La Dolce Vita Not Always as “Dolce” As One Might Hope…

Note: Had some difficulties posting photos while in Rome, but I continued to blog offline. I’ll be posting those entries over the next day or two.

Tuesday evening we had reservations at L’Altro Mastai, the fanciest place on our itinerary.  I’d made reservations a month ago and was really looking forward to our visit.  From what I’d read and heard, it sounded like the Gary Danko of Rome.  I had tried to call to reconfirm our reservation, but was having problems getting my Italian cellphone to work – or so I thought…  More on that later.

Before dinner, we had drinks atop the Hotel Raphael, a lovely and intimate location with a view of St. Peter’s and Castel San Angelo.  After drinks, not far to go to L’Altro Mastai, though of course we got quite lost trying to find it – it took us nearly 40 minutes to get from bar to restaurant, a distance of no more than a quarter mile…  When we finally arrived at L’Altro Mastai, it was closed – not a light on and locked up tight as a drum.  And by “closed”, I think maybe it was out of business – this would explain the difficulty in my attempts to call the restaurant earlier…  The restaurant’s phone was, in fact, disconnected…  UPDATE: the restaurant’s website indicates they are closed for renovations.  Nice of them to let me know!

As one would expect, I did not respond to this turn of events with anything resembling aplomb (Chris would probably describe my response as more akin to a complete wig-out).  Plan B was to return to the restaurant on a large terrace on a quiet street we’d seen next to the Hotel Raphael – though retracing our steps proved as difficult as it had been getting to where we were in first place…

Once we did find the place, we had a very nice meal – good pasta for me, a really tasty grilled steak for Chris (along with wonderful roasted potato slices) and a fantastic panna cotta for dessert – a perfect creamy consistency, tasting of cream and fresh egg yolks, napped with a bit of coffee syrup.

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The Pope is up there somewhere... I think he's the guy in white...

Wednesday was supposed to be our day to go to Tivoli, but we’d decided to wait a day, since we’d be getting home so late from dinner at L’Altro Mastai (hah!).  And turned out we did get home late, since we didn’t sit down for dinner until 10PM…

So, we slept in Wednesday morning and headed to the Vatican, planning to climb to the top of the dome and to have a more in-depth visit to the basilica.  Yes, that’s right – we went to the Vatican on Wednesday morning…  The one day to avoid going there, as the Pope leads his weekly general audience to the crowd in the square.  So, we got all the way there and realized we’d have to return later to get inside of the basilica…

Sta. Maria a Trastevere

Sta. Maria a Trastevere

Not too big a deal, but I was starting to sense a pattern this trip of plans going awry…  We followed the river down to Trastevere, our walking tour itinerary in hand.  Of course, we started off by getting lost as soon as we tried to find the first stop on the walk in Trastevere.   But eventually we found it ,  the church of St. Cecilia – it was closed; next stop, church of San Francesco a Repa – closed; next stop, Santa Maria a Trastevere – open!  Success at last! A very pretty little church – Chris lit a candle in memory of the mother of a dear friend of ours…

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Just the usual well-organized entry to Basilico San Pietro...

Back to the Vatican to try again.  Other than passing through security, which was a total mob scene (though we did manage to get through rather quickly by pushing our way past the many giant tour groups of shuffling, glassy-eyed visitors. Sorry Jesus! We were in a hurry…), things had calmed down considerably compared to the pandemonium earlier in the day.

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St. Peter's Square - a pretty amazing view from the dome.

We climbed the 200 or so steps to to the first stop inside the dome, where we could look down at the canopy over the altar, while getting an up-close view of the marvelous decorations on the dome itself.

The interior of the dome.

The interior of the dome.

From there, we ascended to the very top, crammed into the tiny veranda circling the crest of the dome’s exterior, with amazing views in all directions.  It was well-worth the strenuous climb, in spite of the hordes of ill-mannered teenagers from a country that shall remain nameless (though the name of the country rhymes with Bermany…)

Heading back down, the stairs let us our right into the Basilica itself.  The interior left me awestruck – it’s probably the most breathtaking interior space I have ever entered. Overwhelming and beautiful…

Chris in the Basilica, with Lucille and Ed looking down from above...

Chris in the Basilica, with Lucille and Ed looking down from above...

From there we wandered the historic district, looking for several shops I’d wanted to visit – no luck there, per usual…  One was supposed located at Corso Rinasciamento, 72 – but we’d already reached 101 and no 72 existed…  Sigh…  UPDATE: Two days later, we found the shop – our confusion stemmed from the fact that the street numbers are apparently assigned to buildings in a completely random fashion, i.e. number 72 was across from and past both 101 and 47…  Aah, la moda Italiana…

But then back to Trastevere for dinner at Paris, a restaurant well-known for its traditional Roman-Jewish cuisine…  We’d reserved for 9 but were hoping to sit down at 7:30, which is when we arrived…  But were informed by the very nice hostess that the restaurant wasn’t open yet – despite being fully staffed.  “Maybe try back in half-an-hour or so…”  Again with la moda Italiana, I guess – but still seems odd…

At any rate, we did return and were given a fine table in the corner of the terrace.  We shared an assortment of antipasti fritti – carciofi all Giuda (a house-specialty), mozzarella, zucchini, squash blossoms – that was sensational.  Simple and fresh, crispy and light…

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Pasta e ceci

Chris, refusing to heed my advice, ordered two pastas (I know! It was ghastly – it was just ghastly…), starting with pasta e ceci.  He loved it (as did I) – chickpeas in a thick soup with pasta.  Of course, he realized he might’ve overdone it on the pasta and I was able to take advantage of my rudimentary Italian to say to the waiter, “I tried to explain to my friend that having two pastas is strange…  But, as usual, he did not listen.  Is it possible to change?  He is crazy…  I am very sorry.”

Lucky for Chris, the answer was “yes” and he chose a stracotto di manzo con crocchette – described on the English part of the menu as “stew”, but in fact two slabs of beef, braised to falling-apart-tender in a thick sauce along with fried potatoes.  It was wonderful.

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Polpette di vitelle fritte con cicoria

I went for traditional – starting off with an excellent rigatoni all’amatriciana, the pasta chewy and al dente, the sauce rich and tasting of ripe tomatoes.  Then fried veal meatballs, almost the texture of pate insides a crispy exterior – they almost seemed bland at first, until I tasted the bitter chicory greens served alongside which pulled the whole dish together.  Dessert was tiny wild strawberries, no bigger than the tip of my pinky, with a scoop of gelato on top…

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Fragolini con gelato

Today, up very early and off to Tivoli.  The train ride there was uneventful (I slept most of the hour-long trip – a good thing, since apparently the man behind us had SARS and was coughing and hacking most of the way…).  The Villa d’Este, our first stop, is an easy 15-minute walk from the train station.

What a welcome respite from the noise and grit of Rome.  Since we’d arrived early, the gardens were nearly empty.  Set into a hillside, we descended from the villa, each turn of a corner bringing us to another amazing water fountain – the Oval Fountain, large and spectacular; the Hundred Fountains, stretching from one side of the garden to the other, with a row of different animal heads all the way across, each one spouting water from its mouth; or the tranquil Fish Ponds, with Neptune’s Fountain gushing majestically at one end.

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The Hundred Fountains at Villa d'Este

Next stop: Villa Adriana, a short bus ride and then a fifteen minute walk…  Two pieces of advice re. Villa Adriana: one, take the train back to Rome – the bus we took was as slow as molasses in January (due to traffic) and hot as hell; two, don’t go to Villa Adriana – it’s a big snooze fest…

Actually, I’m sure the site is fascinating to those who can appreciate archeology – which, as it turns out, does not include either Chris or me.  But we did have a nice lunch in the garden of the Hotel Adriano that lies just outside the main gate – and there was a cat at the restaurant.  He was my friend…

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Questo gatto è il mio amico!

OK – there’s actually plenty more to this story and the rest of the day, but I’ve grown weary of the blogging.  More to come…

Ciao, cari!

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One response to “La Dolce Vita Not Always as “Dolce” As One Might Hope…

  1. Hi, I hope I don’t bother.

    The street numbers are assigned in a particular way: Odd numbers to the left, even numbers to the right (or viceversa). The 1 and 2 are assigned starting from the center of the city.

    The restaurant: yes it’s odd, they won’t let you sit since the chef, and the kitchen staff are the very last to get in, and they do all the cleanups before officially open the kitchen.

    Cheers.

    p.s. I may write it in Italian to be clearer (or more clear?). :^D

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