Rome 03/2008 Day 2



Monday March 17, 2008

We begin the day with breakfast in the apartment. Coffee made in the typical Italian "Moka" pot, heated milk foamed with a whisk and I am a happy girl. David goes out to get fresh baked bread and pastries while I make scrambled eggs and pancetta. Because the apartment's one frying pan is truly a health hazard and unusable (old, nasty, scratched teflon), I cook up the diced pancetta in a soup pot and then scramble the eggs into it which works just fine.

Campo di Fiori

Today we have the morning free and have to be at the Vatican at 2:15 PM for the Scavi Tour so we decide to do another walk, this time down Via del Pellegrino & Via dei Cappellari toward the Campi di Fiori and the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary.

We love the little winding streets leading up to the Campo and Via dei Cappellari has many antique furniture repair places on it (left photo by Tris). We also admire some interesting graffiti along the way.


The market in the campo is in full swing by the time we arrive. It's definitely geared toward tourists, but there's still some beautiful produce, a couple of vendors who sell spices (individual and mixed blends) in plastic bags, and even a few vendors selling kitchen small wares. And of course, there are flower vendors. Looking back, I wish we'd bought flowers for the apartment given that we were there for a week.

Clockwise from top left: Cleaning Artichokes (by Tris), Artichokes (by David), Cherry Tomatoes on the Vine (by David), Beans (by Tris).

On left, woman cleaning a vegetable called Puntarelle (photo by Tris) I'd read about before we came. I tried to ask her about it in Italian, but she ignores me, not sure why. On right, cleaned and prepped Puntarelle. I vow to try it in the next restaurant which has it on the menu.

Above, prepped artichokes for Carciofo alla Romana.


On the way out of the south end of the Campo we pass a restaurant I'd read about called Ristorante Da Pancrazio. While it may not be known for it's food, it is known for the ruins of the ancient Theater of Pompey down on the lower level. We stop to check out the menu and one of the waiters offers to let us go downstairs and check out the ruins. They are really interesting; arches, columns and even a few frescos remain. J is so excited that she suggests we make reservations for the following night. So, in my best practiced Italian, I actually manage to make us reservations for Tuesday at 8PM. I am so thrilled I can do this and the hours of listening to Italian language cds have paid off in this one moment, that I don't mind the reviews of the food have been less than stellar.

This building is right off the Campo di Fiori, across the tiny piazza where the Ristorante da Pancrazio sits. I just loved the detail on it.



Torre Argentina

We continue walking and somehow manage to get turned around and a bit lost on our way to the Torre Argentina. Finally we find it. The ruins are about 20 feet below street level encompassing a full square city block. One can walk around all four sides, but not down into the ruins (as I though we could). There are cats everywhere; lounging, sleeping, sunning, frolicking among the ruins. I look at my notes and realize the cat sanctuary does not open until noon and it's now 11:45. We find a small bar across the street where we can use the toilet and get coffee. The bar's toilet is of the "squat" variety (also known as a "Turkish toilet") and while I'm fully versed on their use from our travels in Asia, I'd almost forgotten they are still in use here in Europe. The "toilets of the world" tour continues...


Part of the ruins, above (photo by Tris). If you look very closely at the short column on the far back right, you can see a white dot. See photo at left for detail of white dot.

At noon, we walk down the steps into the cat sanctuary offices which are underground. Inside, there is a caged room where the sick and injured cats are kept for their own protection. We are allowed inside for a visit. Most cats are free to roam the room and the very ill are in cages until they get better. There is another area which is open and the cats are free to come and go at will. They give tours of the ruins every day at 4PM and we hope to come back but never make it. Cats there can be adopted at a distance or even sent home. Their web site is www.romancats.com. It's worth a visit.

"I'm hiding in plain sight. You can't see me..."




St. Peter's and the Scavi Tour

We make a quick trip back to the apartment for a snack (must attend to golden rule #1) before walking to the Vatican for the scavi tour. Once again, we turn the corner onto Via della Conciliazione and, bang!, right in front of us is St. Peter's Basilica. We're a bit early so we scope out the square which is set up with chairs and roped off for Holy week festivities. Still, the colonnades, statues and fountains are a spectacular sight. On the right side of the square is the line for the security entrance to the Basilica.

The Scavi tour entrance is on the left side, through the colonnade, about 25 feet, on the right. The Swiss guards at the entrance tell us to come back 10 minutes before the scheduled start of the tour. They are both gorgeous and we (us girls) wonder if this is a requirement to being chosen for the guard.

At the appointed time, we go back and though the gates to the Scavi tour office. I wrongly assumed there would be restroom facilities there and had not used the one on the piazza. There is nothing available to tourists here. The option was to go back out, wait in the mammoth line and miss the tour, or hold it. So, fair warning, go first because there are no facilities inside and the tour lasts about 1.5 hours.

"They are dropping like flies"

Our tour is led by a man who tells us his name is Christian and he's from Transylvania. He asks us all where we're from and it seems as if just about everyone in our group of a dozen or so is from the US or Australia, including a young seminary student from Oklahoma. After about 10 minutes on the tour, while we are still upstairs in the room with the sarcophagi, one couple decides to leave the tour because she needs a restroom. She's very angry and upset.

We head down underground and see the first part of the necropolis. It's fascinating, filled with intact, above ground (they were in the 1st century anyway), crypts. This is the area outside the ancient city of Rome where people buried their dead. It was an entire "city" filled with narrow streets and lined with crypts. Later, Constantine would build a basilica here in the 4th century after asking the Christians where they wanted it. The theory is that they wanted it here because it's where St. Peter was buried and thus a holy place. In the 16th century, the current basilica was built on top using some of the columns from Constantine's basilica.

Of course, there are no photos allowed in the Scavi tour. The tickets (scan above) show the area of the tour underneath St Peter's (indicated in purple).

After about 10 more minutes, a family of 4 decides to leave because mom is feeling claustrophobic. You could tell the teenage daughter was bored, by the incredulous "you're staying?" she asks of her older brother. "Yeah" (read,"duh!") is his reply. He stays and very much seems to enjoy the tour. A few moments later, a guide ahead of us works his way back with two of his charges, leading them out of the tour.

I mention all this, not to warn people off, but just to let you know in case you have severe claustrophobia you may want to reconsider the tour. On the other hand, I suffer it mildly and was not bothered (perhaps because my focus was on my need for the restroom and not the fact that the entire basilica sat right over our heads).

"Rush hour in the Necropolis"

The rest of the tour is fascinating, but we get held up several times as there are 2 or 3 groups ahead slowing our progress. This leads to the comment "It's rush hour in the necropolis". We see rooms with frescos, intricate carvings on the outside of sarcophagus, and mosaics. To the ancient Romans, it was incredibly important to take care of the dead and to be "remembered".

About half way through the tour, the seminary student tells me when the tour is over he can lead us to a restroom where we won't have to wait.

Tour takes about 1 hour 40 min and when it is over, we walk outside with Cory (the seminary student). As we are walking, he asks if we plan to see the inside of the basilica now and since we are, he offers to give us a tour "if we have time". Do we have time? Of course! How can you say no to that? He leads us to where people are exiting the front of the basilica and we walk up the steps and cross over the front. To the right side of the basilica we find the public restrooms with no wait.

Cory is from Oklahoma City and will be studying in Rome for about 4 years. When he is finished, he will return to his parish in Oklahoma to become a priest. In the meantime, he is learning all he can and will eventually be leading Scavi tours. He has to take 10 tours before he can lead them himself. His tour with us was only his second. During our tour he asked our guide if he too was in the seminary. After a lengthy pause, Christian replied, "not now." Hmmmm...interesting.

Cory leads us to the front of the Basilica where he explains some of the history behind it (see above). Once inside, we stand at the end of the main aisle (which is roped off) and he leads us in a prayer before we begin our tour. As he says the Lord's Prayer, I watch the feet of the tourists swirling around us and feel blessed to be there, if only to have the chance to see the place through a true believer's eyes.

Michelangelo's Pieta, completed when he was only 25.

We spend about an hour walking around the perimeter of the basilica with Cory explaining the significance of the various sculptures, chapels and structural details. He points points out that all of the "paintings" are no longer paintings, but rather, painstakingly intricate mosiacs replicating the originals. One has to get right up close to them to see that they are indeed mosaics. He tells us the letters which band the top edge of the walls are six feet high. It's difficult to grasp the perspective.

Even though I've been inside St. Peter's before, I certainly don't remember being aware of all the details. It's hard to take it all in and we are so fortunate to have this personal guided tour. Our time with Cory turns out to be a highlight of the trip. He is so knowledgeable about the history of the basilica and so passionate about his faith it is inspiring. None of the four of us are particularly religious, but I know we are all completely touched by the experience.


Dinner at Armando al Pantheon

Dinner tonight is at Armando al Pantheon. This restaurant comes highly recommended on both Fodor's and Chowhound message boards and is the only restaurant for which I've made reservations in advance (via email through their web site). I'm glad I did because they only have 12 tables and are full when we arrive. It's terribly hot inside and I say a silent thanks that smoking is not allowed because otherwise it would have been unbearable.

Because it is so warm, we order my favorite Rose, Regaleali, Tasca de Almira. My mom and I had this wine when we stayed at the vineyard to do cooking classes with the Contessa back in 2003.

For our Antipasti we order 2 Carciofo alla Romana (artichokes), bruschetta a la pomodoro, and scamorza (grilled, melted cheese).

For Primi we order two pastas to share; spaghetti alla verde (with arugula and cheese) and carbonara. Both are great but the "alla verde" gets rave reviews by all at the table.

The Secondi are (veal) Scalopini alla Marsala, Abbaccio a Scottadito (lamb chops), and Guniea Hen with olives and mushrooms. The lamb chops are the best of the three. I ask about the Oxtail which is on the menu, but we're told it's only available on Thursdays and if we want to come back, we can "reserve" an order. We make a reservation for Thursday night then and there and reserve two orders of Coda alla Vaccinara.

Even though we are planning a return visit to Frigidarium, we order the semifreddo and the homemade "roman cake", a ricotta cake with strawberries.

David wants an Amaro and we order the waiter's recommendation called "Lucano". We end up with 5 glasses and Tris is hooked. For those not familiar with Amaro, it is a typical after dinner drink made of herbs and used as a digestive.

Overheard at Armando's, 9:45 PM, noses hovering over glasses of Amaro Lucano:
T: I smell sage
K: I smell Rosemary
D: I smell Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel

Dinner for 4 with all of the above plus a second bottle of Rose, a bottle of water, and coffee was 151.50 euro. Armando al Pantheon is open daily for Lunch and Dinner, closed Saturday night and all day Sunday. Salita de Crescenzi, 31, tel:06/68803034


As today is St. Patrick's day, someone (who shall remain nameless) gets in in their head that we should stop for a pint of Guinness at the faux Irish pub called the Abby across the street from Frigidarium. I think, why would I come to Rome to drink Irish beer? The place is packed with drunk American youth and the doorman is allowing people in, a few at a time. Against my better judgment, we go in and are immediately assaulted with a crush of humanity. There is no room to move, it's impossible to reach the bar and there are people pushing from all directions. My anxiety kicks into high gear and I say "I am outta here!" and elbow my way back out on to the street. I'm furious, practically hyperventilating, and near tears, until the other three appear a few seconds later and I am consoled with gelato and reassurances that I "was right". Ha! In addition, J almost lost her beloved gray hat in the crush, but fortunately recovered it.


At Frigidarium, we chat more with Fabrizio who is again behind the counter. It turns out that he is the owner and makes all the gelato himself, right there in the glassed-in back room. The sign above the door even says "Gelateria Artigianale", indicating that it's homemade.

Tonight's flavors are:
J: Creme, Banana, Cherry
T: Zabaione
D: Caffe, Tartufo al Rum
K: Chocolate, Fragola

All is now right with the world and we head back to the apartment after a very long and exciting day.

On to day 3...

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Graffiti (photo by Tris)

Graffiti (photo by David)


Water spouts like this are all over Rome,
running continiously. Place your finger
over where the water comes out and you can
drink from the water that comes from a hole
on the top side of the spout.

Sicilian Tomatoes (by Tris).












Basement rooms in Da Pancrazio

Detail of ancient theater frescos.




Above, There seemed to be about a dozen of these
all black cats with white tipped tails.
Feeding the cats outside, below (both by Tris).



This sweet girl only has 3 legs so she's kept inside.

Enjoying the sunshine.

Cat feet.


Colonnade, by Tris


Above, Looking out on the sea of seats

set up for Holy week.

Below, looking up, in front of St. Peter's


Above, bronze door reused from Contstantine's
Basilica. Below, detail of Bronze door which
shows St. Peter being crucified upside-down.


Above, mosiac "painting"
Below, Cory's favorite statue
Both photos by Tris.


At the end of the tour..

As we left, this Swiss Guard was clearly
posing for the tourists (photo by Tris).









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