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Trip Report Cardinals, Cupolas and Caravans - a week learning italian in Rome.

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First for the boring background bits. [please feel free to skip and go directly to go where you may collect your €200 and proceed to Rome] After several years of increasing frustration whenever I visited Italy [which when the kids were growing up was at least once a year] I decided that I wanted to learn Italian. I’d played with the idea previously, but never done it at all seriously. So about 5 years ago I signed up at our local further education college for an italian GCSE course [which is the exam english kids take in various subjects at age 16] and set off on my journey to get to grips with this beautiful language. Next stop was AS level, but unfortunately our local night school does not offer A level so from there I have moved into a conversation class with others of round about the same standard, though not everyone has done formal exams.

About 18 months ago I went by myself to a language school in the south of Tuscany and had a great time there, so when our italian teacher suggested that we could join in the trip to Rome being run by the college for their 16-17 year old students, which would include mornings at a language school, I jumped at the chance, along with 4 other adult learners.

So at stupid o’clock on a February Sunday morning, about a dozen of us, both grown-ups and 16-17 olds, plus our italian teacher, crowded onto a minibus and set off at a sedate pace [we are cornish after all] for Bristol airport and about 8 hours later, we were in ROMA. After what seemed like a pell-mell drive through the streets of the Eternal City, we arrived at our hotel, the Gravina: No more than a 10 minute walk from St. Peter’s in the unfashionable and relatively untouristy area south of the Vatican, the hotel is very modern and quite swish, with monsoon showers and flat-screen TVs, though a bit more storage space wouldn’t have come amiss. We also had an amusing few minutes sorting out the rooms as those of us who were sharing had been given double beds, and those who were on their own, twins. But we got there in the end and by 7.30 pm, we were all gathering in reception for our first roman supper.

As we were all pretty tired we didn’t want to go far, and the hotel recommended we go to the trattoria just up the road, in fact less than a stone’s throw away, the wonderfully named Trattoria Vongole e Farina [clams and flour!] Indeed they booked our table for us, so when 13 people turned up at the door, they weren’t too surprised. Water and wine arrived quickly [only for the adults, it’s a college rule that the students don’t drink on college trips] and shortly afterwards the kids’ pizzas arrived too - the restaurant has a wood-fired oven which was able to produce the typical thin roman pizza very quickly. The rest of us took more time, both to order and to eat; my fiori fritti [stuffed courgette flowers which are battered and deep-fried] were delicious, as was my spaghetti alla vongole [vongole = clams] and others had calzone, saltimbocca [veal with prosciutto and sage] grilled vegetables, and other local specialities. If you are one of those who worry about being expected to eat their way through every course on an italian menu, I’ve one word to say - don’t; nowhere that we ate did anyone care whether we had 3 courses or one. And they were very happy to explain dishes, in fact they respect you more if you question how dishes are made and what the best dish of the day is.

One thing we did have to do [not so much at this restaurant but at some others] was to scrutinise the bill very thoroughly. We would have done this anyway as we all wanted to pay separately, but we never found a bill that had been compiled or added up correctly. Trying to be generous, we put this down to the difficulties of serving 13 people, and it must be said that the mistakes were corrected with good grace and very quickly, though the time that they were €50 out did stretch our credulity somewhat!

After supper we were all too excited to go straight to bed, especially the kids, so we all walked over to St. Peter’s for the first look that some of us had ever had at the Basilica. Though cold, it was a lovely bright evening and the way they light the cupola at night is stunning and it was great to see the excitement that the kids showed - they were so enthusiastic! However we had lessons in the morning, so sadly there was no time for sneaking off to a bar for a beer or something stronger, and by 11 pm we were all in bed.

Tomorrow-some of us go back to school.

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