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Trip Report 6 Days in Rome....On Our Way to Umbria Today

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I've never done a Trip Report before, but I've gotten so much help from this board for this and other trips, it is time to do a Trip Report on our current trip.
This may be too much detail about the wrong things for some, but hope it is interesting for most.

Our trip is a 3 week trip, from September 2-23, to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We are pretty seasoned Europe travelers and have been to Italy once previously, to Venice, Florence and Tuscany.

Day 1—MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 2

Flight from SFO to Zurich to Rome
Arrived in Rome around 7 p.m. on September 3. We had done carry-on so pretty much sailed right through. Didn’t even have to get a stamp on our passport, which worries us a bit. Hope we don’t have any problems when we leave.
Through our hotel we had arranged a car pickup to Hotel Santa Maria. http://www.htlsantamaria.com/ and there he was, with a sign with our name on it. As we get older, this type of expense seems more and more worth it.
Crazy drive, eventually winding our way through narrow streets of Trastevere and then we were there. At that point, I was so glad we had splurged for the car pickup since we never would have found the place.
Had a bit of an adventure with air conditioning, the person at the desk didn’t know how to make it cool, but called someone and it worked out fine. The room we had requested, #1, based on Trip Advisor reviews, worked out great, since it is a little out of the way in the back and has its own little sitting area.
Went to take a shower and found out I couldn’t turn the hot water off. The desk guy, who was now different than the woman who helped us with the air conditioning, did a work-around in which we had to turn on and off the valves below the bidet, promising we would be fixed tomorrow. I trusted him, and tried not to get too cranky.
We got settled and went out for a gelato and a walk through Trastevere. The Piazza Santa Maria reminded us again of why we come to Europe. Late at night, alive and people out and about. A quick kind of orienting walk and then we turned in for the night.
This hotel has a wonderful location…quiet, and when you are inside the walls, it seems out of the way, but out of your door is the craziness and liveliness of Trastevere. For all 6 days, we walked almost everywhere and public transit was easy to find when we didn’t want to.

Day 2--TUESDAY

I always sleep better and adjust to the time change easier than my wife, so I was up and out early for a walk through the now-deserted streets of Trastevere at 7 a.m. What a difference from last night.
Settled back into the hotel for one of the nicest parts of staying here. The morning coffee service and breakfast are all you could want to start your day. American coffee, espresso, latte, cappuccino, any way you want it, as much as you want. Nice complete breakfast; bread, meat, cheese, cereal, yoghurt, sweets, and even eggs for those who need the more familiar breakfast.

Since it was raining, it was a good day to go to the Vatican Museum. Got the #23 bus on the Tiber River once we figured out how to read the sign. Then the hard part began. There are no announcements or maps on the bus, no route maps on the bus and it is hard to tell which stop you are at. We tried to follow the priests and sisters, but they got off at St. Peter’s so we stayed on since I knew the Vatican was quite a few stops further North. It seems as if all of the bus signs which tell you which “fermate” you are at are covered up with trees so you can’t see them from inside the bus. That meant you stepped out, keeping one foot in the door, trying to see the sign and then popped back in when it was not your stop. Finally figured out our stop at Leone IV and we were relieved.

We walked to the covered market off of Via Casini, down Via Tunisi and it was alive with locals shopping for their evening dinner. We went to a mediocre lunch at a place Rick Steves recommended, but which I would not…La Rustichella.
Off to the Vatican Museum which I had booked online earlier in the morning. We followed the signs to the “prenotazione” or pre-reserved entrance, only to find out it took us to the exit…that’s ok, it worked out. We just walked in the “uscita” and wound our way down to the entrance hall, got our tickets and began to stroll through this incredible collection of ancient and Renaissance art. We strolled with thousands of others and when the route funneled into narrow passages, I have to say that it was quite claustrophobic. It was good to keep track of the many large tourist groups and occasionally drop back or speed up to keep from being crunched too uncomfortably.
The Raphael rooms, and the Sistene Chapel were the highlights for sure.
Following a good tip from Rick Steves, we waited until a tour group took the shortcut to St. Peter’s Basilica at the far right end of the Sistene Chapel and just followed them down the stairs and out St. Peter’s square, a remarkable site which I’ve always wanted to experience. This little move saved us from having to walk all the way back and around to St. Peter’s from the Vatican Museum.

We strolled back to our bus, stopping at the TIM store on the way so I could get a SIM card for my IPhone which I had unlocked in the US. Having travelled and used phones in Europe on 4 trips over the last 15 years or so, I have to say that this was the easiest it has ever been. We are all indeed living in the Apple world. I was in and out of there in 10 minutes, with an Italian phone number and a month-long data plan, all for 25 euros.

I love TIM. They send you a text message after every call, telling you how much you have left so you can top off your minutes when you need to. And by resetting my Iphone usage for cellular data, I can keep track of my 1 Gigabyte of free data.

Got our bus back to Trastevere, we walked around some more and then went back to the Hotel where they have a nice little snack time in the evening. Next thing we knew, we were hanging out at the hotel for the evening, reading, relaxing and eventually turning in early.

Day 3—WEDNESDAY

I spent the morning again in the coffee room reading my two books, The First Man In Rome, by Colleen McCollough, a 1991 historical fiction book set in ancient Rome, and When in Rome, a 1998 travel memoir by Robert Hutchinson about his year of living in and attempting to discover the Vatican. My wife really was catching up on her sleep, but when she woke up, she was fresh and ready to go.

The weather was clearing up but not quite sunny, so we grabbed our umbrellas and went out for a walk through the heart of Rome. Campo di Fiori, Piazza Navona, The Pantheon, Via del Corso, Trevi Fountain and ended up at the Spanish Steps. An absolutely wonderful walk, and the weather had indeed turned nice…sunny and warm.

It was lunchtime and we began to look for a place to eat. I don’t know about other people, but without a particular place in mind, it is hard to know where to eat. Too many options, all of which look good and we ended up back at Trastevere, finding great pizza and salad at Dar Poeta, on Vicolo del Bologna.

Back to the hotel for a nap…felt good and we got recharged for an evening out, now that we were starting to feel in rhythm with the Romans.

We went for a walk to get hungrier. Stumbled onto the Largo Argentina, an ancient ruins site, and the scene of Caesar’s death, which is now home to many cats, and I assume the rodents which keep them happy. We kept going down the big street Vittorio Emmanuel and found ourselves at the Piazza Venezia which has an incredible monument and statue to the first Savoy King of Italy, Vittorio Emmanuel. Massively ostentatious, bright at night and a mix of ancient and 19th century design. We spotted the Colosseum in the distance and so we walked a bit through the wonderful scene of nighttime ancient Rome (albeit with modern lighting) and got excited about our visit here on Friday.

Walked past the Circus Maximus, where Ben Hur used to race chariots, and ended up back in Trastevere at La Frascheta, at 134 San Francisco de la Ripa, a restaurant recommended by our hotel. This was a great experience…got there at 9:45 at night, and had to come back at 10:15 for a table, then got seated at 10:30. Bustling, old style Roman tratorria, very typical cuisine and great food, atmosphere and service.

A short stroll back to the hotel, passing again through Piazza Santa Maria.


Day 4—THURSDAY

Woke up to a full sun day…not too hot, but finding shade was definitely important during this day.

Started our day with a walking tour of the Jewish Ghetto, right across the river from Trastevere. Very powerful and moving experience. Getting in touch with the history of the Jewish community of Rome, touring the synagogue with a great English speaking tour guide, and strolling the streets which are the heart of the modern day Jewish community. Lots of kosher restaurants and shops.
We used Rick Steves walking tour which we had downloaded on our IPhones and it was very good.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with history, but when we travel we want to understand and see the complex truth of how we have evolved to the point where we are today. In the case of Rome, the facts are that the glory of Rome and the Vatican cannot be understood without grappling with the fact that all the way from ancient times until recently, there has been a persistent and unforgiveable persecution of the Jews.

On to the Tourist Information office at the intersection of Via del Corso and Via Minghetti to get our Roma Pass. Good for 3 days of museums and transit. More on the benefits of this pass later.

Farther down Via del Corso we found the bus to get up to the Borghese which I had reserved online that day for 5 p.m. and once again, played the game of “which bus stop are we at now”. Ended up getting off one stop too early, but that was ok, because we wanted to eat before we got up to the Borghese Gardens area. We found a nice place to eat, nothing spectacular, but solid, and then walked up to the Borghese.

Great experience at this museum and we used the 5 euro AudioGuide. The art is the building as much as the art installed there. Stunning architecture and decorative work as well as the sculptures, and the art works. They limit the sessions to 360 people every two hours, so it is not crowded. They came through and herded us out at 7 p.m. just about as we were done. Good timing.

We enjoyed our early evening stroll through the Borghese park with many Romans; walkers, runners, strollers and lovers. We found our way down to Pincio, which is the lookout over Piazza del Popolo, with views in every direction. Very nice breeze and lots of people enjoying the relief from the hectic pace of Via del Corso below….which is where we headed next and strolled all the way down to the Pantheon where we stopped and enjoyed a rest and the scenery, human and otherwise. The Pantheon is beautiful at night, and the piazza is fun.
Sat in the center for awhile, and almost couldn’t get up, but we managed to get to the #8 Tram stop and catch the tram back to Via Trastevere which dropped us off a short walk from our hotel area where a gelato was our dinner as we sat on the fountain of the Plaza of Santa Maria and watched the bubble man, the break dancers and the crowds.

Turned in, excited about getting an early start for the Coloseum tomorrow.

Day 5—FRIDAY

We figured out how to get from Trastevere to the Coloseum via transit…the number 8 tram which connected to the #87 bus, and ended up right in front of the Colosseum. We had our Roma pass, and we used Rick Steves audio guide on our Iphones.
The guidebooks all said that you could skip the long line with the Roma Pass, but I had no idea how much of a line jump we would get. I suspect some people are still in that line right now…it was huge. We walked right in and next thing we knew, we were at the Christian cross placed on the North side of the Coloseum by the Popes who wanted to stake out their claim to the site in later years.

Words can’t describe how impressive this site is. A good guide or audioguide, a sense of Roman history and a good imagination and you can really bring it to life and appreciate what it must have been like for 50,000 people to be in that place watching the various spectacles.

Next to the Roman Forum. Once again, with Rick Steves audioguide on our IPhones, we were able to appreciate and understand the ancient heart of Rome, and the world of that time.

We exited the far side of the Forum and walked up past Capitol Hill, heading for the Jewish Quarter, where we had seen a restaurant serving falafel and meditterean fare for lunch, but we stumbled onto a restaurant , Villa degli Amici, on Piazza Margana that a friend from home had recommended. We had planned to eat here, so we thought this was serendipity and sat down to a pretty fancy lunch. I really can’t recommend this place for the food, a bit overpriced and not that distinctive, (other than the ricotta and squash blossom flower appetizer which we just don’t get back home) but the service was great, warm and friendly. And the setting, shady, on the Piazza Margana was very nice.

At this point, I had decided that I wanted to get out of the center of Rome and so I suggested that we take the #8 tram up the hill to the top, to a place I had heard about called Villa Doria Pamphill. It was a 15 minute ride on the tram, climbing up to the top of one of the hills, and when we got there we found the Villa, a nice rolling park with a Senior Center, playgrounds and walking and running paths. It felt like there were no tourists around and we saw a side of the Roman life we might not have seen, but this side trip might not be for everybody.

#8 tram back down the hill for another naptime, which I think is an important part of any travelling day!

After a refreshing nap and my 3rd shower of the day (this was about my average, although some days got up to 5), we headed out with no destination and stumbled onto one of the best dinners we had in Rome. Ai Balestrari, on the street of the same name, just off of Campo di Fiori caught our eye because of the rustic interior and wood-fired pizza oven and the good looking pasta on the plates of the happy, mostly Italian diners outside.
I had rigatoni pomodoro with oxtail and it was superb. My wife had a caprese pizza which was quite nice.

The waitress noticed I had spilled something on my shirt, which is not unusual for me, and she said “Wait, I’ll give you something for that”. She came back with some spray-on stain remover and a brush, and before I could protest or investigate further, she sprayed my shirt, of course being careful to cover my pasta plate. What I mean to say is that she held her hand up between the spray and my pasta plate…which considering the toxic nature of the stuff she was putting on, probably was not a sufficient gesture. “Wait until it dries and then brush it off” she said. I obeyed her and much to my chagrin, I did brush it off, along with quite a bit of the color of my orange shirt. Oh well, she was trying to help.

A glass of sambuca for me, with the 3 coffee beans inside (tre moscas) and a glass of amaro for my wife and all was forgiven.

Back home along the Ponte Sisto over the Tiber, which I thought always looked better at night than the daytime.


Day 5—SATURDAY

For us, this was a day to start to say goodbye to Rome. We really didn’t have much planned, didn’t particularly want to see any more sites or museums, so we just walked around and had quite a relaxing and unplanned day. This is not to say that we had seen everything, we hadn’t, we just felt like we had seen enough.

In the morning we headed down Via Giullia, which parallels the Tiber, heading toward Castell St. Angelo. When the Romans took over, they built this because they wanted to build a “straight” street, and straight it is…all the way to the Castell.

Heavy tourist area around the Castell is a little too much…the Roman gladiators who in between letting you take your picture with them are ogling and making rude comments to the beautiful women walking by, the kitschy tourist knick knacks, etc.

We did stop and check out the Tiber River from next to the Castell. We were looking down and noticed that there were some animals, looked like otters, swimming in the river. How cute and natural. Then I noticed something odd, and I said to my wife…”Those don’t look like otter tails, they are long and skinny.” Then we looked at each other and realized these were not otters, these were rats. Probably the biggest rats I have ever seen. We saw them crawling over the reeds and it was a bit startling. The Tiber seems an odd river and I never quite figured it out. There were tents set up along the river, but no one ever seemed to be in them. There were a few clubs and bars, but seemed almost deserted. There was a bike path, but no one hardly seemed to be riding on it or walking or running on it. It was not at all like the Seine for example. I’m still a bit stumped, but not a very appetizing scene. It is clear that Rome has built the walls around the river in an attempt to deal with flooding and it seems to have cut the city off from it.

After communing with the rodents, we walked along the Via Cordarari, which had some very nice antique shops and few restaurants.
Found our way back to the market at Campo di Fiori where we had two objectives…one, to buy stuff to cook for dinner at our Spoleto apartment on Sunday, and two, to buy some fresh out of the oven pizza we had seen earlier in the week at Al Forno, on the square.

Did both and had fun doing both. Although if you go to Al Forno, be sure and ask what’s hot out of the oven and get that, whatever kind it is.
The market has just about everything you need and even though it is full of tourists, there are also quite a number of locals shopping as well.

We took a couple of long breaks and/or naps at the hotel on this day, but also squeezed in a couple of other memorable activities.

Did a nice walk through Trastevere, using Rick Steves audioguide and it was fun. We saw a wedding going on at St. Cecilia’s church and if you want to do some good Italian people watching, plant yourself on the fountain outside of the church and wait for a fancy wedding to happen.
That church, and the church of Santa Maria, while very different in design and history, are both extraordinary and beautiful.

We stopped at a “bio” store we had seen earlier on our walks and bought some whole wheat pasta and nice skin cream.

We weren’t sure about going out that night. We snacked and relaxed at the hotel. I talked about the Italian card game Scopa with the bartender at the hotel and I downloaded the game onto my Iphone and played a bit while drinking a Campari, with Prosecco and soda water.

We decided to go out and see what we could find for dinner. Let me say a couple of words about Roman food---pizza and pasta. Neither my wife and I remember Italian food like this from our previous trips to Venice, Florence and Tuscany. After 5 nights in Rome, we were not that excited anymore about eating out, so when we saw the menu outside of Percento restaurant on Via Pellegrino, on the way to Campo di Fiori, we decided to sit down and try it because it seemed different. Maybe we didn’t look hard enough or weren’t savvy enough travelers to find other places like this, but I’m glad we found this place. We had ombrina, which is a very tasty white fish, and salmon, both well prepared and flavorful.

The service was extraordinarily friendly and personal. The waiter helped us with wines and I had an excellent red Lazio, big and full bodied. We declined dessert and a digestif but instead, the waiter bought us a plate of cookies courtesy of the house. I then decided to order a Sambuca and the chef came by and I said in English…”I think I need some Sambuca with these” trying to be generous in return for his kind gesture of the complimentary cookies. He quickly scooped up the cookies and my wife and I thought I had offended him. The waiter came by and said “Don’t worry…he’s crazy” He brought back the sambuca and the cookies and he and the waiter both stood there and laughed and said, “Try the cookies now, they are drunk” We looked quizzically and the chef produced a syringe from behind his back…he had injected the cookies with Sambuca, I guess per my exact request! They were tasty.

We ended our evening chatting with the chef and the waiter about food, cooking and how hard it was to make a go at being a restaurant in Rome and his two years of experience doing that. I would definitely recommend this place. Percento Enoristorante, Via del Pellegrino 160, right off of Vittorio Emmanuel. Tel: 06 68809554.

Day 6—SUNDAY

Our day is organized around getting to the Termini train station for our 1:30 train to Spoleto. We got up in the a.m. and went back to see St. Cristina’s and Santa Maria churches, since we hadn’t gotten to see the altars because of weddings and masses. So one last walk through wonderful Trastevere, which really felt like home after 6 days. I’ll miss it.

Called a cab to the hotel, got a late start so thought we would have to sweat making our train, but the taxi driver was all about business in the way I imagined a Roman cab driver can be, getting us there very quickly.

Termini is a modern, easy to use train station and it was quite obvious how to find our train. Since we had bought our ticket downtown earlier in the week, we just had to validate our ticket at one of the machines, find Track #2 and climb aboard, being careful to heed the warning of the man at the info booth, who cautioned us to avoid the middle cars where the nicely dressed thieves did a thriving business.

On to Spoleto, our first stop in Umbria.

More to come!

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