Thursday, August 23, 2012
Rome, Aug. 10
Today was an optional trip to Pompeii which Gary and I chose not to do because of the heat and the crowds (it’s the most visited site in Italy). We decided it could wait for another visit, preferably in the fall when it should be cooler and less crowded.
We spent the day exploring Rome instead. That is, we explored Rome after we figured out how to buy a Metro (subway) ticket. The ticket machine wouldn’t take our money because we only had high-denomination euro notes on us and the machine can only give out up to €6 in change, so we had to buy our tickets from a tabacchi (tobacco shop) instead. Then we took too long to insert our tickets into the automated ticket-taker and had to ask a guard to open the gate to admit us onto the platform. Once we were actually on the subway, it was easy to navigate our way around.
Piazza del Popolo because we wanted to visit the Santa Maria del Popolo, an Augustinian church on the north side of the square that contains artwork by famous Renaissance artists such as Raphael, Bernini, Carravagio, and Sansovino. (Unfortunately, the Chigi Chapel, which was designed by Raphael and completed by Bernini and which was also featured in Dan Brown’s book Angels and Demons, was undergoing restoration work and was covered over with canvas.) There is also a very nice contemporary portrait of Pope John Paul II in this church by Russian artist Natalie Tsarkova.
Via del Corso, which is where the average Roman goes shopping and contains lot of shoe stores, department stores, fashion outlets such as Benetton, Gucci, and Prada, and the Ferrari flagship store (which was way too expensive for even Gary to consider buying anything). Along the way we stopped in the Piazza Colonna to examine the ancient Column of Marcus Aurelius.
Alfredo alla Scrofa, which is the original location where the famous Italian dish Fettuccini Alfredo was invented. Gary has been spoiled for Fettuccini Alfredo ever since he first tasted the real thing at the location this restaurant used to run at the Epcot Center in Disney World, so of course we had to visit this place and sample it now that we were in Rome. Although this restaurant is no longer owned by the same family who invented the dish, it supposedly still uses the original recipe and still has pictures on the walls of all of the famous movie stars and celebrities who have visited it. They tossed the noodles with the butter and Parmesan cheese right at our table, and it was one of the richest, most satisfying meals I have ever tasted. (Gary said that while it was good, it was not quite as good as he remembers it to have been at the Disney World location. Maybe it’s always that way – nothing is ever as good as the first time we do something memorable.)
Il Vero Alfredo at Piazza Augusto Imperatore, which is run by actual relatives of the man who invented the dish. We passed it on our wanderings during the day, and stopped to take a picture of it. We’ll have to visit that location the next time we’re in Rome to see if their version measures up to Gary’s memories.
Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s main public squares, and located the nearby restaurant where we planned to have dinner that night, called Casa Coppelle at Piazza delle Coppelle. It had been highly recommended to us by an American couple from Virginia that we met in a snack bar in Florence.
Ara Pacis Museum on Lungotevere in Augusta on the east bank of the Tiber River, which contains a modern reconstruction of an Altar to Peace built in 9 BC using original pieces that had been excavated or recovered from various other locations. The museum itself is a contemporary-style building that opened in 2006, and I have to say that the air conditioning in there was pretty refreshing.
Leonardo da Vinci: The Genius and the Inventions,” located in the Piazza della Cancelleria. It sounded fascinating, so after getting directions to the piazza from the bartenders in a snack bar we stopped at for a drink, we headed over there.
The exhibition consisted of 45 actual working replicas of da Vinci’s various machines based on his drawings and designs, such as his numerous flying apparatuses (apparently da Vinci understood the basic principles of flight but never actually built any of his designs), a hydraulic pump, a rolling mill, an Archimedean screw, musical instruments, a war machine resembling an armored tank, and webbed gloves for use in water.
There were also reproductions of some of the most famous paintings and drawings from this very versatile Renaissance genius.
The only problem was that service became much slower as the restaurant filled up and we had to wait a half-hour for our tiramisu, which turned out to be the only disappointing thing we ate in Italy (a thin layer of cake at the bottom of a glass with a lot of custard-like filling on top). It also got rather hot later on, since they had seated us at a table up front right near the door where we didn’t get any of the air conditioning from further inside. I would definitely try this restaurant again, but next time I would allow plenty of time, request a table outside or in the back, and try another dessert other than the tiramisu.
We had another subway adventure when we were ready to go back to the hotel. We first had to find a shop or restaurant willing to give us change for a €20 note, which is surprisingly hard to do. Then we took the wrong staircase when we got off at our stop, found ourselves in an unfamiliar part of the Bologna neighborhood, and had to wander around until we got our bearings again.
When we got back to our hotel room, we found a bottle of champagne in a cooler, two glasses, a flower, and a note saying “Happy Anniversary” from Monique. One of the girls from our tour group must have passed along the news to her. After all of the walking around we had done that day, it was very invigorating to pop open that bottle!