Saturday, September 15, 2012

'La Dolce Vita' in Italia: La Roma

Tuesday August 21 - Saturday August 25

Wow we left a hot Budapest for an even hotter Rome. Unfortunately after our first overnight train ride on Trenitalia from Budapest to Rome we weren't to enthused to walk around a sweltering hot city, and had to as soon as we arrived because check-in at Nardizzi Americana wasn't until 1:30. So leaving our backpacks behind at the hotel we were off to our first day of walking around Rome (the best way of getting around).

We walked down Via Nazionale, just around the corner from the hotel. Looking at our map we thought we'd get one of the touristy sights out of the way; Fontagna di Trevi(the Trevi Fountain). On our way we walked past ruins of the greatest gladiator school during the Romans reign. We also came across what the Italians have nicknamed 'the wedding cake' the monument for Vittorio Emanuele the Second - J was impressed with this sight.

Eventually we found our way to the Trevi Fountain through the throng of tourists and J was able to throw a coin behind his shoulder and make a wish.
After heading back up along Via Nazionale we ate lunch at a cafe and then walked back to hotel Nardizzi Americana - we could finally check-in! We had started running out of clean shirts, so we asked the male receptionist where we could wash our clothes, he gave us two options; a laundromat where we could wash our clothes ourselves or where you can pay someone to do everything. We chose the latter and it just so happened to be just down the road from us. After meeting the woman who ran the show at this laundromat, I joked to J that I wanted to steal her and she could be my cute Italian Nonna...she was so lovely
The laundry was sorted and J and I needed to catch up on much needed rest after being on that very fast scary train ride, where we didn't sleep much at all.

Waking up from our little siesta we headed towards the Lo Colosseo, probably the most famous sight of ancient Rome - the Colosseum. I told J this would give him a great view of its enormity without all the tourists (and I was right it was tourist free). We walked past the Colosseum and finally found a street full of cafes and restaurants, we walked past all the touristy ones (the ones where there is someone standing out the front hassling you to come) and settled on one down Via di San Giovanni in Laterano. J had the veal tortellini and I had gnocchi in tomato sauce. It was obvious to us that the pasta was not homemade, but we enjoyed being in a non-fuss restaurant and enjoyed our wine.

After awhile we got talking to a two lovely guys, a couple from California. J and I had a great time chatting to them about marriage laws for gay couples in" Australia and the US, how different both countries are and of course we loved telling them all about Australia. Though I think we scared them from ever visiting our lovely country. We were so busy talking to these guys, we hardly noticed all the other men that had appeared out of the wood works and the street had turning into, well, a street party. We found ourselves to be in a gay bar. After awhile we realised we'd had enough excitement for one day and wanted to store up the energy for the rest of our days in Rome.

Well we started our day with picking up our laundry, so I got to see my 'Nonna' again. Then we went and bought bus passes so we could take a bus all the way to Vatican City, because that was way to far to walk to. On our way to the tourist office on Via Nazionale I got stopped by a woman and she asked me in Italian, "Parla Italiano?" I said "Si, un' poco." So she continued to talk in English, and she told me, well actually blessed me. Yes, I got blessed by some random woman on a street of Rome. I later joked to J, because she was bats**** crazy she probably stalks the Pope and therefore has touched him, therefore I have been blessed- by the Pope himself. That was my theory anyway.

We then continued on from the tourist office on the same walk as we did the day before, and walked to the Pantheon. Remembering from my first trip to Rome, almost the whole Topdeck group sat at a restaurant opposite the Pantheon and ate lunch - it was one of my highlights of that trip. Though I couldn't remember whether I went inside or not, though this time, J and I did. It was amazing to look at from the inside and we got to have a look at the tomb of Raphael. J and I were quite touched by the quote on his tomb that reads: "Here lies Raphael, by whom Nature feared to be outdone while he lived, and when he died, feared that she herself would die."

Walking out of the Pantheon we bought ciabatta sandwiches and sat and at them right on its steps. We then filled our water bottle from the Roman aqueducts, so great to have clean, cold water that is free to all. We then walked towards the direction of Piazza di Spagna and bought ourselves a cup of delicious gelati each; J had limone and fruitta di bruscha and I had pistacio and bacio. We arrived at Piazza di Spagna to for J's reaction to be very underwhelming because the Spanish steps are just that, steps. Not really that exciting and I had already seen and walked up them before. Not only were we bored by this sight, but we got harassed by men selling roses, none of them left us alone, and we were asked five or more times.

Needing to cool off from the 42 degree heat we walked back to Hotel Nardizzi to sit in our air conditioned room for 15 minutes and rest our feet. After our little pit stop we caught a bus from Via Nazionale to the Vatican City, where we found our way to St. Peter's Basilica, where it was an effort to cover up in the stifling heat to be allowed in. I mean I don't mind being respectful, but the temperature was disgusting. I knew from last time I was there I had to cover my shoulders which I remembered to do, but just on entry I was made to cover my legs too, which was a bit of effort since I was wearing a skirt. Thank god it wasn't too short and I was able to adjust it, pulling it closer to my knees and I was allowed to enter. J was amazed at the thoroughly (almost over the top) decorated church. And for the second time, I still found myself fascinated to look at it all. Due it being so late in the day we weren't able to go have a look at the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel.

We left Vatican City on a fully packed bus back to Via Nazionale (the buses were packed due to metro line being down). Walking up Via Firenze (the street the hotel was on) we stopped in at a pizza snack bar for a bite to eat, because lunch was so long ago. We saw that the male receptionist from the hotel Nardizzi was also grabbing himself a quick bite to eat, we bought two pieces of pizza and the receptionist then recommended we should try a more typical pizza of Rome and the owner then gave us a taste of this pizza, and we were on our way.

J and I refreshed at the hotel before we headed to Piazza Navona to find somewhere for dinner. I didn't get a chance to see this famous piazza last time I was in Rome, and I was impressed. It looked terribly romantic like it did in Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Again like most of Rome's tourist attractions, the romanticism of the sights gets ruined a little by all the gypsies selling stuff right next to them. We ate at Tre Scallini; where J and I had over very own 'la dolce vita' moment. The best thing about dinner was the dessert; the original tartufo. The tartufo is: a scoop of chocolate gelato, with a cherry in the middle, chocolate shavings and cream on top. It was heaven in a cup.
After two late nights in a row J and I decided to indulge in a little sleep in and didn't arrive at the Colosseum until 11:30, and when arrived we straight away the mass of tourists waiting to get in. After hopping in the overly long line for the ticket booth, we were confronted by an 'information' guy who worked for the Colosseum. He warned us that the line to buy a ticket was an hour and 45 minutes long and offered us a package to join a professional tour guide for an hour long tour of the Colosseum (where we don't have to wait) and after that tour we can also get a tour of the Roman Forums and the Paletine for 25euro each. Last time I saw the Colosseum with my Topdeck friends, we had been tricked into getting an audio guided tour, where we did end up waiting to get in. Though this guy as I said worked for the Colosseum - J and I trusted him, and he came up with the goods.

Finally in the Colosseum, we walked around the Roman masterpiece whilst listening to our enthusiastic and eccentric guide. Apart from the Colosseums stature and size, and being able to see the underneath what was the battle ground, J was not overly impressed.

Around one we finished our tour and by 1:15 we were on our next tour; of the Paletine and Roman Forum with Alex. Let's say J sighed when saw Alex, like most of the male kind who did the tour, because he was gorgeous (not Italian) but you wouldn't be able to differentiate his nice tan from a local. So of course I thought the tour was great, no it really was, even J thought so. Alex had the knack for a guide job; being informative but also entertaining. Especially when he started the tour with, "so your on this tour right, because your not sick of looking at rocks yet." I hadn't walked around the Roman Forum or Paletine ruins last time I was in Rome, so it was new to J and myself. After the tour had finished, we enjoyed our tour so much we booked a 'Roman Mystery tour' with Alex again the next day and also a 'secrets of the Vatican tour' with his colleague Rachel.

After a big day again in the intense heat, we needed to head back to the hotel before dinner. Especially because I think I suffered a bit from heat stroke. For dinner J had found Al Duello on tripadvisor, so that's where we were headed, back to the Piazza Navono area again. Again we felt the 'la dolce vita' but not because J and I were having a moment, but because we felt at Al Duello that we had finally struck gold. The menu was not overpriced and it was not touristy (which are two things that are hard to come by in Rome), we enjoyed our meal so much that we booked a table for the next night and told the owner Martina that we'd be having the degustation menu option. This night J had onion soup (a house favourite), while I had zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and tomato for appetizers. For mains J had the seafood pasta special with scampi and I had the 'Al Duello' pasta: PASTA... with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil, so simple but so fresh. And last but not least mouthwatering dessert and my new favourite I had panacotta with fresh mixed berries and chocolate shavings and J had a chocolate and pear soufle. Best meal I've had in awhile.

We woke up early because we were meeting Alex (the guide from the day before) for breakfast at Campo Di Fiori at 9:30. We had got their a little early and we walked around the daily fruit and veggie markets - we bought a freshly cut-up cup of fruit and nuts and dried fruit to snack on later (this stall even had dried sweet tomatoes). We then waited for Alex at the breakfast place where he told us to meet him and were pained to here the waitress tell us that they had finished the 'American breakfast.' Which meant no eggs and bacon, I could've cried.

Alex started the tour around ten-ish by taking us to an espresso bar, where he said you could get the best espresso in Rome; Lant Eustacio il Caffe. The espresso was great, gave me that kick I needed after missing out on a cooked breakfast. The highlight of this tour was seeing Michelangelo's 'secret tomb,' in the catacombs of a church that was used by the Pope of the day while the second (current) St. Peter's Basilica was being built. The tomb remained a secret according to Alex because the Vatican chose to re-write this part of history. Whether you are a believer, or you think its too 'Dan Brown' it was a fascinating story. On this tour J and I got talking to a young Irish couple; Dean and Julie and when the tour ended we all went together to Fabio's (a sandwhich bar Alex recommended) near the Vatican.

Fabio's is well what we needed, a simple, fresh and tasty sandwhich, nothing too different and a fresh smoothie or juice. It was great having a chat to Fabio himself (the idealist who makes your sandwhich) and ... who whizzes up your juice.

We then walked with Julie and Dean to try and find where we were meeting Rachel (Alex's colleague) for our tour of the Vatican Museum. Rachel, similar to her colleague was a great tour guide, informative and well just damn friendly. And cudos to her for making jokes about the Mutant Ninja Turtles when she spoke about Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo the artists. I had been on a similar tour of the Vatican Museum last time, but I got to see a different collection of Raphael's and got to see Carvaggio's .... J is in love with this Carvaggio, in awe of it, I think that was the highlight of the Vatican Museum tour for him.

Then we stepped into the Sistine Chapel, a building (yes, that I've been in before) that still takes my breath away. Michelangelo was a ledgend for a reason. Finishing our tour of the Vatican properly, we sent a postcard from the Vatican City post office to my nieces (because it is another country) and where we said goodbye to Julie and Dean. J had also told Dean all about our delicious dinner at Al Duello, so he gave them the details about where it was.

About dinner, just thinking about it, reminds me of how stuffed I was with food that night. When we arrived and were greeted by Martina, before thinking about it properly, I told Martina instead of the five degustation meal, that'll we'd do the six. Even though my waistline feels it was a mistake, it has to be one of the best meal memories I have. And I experienced many firsts during this mealtime, for not only did I try: mussels, clams, sea bass and scampi for the first time, but the scampi was raw! Be shocked everyone! When I try firsts, I go all the way. The reason we had that much seafood, is because our likes and dislikes kind of got 'lost in translation' so I ended up with all seafood meals. Our meals included (three appetizers each) which were: grilled baby octopus with a chilli black rice, a zucchini flower wrapped in proscuitto, mussels in a broth, brasata cheese (creamier than mozzarella) with salad, beef carpaccio and raw scampi. That was then followed by two primi piattis (pasta) each: clams with rigatoni, tomato and chorizo with rigatoni, sea bass with spaghetti and cabonara. We then had a main each, J had veal scalloponi and I had baked sea bass and potato. And we managed to fit in dessert; J had caramel panacotta and I had my new favourite, panacotta with fresh berries.

Our night was made magic, firstly because we were greeted by Martina with a glass of sparkling each and then because Dean and Julie ended up coming to dinner at Al Duello too. We ended up sharing our table with the lovely couple and made a night of it. J and I enjoyed their company, especially because they were the kind of people who gave sh** to us and we could give it back. We celebrated Julie's birthday, which was the next day and we actually closed the restaurant with Martina and the other two waitresses bringing out four glasses of champagne and a tirimisu with a candle in it for Julie and officially ending the night with a limoncello each. 

That night was what it was all about, 'La Dolce Vita.'

The Colloseum on our night stroll.

The view from underneath the shade of the Pantheon.

Michelangelo's secret tomb.


  1. Loved it loved it! Rome sounded very enjoyable.
    And yes very proud of you for eating all that seafood
    Love A xoxo

  2. Realy enjoye this Morgan so pleased you and James have had such a wondefull experiance and you will have such pleasurable memories for the future. Lots of love to both of you miss you both jilly. Nanee xxxx