Rome 03/2008 Day 1


March 16, 2008

Arrival, Palm Sunday

1 Euro= $1.57

The flight arrives on time and we have a 20 minute taxi to the gate. It takes so long I think we've landed in Florence and the plane is driving us to to Rome. Lines at immigration are slow and long, but we don't need to fill out any immigration forms (another first in a long time) and we get a stamp in our passports. When I ask one of the flight attendants why we do not have to fill out any arrival paperwork he says "Because we are a civilized country."

As soon as we land, I turn on my new phone. Sure enough, it works just fine and within about a minute I see "Vodaphone IT" and I have service. For more on the phone and the Global SIM card, see the "Pre-Trip Planning" page. Initially, J's Blackberry "worldphone" does not work and she's furious until she discovers the people at Verizon have installed the SIM card backwards. After that, her phone works fine too and everyone is happy.

An aside- this is the first time I've traveled internationally with a phone and now I'm hooked. I used it to make restaurant reservations, call home and was able to give out my number in case someone had to call us (which Francesca Caruso did on the day of our tour). J was able to get email and voicemail on her Blackberry (vital for her job) and to be honest, I would have loved for my phone to do that too since we had no wifi access in the apartment. However, I don't think my SIM card will do that even if the phone has email capability. Anyone know?

All of our bags arrive and we walk straight through customs to find Stefano from Romecabs waiting for us. The drive from the airport is quick and while he is concerned we'll face street closures due to the Rome Marathon, everything is easy and we arrive around 8:30, an hour before our scheduled meeting with the person who is to let us in to the apartment. Stefano drops us at a little bar/cafe about a block away with a gift of a bottle of Chianti and a promise to return in 8 days and pick us up at 4AM for a return trip to the airport.

We sit for an hour and have our first cappuccinos and pastries. There are many people walking up Corso Vittorio Emanuele II toward the Vatican (about 6-8 blocks from us) most likely for Palm Sunday mass. Many are carrying some sort of greenery but not palm fronds (later we figure out these might be olive branches). We see many nuns in full habit and even a group of what I dub "baby priests"; 8 or so shockingly young young men all in black suits with white collars. Seven cappuccinos and 3 pastries cost us a whopping 23.5 euros. Don't forget when sitting at a bar the cost is usually 2x the cost of standing at the bar. In this case, cappuccinos are 1.3 euro at the bar and 3 euro at the table (see the photo of the menu to the left). It's worth it to be able to sit outside for a while however.


The apartment

We walk the block down the street to the apartment and the RentalinRome contact person arrives about 10 minutes after we do. Checking in is painless. She briefly shows us the apartment and we pay her the balance of what we owe in euros. It was nice to have the euros in advance and not worry about the airport ATM. However, I wish I'd separated out the money for the rent, because in my jet lagged state I could not do the math and ended up giving her 60 euro extra, which of course she hands back after counting it. She departs, also leaving us a bottle of Chianti so we now have two bottles and we've only been here an hour. Is this an omen?

The apartment is called the "Accetti Palace" on the RentalinRome website . To me it looks a little smaller than in the photos, but Jess thinks it looks larger. There are two bedrooms, one with double bed (a queen size mattress on a frame of 2 antique twin beds pushed together) and a bedroom with two twin beds (also antique). The double room (ours) has only one window which looks out on the small side street. The twin room has two windows, one on the side, one facing the piazza and consequently gets much more light. The rooms are good sized and have very high ceilings; ours coffered, the other bedroom and the living room have the original 16th century wooden beams.

J and I decide we have to unpack. The double room only has a dresser in which two of the drawers are locked. It has no closet in which to hang clothes. The twin room has an enormous armoire and a big dresser so the girls let us share the "closet" for hanging clothes. There are sets of towels (one large, one small) for each person, but no extras, something I would have liked considering we are here for 8 days. There is only 1 pillow per person, again no extras. There are extra blankets in the armoire however. There is radiator heat around all the baseboards and while it is cold outside, we are never cold inside so the heat works well.

The living room, dining area and kitchen are all one space. The kitchen has a large refrigerator and freezer by european standards and a dishwasher. It looks like it's been recently remodeled along with the bathrooms. There are two bathrooms, one with a jacuzzi jet tub, one with a shower. For the size of the apartment, two full bathrooms is a nice luxury. The living room has a comfortable sofa with two matching chairs in slightly worn upholstery. There is a TV with channels only in Italian and a VCR. No internet access to be found.

The location is fantastic, on Piazza Sforza Cesarini (view of Piazza from apartment, above), right off Corso Vittorio Emmanuel and about a 10 minute walk from Piazza Navona. There are 2 restaurants and a small cafe right on the piazza. Yes, there is a little noise from the traffic on the busy street, but I only notice it when jet lag wakes me up at 3 AM.

After unpacking, the exhaustion is starting to hit, but I'm starving. It's too early for a restaurant lunch so we go to a grocery store about a block away to the left. The store is an unusual warren of tiny rooms, but we find everything we need for a fantastic lunch. We buy four different kinds of cured meats, 4 different cheeses, mixed olives, marinated sardines and bread along with other supplies and bring it back to the apartment. With a bottle of Chianti, it's a fantastic first meal. Afterward, most of us decide to nap while David cleans the kitchen (he slept a lot on the plane, I slept not at all).

Piazza Navona

We get up around 2:30 pm and decide to go out walking toward Piazza Navona and the Pantheon.

We hit the Piazza Navona first and admire the smaller fountains at the end. The stunning Bernini Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (the Four Rivers) us still under restoration scaffolding, but we are able to peek inside through the viewing areas.

Fountain Face (by Tris).

We check out the Church of St Agnes in Agony and then walk to the far end of the piazza and around the outside where we check out the ancient underground entrance to the racetrack on which the template for the piazza was created (photo below). The old arch is 25 feet below current Rome street level.



Meandering through the narrow streets, we make our way to the Pantheon. It's pretty incredible to 'round a corner and have something as magnificent as the Pantheon come into view. Rome is filled with moments like this; around every turn is something new an amazing.

The Pantheon is truly "awe-inspiring" and even though it's crowded, we hang out and take tons of photos. I'm still learning how to use my camera and David and I spend a lot of time trying to get the sky outside the oculus (the hole in the top of the dome) to be in focus with the inside ceiling of the dome. I learn later that this is impossible.

From the Pantheon, we're in search of a restroom and end up wandering the streets, going into the McDonalds (too crowded), and traipsing through a hotel next to the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. However, we can't find the hotel's bathroom and stop in a little place nearby called Cafe Minerva for panini, lemon soda and T and J's first gelato. It may be 7 euro for a panini and soda, but sometimes it's worth it for access to a bathroom. At one point during the trip we consider calling it the "bathrooms of the world tour". Public restrooms are few and far between, even in museums.

My favorite Lemon Soda.

In the Cafe Minerva (Photo by Tris)



Don't be a martyr or your head will end up in Sienna

After the snack break we head back to Santa Maria sopra Minerva church, first admiring the elephant obelisk in front with it's unnaturally long trunk. Santa Maria is a gothic church on the inside (one of the very few in Rome), but from the outside you can't tell; it's quite plain. Walk inside though, and it's a mass of soaring arches, gold and stained glass.


Left photo by Kristina, detail on right by Tris.

Apparently, St Catherine is entombed here, yet her head is in Sienna.

Thus, we coin a phrase which will resonate throughout the rest of the trip, "Don't be a martyr or your head will end up in Sienna". This later morphs into the lighthearted warning of , "I have a box big enough for your head..." for anyone of us verging on martyrdom.


We continue walking and end up at the Trevi fountain at sunset. It's very, very crowded but we manage to get in the obligatory coin toss before heading back to check out the Pantheon at dusk (photo at top of page).


Frigidarium, our new Friend:

On our way walking toward the Piazza Navona, we see a gelato place called "Frigidarium". David is so enamoured with the name that he insists we return on our trek back from the Trevi fountain. We stop and there is a jovial man behind the counter who spends lots of time chatting with us. His English is limited, as is our Italian, but he is incredibly patient and we have a great time talking with him. The gelato turns out to be fantastic. We have:
J: Tiramisu & Coffee
T: "Mozart"
K: Coffee & Chocolate
D: Choc & Lemon

Stay tuned for more on Frigidarium...




Trattoria Da Luigi

Our first dinner is right on our Piazza Sforza Cesarini at a place called Trattoria da Luigi. It's Tris' birthday, but we're all a bit out of it from the jet lag so figure it's best to stick close to home. The restaurant ends up being the perfect choice.

For antipasti, we have zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies. They are are dipped a batter similar to tempura and then deep fried. They're wonderful, and in my opinion the best of the trip. We also have an order of Abacchio a Scottadito (lamb chops), orecchette with broccoli and panchetta, penne with tomato/vodka sauce, 2 orders of eggplant parmesan and a side of spinach with lots of garlic. Everything is absolutely fine and tasty and with 2 beers and a bottle of house white wine, dinner for four is 80 euro.

A little tipsy from the wine and jet lag, we're happy to be so close to home and while D takes the stairs up to the 3rd floor the rest of us take the miniscule elevator. When we open the door, David is standing there and says, "you need to push the up button". Loopy, we think we haven't moved at all, and move to push the button, but we've already arrived. Really, it was funny at the time. Hilarious. You had to be there.

On to Day 2...

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Cafe Menu


On the way to the Vatican for

Palm Sunday.











Double Bedroom.


Twin Bedroom.

Violin player in our Piazza
(Photo by David).


Making lunch (Photo by Tris).




Palms on Palm Sunday.

(Photo by Tris)


Fontana del Moro

Hand (by Tris).

Kristina as always, with the Knoph map
book (best map I've ever used!)
See Amazon link below for details.
(Photo by Tris).

Chestnut Vendor.


Fountain in front of Pantheon.

Inside the Pantheon.

Pantheon Exterior. The brick arches are
for structural support, not just
decoration. They are called
"relieving arches" (photo by Tris).



Columns and Scaffolding (photo by Tris).








Elephant and Obelisk (photo by Jessica).

This statue was started by
Michelangelo and finished by one
of his students. "Modesty towel"
added later.






Location of Frigidarium on back of card.











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