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Il giorno in piu’ (The extra day) - Rome Trip Report

Il giorno in piu’ (The extra day) - Rome Trip Report

Old Dec 6th, 2011, 06:32 AM
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Il giorno in piu’ (The extra day) - Rome Trip Report

“Do you know how many times in history a molecule of oxygen has met up with a molecule of carbon? Millions, billions of times and nothing in particular happened. And then, one day, a molecule of hydrogen combined with the carbon and the oxygen and do you know what happened then? The universe was created.”
- Il Giorno in Piu’, by Fabio Volo

Rome has the knack of making you feel as though the universe was created just for you, right there, exactly where you are standing in the exact same moment that you are standing there, almost as though a pop-up book of wonders springs up with every stone your foot happens to press. And the illusion continues no matter how many times you go because even though you may have walked down that street a hundred times, you will always, without fail, see something new. Rome recreates itself just for you, every day and I think that’s why I find it so endlessly fascinating. I counted up before I left and I had determined that this would be my twelfth trip to Rome, counting from my first brief sojourn there in 1997. And still I’d be seeing things that were new, as well as visiting locations and streets that felt more like old friends than vacation spots.

I hadn’t yet traveled to Rome in December and I was interested to see what aspects the city would reveal during the pre-Christmas season. It was going to be a short trip, only five days, but I needed it more than anything; Italy always restores my soul and I tend to seek refuge there. I arrived on Thursday morning, December 1, at nine in the morning. Fiumicino was covered in early-morning mist and the temperature on the ground was 48 degrees. I navigated the maze of customs and immigration and exited past the baggage claim to find my driver, who in typical Italian fashion, wasn’t there yet. The obligatory stop at the pay phones near the exit was next to try to make contact with someone who could tell me where my driver was. Of course nobody could tell me, but by the time I had spent ten minutes on the phone my driver had managed to make his way into the waiting area.

Alino, the driver, was friendly and talkative and we had several interesting discussions on the way to the apartment. Originally from Pakistan, he had lived in Italy for the past fifteen years and spoke passionately about his love for Rome and his circle of friends in the city. Once we arrived in Trastevere, he pulled the car over and took me for breakfast – his treat – and we continued to chat over our cornetti and coffee. When we arrived at the apartment on Via del Gesu’, he gave me his number and offered to take me out on the town. A lovely offer, but part of why I go to Italy is to do what I want according to my own agenda…but I took his number anyway and he congenially waved goodbye before navigating the car down the one-way street. The apartment owner, Andrea, was there upon my arrival as I had called him from the airport and he buzzed me up to the apartment. I had rented the apartment through Sleepinitaly, as I had before, and their website had very clearly advised me that the apartment was on the fourth floor (which is the fifth floor in US terms) with no lift. I work out at least four times a week, but those stairs were killer the first time up. Perhaps it was because I was carrying my luggage, or because I was already tired from a long trip and some jetlag, but I wanted to sit down at the top of the third floor and take a nap.

At any rate, I continued on and arrived at the door of the apartment to meet Andrea, who helpfully showed me the keys and where everything was located in the apartment. The apartment, called Via del Gesu on Sleepinitaly, was really beautiful. Lots of windows and sunshine, a terrace, a nice little kitchen and a good sized bathroom with wi-fi, cable TV, a washing machine and a hair dryer. The arrangement was really charming, with little steps leading to the different areas of the apartment. All in all, this was the nicest apartment I have ever rented from Sleepinitaly, but I can see the stairs being a challenge for many people.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 06:52 AM
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Heading to Rome on Boxing Day for a week - cant wait to hear more about your adventures!
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 06:57 AM
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After depositing my bags in the apartment and giving a quick look around, I headed out to the supermarket to stock up on the essentials (i.e. coffee, wine, cheese, yogurt and fruit). There is a Carrefour Express located on Via del Gesu, maybe a half a block away from the apartment, and it was very convenient. After returning from the grocery store I had a quick snack, some caffelatte, and a shower before heading back out into Rome.

First stop: La Feltrinelli on Corso Vittorio Emmanuele for a good selection of paperback books in Italian that I would take home with me and read at night to keep up on the language. There is always a really great selection at Feltrinelli, even though I feel a little guilty about not always spending my money at small, independent bookstores. After a good hour or so of browsing at Feltrinelli, I decided to go find some lunch. My clock was already getting set to Roman time – it was about 2:00 when I decided it was time to eat. I headed over to Cul de Sac in Piazza Pasquino, one of the places I had eaten at on a previous trip and really wanted to revisit.

It was a bit cool in the shade of the Piazza, so I opted for an inside table towards the back of the restaurant. Since I had already sampled the pate on my last visit, I decided to go for a selection of cheeses followed by the duck ravioli. I requested the cheese sampler plate, which allowed me to choose four cheeses from the list. I selected the burrata and the ubriaco della piave and then left my other two choices up to the waiter, who suggested the caciotta and the tete du moine. Paired with a glass of Nero D’Avola (Sicilian) wine, the cheese was delectable. The tete du moine was a surprise – it looked like Queen Anne’s Lace on the plate, beautiful little flowers of cheese with a deep and complex flavor – salty, dry, smooth. The other cheeses I knew of and had previously tasted, so it was nice to have something completely new on the plate. The plate of cheese was overwhelmingly huge – I had expected much smaller portions of each and was consequently quite full by the time I had tasted them all, but I persevered through the duck ravioli. And thank goodness I did. Handmade pasta stuffed with ground duck and covered in a thin layer of salty pecorino romano…..so, so good. (Cheese sampler, 2 glasses Nero D’Avola, water, duck ravioli - 29 euro).

My stomach pleasantly full of duck and cheese, I needed a bracing cup of coffee from Sant’Eustachio to top it all off. I headed across Piazza Navona, through the Christmas market (which was not exactly what I was expecting – it was basically a crap fair selling candy and toys but I can see where it would be fun for kids) and past the Pantheon to Caffe Sant’Eustachio. One grancaffe later (what DO they do to their coffee?), I was ready for a nap. The jetlag was catching up with me, so it was back to the apartment for a brief rest before continuing with the rest of my day.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 07:31 AM
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After waking up, I got ready to go out for the evening – a passeggiata down Via del Corso to Piazza del Popolo before turning around and taking Via di Ripetta to my dinner spot. I popped into quite a few shops but spent most of my time perusing the windows and getting a feel for the current trends in color (cornflower blue this time around) and style (heavily mod-60s) that were in the shop windows. On Thursday night, the Via del Corso was not particularly busy and the shops were virtually empty so it was a relaxing time to shop. On this trip, I gained a new appreciation for the clothing store shopkeepers. I would try something on, they would ask to see it, and I’d step out into the main area if I felt it looked okay. They would then proceed to take it from okay to fabulous by adding accessories and giving suggestions about how to wear the particular item of clothing. I have to admit I hadn’t spent much time shopping for clothing on previous trips, but this time I found it to be quite pleasurable.

After purchasing a dress and sweater combo at O Mai, I headed to dinner at Pizza Re’ on Via di Ripetta, where I had a margherita pizza and a small glass of Peroni beer before walking back to my apartment and falling into bed.

Friday

I awoke late on Friday morning and had a leisurely breakfast in the apartment before heading out for the day. I was starting to plan my excursions in order to minimize the number of times I had to go up and down the five flights of stairs to the apartment, so the plan was to go out in the morning, stay out until the mid-day rest, and come back for a quick nap before going back out again at night. That meant only two trips per day up and down the stairs, and I could live with that.

Friday was museum day. I had somehow never gone to the Musei Capitolini in all my visits to Rome so that was my first destination for the day. I climbed the wide staircase to the top of the Capitoline Hill and then walked behind the museums for a great view of the Roman Forum all the way down to the Coliseum. The views from the top of the hill were really quite beautiful. I then purchased my ticket (12 euro) to the museums and entered into the two buildings that comprise the museum complex. It was relatively quiet and there were not many visitors in the museum and I was able to pass through the rooms without any interruption from school groups (which was nice, because there had been a very large and rowdy group of Italian teenagers in the piazza and I was afraid I’d run into them in the museum). I spent two hours between the two buildings – highlights were the bronze statue of the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus and the statue of Marcus Aurelius on his horse, both works that I had read about but never seen.
The day was overcast but it wasn’t raining yet, so I decided to wander the historic center for a while in search of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, supposedly the best example of Baroque Rome in the cento storico. Unfortunately, Sant’Ivo has some very restricted hours and is only open to the public from 9 AM to noon on Sundays. I added it to my list of things to do for Sunday and headed for lunch. I had wanted to return to Enoteca Corsi and it was so incredibly close to my apartment that I decided to have lunch there. The stuffed zucchine were on the menu again and they were so good the last time that I couldn’t help but get them again – the desire to have those delicious zucchine outweighed the desire to try something new. I also had a ¼ liter of the house wine and a bottle of water. (18 euro) Full and tired, I headed up to the apartment for a quick nap.

Before I had left the U.S., I had looked into some of the events that were happening in Rome while I was there and I ran across an exhibit at the Ara Pacis that showcased Audrey Hepburn. I am a huge fan of the movie “Roman Holiday” (how can you not be) and of Audrey Hepburn, so I knew that this exhibit was a must, especially since it was closing two days later. Entrance to the Ara Pacis and the Hepburn exhibit was 12 euro, and it was packed with people (probably because it was closing soon) – most of whom were Roman. The exhibit covered Audrey’s life in Rome; she had been a resident of the city for more than twenty years. Clothing and other personal artifacts were on display along with a comprehensive selection of photos that chronicled the years in which AH resided in the city – and the best artifact of all (in my opinion) was the Vespa that Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck rode in “Roman Holiday.” The exhibit gave me this overwhelming sensation of calm, almost like a yoga buzz. I’m not sure if it was the serenity that Hepburn always managed to exude or the effortless elegance with which she moved through life that imbued me with this sense of well-being, but either way I left the Ara Pacis determined to live in Rome at some point in my life. And wear head scarves. And get bigger sunglasses.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 07:39 AM
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Wonderful! Thank you.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 07:45 AM
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After walking back down the Via del Corso and investing a fair amount of money in neatly patterned tights at Calzedonia, I passed through Piazza Navona and headed toward the Via del Governo Vecchio to eat dinner at Da Tonnino. I had passed by the place several times before on my way to Alfredo e Ada on the Via dei Banchi Nuovi and had been wanted to try it on my next trip, so I went for it that evening.
The place was crowded even at 7:30 PM, almost entirely full of locals with only one lone duo of Americans at a front table. The cool outside air and the warm inside air combined to form a film of humidity on the inside of the windows that made it seem as though you were entering a spa instead of a restaurant. After being seated quickly, I listened to the table next to me and spied on their order – almost everyone ordered pasta alla gricia followed by the baccala’, so I did the same. The pasta alla gricia came first – big rigatoni with pancetta, pepper, and cacio cheese. It was so delicious, and the portion was absolutely huge (too big, really, considering a second dish was on the way.) About halfway into the pasta, the waiter came out to tell me that they had run out of the cod, which was actually a blessing in disguise because I was pretty full after the pasta and couldn’t have eaten it anyway. The pasta was perfectly cooked and had the perfect ratio of pasta to bacon and cheese. Delicious. Pasta, water and a ¼ liter of wine was 13 euro.

Since I hadn’t had the baccala, it seemed a shame to waste the extra stomach space, so I headed to Gelateria della Palma for what was my default gelato order for the trip – a cone of sesamo e miele (sesame and honey) and Raffaello (the coconut candy). The combination of those two flavors was probably the best combination of flavors I had ever had in my life. They went perfectly together. Walking back from della Palma, I crossed through the Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon, where I met Giancarlo. In about 30 seconds, I knew his full name, that he owned a travel agency, and that he liked my eyes. In keeping with my new strategy of “They will go away if you take their phone number”, I programmed his cell phone number into my phone and told him I’d call him. He kissed both of my cheeks and bowed backwards toward the Pantheon. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that, at 36, I’d already lived that particular story more than once. You know, the one where the American girl falls in love with the Italian and then figures out a whole ocean separates them. I felt like I was learning. So, instead of falling in love, I went home and watched a movie and drank a glass of wine.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 07:46 AM
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Saturday/Sunday still to come....
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 08:46 AM
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N, I always enjoy your reports, and this one is no exception. I love your style. But no karaoke this time?

Thanks!
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 09:12 AM
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Haha....no karaoke, but there is some trivia later.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 09:24 AM
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This is my kind of trip--the perfect combination of touring and relaxing. Thanks, nnolen.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 09:30 AM
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nnolen - what a wonderful start to a trip report.

i too love Rome but for one reason or another didn't get there until i was already 50 so I have quite a lot of catching up to do.

eager for more!
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 10:27 AM
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more! more!
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 10:53 AM
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Saturday

An early night made for an early-ish morning and I was out the door by 9:30 and heading for Trastevere. What I meant to do that day and what I actually did were two different things….but sometimes you need a day like that, I suppose.

While walking down the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, a young Italian gentleman got off the bus and proceeded to stop me to ask if I knew where the Vatican was and how to get there. I gave him directions, and then he confessed that he knew where it was, but he just wanted an excuse to talk to me. Can you guess how this ended, dear readers? Poor Giovanni went the way of Giancarlo. Povero ragazzo.

I walked along the Tiber for longer than I needed to, enjoying the crunch of leaves under my feet and the cool breeze that rushed up the embankments and set my hair flying. I crossed at Ponte Sisto and headed for the Villa Farnesina. This was a recommendation that had been made to me on a previous trip – the Villa had a few rooms that had been frescoed by Raphael, and with an entry price of only 5 euro, it was an inexpensive venture. While looking at these particular frescoes I was struck with the sudden and intense realization that I don’t particularly care for Renaissance art. I understand the importance of rediscovering the human form and moving away from purely Christian art – but recognizing it as an era of artistic importance really doesn’t mean I have to like it. And I don’t. The women look like men and the babies look like creepy muscular gnomes. There, I said it. Give me the Impressionists any day.

After the Villa Farnesina I walked along the Tiber to the Vatican. I had meant to just go into the gift shop to pick up a few items that people had asked me to acquire while I was there, but I ended up buying a pass to go through the museums. It had been awhile since I’d been and there is so much to see and appreciate – much more than just creepy muscular gnome babies. The history of Rome and the history of Christianity is catalogued in such complete and thorough detail. On the way out, I was stopped by a tour guide – “Do you speak English?” I shook my head no and kept walking. “You dropped your wallet.” I managed to not react, but I had to admit I almost wanted to congratulate him on his slyness. Very tricky, Mr. Tour Guide. I crossed the street, still shaking my head, to get a gelato at Old Bridge. I had read about this gelateria on the Facebook page “1001 things to do in Rome at least once in your life” and it didn’t disappoint. A smaller selection of flavors than I was used to at Della Palma, but the chocolate was so rich and delicious; it was like eating brownie batter. So delicious, and only 2 euro for a huge cupful of chocolate and coffee flavored gelato.

I hadn’t yet made it to the Campo dei Fiori area and I was wanting to find the shoe shop there again, so I headed along Via del Pellegrino before splitting off at the Campo and taking Via dei Giubbonari. I didn’t see any shoes I liked, but I did find a gray leather belt for 10 euro, so it wasn’t a loss. I also remembered a restaurant that I had wanted to eat at last year but ended up running out of time, so I wandered until I found it – Trattoria Moderna. The service was spastic at best, but friendly and with a smile. I got my appetizer before I had any silverware or water….At any rate, as a starter I had the salmon marinated with pepe rosso (red peppercorns) and orange slices on a bed of arugula. It was phenomenal, and there was so much salmon I actually couldn’t believe it. Very fresh and delicious. After that, I tried the fettucine with artichokes and ricotta cheese. The fettucine were homemade and very fresh, but the sauce almost had the taste of canned artichokes. I can’t say 100% for sure that they were canned, but there was definitely a little bit of that flavor…..along with the house white wine and some water (which eventually came), lunch was around 28 euro.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 11:34 AM
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After lunch it was back to the apartment for a nap and some Italian television before getting ready to go out for the evening with a couple of Roman friends. I was to meet them at 9 PM at the Living Room Club near Termini for an evening of expat mania – a group of people from other countries who currently live in Rome. As soon as I came in I spotted my friend, in spite of the massive crowd of people jammed in and around the bar area. (Luckily, he’s very tall.) It was a mix of English and Italian and people from so many different countries that I lost count. We ended up playing trivia with a boy from France and a girl from the United States, so our team alone had four different countries represented (Italy, France, US and Albania). We came in second (yay!) and went to celebrate our win with cornetti. Cornetti di notte is its own thing, its own special mania – after you’ve gone out to the clubs, you go to the bakeries and get fresh, hot cornetti right out of the oven. I used to do it back when I lived in Naples, but it had been a very long time since I’d had cornetti at night. Off we went further into the Esquiline district to find a little bakery located in a basement. The cornetti were laid out on the tables in back like tasty jewels, each one with a different filling. I sampled a pear and ricotta cornetto – the dough and the pear warm, the ricotta pleasantly cool on top. Then it was off to another bar on the Esquiline for yet more desserts…this time a crepe filled with orange marmalade and Strega liquor and topped with dark chocolate. Tart and sweet and dangerous. Finally, at around 2 AM I made it back to the apartment, content with having had dessert for dinner but secretly plotting a way to stay in Rome forever….

Sunday

Sunday was my last real day in Rome. After a late night I also had a late morning and ended up not leaving the apartment until almost noon, completely missing my date with Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza. Something to put on the list for next time. I love seeing movies when I am in Italy, so I decided to walk to the cinema at Piazza della Repubblica to see a film – they were showing “Il Giorno in Piu’” by Fabio Volo. I love him as a writer so I was interested to see one of his books made into a film. All his books have this recurring theme of discontent among people in their thirties – really hard to see why I find them relevant. The walk along Via Nazionale was pleasing and surprisingly busy with people doing their pre-Christmas shopping – even on a Sunday. I hadn’t eaten anything yet, so I stopped into a restaurant near Piazza della Repubblica for a quick lunch of prosciutto and mozzarella (since I planned on getting popcorn at the movies, that was all I had).

The film was touching, particularly the part that I (loosely) quoted at the beginning of this trip report. You really don’t ever know what a day is going to bring; every single day carries the promise of greatness within it.

I was reflective upon leaving the theatre and, after walking to Caffe Sant’Eustachio to buy four cartons of espresso to bring back home with me, I decided that I really just wanted a quiet dinner at home instead of going out (and many restaurants are closed Sunday evening anyway). I swung by the market and picked up some pasta, some sauce, some green leafy salad stuff and some tomatoes. Along with a few glasses of falanghina wine, it was a perfect last dinner. I watched some terrible Italian trivia show while I ate, with its requisite phalanx of leggy dancing girls. When I was finished eating, I began to pack as I had an early morning ahead of me the next day. It was already time to leave.

I awoke before the alarm on Monday morning. I brewed the coffee on the stovetop, warming my milk in a heavy bottomed pot, and opened all the windows as far as they would go, letting in the last morning sounds of Rome. It was raining; I could hear the plates and spoons clanking in the bar downstairs. An ambulance siren sounded a few blocks away. Pigeons fluttered and cooed under the eaves. The top of the table on the terrace was a mirrored pool interrupted by the intermittent splash of raindrops. I wanted my “giorno in piu’”, my extra day. And I wanted it to last forever.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 12:16 PM
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I really enjoyed this.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 01:40 PM
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Thanks for taking us to Rome with you. Beautifully written.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 02:46 PM
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Lovely report. Thanks so much.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 03:16 PM
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il giorno in più.

i have added it to my list of italian expressions.

grazie, nnolen.
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 03:22 PM
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Thanks, everyone!
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Old Dec 6th, 2011, 03:34 PM
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Wow!! makes me want to hop on the next plane to Rome, my favorite city in the world. Wonderful report.
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