Italy 2014 - Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Rome - Click here for the slideshow (205 pictures)

Finished - September 7, 2014

Introduction
Rome
Venice
Florence
Ostuni
Taormina
Syracuse
Palermo
Every long journey outside the US begins with an airplane flight, unless you're going by train, bus, car, or boat; but that's not our style, so we deal with flying sardine cans. I'm not going to complain about the crying babies or a seat that Twiggy would find uncomfortable, because it's a necessary evil and it's over now.

Rome is one of the great tourist destinations regardless whether you're a seasoned traveler or a novice. For me, it represents food and thus, the first pictures I've taken (after the interesting parking puzzle solved by the over-populated Smart cars) are from dinner on our date of arrival. The restaurant - Ambasciata Di Capri - was a short walk from the hotel and served a high quality seafood dinner.

Hotel Mellini

We started with fried calamari and octopus salad (sliced so thin that it almost melted in my mouth.) My entree - a grilled snapper - was expertly deboned and deskinned tableside. The presentation, with portabella mushrooms and cheese ravioli, was enough for two hungry people. (The plate went back to the kitchen clean enough to skip the sink.) Dessert, after a short walk, was of course gelato.

Day two and we're off to explore. Piazza del Popolo is just across the bridge and has access to the underground Metro station. We bought two all-day passes and found the trains clean, fast, and easy to navigate. Like all good tourists, we headed south to the Colosseum. A word of advice, buy your tickets in advance. For lunch, we hopped back onto the Metro and went one stop north to Cavour. The restaurant - The House of the Drunken Cow - is only two years old, but the lasagna was made by a chef with centuries of experience behind him. The balance of the day, after another Metro ride to Piazza Spagna, was a shopping expedition along Via Del Corso.

Day three starts with a pink Smart Car. Don't ask. A short walk to the Borghese Gardens and then several hours of staring at the tallest trees we've ever seen. Mostly pines and cypress, but lots of gorgeous European Fan Palms and a long allee of oaks and magnolias. The sheer scale of the fountains and statuary dwarfs the people and reminds me of Gulliver's Travels. Yes, we are the Lilliputians. From the gardens, we walked south to the Spanish Steps and marched down them like conquering heroes. Continuing south to the Trevi Fountain with coins in my pocket ready for tossing and wishing, but sadly, the fountain was dry and encased in scaffolding. Oh well, I guess we'll just have to come back some day. Last stop for the day was Piazza Navona - beautiful fountains, a million restaurants, and a billion tourists. Okay, I may have counted some of the restaurants twice.

Porto di Ripetta, Via di Ripetta, 250, Rome - one of the best restaurants in the world. This was my second dinner there after five years, and the food is just amazing.

Porto di Ripetta

High brick ceilings

The happy diners and waitress

Octopus salad

Tortellini with meat sauce

Clams with Pici

Salmon

Osso bucco

Day four finds us in the fast lane into the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. A word to future travelers, buy your tickets in advance or go later in the day, it's a mistake you'll only make once. While the museum is magnificent, the Sistine Chapel is a work of art unlike any other I've ever seen. If you've never seen it anything but photos, the real deal is truly breathtaking. The one image of God touching Adam's fingertip is only one of hundreds of paintings just on the ceiling. Sorry to say they forbid photos in the chapel otherwise I would have shot dozens. From the Vatican, we went to the Castle of Sant'Angelo. Lots of cannonballs, great views, and lots of steep steps.


Piazza Navona - Tre Scalini

Piazza Navona - flower-covered balcony

Piazza Navona - fountains at night

Tre Scalini in the Piazza Navona - I have told friends traveling to Rome for years that if you don't eat dinner here at least once, don't bother going. The Tartufo was invented here and the Steak Diane is world class.

Gnochi with cheese, basil, and tomato

Spinach and cheese ravioli

Steak Diane

Scalopini 4 funghi

Tartufo

Day five (has it really been five days?) and our first stop is the Hard Rock Cafe for t-shirts and pins, along with a stroll along the Via Veneto. An amazing bakery offered (and we accepted) some fine Roman cookies and we got pictures of the US Embassy, but no one was home. We wandered into the Church of the Cappuccian Brothers and found some beautiful paintings and massive pipe organ. The last stop of the day was at a modern art museum called Maxxi; perhaps the weirdest museum either of us had ever seen, but at least it was quiet and off the beaten path.

Day six begins with a real museum - The National Art Gallery of Rome, free on the 1st Sunday of the month! Degas, Calder, Van Gogh, and an amazing exhibit of the works of architect Marcello Morandini. Well worth the trip and just north of the Borghese Gardens. We then took a taxi south to the Trastevere district and had the best lunch of the trip so far. Yes, there's melon under that blanket of prociutto. Grilled lamb and roasted potatoes, yum!

For the famous Last Supper, we went back to the best restaurant in Rome - Porto di Ripetta. No sense taking a chance on an unknown, plus, who knows when we'll be back? Starters were ravioli stuffed with beef cheeks and cheese, and tonnarelli with mushrooms. The main courses we selected were more beef cheeks (tasted like perfect brisket) and shrimp scampi (the whole shrimp!) Two desserts, mostly chocolate, and a superb bottle of wine. What a meal!

Overall Impressions
  • Hotel Mellini - the room was small, but clean. Bathroom was a fair size with a large tub and good shower. The front desk staff were wonderful, very helpful, and polite. In truth everyone we met in Rome followed that pattern. The location is perfect - away from large crowds but centrally located so that nothing is a terribly long walk.
  • Food - eat in Tre Scalini or Porto di Ripetta and you can't go wrong. The other restaurants were good with the exception of Su & Giu Trattoria - avoid it.
  • People - friendly and helpful, especially giving directions.
  • Getting Around - walking is safe, everywhere we went, just watch out for cars as red lights do not always mean they will stop. The Metro is great, fast, and inexpensive. Taxis are exciting.