Chapter One – There’s No Place Like RomeJune 22, 2010
Chapter Three – Ecstasy & The Agony: The Fall Of RomeJune 22, 2010
Act III: History Comes Alive, Finally Finding Cul De Sac, The Church That’s Always Closed, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, More Churches, They Should Serve A Caesar Salad Here, The Zabaione Zone and The Deep Freeze
Awakening to menacing skies, we looked out the window, and, for the moment anyway, there was no precipitation. We scarfed down another large breakfast, hit the pavement, walked through Trastevere, over the Tiber, up a series of stairs that looked like they were going nowhere and soon we were at a museum that now ranks as one of our all-time favorites.
The Museo Capitolino (Capitoline Museum) entrance was free as our second Roma Pass venue, and the audio guides (essential in our opinion to get the most out of your visit) were 5€ each. We left our coats and backpack at the free lockers and started our tour of Roman history.
From the courtyard we climbed the stairs to see amazing three dimensional reliefs that were nearly 2,000 years old and a stunning 16th century ceiling. Tracy reminded me that most of the ceilings in this building contain art, so don’t forget to look up while passing through (but don’t run into the statues).
…to the Capitoline She-Wolf (that had to be a slightly weird childhood)
We entered a modern room with a glass ceiling and there in all its glory was the amazingly large bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback, a giant Constantine head and a statue of a club-wielding Hercules.
After going through the remnants of the foundation of the Temple of Jupiter and going upstairs to see some paintings (including one that had been stolen by Napoleon and subsequently returned from France), we traversed down a flight of stairs into the basement, walked through a long passageway, made a quick right, climbed more stairs and reached the Tabularium, which has spectacular views out onto the Roman Forum.
Then it was on to the building that connected to the passageway, the Palazzo Nuova. In these rooms were more busts than a strip club, and some very interesting statues. Many of these were from Hadrian’s Villa. After touring around Rome, we wondered how there could be anything left at his estate, given there were so many artifacts in so many places that came from there.
The Capitoline Venus had her own room (good agent, I guess), busts of emperors and philosophers dotted other rooms, and then we were greeted by a couple of very cool looking marble sculptures, The Furietti Centaurs, in the center of another room. They were, naturally, from Hadrian’s Villa. One statue depicts a young centaur horsing around, while the other is of a weary looking old centaur whose days of hoofing it were long behind him.
I thought it must be hard to be saddled with being both a man and a horse, but didn’t tell Tracy because spending eight days in such close proximity means choosing your puns wisely.
In the last room we visited was The Dying Gaul, a really spectacular statue of a dying warrior. I’m not usually one to linger too long at a piece of art or statue, but for some reason this one captivated me, and we circled around it so see this famous piece from about the first century BC. This is one time where I could actually “feel his pain.”
We spent 2 ½ wonderful and interesting hours at the Capitoline Museum, and it gets our highest recommendation. Speaking of recommendations, I had remembered to bring along the address of the oft-recommended Enoteca Cul De Sac, so we walked toward the Piazza Navona in a slight, but persistant, drizzle in search of our afternoon meal.
We had to wait for a couple of minutes outside in the rain, but were soon led inside the narrow building and seated at a communal table with another couple who spoke no English, but buy all signs were enjoying their meal that included some fresh cut meats. Tracy and I started with our requisite glass of Prosecco (if you’re going to be in a rut, make it a good rut) and then both enjoyed a glass of delicious red wine from Montefalco with our respective lunches.
The Enoteca Cul de Sac is set up quite efficiently. There were tables for two or four on either side of the aisle, and if you are a twosome at a table set for four, the odds are you will eventually be having a convivial gathering with others at some point during your lunch. Wine bottles are stored on the top shelves (fun to watch the waiters snatch them with their “bottle snatching thingamajigs”) and there is cargo netting above the tables where you can stash your excess clothing. They even had little umbrella holders to lend to patrons to keep the premises from getting wet. We vowed we would be back again before we left.
Very close to the Piazza Navona is a church I had wanted to visit, the Santa Maria Della Pace. After lunch, we wandered over and found that it was closed. As we were to find out throughout our stay in Rome, it was always closed when we happened to be near. Oh well, there were plenty of other churches in Rome.
It started raining pretty heavily by the time we reached Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesco (at least I think it was; church overload can happen at any time in Rome), and we were now getting pretty tired.
We decided that this Prosecco and wine thing at lunch was slowing us down (not that we stopped doing that for the duration of the vacation). After going in and checking out the church, we decided it was time to rest back at the hotel.
We meandered back to Trastevere passing by a colorful store window, saying hello to the soaking wet cats at the Largo as we passed by. Tracy was in nap mode, while I watched CNN World Sports and tried to decipher the game of Cricket and how a team can tie a match when the score is not really tied. Quite perplexing, and I am sure in another lifetime I will figure it out.
After showering it was time to head back on the road with our now half-broken feet for our appointed dinner reservation at a restaurant located near where a very famous event took place in the history of Rome. While we were in the room, we had opened the windows to let some air in, and I was pretty sure I had secured both windows upon leaving on this very chilly evening in Roma.
The Ristoranti Hostaria Costanza is situated underneath the tiers of the Pompeo Theatre, and is very nearby where Julius Caesar met his demise in 44 BC. For some reason, I was very cognizant of people with knives at this restaurant. Et tu, Tracy?
We were seated in the smaller of the two rooms, which I called the “Stash the Americans Room.” The cooler room with all the history looked much better (photo below from tripadvisor).
Our waiter was the first person in Rome to show really any overt enthusiasm. It seemed a lot the locals were just going through the motions, which was unlike our past two visits. Maybe the holidays were just taking their toll on people.
Prosecco once again preceded the meal. Tracy’s pasta combined with artichokes, shrimp and tomatoes appetizer and veal scaloppini main course was, unfortunately, not very exciting.
My fare fared much better. The smoked cheese with rocket salad and tomatoes in a balsamic sauce was wonderful, and the filet with a green peppercorn sauce, which included about two vats of butter (no wonder I liked it), was terrific. It was one of the best steaks I have had in Europe. However, it’s what awaited me for dessert that changed the course of my dining habits for the remainder of the trip.
On all our travels, it seems I always fall in love with a different dessert item. In the past, I have courted crème brulees, fallen for flourless cakes, gorged on Gelato, have had apple amore and pined for Panna Cotta. I am fickle when it comes to sweets, and on this trip, I forsook my previous loves for a new paramour that I found at the Hostaria Costanza.
My new love had all the ingredients I needed to be my sexy new partner. It contained sugar, eggs and Marsala (a perfect combo after two vats of butter). It was on this cold evening in Rome that I met and fell in love with Zabaione.
The Zabaione at the Hostaria Costanza was whipped into a mousse-like texture and whipped me into a dessert-eating frenzy. It might have gone down cold, but Zabaione was hot, baby! must admit I felt a tinge of guilt because I didn’t even have a chance to say a proper goodbye to Kraków’s Panna Cotta or her sister, Lake Bled’s Kremna Rezina (both fondly remembered below), who I had met and romanced on our 2008 Central European trip. Oh well, we’ll always have Lake Bled.
Speaking of cold, as we left the Hostaria Costanza, we were greeted with a blast of winter. Rain, wind and cold permeated our bodies. Toto, we’re not in Pasadena anymore. Not even the silky, long johns could protect us from this wintry weather. Being so brisk outside, we obviously walked briskly back to the hotel.
Stepping into our room, immediately we realized something was amiss. I knew we hadn’t accidentally walked into a meat locker, because I saw our bed. It wasn’t hard to discern what had gone awry because the temperature was about 30 degrees in our room. Some idiot (aka me) had not latched the windows, so cold air had come to roost in our room for the past three hours. You know it’s not good when you can see your breath when you talk…and you’re inside.
We climbed under the covers. I can think of nothing more romantic than being in bed with the woman you love attired in only your long underwear, socks and down vest while covered with blankets and overcoats. At least we didn’t wear our mittens. Love, not to mention pneumonia, was in the air.
Our kiss goodnight could only have been made better had our lips not been numb. I told Tracy, “I only have ice for you.” She would have given me “the look,” but it was difficult to make any facial expressions while in this frozen state.
Lying there, trying to get some feeling back in my extremities, I was thinking that this trip was really taking a toll out on me. I’m usually the Energizer Bunny ready to go, go and go some more. I had never been this tired so early in a trip. We’d only been here for two entire days. “Was Rome this tough a city? I’m not getting old, am I?” Fortunately, I did not ponder these questions too long since we were exhausted, and soon the two giant ice cubes had drifted off to a peaceful, cryogenic-like sleep.
Unlike Ted Williams’ head, we did awake the next day, a day that we had planned to visit more museums. However, a change in the weather made for a change in our plans.
Act IV: Car On Poo Corner, Rome’s Obligatory (And Not My Favorite) Tourist Stops, Riding On The Metro Again, The Pope Store, Bread Winner, Grumpy Old People, Will It Snow, Majestic Mosaics, The Medusa Salad and A Heated Discussion
Tracy and I woke to find that, thanks to the Antarctic room temperature of the previous night, we had not aged one minute in the past seven hours. I had tried to find the heat controls during the first minutes of sub-freezing temperatures the previous evening, but decided to get under the covers before the first sign of frostbite appeared. In the morning, I found the controls that were located high up on one of the walls. I told Tracy that I would now be able to control the room temperature when we went to bed from now on.
The rain had disappeared, and we were greeted with blue, sunny skies so we decided to forego more museums and take a leisurely stroll through Rome and enjoy the sunshine, forgetting for the moment our sore, aching feet. The breakfast room at The Hotel San Francesco on Sunday morning was nearly full, and we grabbed the last table. Extra cappuccinos and tea were in order to help our bodies climb back to their full body temperature.
Lining the street that runs parallel to the river are numerous trees where each evening it sounded like a million birds were having a huge party. Tracy had thought it was the sound of electricity, while I was pretty sure it was birds.
“Let’s walk along the river for a little bit,” I said to Tracy on this beautiful morning. As we turned to the left to walk along the Tiber, one fact became quite evident, the trees certainly contained birds. No matter what color the cars actually were in reality, every car parked alongside the Tiber had a familiar white look. Yes, we were walking along the bird poo capital of the world.
Quickly Tracy and I jaywalked to the other side of the street. Unfortunately for my wife, one of the feathered fiends dropped a bomb on her hair and coat. I, of course, laughed, but as I am sure you know, it would not be the last laugh. As we strolled toward our first destination of the day, I told Tracy that even though my feet were tired, “at least I haven’t taken a tumble in my last couple of trips to Europe.” We passed through the flea market (aka The Piazza Navona) and past the Pantheon, which we ducked inside for a minute to look up.
I must admit we have never been huge fans of this Roman landmark. The fountain is undeniably beautiful, but no matter what time of the day we have visited, it is filled to the brim with people who seem like they have nothing better to do than hang around a fountain for hours at a time. At least, fairly early on a Sunday morning, the crowds were not overwhelming. That said, I did use this photo opportunity to take my requisite shots, and we moved on to the next place where crowds gather incessantly at all hours.
The Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti (Spanish Steps) makes the Trevi Fountain area look desolate. Even early on a Sunday morning, the place was packed with people, 75 percent of them smoking cigarettes (I will comment on Rome and smoking later in the trip report).
I thought it was hazy looking up the steps toward the Trinitá dei Monti, but realized that we were just being inundated with second hand smoke. Before we contracted lung cancer, we decided it was time to move on.
We had not taken public transportation up to this point, so this started our three free days with the pass you receive when you buy the Roma Pass (validated at the first trip you take) by taking the metro to the stop nearest St. Peter’s Square. The Vatican area was bustling, and St. Peter’s glistened as we arrived in the square after the ten-minute walk from the Metro.
The line to get into St. Peter’s was huge (well it was Sunday) and since we would be back in the area in a few days (when our Vatican Museum tour was scheduled), we just took in the surroundings and took some pictures in the sunshine.
There was a giant Christmas tree in the square next to an area that was under a large tarp (we assumed that had to be a giant Nativity Scene that would be uncovered for the Christmas Eve services). We meandered over to a place that sells gifts blessed by the Pontiff that we dubbed “The Pope Store” on our last trip.
I almost bought some golf balls blessed by the pope, however not even divine intervention can help my golf game. We also looked for an engagement gift. Our friends, Kim and Mary (who often travel with us) had decided to skip this trip. Obviously, it was for a reason (besides having to spend eight days with me), because the previous evening we had received an email from them telling us their son had become engaged.
We got back on the metro and headed to the Flaminio stop and the Piazza Popolo. Being such a gorgeous day, we decided to take a little stroll down the main shopping drag, the Via del Corso. We had seen a story on CNN that shopping was slow in Rome. Obviously, they forgot to focus their cameras on this street. Today, and every day were near here, Romans were opening their wallets in search of the perfect Christmas gift. As we passed this store, I asked Tracy if we needed a “code” to get in.
We thought we’d try Enoteca Cul de Sac again, but there was an hour wait. Nearby was a restaurant, Pasquino, where we had the best garlic bread ever in 2005.
We barely beat the after-church crowd. Up until this point, the bread we had eaten in Rome had been about as tasty as cardboard, however since we both have serious bread addiction, we ate it anyway (although they charge extra for it at most places).
Pasquino lived up to its past billing when it came to its bruschetta. Both the bruschetta pomodoro and bruschetta Bianca (bread brushed with olio and garlic then toasted in a pizza oven) were tremendous. Tracy’s lunch of Tagliatelle with Chicory, Rosemary and Pecorino was nice and spicy, the first dish we had eaten that had a nice amount of spices added. I certainly could not complain about my delicious Gorgonzola Risotto with Walnuts. Complementing (and I use that word loosely) our lunch was a carafe of della cassa rosso, which was cold, not very good and tasted like alcoholic grape juice.
Sitting nearby were a couple of groups of old people. Well, I assumed they were old people, but the way people smoked in this town they might have only been in their mid-30s. In any event, if looks could kill, they would have all been dead. Like so many other Romans we had witnessed, they were a dour looking group that never smiled and never talked amongst one another. They did, however, eat their personal (huge) pizzas faster than any other humans on earth.
Finally, they and some other grumpy people left and a few families with kids came in and the place livened up with smiles and laughing taking over for what had been a Christmas negativity scene.
The next place on the day’s agenda was not in close proximity, so we piled in a taxi and took a death-defying ride through Roman traffic to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. People on vespas and motorcycles along with pedestrians of all creeds and colors never knew how close they were to imminent death as our cab weaved his way up to the church.
Tracy and I were quite impressed by the Basilica that contains a piece of the original nativity scene. There are also beautiful mosaics and a ceiling “gilded with gold.” I believe the church we read somewhere that the church also contained Bernini’s tomb, but we never found it.
We thought the neighborhood we walked through was quite charming. This was a tree-lined street (criss-crossed with Christmas lights) that was much nicer than the tree-lined avenue we had seen hours before along the Tiber.
The Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano was originally built in the 300s by Constantine (well, I’m sure he had others build it), and had gone through a number of renovations, but still is quite an imposing church.
Next, we went across the street to a very holy place, the Santuario della Scala Santa (Palace of the Holy Stairs). These are supposedly the stairs that Christ climbed on the day he was brought before Pontius Pilate. There were a number of pilgrims who were climbing the 28 stairs on their knees. It was quite a sight.
We doubled back toward Santa Maria Maggiore because we had missed a church on the way because it was closed, but was now open. The Santa Pressede (photo below from web…it was dark in there) also had some great mosaics (put in a coin to illuminate them better), but by now we were once again churched-out (a common malady at the end of the day).
I was very excited about our dinner choice for this evening because of the many fantastic comments I read about it. It was also in our “hood,” so we didn’t have a long walk. I had read such rave reviews as “Da Fabrizio is the best restaurant in Rome.” “The lamb chops are so hot they’ll burn your lips off.”
To be as European as possible, we made our reservations at 8:30. As usual, we were ready to eat by 7:30. We walked through Trastevere, and the back streets were very colorful. By 8:25 we had malingered as long as anyone could malinger, and we walked inside what looked like a real neighborhood joint.
We sat down next to two German guys trying to decipher the menu. It was all in Italian, and this gave me the opportunity to do what I do on every European trip; order something off a menu that is completely foreign to me (both in print and reality). Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t (like the time in Normandy when it looked like my brains were handed to me on a plate).
I made the bold choice of having a dish called “Puntarelle something or other.” The waiter pointed at something across the room and said, “Very good choice.” Figuring he was not pointing at the woman in the corner, I said, Si.” I believe I might now discontinue my tradition.
Soon, staring me in the face was a salad with Medusa-like tentacles of green taunting me with a few dollops of an unknown substance. “Isn’t this the statue I saw at the Capitoline Museum?” I asked Tracy, who for some reason was now laughing at me. The picture I took a few days later at the Vatican Museum looks similar to my salad.
The unknown substance turned out to be anchovies, and although we enjoyed the zucchini blossoms with anchovies earlier in this trip, these anchovies actually tasted like, well, anchovies. I hoped my main course would be better.
Since my lamb chops had been so bad a few nights earlier, I opted for the lamb chops at Da Fabrizio that reviewers promised “would burn your lips off.” Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Obviously lambs in Rome are not fed very well, because for the second time in three nights my dish was full of chops, but virtually no lamb. I’m all for portion control, but this was ridiculous.
Tracy’s dishes of a potato soup and then pasta in a red pepper sauce were nothing to write home about either, so Da Fabrizio up to this point was incredibly disappointing. Thank heaven for the relatively inexpensive bottle of Azienda Agricole 2007 Petit Verdot.
Now, without going into too much detail, sometimes my dates in my single years started off pretty badly, yet the night turned out to be really good (please use your imagination because Tracy sometimes reads these trips reports). Tonight was one of those dates. On the dessert menu was my new love, Zabaione. Could it save the evening?
This Zabaione had a completely different texture from the one the previous evening, yet it satisfied me in a unique way that made me…please, remember this a family website.
This Zabaione was reminiscent of a Crème Anglaise, but added to this delicious portion of calories was an abundance of fresh, ripe strawberries. I savored each and every bite, and I believe Tracy was actually jealous of my new love until I gave her a taste. She also succumbed to its infinite charms. Within minutes, the Medusa salad was only a distant memory and the lamb chops…well the lamb chops still sucked, but I was happy.
As we walked back to the hotel, I started coughing. At the time, I thought it was only the three or four packs of smoke I had been forced to inhale throughout the day.
Back in our room, I told Tracy I would put the heater on so we wouldn’t freeze like we had the previous evening. There was one small problem with the thermostat I had discovered that morning. I couldn’t really tell what temperature I was setting it at, but I thought I had deftly moved the dial gently to a temperature that would make us comfortable as we slept through the night.
At about 2 a.m., we both awoke at about the same time. One reason was my constant hacking that had now gone way beyond smoker’s cough. The other reason; the temperature in the room had risen to what I’m sure the Sahara desert feels like in the dead of summer. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure out the thermostat before we leave,” I whispered (and coughed) to Tracy. At least, long underwear and socks were not needed.
We had talked about going to Orvieto on Monday, but since I wasn’t feeling so hot (figuratively, not literally) and there was still a lot to be seen in Rome, we concluded that Orvieto could wait for another trip. That turned out to be the best decision of our trip. Yet, as good as that choice turned out to be, Monday would also provide a Tom faux pas that could have proved disastrous (although in hindsight was pretty hilarious) and another magic drug that ultimately saved the vacation.
Next: Act V: The Invisible Villa, Sheer Ecstasy, Purple Reigns, Finding An Old Friend, Revenge Of The Poo, Down Goes Frazier, Shutting It Down For The Day, Pass The Pringles & Panettone Please, The Magic Elixir, My Favorite Sculpture, Outside The Walls & Under The Church