So here it is the end of our first day in Rome and we’re tired but happy. It feels like we were never away from Italia.
Our flight left on time, but got in about half an hour late. It wasn’t completely full which was nice. We breezed through passport control and customs and wound up entering the terminal at exactly the place where we needed to get our shuttle – €21,00 total for two (one way) right to the door of our hotel (about a 40 minute drive from the airport). The drive brought us past many amazing sites including the Colosseum which appeared to have a colossal lineup to get in!
Our hotel room is amazing. It’s actually a room in an apartment (Domus Julia) which can apparently be rented as a whole unit. It’s a huge room with lots of storage space, an enormous bathroom and an absolutely amazing timber ceiling. We think that this building was built in the 16th century, but we’re not sure. So far, we have the place to ourselves.
We spent the afternoon wandering around – found a great little caffé for capuccino and dolce and scouted out a restaurant for tonight’s dinner. We ended up at L’Archetto where Susan had spaghetti all’amatriciana and Steve hadpizza cappricciosa which unexpectedly had a fried egg in the middle of it! We will probably eat at this restaurant again because the prices were very reasonable, the atmosphere was great and the food was delicious.
So far, the only tourist site that we’ve seen is the Trevi fountain which is an absolutely amazing structure – much larger than we had imagined. It’s kind of hard to enjoy it though with all the restaurant touts and tacky souvenir salesman in the area.
Our first full day in Roma found us wandering far and wide, in a rather large circle. It was a gorgeous day and we joined the many Romans (and, tourists) that were participating in the passegiatta (sometimes called struscio), which is basically strolling, socializing, and shopping.
First, we went north from our lodgings at Domus Julia to find the webcam that we’ve been enjoying for several months. Then on to the Piazza di Spagna and the famous Spanish Steps (of course, nearly everything in Rome is famous!). The Steps lead to a good vantage point for seeing quite a lot of the city. From the Piazza di Spagna, we generally moved west and south, eventually arriving at the huge Piazza Navona, which is lovely. The square was full of people enjoying the Sunday sun.
Then, south and a little east we found the cat sanctuary that Susan had discovered in her research. Located in some fabulous ruins (which are everywhere!), the abandoned cats are looked after by a dedicated lot of volunteers. And the ruins are amongst the oldest in Rome – the central temples date to the Republican era (3rd century BCE). From there we found our way to the Piazza Venezia, which lies at the northwest corner of a huge area containing the most famous of the Roman ruins – including the Fori (Roman and Imperial) and the Colosseo.
We spent quite some time here including walking down the huge Via dei Fori Imperali, a four-lane road that is closed to traffic every Sunday. On Sundays only people walk down this broad avenue, which runs through the heart of ancient Rome. We will return tomorrow for more extensive touring in this area – it is fascinating.
On our way back for lunch (which we typically have between 2-3 in the afternoon), we made a reservation for dinner tonight at Abruzzi, a restaurant that we had heard about (and, our dinner was excellent). After one of our “standard” Italian lunches and before siesta, we went out and circumnavigated the Quirinale complex. This huge area, which lies just south of where we are staying, contains the Presidential Palace and sits atop the highest of the seven hills of Rome – the Quirinale.
Cyprus and ivy, weed and wallflower grown
Matted and mass’d together; hillocks heap’d
On what were chambers, arch crush’d, column strown
In fragments, choked up vaults, and frescos steep’d
In subterranean damps, …
– Byron, describing the Palatine
Today we spent on the Palatine, the “founding” hill, where Romulus and Remus gave birth to Rome; and the Colosseum, which is just below. We took dozens of photos and what you see is just a small sample, of course. The Palatine covers a huge area and has been built and re-built several times. The ruins are extensive (and, did we mention that they are really old?) and the views of Rome are beautiful. The Colosseum is just astonishing. Today’s list of photos is probably longer than the narrative – partly because some of this stuff just leaves you speechless!
Dinner tonight at Ristorante Scanderbeg – an excellent meal, although the service was indifferent. Tagliolini alla pescatora for Steve (scrumptious!) and gnocchi con porcini e vongole (equally good) for Susan. We’ve yet to have bad service in an Italian restaurant, but sometimes it can be so-so.
We just can’t seem to get enough of the ancient city sites here. Today, took a round-about route back to the Roman Forum which is right next to the Colosseum. On the way we encountered the ruins of the Teatro di Marcello which was fascinating for a number of reasons; according to the Green Guide to Rome, its design served as the inspiration for the Colisseum, although it only held 15,000 people. As well, there is a 16C palace built on top of it, where the original third level would have been. Nearby are the ruins of the first temple to Apollo in Rome, called Temple of Apollo Sosianus. Its three remaining standing columns are very beautiful.
Nearby, we crossed the Ponte Fabricio, a bridge built in 62 BCE which leads to the Isola Tiberina. Crossed the island (it’s not very big) then over another short bridge and into the area known as Trastevere (“across the Tiber”). Stayed there long enough to say we’d been then crossed back on a newer bridge and headed to the Foro Romano.
Although there were several different “fori” over the centuries, this is the one that that is meant when we say “the Forum”. And it is incredible. The scale and beauty of the buildings which once stood here is astonishing. But I think we’ll let the pictures tell the story for us once again.
Tonight we ate at Piccolo Arancio – “The Little Orange” and had yet another delicious meal. Steve had Tonnarelli ai Frutti di Marefollowed by spinaci all’agro and Susan had Penne alla Crema di Scampi followed by verdure grilliata. Everything was washed down with a mezzo litro di vino della cassa rosso of course. It was great!
We celebrated Steve’s birthday by visiting the Vatican. Unfortunately our request for an audience with JPII on this special occasion was denied.
Piazza San Pietro is absolutely enormous. We were there relatively early and so there weren’t very many people about yet, but even when we left about three hours later it still seemed empty although there were far more visitors at the point. It will be interesting in future to see the crowd scenes there now that we know just how big it is.
The basilica itself is very impressive. The dome (which is Michelangelo’s) is very beautiful. One interesting thing that they’ve done is put an indication on the floor of where various large cathedrals from around the world would reach to if they were put inside St. Peter’s.
Dinner was at Osteria dell’Ingegno, a slightly different establishment than we’ve been frequenting. Most often we have eaten at more traditional osterie and trattorie. This one was more of an upscale place – younger crowd, more “designed”, the cuisine a bit more “nouvelle”. Our shared antipasto – ricotta di buffala calda con verdure grigliate was excellent, as was the crespelle gratinate ripiene con zucca, salsiccia e ricotta di pecora (for Steve) and tartare di salmone e spugola con le sue guarnizione e crostini (for Susan). We seldom have dessert in the restaurant (depending on gelato when necessary!), but made an exception tonight. Unfortunately, Steve’s was nothing special. [SJ to SJ: I had cantucci e ciambelline frascatane servite con un calicetto di vin santo. The cantucci weren’t up to Orvieto standard, but what the heck.]
Today we started by touring the Galleria Borghese, home to a great many superb artistic works – mostly Renaissance sculptures and paintings. Photography was not allowed, but we have provided links to five of our favourite pieces which the official web site for the Galleria has put on-line. Touring is limited to two hours (four times a day – you have to make a reservation) and only 360 people can enter. We have found that this time of year is great, as there are not huge crowds everywhere. There were probably only about half the allowed number of people during our two-hour slot at the Galleria Borghese. There is some gorgeous stuff there. The Galleria is located on the grounds of the Villa Borghese, which is a huge 17th-century estate created in part simply to house and display great art.
After lunch, we simply wandered around for some time, enjoying Rome under beautiful skies. Later we met Brian Paskin, the man who has provided many (including us) with a “window” on Rome with his webcam! We had exchanged emails over the past several months and managed to actually get together for the evening. It turns out that his apartment (and, webcam) are less than 400 metres from where we are staying and we walked there in about five minutes. Brian is a very nice young man and we had a most enjoyable evening.
Brian took us to an enoteca/wine bar for an aperitivo (Campari/soda) and then led the way to the restaurant that he had recommended earlier. Turns out it is just around the corner from our hotel: Trattoria/Pizzeria Gioia Mia. We had considered it briefly yesterday but rejected it because they had their menu translated into four languages so we assumed it was a major tourist spot. However, it turns out that not very many tourists go there at all – in fact the three of us were the only non-Italians in the place by the time we got there (and, it was packed).
Brian had Gnocci con Gorgonzola, Steve had Tortellini a la Gioia, and Susan had Trenette con aglia, olio e carciofi. Dessert all around … due gelati limone and uno pere a la Gioia. It was all very good (including the service) and we plan to go back tomorrow night (our final night!) for pizza.
The only “scheduled” visit today (our last full day) was to the Pantheon – well worth it! Other than that, we just walked and walked and walked, visiting several Roman “neighbourhoods” that we hadn’t yet seen. We did re-visit the Forum, however, just because it is so cool!
We depart Roma today with many fond memories, not least of which is our stay at Domus Julia. We couldn’t have asked for a better accommodation in this price range. The Domus is actually a three-room apartment with a nicely appointed common room which also acts as an entry way to the rooms (you need to pass through four doors – street, interior 1, interior 2, room – to get to the room). It also contains a kitchen, which is locked behind folding doors when the apartment is not rented as a complete unit, which it was not while we were here. We always had our breakfast in the common room – fresh cappuccino (prepared on the spot), orange juice, yogurt, croissant, jam and butter. Sometimes, there was an extra roll and cheese and/or sweetbread of some kind. Those days that we did not have our lunch in a nearby park, we also used the common room for lunch. And, while one of the other rooms seemed to have someone occupying it nearly the whole time we were here, we never saw anyone, except a couple leaving the day we arrived!
The Domus is located in centro storico (northeasterly), just a few metres away from the Presidential Palace. It was convenient to everything that we wanted to see – the furthest walk (and, we walked everywhere) was the Vatican, which took about 40 minutes. The Colosseo was about 25-30 minutes away. All the Domus Julia staff were very friendly – again, we couldn’t have asked for a better place.