Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Roman Holiday

Kyle and I decided to celebrate my birthday, January 3, with a trip. If you know me, you'll know that I would of course choose Italy for my trip! I've always had a soft spot for Italy since I studied art for a summer there during college, and every time I've been, it just makes me love it even more.  On our cruise this summer, we spent a day in Rome.  We decided to take our time and just see the Vatican City, because we knew that we would be going back.  It was the end of August, and extremely crowded, so we knew we wanted to return to Rome during the low season so that we could enjoy the city without the gobs of people.  Although the weather wasn't perfect, we had an absolutely amazing time.

We flew into Rome on a Monday and arrived at our apartment in the afternoon after a short, one and a half hour flight.  The apartment was very cute and cozy.  It was on an old, narrow, quiet street near the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon.  The area was beautiful, with narrow winding streets that open up into little Piazzas.  Every street you turned down you would find a cute little cafe, trattoria, or gelateria.  We really lucked out with the weather for our first evening.  It was sunny and in the fifties, and we had a gorgeous sunset.  We took off and just started walking.  Just that evening alone we saw the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps (with amazing sunset views from the top), and the Trevi Fountain.  We had a wonderful dinner of bruschetta, ravioli, white wine roasted chicken, chocolate mousse and wine at a little family owned restaurant.

The Swiss Alps from the air
Our apartment
The Piazza Navona near our apartment
The Pantheon
View from the Spanish Steps
Inside the Pantheon
The Trevi Fountain
The next day was another beautiful day, so we headed to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.  Rome has such amazing layers of history.  On our walk there we saw Roman ruins, Trajan's Column (which Kyle was very excited about), medieval streets, buildings dating back to the Renaissance, Baroque cathedrals, art nouveau architecture, and everything in between.  You can see Roman ruins scattered throughout the whole city, not just at the Roman Forum.  It boggles my mind!

Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) or "Il Vittoriano"
Nearly 1,900 year old Trajan's Column and associated ruins
Needs no introduction!
Arch of Constantine, dedicated in 315 AD
The Roman Forum is absolutely huge.  It is a very large area on Palatine Hill that has ruins from a little bit of everything like basilicas, baths, and temples. It gives you a small glance of what it might have been like back during the Roman Empire. It's so amazing that archaeologists are still discovering sites and ruins there.  For lunch...pizza!
There were tons of orange tress!
I don't know how we were able to walk, but that evening we headed out for a stroll to see the sites lit up at night.  We also had a traditional Roman dinner of braised artichokes and pasta.  I had a homemade egg pasta called cacio e pepe, which means cheese and pepper.  Kyle had pasta amatriciana, which has tomatoes, bacon and cheese.  They were both amazing and I am definitely going to try my hand at making these at home!
Castel Sant'Angelo (originally a tomb for Emperor Hadrian, circa 140 AD)
The Pantheon
The Tiber River and the dome of St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Square with the Nativity and Christmas tree
The thing I was looking forward to the most about our Roman holiday was the food tour I had booked for our third day, and it did not disappoint!  Our weather for the food tour was very rainy, but that didn't stop us!  The tour was for English speakers in a non-touristy neighborhood of Rome called the Testaccio.  The neighborhood has been very big in the food culture of Rome since ancient Roman times.  There were only four other people on the tour, so it was nice to have such a small group.  It was also a culture and history tour, in addition to the food.  We had ten different food and tasting stops, including a pastry shop, a pizzeria, a small butcher/cheese/wine shop, an outdoor market, a restaurant famous for pasta, a snack shop, and finally a gelateria.  On our tour around the area, we also stopped at some historical sites.  Our tour guide was great, and gave us a lot of insight into the history and culture of Rome.  We bought some wine and amazing orange balsamic vinegar to bring home with us.  The tour  was definitely a highlight of our trip!  That evening we weren't hungry for a big dinner after gorging ourselves that afternoon, but we found a great tapas restaurant that was perfect to snack on some delicious Spanish food.
Three types of pasta
Mmmm, gelato!
Fresh Canoli
Fresh Caprese

Tiramisu in a chocolate cup
Thursday we headed to the Musei Capitolini, which is one of the main museums to see Roman art and artifacts.  The museum is on the Capitoline hill in a building designed by Michelangelo.  The museum had some really fascinating pieces.  A couple of our favorites were the infamous Capitoline She-Wolf, which is a symbol of Rome, and the Colossal head of Constantine.

 It's amazing how tired a museum can make you!  We didn't even see all of the museum's enormous collections before we were ready for lunch.  We stumbled upon a well known Jewish-Roman restaurant in the historical "Jewish ghetto."  If we had gone in search of that restaurant specifically, we never would have found it!  The food there was amazing!  We each had a traditional Roman appetizer called a suppli, which is risotto rice, usually cooked in tomato broth, which is packed into a ball, then it is breaded and fried.  They're so good!  I had baked eggplant with tomato and mozzarella, and Kyle had spaghetti carbonara, another Roman specialty that I would like to make at home!  We finished off lunch with a wonderful espresso, one of many that we had on the trip!

After re-fuelling our energy levels with our awesome lunch, we went to tour the Castel Sant' Angelo. It is a dominating structure right on the Tiber River that was originally built as a mausoleum for Hadrian in the 2nd century.  In the 6th century it was turned into a papal fortress, complete with a secret passageway to the Vatican City.  We climbed to the top for amazing views of the city.
Our last full day in Rome was bright and sunny.  It was kind of our church tour day.  We started the day checking out the market at Campo dei Fiore, which was full of beautiful flowers, fresh produce, olive oils, vinegars, and pasta.  (It would be so much fun to live and cook in Italy!)  We bought some really good almond biscotti to bring home with us.

Later, we caught the bus from the market and headed to the Capuchin museum and cemetery.  The museum served as a nice little informational tour about the Capuchin Monks.  The cemetery/crypt is what most people go there to see.  It's a series of seven rooms below the church that has the bones of 4000 monks "decorating" the spaces.  Some of the skeletons are clothed in the monk habits, others line the walls in designs and chandeliers.  It's unclear as to whether this was done by a monk or an artist.  It was pretty eerie and also fascinating.  You aren't allowed to take pictures in the cemetery, so we bought a post card to show you one of the rooms.
Campo dei Fiore
Canine Parking
The next stop was the impressive Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.  It was originally built in the 5th century, and like most old churches, has many additions throughout different time periods.  This basilica is famous for it's 5th century mosaics, gold guilded ceilings, the beautiful marble floors, and it's also the burial place of a pope and the famous Baroque artist, Bernini.
From there we walked to the Basilica de San Giovanni e Paolo (the Church of Saint John and Paul.)  It was built in the 4th century, and a lot has been added on since then.  It's said that it was built over the home of the apostles John and Paul, and that the altar has their skulls.  Just outside of the basilica are the Scala Santa and Sancta Sanctorium.  It's said that these stairs belonged to Pontius Pilate, and were scaled by Christ shortly before the Crucifixion.  Many pilgrims come to the stairs and climb them on their knees.  The Cathedral is also the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome (i.e. the Pope).
Our last stop of the church tour was the one I was the most anxious to see, called Santa Maria dei Vittoria.  I was really excited to see one of my favorite sculptures called the Ecstasy of St. Theresa by Bernini.  I had learned about it in art history a long time ago and have always wanted to see it.  It is absolutely stunning.

We caught the bus and headed back towards our apartment.  We had one important stop once we got off the bus...gelato.  Near our apartment is a gelateria that's supposed to be one of the best in Rome called San Crispino.  It was very flavorful and creamy goodness.

We went out for happy hour followed by dinner for our last evening in Rome. (The average dinner time for Italians is about 9 o'clock, so we were the early birds at 8!) We ate an appetizer of prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil.  We had pasta once again for dinner.  It seems like you would get tired of it after eating so much pasta, but you don't!  It's so delicious!  I don't know how the Italians stay so thin!
Happy hour!
We flew out of Rome on a rainy Saturday, and landed in a couple inches of snow in Stuttgart.  Rome is probably my favorite big city.  It is just so impressive on so many levels.  This was definitely the best food trip that I've been on, between the pasta, the gelato, the wine, the food tour...it was so good!!  There is so much there that we didn't get to see.  I think you could live in Rome your whole life and not see everything.  Like I always say, we need to go back!!  Ciao!

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