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Trip Report Rome-o, o Rome-o, Wherefore Art Thou Rome-o: A Trip Report in Three Acts

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Act I – The Cell Phone is Dead

Background and Day One/Two:
I will take any opportunity at any time to travel to Italy, so when some work friends of mine mentioned that they wanted to travel to Italy, I gladly volunteered myself as tour guide for the journey. We originally planned to go in summer, but with airline ticket prices skyrocketing, we decided instead to travel in April, over spring break. We booked our tickets in January for $650 apiece, traveling on KLM through Amsterdam. My travel companions: my co-teacher S and her husband, P. My husband, C, decided not to come along due to our adventure in Italy in 2004 (see previous trip report).

Along about March, my friends and I got together for a Rome planning session and C started to become envious of our impending travel, so we booked him a last minute ticket. Ironically, cheaper and more convenient than the one we had booked two months prior. I was ecstatic and slightly unbelieving – I actually couldn’t believe C was willing to return to the country that had brought him so much travel pain. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen.

Fast forward to Thursday, April 2. We arrived at Dulles International airport 3 hours before our flight time and breezed right through check-in and security. I think we had arrived early enough to beat the crowds. The wait at the gate seemed interminable – after all, I had waited two years to get back to Italy and another several hours was killing me!

Finally we boarded the plane. S and P were seated together and I was across in an aisle seat. C would be following us the next day (yes, traveling alone). The flight to Amsterdam was relatively uneventful and actually seemed quick, all things considered. Once we arrived in Amsterdam, I plugged in my two-year old Alcatel Italian cell phone only to find that it had died a terrible death. In addition to which, my SIM card had switched off after two years of disuse. So, my clever plan of having a cell phone with a number for everyone to reach me at – foiled. I went to the phone shop at the airport in Amsterdam and was helped by a lovely Dutch gentleman. Of course, I couldn’t stop hearing Mike Myer’s Goldmember impression in my head, which caused me to smirk my way through the transaction. (“I love gooooohhhhllllld. That’sh a keeper.”) We also stopped at an ATM to procure some Euros for our arrival.

After a torturous five hour layover, our plane for Rome finally took off. We landed in Rome and literally wandered directly out of the airport. Nobody checked our passports or looked at our bags. WAS there even a customs? I guess because we went through customs and passport control in Amsterdam we didn’t have to suffer through it again, but I did miss getting an Italy stamp in my passport – highly depressing. We walked out into the arrivals area and our driver was waiting with a sign bearing my name. I had booked a personal driver through the apartment rental agency, Sleepinitaly.com. He was there, he went and grabbed the car, and we were on our way---sort of. We had unwittingly arrived in the middle of Rome’s rush hour, and our trip to the apartment in the Centro Storico was worse than DC beltway traffic on a good day. Why couldn’t we just GET THERE already???

Finally the car stopped and the driver told us he couldn’t actually get the car back to the piazza. He told us to take a right and at the end of the street would be the piazza. He was right, and we arrived in Piazza del Fico without an issue. I rang bell 7, confidently expecting the owner to buzz us right in. No response. And with a non-working cell phone, I couldn’t call. So, it was off to search for a pay phone and buy a scheda. I left S and P in the piazza rather than hauling all our luggage on the search for a pay phone. There are very few pay phones in Italy now because everyone has a cell, so I searched and searched and found a signora in a tabacchi shop to sell me a scheda. When I called the owner, he said “yes, I’m there and have let your friends in.” Great – so I trekked back to the Piazza and climbed the 4 flights of stairs to our apartment. Yes, 4 flights of stairs.

We picked rooms (Sand P took the front room and I chose the back room for C and I), and with our things dropped off we went out to find a grocery store. There was a store on Via del Governo Vecchio, right around the corner from us, so we went to pick up the essentials (51 euro), and lugged them back to the apartment. Of course, we bought wine, cheese, sausage – the Italy essentials.

I also had to get the phone working, so we wandered until we found a cell phone shop. I got the new SIM card and was promised the phone would be working by the next morning. By this point we were starving, so we stopped at a nondescript pizzeria al taglio (Pizzeria VIP, Corso Vittorio Emmanuele) and had 3 slices of pizza, a chinotto and a bottle of water for 15 euro.

I had told S and P about the gelato in Italy, so later that night we were ready to find some. We headed over to the Pantheon area, to Gelateria Della Palma. This is my favorite gelateria because of the sheer number of flavors. The first night, I had torta sacher and espresso, S had stracciatella and Mars, and P had tartufo palma and dark chocolate. Total cost for gelato – 6 euro. How can something so decadent be so cheap??

Our first day complete, we headed back to the apartment to fall into a jet-lagged sleep.

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    Act II: C Cometh and Maketh Funny

    Saturday, April 3:

    I awoke in a state of anticipation – my husband was arriving today! I wanted to make sure everything was ready for his 1 pm arrival. So, we ate breakfast in the room and headed down to the Campo dei Fiori to make sure we had fresh bread and fruit. Of course, I had been promised that my cell phone would be working in the morning but alas, it was not, so we made a quick detour to the phone store where the man looked at the papers from yesterday, said “oh yes, I was supposed to do that”, and then actually finally did what he was supposed to do the day before. I love Italy! Task completed, it was off to the campo.

    The bread from the Forno on the Campo dei Fiori (.90 euro) and two fresh baskets of strawberries (4 euro) looked delicious. We got some good shots of the market and two weiner dogs having a romp in the Roman sunshine. On the way back from the market, at around 10 a.m., my cell phone rang. Number one, this meant the cell phone was working. Number two, it was supposed to be an emergency only number, so it meant something was amiss.

    I answered (Pronto?),and C asked me where I was. I told him where we had just been and I asked him where he was. He replied “Outside the apartment.” Wait – what? What, oh what, could have happened to get him to Rome three hours early? And HOW???? We rushed back to the apartment and let him in to hear the story.

    Upon HIS arrival at Dulles, he was told his flight to Newark had been cancelled. C very calmly looked at the ticket agent and said, “I don’t think you understand. My wife is in Rome. Do whatever you have to in order to get me there.” I don’t know what airline miracle occurred, but he was put on another airline’s direct flight from Dulles to Rome. Leaving three hours before his original flight was supposed to leave. Once on the plane, he was introduced to his seatmate. Initially, we’ll say his seatmates name was Mike. It became very quickly apparent that his seatmates alter-ego was Captain Upchuck. The entire way to Rome, Captain Upchuck evidenced his talents to C and all those around them. Needless to say, this was not an appetizing way to fly.

    Once in Rome, C was struck by the fact that he spoke little to no Italian and had no way to get in touch with anyone. He turned on his cell phone and by some miracle, it worked. He called the driver with the number I had given him, and said (and I quote): “ CASSIDY NOLEN. AIRPORT. PIAZZA DEL FICO. NO ITALIAN.” Luckily, the driver spoke some English and was there quickly to pick him up. The driver was the same driver that had taken us to the piazza the day before. When he got to the place where he had dropped us off, he told C, “Your wife, she speaks Italian, she get to the apartment. You, you don’t get to the apartment.” So, he got out of the car and walked C and his suitcase to the door. I appreciate his kindness and generosity greatly, because otherwise C might still have been wandering around the Piazza Navona waiting to find me.

    After spending several hours with Captain Upchuck, C desperately wanted a shower and after he took one, we headed out to Trastevere. We were lucky to have a taxi stop nearby, right by the Chiesa Nuova on Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, so it was always easy to find a cab. The driver zipped us right to the church for 7 euro. I wanted to do things that were new for me this trip, and I had never made the trip across the Tiber to Trastevere and I wanted to view the mosaics and art that made this church so special. The piazza was quiet in the daytime sunshine, and inside it was cool and shadowy. We wandered about inside and walked up to the front to see the shimmery golden mosaics. On the way back from the church on Via D. Lungaretta, we stopped for a lunchtime snack of fried goodies. We had 2 suppli, 2 arancini, 2 crocche’ and 2 cokes for 11.50 euro. C was very happy – he had been waiting for arancini for a long time and these did not disappoint. They were very, very good with warm gooey cheese inside. I will say the suppli and arancini were better than the potato crocche’, which were a tad bit dry. I stopped at a used bookseller and picked up 4 books in Italian for 10 euro.

    We walked across the bridge at the Isola Tiberina and snapped some photos of the remains of the roman bridge before crossing to Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Of course, we stuck our hands in the mouth of truth and captured the image for posterity. None of our hands were bitten off.

    We walked back to the apartment from Santa Maria in Cosmedin – quite a hike and we were walking in the middle of the strikers that had been protesting behind the church. It took us about 45 minutes to walk back through the crowds, winding our way through the back streets and through Piazza Navona.

    We rested in the afternoon (C took a nap after his adventures) and geared up for our first big dinner out. I was taking everyone to Pizza Re’, the Neopolitan style pizza place in Rome.

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    Act II, Scene II: A pizza by any other name…

    We walked to our dinner location near Piazza del Popolo, about a 25 minute walk from the apartment. Come to think of it, we walked pretty much everywhere. The location of the apartment was really central, and with the cab stop nearby it was easy to grab a taxi if we felt it was too far to walk or we were just too tired.

    I had made reservations for Pizza Re’ earlier that day, knowing that the lines are often quite long, and we showed up and were shown directly to our table. C already knew that one person’s order is an entire pizza, but S and P couldn’t quite get their heads around the idea. I had been trying to stretch my stomach for weeks to try and cram in as much food as possible. 

    Pizza Re’
    - 2 margherita pizzas
    - 1 prosciutto crudo pizza
    - 1 salmon pizza
    - 1 bottle falanghina wine
    - 2 bottles water
    - 1 piece pastiera
    o Total bill: 57 euro

    The pizza was exactly as I remembered and hoped for. A little thicker than Roman pizza, nice crust, gooey, cheesy center with a garnish of fresh basil. Delicious. P, who ordered the salmon pizza, was I think slightly less than thrilled with his decision. It was a white pizza with some sort of creamy-cheesy base and the salmon on top. The rest of us were very happy. I ordered a piece of the pastiera as soon as we sat down, knowing they are often out, and the waiter set aside an extra large piece for the 4 of us to share. The guys loved it and dug in with gusto. I love that slightly floral, orangey taste that you don’t get with non-Italian desserts.

    We wandered back to our apartment, past the Ara Pacis and through the Piazza Navona. It was Saturday night that we discovered that Piazza del Fico is a happening little place. You wouldn’t think it would be – I’d never heard of it before – but with 2 restaurants, a bar, and what appeared to be a rave or club, there was a tremendous amount of activity until 2 or even 3 a.m. With the shutters and windows closed it was easy to block out all but the loudest yellers. As the trip went on, our favorite pastime became hanging out the windows to watch the tourists, locals, chess games, and pigeons.

    Act II, Scene III: Porta Portese with Two Fabrizios

    On Sunday, we awoke to the sound of church bells from the Chiesa Nuova. We were getting up early today (our only day) to go to the Porta Portese market with two friends of ours. C and I went last time to hunt for Atari (C’s passion and the reason we know the Fabrizio’s), and we were returning again. I was also on the lookout for cheap books and CDs. After breakfast in the apartment, we wandered to our appointed meeting place outside the Chiesa Nuova. Fabrizio 2 (F2) showed up first on his scooter. Fabrizio 1 (F1), showed up afterward in his car. He was going to drive us to the market. Five years ago, this didn’t go particularly well. I got very carsick and had to actually get out and walk the rest of the way back to our hotel. Unfortunately, F1’s driving had not changed. On and off the gas and I was ready to lose my cookies within 3 minutes. This time, I managed to hang in there until we got to Porta Portese.

    The market was jam packed, in spite of the fact that it was Palm Sunday, and we were crammed in with the locals (and a fair amount of tourists, believe it or not). C and F1 delighted in sorting through the market’s electronic goodies, and I perused the book selection. I think S and P spent most of the time making sure their property was still attached to their person – the market is very busy and notorious for pickpockets, although apparently the police have been trying to clear out much of the riffraff.

    After a few hours of being jostled, we stopped into a bar for a coffee. I wisely purchased a Coke for the return ride to the apartment to ward off any impending nausea. Since F1 had bought the drinks last time, we picked up the tab this time and headed back towards the car and the centro storico. Back towards Piazza del Fico, we decided we needed a few more items from the market (including more cheese, bread, and wine), and stopped to pick them up for 15 euro.

    Tired from our morning adventure, we decided to throw caution to the wind and have lunch at the restaurant in our piazza, called Da Francesco. The waiter, a cantankerous young gentleman who appeared to hate life and the art of waitery, ignored us until no longer feasible and then begrudgingly took our order.

    Da Francesco
    - 1 spaghetti pomodoro e basilica
    - 1 spaghetti cacio e pepe
    - 1 lasagne
    - 1 tortellini
    - 1 bread basket
    - 1 carafe red house wine
    o 40 Euro total

    P had the lasagna and proclaimed it the best he had ever eaten (although it looked overly cheesy to me). The spaghettis were pretty good (al dente with decent sauce) and the tortellini was pronounced “okay” by S. The proximity to the apartment was its most redeeming quality, especially considering the service.

    Next – Happy Hour with the Happy Wanderer

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    Act II, Scene III: A Tragic Turn of Events

    Fortified by our afternoon repast, a nap, and a quick hang out the windows to watch the Piazza Channel, we decided we’d walk to San Clemente. We decided this around 5:30. San Clemente is really far away. We arrived at 6:15, only to find that the last entrance to the underground part of the church was about 30 minutes earlier. Depressed with my lack of research (I knew the underground closed at 6:30 – but I DIDN’T know that the last entrance was 40 minutes earlier), we had to wander back towards the apartment unfulfilled.

    When we returned, we got ready for our big Roman night out with Fabrizio and his girlfriend.

    Act II, Scene IV: Neither a Borrower nor a Wanderer Be

    We met Fabrizio in the Piazza Navona, near the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. He wanted to take us for happy hour and dinner, so we started out at Bar Di Rienzo (near the Pantheon), where we had 6 drinks and free crostini with tapenade, prosciutto and salame for a total of 30 euro. F1 nicely paid for all of us – although it was getting a little bit cold to be outside and the wind was blowing directly in my ear all the way through happy hour.

    After happy hour, we walked across the Piazza della Rotonda to a little restaurant called Il Bracciolo (Via della Pastina), which F1 recommended.

    Il Bracciolo:
    - 2 carafes house red wine
    - 1 fettuccine al cinghiale
    - 2 gnocchi alla romana
    - 1 risotto alla pescatora
    - 1 trippa alla romana
    - 1 spaghetti carbonara
    - 2 bottles water
    - bread
    Total cost: 64 euro

    C was even adventurous enough to try F1s tripe – I’m not really sure what was getting into him. Was this the same man who vowed never to return to Italy (at least not willingly)? The same man who wouldn’t eat porchetta because of the flies? I could barely believe my eyes.

    After dinner we were not yet done. F1 insisted that we go get a coffee at Caffe’ Sant’Eustachio. He avowed that it was the best coffee in Rome. I was getting tired and, frankly, grumpy and did not partake. C had a decaf espresso and he did say there was some special secret and I need to try it. I decided to push it off to another day and with that we returned to the apartment to close out another day…..or so we thought.

    Cut to 3:32 AM. I woke up and poked C. I said “Are you shaking the bed?” C said “I’m not shaking the bed, I think it’s an earthquake.” I said “No it’s not,” and promptly fell back asleep.

    The next morning, C’s suspicions were confirmed by the television. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake had struck L’Aquila in the province of Abruzzo. We all watched in disbelief – none of us had ever been through an earthquake before and we had all fallen right back asleep!! The seriousness of the situation hit us as the numbers of lost lives began to come into the news stations. We emailed our families to let them know we were okay – which only caused more mass hysteria and telephone calls.

    To fortify our supplies for breakfast, I went to the corner fruit seller in the piazza. I have to say, I think she ripped me off. One melon, a little basket of berries and 4 bananas – she charged me 14 euro. That would have been 6 euro in the Campo dei fiori – if that! I vowed I would never return to her fiendish fruit thievery!!

    In order to make sure we would see San Clemente, we decided to hop to the cab stand and take a taxi to the church. The taxi cost 7 euros and entrance to the church was 5 euros per person to view the underground. I had been wanting to see San Clemente since my last trip to Rome (when I missed the entrance time!!) and it didn’t disappoint. Seeing the remains of the previous church and the Roman Temple of Mithros underneath that was fascinating. It really gave me an appreciation for the different levels of history that lie underneath all of Rome.

    After San Clemente, we headed over to the Coliseum. I had booked the Archeology Card in advance for the four of us. The card was 23 euro and allowed entrance to 11 different sites in Rome. A bonus – we were SUPPOSED to be able to get into the coliseum through a special line. Not the case. I even tried to go around to the back entrance and the signora there said the front and the line was the only way. I really thought I had been fooled- but once we got through the metal detectors, we really were able to skip the entire ticket line and go directly to the reserved tickets counter. I showed the woman at the counter my reservation page, she handed us the tickets, and voila – we were in!

    We poked around the Coliseum for an hour or so before deciding it was time for more important things – lunch! I knew the area around the coliseum was touristy and had looked beforehand for a place. I had done most of my searching on the Ristoranti di Roma website, and I saw a place called Hosteria Nerone. Upon arriving at Hosteria Nerone, found that it was also recommended by Rick Steves (blech)…but with no other real option in sight, we sat down to eat and ended up having the most expensive (and worst) meal of the trip. Now I’m not saying it was BAD, but the price to quality ratio was terrible compared to everything else we ate.

    Hosteria Nerone
    - 2 antipasti di verdure
    - 2 bottles water
    - 1 fettucine ai funghi porcini
    - 1 canneloni
    - 1 lasagne
    - 1 ravioli
    - 2 caffe’
    77 euro

    Fortified by lunch, we walked back to the Palatine and bypassed the ticket line with our card. Some areas were closed off this time that were not closed the last time I visited, but others were open. We waited in line to go back to the House of Augustus (5 visitors at a time) and were stunned to see the brightly colored frescoes that still remain on the wall. I didn’t realize there were still existing frescoes on the Palatine Hill. For me, that was the best part of the day because it was a surprise.

    We took many pictures, wandered out through the Forum, and made our way back to the apartment along Corso Vittorio Emmanuele. It was rather warm (the weather was actually perfect the entire trip), so we stopped for a gelato at a gelateria on the Corso. Flavors were : ACE (carrot, lemon, orange – yummy!) and lemon, lemon and strawberry, and berries and strawberry. 6 euro.

    C decided while we were getting gelato he was going to venture next door – alone- and buy some limoncello. What was happening to my husband?? He went over, said “Pico limoncello” and the woman replied (in English) “One euro fifty.” He asked me after what “pico” meant. I barely had the heart to tell him it didn’t mean anything.

    After a rest, a hang out the window and a change of clothing, we headed off to dinner at Ad Hoc on Via di Ripetta. I ate here last time with my parents (again – found on Ristoranti di Roma) and it was just as great as I remembered. I had booked online to get their special promotion (free bottle of wine with dinner).

    Ad Hoc:
    - 1 paccheri all’amatriciana
    - 1 spaghetti cacio e pepe
    - 1 polpette con cicoria e parmigiano
    - 1 saltimbocca con patate fritte
    - 2 caffe
    - 1 bottle of house red wine (free)
    61 euro

    This was supposed to be our “fancy” dinner out – and it ended up costing us less than the lunch at Hosteria Nerone. That definitely went down as the clunker of the trip. On the way back from such a fantastic dinner we couldn’t resist topping it off with some gelato.

    Gelateria della Palma:

    - 1 coconut and dark chocolate
    - 1 stracciatella and Mars
    - 1 amaretto and tiramisu
    - 1 sesame and honey and crème caramel

    I had the sesame and honey flavor, and it was wonderfully confusing. The sesame was a little nutty, and the honey was a little sweet. It was like it should have been a breakfast cereal rather than a gelato, but it might have been my favorite flavor of the trip.

    Upon returning to the apartment, we watched the coverage of the earthquake and prepared for our next day at the Vatican.

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    Act II, Scene V: A Fool and His Cheese are Soon Parted

    We didn’t have to wake up early, since our entrance to the Vatican was booked for 12:00 and our entrance to St. Peter’s Scavi was booked for 3:45, so we got up and wandered over to the Campo dei Fiori for some more supplies. We wanted to eat a pretty substantial meal before going to St. Peter’s since we didn’t know when our next chance to eat would be. We bought some pizza from the Forno in the Campo (1 piece potato pizza, 1 piece red pizza and some bread), and we bought some additional wine, meat and cheese from the market for our impromptu lunch at the apartment.

    We made it down to the taxi stop around 11:40 – cutting it a little too close, honestly. The cab didn’t drop us off exactly at the museum entrance (they love to do this in Rome) so we had to run up to the entrance with our reservation pass. We were, again, able to bypass the entire line outside (probably at least an hour worth) and go directly in to retrieve our tickets. Well worth the extra 4 euro I paid to book in advance online.

    So, Vatican, Vatican, Vatican, blah blah blah cut to Sistine Chapel. (Not to make light of the masterful works of art they have at the museums, but you’ve all heard about them a million times). We took the “shortcut” out the group tour exit from the Sistine Chapel. If anyone stopped us, we planned to tell them that I was the tour guide for our sorry group. Of course, it being Italy, nobody really cared which exit we went out and we blithely tripped down the steps to the back entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was then that P mentioned he wanted to climb the steps to the top of the dome. C and I looked at each other and then at him and decided that was a journey he would not be making with us.

    We were all rather thirsty and tired and had museum back (you know, the special kind of backache you get from shuffling slowly past works of art), so we went to a bar behind the Vatican and paid an exorbitant amount of money for a Kit Kat and a Coke (like, 8 Euro). But, it tasted good and gave us an opportunity to rest up before our Scavi tour. Because C had decided late that he would come on this adventure, I had only booked 3 tickets to the tour. My plan was to show up at the Scavi office and see if they could add one more. I had told my friends and C in advance about the tour I took with my parents and the Transylvanian tour guide and about how all I could do was laugh like the Count in my head every time he said anything. Well, lo and behold who shows up to do our tour??? Mr. Transylvania. My friends, C, and I just eyed each other and smirked knowingly. I knew I had cursed them to an hour and a half of Count-laughing in their heads. Like visions of sugarplums, only weirder.

    The Scavi tour was as interesting as I remembered, and I think Mr. T actually had jazzed his tour up over the last two years because there was some additional Q&A and audience participation type stuff. Like a game show. The Pope is Right? Who Wants to be a Pope? Wheel of Pope? Anyway, I very clearly digress….

    Our Scavi tour complete, S and P decided they were in fact going to climb the dome. C and I decided WE were going to hop a cab back to the apartment for a nap and some Piazza Channel. Maybe a glass of wine or two. Much better than climbing hundreds of steps.

    When S and P returned they looked winded but pleased with their endeavor and we looked at some of their pictures from the dome. We were all pretty tired and decided to try the Obika Mozzarella Bar (which promised to be not too far away) for dinner. We had a very hard time finding its location on Piazza di Firenze – nobody could seem to tell us where it was. Eventually I stopped asking and went on instinct and we managed to find it. It was very trendy looking and was not the sort of place I would normally gravitate towards, but again – I had read good things on Ristoranti di Roma so we went for it.

    Service was passable. I wanted to bathe in the burrata cheese. I wanted to install a tap in my house that would exclusively run a stream of that cheese so I could fill the bathtub and then eat the entire bathtub of cheese. That cheese was bordering on criminal. Besides the cheese, everything else was fairly average. But that cheese was enough to tip the bar in the restaurant’s favor.

    Obika’

    - 1 bottle water
    - I bottle Orvieto Classico (which seemed oddly sweet)
    - 3 large salads
    - 1 burrata e verdure
    - 1 burrata e prosciutto cotto
    - 1 paestum e prosciutto
    - 1 ravioli
    - 1 schiaffoni con pomodoro e mozzarella di bufala
    - bread
    Total: 94 euro (2 courses each)

    And so ended Tuesday. Dreaming of cheese baths.

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    nnolen,,

    loving the report! like you we were outraged at the cost of a beer near st. Peter's [€6] but we were too tired to go anywhere else. that was three years ago..last year we went to Iceland and it cost twice that! generally, I think that Rome is cheaper than both Florence and Venice - especially for gelato.

    regards, ann

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    Act II, Scene VI: Too Early Seen Unknown, and Known Too Latte!

    We had wanted to return to the area around the Pantheon to do a little shopping, so Wednesday morning started out with a jaunt to Piazza della Rotonda. C finally convinced me to get a coffee at Caffe’ Sant’Eustachio. Why, why had I resisted so long? I had a cappuccino, because it was morning, and it was like nectar to the gods. Creamy, foamy, yumminess….C insisted the espresso was even better and we vowed to return again.

    After a little shopping, we decided to check out another museum on our Archaeology card. We walked to the Crypta Balbi. I had seen the Crypta Balbi on a TV program on the discovery channel about underground Rome. We walked into the museum part and were told that someone would be there to take us down to the underground portion at noon. Until then, we were free to wander about the museum. We started at the top floor and worked our way down. There were some artifacts from the site as well as some information about the history of Rome (flooding, fires, etc.) and how it contributed to the current city being built essentially on top of old Rome. At noon, an extremely unpleasant signora arrived to take us down to the underground portion of the museum. She said nothing, only looked dour, and when asked questions would only point us to the pre-written placards along the walls. This made the experience a little confusing – we weren’t really sure what everything was and how it was placed and she did not answer a single question we had. This took a little bit away from the experience since we weren’t really sure what we were looking at. Overall, I would say this was the most disappointing museum visit, primarily because we didn’t have anyone to explain anything to us.

    After our visit to Crypta Balbi, we peered over the fence at Torre Argentina and watched the cats for awhile before I headed into the Feltrinelli bookstore at Largo Argentina. I spent a pleasant half hour browsing for books and CDs. I was particularly on the lookout for a CD by Tiziano Ferro – a song of his was in heavy rotation on MTV and I wanted to find the CD. CD in hand, we walked back to the apartment via the market. There, we purchased some goodies for lunch – pasta, tomato sauce, fresh basil, and mozzarella cheese. I made us a quick lunch and we took our afternoon rest.

    In the afternoon, P stated that he would like to head over to Castel Sant’Angelo, just a quick hop, skip and jump across Ponte Sant’Angelo from our apartment. Once across the bridge, we paid to enter the monument and proceeded to start climbing stairs. It seemed that the majority of the appeal of the Castel Sant’Angelo was the view from the top. So we climbed….and climbed….and climbed. In spite of C and my heroic efforts to avoid climbing stairs the previous day, here we were climbing a different set!! Once at the top, it was worth it. Rome spread out in front of us like a painted canvas of cupolas and campaniles. We took the obligatory pictures of us with Rome as the backdrop before climbing back down the many steps to the exit.

    After a walk along the Lungotevere we decided to try dinner at Alfredo e Ada, on Via dei Banchi Nuovi. I had read about this restaurant on Fodor’s and figured since it was so close to us we had to give it a try. We walked in around 8:30 PM and were immediately seated by a gentleman whom I can only assume to be Alfredo and Ada’s son. He cleared a table for us in the back and asked us what we would like to drink. We were brought a liter of tap water and a liter of the house wine, which Alfredo Jr. filled from a tapped cask in the back room. A basket of bread was also set in front of us. The wine was almost purple and had the consistency of grape juice. It was dangerous. It tasted barely alcoholic but it packed a punch. The first liter went down like water, so Al, Jr. brought us a second liter……

    For the first course, there was farfalle pasta with a red sauce and a dusting of parmesan cheese. The pasta was perfectly al dente and I HAD to pick up a piece of bread and use it to sop up the rest of the sauce. First of all, I had a few glasses of wine by this point and it seemed perfectly normal, and second of all, it was the best tomato sauce I’d ever eaten.

    For the second course, we had a choice of chicken, veal, beef involtini or sausages. S and P had the last 2 chicken dishes, C had the beef involtino, and I had the veal with peas. The veal was like pot roast. It fell apart when my fork touched it and the peas it was cooked with added the nicest touch of freshness. I devoured the entire plateful – even the fatty parts of the veal, which I would normally trim off at home but were so flavorful and delicious I had to eat them (again, could be the wine). C agreed the beef involtino was the best thing he’d eaten all trip. S said the chicken tasted like what her Italian grandmother used to make when she was a girl. We all agreed it was the best meal of the trip. Al Jr. brought us a round of cinnamon sugar dusted cookies and we ate all of them as well. Not a crumb was left uneaten at this meal. 4 people – 80 euro.

    Completely undone by the food, we strolled back to the apartment to talk about the meal for awhile. It was that good. P was a little slap happy and read us portions of tour books while the rest of us giggled into our hands.

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    Act II, Scene VII: The world is not a cabbie’s friend, nor the world’s law

    Thursday morning we decided to split up for a bit. S and P wanted to go to the Spanish Steps (and climb them) and go to the church of Trinita’ dei Monti at the top. C and I wanted to go back to Caffe’ Sant’Eustachio and return to a little second-hand shop we saw on the way from the Pantheon to the Trevi fountain (I think maybe on Via della pace?)

    C and I beat a path to Sant’Eustachio and today we went for the espresso. 1 euro per cup, the baristas jealously guard their secret recipe behind a screen and a flurry of activity in front of the machine. The cup arrives with just more than one sip of espresso, a thick creamy foam on top, already sugared to perfection. C was right – the espresso was better than the cappuccino.

    Now, since C and I had both already been to Rome, we were less interested in the touristy stuff and more interested in just roaming around, finding interesting things to look at, do, or purchase. Also, C had shown a recent interest in learning some Italian. His new word was “destra” (because he wanted to learn left and right to be able to figure out where the bathrooms are), which he helpfully accompanied with a chop of the right arm. Apparently, for some reason he pictured chopping someone in the throat while doing this. I’d heard of mnemonic devices…..whatever works!

    At any rate, we made it to the second hand shop and I picked up two cool button down shirts in the clothing section (clothing was new) for 5 euros each. We had a gander at the furniture section and in the back of the shop even managed to find some Russian electronic equipment from WWII. Truly a curiosity shop. We continued along the road, bought some jewelry for C’s mom as a birthday gift and otherwise just enjoyed the scenery of Rome.

    All four of us met back up at the apartment at 1 pm and decided to go out for lunch. We were going to go to the enoteca Cul de Sac on Via del Governo Vecchio, but it was very busy so we were out of luck and walked back down Governo Vecchio to look for somewhere else to eat. We found La Danesina. Feh. It was okay – not too expensive, but not the best food in the world either. Not much comment.

    La Danesina
    -3 gnocchi (it was Thursday after all)
    - 1 spaghetti Bolognese
    - 3 insalate
    - 1 order broccoli
    - ½ liter house wine
    - 1 bottle water
    - 1 coke
    44 Euro

    After lunch we were heading to the Museo Nazionale delle Terme and also, since we were in the area, to the Terme di Diocleziano (both included on the archaeology card). We hopped a cab from the Chiesa Nuova to the museum, located near Termini. I really do not enjoy this area of Rome, but I was interested to go to both the museum and the baths so I sucked it up and took one for the team.

    We arrived at the museo and were told our cards would probably not work in the machine (apparently this is an issue with the archaeology cards – they don’t always work in the automatic ticket takers, but a person just needs to check the expiration date and wave you around). A large marble statue of Minerva greeted us in the entryway and I knew we were going to be seeing some pretty spectacular Roman artifacts. The entire museum was filled with one wonder after another. Mosaics, some of the largest and most intact I’d ever seen. Statues, some complete bronze and marble statues. Frescoes, entire walls that had been found in homes like the Casa di Livia. Coins, jewelry, glassware….the list went on and on. I think this may have been my favorite non-food experience of the trip. I truly could not get over how many fantastic pieces were there – and hardly anyone else was in the museum with us!! The Coliseum, Forum, St. Peters – packed. But the museums were, on the whole, almost empty, which meant that we could move at our own pace and really see the items.

    After the Museo Nazionale, we crossed the street to the Terme – or so we thought. The entrance was really poorly signed, and we ended up going 270 degrees around a 360 degree circle to get to it. Oh well, what’s a little extra walking??? We didn’t spend much time in the museum portion of the Terme, we were mostly just interested in seeing the rooms which used to house the baths. We walked to the great hall, and the size was staggering. The ceilings were monumentally high and the descriptions of how many people the hall could hold gave us a good sense of how the rooms might once have looked.

    Finished with museums for the day, we walked to Termini to catch a cab. What a mistake! First, we walked to the Taxi stand and ended up being handed off to an “abusivo”, an unlicensed “cabbie.” When we had taken a few steps past where all the cabs were, I got the heads up and asked him where his car was. He pointed ahead, fumbled in his pocket for some fake looking papers, and I told him that we were sorry, we just weren’t comfortable taking an unlicensed cab. He was actually pretty nice about it and we walked back to the regular taxi stand. We caught a real, licensed cab and had a leisurely drive back to the apartment with an old sailor who had lived in Rome for 60 years.

    Over a snack of wine and cheese in the apartment, we decided we HAD to try pizzeria Da Baffetto for dinner. We saw lines of people outside the door every night. We thought showing up at around 9:15 might be late enough to avoid the wait. We thought, if the pizza was good enough, we would consider it our last pizza in Rome. We waited outside for an hour – not too bad, we thought. But then, inside, we were shown upstairs and proceeded to get the Waiter Who Did Not Give a Darn. He took our order - eventually. Slowly, pizzas started showing up to every single other table around us, including ones that had come in after us. An hour and a half later, we finally got our pizzas. By this point, I was so irritated that I really didn’t care how good the pizza was. I had ordered a Quattro formaggi and asked for some olio piccante on the side (which I ended up not using because it was in a skuzzy looking bottle that clearly had some sort of fungus.) The crust was thin, the gorgonzola was piquant but I was just too mad. We had entered the line at 9:15, the restaurant at 10:15 and we couldn’t manage to get the waiter to give us our check until 12:20 AM. In my opinion, good but not worth the wait.

    To be honest, I had really felt this trip like I had been charged an “American tax” more than once. Being approached by the abusive cab driver. Having to wait extra long for food when tables of locals were being served. If I am being honest, it grated on me just a little. By the time I got to Thursday, a little of the luster wore off of Italy. I think I wanted everything to be the way it was when I lived there, when I could blend in with the masses and it just wasn’t. It wasn’t Rome’s fault – it was just how it was. I went to bed that night, a sadder traveler than I was the day before, but determined to get everything I could out of the following day – our last in Rome.

    Da Baffetto:

    - 2 waters
    - 2 cokes
    - 2 margherita pizzas
    - 1 prosciutto e funghi
    - 1 quattro formaggi
    o 35 euro

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    Act III: Finale

    Friday morning we had a million things to do. We wanted to buy some things, we had lots of phone calls to make and we had to think about getting ready to go home the next day. We had breakfast in the apartment, trying to finish up some of the items we had bought. C and I wanted one last coffee at Sant’Eustachio, so we headed over for another foamy cup of caffeinated goodness. We all wanted to shop one last time around the Pantheon. I bought a nice pair of leather gloves, a purple pashmina, a purple tank top and a purple overshirt (lilac colored purple was HUGE in Rome while we were there – I wanted to bring back a memory!)

    We picked up a few last minute souvenirs for friends and family and had one last gelato at Della Palma. My last combination was pink grapefruit and orange – the pink grapefruit was truly yummy. S had stracciatella again and P had more dark chocolate – they found their favorites and were sticking with them! C tried mandarino, which was a really bright orange flavor that sort of smacked you upside the head with its oranginess.

    Also for old times sake, we returned to Il Faciolaro, where we had eaten dinner with the Fabrizios, for lunch. It was fantastic and the weather was beautiful. We ate in the shade with a cool breeze blowing.

    Il Faciolaro:
    - - 1 cacio e pepe (not on the menu, they made it for us)
    - 1 amatriciana
    - 1 vongole veraci
    - 1 calzone
    - 1 bottle water
    - bread
    - 1 liter house white wine
    - 47 Euro


    After lunch, S and P shopped while C and I made some obligatory phone calls. One to the driver about our morning pickup. One to the apartment owner to see where to leave the keys and how. And one to Fabrizio to set up our meeting place for Friday night. It was determined we would meet at Pizza Re’ for our final pizza in Rome. We couldn’t let our experience at Da Baffetto the night before ruin the idea of Italian pizza in our minds!!

    The afternoon was spent packing up our things. I had brought an extra zip out duffel bag along, knowing I would buy too much. I packed my suitcase with all the books, CDs, clothes and other goodies I had bought on the trip. I stuffed the duffel bag with my dirty clothes to check through the airline. Tricky thinking!!

    Packing mostly accomplished, we walked for the last time past the Ara Pacis to Pizza Re’. Because we were a large group (8), they showed us to a special basement room for groups. Luckily, there was a kid’s birthday party also going on in the room. Goodness the noise! We could barely hear ourselves think!! We ordered our last pizzas (3 margherita, 2 speck, 1 capricciosa, 1 prosciutto and 1 other stuffed something that Fabrizio’s wife ordered – a pagnotiello? Can’t recall). After pizza, we walked over to a Café Canova on Piazza del Popolo for a last decaf espresso (not as good as Eustachio). We dragged out the last minutes in the piazza, double-cheek-kissing the Italians and exchanging emails and promises of “alla prossima volta” – till next time.

    It was a quiet walk back to the apartment. We all tried to sleep, knowing we had to get up in five hours, but I know I was awake thinking of all the things I hadn’t done. Every trip to Italy for me ends with a litany of wishes – things I wish I’d squeezed in. However, since C did NOT vow that this would be his last trip ever to Italy (actually, I think he admitted he might actually come back – someday) I knew that I could plan them for my next trip.

    In the morning, C and I had a little time to kill, so we amused ourselves by throwing bread four stories out the window at the pigeons. In a moment of insanity, I imagined the internal monologue of the pigeons and voiced it out loud: “Holy crap, it’s raining bread!” C and I laughed and laughed at the thought of the bemused pigeons below. Might be my favorite funny moment of the trip.

    At 7 am, our driver showed up in the piazza. After a series of truly impressive maneuvers, he wrangled the large passenger van he had arrived in out of the tangled streets of the centro storico and we were on our way.

    On the way home, I got the lovely fellow passenger this time. I had Ms. Barefoot Britney, who decided to take her airplane restroom trips in bare feet, and then rub her feet all over the seat. Blech. I don’t think I’m a germophobe, and then I see things like that and I want to douse myself in Lysol.

    At any rate, writing the trip report has allowed me to relive my trip in its best and worst moments and think again of what I will do the next time. I am sure I have forgotten some things, and if you have any questions about restaurants/sites we visited, please let me know and I will gladly answer. Thanks for reading!!!

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    nnolen - Grazie mille per il rapporto di la sua viaggio! We are traveling to Italy for our very first visit in September and I can't wait to try some of your recommended restaurants, and fun places to see. You write with a wonderful sense of humor and it was an enjoyable read. I've printed it to add to my collection of notes for our trip.

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    I thoroughly enjoyed your report. We've been to Rome twice and both times stayed in Trastevere. It's nice to read about other locations that we visited but did not stay in.

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    Great trip report - I really enjoyed your writing style and it sounds like you had a great vacation. I'm curious which apt. you rented from sleepinitaly - did it meet your expectations and would you rent from them again?

    I was amused by your DH's enjoyment of the word "destra" for the direction right, but my DH was much more taken with the word for left, which is "sinistra", because of it's word origin related to "sinister" left-handedness.

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    Hazel1-
    This was actually the second time I've rented from sleepinitaly and I had no problems either time and would definitely rent from them again. This time, we rented the apartment called Piazza del Fico. Truly a fantastic location and the apartment was also very nice (in spite of the four flights of stairs!). If you have any other questions about the apartment or sleepinitaly's rental process, just let me know.

    My husband is now on to "su' e giu'" (up and down). Now that we are at home, that's our new one.

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    This is an outstanding, well-written, marvelous report on ROME, Italy. I cannot wait to go back again. Thru the eyes of NNolen, Italy becomes THE place to go and ROME is an essential to the visit. We were there two years ago and it was like being in a little bit of heaven and then some. So much to see, so much to do, so little time. One really needs to go back more than once to partake in all that Rome has to offer. This report deserves publication! Good job!

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    I'm a little late reading this report, and was in Rome just a short time before you were.
    I really, really enjoyed reading this. You have a great sense of humor and lots of detail in your report.

    We are returning again later this year to Rome and I am going to try some of YOUR restaurants.
    Thanks again.

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    Your report has been wonderful. I am just reading it also. We are going to Rome for the first time ever and are so excited. We rented an apartment from Sleep In Italy and I will let you know how it goes as well. (We are going in Sept) We will be in Rome for 5 full days (not counting the arrival day) and it's a surprise for my husband's 50th! There is so much to do I am very overwhelmed. But, it's nice to have you and others like you who have so much wonderful advice. Thank you and keep writing!
    Take care, Tammy

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    Thanks for the kind words, all.

    Tammy: I've had 2 good experiences with Sleep In Italy now, so I'm sure you'll be happy. Just a word of advice - call the apartment owner before you leave for Italy and once you land in Rome so they will FOR SURE be there when you get there. It's really a hassle to wait for and/or try to find a wandering owner. Where are you renting your apartment?
    What a great birthday present...


    Iluvitaly: Definitely try Alfredo e Ada. Truly phenomenal meal and experience. In bocca al lupo!

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    Hi Delaine,

    Gelateria della Palma is on Via del Pantheon. There's another branch near the Trevi fountain as well - I believe it's on Via del Lavatore.

    Enjoy - I haven't had a bad flavor yet!

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    Hi,
    Great report!
    Say if anyone is planning a trip to Rome in the near future I have found valuable travel information about Rome on offer.
    Check out http://www.klm.com/destinationguide/gb_en/airline-ticket/europe/southern-europe/italy/rome/city.htm
    Here you can find handy travel tips when you are planning your next adventure!
    Enjoy ~Ciao

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    nnolen: Thank you for the confirmation on sleepitaly. Any info on cell phone use? I have an iphone thru AT&T and thought I would call them but it doesn't sound like domestic cell phones work in Europe. I love you advice on everything else so I thought I would just ask your opinion on that too. Of course, if you would like to just meet us in Rome in Sept that would work too :).

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    Wittmann: Thanks for the offer - sadly I will be back to teaching in September. :)

    I know that some cell phones are tri-band and will work in Europe as well as in the United States (just not my sad little 5-year-old flip phone - I refuse to modernize!). Your phone company has to "unlock" your phone and then once you get to Italy you will have to purchase a new SIM card (very cheap and easy). I would contact your cell phone provider and ask them how to get international service while you are abroad just to confirm this.

    As far as the apartment owner's name goes, it should be in your confirmation email from sleepinitaly. When they send you the confirmation for the specific apartment, the owners name and phone number should be listed. They rely on YOU to set up the arrival time with the owner. It seems as though all the owners speak enough English to set up arrival times.

    Hi JE - Il Faciolaro and Il Bracciolo are basically the same restaurant (same owners, across the street). I don't know why they have 2 names - that is sort of confusing (and I didn't realize I'd put the 2 different names until after I submitted my trip report) - but it is on Via dei Pastini, right near the Pantheon. And "er faciolaro" is just the roman way of saying "il faciolaro". Same place.

    Hope this helps!
    nnolen

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