Chapter Four – Roman Holiday Comes To A Close

P1000192Chapter Four – Roman Holiday Comes To A Close

Next: Act VII – Let’s Get A Tan, Where Is Everybody, Yes We’re With The Television Crew, On Top Of The World, For The Birds, The Scene Of The Crime, Seeing Rome In A Different Light, What Dinner Reservations and Finally A Great Dinner

We were up early, looked outside and saw blue sky, plenty of sunshine and it was even warm. This is more like it.  I didn’t even need a sweater or coat. We were so invigorated that we passed on breakfast…ok, I might have had a quick bowl of fruit.

P1000030It was on to the Vatican, where we had reservations for 10 a.m.  Arriving about nine and expecting to see huge throngs, we were surprised that only about 15 people were waiting in line.   Since we already had reservations, we bypassed the 15, stepped inside, and by 9:05 we were touring the Musei Vaticani with our audio guides helping us along the way.

P1000179The last time we had visited the Vatican Museum, it was difficult to maneuver through the mass of humanity, but today there would be no such problem.

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Crowds were light, and it was more pleasant than our first trip here.

P1000180The museum really is overwhelming, and audio guides or a guided tour are a must, I would think.

P1000181Our favorite area, once again, was the Map Gallery, a long hallway with various maps of Italy located throughout.

P1000187The ceilings are stupendous.

P1000189 The Raphael rooms are also spectacular, and it was interesting to hear the stories behind the paintings in the relative quiet of the museum on this morning.  One could spend an entire day here, but we have the “2 ½ hour rule” that makes museum overload virtually impossible.

Last stop, of course, is the Sistine Chapel, and truthfully after seeing so many incredible churches on this trip, it is just not as awe-inspiring to me as it is to many, but it is still a great way to end the tour.

P1000190After walking back through the museum and passing a beautiful piece of stained glass to deposit our audio guides, and walking down a dizzying staircase at the museum we grabbed a quick cappuccino and a couple of croissants at a neighborhood joint and walked over to St. Peter’s Square.

P1000191Once there, the line to enter the basilica was stretched out to the square, so we decided to visit some other venues and come back around 4 p.m. when we knew we could get right in (well, that plan had worked for us in the past).

P1000193It was really warm by now.

P1000192It was back on the metro and over to Piazza del Popolo to see the Santa Maria del Popolo.  We didn’t count how many churches visited on this trip, but it had to have easily been 30 or more.

P1000195Knowing how many times I have attended church back home, I am pretty sure God was shocked by this total.  In any event, Raphael designed one of the chapels inside the Santa Maria del Popolo for his buddy Agostini Chigi, he of Villa Farnesina fame.

P1000196There are also Bernini pieces in here.

P1000198By now, we were hungry (I believe that is our vacation MO) and we walked down the Via del Corso, now looking a little more festive for Christmas.

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Walking in Rome, which we did a lot of, is really quite an art.  When there are no traffic signals, and cars are scurrying by left and right, it seems the best thing to do is just fling yourself into traffic, all the while displaying a confident demeanor like you know what the hell you are doing.  If you do, they will stop (usually).  It took a little while to get over the fear that oncoming vehicles would smash into us, but by the end of the trip Tracy and I had the ritual down to a science.  We also had our life insurance policies…just in case.

P1000208We ate at a little outdoor place pretty near the Pantheon, but we were back walking shortly thereafter to see yet another church, but one I was really looking forward to seeing.

P1000206Although it was not supposed to be open yet, I had a feeling that because there would be lots of added attention paid to this place the following evening (Christmas Eve), we might be able to get in to a tad early if we played our cards right.

Back on the Via del Corso, we walked toward “The Wedding Cake” (Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II).  When we’re tired, that’s when I turn to my old friend (and pain in the ass to some of you), Rick Steves.  Say what you will about the old boy, but he has some good suggestions sometimes, especially for tired tourists with broken feet.

Instead of climbing the nearly one million (ok, about 240) steps up toward the Wedding Cake, we took his suggestion to go around it, find the She-Wolf statue (to the left of the mayoral palace), climb a “wide set of stairs,” make a left and follow the signs to Aracoeli.

P1000214The Santa Maria d’Aracoeli was not supposed to be open for another 45 minutes, but as I expected, the doors to this 13th century church were open because television crews were laying cable in preparation for the Bambino (no Yankee fans, not that Bambino).

P1000212At Christmas Eve Mass, it is tradition that Santo Bambino (a wooden statue of the baby Jesus) is brought out to a throne, and it is all shown on television.  The original Bambino was carved more than 500 years ago, but was stolen in 1994 and has never been found. They now have a replacement Bambino.

P1000216As workers scurried about, Tracy and I went in and wandered the magnificent interior that includes frescoes by Pinturicchio.

P1000215This was one of the few places that had a nativity scene that could actually be seen before Christmas.

P1000219Back outside, we climbed more stairs to the café and terrace area where we met a very photogenic seagull that seemed to be enjoying the limelight as he posed for tourists and locals alike.

P1000220We walked around the , and although there were good views of Rome from various vantage points, I knew there was a place where I could get even more spectacular looks over the city.  Once more, we passed by Jonathan Livingston. He had not moved from his perch, and if I’m not mistaken, I think he had put out a tip jar.

P1000222For 7€, I purchased a ticket to Rome From The Sky, which would take me on a quick elevator ride to the top.

P1000224Tracy stayed below opting to use her 7€ for vino a little later. Although a little hazy (I don’t think this haze had anything to do with cigarette smoke), the 360 degree views out on to Rome were fantastic.

P1000221I was using my new, compact Panasonic ZS1 that seemed to be taking wonderful zoom shots of the fabulous Forum (Laker fan reference) and the Colosseum.

P1000225I could hardly wait to see these photos when I got home to see how my new camera performed.  P1000227 After descending, we talked about going through the Forum, but we have already done that twice and the Colosseum once…

P1000238…so we decided against that idea to do something else for the third time (logic pays no part in our planning).

P1000237We walked back to the metro and headed back across town to St. Peter’s.  As expected, when we arrived at 4 p.m. there was no line and we strolled right in.

P1000250We walked around St. Peter’s for the better part of an hour, and they too were getting ready for the giant Christmas Eve Mass (although I guess in hindsight they didn’t prepare for everything).

P1000249After seeing Pope John XXIII, we decided to go down to the Grotto Of Dead Popes (not it’s real name), and then walked back to the metro.

P1000244It was now time to get a few night shots, so we stopped at the Spanish Steps metro station, strolled down to the Fontana di Trevi...and took pictures with millions of other touristas…

P1000258…and headed to the Spanish Steps for a photo with more tourists.

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We had asked our hotel five days previously to make 8:30 p.m. reservations for us at Le Mani In Pasta, and at the appointed time we walked the less than ten minutes to this very popular Trastevere eatery.

Rain had started coming down just about the time we arrived, so we ducked in the door, and the gentleman asked if we had reservations. “Si, Tom and Tracy at 8:30,”   I said.  I quickly added that the Hotel San Francesco had booked the table.

He hurriedly conferred with another guy, said “Hotel San Francesco” in a not-so-wonderful tone and in a rather gruff manner sat us at a table.  I can’t be sure, but I am guessing the hotel never called them.  Either that, or he saw the remnants of bird poo on my overcoat. We’ll never be sure.

As the evening progressed, the service warmed up, and we were treated to the best dinner we had in Rome.

lemaniinpasta_sharon.jpgThere is an open kitchen area at Le Mani In Pasta (photo from a Rome city website), so Tracy could see all the fresh dishes being taken out to the now very crowded restaurant. This was the last night it would be open for a while, as the restaurant would close down until after the first of the year.

We were given a complimentary glass of Prosecco (fortuitous since we would have bought one anyway). I started with a tagliatelle with cheese and pepper, which garnered the coveted “wow.”  My main course of beef with orange and potatoes got a “mini-wow.”

Tracy also had a “wow” dish.  After starting with brescola with figs, her veal saltimbocca all Romana with ham was wonderful. We also had a side of broccoli that was terrific, although we had never really seen broccoli that looked like this. It was lime green with little pointed crowns, not the dark green flat broccoli we are used to. In any event, with the olio drizzled on top, I bet even that noted hater of broccoli, Bush the Senior, would have liked this vegetable.

Complementing our dinner was a 25€ bottle of La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Quite good!

I was now ready for another new dessert. Zabaione and Panna Cotta would have to wait for a future fling, because tonight my dolci consisted of a semifreddo Gorgonzola with caramelized lace cookies.  I’m a sucker for anything in lace, and I loved this dessert.

It was at this point I realized I am sort of like Tiger Woods when it comes to desserts, I just can’t turn any of them down. Elin (I mean Tracy) had a delicious semifreddo Amaretto with chocolate. The meal came to 100€ even. We finally had the meal we were hoping for in Rome.

Now completely stuffed, we were soon back out in the rain heading for our hotel. There was only one day left to explore Rome. We thought tomorrow would be the end of our adventure. As it turned out, that could not have been further from the truth.

Act VIII: Pyramid Scheme, Spock’s Dad’s Head, Large Organ, Galileo Was Right, Goodbye To The Neighborhood Restaurant, A Walk Through The Hood, The Last Supper, Lady In Red And Did I Just See What I Just Saw

Christmas Eve!  The beginning of the wonderful Christmas weekend was at hand. As Pope Benedict told me the previous afternoon at St. Peter’s, “What could possibly go wrong?” (dramatic license).

P1000264It was cloudy with slight sprinkles as Tracy and I departed the Hotel San Francesco after eating as much free food as we could (we had to make up for yesterday). Along the way I paid my respects to a buddy I met along the way.

Tracy said, “Let’s go a different way today. Why don’t we walk to the Pyramid?”

I answered sarcastically, “Hell, why don’t we just take a cab to the Taj Mahal?”   Of course, she was one step ahead of me.

Pyramid_ofCestius_6832Less than a ½ hour walking time from the hotel was the Piramide metro stop, which is near the Pyramid of Caius Cestius (my photo sucked, so I took this off internet). I was going to ask Tracy who the heck he was, but at the moment I was wishing I had eaten that last piece of cold pizza at the hotel buffet (hunger trumps history once again).

We took the metro to the Termini station because first on the list today was the Hall of Heads, otherwise known as Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (which is why I call it the Hall of Heads).  We sauntered (whatever that is, but I’m tired of meandering, walking, strolling, etc.) up to the ticket office, showed our Roma Passes and (thought) we purchased two tickets with an audio guide. The woman at the ticket window was on the phone (from her looks, not a business call) and paid little attention to us.

P1000269We then went through security (I assume these guys were the same people who checked the Underwear Bomber in Amsterdam the following day), and, in between their singing and laughing, we could have smuggled in explosives and Uzis.

It was then time to enter through the little turnstile, which, of course, did not open, because Miss Gabby Pants had not charged us for our tickets (we’d already used up our two freebies, which we had told her, but obviously the person the phone had her ear), only the audio guides. Finally we got in, and I don’t believe the “security” guys ever noticed us.

P1000265I was really looking forward to this museum, but the audio guide tour leaves a lot to be desired. First of all, there are no numbers or letters that correspond to anything you want to look at here. Secondly, a few of the rooms that contained pieces we wanted to see were closed.

P1000267Similar to the Ara Pacis, many of the relics here had been dumped in the Tiber. However, once again we didn’t find any china from the Villa Farnesina.

P1000268Going upstairs, I saw a statue that looked vey familiar. Being a huge Star Trek fan, it could be only one man. Here before us was a statue of Spock’s dad. “Live long and prosper,” I whispered, but before I could try out a Vulcan mind meld, Tracy whisked me to the next rooms. I was hoping for a statue of Khan, but no such luck.

P1000266 The rain was still falling as we left the Hall of Heads, and our next stop was one of the churches I did not want to miss on this trip, the Santa Maria degli Angeli, which was built above Diocletian’s baths and partly remodeled by Michelangelo.

From the church’s large entry, Tracy and I wandered into the enormous central hall. I don’t know what the priest was playing on the organ, but the sound reverberating throughout was quite fantastic. And, wow, what an organ it is!

P1000270I took a picture of the priest who was going to town playing this incredibly large organ, which was built for the Jubilee Year in 2000. It was very Phantomesque.  The priest was illuminated in a pool of light and the organ dominated the rest of the scene.  It was really quite a sight to behold.

P1000272In another room, there was a video of Apollo 15 and astronaut David Scott conducting a Galileo experiment by dropping a hammer and a feather at the same time on the moon. When they both land at the same time, Collins says, “How about that, Mr. Galileo was correct in his findings!”

Back inside the main church, we found the little hole in the wall that acts as a sundial. Sadly, there was no sunshine on this day, so it was left to our imagination how it works.  This was a great way to end our “Churches Of Roma” Tour.

With all the many restaurants to eat on our final day in Rome, we decided to try our favorite haunt one more time. A metro ride and walk later, we were sitting in the comfy confines of Cul de Sac. We shared a salami and cheese platter (fantastico).

I decided to go for the Taglietelle Ameriechino (red sauce), which was very good. Tracy was going to try the duck ravioli again, but instead went out on a limb for a different dish; a marinated eggplant she said was good (but she would have rather had the duck ravioli upon further review).

We thought about sharing the rabbit dish, but decided not to split hares.

Our meal, along with Prosecco and a glass of Piedmonte red wine was 36€.  Cul de Sac, we shall miss you.

By this time, we had seen enough museums, churches and statues to last a lifetime, so we walked backed to Trastevere to look for a dinner place to spend Christmas Eve. On the way, we strayed through Campo de’ Fiore, bade farewell to the statue of Giordano Bruno (whose face never seems to get any sunlight in December) and took some pictures at a vegetable stand of the strange looking broccoli we had eaten the night before.

Since we had already spent our life’s savings on this trip (well, at least through mid-January anyway), we were not looking for a place that was overly fancy (or expensive). We wandered over to a cute little place called Vin Allegro: Eat and Drink. Since we like to eat and obviously like to drink, we made reservations for that evening at 8 p.m.

I then picked up another bottle of Brochenolo Tosse to bring home. I can hardly wait to get another cough and amaze my friends with its amazing healing powers.

Trastevere was definitely winding down for the holiday weekend.

Back at the hotel, we packed, paid our bill and made sure that there would be a driver awaiting us at the wonderful hour of 5 a.m. the following morning ready to transport us to the airport.

Although we had reservations at 8 p.m., by 7 p.m., we were starving. ”Didn’t we just eat?” I said.  We had, but when we are on vacation we’re bottomless pits.

We got to Vin Allegro at 7:35, and it was nearly full. We asked if it was ok to eat earlier than our reservations, and the hardest working guy in the restaurant business (who appeared to be working the tables alone at this restaurant for about the first half hour we were there), said, “No problem.”

The music choices at the restaurant put me in the mood for home. It sounded like one of my iTunes’ mixes. There was classic rock, some golden oldies and even a Beatles mix.

P1000280Dinner was good, if not spectacular. My salad of pears, oranges and almonds along with Tracy’s salad with tomatoes and pine nuts was a good beginning. I had Ravioli with spinach in a sage butter sauce for dinner, while Tracy went with an interesting combo of lasagna with smoked cheese, zucchini and Tyrolian ham. I thought I heard a little yodel out of her after dinner, but it could have just been gas.

The restaurant was full at 7:45 and many people stopped by, but on this Christmas Eve, there was no room at the inn. Tracy and I shared a bottle of 2004 Antigniano Montefalco Rossa for 25€ that was very good.

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Which of my dessert mistresses did I have for my last meal? On the menu, I saw an old love, and I couldn’t turn her down. Panna Cotta with Wild Berries and I shared just a few moments together on this night before Christmas, but they were quality minutes to be sure.

P1000281Tracy and I then toasted Christmas Eve with a final glass of Amarone.  Dinner was 84€, and we slowly walked back to the hotel.

At about 10:30 or 11:00, we turned on the television as we did our last bit of packing, and there was the Pope sitting quietly during a prayer.  We switched to CNN to see what the weather was like in Paris (where we would connect the following day) and, much to our amazement, there were grainy pictures of some crazy lady in red attacking the pope.  Knowing that Tracy had worn red on this evening, I quickly looked over to see if she was with me or had quietly slipped out after dessert.  I can tell you with 100% certainty that Tracy is innocent.

All the excitement of the trip was now over. The end of our eight wonderful days in Rome was coming to a conclusion.  As I drifted off to sleep, my only wish was for our Christmas Day travel was for it to be uneventful, and that the end of our Rome vacation would provide us with no problems, no delays, no hassles and no surprises. What could possibly go wrong?   Well, as we were to find out (but not right away), when you least expect it and your guard is down, that’s when the trouble can start.

Next: Act IX: Is This A Hit, The Curious Christmas Caper At CDG, Home Sweet Home, Discovery…Denial…Disgust…Dejection, A Sleuth In Paris And A Hollywood Ending?

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