic coverings to keep the cold air out. We all squeezed in at the tables and had a very good time. Everything was really delicious but the meat course was a little on the dry side. That really didn’t bother me, as I filled up on the antipasti and pasta dishes. Dessert was also served – a tart. What bothered me was when the bill arrived and the money was collected, we were short 46 euros: the price of two people. I was very unhappy and upset to say the least because I figured there would be no money problems with a fixed price dinner. Some added more from their pocket to make up for the missing money.

Deb, Robert, and I walked with David and Larry to their hotel so I could email home. They had complimentary internet access in their hotel (Best Pantheon). I was glad to be back in my room, as it was a full day of sightseeing, walking, and dining. I was definitely ready for bed.

October 12th. Friday was my last full day in Rome and I spent my morning getting money from an ATM machine (my card worked without any problems!!!), visiting the Gesu Church (fabulous and a must-see!), petting some of the cats at the Largo di Torre Argentina and checking out the fresh fruits and vegetables at the Campo dei Fiori, which was in full swing when I arrived. There were other vendors selling clothing, leather purses, and costume jewelry. I sampled some olives and spreads from another vendor. She also had a bottle of limoncello on hand to try but declined her offer to taste it – I make my own and didn’t want any so early in the day.

I walked around Piazza Navona, Pantheon and trevi fountain before heading to my hotel to drop off my umbrella and jacket. The sun was out and getting warm. Just as I left the building I saw a huge dark cloud, so I went back to my room to get the umbrella. I was very glad I did because as I was eating pizza for lunch it poured (Pizzeria Wanted, via Leonina, 90)! The rain lasted through my lunch and stopped in time for me to meet Mark and the gang for our afternoon tour of the Domus Aurea, “Golden House” which is now open to tourists. This was Nero’s palace and there is still much to be excavated. We were told 30 million euros will be needed to continue working on the site and only 3 million euros has been collected. The tour was short but quite interesting. Everyone had to wear hardhats for safety reasons and of course we had to have our photos taken. Mark was a little disappointed in the tour, as he was hoping to see certain areas of the palace.

Next we visited the San Giovanni in Laterno with its beautiful cloister. While the three women headed back to the hotel (and probably with a little window shopping and gelato on the way), Mark and I continued walking towards the colosseum seeing a few portions of the Roman aqueduct along the way. We stopped at another church, S. Stefano Rotundo. According to Mark it was, “built in about 470 with a portico added about 1140. The paintings were added in the 1580's.” These paintings depicted various types of torture methods. It was very gruesome.
Heading back to my hotel, I stopped to buy a couple bottles of red wine for my cabin on the ship. I bought a Montepulciano wine for 2.80 euros, which was actually quite good for house wine.
Deb, Robert, and I took a taxi to Trastevere for dinner (pricier than our ride to the Vatican, as we were stuck in the evening traffic), meeting up with Mark and the gang. Another excellent dinner (vegetable gratin; eggplant parmesan) at Al Fontanone (Piazza Trilussa 46) along with very friendly waiters. This restaurant is located just a block from the Tiber river and Ponte Sisto. Everyone had ordered dessert except me. However, the owner gave me a plate of biscotti and vin santo to enjoy. The three of us walked back to our hotel, while the rest took a taxi home (Nicolas B&B on via Cavour).

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