Yes, that is what we felt like today, back in Rome on what actually is a Roman holiday – Liberation Day, which marks the fall of Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic and the end of the Nazi occupation in Italy in 1945.
When we were here four weeks ago, it was extremely warm and summery. Today, it was almost cold and very windy. Guess the seasons are now going backwards. But it was amazingly clear and sunny, and a gorgeous day for walking around, particularly if you could avoid the shady side of the streets.
We started with a part of Rome newly uncovered in this century – Trajan’s Market, a large complex of ruins located on the Via dei Fori Imperiali at the opposite end of the Coliseum and near the Victor Emmanuel Monument. Shopping in the 2nd century AD was just as important as it is today.
We walked through the Campo de’ Fiori, today filled with busy market stalls, then turned into the Piazza Farnese. Our next discovery was Pasquino, a 3rd c. BC statue that is one of Rome’s “talking statues.” Need to express your feelings about the government, but have to do it anonymously? Post them on or near a talking statue – to this day.
Turn a corner, and there is the Piazza Navona, with its long Roman history and glorious Bernini fountain. Had to stop at Tre Scalini and have a hot chocolate to fight the cold! Lots of crowds and young men hawking selfie sticks. Can’t remember what the hot item was when we first came to Rome, but surely everyone in the world who wants one must have one by now.
And then there is the gorgeous Pantheon. It is so amazing to be in a 2,000-year-old building, especially one that is so perfect in its design. Hard to believe that most of the flooring is original, and that we are having almost the same experience inside it that the ancient Romans did.
A few major columns followed – the 6th c. BC obelisk that Agustus brought back to celebrate his victory over Marc Anthony and Cleopatra, the continuous narration column in the Piazza Colonna, which has stood there telling the victories of Marcus Aurelius since the 2nd century, and the column of the Immaculate Conception, of 19th century vintage, as is the dogma surrounding her birth.
One more turn by the Trevi Fountain, just to marvel at the crowds, and, yes, to nod at the so-clean fountain. So many people! So many selfies!
Back to the Spanish Steps to see if they finished the cleaning since we were here. Nope – the opening is not until August 4. Guess there was no rush to meet the summer hordes, but they do look cleaner. Guess they used to draw fewer crowds…
Our final thrill was the changing of the guard at the Quirinal Palace. Buckingham Palace has nothing to worry about, but the crowd passionately sang the national anthem.
Don’s Food Corner
Since we didn’t know what to expect on our day of travel by plane from Palermo to Rome we gave ourselves extra time. Too much extra time as it turned out. Meaning, specifically, we were trapped in an airport for lunch.
It turned out to be a pleasant experience. It was a new airport with a few food options. We zeroed in on the one with what looked like the largest selection. It was a cafeteria, but it specialized in regional Sicilian dishes. I had a tortina of rice, meat and cheese. Breaded and baked. As good as the “street food” versions we had in Polermo. Jo had lasagna. Also extremely nicely prepared, especially when you consider it was an offering on a cafeteria table. We also shared a salad. There was a nice selection of regional wines. So we toasted Sicily good-bye with a robust Sicilian red.
Incidentally, since salad is served with olive oil and vinegar on the side (and not with an emulsified French-style salad dressing), it is interesting to note that the favored olive oil and vinegar brand in most restaurants is Colavita. The favored dried pasta brand that dominates the grocery store shelves is De Cecco. The Italians have spoken!
When we got to Rome and settled in the hotel, we were ready for a quick pizza. I asked the desk clerk which was the best local place. He promptly left the desk and walked us a block away to a place that was clearly a neighborhood favorite filled with animated folks having Sunday dinner. They talk loud; they talk fast; they talk all at the same time. Somewhat like the way they drive.
We shared a pizza diavolo – meaning peppery with spicy salami. (The closest thing we’ve found to what we would call a pepperoni pizza.) Here, the salami was layered on top of the cheese. And this being Rome, the crust was very thin and very crispy – almost as thin and crispy as a cracker. Plus, we had to taste the regional wine around Rome – again, robust red.
Today was a double-header of closed restaurants of quality: a national holiday and a Monday. We tracked down a recommended place that should have been open, but it was closed. (I guess I should start calling these places to make sure they are open before walking blocks and blocks to find them.) So, we threw up our hands in disappointment and settled for what looked like the best option. A block away from the Trevi Fountain and you’re in for a likely mediocre, at best, food experience.
It turned out a little better than just mediocre, but we won’t need to linger over the details. We shared a plate of spaghetti carbonara after the waitress who hustled us into the restaurant claimed would be “Best in your life.” It wasn’t. But we cleaned the plate nevertheless. (We didn’t want to be rude, you know.) Jo had a breaded chicken cutlet that looked suspiciously factory-made, but tasted pretty good and was tender. I went for something they called “roast veal” since the menu was a little skimpy on other options. It arrived looking like just about all the various versions of scallopini we’ve seen over the last few weeks.
The wine was nice. More importantly, the restaurant was warm inside.