What about Rome? you ask. Rome is craziness and history and beauty all rolled into one. Let me condense the crazy for you in four images: think about constant wailing sirens (like watching a Jason Bourne movie all day and night); envision millions of motorcycles and scooters (for which, apparently, there are no rules at all) swerving in and out of traffic, racing between cars and trucks to get to the front of the line at every light; picture Nuns (always, always 4’10” tall) pushing their way onto over-crowded public transportation systems covered in graffiti; and then think about Romans boldly stepping off the curb to cross 4 lanes of on-coming traffic, staring that traffic to a stop. (We had to learn this trick too, since you can’t spend the whole day waiting on a curb. Stroller or no stroller, no one’s gonna to stop if you don’t make them.) Now, as a bonus image, just add in tour buses, lots of tour buses, and the hordes of people getting off those buses to snap pictures while following a tour guide who’s holding an umbrella high in the air. There it is. You’ve now got a pretty good picture of Rome.
And let me tell you this. When in Rome, you better mind your step. If you don’t, you’ll either step in dog poop or you’re going to twist your ankle. But if you’re only thinking about your feet, you’re going to get run over. Know that everyone on wheels is trying to kill you (an exaggeration for effect). It’s definitely not kid friendly. Chaos was the word that came to mind repeatedly. One night we even got caught up in what appeared to be a massive anti-mafia demonstration. There were riot police everywhere and, foolishly, we stumbled right into it. When the police got a look at this ridiculous family with their city select baby jogger stroller and then the massive, angry crowd behind them, they waved us right through their lines. It was pretty exciting. All the big men with helmets and guns and shields and their armored vehicles with cages on the windows…well, it was quite the sight. Parker had big eyes. William too.
We spent 17 wonderful (hectic) days in Rome and I have to say we’re literally exhausted. There is so much to do there. If you love history, as I do, Rome is the best. (Yes, Jerusalem’s pretty great too.) I bet we walked between 8-10 miles every day, maybe more, and a couple of those days were in the rain. We saw dozens and dozens of beautiful churches, including 18 of the 28 so-called “title” churches. We saw ancient frescoes and amazing mosaics, and more church relics than I could tell you about. (That’s not true: I wrote everyone of them down.) We saw ruins upon ruins. We walked this piazza and that piazza and a dozen more besides. We saw St. Peter’s, some Catacombs, ancient bath complexes, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Palatine hill, Circus Maximus, Largo Argentina, Hadrian’s Mausoleum, Trajan’s column, Augustus’ Ara Pacis, Nerva’s Forum, the Theater of Marcellus, the Borghese gardens, etc., etc., etc. You name it, we saw it. (That’s not true either: I still have a long list of things to see in Rome.) We saw Caravaggio paintings, Bernini sculptures, Michaelangelo architecture. It is a most remarkable place. We went to all sorts of museums too (Palazzo Massimo, right next to Termini station, being my favorite). I suppose, if they’re honest, William and Lindsey will say they don’t need to see any more marble busts of dead emperors. We walked ancient roads in Trastevere and modern jogging paths along the Tiber. We strolled the tiny little ally-ways of the Jewish Ghetto, noting the names (marked in paving stones) of those poor souls who were rounded up by the Nazi’s in 1943. We also walked the Corso, a main road which becomes pedestrian friendly every evening. We did this, with what appeared to be the rest of Italy, several times. What a sight. (Confession: we did this mostly when we wanted to get to Brillo Burger out near Piazza del Popolo. But we don’t care if you judge us—after carbs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for over two months, we’ve been craving burgers and theirs are unbelievably good.) Oh, and we saw Pope Francis on two occasions. That was pretty cool. Better still was seeing our friend Jenny (who came from Maine to visit for a whole week!), my old friends from grad-school, Alan and Michelle, a former student, and our friend Sylvia from Orvieto, as well as Matt, an artist in Orvieto, who came for the day to take William, Lindsey and I on an art history tour of the city.
We went out for almost every meal, since the place we rented did not really have a kitchen. And, truth be told, you can eat pretty cheap in Rome, when you know where to look. If I see another Margherita pizza, however, I will kill someone (another exaggeration). That said, the Best Pizza Award in Rome for me is a tie: Pizzeria Remo (just south of the Aventine Hill and a couple blocks off the Tiber) and Forno Campo de Fiori (in Campo de Fiori)—thanks, Matt, for adding that into the tour! We did eat some other great meals too. Two stand out in my memory: Da Enzo in Trastevere and Cuba near Piazza Navona. Get the Carbonara at the former and the Amatriciana at the latter; both were to die for. And let me say, I never will tire of good bruschetta. While tomatoes apparently originated in the Americas, the Italians perfected them.
We left every morning around 7 AM, stopping at a wonderful little bakery about 4 doors down from our place for cappuccinos and croissants. The owner was a French trained pastry chef who made miracles out of chocolate. Bridget surprised me with some special treats from this place on my birthday. After touring all day, we would return home typically around 9 PM. Collapsing into bed (after icing my feet, that is), I’d stay up for hours either trying to come up with a game-plan for the following day or reading more about what I just saw that day. I literally wore out my map of Rome. And I loved every crazy minute of it. As for Parker and Anders, they were really pretty good despite how hard we pushed them. Thank God for that stroller that Bridget insisted we bring along from home. In sum, to paraphrase a famous Roman, we came, we saw, we conquered. But our feet hurt.
So this trip is winding down. We will be back home in less than three weeks! While we’ve had a great adventure, we are all ready for some normalcy too. This week “stuck” in a chalet in the Alps with nothing important to do and no-where to go (except to take some beautiful hikes) could not have come at a better time. But just like that, and I know it will all be over. Here’s what will happen when it is: I will spend the final two months of my sabbatical getting some more work done while I sip coffee in my own leather chair in the comfort of my own home.
Pizzeria da Remo
Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice, 44
(Here’s where Dar Poeta in Trastevere gets a mention because the pizza was very good, but I still think da Remo beats it in more ways than one. Plus, we had not so good service here, but I will say I really liked the variety of bruschettas you could order. The ricotta with pesto one was a favorite.)
Forno Campo De’Fiori (pictured above)
Really good slices of greasy pizza, chopped in half and closed sandwich-like, before being wrapped in brown paper. Next door you can see the man making it all! Fun atmosphere too, right at the big Campo De’Fiori. Apparently has great pizza bianca too though I never tried it.
Forno Campo De’Fiori
La Sandwicheria (pictured above)
Great stop for a fresh sandwich near the Trevi Fountain. Fresh crunchy focaccia bread, big chalkboard menu with all sorts of sandwich names on it. I believe I got number 21 each time? The sandwiches are generous (not as enormous as Al’Antico Vinaio) and priced at 4 euros! No inside seating but Piazza di San Silvestro just down the way has lots of seating.
Largo del Nazareno
Fun spot in a little alley in Trastevere with packed in seats, and real Italian cooking. We came here on one of our first days, a rainy one, and it was a cozy atmosphere. Try the burrata–a cheese that, from the outside, looks like mozzarella, but when you break into it, it’s creamy inside. Eat alongside their tomatoes and bread and it is delicious! Also worth mentioning is the carbonara with generous chunks of pancetta. Less mention goes to the fried artichoke. It can be skipped.
Via dei Vascellari, 29
I was psyched to stumble upon this place on a long walk (our first solo walk in Rome) with the two little ones. It had a good ambience (bright, white tiled walls, huge bunches of fresh fruit and vegetables behind the counter) that seemed promising. It’s theme is slow street food with locally sourced ingredients. I had a lentil salad that had some creamy cheese on top, and Parker and I shared some chicken tenders and pesto. The pesto was one of the best of the whole trip and the chicken was definitely a made-right-there-fresh variety. Fresh juices (centrifughe) were also available. It was a nice break from a carb-heavy meal.
Piazza di Firenze, 25
A few doors down from where we stayed, San Teo (no name outside?) was my favorite pasticceria of the entire 2 1/2 months. I can’t imagine it falls short of what you’d come to expect at a fabulous place in Paris either. The little desserts are not only beautiful but so delicious and their breakfast pastries are unbelievable. Chocolate croissants, plain, cream (not overwhelmingly so!) with chocolate chips… I forgot my whole “eggs-are-better-for-you” routine and had a pastry almost every morning we were there (sometimes two). The cappuccinos are so good too, the people are friendly, and it’s ridiculously reasonable. Three croissants and four cappuccinos and you’ll still be under 10 euros.
Via di San Teodoro 88
Yes it’s a chain and so because of that alone a lot of people want to look the other way but man! This was maybe my favorite straciatella of the entire trip. Like so good. I went to Frigidarium and Come Il Latte and this beat both (especially Come Il Latte–I wasn’t impressed!). Yum yum yummmmmm.
Via della Maddalena, 30a
Brillo Burger (pictured above)
Great, great burgers. By American standards too. Fun menus where you check off how you want it–endless toppings–and out comes your delicious burger. Near Piazza di Popolo. 12 euros a burger, however, so not the cheapest eats. They have their own draft beer too!
Via della Fontanella, 8
Other fun food-related things: Eataly in Rome is huge and has all sorts of lovely grocery items for sale on the first floor. We grabbed some chocolate here, and I wanted to buy all of the yogurt in glass containers. Good thing for a rainy day too, perhaps? A bit of a hike to get there, depending on where you’re staying. We all sort of wanted to kill each other on this trek, but then we arrived. Disaster averted. On Via di San Teodoro there’s a big market every Saturday and Sunday that’s worth going to. Grab a fresh juice from the guy in the back! (I got fennel, spinach, lemon, and pair and it was really good. You can get it just after your carb-overload from San Teo.)