Five days in Rome, November, 2010

Old Nov 17th, 2010, 12:57 PM
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Five days in Rome, November, 2010

Where: Rome

When: November 1 to 5 on the ground. Flight over on Halloween, flight home on November 6.

Who: We are a couple in our mid-60’s, comfortably off, who have traveled a great deal to the UK, regularly to France (mostly Paris), made three trips to Italy, and one each to Croatia, Spain, and Portugal.

What: We went on a "tour" through a local travel club.. For our money, we got airline tickets, airport transfers, a hotel room, breakfasts, and a two hour orientation tour. The rest of the time was our own. The whole package was cheaper than we could find for round trip nonstop airline tickets alone. If we had hated the hotel, we could have moved to another hotel and been ahead. We didn't hate it, but I am not going to mention the name because there were three kinds of rooms, and we got the best purely by the luck of the draw. Others were less happy. The other people in the group were nice and fun to see at breakfast, but we toured and ate our other meals alone.

Why: We had been to Rome before and had seen the western part of the historic city, from Campo Fiori to Castel St Angelo to St Peters. This trip was for looking at classical Rome. But it didn’t work out that way.

How: Alitalia 615-614 to and from Boston. The plane was a clean Airbus 330 with 2-4-2 seating. We did not have pre-assigned seats in either direction, but we had excellent seats going over and fabulous seats coming back. We got to the counter early and were polite. I wish I could send flowers to the young women in Boston and Rome. Food on plane fine, not enough coffee at breakfast, crew self-absorbed. Drop down monitors rather than seatback screens, but I listen to music on my digital audio player, so it doesn’t matter. I would fly Alitalia again without concern.

Logistics: Because I am quite tall, use a CPAP, and have big feet, using a carryon only is not an option for me. One of the unexpected joys of a short trip was not having to do laundry. On the plane, I wore a black blazer and dark gray goretex jacket; wore one pair of trousers and packed two more; wore one dress shirt and packed three more; packed enough underwear and socks for a week, an extra pair of shoes, and thankfully, at the last minute threw in three dark T shirts -- thankfully because it was much warmer than we had expected , well into the 70’s F, so some of the dress shirts didn’t get worn.

My carryon held my CPAP, medications, digital audio player and headphones, snacks, guidebook, netbook computer, change of underwear and toothbrush.

Everything else went into a checked bag, which arrived on time if not in a timely manner. As in many airports on holidays, few staff are on duty for early and late
arrivals, and it took forever to get our bags, which had to come from a remote terminal. Immigration was perfunctory. The man who stamped our passports didn’t
even look at our faces. Customs was also perfunctory because we were in a big party of mostly old geezers who had been met by a tour guide. I could have
walked in with a couple of hand grenades and no one would have known the difference. We didn't bring a phone, and I don't think I would bring the netbook again
for such a short trip. I never used it.

Weather: violent thunderstorms the first day, absolutely perfect thereafter.

What we thought we would do and what we did instead: After the orientation bus tour, I understood that some of the places I wanted to spend time didn't need the time spent: Baths of Caracalla, Aurelian walls, etc., even the Colosseum. I have been to Roman arenas in Spain, Istria, Verona, and France, and frankly, just being bigger didn't make the Colosseum worth the time for a visit. We did visit the Forum all day Thursday and spent most of Friday in the Capitoline Museum looking at Roman sculpture.

We also took in some prime tourist spots: the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain. We were astonished at the number of tourists early in November and generally found Rome far more tourist ridden (including us!) than Paris. Paris is a seat of government, a university town, and a commercial center as well as a tourist site, and while tourists are omnipresent, they don't dominate life the way they seem to do in Rome. I also suspect that a higher proportion of the people on the street in Paris live in the city than in Rome. Certainly we saw fewer young mothers with small children and fewer supermarkets and groceries.

On the other hand, Rome was much cleaner than Paris (except for graffiti), and we saw only one small pile of dog poop, a happy contrast to Paris where it is an omnipresent danger.

The time we did not spend on ruins we spent on churches and on riding buses and trams. We visited Sta Maria degli Angeli, Michaelangelo's last building and a "mirror" of the Baths of Diocletian next door; Sta Maria della Vittoria, (Bernini's famous statue of "Ecstasy of St Teresa), San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Borromini's Baroque masterpiece, and Bernini's San Andrea in Quirinale, its rival down the block. Next day, we hit Sta Maria Maggiore for its mosaics, and il Gesu, the glorious Baroque Jesuit masterpiece, where I tried to imagine how my Presbyterian relatives would react to the vivid depictions of Protestants falling into Hell from the dome, while Catholics rose into celestial glory toward the name of Jesus. As an Episcopalian, I of course followed a Middle Way between the two. I was thrilled to see these buildings since I had known them in pictures since university.

As is our habit, we rode all over the city on buses and trams, getting on at one end of the line and getting off at the other, as a way of seeing how people lived and went to work. We rode the subway once, and it was pretty grim, especially at the Termini end where you arrive about four or five levels below the ground and have to make your way through much dimly lit construction before emerging into the station.

What we ate: We went to the well-known Giggetto (in the ghetto) for lunch one day and had all the specialties of the house. The baccala and fiore di zucchini were delicious. The carciofi alla giudea was not. It was fibrous and the leaves were inedible and the heart was difficult to get to. Disappointing. The service was excellent, however, and
it was a scene. The Ancient Romans had provided the backdrop with the Portico d'Ottavia, and the Rome Film Festival provided the foreground, with lots of interesting diners, including an ancient man who arrived in a car with a police escort and a gorgeous blonde companion about seven feet tall, all in black. We had no idea who he was, but the waiters were fawning. At 12:55, there were twenty tables free on the terrace. By 1:10, they were all gone.

We had better carciofi and an all-round delicious meal at a surprising place, Antonio's, a huge outdoor restaurant at the intersection of the via Cavour and the via del Foro Imperio. This had all the earmarks of a tourist trap, but we were tired, hot, and very thirsty, and it was the nearest place to eat. The carciofi were everything they should have been and were not at Giggetto, and we shared a wonderful salad of mushrooms and parmesan. My wife had gnocchi (it was Thursday, when Romans eat gnocchi) and I had a delicious saute of baby shellfish -- vongole veraci, razor clams, small mussels, prawns. It was a great treat, especially since it was so surprising. Our waiter was Persian and extremely good humored.

We also had an excellent, if non-Roman, dinner at Cuor di Napoli, 31 via Cernaia. We shared a fabulous seafood appetizer, with braised seppe, the tiniest fried calamari, pickled anchovies and a portion of another fish in escabeche, and a really delicious octopus salad. We somehow made room for a classic wood-oven Neapolitan melanzane (eggplant) pizza. This place was fantastic. They had the worst English language menu I have ever seen, clearly done by some kind of machine translation. I had to ask for the Italian menu to figure out what we were going to eat (escarole, Sicilian style with pignoli and raisins, came out on the menu as "spiny lettuce", for example). But the hurried staff were charming, and the place was a major scene, mostly local. When we arrived at 8:05, there were three tables left. They were gone by 8:10, and when we left about 9:30, there were probably 25 people waiting in the street outside -- on a weeknight.

We had delicious Roman pizza (much smaller amounts of sauce and cheese than Americans are used to on a very light thin crust) with zucchini flowers at a place
called La Famiglia on via Volturno, near our hotel. It is about 75% tourists and has a nice brightly lighted feel in a darkish neighborhood. The pizza really far exceeded our expectations (which were not high) and we had an adorable waitress, but we went back on another night and were treated rudely, very rudely by Italian standards. I called the proprietor on it, and we had a little dramatic scene. I see on reading TripAdvisor that others have had similar issues (without the dramatic scenes). It was almost like two different restaurants in the same place. I might go back for pizza, but I've had enough drama!

Disappointment: As with any great city, there is more than you can do in any trip. I went with limited objectives and still only fulfilled a portion of them, while every street brought new places to be curious about and new treasures to visit another time. I pretty much thought of this as my last trip to Rome, but it probably will not be.

Five days is a very short time for a visit, and it made us sightsee at a somewhat faster pace than we ordinarily do. As a result, it was just the right amount of time, enough to bite off significant chunks of the city, short enough to be ready to come home before tiredness became exhaustion.
Ackislander is offline  
Old Nov 17th, 2010, 01:19 PM
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Thanks for a well organized, detailed and enjoyable TR. One question though, I do not quite understand why you were not able to use carry on with the few things you had, since the CPAP doesn't count against your carry on luggage allowance. If your CPAP case is anything like mine, it has ample room for medications and a few other small things.
basingstoke2 is online now  
Old Nov 17th, 2010, 02:43 PM
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Excited to hear more!
jent103 is offline  
Old Nov 17th, 2010, 03:37 PM
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funny - I had the same experience with carciofi alla guida - but unlike you, i wasn't brave enough to have a 2nd go!

i love fiori fritti so much I've tried to make them at home not an unalloyed success] and for next year, I've bought some special italian seeds for courgettes that are bred specially for their flowers - at least that's what I think the seed packet says!

keep it coming.
annhig is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2010, 04:41 AM
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Basingstoke, it is my understanding that the CPAP rules you allude to are only _required_ of US airlines. I can do a two night business trip with my CPAP in a small rollaboard, but I can't do five nights or take all the good stuff like novels and music players.

I am also used to flying Air France and BA, who are pretty ticky about carryon size and weight, AF especially, so I took the dire warnings on the Alitalia website seriously and kept the carryon to less than 8 kilograms. As it turned out, I could have brought on more bags than I could have carried, but you never know. I would rather have the checkin clerks find me good seats than argue with me about whether my bags pass muster.

In my view, most of the advantage of a carryon bag disappears when you are traveling with a group, either as part of a tour or with friends, since no one can leave until everyone has his bags. We arrived at 0600, about 45 minutes ahead of schedule, and even if I had been able to walk right out of the terminal and take the train into Rome, my hotel room would not have been ready, and I would have been too tired to start touring anyway.

So there are times when traveling the most efficiently doesn't really make a difference. I also found through 20 years of business travel that the advantage of portability is outweighed by the advantages of comfort _when one is not changing hotels every night_. I haven't had a checked bag lost since 1969, no doubt putting a curse on myself by saying it!
Ackislander is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2010, 06:27 AM
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That is interesting, and of course travelling with a group changes everything. For what it is worth, two of my more recent trips involved flights within Europe on BA and Midland. I checked with each before the flight and was told that the CPAP would not be counted toward my limit, and indeed that was the case.
basingstoke2 is online now  
Old Nov 18th, 2010, 07:07 AM
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Nice report -- however, I question your judgement in leaving Nantucket during bay scallop season.
Fra_Diavolo is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2010, 01:44 PM
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The first week of the scallop season was lousy. I had a big bunch this past weekend, and they were terrific, though really pricey ($22 a pound). I went off on the noon ferry today, and there were about twenty boats, dragging away. Yum!
Ackislander is offline  
Old Nov 19th, 2010, 09:20 AM
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they are about 80p each here - more than $1 I think.

they tend to be diver -picked rather than dredged though.

i can't get enough of them, in either sense.
annhig is offline  
Old Jan 6th, 2011, 03:05 PM
Join Date: May 2003
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The only Antonio's I am familiar with is on via Pastini next to Tazza d'Oro. Do you have an address for the one on via Cavour?
Is it on the south corner with the ivy(?) all around it?
Your meal there sounds terrific and worth a visit if I knew exactly where it was.
iluvitaly is offline  
Old Jan 7th, 2011, 04:13 AM
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Yes, the Antonio's where we ate is on the south corner, really almost directly opposite the entrance to the Forum. It has a vast terrase with a vine-covered pergola over it and apparently cavernous indoor seating. About 85-90% of the people eating there appeared to be tourists, though not by any means predominantly American tourists, and I was astonished at how good the food was.
Ackislander is offline  
Old Jan 7th, 2011, 08:10 PM
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Thanks...sounds like a good choice for a lunch after the Forum/Palatine.
iluvitaly is offline  
Old Jan 8th, 2011, 05:49 AM
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Nice trip report !
I didn't understand the Paris comparison though. Even though Paris has many more inhabitants Rome is a city of 2.5 milion people. It is a sprawling city though and of course most of the inhabitants don't live in the areas where tourists hangabout. The real Rome, afterwards, is a lot larger than one could imagine. A friend of mine who lives in the outskirts said to me it takes her 2 hours to get to the centre(that's also because of the traffic of course). On the other hand I've noticed many local children play soccer mostly everywhere in the center, even ouside Castel Sant'Angelo a stone's throw away from the Vatican and on the squares of many Churches .
feda is offline  
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