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Trip Report Restaurant and hotel recommendations in Rome

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I'm cheating. I posted my trip report last week, and the dull headline has attracted zero readership. So I'm leading with the recommendation angle, and re-posting the information. The restaurants and the hotels are noteworthy. Trust me.

"Trip report: Rome, three nights in May 2006

I arrived at Rome’s FCO airport around noon on Sunday, having flown in from the States. I took the hotel shuttle to the Domus Julia, a nice little B&B type hotel, just below the Barberini Palace and very near the Spanish Steps, at via Rasella 32. I had time to get settled and refreshed before my daughter arrived from Florence at 5 p.m. I was not feeling at all tired or jet-lagged, just excited to be there and see Rome for the first time.

As soon as she arrived, we headed for the Spanish Steps. It was a beautiful and sunny day, with all the deep pink azaleas in bloom, and lots of people lounging on the steps. We looked around, took pictures, and then walked down to see the designer shops on via Condotti.

Next, we stopped for dinner at Rosa Rosae Ristorante, via di Pietra 88. It was a very nice atmosphere, but a bit touristy, which we expected because of its location. Food was just so-so, but service was friendly. Prices were on the higher side for the quality, at about 52 EUR for two, with a half-liter of house wine. My veal was ok, but a big tough.

After dinner, we ended our day at the Trevi Fountain, because we wanted to see it all lit up at night. It was very pretty, if somewhat crowded. We sat on the steps to enjoy it and chat. The street vendors are especially annoying there, though. They simply won’t take No for an answer, so it’s best to totally ignore them. But that’s a tough thing to do at first.

Anyway, I discovered that it’s a mistake to pay any attention, as the street vendors take that as showing interest, and they persist endlessly. You just have to ignore them, or they follow you and stay right in your face. I was surprised when I found out that the vendors come right into restaurants and walk up to diners at their tables, too. It’s a sad situation, really.

The next day we had reservations at the Vatican Museums at 2:00. We had a leisurely morning, enjoyed the Hotel Julia’s breakfast buffet, and then took the metro over to Vatican City. We were thrilled we were able to walk to the head of the line, which was about two blocks long. (So the hassle of faxing to the Vatican for a tour reservation, and waiting to hear back was all worth it!)

Our tour was very nice, with an informative and interesting guide. We had headsets, which are a huge convenience in enjoying the tour. It took two hours, which left us in the Sistine Chapel at 4:00. This was great timing, since the door from there into St. Peter’s Basilica closes at 4:30. We had 30 minutes to enjoy the chapel’s masterpiece ceiling, which is barely enough time. We then headed directly into St. Peter’s to admire its dome, and especially Michelangelo’s Pieta.

It made for a great day of art appreciation, without any of the headache of waiting in lines. We figured we would have spent about four hours standing in lines in the sunshine, if we didn’t have the Museums reservation and didn’t know about the back door from the Sistine Chapel into St. Peter’s. I don’t think they advertise that little shortcut, but, thanks to Rick Steves, we knew about it.

After enjoying St. Peter’s Square and seeing all we wanted to see at the Vatican, we crossed the Tiber and walked around that cute neighborhood for a while, finding a nice little café to sit for a drink and a salad.

We wandered around some more, took lots of photos and enjoyed the atmosphere.

Later, for dinner, we headed back toward a restaurant where my daughter had eaten earlier that semester. It’s very casual and good, called the Maccheroni Ristorante at Piazza delle Coppelle, 44, phone 06 68307895. It’s very popular with locals and gets very busy. The service is friendly and the atmosphere is lively and interesting. About 47 EUR for two, with one-half liter of house wine.

The next day dawned with pouring rain, which was a bit concerning as it was our last full day. and we planned to visit the Coloseum and the Forum. Our luck was good, though, because after we’d finished breakfast and were ready to head out for the day, the rain had stopped. It continued to clear throughout the day, and turned into very pleasant weather after all.

When we arrived at the Coloseum, a guide was selling space in the next tour of both the Coloseum and the Forum, so we jumped in. He was interesting, but rather rushed. He gave a quick history, and then we had just 15 minutes to look around, take pics, and meet the next guide for the Forum tour. That guide was quite a bit more interesting; a self-proclaimed history buff who knew all the background stories that make a place come alive. We walked to the top of the hill, and then stopped several times throughout the Forum, and he gave a lot of information and answered all the questions. After that, we wandered around a bit on our own, then headed into the adjoining Roman neighborhood to get lunch on our way back toward our hotel.

Trying to eat ‘lunch’ in Italy in mid-day is a big problem, as probably everybody already knows. Once they close after lunch around 3:00, restaurants don’t open again until at least 7:00, and it wasn’t easy to find a market for picnic snacks. Finding a place to sit and enjoy a salad in the afternoon is a big challenge. We didn’t have much choice, so when we found a place that looked nice and was serving food at that time of day, we didn’t care much about the price or the menu. Of course, it was outrageously expensive and rather mediocre. (Can you say “tourist trap”?) But, it was worth every penny to get some food and take a break. And it was a really charming place, with very nice outdoor seating.

We then wandered over to see the Pantheon, Piazza Navonna, and to find a church that has Michelangelo’s Risen Christ. (I can’t remember the name of the church, though!)

Finally, we found a Foot Locker store to get a pair of shoes my daughter needed to hike the Cinque Terre. Hers had completely worn through after her semester of walking everywhere in Italy. That accomplished, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

We had reservations to meet my daughter’s friend for dinner at 9:00. He had studied in Rome that semester and recommended his favorite restaurant in the neighborhood where he’d lived, called Il Matriciano, on Via dei Gracchi, 49- 61. (Reservations advised—phone 063213040, or 063212327) It’s perfect for a more special dinner, but certainly not over-the-top. For three people dining, we paid just 103 EUR, which included a liter of house wine. We shared two appetizers, and two of us had veal dishes, one had just spaghetti. We each enjoyed coffee and dessert. It is a very, very friendly and pleasant place. We completely enjoyed it.

The next day, we slept in a bit, and then took a cab to the train station to take EuroStar to Florence.

It’s my habit to peek into little hotels that look nice, as we wander around in any city, anywhere. I’m collecting research for our next visit, and besides, hotel lobbies are always interesting and sometimes beautiful. While in Rome, I picked up cards from these three hotels, which looked very nice, but also more expensive than our Domus Julia:

La Lumiere di Piazza di Spagna (Spanish steps), has rooftop dining, is in an old mansion on Condotti street. More expensive than our Hotel Julia, I'm sure. www.lalumieredipiazzadispagna.com.

Hotel Barberini, Via Rasella 3, a four-star just up the street from the Domus Julia, across from Barberini Palace and near the Spanish steps. info@hotelbarberini.com

Hotel Bramante, near the Vatican in the 'ancient urban neighborhood of Borgo Pio". www.hotelbramante.com.

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