|Fontana Trevi, Roma
I admit that I hadn’t planned to write anything substantive about this trip, feeling that the task would be too daunting, the events hard to recall and any words I attempted to weave together would simply be faint praise for a trip that met and exceeded my expectations. Nonetheless, after some prodding, here is my attempt.
Day 1 – Roma:
Despite a long, but uneventful trip, the Z’s and the F’s landed at Fiumicino airport sometime around noon local time. After waiting just long enough to begin wondering about our luggage, it showed up with no issues and we sailed through customs. Our trip to the Hotel Romae had been arranged by my friend Larsino and the driver Paolo was kind, prompt and courteous. Although he spoke English, it was clear he was more comfortable in Italian (duh!) and remarked that it was finally cooler in Roma than the last three days when it had been “like Africa”.
After checking in and freshening up, the natives (i.e the kids) were hungry so we set out for some sightseeing and to find a place for a meal. The idea was to keep ourselves out and about until at least 9PM to ward off the worst of the jet lag. While meandering through the narrow local streets we came upon an unassuming place that had room for the 8 of us, and went in. The two woman working the room spoke no English, so Fo got thrown into the deep end of the translation pool on my first day. My Italian is pretty good, as I would find out on this trip – I surprised myself – and in restaurants or around food/wine I am particularly literate. Additionally, the menus were in 4 different languages so that helped. The food was good. The vino rosso della casa was decent but passable. In retrospect, it was more a rose than a rosso, but it hit the spot after the flight. Looking back, this was probably the worst meal of the trip, but that is not a major complaint. I had a delicious Carbonara and the only hiccup was my son’s secondi, a veal parmigiana that was pounded so thin it was tough and not edible.
Sated, we made our way to the Piazza Spagna and if memory serves, the Fontana Trevi. I immediately began to form an opinion of Rome which somewhat surprised me, but by the end of our visit to the city, I was convinced that I was right. Dinner was late and consisted simply of beer and pizza, which pretty much blows away anything I have tasted in this country. By 9PM, dopo gelati, we were off to bed.
Day 2 – Roma:
Up early for breakfast. I expected breakfast to be a bit of a challenge for the kids, but they took to it very well. Cereal was available, but the boys were equally happy to nibble on the salami, mortadella, and cheese that was ubiquitous. Croissants and brioche as well as hard boiled eggs were consumed with vigor. Coffee Americano was like jet fuel, but I was constantly ordering true caffe. The absence of blood orange juice here, and throughout the trip surprised me. In fact, the only place we had it was on the plane during the return trip. At any rate, we made our way to the Coloseum. This is truly a sight to see. One can imagine the gladiators battling and the roar of the lions and other wild animals that were doomed to entertain. We arranged a guided tour and the one facet of the discussion that surprised me to know was that gladiator battles were not 1 on 1 events as Hollywood has portrayed. Regularly, gladiator contests pitted mini-armies of 30 or 40 men battling against each other in arranged teams. Therefore, at any given time, there were between 60 and 80 men fighting. Additionally, since gladiators were physically fit and highly trained, they were frequently granted mercy and rarely killed since they were expensive to replace. That said, many ultimately died of wounds received in battle. I was somewhat surprised by what must have been a voracious appetite for gore on the part of the Romans and also that women were allowed to attend the matches – though they had to sit in the upper sections – farthest away where seats were made of wood. Children were not permitted.
The balance of the day was spent touring various Roman ruins, the Fora, the Pantheon, etc…. It was a hot day trekking through the sun and it was tiring. We broke for a larger meal midday and some amazing pastas were consumed. Gnocchi with truffle sauce – the first sighting of what would be ubiquitous truffle consumption. Bolognese….lifted my expectations of Bolognese. I will attempt to replicate this sauce for the rest of my days. Cheeses, breads…..Again, I think we stuck with a half liter of vino bianco della casa and vino rosso della casa. Both very good, but the red too warm. Clearly a step up from the wine the first day though.
That evening, we made our way to what for me was the highlight of the time in Rome. Sightseeing and dinner in and around the Piazza Navona. While this large oval piazza may be a bit on the touristy side, the setting was postcard picturesque. The fountains are gorgeous, there is plenty to sit back, relax and watch. We decided to eat at Tre Scalini. The meal was absolutely fabulous and consisted of truffled pasta, gnocchi, veal, roasted pork, contornis of cheese and mushrooms and the famous Tre Scalini tartufo dolci which was a big let down. Actually, it was delicious, but I’d heard so much about it from family. At any rate, we started with a wonderful bottle of 2006 Antinori Campogrande Orvieto Classico. It had been a long while since I’d had that, and it did not disappoint. The perfect foil for the lighter primi dishes as the sun set over the Piazza. We then went through two bottles of Antonelli Montefalco Rosso, but the vintage escapes me. However, the wine was excellent and seemed to have body approaching that of Sagrantino. Limoncello, and Fernet Branca finished what was our best meal in Roma.
Day 3 – Roma:
Finally the trip to I Musei Vaticani and Citta del Vaticano. We arrived early only to find that the Vatican Museums were closed. It was apparently the only day during the last 2 months that they Museums were closed, but we later learned the reason. We began the long walk around the Vatican Wall to the interior of the city – St. Peters Piazza and the Basilica. The Piazza is a gigantic expanse, it’s somehow awe inspiring by itself despite it’s relatively plain appearance. The colorful Swiss Guards are ubiquitous yet somehow manage to keep a low profile. The kids enjoyed the uniforms and marveled at how perfectly motionless the guards remain while on duty.
Religious beliefs aside, the Basilica is simply a wonder of the modern world. It is a building so intricate, so ornate, so elaborate, it almost defies description. To view it and realize it was hand carved, painted, cut, chiseled and fit together piece by piece. Indeed, it now is home to most of the marble that once graced the Colloseum and it’s a wonder to imagine how they transported such weight across the city.
Upon entering, we noticed two gigantic flat screen televisions just outside the Basilica entrance. On them, were images of the Pope proceeding through large crowds of people. Do they broadcast images of the Pope live in St. Peters from wherever he is? Is this some sort if 24 hour Pope-Vision?
The Basilica as expected was packed. Trying to move around toward the altar of the imposing structure was like being on the floor of a rock concert and trying to move toward the stage. People were lifting cameras over heads and clicking blindly. After we accomplished what we could, we made our way out and again, caught images of the Pontiff on the television screens. However, this time we realized what was going on. As we later said: “The Pope was in the House!” Turns out that the he was saying mass to install new Cardinals and the Vatican Museums were closed for this purpose – we were later told it was for security and respect reasons. So the Capella Sistina would have to wait until later in the trip and we made our way through the Vatican City to a nearby Castello which provided some amazing views of all of Rome from the top. We meandered our way through the streets for paninis, pizza, and calamari fritti, all with a cold Nastro Azzuro and then it was back to the Hotel for a needed break.
It’s sad to say, heartbreaking actually, but even as I write this, in simple terms, Rome is incredibly filthy. I’m not talking about the graffiti which is everywhere – but that didn’t surprise me as I’ve seen it in Germany, France and Holland. But my impression formed on the first day, and each succeeding day cemented it. The smell of urine is everywhere and it’s not from the horses that trot along. There are empty beer, water, soda, and wine bottles that litter the streets like leaves from a tree. There are newspapers everywhere except in trash cans which are anything but ubiquitous. They blow in the constant pleasant, breeze like tumbleweeds and are always underfoot. The streets of Rome are all cobblestone with ¼ inch gaps between the pavers. The effect has been all but eliminated by cigarette butts which fill the gaps and seemingly create a smooth riding surface. The major monument and tourist areas are cleaner. But in Rome you walk to most attractions and you inevitably pass through areas which are typical and very disappointing. The graffiti is limited at least to the Metro cars, the street lamps, the dumpsters, the concrete street dividers. Rarely is there writing on a building and never on a “classic” building or monument.
All this said, I did enjoy the visit, immensely. We saw what I mentioned above, and later in the trip returned to the Sistine Chapel, which I will get to in later travelogues. But with all that done, I see no need to return to Rome anytime in the near future. So with that, we say “Arrivederci Roma!”…….
Until the next….ci vediamo!