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Report 2013: Two Splendid Weeks in Northern Italy

By Engred from Oregon, Fall 2011

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Page 2 of 14: Day 2 - More Rome

A leisurely breakfast on the terrace is always a fantastic start to the day! We left the hotel for a walk through the city, stopping at a few churches along the way. We finally ended up at San Luigi dei Francesi to see a Caravaggio. Luckily Guido found the light box and after dropping in a few coins we could see the artwork in all its glory. Amazing. A short while later we stopped for at Café Sant Eustachio for a quick espresso. My “travelers stomach” was rearing its ugly head, so I refrained but Jules swears it was the best espresso of his life. I regret not buying any beans to bring home – maybe in June!

After refueling, we were off for more walking through the city, passing the Pantheon that has a small excavation on the side I never noticed before. Arriving at Basilica di S. Maria sopra Minerva, there was a funeral procession leaving the chapel. Sneaking in a side entrance, we had some time to look at the amazing mosaics and sculptures, including the tomb of Santa Caterina da Siena. The ceiling was the most amazing color of blue, and the detailing on the mosaics (which I could see with the zoom of my camera) was just astounding. On our way to lunch we stopped in a church and marveled at the gorgeous chandeliers and interior.

Before we arrived at the restaurant we stopped at Campo di Fiori for the market that takes place every day (except Sunday). I was like a kid in a candy shop! With some translation help from Guido, I was able to purchase an herb that is used almost exclusively with porcini. I knew by the Tuscan name “nipitella” but at the market it was called “mentucia” (or “nentucia” – I can’t read the handwriting on the bag very well). I had been looking for it for a while and was very glad Guido could locate it. The same spice vendor, Spezia Famose nel Mondo (run by Mauro and Marco Berardi) also had an amazing selection of spice mixtures that I will definitely pick up next time (what great gifts they would make)! J & M had to finally drag me out of the market and we walked a short way through the Ghetto to our lunch destination: Piperno!

Piperno is located in a quiet kind of campo, Monte de Cenci. So sitting outside was a lovely experience, shielded from nearby traffic. We relaxed at the table, in the shade under a large umbrella. The food was outstanding and Piperno may be our second favorite restaurant behind Roscioli. A couple of the dishes were very good, including a John Dory in a lemon sauce and gnocchetti in a ragu. The fried bocconcini and zucchini flowers were outstanding. J declared the Bresaola and the chickpea and pasta soup to be outstanding and Jules said that Cacio e Unto to be one of the best pasta dishes ever. It is similar to Cacio e Pepe, but made with lardo – just outstanding! The staff was great, the wine good and the food fantastic. A perfect lunch!

After lunch we took a short stroll, going past a fountain made out of a Roman bathtub, our favorite turtle fountain, and through some sort of law building that had a gorgeous old library you could see through the window. We also did some window-shopping at a wonderful leather store. J & M headed back to the hotel and Guido took us for gelato – the first of the trip! We stopped at Giolitti on Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40. The place was very busy – a slight madhouse – but we elbowed our way around the find out the flavors of the day and Guido ordered for us (he was the tallest and could order over the crowd). The interior of the store was very interesting – beautiful woodwork. After being told we could not sit at the tables inside (since we had ordered at the counter) we took our treats outside and enjoyed them while winding through the narrow alleys. All of the flavors were very good, but the pink grapefruit, champagne, prickly pear and cherry were the standouts.

We went back to the hotel to rest and refresh (while Guido continued his quest for a new iPhone). Lorraine and George met us for rooftop aperitivo and then we were off to start our evening. Our driver Fabrizio took us to The Best Pizza in Rome at Pizzarium. I know that is a very strong statement to make, but it truly is the best – and not just according to us, as the critics have made the same proclamation. One of the “interesting” points to this restaurant is that it is not really a restaurant. There are no tables and it is only about 15 feet wide and 25 feet long. There is a small counter where two people can stand inside and a counter outside where four people can stand. There is also a park bench and two more chairs outside. It is definitely out of the ordinary and not a “sit down and casually enjoy your meal with good vino” type of place.

To order, you go up to the counter where they display all of the pizzas available and you order by the inch. Lorraine and George ordered and went outside to eat. Jules and J & M waited outside, so Guido and I were up next. When I started ordering, the guy behind the counter looked at Guido like “is she serious?” Needless to say, I was making the most of the great selection! Despite the non-traditional setting, once everyone had some pizza the mood improved considerably. I, for one, was very excited to try the pizza as I had read many, many articles and reviews. And I must admit that it lived up to the press. The standouts were onion (so sweet), the burratta and capocola, the simple prosciutto (again, all about the amazing ingredients), and the eggplant puree that tasted like eggplant Parmesan. Lorraine and I got a great picture with an Italian woman who stopped by on her way home for a slice – so nice to be hanging out with the locals! I bought some flour to bring home to make pizza, and was validated when Fabrizio bought some also. He said he stops by whenever possible to purchase flour at Pizzarium so he can make pizza at home. We even spotted Gabriele Bonci walking through the shop when we were there. Nice to see the owner is keeping an eye on things!

After dinner, Fabrizio drove us to the nearby Vatican where we were going to have private evening tour! The last time we were at the Vatican was two years ago and we had a great tour with Katie Parla. However, it was crowded and hot (in September – there is a reason it is so popular) but it was a very interesting educational tour. Just outside of the side door in the dark we met Michael, our guide for the evening. What a great beginning to our interesting evening! He was a very entertaining, great guide. Although there were times when I thought, “Oh, this is too basic”, then Michael would ask a question or mention a bit of trivia and I would see things in a new light. Even though we previously had a tour of the museum, we saw many new things in part because it was at night. It is amazing how much more you can see when: (1) it is in the evening, and (2) there are 80% less people. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed and appreciated the Vatican museums during our first visit. I was so lucky to be able to see it and even more with a guide. Now to be able to see it in a different light, with less people and from another perspective, was a completely different gift. It truly is an amazing collection of art and artifacts. But Michael was able to take the time and explain things to us that did not stand out the first time, from models, to maps, sculptures, and paintings, in part because of the absence of the crazy crowds.

Then there is the Sistine Chapel. What can I say. The first time I saw it I was surprised. I had read so much about it, and seen so many pictures. Then to be in the Chapel was amazing. Truly. But there were so many people, and so many of them were being (in my opinion) very disrespectful by taking pictures and talking loudly (which necessitated the guard shouting “Shhh” and “No Pictures” repeatedly). Don’t get me wrong, I would absolutely recommend going through the museums and seeing the Chapel. It is truly an unforgettable experience. But seeing it at night without the crowds was a fantastic experience. There were still lots of other visitors, but you could actually take a quiet moment and soak it in. I could seriously fill up another two pages describing the pictures I took of the amazing artwork (gigantic roman bath carved of burgundy marble anyone?) but I won’t bore you with the details. But just looking through my (not very good) pictures gives my heart a squeeze. The ceilings are enough to knock you out! The evening ended with a wonderful stroll through St. Peter’s Square, which is simply amazing at night. A quick drive back to the hotel and we were out for the night.

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