Monday, October 11, 2004


SEPTEMBER 30, 2004

Our quick trip to Rome was a lot of fun. As I mentioned earlier, we hadn’t been to Rome for a long time. Even though we’ve been here for an entire year, we still hadn’t gone to Rome, even for the day. You know how it is…one of those things that you’ll do “someday”, but because it’s so close/easy/whatever, it keeps getting put off.

When Robert from Santa Monica announced on the SlowTalk message board that he was going to be in Rome for his birthday in late September, we decided this would be the perfect time to finally re-visit the Eternal City.

We had missed the get together in Florence in late May because we had only been back from the states for a day or two…I just couldn’t face two long hours on the train while I was still a zombie. The get togethers are always fun…we get to meet new people and reconnect with old friends. So many of these people have followed our journey and given us so much help and support along the way, that they feel like “old” friends even though we’ve only known each other for a short time. Meeting other people who share your passion is a pretty good way to forge a strong friendship.

Robert was organizing a dinner on Sunday evening, and we decided to arrive on Sunday afternoon, then stay an additional two days. We contacted Linda, another SlowTalk regular, who just happens to own The Beehive, a great little hostel just north of the main train station in Rome.

Since The Beehive itself was full, we were booked into an apartment on the south side of the Termini. We shared the apartment with four other couples…we each had our own bedroom and shared a bathroom and kitchen. There was a free computer in the main hallway, although I had a lot of trouble figuring out the Mac computer. Later I discovered that some of the key covers had been put on the wrong keys. No wonder I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t type the characters listed on the keys!

We arrived in Rome around 2:30 Sunday afternoon, and I walked up to the Beehive to check-in, while Art waited with the suitcase at the Termini. We had nested two suitcases so that if we found lots of goodies at Castroni’s we would have plenty of room. Castroni’s is a store that sells all sorts of international foods, and we were hopeful that we might knock a few items off our list for December.

After we dropped our luggage at the apartment, we decided to walk to Campo del Fiori…we had read that there would be an antiques market there until late in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we saw no evidence of any type of market. It had been quite a long walk, so we found a nice little pastry shop, had a quick snack to hold us until dinner, then headed back to the apartment.

Although today had been designated as a “traffic free” day in Rome, we saw very little evidence of this. The road that runs in front of the Forum and Coliseum was closed, but that was the only closed road we saw. The weather was beautiful, and there were lots of people out…walking, sight-seeing, people watching.

We were grateful and amazed at the wonderful weather. When we left Umbria, it had been cloudy, windy and cold. The forecast for Rome had been for partly cloudy, with a low of about 40º, so we had packed accordingly. Not surprisingly, the forecast was wrong. We had beautiful weather, and wished that we had brought lighter weight clothes.

We rested in the apartment, then decided to take a cab to Piazza Navona. We planned to stroll around this area, then walk over to the restaurant, Taverna Antiche, not far from Piazza Navona. We walked to a taxi stand that was listed on the map The Beehive had given us. I don’t know if this made it any easier to get a cab, but after about ten minutes we finally found a free cab and were on our way. As expected, the ride was thrilling and scary at the same time. I was relieved to get out of the cab and explore Piazza Navona.

This piazza is pedestrian only, lined with many restaurants. There are two fountains in the center of the piazza, and many artists had their work set up for display. I swear I could have bought at least three or four, but where would I put them? We enjoyed strolling and looking, and took our time finding our way to the restaurant.

Once we arrived, we discovered that our table was set up, but that we were the first ones there. We thought we might just enjoy a glass of wine while we waited, but then Cesare walked in the door. Cesare is the husband of Stephanie, who participates on the message board, and we had met both of them last September at the get together in Chianti.  He was dropping off some things for the dinner, and invited us to go with him to a nearby bar to have a drink with Stephanie and another couple, Steve and Linda. We were anxious to meet Steve and Linda because they were our hosts in Rome…they own The Beehive!

We arrived at the nearby bar, met Steve and Linda, and found them to be absolutely the nicest people in the world! Stephanie arrived a few minutes later, and before you know it we had to head back to the restaurant.

I think we had about eighteen people there, and the only bad thing about the setup was that we were at one very long table…making it impossible to talk with, or even see, people at the other end. Luckily, someone had the great idea of switching seats, so halfway through the dinner, everyone on the outside of the table reversed ends. Those of us on the other side were boxed in by the wall, so we had to stay put. Anyway, this did allow us to talk with more people, although I still didn’t get to talk to those sitting at the far end of my side. I think there was a couple down there whose names I don’t even know! I hope someone will eventually help me to identify everyone in the pictures! 

The food was good and plentiful. For the antipasti we had, chickpeas, green peas, beans, prosciutto, tomatoes with mozzarella…maybe more. Apparently the original plan was to have everyone order individually, but of course that would have been a big headache for the staff. The waiter asked us if we would like to have two pastas served family style, and everyone agreed with that. Spaghetti arrabbiata was served, and a penne pasta with a cream sauce. The penne was way too “al dente”, but other than that, both were good.

Robert, the birthday boy, was the only one to have meat and vegetables…I can’t imagine where he put it, but maybe he was better at pacing himself that the rest of us.

Stephanie had arranged for the two birthday cakes, and they were brought out…one even had a candle in it, and we all sang “Happy Birthday” and Robert blew out the candle. Both the cakes were fantastic!

Pauline and Steve had planned to call us during dinner from England. They were spending a few weeks in the Cotswolds, and had even toyed with the idea of grabbing a cheap flight from London to Rome, but in the end, that turned out to be too much trouble. Unfortunately we had NO reception on our cell phones in the restaurant. Stephanie called Pauline once dinner was over and we were outside, but Art and I had to rush off…we had a 9:15 appointment at the Vatican the next morning.

We were lucky to find a taxi almost immediately, and made it to bed around 11:00 I guess. We slept pretty well, but in the morning, once the buses started running, the street noise woke us up. Our bedroom was on the front of the building, and if I had thought about it, I would have requested the bedroom on the backside of the building. With such short notice I had been glad just to get a room at a reasonable price.

Our tour at the Vatican was of the excavations underneath St Peters. A cemetery existed on this site long before Christ was born, so most of the tombs are pagan, but there were a few Christian burial sites, usually disguised so as not to cause problems when Christianity was banned.

This site is also where St Peter himself is supposed to be buried, and the guide made a very convincing argument. I think this site was discovered when a pope back in the 1920’s asked to be buried as close to St Peter as possible, and this site was excavated. The structural integrity of the basilica prevents further excavation, but what we saw was fascinating.

We had hoped to visit the Vatican museums after our Scavi Tour, but the line was wrapped all the way around the block, so we decided to pass. We’ll visit the museum with my sister in November.

On the way from the subway stop to the Vatican, we had seen a café named Castroni’s. Since this is the name of the store I had planned to visit near the Piazza del Popolo, I thought it would be worth a look.

The café also carried a selection of international foods, and there was another shop next door, also a Castroni’s. I bought cream of mushroom soup (€2!!!), pumpkin pie filling, ramen noodles, strawberry jam (from England), oatmeal, something I THINK might be almond extract, and sunflower seed kernels. I saw a little bit of everything there…lots of Oriental and Mexican foods, lots of stuff from England, even Oreos!

We took our stuff back to the apartment and headed back to the Termini to catch a subway to The Hard Rock Café for a late lunch. WE thought that by eating lunch rather than dinner, we could eat more food with less guilt. Art had fajitas and I had barbequed ribs with onion rings!!! It was a nice treat, although we would have preferred refried beans and Spanish rice instead of the baked beans and plain rice served with the fajitas.

We decided to walk back towards Termini and try to find a wine shop that we had read about in the brochure The Beehive had given us. We wanted to find a bottle of Sagrantino wine to give to Steve and Linda. Art and Steve had been talking about wines and Steve had never had Sagrantino, which is produced in Montefalco, not far from where we live.  Unfortunately the store only had one type of Sagrantino, and it wasn’t what we wanted, so we headed back to the apartment, stopping briefly at a neighborhood grocery store for water and a few snacks.

In our previous trips to Rome, we have always stayed south of Termini, and had gotten the impression that the north side was a bit rougher. After walking to The Beehive to check-in, then walking to the wine shop and grocery store, I would have to say that I think the north side is a lot nicer than the south side. The north side seems more residential, while the south side is filled with lots of junky shops, and it just seems dirtier….not really scary, but just kind of seedy and run down.

Since we had pigged out for lunch, we wanted something light for dinner, so we decided to try a little pizzeria recommended in The Beehive’s book. We walked towards Santa Maria Maggiore, and found the UPIM department store. I had read about this chain on the message board, but had never been in one. Only later would I discover that there is one in Perugia, but since it’s located down by the train station, I had never seen it.

I really like the department store, and found a set of dishes that I really liked. Since we’ve had five of our Deruta dishes crack when hot food was placed on them, we decided to buy some less expensive dishes for every day. Once back home, we would go to Perugia and buy a complete service for eight for about €50!!! When you consider that one plate from Deruta costs €20, it’s easy to understand why we changed.

We found the pizzeria we were looking for, and waited for a few minutes for a hot pizza to come out of the oven. While it wasn’t as good as one of Marco’s pizza’s from Ternana’s, it was good. On the walk back to the apartment we stopped for a gelato and enjoyed watching the people as we ate.

On Tuesday morning we had originally planned to go to the market at Camp del Fiore to buy some spice mixes that Art likes. However, when we read (in The Beehive book!) about the covered market just a few blocks east of us, we decided to check that our first. Mercato Esquillno is supposed to be the largest covered market in Rome. This area has a large ethnic population, and we saw lots of Oriental foods and lots of fish. Of course there were also the traditional fruits and vegetables, and plenty of single spices, but we never did find the spice mixes we wanted.

We went back to apartment and finished packing, then walked up to The Beehive to leave our luggage until it was time to catch the train back to Umbria. Since it was still early, and since we knew the market at Campo del Fiore didn’t close until around one o’clock, we decided to head over there. We walked to the nearest taxi stand and hailed a cab. As expected, it was a ride to remember! I can’t imagine ever driving in Rome!

We found the stall where we had bought the spices, and bought a mix for pasta, a Puttanesca mix, and mixes for both meat and fish. We enjoyed walking around the market, then walked to the great little pastry shop we had found on Sunday and had a sandwich.

We walked towards the Tiber, with the intention of visiting Castel Sant’Angelo. I had always wanted to see it, but in previous trips we had never had the time. We walked across a pedestrian bridge directly into the castle. This castle was originally built as a tomb of the emperor Hadrian, and has been used as a castle, a prison, and also as a refuge for popes…there’s a tunnel connecting the castle to the Vatican.

Once we left Castel Sant’Angelo, we had plenty of time for lunch and a stroll before our three o’clock reservation at the Borghese Gallery. We hailed a cab, and asked the driver if he knew of an inexpensive restaurant around the Piazza del Popolo. He said yes, he knew of two, and they both specialized in Bolognese food. He told us that they weren’t too expensive, and that both were places he went to. That had to be a good thing!

Unfortunately, both restaurants were WAY out of our budget…either that cab driver makes a VERY good living, or maybe he just assumed we were rich because we were Americans. We walked a bit further away from the piazza and found someplace that looked good and had reasonable prices. We both wanted the special of the day, which was a dish with salmon, and it was delicious.

Since we had never been through the large park surrounding the Borghese Gallery, a nice walk would settle our lunch and allow us plenty of time to reach the gallery. The Villa Borghese is Rome’s Central Park. There are many paths, open fields, a zoo, benches, just a wonderful space.

As we were walking, a tram pulled up, and we decided to hop on to see as much of the park as we could. By the time we had ridden the complete circuit and come back to the gallery, it was almost time for us to go in. We first had to go to the lower level to pay for our tickets and to check our bags.

Entrance to the Borghese is limited in number and also in length….but the two hours allotted are more than enough, especially for us, since we know exactly what we want to see. Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne” is always at the top of our list, as well as several other pieces of sculpture that make it hard to believe you’re looking at cold, hard marble.

We caught a bus back to the Termini, but unfortunately the bus that ran directly to Termini had been discontinued, so we had to get off the bus and catch the subway. It wasn’t difficult, but since we knew the number of the (direct) bus we wanted, we had no idea which bus we should take in its place. Luckily there was another couple waiting at the stop, and they told us which bus to catch and where to transfer. Once we arrived at Termini, we saw a very interesting thing: two undercover cops with a drug or bomb dog. Then we saw another guy with a dog, and this dog was hot on the trail of someone!

As the dog finally reached a group of three guys, he put his paws on the shoulders of one of them. Of course the cops were asking all sorts of questions, while the guys readily opened their bags to prove they had nothing to hide. Since we still had to retrieve our luggage and come back to the station to catch the train, we didn’t stay to see what happened. I can’t imagine one of these dogs making a mistake, and wonder what happened.

I was glad that we had purchased our return tickets in Ponte San Giovanni so we didn’t have to stand in line at Termini. Art found a USAToday and we both read the paper while waiting for our train to pull into the station.

The ride back was uneventful, except for the fact that we almost got off at the wrong station! At the time we were due to arrive at Ponte San Giovanni, we pulled into a station. I was talking to Jill on the phone, so I hadn’t been looking for the sign as we pulled in. I just believed Art when he told me to get off the train, but then, just as suddenly, he said “Get back on!”….we were in the station just before Ponte San Giovanni, and luckily he had seen the sign before the train started moving…they usually don’t stop for long in the smaller stations.

Our car was waiting for us at the station…thank goodness. It took us about thirty minutes to drive home and that was it! Home! Nice to go away, but always nicer come back to your own home, your own bed!



At 10/11/2004 02:18:00 PM , Blogger chiaro di luna said...

I always enjoy reading your blog updates. Wish I was there! Your photos are fantastic! Thanks

At 10/11/2004 03:06:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations, you have found nirvana in "Narvona" where the food is mediocre, the prices are exorbitant and everyone is American.

Keep it coming.


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