We had failed to visit the Vatican upon our first visit to Rome. Considering we had to pass back through it from Naples to make our way up to Florence, we booked two nights for our “stopover.” We returned by train late in the evening and checked into our room not too far from the station, delighted we no longer had the cloud of immenent Naples stabbing looming over our heads. Unlike our first enchanting night in Rome, it seemed our second visit was to be slightly less enjoyable and we first discovered this when we were charged extra to be provided with wifi. We felt a little stung, so swung the ledger back in our favour by nobbing a bottle of sunscreen from the bathroom (this has proven very prudent now that we are in the scorching Balinese heat.) With only two nights to try and recapture the memory of our first visit, we ducked out in search of some dinner. But again, it was still Sunday and everything was closed!!! We walked several kilometres to a number of potential gems but gave up after the third one was shut. Instead, we waddled into the horrible tourist zone where of course every restaurant was open, spruikers dazzled you with their generic menus and rotten wine was used to bait you in. First night back in Rome was very sub par.
The silverlining from this was it motivated Elisha to spend that night compiling a self-guided walking food tour for the next morning. We began the day with a quick espresso from Lant Eustach, another establishment featured in Eat, Pray, Love. The suit rush was already over thankfully so we were able to drink our espresso over several moments instead of the standard 3 second timeframe you might otherwise be granted.
There is a market in the Piazza Navona most mornings and we took a second to explore all the produce and pastas on display there.
A mozzarella bar was nearby and we stopped in there afterwards for a mozzarella, basil, rocket and smoked ham sandwich.
Any meal deserves dessert and we paid a visit to Grom for some gelato just around the corner.
A little walk away and we were back in the old jewish quarters where an old bakery sorted us out with some sour cherry cheesecake.
And by that time, it was then lunchtime. We had no guide for this but were looking for something on our way to the Vatican when we stumbled on Hostaria, a small family restaurant whose menu was all hand written on a tiny piece of scrapbook paper in Italian. Charming to say the least, a handful of Italians were midway through their minestrone soups, dipping their broken bread in and sipping from a small glass of wine at their tables. We just love how the Italians treat food. Their entire life revolves around eating and they take time out of their busy days to sit and enjoy and treat themselves to good food and good wine. It’s quite different to our world back home where, although people claim they love food, they are always in and out and eating on the run and substituting quality for quantity. After seeing us make a feeble attempt at reading the menu, a waiter did approach us and helped us select a cherry tomatoes and pesto pasta, as well as a rabbit dish. It was a lovely meal and a really cool and intimate experience in an otherwise tourist driven market. Having said that, I’m pretty certain they could still tell we were tourists and prime for a tablecloth robbery or something similar. To our surprise, the waiter also brought out two plates of rich, chocolate cake with a spoonful of wipped cream on the side. And not to our surprise, our total bill seemed to be noticeably more to what we’d expected, presumably because we had been billed for this “generous” freebie.
The world’s longest line of people exists outside of the Vatican and, to avoid this, you can purchase tickets online for an extra 4 euros each. We managed to head to a designated area where we could collect our tickets and walk right in. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the Vatican. The crowds had mostly thrown me from ever wanting to be inside and I get really angry whenever I see a mammoth construction of opulence that has mostly been created through the exploitation of religion. But it seemed wrong to go to Rome and not throw more money to an organised religious establishment. Inside, the Vatican is a bit whatever, whatever. Lots of ornate sculptures, lots of gold, lots of paintings and detailed artwork. There’s such a complex exhibition of human achievements and intricate detail that its hard to know where to direct your focus and to really be awestruck by what it is you’re looking at. For me, it was too much awesomeness to take in and it was easy to find yourself rushing through – otherwise you’d be there for 78 years looking at each and every piece. What I did really like however was the Ancient Egyptian section. I had not expected that. I’d seen so many ancient things in Italy and now I was staring at mummified Egyptians and heiroglyphic texts from 4,000 years ago!!! Again, it was that moment of seeing something that you were familiar with from text books but then, there it was right before you. Based on that alone, I was really glad I’d visited the Vatican. Among a billion other impressive things to see, the obvious ones are the Sistine Chapel where Michaelangelo’s David is painted on the ceiling and a few rooms before that where Raphael’s artwork is presented. Being an avid fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since childhood, I will admit I got goosebumps hearing my favourite Ninja Turtle’s names being mentioned. On top of that, knowing the turtles only had three fingers made all the brushwork that much more impressive. We’d had enough for one day so didn’t bother joining a slow-moving line to enter St Peter’s Basilica. Instead, we sat out the front and listened to an audio guide where we learnt a lot of incredible trivia but that has since slipped my mind.
It was our last night in Rome and we had planned to treat ourselves to one expensive meal to finish the city off with. We thought we’d go home first to freshen up and made our way to a bus stop. The transport isn’t the easiest to understand without some local knowledge but we worked out the number 60 could get us closest to home. So we sat, and waited. And waited. And waited. Was it coming? We’d seen a 60 pass in the other direction so knew they existed. We ended up waiting an entire hour before it eventually pulled up at the top of the platform. We were fairly disgruntled at this point already but I can’t express to you enough just how much I will pull a knife on that driver if I ever meet him after, to our complete astonishment, he drove away within seconds and we were stuck at the bottom of the platform trying to get through the people to catch it!! Unbelievalbe. I let out a few expletives in the general direction of Rome and we angrily chose to grab a drink and mutter how much we were hating Rome the second time around.
Dinner, when we finally got there, was at Da Danilo and we were seated downstairs in a dimly lit room. We selected a starting plate of assorted items, one last carbonara and a braised beef orriccette, as well as a “you only live once” bottle of expensive Chianti. All in all, it was really good but the price point seemed to manage to rub the taste buds raw before the food even arrived.
The last thing we were left to see in Rome were the Spanish Steps. We managed to walk to these late in the night where a few cleaners were sweeping the mounds of rubbish collected throughout the day and several groups of teenages huddled with grampa’s cough medicine. We walked down them, got to the bottom and then walked back up. Not quite the shrill you’d get on the Tower of Terror but then again, they are just steps. Probably from the Spanish.
We got up early the next morning and grabbed breakfast on the run (because sometimes you do just have to eat on the run – for example, when you are late for your train.) One of the things I do like about Italy and most of Western Europe are trains. I felt like Sheldon Cooper as I arrived in the station and boarded our train heading to Florence direct. Bye Bye Rome. Mostly good. Sometimes bad. But probably time to leave. Although all roads lead to Rome, it was nice to know some train tracks lead you back out of it again.