Pat here, still rambling about our Italy trip. (The Vatican's masked Swiss guards to the left just because) In my last segment, I was so eager to get to hill country that I forgot to mention Rome at all. We’ve visited Rome several times over the years. It’s still a very busy city, much of it walkable if you’re staying in the forum area, which we were. The beauty of this visit was that the number of tourists was waaaay down. The lines at the forum and the Vatican were, at best, maybe fifteen minutes long. The guides—just now getting back to work after our long Covid vacation—were ecstatic about how much more they could show us without crowds.
Everyone can read about the major sights (we brought home a fascinating book with overlays showing how the ruins would have looked originally–there's the coliseum in its glory), so I’d rather talk about the experiences. Rome was a drastic change from the tiny villages of the Amalfi coast. We had so many choices, we could spend the day just trying to decide where to eat.
Although it meant catching a taxi back to the hotel, we were glad we followed the guide to the Pantheon. Most of Rome is about ruins, but the Pantheon is still complete. Originally a Roman temple built in the first century AD, it’s been a Catholic church since the sixth century. The structure is simple, but it’s absolutely amazing to imagine builders with no formal education creating a vast, unreinforced concrete dome that has held up through the centuries, where palaces have crumbled to the ground. Inside, they had displays of all the jewelry and coins that have been found under and around the church, which I found fascinating.
Under experiences, note that the plaza in front of the Pantheon is a huge gathering place, mostly for tourists because of the restaurants and cafes nearby. And where there are crowds, there are thieves and beggars. One particularly entertaining beggar appeared to be a drama student practicing her part as a crone, limping in black widow’s rags, holding out her little can, and muttering with great skill. <G> Unfortunately, another of our party
didn’t pay close attention to her purse and lost the cell phone she kept in an outside pocket. (Scary part is that her purse was exactly like mine.) Given that many of us keep our plane tickets, passport and vaccination information, and all manner of other valuable information on our phones, this can be a vacation-ruining experience. So if you go, keep your purses zipped and pockets buttoned!
We probably walked five or six miles a day in Rome, but even that wasn’t enough to walk off the meals. I think I’ve already mentioned the smorgasbord of sweets, cheeses, and salamis available at our breakfast buffets. My curiosity demanded that I taste everything, of course. Our usual trick of eating big lunches and small dinners didn’t fare well in the city. Pizza could be had on every corner, but near the historical sights, finding an open sit-down restaurant at lunchtime that wasn’t packed with tourists was nigh on impossible. And since service was designed for people who liked to spend hours at the table. . . we had to do as the Romans do and grab whatever we found for lunch, which was almost always pasta or pizza. (and there is no such thing as pepperoni in Italy–it's salami) I’m not complaining, but my scale did when we got home. <G>
Since our hotel was in a fairly residential area, our guide pointed out the streets where the locals dined. Again, we ran into our cultural divide. I grew up rural, eating early and going to bed early. Romans, on the other hand, eat late and make a festive occasion of every evening, or so it seemed. Restaurants are often small and owner-operated. They didn’t open until six or seven in the evening and were often fully booked. Reserving tables was a trifle difficult when we had no idea where we were going. (amazingly, we took no pictures of food! Had to hunt for images online, sorry.)
Because of Covid, as here, much of the dining spilled into the streets. So once we snagged a table, we could watch local families gathering and greeting. We could even wave at others of our group roaming up and down, searching for a place that still had seats. This is where it would have been handy if we’d known the Italian hand signals. The chef for the restaurant we chose asked how we enjoyed our dinner. At that point, we hadn’t picked up the lingo yet. So he taught us what he wanted—the fingers touching thumb gesture and benissimo! We happily obliged, especially since wine was extravagantly cheap there, and we’d ordered an entire bottle.
I’ve already spent way too many words just describing Rome when I really want to get to Tuscany and Umbria. So I’ll squeeze in our first encounter with the hill country and leave the rest for the next blog.
After leaving Rome, we stopped in Orvieto, not necessarily the most traveled tourist spot because the medieval town is at the top of a hill behind an enormous towering wall that buses can’t scale. We were fortunate to be able to park below the town and take an elevator up. Most people have to use the tram. I’ll save our Orvieto experience for the next blog.
Since we were talking about food, I’ll finish up here with our tale of dining al fresco at Casa Segreta, the family-owned farm of a well-known chef.(shown above) We were greeted with glasses of Prosecco and the family’s dogs and cats, then toured the grape vines to see the varieties he grew. We’d seen truckloads of grapes going by as we drove up because it was harvest season. Eventually, we all sat down at the table and as his students brought out appetizers and salads, the chef showed us how pasta was made. Admittedly, we all goggled as he simply threw eggs into flour and produced magic. The dough has to sit before it can be cut, so he had a round prepared and showed us how much work it was to roll it out. I’d have to retire to my fainting couch after that much exertion. But the results were scrumptious.
The sun set over the rolling hills as we ate, and the full harvest moon rose later as we sampled the wines. It was an amazing, educating evening of conviviality and really turned on my Covid-traumatized muse. I may not name names as I write this next book, but you’ll know where I’m talking about when you read it!
Do you have any spectacular moments that make you wish you could video the memory in your head?