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Rome For The Holidays: MaitaiTom's Eternal City Escapades & Christmas Caper

Rome For The Holidays: MaitaiTom's Eternal City Escapades & Christmas Caper

Old Jan 4th, 2010, 03:38 PM
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What a great report, can't wait for more! Your humor makes it even more fun to read.
After visiting Trastevere this past fall, I thought it would be an excellent area to stay in. Please let us know how you liked the area.
Also what do you think is the right amount of Paris to Rome time for someone who has visited Rome twice?
I'm looking forward to more!
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Old Jan 4th, 2010, 03:56 PM
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Old Jan 4th, 2010, 04:52 PM
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Thanks all for the comments. I'll get out Act II in the morning. I'll also find out if the miracle occurs or not tomorrow or Wednesday. I like an upbeat Hollywood ending, so I'm hoping this trip report has one. By the way, for those who asked on another thread, it has nothing to do with health-type issues. It's a different kind of miracle, but certainly one that will make me very happy and would be an amazing conclusion to the story.

Gina, to be honest, I am more a Paris guy than a Rome guy, so I would give Paris more time, but everyone is different. I liked Trastevere (second time I have stayed there), although if we come back, I will probably stay in a different part of Rome.

Stay tuned!

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Old Jan 4th, 2010, 07:14 PM
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Oh darn, I am a 50-50 Rome-Paris person. Both so wonderful, both so different. Will this report break my heart, Signor and Signora MaiTai?

And when do we get photos?
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Old Jan 4th, 2010, 07:57 PM
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Leely2 - Will this report break my heart, Signor and Signora MaiTai?

No, it will not break your heart.

Leely2 - And when do we get photos?

That's a very good question.

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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 12:39 AM
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Felice Anno Nuovo, Tom. Very auspicious beginning for 2010 .. a Maitaitom Trip Report. Thanks for the first chapters, looking forward to the rest.
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 06:16 AM
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<B>Act II: Bad Forecast, Nice Spread, Big Balls, Via Giulia Childs Play, Numb Skulls, Where’s That Damned Enoteca, Just Look For The Elephant, Hunky Doria, Don’t Meow For Me Argentina and Taking It On The Lamb Chops </B>

During our quick death showers the night before, we had tuned in to CNN International to find out the forecast for the following day. That nasty graphic showing darks clouds and rain appeared on the screen, so it should come as no surprise that when we awoke on Friday morning the skies were clear with bright sunshine.

Surviving another shower that included immediately pulling the shower handle away from your body as intermittent spurts of scalding, hot water came bursting out (a fun game that we played all week in an attempt to escape second degree burns), we made our way downstairs (96 stairs to be exact) to the breakfast room that was filled with delicious goodies perfect for two weary travelers. Cereal, bread, jams, cheeses, meats, pastries, cold pizza (just like college), juices and cappuccinos made for a nice breakfast. Then it was off to one of the most famous Rome monuments that I had always wanted to visit, the Castel Sant’Angelo.

I was interested in learning about its sordid and fascinating history, but alas when we picked up our Roma Pass at the entrance, we were told the bookshop people had all booked out and there were no audio guides available to avail ourselves of this knowledge. So we toured the grounds and made our way through various rooms following signs to the terrace and came upon the stairway that would take us to the top to check out those great views we had heard so much about. And great, they were. It looked like we could reach out and touch St. Peter’s. What a fantastic day (although I was still pretty bummed about the lack of audio guides)!

After wandering the premises for about 45 minutes, we happened upon the cute restaurant/bar that has outdoor seating that overlooks the Vatican. We walked around some more taking in vista after vista when out of the blue I swore I heard Tracy utter a phrase that sort of shocked me.

“Wow, what big balls!” she exclaimed. Before I could answer, “Why, thank you,” she added, “Look at all those cannon balls down there.” It was time to move on.

Exiting the structure, we walked across the famed Ponte Sant’Angelo, a bridge that dates back to the 130s AD. I was glad it was not as crowded as a day back in 1450, when during a Jubilee, the bridge gave way under the weight of all the pilgrims and many of them drowned in the Tiber.

Now it was time for our mini-Renaissance walk down the Via Giulia. We strolled through the Piazza Sant’Angelo where Beatrice Cenci and other family members were beheaded in 1599. It was a much calmer scene on this morning.

Our first stop when we reached the via Giulia, which was an early example of Renaissance Rome urban (not Pope Urban) planning, was the Chiesa di San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. Michelangelo had actually presented a design to build the Florentine church, but his design didn’t make the final cut.

As we stepped inside the church, we immediately heard the voices of dozens of little children singing a rousing chorus of Jingle Bells. It was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. There was also a cool nativity scene, one of only a handful we witnessed in our week in Rome (most churches keep them behind curtains until Christmas Eve services).

Back on the via Giulia, in about a block, we detoured one street over to see if we could get in to see the Chiesa di San Biagio and perhaps see an interesting, if macabre, reminder of the martyred St. Biagio; a portion of his throat. The church was closed.

The via Giulia was designed to be the straightest, longest and widest street in Rome, and artists like Raphael once lived on it. The street is now home to a number of antique shops, but fortunately we contained ourselves to window-shopping as we passed by these shops, various palazzos and other buildings. We then happened upon an open church door, and when church doors are open, Maitaitom and Tracy go in.

We quickly found out that this was no ordinary church. We had stepped in to Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte (Saint Mary Of The Prayer and Death). This was a spot where monks collected and buried indigents (yes, they were also dead). I read somewhere that during the Renaissance, the underground chambers were filled with bodies that eventually were transferred to barges that carried the corpses away (well, most of the corpse anyway). There was a room under the church, supposedly not open to the public, which contained decorated skulls. I guess because we still looked like death after the previous day’s epic travel schedule, as we were about to pass by a closed door, a nun came over and opened it, and we descended down the stairs.

Sure enough, there were numbers of painted human skulls arranged in interesting patterns stuck inside nooks in this fairly large room. It was cold down there, not that anyone residing in it was complaining, so we made our way upstairs, left a small donation and exited the church. Two seconds after we walked out the door, the nun bolted the door behind us, making no bones about it that the church was now closed.

From the via Giulia, we wound ourselves through the Campo di Fiore (lots of produce stands surrounding the statue of Giordano Bruno, who had been burned at the stake here many centuries ago) and over to the Piazza Navona.

I remembered the Piazza Navona as incredibly striking on our first visit, thanks to its lovely fountains. On this day, the piazza looked more like an oversized flea market on speed. I tried to keep my eyes on the beautiful fountains, but was distracted by all the crap being sold at the myriad of booths lining the piazza.

Truth be told, I know many people love Christmas markets and market days in various towns, but whether here or in small towns dotting Italy, France and other European countries, they have no appeal to me and hold little, if any, charm. I’ve never been much of a trinket guy. At least the carousel in the center was cute.

We ducked into Sant’Agnes in Agone, and then made our way toward the Pantheon for our obligatory visit that we make each time we visit Rome. This building never ceases to amaze us. But while being amazed, we also had hunger pangs that superseded our quest to learn more Roman history.

My plans for the day had gone perfectly up to this point, but, of course, that quickly changed. For some reason, I thought that the Enoteca Cul de Sac was near the Pantheon, but after asking a bunch of people, I surmised I must be wrong. Now, we were really hungry.

Nearby we stepped in to a little restaurant called Antonio al Pantheon. When we arrived a little past 1 p.m. there were not many people inside. By the time we ordered, the place was packed, and we were the only English-speaking patrons to be found.

The owner (at least he acted like the owner) was carving prosciutto by hand in the middle of the room, and it looked great. We started with a glass of Prosecco, but this was no ordinary glass of the bubbly. The waitress opened the bottle and poured two huge servings into over-sized red wine glasses (always dangerous for jet-lagged tourists).

Tracy opted for an appetizer of zucchini blossoms filled with ricotta and anchovies (quite tasty), which was followed with a grilled eggplant. I had always been averse to eating eggplant, but one taste opened my eyes to what I have been missing all these years. It was very good.

It was zuppa for me; a fagioli that had white beans and tube pasta, which was good, and then ravioli filled with Pecorino and fresh tomatoes. It was much better than the previous night’s meal. Lunch cost: 41€.

Although the Prosecco made us a little tired, it was time for these Prosecco-laden California tourists to see some more of Rome. Next stop: Santa Maria sopra Minerva. For some odd reason, I just couldn’t find it, although I knew by the map that the church had to be very close to where we were standing. As it turned out, it was closer than I thought (perhaps the Prosecco was taking effect).

After walking by the church twice, Tracy pointed directly behind me and said, “See that elephant. The church is right behind it.”

“Elephant,” I answered. “How many glasses did you have?”

Sure enough, behind a statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk designed by Bernini was the Santa Maria sopra Minerva. This is the only Gothic church in Rome and it has a magnificent ceiling slightly reminiscent of Sainte Chapelle in Paris. Inside, under the altar, are the remains of St. Catherine of Siena (except her head, which headed straight to Siena). The church also contains the tomb of Fra Angelico and an original Michelangelo statue of Christ carrying a small cross. Tracy lit a candle for a friend’s mother who had recently passed away.

We scooted out the back door of the church and headed for our next destination, the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. This had never been on our radar, but thanks to Fodorites who have visited here and included it on their trip reports, it became a high priority. We loved our audio guide tour of this residence, but sadly the private apartments were not open, because some of the family was staying there during the Christmas holidays.

After the Doria Pamphilj, we ducked into one more nearby church, the Chiesa del Gesú, which had once been the most powerful church in the Jesuit order. We started our hike back to Trastevere, saw the huge Christmas tree in front of Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, the famous (or infamous to some) “Wedding Cake” building, and soon found ourselves at the Largo di Torre Argentina. Every time I see it, I almost forget this area has historical significance, because we always seem to focus more on the abundance of cats that call this historical area home at the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary.

The kitties were out and about on this beautiful afternoon, frolicking in the ruins, but it all gives one pause to think. Spay and Neuter! It also made us miss our cats, who were probably at that moment laughing with all the other cats at The Cat Hotel, knowing we were paying almost as much for their lodging as we were for our own. Plus, they probably had a better meal the previous evening, too.

In about ten minutes or so we were back in Trastevere and stopped in the Church Of Santa Maria in Trastevere where it was time for more Christmas carols. The kids were singing and proud parents wielding camcorders and cameras were busy chronicling the event for posterity.

By now we were pooped. Back at the hotel, we turned on CNN and saw snow was still falling heavily on Paris. Our friends, one a fellow Fodorite, were flying in to Paris on this afternoon, and we wondered whether they had made it. Little did we know at the time how integral their trip to Paris would play in the drama that unfolded at the end of our trip (God, I love foreshadowing).

That night we had dinner reservations at a Fodorite favorite, Ditirambo, which is not another Sylvester Stallone sequel. Located just off Campo Fiore, we arrived for our 8 p.m. reservations and were seated in a little alcove in between the two rooms with a perfect view of all that was happening at the restaurant. Once again no English was spoken by any of the patrons that we heard, and the restaurant filled quickly and was packed by 8:30.

I wish I could say the meal was impeccable, but it was not, although it got off to a good start. Once again we started with a refreshing glass of Prosecco, although not the gallon jug size that we had downed at lunch. Tracy’s appetizer of crispy fried potatoes with sheep cheese and black truffles was delicious, albeit a tad cold. I also enjoyed my appetizer that consisted of a mousse of pears and Gorgonzola drizzled with balsamic that was served with sliced fresh pears.

Tracy’s dinner was very good. She had a pork chop wrapped in crispy bacon (the ultimate in pigging out, I guess) with a side of cinnamon applesauce for dipping. The applesauce complemented her pork dish perfectly.

My main course on this night was off the mark. I ordered baby lamb chops with rosemary. The dish was not only overcooked but contained virtually no lamb. There were lots of chops, however. “Maybe the lamb took it on the lam,” I said sheepishly. Fortunately, when dipped in Tracy’s applesauce, the flavor was somewhat better, but it was a disappointing meal to say the least. Not to mention, I was still starving. Dinner, Prosecco and a nice bottle of red wine from the Piedmonte region cost 83€.

We skipped dessert at Ditirambo, and on the way back to our hotel we stopped in Trastevere at a place where I had eaten one of my greatest desserts (twice) back in 2005.

On that trip in 2005, the Enoteca Trastevere served up a dish called Il Saraceno, a dessert of frozen chocolate interspersed with cinnamon and some sort of hot, candied peppers (perhaps Red Hots). I had dreamed of this dish for years.

Unfortunately for me, the people working at Enoteca Trastevere had never heard of this bizarre dessert, but I was consoled by a huge piece of chocolate cake that contained pears. That and some Vin Santo put a nice exclamation point on the day.

Departing the enoteca, we found out the weather prognosticators had been just a little early with their predictions of the wet stuff. It started raining pretty heavily, and we, in our eternal (well, it is the Eternal City) optimism, had not brought our umbrellas. We were going to make a mad dash for the hotel (about a ten-minute walk), when over to the side of the alley we spied an umbrella that had been tossed because it was broken. Although broken, it was not unusable, and it kept us dry for our walk back to the Hotel San Francesco.

We gently laid it down near our hotel, hoping it would give someone else in need a chance to stay out of the rain. A long first day was now in the books.

Overnight the skies opened up and it poured. Awaking about 3 a.m., I was greeted with a sky show of lightening and some loud claps of thunder. Quickly, I got back to sleep because there would be no rest for the weary coming up in only a few hours. Little did I know at that moment, but within 18 hours I would find my new favorite dessert of all time (yes it is true, when it comes to my favorite desserts, I do have serious commitment issues).

<B>Coming Up: History Comes Alive, Finally Finding Cul De Sac, The Church That’s Always Closed, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, More Churches, They Should Serve A Caesar Salad Here, The Zabaione Zone and The Deep Freeze </B>
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 06:32 AM
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As always great to read one of your reports - it's making me want to go back to Rome. Looking forward to more...
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 06:52 AM
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What a treat to read this. I'm another one who is torn between Paris and Rome but I think Paris currently has the edge. A few years ago, I also had a hard time finding Enoteca Cul de Sac, which is near the Pantheon, but this past November didn't have any trouble finding it. I also discovered Antonio al Pantheon this past time thanks to a fodorite and it was wonderful.
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 07:09 AM
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Enjoying your writing style very much, I suspect we are in the hands of a professional (traveller, gourmand, foreshadowing-expert, etc.). Having not yet made it to Rome I'm looking forward to your piercingly honest assessment of the best and worst the ancient city has to offer.
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 07:32 AM
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Tagging to read under the influence
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 08:24 AM
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I'm offline for a few days and look what happens--Tom begins his report! Great reading as always.
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 09:21 AM
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Thank you for answering my questions. Act II was a thrill to read. The dessert you mentioned above sounds delicious. Maybe some others on the board can help track it down.

Ok, I'll be waiting for the Hollywood ending!
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 09:39 AM
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Another happy reader! What a great way to start the new year, with another fun trip report.
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 10:43 AM
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I'm glad to know I am not the only person who wasn't thrilled with the Christmas market in Piazza Navona. I was happy to see the place devoid of all the kitch when I was there last October...it has a completely different feel. Sorry to hear your dinner at Ditriambo was less then stellar. But I'm noting Antonio al Pantheon for a future Rome visit!
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 12:28 PM
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Tom & Tracy,

I'm so glad you did find the elephant and Santa Maria Sopra Minerva! It's my favorite Roman church - so far. That ceiling is so gorgeous. I purposely missed the saints' relics though! Ugh. Something I've never understood!

Do continue, looking forward to the rest!
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 01:41 PM
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After just tearing up on the Robespierre thread this one is a joy. Another great Mai Tai report. Thanks for the laffs. Anxiously awaiting more...
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 02:46 PM
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Love your threads! I didn't take to Rome (I like Paris and love London), but am willing to be converted.
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 03:56 PM
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Really enjoying your report! I loved Rome, was there my first time about this time last year and hope to get back someday soon. More please. And photos too. I want it all
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Old Jan 5th, 2010, 05:27 PM
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Andiamo!
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