eating my way around the world

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” --St. Augustine

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Location: Chicago, IL, United States

Twitter @nikonjunkie

11 June 2005

5 June 2005 :: Rome

The breakfast in our Rome hotel proved to be much more appetizing than that in our Paris hotel. At breakfast, most of us decided it was a good idea in Rome to stay together, so we headed off in the direction of the Colosseum. It was blazing hot, so I took this as an opportunity to get a pistachio gelato.

Kind of an odd feeling to touch stone which was first laid in place in 72 A.D. The Arch of Constantine, facing the Colosseum:

More Colosseum photos:

Tired from my walk around the Colosseum, I figured it was a good time to get a vanilla gelato.

Now somewhat cooled off (who am I kidding?) we headed off to explore the ruins of the Fori Imperiali (Imperial Forums) - the center of political life in ancient Rome. Although many buildings are still standing, much of the area is in the form of crumbled ruins.

Nearby, we toured the Palatino area. Rome was believed to have been founded here on Palatine Hill.

More of the Fori Imperiali:

The sun was beating down, and it was after noon, so we all decided it would be a good idea to stop for lunch. We found an indoor/outdoor cafe in front of Il Vittoriano, the Victor Emmanuel monument in Piazza Venezia, and spread out in the shaded tables.

Then came my first experience with Roman pizza. Often pre-made and displayed cold, you select what you'd like from behind the counter, then it's heated in a press-type grill and brought to you warm. My pizza was interesting - one-fourth cheese, one-fourth sliced mushrooms, and one-half covered in strips of prosciutto, with a delicious doughy crust. Blessedly, I was able to get Orangina here. :) After a leisurely lunch, we hit an ATM (again) and set out for the Pantheon.

We came up on the back of the Pantheon and walked around, where we ran into our tourmate Evan, who'd been back to St. Peter's Square that Sunday morning and snapped a far-off picture of the new Pope Benedict giving a blessing to the crowd. Regrettably, there would be no pontiff-sightings for me on this trip. :(

A truly impressive structure, the Pantheon was designed in 118 A.D. by the Emperor Hadrian and was initially used as a temple of the gods before being converted into a Christian church in later years. The artist Raphael is entombed within. The dome opening, or oculus, provides the only light within the structure, and the decorative square-shaped coffers lining the interior of the dome serve to reduce its weight.

This is one way to avoid parallel parking:

After leaving the Pantheon, we wandered back by the nearby Trevi Fountain and decided to throw some coins in for luck (and a wish for a swift return to Rome). While there, we saw a guy get hauled off by the polizia for pickpocketing. (Never ignore your bag for a second in Rome.)

When you must park on the sidewalk, do it Land Rover style.

Before heading back to the hotel, we headed down the Via del Corso and did a little shopping. But first, I had a gelato while some of the others had a bathroom break. Hearing an Italian say "un piccolo gelato, prego!" just makes you smile - the accent is exactly what you imagine. :)

Again, living in Houston spoiled me, as many of the stores I spotted, I stayed out of, since I could visit the Puma or the Benetton stores back home. A few of the girls found some cute items, and now laden with a few shopping bags, we cut across the Via Condotti (known to all fashionistas as the place to drop some serious coin in Rome) and found the Piazza di Spagna, also known as The Spanish Steps.

Woefully crowded in early June, I can only imagine how much more impressive this place would seem in the winter without all the tourists (you know, people like us). This late in the day, we were all too tired to climb the steps, so we admired them for a while, had a few drinks from the nearby fountains and headed back to the hotel to prepare for dinner.

The one thing about Rome - it's such an ancient city that modern public transportation hasn't yet caught up. There are only two metro lines (Linea A and Linea B), compared with the dozens in Paris. Therefore, to get close to anything, you have to use the bus. Which is bad. Although they may be scheduled for every 10, 15 or 20 minutes, in practice they only show up maybe every 30 or 45 minutes. If you're lucky.

Stepping out of the metro station, we spotted some of our tourmates hopping on a nearby bus. Had we known we'd be standing our tired bones at the same bus stop for another 30 minutes waiting for the next bus to arrive, I'm sure we could've all summoned up the will to sprint the block to catch the bus. As it were, we waited. And waited. Mercifully, it finally came, and we dragged our tired bones up the Domus Pacis hill to the hotel.

After cleaning ourselves up and phoning home, we all met up in the lobby for dinner. The plan was to head back into town for a nice goodbye dinner - our last night together. Unfortunately (or maybe not), the bus never came. There we stood on the side of the road, watching every other bus but ours go by. After a while, it occurred to us that the desire to see Rome at night had been superceded by the desire to eat NOW and go to bed. It was then that a few of us decided to check out the restaurant we were standing right in front of. Hey, we're geniuses! The place looked family-run and charming, yet big enough to accommodate twenty of us.

However, the bus system wasn't done messing with us - just as everyone came back outside the bus showed up, and in our mindless glee we all jumped on, reverse-lemming-style. For exactly one block, we had a hurried debate on whether or not we should stay close to the hotel, and thankfully hunger won out. We all hopped off the same bus we'd waited on for half an hour and walked the block back to the restaurant, where we found the poor owner had already set up a huge U-shaped table just for us.

Our unofficial leader, Jen from Arizona, managed to negotiate a fixed-price family-style feast for all of us, and the wine started to flow. (When the owner came out to approve the price and describe our courses, we applauded him.) Our waiter was a jovial old guy that spoke a good deal of comical English, and he poked a bit of fun at Mike & Michelle when he heard their accents and blurted, "Ahh, New York!" It's a good thing he didn't hear my accent or Blake/Katie/Becky/Daniel's Oklahoma accents. ;) As a side note, the burglaries in Italy weren't over - Becky's entire new makeup bag and all its contents somehow walked out of her room today. :/

Although our last night, the atmosphere was festive as we sat among the trees and lights, but then turned sad as we all shared our favorite moments of the trip. After a multi-course meal of pasta & shellfish (never dare me to eat an entire miniature octopus - I'll do it), whole grilled fish with more pasta, gelato for dessert and wayyy more red & white wine than I should have had, we said our goodnights. The Last Supper:

One by one, we all trickled out of the restaurant and across the street to spend our last night in Europe.

Things I Learned Today:
1. It's not a fluke - buses in Rome just never come.
1b. Just when you have given up and decided to walk half a mile to the metro station, the bus will come just to spite you.
2. A well-timed gelato stop can stave off heatstroke.
3. It is possible to go to Italy and never see a meatball or meat sauce.
4. If you want to keep something, don't take it to Italy.
5. Wine is perhaps the best sleep aid in existence.

Gelati count: 5

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