We arrived in Rome a couple of days ago, in late afternoon. We headed for our hotel, The Beehive, a very delightful place owned by a young American couple. It is only 2 blocks from the train station - very convenient when one has luggage to schlep - and it has clean, comfortable rooms, a large, full kitchen to share, free internet, free phones within Italy, and the most helpful and friendly staff imaginable (all nationalities, multi-lingual, ready to help with virtually anything). They even give you a book of Rome resources that they have written, which includes info on where to go, what to see, where to eat, where to shop, how to get places, and other great tips. Plus they have an in-house kitty, a great gray love thing, who wanders around soaking up attention from everybody.
The first evening here we took a long walk down the Via Veneto, over to the Spanish Steps, and down the Via Condotti. Daniella wanted to see the fancy designer shops, etc, and it certainly was eye-popping to see all the Prada, Gucci, Versace, Valentino, etc. etc. row after row of stores. The women here often look as if they have been shopping in these places, turned out in high style, and high heels have definitely not gone out of style in Rome, including many tall and glamorous boots - all with sharply pointed toes and spiky heels. Ouch!
Yesterday we literally walked all the way across Rome and back again. We first wandered down to the Colisseum and the Roman Forum, then attempted to go across towards the Pantheon. Alas, there was a big political event going on (something having to do with signing some important EU document), so a whole section of the city was blocked off to both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. There were virtually hundreds of carabinieri everywhere, keeping us from going where we were trying to go! So we went on many large and small "giros" (detours) until finally we got across the Via Nazionale and were able to continue on. We saw the Trevi Fountain, packed shoulder to shoulder with people, and then made it to the Pantheon, always one of my favorite places in the city. Next we went to a cafe in Piazza Eustacio which had been described as having the best coffee in Rome. Daniella sampled it and I had my usual ciocolata calda - yummm.
I will digress for a moment about the chocolate in Italy, since it is a major pull and distraction for me. It is endlessly diverse and delicious. The hot chocolates I've been drinking are deep, dark, not too sweet, and full of rich flavors. Then many bars have HUGE selections of chocolate bars and candies to choose from. For example, they sell Lindt chocolates in so many flavors that we never see in the US, and of course there are tons of other kinds. In Orvieto the other day there was a selection of chocolates that filled a room about the size of the Food Bin. It included flavors such as pepperoncino (hot pepper), cannabis, and every flavor of liquor and liquer. Also it had chocolate in every shape imaginable, everything from what are called "pinocchio's noses" (long pointy cones) to boxes of chocolate sex scenes! It has been mind blowing, and we have spent long, enraptured moments standing gazing at chocolate. Interestingly enough, we have barely eaten any of it, except occasionally in gelato, because we are always deeply satisfied by our mid-day pasta lunches! Go figure!
Anyway, back to Rome, I left you at the cafe, where we were gazing at more chocolate - but we then walked to Piazza Navona, so divine still, and on through to the Campo de Fiori (Rome's large open-air food market). For those of you who don't know, this was where we lived for the better part of a year, so long ago, in a tiny courtyard called Arco degli Acetari. I rushed in there again yesterday to see it. Such sweet memories flooded back!!! It is still as charming as ever, a hidden little nook one would never notice. Fortuitously, a man was sitting down in the courtyard transplanting flowers in flowerpots. I went over to speak with him in Italian for a few moments, and he told me that he was now the owner of the place. It turns out he is an American who has lived there since 1977 with his partner, both gay men. The one we met was a clothing designer and the other also an artist. We talked for quite a while about the place and what he has done to it, etc. Found out that they rent it out when they come back to the US, so we exchanged email addresses and plan to keep in touch. We asked him for a recommendation for lunch and he pointed us to a trattoria right on the Campo de Fiori, La Carbonara, so off we went!
This lunch featured a buffet of antipasto dishes where one could take a plate and serve oneself. We ate a large selection of fabulous things - asparagus, stuffed tomatoes, eggplant parmesan, crispy fried little fishes, porcini mushrooms, etc. We also ate a salad called "puntarella' which was the crispy hearts of chicory in an anchovy sauce, delicious. Next we had a penne all'arrabiata (hot and spicy tomato sauce) and a tagliatelle ala vongole (fresh clams). Finally, we had a bowl of wild strawberries, a treat that I always remember from the Campo and from my childhood, but never see anywhere else, sadly. That was more than enough good food, so off we wandered again.
We walked over to the Tiber river and along a good stretch of Lungotevere, the beautiful tree-lined street along the river that reminded us so much of Paris. Got to see Castel Sant'Angelo and then plunged back into the city where we basically walked all the way back to the hotel, stopping for awhile at the Piazza Navona for a gelato, and at the Trevi fountain for Daniella to soak her tootsies! After a couple of games of Spite & Malice, we crashed and had a great sleep.
Today we plan to take a bus back to Campo de Fiori and have pizza for breakfast there and see the market when it is at is fullest, in the morning. Yesterday we were a bit too late to see it all. After that, who knows where we will wander to. We still plan to have one more great trattoria lunch somewhere, and we also need to re-pack our luggage so that we can fit in all our stuff! This will be challenging. We leave the hotel at 4:30 tomorrow morning by taxi, and goddess willing, we will be home tomorrow afternoon.