September 22nd to 26th, 1999
Have had a whirlwind of activities since we arrived yesterday morning… so I’ll go back to the beginning….. Left home on Tuesday ~ 12:30 PM with an uneventful trip in the rain to the Phila. International airport – relaxed in the United Red Carpet Lounge until time to board (3 concourses away!) our US Air Flight #2 to Rome at 5:55 – delayed until 6:30 due to problems with our plane’s "tugboat" craft… Bumpy flight 1st half due to "a lively jet stream" – but arrived on time in Rome at 8:30 AM to beautiful, warm & sunny weather.
Got a taxi without problems and headed for our first Italian "home away from home": Via Dei Chiavari 38, Scala B, Int 5 (Pio Albanesi, owner). Preconceived notions about Rome: dirty, outrageous and wild traffic, pickpockets galore, overwhelmingly huge city and indifferent people… First impressions: When I asked our cab driver if he spoke English ("Parla inglese?"…) he replied "No!" But after taking a stab at my fractured phrase-Italian-for-tourists ("Fa caldo tempo oggi" - It’s warm today) … he started chatting to us in part English – quite understandable -- sharing the sights en route to our rented studio apartment. Conclusion – If you’re willing to sound foolish trying an unfamiliar language – and do it with a smile – the natives will warm up to you and share pride and information about their city!
Finding our apartment at the end of a maze of unbelievably narrow, winding streets was an incredible feat – more so since our cab driver had to back up ~ one block due to a blocked road – then walked us to our door (well worth the generous tip he received!). After ringing the bell outside the imposing "Green Door", we were met by our owner/landlord Pio Albanesi – a dynamic blue-eyed 9th generation Roman who proudly showed us to our apartment in this incredible 800+-year-old complex surrounding a lovely courtyard in the OLD historic district. Pio’s warmth, perfect English, and enthusiasm were immediately contagious, and we fell in love with the place on first sight. We arrived at 10:00 – 6 hours ahead of "check-in" time, but were able to move in and get an early start on our Roman adventure.
The apartment is charming and comfortable, with a large main room containing a double bed, single bed "settee", kitchen nook with sink, 3 burner propane stove and spotless ½ refrig/freezer and large renovated bathroom with shower, sink, toilet and bidet – all spotlessly clean. The walls are adorned with original art (including the seductive nude above the bed!), bookshelves, armoire, etc. – and the windows open to the quiet and charming courtyard below. Other amenities include a TV with ~ 20 Italian stations (no CNN), an iron, and a (welcome!) fan (no AC)!
After dumping our bags, feeling safe and settled, we headed out on foot to our first tour – to Piazza Navonna – and easy walk from our home base and described as "the handsomest of city squares". It was impressive, but also disappointing, since 2 of the 3 famous fountains are currently undergoing renovation… But we had a pleasant first meal here at Café Bernini. Paul had Pizza Fungi (mushrooms) and I had onion soup (tart and delicious) and the house salad. We shared a bottle of the house red vino – Chianti – young, but smooth.
We returned for a much needed siesta, unpacked, then headed out for our next tourist-in-Rome adventures: Parthenon, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. Alas – in packing my travel purse, I discovered that ALL the traveler’s cheques ($1000.) and the 2 AAA "tip packs" (worth $70./100.000 lira) were missing! After a frantic search of all luggage, I concluded that I (who will now be nicknamed "dingbat") must have dropped them (in their dark blue check cover) on the dark blue airline blanket as I was frantically reorganizing stuff "for safety" on our arrival in Rome…. That worry put a damper on MY evening – but nevertheless, we had a pleasant time on foot exploring the Parthenon, Plaza de’Espagna & Spanish steps (after getting lost twice!), and finally tossing the ol’ coin backwards into the Trevi Fountain.
We stopped for dinner at a little café on a side street ("Rosa Rosea") – sharing an Antipasto Caprese (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella & olive oil), and then 2 pasta dishes: fettucini fungi and fussily pesto – both delicious with another young, but delicious house red wine. Sleep came easily after a busy day – but I woke up at 2:00 and finally – after reading guide books for an hour+ -- returned to sleep until after 8!
Today (9-23) we had a quick espresso in the apartment, then headed out on foot – back to the American Express office near the Spanish Steps. We had the traveler's checks replaced (having called in the lost claim earlier) then shared a cab to the Vatican. What can one say about the Vatican?!…St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica are so huge and the cathedral so ornate that it is totally mind-boggling. We decided against hiking to the dome…. Instead HIKED a long distance around the whole complex (much under extensive construction and renovation for the year 2000 "Jubilee") to the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel. Because of heat and fatigue, we probably did the museum in record time (~1 hour) – but the Sistine Chapel was gorgeous (ceiling, of course!) with its recently recolored renovation/restoration of the original. Our trek then continued to the Castel Sant’ Angelo for wonderful views of Rome and St. Peters before heading home.
On the way we stopped for lunch at Café Tosca (at the side of the church Sant’ Andrea della Valle – boasting "the city’s 2nd largest dome – after St. Peters"). Here we had a delightful bottle of "Pinot Nero" while Paul enjoyed a generous plate of fresh homemade ravioli in tomato sauce and I had a superb late lunch (3 PM) of fresh gnocchi with gorgonzola. Short walk down the side street and we’re "home" – Paul for his siesta, and yours truly to relax and write. Our location is perfect – we can walk everywhere (just took a cab this AM because of the American Express detour, thanks to "dingbat"!)…. Now must write postcards….. More tomorrow!
Well…. The saga continues (9/24). Paul discovered last evening that both of our passports and 400,000 lira were stolen – from his buttoned back pocket (!)… (He now understands the need for the money belt – ALWAYS!) After mentally re-tracing his steps, he thinks they were lifted on the stairway to the Vatican Museum when he was repeatedly bumped by a pushy bunch of five young Italian teenagers. Anyway, a lesson learned. We ended the day yesterday at a small neighborhood Ristorante S. Anna, chatting pleasantly with two friendly Italians at the next table. We shared an antipasto of smoked swordfish with fresh greens, then Paul had spaghetti and I had grilled sea bass – delicious!
First order of business this morning was taking a cab to the US Embassy where we had to complete a ton of paperwork to have our passports replaced. During the 3-hour wait for processing, we took a cab to the Colosseum – spectacular piece of history. Then we walked to short distance to visually sample many of the ruins at the Forum. Unfortunately, the video camera refused to work today, but we got plenty of still photos. There was not time for any museums (to Paul’s relief!), but we saw the Senatorial Palace and the impressive Vittorio Emanuele II Monument at the Piazza Benezia with gorgeous flowers and an unbelievable circle of traffic!
A quick lunch at a sidewalk café included cold beer, a “Spanish” omelet for Paul (that turned out not to be either the Spanish or American versions) made with chili peppers – and a wonderful pizza funghi for me – thin a crispy with fresh tomato sauce, finely chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and LOTS of mushrooms. After two cappuccinos, we hiked back to the Embassy with another peek at the Trevi Fountain on the way. Our passports were waiting, which was quite a relief. So, a little wiser and a lot poorer, we took a cab back to the starting point at “Largo Argentina” and completed our Rome sightseeing with a short walk to the Palazzo Farnese, which now houses the French Embassy. I had looked forward to seeing the Piazza Campo dei Fiori – touted as the city’s most charming market square – but it was torn up for resurfacing – as are many areas throughout Rome – in preparation for Jubilee 2000. We wandered the charming narrow back streets of this area with a gelato on my mind in hopes I’d feel less hot and sweaty! Instead we found an Irish pub where Paul was able to continue his quest to have a Guinness in every city he visits around the world! I had an Irish beer and hope top find the perfect gelato tonight. We’re treating our landlord/host and his daughter to dinner, which should be fun!
The good news, as we end our roller-coaster three days in Rome is that I found my travelers cheques and 100,000 lira (actually the security guard at the embassy “found” them for me during the VERY thorough “purse check”) in the “secret” compartment of my touring/security pocketbook! Oh well, I have to destroy the checks, but the money will help lighten our losses a little. We’re ready to head for the quiet countryside, but I’m not looking forward to repacking all the too-warm clothes we brought! (Maybe it’ll be cooler several hours north.)
While waiting to meet our landlord for dinner at 8:00 --- MORE good news! We found the “stolen” passports (and $) in the shaving kit – tucked away in the closet since we had the daily essentials in the bathroom. Paul now remembers tucking the stash in there when the kit was on the table – and yours truly, in an attempt to “neaten up” – threw it in the closet without noticing the new contents…. EEEkkkkk! Out of sight, out of mind. Well… at least we have our lira back, and brand new passports good for another 10 years – issued in ROME – so that’s special! Never a dull moment with us! :=)
We joined Pio for dinner (his daughter couldn’t make it) in one of his favorite restaurants in “the Ghetto” (the Jews were the “original Romans” we were reminded, but they were persecuted in the war here, too.). The ristorante was quite popular – located next to the former 2000+ year old fish market near the Tiber River. Pio ordered some of the area’s specialties for us – fried artichokes, fried zucchini flowers, homemade spaghetti (“square” instead of round – and delicious!), and roast lamb. After coffee he treated us to a walking tour filled with countless stories and fascinating historical facts. After wishing him goodnight, we stopped for a drink (It was after 11:00 and many couples were just ordering dinner!) to end our adventure in Rome.