31 May 2016

Rome, May 17-19: Art and Antiquities, and farewell to Italy

I liked Rome better than I thought I would.

Rome was the last destination of our 26-day trip to Europe, mostly Italy (but with 3 days in Paris at the beginning). I was impressed by the culture, the art, and the antiquities that we saw there. Not to mention, some good food and an exciting evening of live music. 

At first, I didn't even want to go to Rome. But as the itinerary for our trip came together, we decided to spend 4 days on the Amalfi Coast toward the end. So it made sense to fly home from Rome. And since we were going to fly home from there, it made sense to spend a few days there. I'm glad we did. 

From our hotel in Praiano, we got up early and caught a bus to Sorrento. It was the first and only bus ride on the Amalfi Coast that wasn't packed. The bus eventually got full, but every passenger got a seat. Then we took the local train to Naples. Because we got to the station with time to spare, we got a seat and were able to stow our suitcases. But before the train left the station, it filled to overflowing; another miserable, stuffy, smelly ride. Just to add to the discomfort and anxiety, along the way they made an announcement advising passengers to be aware of pickpockets working on the train. After we arrived at the station in Naples, I was so glad to be done with the Circumvesuviana.

From there we got a fast train to Rome. We got to Rome early afternoon and got checked in to our hotel. Then we took a walk to the popular attractions, like the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. It was a good way to get a feel for the city. Seeing the Trevi Fountain was a special priority for Linda. We actually walked by it each day of our stay in Rome.

On Day 2, after breakfast we walked to the Vatican Museums (via the Trevi Fountain). We spent a little more than 3 hours looking at all the fabulous art. After the Vatican we walked some more and made our way to the Jewish Ghetto. It was interesting. We saw the synagogue and the kosher restaurants and bakeries. We had kosher gelato. But we both felt that the Ghetto was less interesting than we what expected.
The weather on Day 2 was the best of our whole trip. It was mostly sunny with temps in the hi 70s. On our way back to the hotel, we saw a little bar, Enoteca Barberini, that advertised live music. We stopped in and asked about it. No cover charge. Jazz, blues, rock. We decided to come back for dinner and the music.


What a great decision. The food was good (see below). But the real treat was the music. Two brothers playing guitars, amazingly talented with a wide repertoire. At the beginning of the evening they played jazz standards and some Django Rheinhart. But after their first break, they switched to more rock and pop. The server who we initially spoke to in the afternoon got up and sang some old rock favorites. There was a group of Australians who were really getting wild. We stayed until they quit playing at midnight.  


On Day 3, after breakfast we walked to the Pantheon (via the Trevi Fountain), and from there to the Roman Forum. We bought our tickets and spent more then 3 hours looking at all the ruins. It was even longer than the time we spent in the Vatican Museum. To see the Colosseum we had to leave the Forum area and get in another line. We spent about an hour in the Colosseum. So it was a big day of sightseeing.


Before dinner we walked to Piazza Navona for a cocktail on the piazza. Naturally it rained on the walk over, but ended by the time we got seated. I had a Campari and Linda had wine. It was very pleasant and relaxing ending to our trip.


Hotel: We stayed at the Mascagni Hotel. It was conveniently located to the train station (important since we arrived in Rome by train). It also was an easy walk from the hotel to all the major sites that we wanted to visit during our stay. When we arrived, we were very warmly welcomed by the staff at the reception desk. We got a quiet room away from the street and with a small balcony. The staff was very helpful, providing maps and advice on how to make the most of our time in Rome. And at the end of our stay, they made arrangements for transportation to the airport - 50 euros in a Mercedes sedan (compared to 48 euros by taxi). I only have one quibble about the hotel. The WiFi in our room was inconsistent, and occasionally lost the connection to the network. I was surprised. The hotel seems to get some business travelers, and I would have thought a reliable WiFi connection would be a priority. But for us it was only a minor inconvenience. 


Restaurants: 
Day 1: Ristorante La Pentolaccia. This was a recommendation by the staff at our hotel. It was a very good choice. It was a short walk from the hotel, which was appreciated because of the threat of rain. We split a starter of artichokes, shredded and served with Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Linda had grilled squid. I had an unusual pasta dish with thick, round noodles served with squid and garbanzo beans. 

 
Day 2: Enoteca Barberini. I mentioned this bar earlier in the post for the live music we enjoyed. We considered going to another restaurant for dinner, and just going to Barberini for music. But we were tired from all the walking and decided to take a chance that the food would be acceptable. Better than 'acceptable' it was actually quite good. We started with a salad of mozzarella and tomatoes with pesto. Then Linda had spaghetti carbonara, which was delicious. I thought I ordered caci e pepi. But I was served pappardelle with polpettini (little meatballs). The pasta was dressed in a meaty tomato sauce with a skewer of meatballs on the side. I think they were veal, but could have been anything. Linda wanted me to send it back and get what I ordered. But I didn't want to sit there while she ate her meal and vice verse, make her sit there when my meal finally came. Besides, I think it was an honest miscommunication about what I wanted. Besides, I liked it.



Day 3: After our cocktail at Piazza Navona, we walked to a trattoria we walked past on our first day in Rome, La Buca di Ripetta. We had a 9 p.m. reservation. When we arrived, our table wasn't ready yet, and we were whisked outside to wait. But to salve the slight, we were served a glass of Prosecco to sip while waiting. We got our table at about 9:30. To start our meal, we shared a fried artichoke. It was very unusual and tasty. Linda had squid ink pasta with squid and olives. I don't think it was the best squid either of us had on the trip. But it was an interesting contrast of the salty olives and the briny pasta from the squid ink. My dinner was caci e pepi. It was served very attractively. There was a crisp noodle 'bowl' with the spaghetti and cheese sauce in the middle with plenty of black pepper. Yum! This is definitely something I'm going to try to replicate at home.

Here's a link to view more photos from our visit to Rome, click here