Sunday, March 2, 2014

Buon Giorno due-Hopping on and Hopping off in Rome

The phone was ringing and it was 9 am. We almost slept through breakfast! Vilia, the light sleeper got us up and moving. The restaurant was on the Garden rooftop, a few staircases away. Up we went to a beautiful room filled with light and Citrus trees outside the windows. You could step outside to an amazing vista of our part of the city. It was a sunny, brisk February morning.

The "Colazione" consisted of an abundant buffet. I think most hotels cater to International guests.  This one, the Mecenate Palace Hotel set out platters of sliced cheeses, salumni, pastries, cereals, hard boiled eggs, some weird small wiener like sausages ( no bacon and American style eggs here),bowls of fresh Kiwi, tangerines and bananas, cooked fruit that was canned but I think came from jars and not cans and it was so good with the thick yogurt offered.  Nate was so excited to see Cornettos, the Italian version of Croissants, filled with pastry cream that she remembered from her college days. Whole grain sliced baguettes were there for toasting in an ingenious "impinger" toaster where you placed your bread on a metal rack and it rotated up and over the hot coils ending up in a tray at the bottom. Instead of peanut butter there were little packets of Nutella. Vilia copped a few of these. As it turned out we were never without Nutella. We were seated at tables covered it white linen. Coffee was served with a silver pitcher of frothed milk and, they served tea. Hurray for me and welcome to our first morning in Roma!!

Our plan for today was to catch the "ciao Roma" open tour bus that was included in our travel package. It is a "hop on hop off" bus. The bus stop was near the "Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore" the beautiful church across from our hotel.They give you a map and you decide where you want to stop to visit. We hopped on the bus outfitted with ear buds for the audio portion of the trip. You could dial into the English version otherwise we would have been completely lost. The weather was pretty chilly so we opted to sit inside the bus. There were eleven stops but we already decided to go straight to St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. We passed the Colosseo, circo Masimo Bocca Della Verita ( a green belt park) Piazza Venezia the major hub of Rome that houses a circus, ending up, for us, at Citta del Vaticano. Wow! We were really here.
St. Peter's Square
Nate warned us to guard our purses and watch out for pick pockets. I guess she had been here in a busier season because it was not crowded at all!! We wandered around the outside and took pictures just like the other handful of visitors. There are advantages to visiting in the winter. The sun was out and the white statues were gleaming around St. Peter's square. It was a breeze entering St.  Peter's Basilica and once inside it takes your breath away. I am not a history or religious buff but I knew enough from my Christian upbringing that this was spiritually a very important place. The apostle Peter was martyred on the Vatican Hill during the reign of Nero (54-68) and buried there.There are books on the history and progression of it's being built but basically it was started in earnest in 1506 and continues to this day with maintenance and the discovery of many underground tombs that hold deceased Popes and other dignitaries. Michelangelo carved statues ( huge ones) and of course painted ceilings and walls. It took awhile before we realized the floor plan was a cross. We were allowed to take all of the pictures we wanted and trust me we did. Such glory and splendor with the marble floors and statues, gilded gold walls, carved wood pillars, bronze statues, stained glass windows and huge pieces of furniture. It was amazing to say the least. Everyone we saw had their heads tilted up and their jaws dropped to their knees.
A famous Pope is entombed down there.

Jaw dropping Marble carvings

After that revelation we headed back to the bus stop for our next stop Piazza del Popolo. It was a nice ride along the banks of the Tiber River ( Fiume Tevere).  As it turned out the stop for this Piazza was near it but not so much. It is shaped like a wheel with many Via's entering the center. We chose the wrong one and ended up walking a great distance until we finally asked a couple of Polizia for directions. On the way back to our destination we came across a huge Cafeteria type restaurant that had different sections selling local foods and beverages. We also had to go to the bathroom in a big way. Following the signs we went up a narrow stairway only to be turned back by a "janitor" of sorts who said the toilets were not working as a hoard of Asian women descended the stairway almost trampling us. I scouted out the rest of the maze and found another sign for bagnos except they were the men's. Not to be deterred a few women ahead of me guarded the door while we took turns using the very filthy and crude toilette. The men proceeded to pee in the hand washing sinks outside the door.  Our group eventually found each other and purchased water and wine. Nate had packed up some of the bread, foccacia, cheeses and salumni we had bought the day before so it was picnic time.

The Piazza del Popolo or "Peoples Square" was beautiful. In the center stands the majestic Popolo Obelisk brought from Egypt in 10 BC but it was not until 1589 that it was erected in this square. It is surrounded by Egyptian Lion fountains spurting water from their mouths. Very impressive. Of course there is a large church in one corner, Santa Maria del Popolo.  Being the Peoples square, there were many people enjoying the sunshine eating their lunches. Of course we were worried we would not be allowed to drink wine in public, a fear we soon dismissed. Once we saw another couple sipping away we popped the cork and laid out our antipasti.  It tasted soooo good. Nate wanted us to climb the steps to the Villa Borghese Gardens but we vetoed it for now. Making our way back to the Hop on  Hop off bus was a familiar route which we had circled a few times earlier in our attempt to find the huge Piazza. We had to laugh at that. If only we had looked down this one street...
Three happy women!

We sat on the top deck of the bus on the way back to Santa Maria Maggiore where we began.
Chillin on the top deck of the tour bus

Upper deck views. Typical Roman stone street w. small cars and motorcycles

Back at our hotel we consulted the Concierge as to a good restaurant close by. He suggested "Nuova Stella" and gave us directions. It was nearly 5 pm so Mike searched out some ice and made his daily cocktail. Vodka with fresh orange slices. Vilia, Nate and I popped a bottle of good Chianti from the vinoteca across the street. We had a little cheese and focaccia left and nibbled on that. Nate took a short nap.

Via Manin was the street Nuova Stella was on. I never saw so many motorcycles parked up and down the street. Unfortunately the pictures I took came out too dark to distinguish anything. What a sight though. It was sort of like restaurant row so we were glad to have a suggestion that we could walk to as there was no parking. The Concierge called ahead so they were expecting us. This restaurant was huge!! All of these little store front places look small until you get inside and they go back for almost blocks. There were large brick archways throughout and a huge stainless steel open kitchen sort of in the middle. I figured they must do alot of banquets. An important soccer game was on the kitchen's TV but the waiter and cooks managed to serve the patrons along with lively updates. There were heated discussions and shouting coming from the vicinity of the TV but our dinner was splendid! Best bread, wine, mussels, burrata and tomatoes, pasta primavera and very flavorful minestrone. Is this the norm?
Mussels, Burrata-tomato antipasti. Killer bread.

Excellent Primativo!!
The wrong soccer team won because "they cheated" is what we gathered from the waiter and the long faces in the kitchen.
Day two is history. Getting ready for tomorrow and our trip to the Sistine Chapel.