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9 Nights in Rome over Christmas & New Year's with no luggage...but plenty of Limoncello!

9 Nights in Rome over Christmas & New Year's with no luggage...but plenty of Limoncello!

Old Jan 3rd, 2007, 03:18 PM
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9 Nights in Rome over Christmas & New Year's with no luggage...but plenty of Limoncello!

I just returned from nine nights in Rome and had a wonderful time! The weather was gorgeous, blue skies and sun every day (even on days that started out a little cloudy). Most afternoons, I carried my jacket around, it was probably in the high 60ís and maybe even the low 70ís when you were in the sun on a couple of days. Of course, it cooled down considerably in the evening, but not a drop of rain the entire time except for a couple of sprinkles on the way back to my apartment on New Yearís Eve (my last night). Oh, and Alitalia lost my luggage and I was without it for the first FIVE days! (And if you think thatís bad, wait Ďtil you hear about the trip homeÖ) I had a few things in my carryon (underwear, socks, a couple of tops), but certainly not enough for five days. OK, I refuse to let something like this ruin my trip. Letís be positiveÖthis means shopping in Rome! Itís certainly interesting trying to buy underwear when neither of the two clerks speak any English, and theyíve brought out something that isnít what you want and youíre trying to communicate what you really do want!

A few things about Rome over Christmas and New Yearís that were not the way I had read they would be:

Myth #1: EVERYTHING will be closed on Dec 24. Although itís true most restaurants are closed for dinner, almost all the stores along Via d. Ripetta, Via del Corso and streets in between were open until 6:00 pm, even though it was also a Sunday.

Myth #2: After the Midnight Mass services around Rome, the city comes alive again, with cafes opening for people going home from church. I donít know where those cafes are, but theyíre not by the Pantheon or in Piazza Navona. In fact, the one café that had been open in Piazza Navona was closing as I walked back through a little after 1:00 am.

Myth #3: The ďPifferai,Ē shepherd pipers in their period costume can be seen walking the streets. From 12/23-1/1, I never saw even one.

Myth #4: Italian families all go out to dinner on Dec 26, which is also a holiday. Well, if they do, I donít know where they all go, as there arenít a whole lot of restaurants open that night either, although more than on the 24th or 25th.

I had rented an apartment through Sleep in Italy on Via DellíOrso, just north of Piazza Navona. Itís a studio, with a bed thatís more like a daybed with large bolsters and a bunch of smaller pillows to use as a couch if you want. Small kitchen but big enough for table and chairs. It looked like there were plenty of dishes and pots & pans, although I didnít do any cooking. Small bathroom as usual, but with a regular shower. Of course, the location was fabulous. The only problem was that itís a ground floor apartment and was rather noisy. Iím a pretty sound sleeper, so it wasnít a major problem for me, but you really do hear a lot of whatís going on out in the street. Regular price is 90 Euro per night, it was 102 for the Christmas high season. The owner, Cecilia, was wonderful. I didnít have a phone, and she called every day to check on the luggage and was actually there when they delivered it. She couldnít have been more helpful.

Being a Limoncello devotee, I took it upon myself to find the best value at cafes in Piazza Navona. The best deal is the Café Bernini, at the northwest end (largest amount, best price). Several of the cafes were closed completely from late November until sometime in January. One of my favorite activities is to have a Limoncello after dinner and watch the people, performers and artists in Piazza Navona. I donít think I like it as well with the Christmas Market there. It really is like a carnival, complete with games where you win stuffed animals, cotton candy and candy apples. Plenty of tacky stuff with some nicer booths mixed in. Of course, that didnít stop me from buying some stuff! They did have some nice nativity figures and chocolate with hazelnuts. There was some beautiful but expensive amber jewelry.

More later...
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Old Jan 3rd, 2007, 03:39 PM
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Love this already! More please..
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Old Jan 3rd, 2007, 03:42 PM
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Waiting for more please - good to hear you had a wonderful time, but what a bummer about your luggage. Did you get reimbursed for any shopping you had to do? What is the atmosphere like at this time of year as opposed to when you are usually there. I assumed you went solo? How was it with all the families and couples out and about? Did you get lonely or homesick for Christmas at home?
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Old Jan 3rd, 2007, 04:56 PM
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SusanP, DH and I were there just before Christmas. We also enjoyed the Christmas Market at Pizza Navona and I would have liked to come home with a few nativity figurines but were they expensive! Enjoying your report and look forward to reading more.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2007, 05:03 PM
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Just in time, I was SO in need for an Italy fix!

Welcome home SusanP, welcome home!

Please continue...
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Old Jan 4th, 2007, 02:00 PM
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Thanks. SeaUrchin, I used at least one of your restaurant recommendations and was very pleased with it. Barb, I have to file a claim with Alitalia to get reimbursement. Also, for the very first time, I bought travel insurance. Don't know what made me do it, but they should cover what Alitalia doesn't (I hope!). Yes, there were lots of Italian families out and about. You'll see by the next segment how I felt about being there alone...
AnnMarie, I succumbed and bought a couple figurines. They don't match my nativity perfectly but will still fit in very nicely. Hi Tiff...here's more:

I arrived on the 23rd and went to Da Francesco in Piazza Il Fico for dinner. This was a repeat for me, they have terrific pizza, not to mention the smoked salmon. (Iíll do details on meals and prices at the end.) I was sitting outside, as I did on a number of occasions for dinner, as many of the restaurants have heaters. I had come to Rome because I didnít feel up to Christmas at home (after numerous major changes in my life this year) and briefly wondered if I had done the right thing (I do have a big family and would not have been alone at home). As I sat there, a bar a few doors down started bringing out tables and setting up. It was almost 8:30, a time you would rarely see for opening time in my area. Just one of the things I love about Italy (itís difficult to find a restaurant even open past 9:00 around here), and I realized I was right where I wanted to be. Later as I was walking through Piazza Navona on my way to have a Limoncello, there were a few priests who had gathered a group to sing. So I joined the group and thought, OK, here I am in Rome singing Christmas Carols in Piazza Navona. How cool is that? Shortly after that, I had to smile as I was drinking my Limoncello and saw the priests leaving. One had on hightop white sneakers with his black robe. Guess he doesnít read Fodors and wasnít worried about the fashion police!

I was on a bit of a quest to see all the special presepi (nativities) that are set up only at Christmas. On the 24th, one of many beautiful sunny days, I went up to the top of the Spanish Steps (shopping along the way) to see the life-size one there. Italian presepi are interesting. They include the whole town, not just the usual figures, with the townspeople going about their usual business while Jesus is born close by. From there, I walked along the edge of the Borghese Gardens to Piazza di Popolo to go to Sala di Bramante for their exhibit of over 200 presepi (5 Euro). This was an amazing exhibit and included presepi from all different cultures, with most of course Italian. One was a huge life-size scene with the figures made from recycled material wrapped in clear plastic, another from cut up CDís, so there were modern interpretations as well as more traditional. I loved the mechanized man at the side of one who was putting the pizza into and out of a stone oven and another that had a mechanized woman on a side balcony beating a rug with an old-fashioned rug beater. Interesting that the only two from America were a Native American scene and an Eskimo scene!

As mentioned, most restaurants were closed for dinner on the 24th. I went to one very near my apartment. I canít find the name right now but will add it later (Passamento 1860 or something like that). It was more expensive than I like and not wonderful, except for the Grilled Eel Cacciatore that I had to try, as thatís a traditional dish in Italy for Christmas Eve. It was delicious.

I had decided not to go to St. Peterís for Midnight Mass and wanted something closer. I decided on the Pantheon. While people were waiting for it to open, the choir got there and also couldnít get in. Well, anyone who has done any singing knows that you have to warm up, so they did it right out front. OK, I could see the music would be good. It was a small choir, only 14 people, but made up of trained voices, and the parts were perfectly balanced. The only thing about the Pantheon is that youíre in a huge stone place with a hole in the ceiling...it was freezing! And Iím the type who is always too warm. I swear there was a north wind blowing in through the oculus (sure could have used one of those sweaters in my lost luggage). I have to admit that the service does lose something if you donít understand the language, but the music WAS good. I think Iíd choose somewhere warmer next time.

On Christmas Day, I was off to see more presepi, starting with the one at Gesu. Of course, in addition to the presepi, this is just an amazing church and one I hadnít been to. From there, I continued on to Santa Maria Aracoeli, on Capitoline Hill, where they remove the ďSanto BambinoĒ from his glass-encased resting place only at Christmas. This was a very unusual Baby Jesus, standing in the manger and dressed in a robe covered with gems and gold thread and wearing a very ornate gem-studded crown. Another unusual thing about this church was the chandeliers, the kind you might see in a ballroom. Before going in, I enjoyed sitting in the warm sun on the steps going up to Aracoeli. The view gets better as you go up.

I finished with another exhibit of presepi on Santa Maria in Via (3 Euro). I canít tell you what the building was. The entrance was around the corner on Via Mortaro. Another nice exhibit, although not as impressive as the one at Sala di Bramante.

A lot of restaurants were still closed on Christmas, although not as many as on the 24th. I got lucky this time and had a delicious dinner at La Zucca Gialla on Via Governo Vecchio and finished with my Limoncello in Piazza Navona.

to be continued...
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Old Jan 4th, 2007, 05:13 PM
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Susan, thanks for the posting. I'm leaving for Rome in one month and flying Alitalia direct and I am SCARED of this exact scenario happening! Did you fly direct?

I was going to make an all-out attempt to pack everything into carry-on luggage for a week's trip, but after trying to speak to Alitalia reps (who were so incredibly rude) and getting no real answers, I'm not convinced that I will be able to carry on what I want.

If you could provide any tips whatsoever, like things you saw coming or might have done differently, I would greatly appreciate it. My thanks in advance, and please, keep the details coming!
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Old Jan 4th, 2007, 05:53 PM
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Susan...
Great trip report! This is exactly the information I was looking for!

I will be going solo to Rome for Christmas week 2007, so I am very interested in reading your report and especially any restaurant recomendations you have!

Can't wait for your next installment!
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Old Jan 4th, 2007, 06:35 PM
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Susan -

Very brave of you to do this, but look at the reward! (Except the lost luggage, of course.)

Please continue . . .
Linda
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Old Jan 4th, 2007, 06:36 PM
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Great report Susan, look forward to the rest. I think you got warmer weather than we did last year (except for your Christmas Eve service!). I loved all of the presepi, it made each church interesting to the kids. The special exhibit at St. Maria del Popolo was really wonderful. And one that was entered from the USA was the same model as the one we bought from Hallmark!

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Old Jan 4th, 2007, 11:07 PM
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Hi SusanP,
Great report so far! My husband and I were at the Pantheon with you. I agree that it was bloody cold and a bit difficult not understanding the language, but I just sort of zoned out and listened to the rhythm of it. I also really liked looking up through the oculus at the starry sky, and the music was fantastic! (We were outside listening as the choir warmed up too - that was the only sign we had that there would indeed be a mass that night!)
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Old Jan 5th, 2007, 06:32 AM
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Your post brings back fond memories about 2 of my Roman Christmas season trips. Besides the memories, since others replied that will be taking these trips, I have added a few tips.

My first Christmas season trip I explored every prespio I could find. Thourghly enjoyed the varitaions, from simple to ornate, plus the beauty of the churches. Also visted the 100 Prespio in Piazza Poppolo. For those that will be traveling there during the season and will visit the churches, take a IPOD or other similar device. Listening to Christmas music while visting the churches & prespio adds another dimension. Also works with other music in non season as well as in musuems and other historical or other settings.

On this trip I also visited Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, by the Pantheon. I listened to the entire Andrea Boccelli , ARIA recording in the church. Now each Christmas I watch the DVD of the Boccelli concert filmed inside the church.

For those planning to go, check local entertainment & church schedules as there are many Christmas concerts taking place. Many of the concerts are in the smaller churches performed by small choirs & bands, sometimes the parishioners.

Like Susan, I have never seen a Priferai, anwhere! However I found a collection of Italian Christmas songs and there are two traditional bagpipe songs in the collection. On the 2nd trip I walked around with the IPOD playing these songs. Now these are part of my standard Christmas selection.

I have also never seen the prespio at St. Peter's. I have left just before Christmas Eve and the wall around the presepio is still erected. For those that may not know. Most prespio will not have the infant Jesus placed in the crib till Christmas eve or day.

In the antique district, on Via Coronari, the shops display their prespio in the store windows. Again from simple, to extravagant. Also the streets have many lights running over the streets. There is also a residential area, I think called Prati?
North of the Vatican that has lights on the streets with many running accross and has many shops that most tourist do not see. Also there one of the best candy and food retail stores in Roma. Which is nice to visit in season to view or purchase all of the products packaged for Christmas. I'll try to remember the name, Constantini?
Also in this area there are usually a small Christmas market or two set up along the street. One had local food products from different regions of Italy with lots of samples ! Again I'll try to recall the main street name and pass that along.

Italy unlike northern Europe & definetly the US is not overly decorated for the season.

One final note, concerning the infant Jesus statue in the church of Santa Maria Arecolei. The reason the statue of the infant Jesus is different and decorated with medals & gold is the legend behind it. Supposedly back at the turn of the 20 century a priest took the the simple statue out of the crib on Christmas to a relatives home where somone was dying from a disease, a child if I recall. After the visit the child exhibited no signs of the disease. Since then it was taken at Christmas to bless other children eventually being placed in the chapel where it remains through out the year. For decades people leave written petions asking for aid in someones health. You can see the petions in envelopes on the chapel altar. On my second trip during Christmas season while visting the church I remembered my best freinds step mother was suffering from cancer. I went and purchased a Christmas card , wrote a petion on her behalf left it on the altar and returned home. 3 weeks after Christmas she went to the doctor to begin her treatment. The doctors discovered the cancer had gone into full remission.
Coincidence, you decide.
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Old Jan 5th, 2007, 06:33 AM
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Great report so far--It has started me thinking about what church in Rome I might like to experience Christmas Eve mass. Looking forward to more. . .
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Old Jan 5th, 2007, 07:39 AM
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ellenem,
Our hotel actually recommended the mass at Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which happens to be just around the corner from the Pantheon, and is a beautiful church, but I had my heart set on the Pantheon. It lasted an hour, and as long as you had gloves and a hat and warm shoes, the chill was tolerable!

I have a question: would the "pipers" be playing bagpipes? If so, I did see/hear two of them from our hotel balcony one evening. They came into Piazza della Rotunda and played for a few minutes in front of the Pantheon.
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Old Jan 5th, 2007, 08:13 AM
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Amazingly enough, my first thought WAS Santa Maria sopra Minerva!

I had a magical moment there on my most recent trip to Rome. There had been some media event earlier in the evening at Santa Maria sopra Minerva. When we walked past at close to midnight, the main, tall front doors were wide open so workers could carry out all the equipment. (Usually you must go in via those short doors to the side.) From the piazza, you could see all the way in to the altar, and the starry ceiling added to the magical effect. Needless to say, many passersby were taking advantage of the opportunity and wandering inside.
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Old Jan 5th, 2007, 08:27 AM
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Hi Susan,

Enjoying your report on Christmas in Roma! I'm jealous you've been able to return frequently. Looks like it will be a while before I can return, but you are making a holiday visit sound just great.

Do continue!
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Old Jan 5th, 2007, 08:03 PM
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Thanks for all the nice feedback. I was going to write more of the report but came home from work so tired that I thought I'd just lay down for a little while. Five hours later, I woke up! I'll write more tomorrow but will try to answer questions now.

AntinNY, I didn't fly direct, I actually had two layovers, one in JFK and one in Milan. The flight from JFK left late, and I had to run to make the flight in Milan, even though they held it because there were others who were late as well. I knew then there might be a problem with my luggage making that flight, but I thought I'd get it later that day or the next. Didn't expect to wait five days! I would think with a direct flight, you wouldn't have to worry. A woman in Rome told me that Milan is known for losing luggage.

LowCountryIslander, I will give more details on restaurants at the end. LCBonti, I don't really consider myself brave, but it's true that a lot of people are really suprprised when they find out I've gone alone and planned it all myself and didn't use a tour or travel agent.

5alive, yes, I think it was definitely warmer than usual. I had looked up the weather and it looked like the highs would normally be in the 50's. I had debated about which coat to take and eventually decided on a mid-weight one (one I'd wear between seasons here in Upstate NY). Was glad I didn't have a heavier one.

hausfrau, yes, wasn't it cold at the Pantheon? But wonderful music! Lorenzi, I had read that they have Pifferai at the Midnight Mass at Santa Maria Aracoeli. I did read about the infant statue there having healing powers. I'll also have more to add about the Prati area.

ellenem, I had actually planned to go to Sopra Minerva for Christmas Eve and changed my mind to the Pantheon after I got there. Dayle, yes, the holidays were a good time to be there. I'm currently analyzing my budget to see when I can return!
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Old Jan 5th, 2007, 08:20 PM
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SusanP, what a great report to read before I tuck myself in for the night. I thank you.
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Old Jan 5th, 2007, 09:05 PM
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SusanP
Did you try the Old Bear Restaurant right on your street? My husband and I stayed in the Via dell'Orso in a terrifyingly filthy apartment two years ago but no doubt about it, that area is wonderful, you can walk everywhere from it! I am going to look for your apt for our next stay.
SusanB
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Old Jan 6th, 2007, 04:08 PM
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cigale, glad you're enjoying the report. beaupeep, I didn't eat there. So many restaurants to try, so little time...

Here's more:

On the 26th, I wanted to go San Pietro in Vincoli, which I had missed on my previous trips. This time I made it and saw the chains and, of course, Michelangeloís Moses. The thing about Rome is that no matter which church you go to see, there is always something wonderful to see. This was one where there was no sign forbidding pictures, and everybody was taking them without the guards saying anything. I continued on to Santa Maria Maggiore, where you can see what many believe is the oldest presepi, carved by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1280. Others say it is even earlier. This is another ďmajorĒ one only displayed at Christmas. It is downstairs in their museum. You can see the presepi for free, but it is 3 Euro for the rest of the museum. Well worth it! I really enjoyed this, as I do a lot of sewing and embroidery, and there were quite a few gorgeous robes worn by various Popes (the Borghese Pope was particularly well dressed!). There were also other communion items used by the Popes and huge candlesticks. I had been to Maggiore before, and Iím not sure I realized this museum was there. Itís also OK to take pictures here (I asked first to make sure). And from a practical point of view, there is a clean bathroom there (.50 Euro).

Just a stoneís throw from Maggiore is San Prassede, a 9th Century church. Donít overlook this one! Absolutely amazing Byzantine mosaics. If you liked the mosaics in Santa Maria in Trastavere, these are even better, youíll love this church. And surprisingly, another one where pictures were allowed. As in some of the other churches, there was no entire nativity scene, but there was a Baby Jesus in the crib at the front of the church.

This was the last evening where it was difficult to find restaurants open. I ended up at Antica Taverna, Via Monte Giordano 12, near Piazza Fico, which somebody here recommended (canít remember who it was). I ate outside here as well. The meal started with complimentary Prosecco and a warm round loaf of bread drizzled with olive oil. Mmmmm... Part of the meal was wonderful, part not so good. Then on to Piazza Navona and Caffe Bernini for my Limoncello. I decided I had room for dessert and ordered the Pannecotta with wild berry sauce. Delicious!

The next day, I wandered over to Trastavere, just because I like it over there and to do a little shopping. Somebody here had recommended a very neat little book, The Civilized Shopperís Guide to Rome, by Pamela Keech and Margaret A. Brucia. I got a brand new copy on Amazon for very little, and what a gem of a book! Itís divided by areas of Rome with all sorts of shops you might not notice otherwise. In Trastavere, I particularly liked Pandora della Marva, Piazza San Giovanni della Malva, 3 (Venetian glass vases, ceramic plates, a wonderful selection of artisan-crafted necklaces) and Polvere di Tempo, Via del Moro, 59 (all kinds of time-keeping and time-measuring devices other than clocks). I got a very cool ďheight ringĒ which tells the time by the angle of the sun into the ring. When I said my son was going to love it, she not only wrapped it in a nice bag with ribbon (as most shops will do), but she asked for his first initial and finished it with sealing wax and his initial. Very close was The Almost Corner Bookshop, but I felt I would need too much time in there (plus a few paperbacks I looked at were rather expensive).

I also stopped in Santa Maria in Trastavere, where I had been before, to see the presepi. On the way back, I went to see the Turtle Fountain, which was behind solid barriers for restoration the last time I was there. In a store right by the fountain was a most unusual wedding dress, long and sleek but with huge feather angel wings. I took pictures of that and a few others around the city. Not that Iím looking for a wedding dress! They just sort of draw your attention.

That night I returned to another favorite restaurant, Hostaria Danesina on Via del Governo Vecchio. Love their homemade tomato soup with Buffalo Mozarella melting on top. Need I say more?

On Thursday, I had reserved Context Romeís Roman Cuisine Tour with Maureen Fant. She is a food writer and did the Williams Sonoma cookbook on Rome. Itís expensive, so this was a splurge, but it sounded like fun. I took the bus to Piazza DellíEmporio, where it starts. She takes you to the Testaccio Market and Volpettiís, all the while giving lots of information on Roman Cuisine. There was one other couple on the tour. Depending on whatís fresh at the market and the desires of the group, she buys ingredients and you take the bus back to her apartment by the Colosseum to make lunch. At the market, she picked up artichokes, tomatoes for bruschetta, another vegetable that I forget at the moment, and clementines for a light dessert. The ďTomato GuyĒ at the market has many different varieties. You just tell him what youíre cooking, and he picks out the right kind of tomatoes for you. Heís very definite on what is proper for each dish! The man in the couple mentioned that they hadnít had a good carbonara, and that sounded fine to me, so Maureen said she would get the guanciale and cheese for that at Volpettiís. As we were going in, I asked her if they mind if you take pictures. She said oh, no, they love it! And they do. After I bought several kinds of cheese, the guy asked if I wanted a picture taken with him. Of course, I agreed. He pulled me around behind the prosciutto they have out for slicing, put the knife in my hand, put his arm around me, and Maureen took the picture. A very fun picture!

Back at the apartment, Maureen taught us the proper way to trim the Roman artichokes (not as easy as it looks!)Öthen admitted she practiced for about a year! She is not at all about rapid chopping and dicing for effect, itís more about the food. They were sautéed simply in olive oil with a little salt. She showed us how easy the Carbonara is to make, actually using the recipe from the Williams Sonoma Rome cookbook. The lunch was delicious and her husband, Franco, joined us (he works practically across the street at the University of Romeóhe is a transportation engineer, and his idea of good transportation planning is to be able to walk to work!). Of course, we were still talking about Roman food, and one of those was how eel is traditional for Christmas Eve. I mentioned that I had had some and loved it. Franco pointed to a very large empty can and said that was is favorite kind, grilled and then marinated (different from what I had had). He asked if Iíd like to try some, and I was delighted to do so. (Maureen said he doesnít share that with everybody, so I felt honored!) He got another can out of the refrigerator and gave me some to try. It was delicious, and he cut me another piece. I think he enjoyed having someone who appreciated it as much as he does. After lunch, they take you up to their terrace for a wonderful view. The Colosseum is right there in your face, and you can see the spire of Santa Maria Maggiore as well. I can imagine wonderful parties up there in the nice weather. It was a great afternoon. When we were leaving, Maureen invited me to come back for New Yearís Eve for the buffet party they were having. Sounds good to me! Iíll tell you more about that later.

The man in the couple on the tour had a cold and decided to go back to their hotel to rest, but his wife asked if she could follow me on the bus to go to Piazza Navona, and of course I was happy to show her. She had been to Rome once quite a few years ago, so I warned her about the carnival as we were turning into the Piazza. And the Four Rivers Fountain is still under restoration, but at least they put some glass sections in the barrier so you can see some of it. Later that evening, I decided to try one of Eloiseís suggestions for dinner and went to La Tartaruga, Via del Monte della Farina, 53. Absolutely wonderful. They have a very cute stuffed turtle on the counter.
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