Monday morning we managed to get up at a reasonable hour thanks to an early night’s sleep. Freezing in the shower, though – there has to be SOME way to turn the hot water up but we can’t figure it out just yet.
Most of the museums are closed today so I say it’s a good day to do the ruins. Vespa wants to hit one other site first–Villa Farnesina, which supposedly houses some fabulous frescoes. So after a quick cafe and bite at Bar Ludovisi right across from our apartment, it’s off in search of a taxi as it’s a bit of a hike from our location and we figure we’ll be walking a lot later on.
Thus began our first questionable taxi adventure in Rome–and a lesson learned about being very specific about our destination. I’m thinking that the route the driver is taking does not match the way I think we should be going, but my understanding of Rome’s geography is not that great yet. Needless to say, however, that both vespa and I realize something is rather wrong when instead of ending up in Trastavere where Villa Farnesina is located, the driver wants to let us off at a big official looking building near the Olympic stadium in Northern Rome. “Farnesina!” he tells us, even as we’re shaking out heads no. Apparently “Farnesina” also can refer to foreign embassy, or so he tells us in very broken English. Finally I hand him our map and point exactly at where we wanted to go. He stares at it for a long silent minute, then says nothing as he starts the car up and heads off in the PROPER direction.
Thus we ended up with a 20 Euro cab ride that should have cost us no more than 8-10. Actually it was 25 on the meter but he said he’d take 20 because of “mistake”. Whether it was really a mistake or a con, I’m still not sure, but we learned a lesson of being very specific in our destinations – not just naming a building or street address but confirming area of city or nearby piazza. I’m also thinking to myself that this would be a great challenge for an Amazing Race episode set in Rome…
Anyway, we’ve finally made it to our proper destination and are rather pleased to find very few people there besides one large tour group from Germany. We dash around room to room ahead and then behind the tour groups to appreciate the frescoes on our own. Our favorite is the “Perspectives’ Hall” by Baldassarre Peruzzi, a wonderful trompe-l’œil which only works properly when you stand in one particular spot in the room–and it’s NOT the spot the tour guide thinks it is! Tour guide gets visibly annoyed when vespa starts pointing out to the German tourists where to stand to get the perspective correct. The room is also amusing for the ancient anti-Catholic graffiti scrawled on one wall many centuries ago and left there for historical purposes.
After we finish up, we take a short stroll around Trastevere, deciding we’ll need to revisit later. We’re close to one church I wanted to visit for the name alone: Chiesa della Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini. (Pellegrini is “pilgrim” in Italian, and with all the religious pilgrimage sights in Rome, there a lot of “Pellegrini”-sightings to be found…) So we cross Ponte Sisto bridge and end up in another charming neighborhood full of jewelry stores and tiny specialty shops. Sadly, the church is closed for renovations, but we are able to get some photos from the outside.
From here, we decide to head over to the ruins, though we’re not sure which to hit first: the Coliseum or the Forum. We had bought ourselves Roma Passes on Rick Steves‘ recommendation, and had only used them once at the Museum yesterday. He recced saving one of the other free admissions for these sighs to save money (and avoid lines), so that was our plan.
Of course, we hadn’t planned on being frustrated on how to actually get IN to the Roman Forum! We found some neat vantage points over it up on Piazza del Campidoglio, but no way inside. vespa was getting frustrated and we were both getting hungry, so we decided to hit the Coliseum first after another gelato break. Looking through Rick’s book, we also finally found out how to get IN the Forum along Via d. Foir Imperali, but that would wait for now.
On our way in to the Coliseum, we also encountered a definite scam artist in action–again warned about in Rick Steves’ book. We were trying to figure out where to enter when a smooth-talking young English guy came up to us, asking if we had tickets to get in. I said we had Roma Passes so he was all “Oh, that’s great, though the line to get in is still really long. But you know, there’s not much information inside on the sights and we have a tour group just ready to enter in just a few minutes with room for two more. You’ll get a 40 minute in-depth tour of the Coliseum AND then the Forum, also with time to wander on your own. And no lines. Really worth it, only 8 Euros a person!”
I’m allergic to being herded around sites and museums in groups to begin with, and the whole thing just seemed kind of dodgy to me. We waffled for a minute or two before I said no, I didn’t want to do a group thing, we’ll figure it out on our own. As we were walking away the guy was yelling after us, “How about both of you for 8 Euros?!” Later I looked up in Rick’s book and sure enough this is a big scam around the Coliseum: they’ll take your money, tell you to stand in a particular spot with a group of other suckers for just a few minutes…and no tour guide ever shows up. Or if they do, they run you through the Coliseum and then disappear before taking you over to the Forum.
Nevertheless, with our Roma Passes we didn’t have to stand in the ticket line anyway and breezed right inside. The Coliseum IS cool to see, inside as well as out, though it is true there isn’t a lot of information to be found inside and just tons of gawking tourists. (No more cats, either.)
After the Coliseum, we went right over to the Forum, again bypassing the ticket line with our Roma Passes (SO very worth it even if you just use it to bypass lines at the big sites!) And…let’s just say the ruins in the Forum hit me. Big time. I don’t know if I can explain why. I didn’t think I’d give that much of a hoot for the ancient ruins, being more of a Renaissance art person, but…the sheer magnitude of these ruins was just mind boggling. Also thinking about the figures through time who had walked these paths, lived, prayed, worked and created history in these buildings…it all gave me the shivers. And I took a crazy number of photos.
Just when we thought we’d covered most of it, we climbed up one path that lead us up to Palatine Hill and yet MORE ruins.
We wandered about, took even more photos, looked down over Circo Massimo (wishing I had my ipod and my Ben Hur soundtrack on me!), then were ready to collapse from exhaustion and mental overload. Time to find somewhere to sit and have a drink, maybe a light bite since it was only about 3:30, not exactly dinner time.
Of course, we ended up battling that frequent problem that hits us in Italian cities: sit-down bars and cafes are everywhere you look until you desperately want to find one! We finally ended up at a little pastry place off Via Arenula and were surprised when an order of one white wine, one hot chocolate, and an assortment of pastries came out with a whole plate of mini-sandwiches and potato chips! Forgot all the goodies that came with drinks when you sit down in an Italian bar. Nevertheless, we devoured our expensive but very tasty goodies and felt refreshed for a little more walking. Head back to Trastavere for dinner? Sounded like a plan, though we weren’t exactly hungry any longer…for now…
vespa had been wanting to see Tiberina Island, so we walked along the shady, tree-lined riverway until meeting the tiny little island. We crossed the ancient bridge and found a lovely old church there, San Bartolomeo all’Isola. The church provided a welcome, quiet spot to rest and contemplate for a while, before crossing over into Trastevere to explore and find a dinner spot.
Trastavere, once known as THE dining spot in all of Rome, has apparently slowing become more and more touristy (and less fabulous) through the years. Indeed, while the lovely streets are filled with restaurants, many offer the same repetitive choices and menu turisticos, which generally are signs that lead me to rule out a place as offering genuine good food (another telltale warning: restaurants that have to put photos of the food on their menus. Never a good sign…) We wandered and wandered until stumbling across tiny “Aristocampo”, which had a blackboard outside proclaiming “We are against War and the Tourist Menu!” On that alone I knew we had to eat there!
It ended up being an excellent choice. While a little pricier than their nearby competition, Aristocampo had a great menu of some more unusual as well as expected choices and everything was excellent. Dining under hanging Chianti bottles, we enjoyed eggplant involtini and pecorino romano with fig jelly to start; wonderful pastas and then whole fish in “crazy water” for vespa and pork saltimbocca for me. YUM! Dessert was an amazing lemon custard crumble dotted with dried raspberries and powdered sugar, and a VERY generous pour of grappa.
After all of that food and all of that walking all day (over 5 miles at my estimate), it was time to catch a taxi and go to BED! Because tomorrow we were going to have to get up very very early, as we had a very special date to keep at the Vatican…