August 20 - Off to Rome

The sun was shining brightly on the old piazza in front of the Duomo when we left for Rome this morning. Even though it was only 10:00, a huge group was waiting to go on a tour of Underground Orvieto to visit Etruscan ruins which run under the town. It will be a great way for them to escape this record heat here in Italy.

Our trip to Rome was a short 90 minutes by train, but unlike our other journeys by rail here, this train was crowded and we were forced to stand in the aisle until a kind conductor showed us to some seats in an adjacent car. Upon our arrival in Rome, it was just a quick trip to our hotel, Albergo Senato, which is right next to the Pantheon. Our room is on an upper floor and for us the view seems very familiar as we have been studying the hotel’s webcam for quite some time before arriving here. With our map in hand, we quickly set out to explore the area. Near our hotel is the church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where we saw a wonderful Michelangelo sculpture which is often missed by many visitors.

For Europeans, a quick trip to Rome is easy and inexpensive on many of their smaller airlines. We are delighted that one of our friends, Monika, has been able to join us here in Rome for several days to set about the city like explorers. We started our visit with her right in the piazza by the Pantheon with some refreshments, but we should have known better. Just for the privilege of sitting in a historic piazza with a great view cost just over $40 even though two of the drinks were nonalcoholic. But when it’s a special time with friends, it’s all worthwhile.

After sunset, all of the piazzas come alive with outdoor cafes lit with tiny votive candles. The piazzas look almost magical and Piazza Navona is no exception. In the center, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi is a masterpiece built by Bernini in 1651. Beautifully illuminated, people are drawn to sit by the refreshing water. The cafes all looked like a very appealing place to spend an evening, but knowing that the best food is often found down a hidden cobblestone lane, we were able to avoid the temptation. We were glad we did when one young man assigned to bring in customers informed us, “Good food here and not microwaved!” Unfortunately the two restaurants we had in mind from our Rick Steves guide were booked so we chose a little cafĂ© frequented by locals. It was not gourmet, but our pasta was tasty and fresh.

Strolling back from dinner we couldn’t resist the temptation to visit Fontana di Trevi. Rounding a corner to discover it right there is an amazing sight. Tourists happily stand with their backs to it and gleefully toss coins which we learned are gathered at the end of the day and given to the poor. With our cameras, we of course were targeted as tourists, and there was an attempt to present me with a rose “as a present” but we knew better and watched with amusement as two college age girls received their roses. They had huge smiles on their faces until they realized they must pay and with that, the roses were snatched out of their hands.

We ended the evening with a stop at Giolitti which has a long standing tradition of being Rome’s top purveyors of gelati. I asked for a scoop of Baileys and crema, but something must have gone wrong in the translation because I received a Baileys with a huge dollop of whipped cream. It was delicious though, and came in a cone dipped in chocolate. One girl received a cone with a big 16 candle on top all lit. She looked very pleased when everyone sang “Happy Birthday.” Back at the Pantheon, the cafes were winding down for the night. We headed into our cool room with ac feeling very pleased about our first night in Rome.


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