Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 10: When In Rome!

Sight Seeing & A Traditional Roman Lunch:
We woke up early excited to start a packed day of exploring Rome. As opposed to our rustic breakfasts in Positano, our hotel here provided a much wider spread of morning delights. From eggs, sausage, and other traditional American fare, to cold cut meats, cheeses, and pastries for the more European cravings. I had noticed the day before that this hotel seemed to cater to a much more international customer base, having seen a group of flight attendants and what looked like a group attending some sort of convention. It was clear that the Bernini Bristol wanted to make any guest, no matter their country of origin, feel at home. We settled on some eggs, knowing the protein would help us get through the busy morning. This was certainly a nice touch, but I also couldn't help but appreciate our early meals on the terrace at Hotel California, watching the sunrise with a cup of yogurt and a warm cappuccino.

We met Guise ("Juicy"), our guide for the city, at the Pantheon, a temple built for all the Gods of ancient Rome. Though we had been by it the previous day, there was a service being held and we weren't able to go in. The original temple was said to have been built in 27 BC, but the current structure was rebuilt in 126 AD during the reign of Emporer Hadrian. Later, the building was converted into a Christian Church as Paganism was rapidly looked down on.

Probably the most incredible view of the Pantheon is from the inside looking straight up through the dome. Also inside, are the tombs of Raphael, famed Italian painter and architect of the Renaissance, Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of united Italy, Umberto I, Vittorio's son and second king of Italy, and Umberto's wife, Margherita, for which a certain preparation of pizza got it's name.

Following our visit to the Pantheon, we walked the forum, which was the city center of ancient Rome. Though much of the structures are gone, there is just enough left to get a feel for how life was like for the Romans. 

We then visited the Circus Maximus, where the chariot races were held. Today only the field remains, but there was once a large stadium built around it that was the largest in all of the Roman empire. 

Race anyone?

 Guise then decided it was time to venture outside of the city walls and head to the catacombs. We ended up at the Catacombe San Callisto, one of many different underground burial systems in ancient Rome. This particular group of underground mazes was built sometime after 150 AD and were typically used for the burying of Christians. We weren't able to snap pictures once inside, but if you can just imagine a bunch of cold, dark, small caves that are connected by teeny corridors, then you can pretty much know what we were dealing with. Though it was extremely intriguing to see some early examples of Christianity in practice, I prefer the sunshine and fresh Italian air.

At the exit of the catacombs

We spent a little more time in the area and Guise took us to a section of the Appian Way that lies just outside the walls of ancient Rome. The road was once one of the most important and strategic roads leading into the city and is by far one of the oldest still in existence. We walked along the worn out stone street and took a little peek at some of the most beautiful, prestigious, and expensive for that matter, villas that even some of America's Hollywood royalty frequented (think Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra!).

Pictured above is a photo of me, Guise, and my mother and also a snapshot of the wall that surrounds ancient Rome.

Once back inside the city, we decided to go ahead and explore the Colosseum. The massive amphitheater was completed in about 80 AD and was capable of seating over 50,000 spectators. Used mostly for gladiator matches, the structure could house a variety of exotic animals to be used in the fights and also had the ability to shelter onlookers from rain and weather with a retractable awning.

Sadly the retractable awning was no longer there to protect us from a light Italian shower that had rolled in. But, having seen a week's worth of sites in one morning, we had worked up a big appetite and Guise knew a great place we could duck into quickly. We barely made it into the quaint restaurant unscathed by the oncoming shower, but we were quickly seated and Guise got right to ordering.

We first received a plate of little paninis and sandwiches filled with an array of different meats, cheeses, and lettuces. We gobbled on these for a short while before deciding on our main dishes.

Guise ordered a hearty eggplant parmesan that was baked to perfection with cheese so gooey and delicious it was more of a sauce than a topping. My mom settled on a light shrimp salad with fresh avocado, tomatoes slices, and tart grapefruit wedges. I ordered a dish which consisted of several different cold cuts of salami, crisp peppery arugula, marinated sun-dried tomatoes, all topped off with a hunk of fresh creamy mozzarella.

We talked and ate for what seemed like hours and after we had all stuffed ourselves to oblivion, sampling each other's food, Guise decided we couldn't possibly leave without trying dessert. So, we finished off the afternoon with a decadent chocolate "molten" cake topped with vanilla gelato and sprinkled with coco powder.

After being rolled home like Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (you know the one that blows up into a huge blueberry?), we rested up a little before venturing back out into the city for dinner.

In an attempt to redeem ourselves from lunch, we did a little walking around the well known Spanish Steps, an elegant and wide stairway linking two piazzas. Finished around 1725, the Spanish Steps are now home to locals relaxing, tourists snapping photos, Italian elite making their way into exclusive designer shops, and the panhandlers selling knock-offs and annoying trinkets.

We obviously fell
into the 2nd category

Once we had walked up a decent appetite, we headed over to a trattoria our hotel had recommended to us. At lunch, Guise had told us that we absolutely had to order pasta prepared alla Amatriciana, which was a tomato based sauce with crispy ham and spicy red peppers. The dish is unique to the area around Rome, where they happen to have several pig farms. Once seated, we noticed the vast number of artifacts that covered the walls in the restaurant. Everything from ancient Roman pottery to weathered family photographs, this trattoria was definitely a visual experience.

We started with a grilled artichoke marinated in olive oil that was as tender as it was rich. We then had the aforementioned Pasta alla Amatriciana and a heaping plate of Spaghetti Carbonara, another dish traditionally found in Rome. The Amatriciana dish had a the perfect balance of spicy, from the red pepper, and salty sweet from the crispy slices of ham. Acting almost as a foil for the previous plate, the Carbonara was peppery and creamy with huge chunks of tender ham.

We couldn't even manage dessert and instead made our way over to the Piazza Navona to enjoy an after-dinner drink and the young atmosphere.

The glistening fountains, bustling locals and tourists, and the soft moon glow was the perfect way to end the day. We sipped on champagne and chambord till we got sleepy and called it one heck of a good night! 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 9: ROMA!

New place, new people, new food:
We hit the ground running after our quick flight from Naples. We checked into our hotel, freshened up, and were back out the door to have lunch in the Piazza Navona and meet our tour guide Giuse, pronounced "Juicy", short for Giuseppina.  We settled into a little table right on the edge of the piazza center at a restaurant called Tre Scalini. After a long morning, I decided it was definitely 5 o'clock somewhere (probably in Australia) and decided to sip a crisp Peroni

Italians may be better at making wine,
but this beer sure is good :)

We decided to have a light lunch in preparation for a likely heavy dinner of more delicious pasta and other Italian fare. I chose an all-time favorite, caprese salad, and my mom picked out a nice plate of roasted veggies. 

Probably the best caprese I've ever had!

A great way to get in your veggies!

The grape tomatoes we perfectly ripe and burst with flavor in my mouth; the perfect compliment to the creamy fresh mozzarella, aromatic basil, and tart drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The array of vegetables my mom chowed on were perfectly seasoned with fresh herbs and parmesan cheese and had a wonderful grill flavor. 

After lunch, we met Giuse and headed off on a day of sight seeing. She took us to see some of the preserved ruins of the "original" Rome (modern-day Rome was built on top of the ancient city we all read about in history books). 

We walked and talked and talked and walked for hours, learning different bits and pieces of Rome's infamous history and observing the bustling crowds around us.

Among the sites we visited were the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and numerous baroque churches, one of which was hosting a wedding!

Wouldn't it be nice to get married at an ancient church in Rome then drive off into the sunset in a Maserati? I think so! 

After a long day on foot, we decided to grab dinner at a little hole in the wall family-owned trattoria. Though it was a tad chilly, we elected to sit outside and enjoy the crisp air. The sweet red table wine kept us warm and we ordered two big bowls of pene arrabbiata, which is pasta in a tomato sauce with hot red pepper. 

It was the perfect meal to end an exciting day. We tapped out early and headed back to our hotel, The Bernini Bristol, to catch up on rest. Even more of ancient Rome was waiting for us in the morning!