Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day 54: Rome (Nov 9)

The two main things I wanted to do today that were left on my list were the Borghese Gallery and Trajan’s area (Column, Market, and Imperial Forums). Both are on the Roma Pass museum list but the Gallery still requires a mandatory reservation that you need to pick up 30 minutes ahead of time. I also wanted to see the Piazza del Popolo. Given that none of the three are really near each other, I thought we might start at Popolo and take Rick’s “Dolce Vita Stroll” down Via del Corso (with maybe a stop at the Ara Pacis museum along the way) but by the time we got to the Piazza (we slept in) it was nearly lunchtime already.

The Piazza Popolo leads to the Borghese Gardens, but it’s nowhere near the Borghese Gallery. We got some lunch in the area and did some souvenir shopping, then figured out which bus to take down to the Piazza Venezia to see Trajan’s stuff (which we had seen from the street level earlier, just not close up). Along the way, though, I spotted a sign for a museum special exhibition of works by Leonardo and Michelangelo (the artists, not the Turtles) and made a real-time decision to go see that instead of seeing Trajan. When we got to the museum I thought I had been mistaken, this was for Rafael and Michelangelo (again, the artists and not the Turtles), but it was still a great exhibit to see collections of their works (and as it turned out, some of the works on display were on loan from museums in other cities that I had already seen, with blank spaces on the walls). Then as we were leaving, I saw a sign for the Leonardo/Michelangelo exhibit that I wanted to see in the first place, but we wouldn’t have had time for that and to get to Borghese. We took a bus up to the Gallery and started our tour around 4:15. They strictly limit you to 2 hours; we rented an audioguide and shared it. Both museums prohibited photos and were very strict about watching you. We were out by about 6:30pm.

The other gelateria that was recommended was San Crispino, a couple blocks north of the Pantheon. We walked downhill to the Spagna metro location, took it one stop to Barberini, and decided to have our last meal in Rome at a traditional-looking hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant, a place called Trattoria al Galinaccio. Again, the reason we were in that area was to go San Crispino because yum, Italian gelato. They’re a couple of blocks from the metro stop, about halfway to the Trevi Fountain.

Thus endeth my stay in Rome.

My recommendation for you: No matter how long you stay in Rome, you won’t have enough time to see everything you want, so you’ll have to (a) prioritize and (b) possibly rush through things faster than you might like in order to see more. Quantity or quality will depend on your preferences. I generally agree with Rick Steves’ 3-day itinerary, plus my additional day 4 for you (and we just found more stuff to do in the extra 2 days we were there):
  • On the first day, do the “Caesar Shuffle” from the Colosseum to the Forum, then over Capitol Hill to the Pantheon. After a siesta, join the locals strolling from Piazza del Popolo to the Spanish Steps (see the “Dolce Vita Stroll”).
  • On the second day, see Vatican City (St. Peter’s, climb the dome, tour the Vatican Museum). Have dinner on the atmospheric Campo de’ Fiori, then walk to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps (see the Night Walk Across Rome).
  • With a third day, add the Borghese Gallery (reservations required) and the National Museum of Rome.
  • For day 4, do your day trip to Pompeii and Amalfi.

I started with his 3-day trip and then modified it based on museum availability. Most of his day 1 became our day 3; his day 2 was pretty much our day 1; and his day 3 was our day 4. But have contingency plans in case lines are too long, rail strikes, etc.

We got to do pretty much everything that I had written down before we got to Rome. We didn’t miss any 3-star sites, but among the things I cut out due to time were Mamertine Prison, Trajan’s Column/Forum/Market, Villa Borghese Gardens, Ara Pacis, Catacombs of Priscilla, Castel Sant’Angelo, and the Appian Way.

For what it’s worth, here are other tips given to me by co-workers with their comments:
  • If you can stay in the Pantheon area, you will be within walking distance to just about everything.  You could also walk to the Vatican from the Pantheon area, but it's about 3 miles I think, so we took the bus. 
  • You might already know this, but definitely buy your Vatican museum ticket on-line.  You get to completely skip the line and then you have to change your printout into a ticket once inside.  Then you go through security and show your ticket.
  • Vatican tours: See details to e-mail dates you are available for tour. Otherwise on the day you plan to go to the Vatican show up by ~0830 to see if there are any openings or cancellations.  To go to the Scavi Office you need to go by the Swiss Guards to the left of the Basilica.  The changing of the guards happens at 0900 and it is cool to see.  Once they have done that you can go up and ask to go to the Scavi Office to see if there are any openings. 
  • Expect to eat dinner late.  Expect to order a Primi (pasta) and Secondi (though I didn't always do this) and then of course dessert.  If you like clams, I highly recommend a pasta dish with "vongole" as they were great in Rome (and Venice) and different types in both cities.  Give yourself time to navigate to restaurants if you have reservations, as the streets and businesses are not always well marked.  Avoid the restaurants with the big signs with pasta and pizza photos targeting Americans, and you will most likely find a charming great restaurant.  Be patient, things take longer, and you have to ask for the check when you are ready.
  • Il Gabriello - $$$ Near the Spanish Steps on Via Vittoria.  Great Romantic dinner experience.  Very small, so make reservations.  Basement location, but very charming with exposed stone.  Fresh seafood was their specialty.  I had lobster and shrimp and my husband had Lamb.  All were awesome. 
  • Sora Margherita - $$ In the Jewish Ghetto.  Again I recommend reservations.  Very humble appearance, but awesomely simply Italian food. Inside someone's home, you literally walk through the kitchen to the "dining room".  Location is not marked, just look for the red burgandy curtain covering the doorway (more like red hanging streamers?).  Order at least one fried artichoke as a starter if they has have any, as it is their specialty (like homemade potato chips).
  • Old Bridge Gelato (across street from the Vatican Museum entrance) - best (and cheap) gelato we had.  The mixed berry was my favorite.
Here are the photos from the day.

(Originally posted 5/13/14 at 8:45pm, Houston)

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