Tag Archives: rome

Gli uomini matti

If you’re not already watching Mad Men on AMC, you’re an idiot.  Season 3 is amazing so far – each week’s episode better than the last. Oh, and if you are watching but aren’t caught up, stop reading – a couple of spoilers coming.

First things first. When Betty walked into the bakery last week for coffee with Henry, I gasped aloud.  Seriously – look at that dress.  It is gorgeous.  And those sunglasses? Perfection.  But really, look at the entire shot below: the old-fashioned gingham curtains on the door playing against modern print of her frock, the silhouette of Betty’s hand through her lacy glove,  the gumballs echoing the colors in her dress, the ghostly apparition of the wedding cake in the window, the sunlight suffusing the whole scene with a glow and keeping your eyes focused like a laser beam on Betty. The composition of this shot is masterful – like pretty much every scene, a key part of the genius of this show.

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Of course, things only got better this week, when Betty decides at the last minute to join Don on his two-day business trip to Rome.  And she reinvents herself, if only for these few days…  When she showed up on screen with this new hair-do (after calling the front desk at the Hilton and, in perfect Italian, requesting a hairdressing appointment), I believe my exact words were “OH MY FUCKING GOD!”

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Betty was delightful in Rome – confident, flirty, carefree.  When she and Don returned home to the ‘burbs, she almost immediately lapsed back into her frosty and distant self.  It made me a little weepy – because I totally understand that feeling after a trip abroad.  Traveling to a foreign country is like stepping into another life – everything is new and exciting and different…  Coming back home can be bittersweet – and in Betty’s case, mostly bitter, as she returns to her dreary suburban life, expected to be a devoted wife and doting mother, an existence she clearly finds unfulfilling and stultifying – though I suspect she’s not sure why…  Paging Betty Friedan!

Whenever I read online recaps of an episode of Mad Men, many people seem to really dislike Betty’s character. They complain that she’s cruel, self-centered and uncaring – and she has certainly exhibited all of those characteristics.  She is no dummy – yet she is expected to be satisfied with the quotidian life of Tarrytown, picking up dry-cleaning in her station wagon, looking after the kids and keeping dinner warm for her philandering husband. I think she envisioned a life for herself much different than the one she is leading…  And the trip to Rome was a rather stinging reminder of that.

Anyway, I love Betty – I suppose because I see a lot of myself in her… especially some of the less attractive parts of her character.  Though in my case, I’m sort of the opposite – I’d love to be able to stay home, join the Junior League, take riding lessons, have lunch, pick up the dry-cleaning, cook elaborate dinners…  But no kids, please – they’re so selfish…  What with the crying, the demanding to be fed and have their diapers changed – what about my needs? But I digress…

Oh, and as long as I’m singing the praises of the show, can I just reach a bit further back to mention this?

Watching this scene as a gay man, it was a flashback to my own first kiss with another man – and I’m guessing for many other gays of a (ahem) certain age.  For me, the experience really was a case of the veil being lifted from my  eyes, all in a split second. Hindsight immediately became twenty-twenty…  All the things that made me feel “different” from the time I was little boy suddenly made sense.  And just the physical sensation of touching a boy instead of a girl – so different, so right, so magical…  Anyway, I don’t want to get too graphic (my family reads this blog – I’m sure they’re already grossed out) – but this was an amazing scene.

And damn that fire alarm!  At least I didn’t have to deal with that when I had my first kiss with a guy…  Of course, mine wasn’t as hot at that bellhop – and he drove a Camaro and wore British Sterling cologne.  Yikes…  Trips down memory lane can be hazardous…

The Last Days of Rome…

Note: Had some difficulties posting photos while in Rome, but I continued to blog offline. This is the last entry that I wrote while in Rome.

So, after lunch near Villa Adriana, we caught the bus back to Rome. It was five billion degrees inside (literally!) and stop-and-go traffic for the entire 90 minutes we were aboard (the guidebooks say the trip takes 35-60 minutes…). As soon as a subway stop was visible as we arrived on the outskirts of Rome, we joined the exodus of passengers running for the doors, eager to just be on a mode of transportation that was moving, even if it was the very last stop on Linea B…

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Giovanni Fassi - and little cutie scooper...

Had a quick stop at Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi, just around the corner from our apartment.  Very good cassatina (vanilla with candied fruit) and crema for me, Chris stuck with pistachio and chocolate. Kind of a zoo ordering…  One pays first at the register, then battles to the front of the hordes all yelling for the attention of the beleaguered scoopers…  Sadly enough, I just missed my chance to be waited on by the really cute scooper and was instead stuck with the crabby eye-rolling one (apparently, my lame Italian was not endearing me to him…)

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Chris enjoying some wine at La Mucca Bischera

Back to apartment to rest up a bit before dinner – a place called Uno e Bino, just on the opposite side of the railroad tracks near our apartment. We located the place quite easily – and we were frankly not in the least bit surprised when we found it locked up tight as a drum, apparently no longer in business. Sigh…

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Pizza bianca - simple and simply fantastico...

There was a very busy place next door, called La Mucca Bischera – so that was Plan B. And what a Plan B it turned out to be. An excellent pizza bianca for me and a pizza margherita with prosciutto for Chris. Some of the best pizzas of the trip, with super-thin and crispy crust – really delicious. I also had a mixed grilled meat skewer – beef, sausage and chicken – that was very tasty, meaty and fresh off the grill. Oh, and as if the fine meal wasn’t enough, every waiter working in the place was as cute as can be… A lovely evening.

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Hahaha! Chris got stuck with the blue umbrella - what a homo!

Friday we slept in a bit, then took the metro to Testaccio for the market and food shops. The metro stop is outdoors and I was about to remark to Chris that I thought I felt a few sprinkles – just as I heard him say, “Oh my god – it’s pouring”. And it was. Good thing we’d packed those umbrellas – and left them at our apartment! But, as in every big city, umbrella peddlers magically appeared outside the subway stop and we were on our way.

The market in the Piazza Testaccio was interesting to see, though since we were nearing the end of our trip, I wasn’t really looking to stock up on meat and produce. Of course, we did have a couple of very yummy cookies from one of the stands.

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Meat anyone?

Stopped into a couple of the local food shops, like Volpetti (a tiny shop, brimming with a huge variety of cured meats, cheeses, pastries, bread and other great food – though for some reason I’d expected something quite a bit larger, like Balducci’s in NYC…) and Divinare (where we picked up some treats to bring home…).

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Salumi e bruschetta

We tried to get a pizza for lunch in Testaccio at Remo, but they are only open for dinner.  So, we headed back to the historic center and came across Capranica.  Had a fantastic plate of salumi to start.  And the pizza I had here was even better than the night before.  Chris had an excellent risotto con carciofi, also delicious.

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Yes, this pizza is perfect...

Spent the rest of the day finishing up things on our “to-do” list, including a visit to Confitteria Moriondo & Gariglio (for chocolates), Ai Monasteri (for various items made by monks – though most of them liquids, such as wine, grappa and various elixirs to bring about a range of outcomes such as love or happiness…  Of course, we couldn’t buy any of this, since there’s no way to easily transport liquids back to the U.S. anymore – but then I suppose if we start allowing liquids on airplanes, the terrorists will have won… We settled for a package of hard candies, along with the bitter memory that we couldn’t bring home any “Devil’s Claw Concentrated Liqueur) and Giolitti (I think this was my favorite gelateria of the trip – they are famous for their fruit-flavored gelati and the blueberry that Chris had was intense and absolutely divine…).

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Jesus, lady, make up your mind - we need our gelato NOW!

Afterward, back to the Pantheon for a daytime visit.  The sunlight streaming through the hole in the roof made for an especially lovely play of light and dark…

Wow...

Wow...

We also wandered along Via Cestari, a small street near the Pantheon that houses shops selling vestments and habits for priests, nuns, bishops and cardinals; and other shops selling chalices, monstrances, censers and life-size statues of Jesus, Mary and all the rest of the saints.  Much of what we saw was quite beautiful and all of it fascinating…

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I'll bet those vestments cover up a multitude of flaws - like the pear shape I appear to have acquired in this photo...

Just up the street was the Hotel Minerve, which was thoughtful enough to open up a rooftop lounge and restaurant, where we retired for a drink after our long day.  The sun was just setting as we looked out on the Pantheon…  making our €16.00 cocktails worth every penny…

Dinner that night was back across the railroad tracks.  The San Lorenzo neighborhood over there is quite lively – sort of like the Valencia St. of Rome, with tons of restaurants, bars and clubs with live music, the streets filled with 20-somethings out for the night.

March of the Saints

We ate at Osteria il Pulcino Ballerino, which we’d seen the night before.  Dinner was pasta, followed by grilled meat, with us seated out along the sidewalk on another warm evening in Rome.

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The Temple of Minerva Medica - directly across from our apartment.

We walked home, happy and contented – until, just as  I stopped to take picture of the ruins of the temple across from our apartment, Chris realized he’d left his man-purse sitting on the ground under our table back at the restaurant.  We ran back (well, we ran part of the way – after ten days of eating, drinking and breathing in fumes from the ubiquitous scooters of Rome, we were not exactly in tip-top running condition…) to find that our waiter had found the bag and kept it safe for us.  Phew!  Another disaster averted…

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Chris enjoying lunch at GiNa

Saturday, our last day in Rome.  A quick trip to the Villa Medici, lunch at a charming restaurant called GiNa, just next to the Spanish Steps.  Had a marvelous salad with lettuce, stracchino, green beans and the most delicious tomatoes, then a fresh and vibrant rigatoni con pesto for Chris and a tasty and comforting prosciutto cotto and brie sandwich for me.

After lunch, we planned to head back to Giolitti for gelato, but our waitress and the manager of GiNa both insisted that we try Ciampini, a short walk from the Spanish Steps.  Quite a good recommendation – Chris declared it his favorite, though I still gave the edge to Giolitti – though the stracciatella at Ciampini was a champion, the vanilla ice cream vibrant and the chocolate flakes darkly luscious.  And a perfect foil for the fresh banana  I had with it…

Back home to pack in preparation for our 4:45 AM trip to the airport (a really delightful way to end a trip…), which went smoothly.  Then, another roof top bar for a drink, this time at the Hotel Gladiatori, just about 200 yards from the Collosseo – a pretty spectacular view for our last evening in Rome.

Not a bad view...

Not a bad view...

For dinner, we returned to La Piazzetta – with all of the trial and tribulations we’d experienced in searching for a restaurant, seemed like our last night was a good time to go back to someplace we’d loved the first time…

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Antipasti al carrello at La Piazzetta.

We had a our same delightful waitress, Sandra, a good sign…  I ordered the same antipasto al carrello and agnolotti al ragu – though I did add dessert this time, also served al carrello, i.e. a buffet of desserts including panna cotta, biscotti, tiramisu, pine nut tart and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember.

We also chatted up a very nice couple sitting next to us – he was Israeli, she was German – and traded stories about things to do in Rome, U.S. politics, travel, etc.  Another fine evening and a very nice way to end our trip…

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Buona sera, Roma!

Our car showed up that morning right on time, i.e. about five hours after we’d gotten home.  Then, a 90 minute flight to Frankfurt, a five-and-half hour layover (ugh – and not made anymore pleasant by the combination of hangover/indigestion/intestinal issues (I’m trying to be discreet, but I think you get the drift…  Let’s just say, I’m glad the Frankfurt airports have decent bathrooms) and a ten-and-half-hour flight to San Francisco – without Ambien.  That’s right – NO AMBIEN!  I’d idiotically packed it into my checked bag…  Oh well – Chris and I both got good seats, him just behind me, each of us on the aisle with no one seated next to us…

And finally back in SF.  No matter how great the trip, it’s always good to be back home…

Arrivederci, Roma – and ciao, cari!

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!

Another day, another adventure…

Yesterday, we met up with our guide Eric and a four other Americans outside the Imperial Forum.  Spent the next few hours getting poking around the Forum, then moved on to the Colosseo – the interior of which is simply fascinating and brings imperial Rome to life in a unique way, giving some idea of the structure of ancient Roman society, along with frisson of dreadful excitement as one imagines the gory spectacles performed in the arena…

Here we are - not being fed to the lions...

Had a decent pizza for lunch – and called Trattoria Monti to make dinner reservations, which went quite smoothly…  Or so I thought…  More to come on that front.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering up and down the streets near the Spanish Steps, checking out a few shops (once we got off Via Condotti, that is – which is filled with the likes Gucci, Cavalli, Bulgari and various other shops that we can’t afford in dollars, let alone in euros…).  A quick detour to San Crispino for gelato (the ciocolatto con rhum was sensational) and then home for a lie-down before dinner.

Trattoria Monti is just about a ten minute walk from our apartment, so we headed out with plenty of time to spare and found the restaurant quite easily.  Of course, we also found it to be locked up tight as a drum, steel roller door padlocked into place.  I redialed the number I’d called earlier to reserve – and when I asked the gentleman who answered “Questo e Trattoria Monti?”, he hung up…  Honestly, I remain baffled as to what happened or to whom I spoke during either phone call…

I was not especially happy with this turn of events (though Chris might use a somewhat more forceful description of my demeanor…).  And of course this was the one night we’d left the house without any guidebooks – so back we went to the apartment to figure out where to have dinner.  Apparently, Monday is a difficult night, since many places are closed..

Agnolotti con ragu

Agnolotti con ragu

We decided on La Piazetta – a simple little trattoria tucked into a tiny street just off Via Cavour.  It turned out to be my favorite meal thus far.  I started with the antipasti al carrello, i.e. the buffet of appetizers (though no unlimited breadsticks and salad like at the Olive Garden – can’t win ’em all!).  Simple and fantastico – grilled red peppers, zucchini frittata, calamari,  tiny onions marinated with balsamic vinegar, fried potatoes, along with several others that I’ve forgotten.

For dinner, home-made agnolotti con ragu – tender and chewy with meat-filled centers in a fresh and straightforward tomato-meat sauce.  Chris had the same, only with spinach and cheese ravioli in pomodoro.  Just as with the antipasti, the dishes simple – and simply wonderful.

We skipped dessert so we could pop into the local gay bar for a drink.  The gay scene here is pretty quiet and diffuse, so it was fun to have a cocktail at Coming Out (ugh, what a name), a tiny caffe and bar that comes to life at night, all the boys and girls spilling out into the street in front, chatting and talking on their cellphones, with the Colosseo literally across the street.  Quite a nice way to wrap up our evening…

The Dome of St. Peter's seen from the Vatican Gardens.

The Dome of St. Peter's seen from the Vatican Gardens

Today, back to the Vatican for a tour of the gardens.  Having reservations, we got to bypass the most gigantic of the lines – but still had to line up to pass through security; then to the opposite side of the entry lobby, fighting our way through the teeming hordes to be checked-in for our reservation; then, we were sent off to another window to actually purchase the tickets; and finally pointed to a roped-off holding area while we awaited our guide.

But it was well worth the effort.  Though our group was on the large side, once we got into the gardens, it was like another world compared to the mobs fighting their way to the Sistine Chapel.  And our guide, Sra. Ubaldini was the greatest – a true Roman donna, done up in the standard lady-who-lunches uniform: straight navy skirt, navy hose and low navy pumps; a white blouse; a fabulous Ungaro jacket; and couple of understated gold rings and couple of strands of pearls; and the ubiquitous tan, Dior sunglasses and Gucci purse.

One of the many lovely views in the gardens.

One of the many lovely views in the gardens.

Best of all she was as font of information, filling us in not only on the gardens and the history, but on the behind-the-scenes of the Vatican today.  For example, apparently the wife of the director of the gardens isn’t too keen on living in Vatican City – all of the security means always having to log one’s coming and goings, advise when guests are coming, etc. – a “golden cage” is how our guide described it.  And apparently, Pope Benedict couldn’t bring his two cats to live with him in the Papal apartments (cats are apparently not allowed), but he has ensured that the feral cats living in the gardens are fed each day…

We also got to see the back of St. Peter’s Basilica – the only place one can see the Michelangelo’s actual work and construction, since the view from the square is all work done later to expand the size of the church – and consists virtually entirely of a newer facade..

La Verana

La Veranda

Had lunch at a gem of place, La Veranda in the Hotel Columbus.  Just about half-a-block from the entrance to St. Peter’s square, it is in the courtyard of the restaurant, facing a quiet side street, with a lovely little fountain in the center.  And the food was great.  I started with a marvelous salad of barley, carrots, corn and avocado topped with chunks of freshly grilled tuna; then fettuccine con cacio e pepe – another simple and simply delicious plate of pasta.

Chris has insisted I recreate this barley salad for him when we get home.

A quick visit to Santa Maria Maggiore on our way home (it’s just a short walk from our apartment), our usual daily stop at the supermercato and now off for drinks on the rooftop of the Hotel Raphael, overlooking the Piazza Navona…  In other words, a good day and what promises to be a lovely evening…

Ciao, cari!

Arriviamo a Roma

First, a brief update from Venice: on our way to dinner, as we crossed a large piazza filled with students drinking and having a great time, I see a tall guy standing surrounded by luggage in the middle of the piazza.  And what do you know, it’s Jack, one of my colleagues from the office…  We actually knew that we’d both be in Venice at the same time, but it was still pretty amazing to just stumble across someone from back home…

So, back to Rome…  We arrived at the station and found our way to the apartment quite easily.  It’s very nice – though the owner, who was here to meet us, also lives here part time – so the place is filled with photographs of himself…  A little peculiar, frankly, but other than that the apartment is great.

Chris on the steps to the Campodiglio

Chris on the steps to the Campidoglio

After unpacking and settling in, we headed to the Campidoglio.  Had a walk around and took in the wonderful view of the ruins of the Imperial Forum – just wanted to a little taste of ancient Rome to get us started.  Strolled back home, with a pit stop for gelato, as well as the farmacia for an ice pack, as I had managed to nearly wipe out in pothole, twisting my ankle on one foot and stepping on my own toe of the other foot…  Mamma mia – I was OK today, though the toe looks like it may be somewhat worse for wear…

Overlooking the Imperial Forum

Overlooking the Imperial Forum

Getting to dinner last night proved challenging.  First, we had difficulty finding a taxi; then, once we did, the driver didn’t know where the address was (but found it with GPS); and of course he drove like the pokey little puppy.

On top of everything else, Chris kept asking me if the taxi smelled like shit.  Even once we arrived at our destination, he kept insisting that something smelled like shit (though I hadn’t noticed).  He finally got up to check his shoes in the john – and sure enough, he’d stepped in a pile of dog crap the size of the Capitoline Hill.

So, in other words, our first day in Rome was off to a rollicking start…

I formaggi.

I formaggi.

At any rate, Checchino, a traditional Roman restaurant that first opened in 1887 in the Testaccio district, turned out to be a very nice place – though the menu was a bit offal-centric for our tastes.  I had an excellent penne all’arrabiata and Chris loved his bucatini all’ammatriciana.  I followed up with some lamb chops – pretty good, though quite fatty. And after dinner, Chris had a really good almond semifreddo, while I had a fantastic cheese course, including Parmigiano (served with honey) and one of the finest goat cheeses I’ve ever tasted.

Today, we were up at the crack of dawn, out of the apartment at 7:30 to find our way to the Vatican for our first walking tour.  We met up with our guide, Sara Magister, and the two other couples in our group.

Detail of one of the mosic floors in the Vatican

Detail of one of the mosaic floors in the Vatican

I won’t even try to describe the Vatican Museum – I’m not a skilled enough writer to convey the magnificence and beauty of what we little saw.  But I will tell you that Sara provided the best guided tour I’ve ever been on.  Before we even entered the main part of the museum, she spent nearly an hour familiarizing us with the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, its context, its importance technically and symbolically and the history-making recent cleaning of the ceiling, which completely changed contemporary understanding of Michelangelo – and the time flew by thanks to her passion for the subject and both the width and breadth of her knowledge.  I can’t imagine appreciating this splendid work of art to the extent that I do without having experienced Sara’s compelling description of its creation and the language and vocabulary of the work within the context of the Vatican, the Catholic church and the life of Michelangelo.  Truly a masterpiece…  and Sara is a truly superior guide.

The Hall of Maps, bearing an uncanny resemblence to the Fremont St. Experience in Las Vegas...

The Hall of Maps, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Fremont St. Experience in Las Vegas...

We also spent a fairly short amount of time (after over four hours in the Vatican Museum) in the Basilica San Pietro – the Pieta is achingly beautiful.  We left pretty quickly, due to exhaustion – but we’re planning to return for a closer look and perhaps a climb up to the Cupola.

Pizza Diavolo

Lunch at a nice little pizza place nearby, Pizzeria Piacere Molise – in fact best pizzas we’ve had so far.  And a table full of adorable Roman giovanotti at the table next to us…  Back on the Metro to our apartment – napping for Chris and blogging for me…  Tomorrow, we finally sleep in…

Ciao, cari!