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Author: Host Ciao
Date of Trip: January 2013

Buon Anno Nuovo!

Its New Year Eve here and I’m spending it in the usual way–staying home! Rome is very crowded almost more crowded than at Christmas. The hotel is full and I’m not the first one up for breakfast right now as I usually am. I really like breakfast–and I eat all kinds of things I wouldn’t at home: hard rolls delivered from a bakery, butter, jelly and milk and sugar in my coffee–marvelous!

Some afternoons I come home and just flop on the bed–some nights too after I decide where to eat. Tonight I am having supper in–piazza bianca con mortadella panini (flat foccacia). I ate dinner at noon at the Irish Pub–baked potato with cheddar cheese and Guinness.

I believe I told you I was going to visit the Ghetto area. I ate lunch there and did have carciofi Guidea, artichoke Jewish style. It is fried and somehow ends up looking like a flatish flower with leaves ranging from dark brown to pale beige. The heart is soft; the rest is crisp. I ate at a kosher restaurant. I also had “cous cous classico,” made with beef, tomato sauce, chick peas, a bit of zucchini and served in a crock with a lid, drank wine too–all very good.

That same day I had done some church hopping and at Santa Maria in Cosmedin, the porch area must have had 50 plus people in it all waiting to see the “Mouth of Truth,” and probably stick their hand in it and have their picture taken, unless it bites, which means they have lied a la Gregory Peck for Audry Hepburn’s benefit in “Roman Holiday.” Having already many pictures as well as a couple of small copies at home, I did not feel the need to take another picture.

On last Friday I took a bus tour to Orvieto and Assisi. We drove in fog, but as soon as we rode the cable car up to the upper city of Orvieto, the sun was out. Eventually the fog burned off down below too and we had great weather. The walking tour of Assisi was too fast for me. It’s such a peaceful town, but full of tourists because of a vacation weekend. Every time I go there on a bus tour I wish I had planned to stay a day or two–but not between Christmas and New Years! Excitement on the way back–the bus was stopped by the police; seems their computer showed we had driven between two points faster than we should have. This took about 20 minutes to straighten out, however that was done.

Saturday I rode the Metro out to EUR section of the city, more modern area. But I went mainly to visit Tre Fontane Abbey. This is beautiful, peaceful old place with three churches. One of the churches is built around three fountains that theoretically formed where St. Paul’s head bounced three times when he was beheaded. The water is very unhealthy so the fountains are contained in altars. Sunday I spent a lot of time in the Capitoline Museums, definitely worth a visit.

Other ramblings: for fashion fans I am not at all fashionable. The legs of my jeans do not require me to point my toes and tense my leg muscles to get them on; I do not have any boots and hope not to have to buy any I’ll settle for the weather we have, I do not have any glitter on head, tops, pants or shoes including tennis shoes, plus accessories. I do wear black though more often with red than white. I am not bald as most of the mannequins I see are or wearing a strange hat; I do have a large scarf, but refuse to bundle it up around my neck when it’s about 50 degrees. I bought it when I was freezing in Florence. And now I also wonder if my second childhood is here. I have bought three books about Pompeii, Ancient Rome and travelling through time in Rome, the latter two lead by a cat named Cicero and his “gladiator” buddy on a motor scooter for the last one. Actually there’s a lot of reading included. Ah well!

Indeed now I know why Babba Noel (Santa) has been in his house in San Silvestro Square waving and talking to children. I have been assured by one of the hotel staff that he and Befana work together. He drops off goodies and presents on Natale and she takes over for Epiphany, today. Also I have figured out that the woman with him at the Christmas Fair in Piazza Navona isn’t Mrs. Claus as I thought, but is indeed Befana, the old lady who was too busy doing house work to go with the Magi to follow the star, but now she flies all over looking for that star and visits children tonight. I must say the one in Piazza Navona is much better looking in real life than the ones that many, many stands there are selling as dolls of her, most of which look like they flew around on October 31 instead. Ah well! I am going to the Piazza soon for another visit as I think it ends tonight.

On Wednesday I went to the Testaccio area of the city, which used to be a port here. First I spent 45 minutes or so in the Protestand Cemetery or as its official called Non-Catolico. As a former English teacher I had to make my obligatory visit to one “whose name is writ in water,” better known to most as John Keats. Then I wandered up the hill to visit Shelley too. This cemetery is a peaceful beautiful place, full of greenery and many, many interesting monuments. And it has its own group of cats or “guardians of the departed” as the little brochure asking for donations said.

Then in the same area of town I went on an Eating Italy food walk. Not sure I can remember everything we ate, but it was lots! We started with “breakfast” around 10:30, but instead of a cornetto we had a Christmas time treat panetonne, Roman Christmas bread. Then we went on to Volpetti, a marvelous, tiny food shop and since all 12 of us would hardly fit we waited outside and tasted pecorino cheese with specks of black truffles, prosciutto crudo, and chinghale salami (wild boar). On to the cafe around the corner and samples of pizza by the slice, only an inch or so wide, but so good–pizza margarita, tomato, mozzarella and basil. Off to the new covered market where we visited several shops, picked up some chopped tomatoes and garlic and went to another shop where we received pieces of toasted bread to rub with the garlic and pile with tomatoes for bruschetta (brusketta remember). Onward to another shop\counter for pieces of bufala, buffalo milk mozarella, with which we finished the tomatoes. We went to a restaurant built into Monte Testaccio (an ancient man-made hill carefully formed with broken amphora that couldn’t be reused). There we had pasta all’ amatriciana, spaghettio caccio e peppe, and spaghettie carbonara along with wine, water, and bread. No we aren’t done yet. We stopped at another place for suppli ala Siciliana, not a true Roman suppli, but a darn good version of the famous rice ball. Also one of the best tastes–tiramisu’ in a chocolate cup. Of course, it was only about a two-bite cup but very good And finally gelato!! A great tour.

After this I walked up the Aventine hill, mainly because there was no bus that could take me there and I had to look through that famous keyhole in the wall for the view of St. Peters and, of course, while I was there visit a couple of churches to see the Nativity scenes.

Now that I’ve done all that talking about food, I’m about out of time and typing ambition. And since I am still walking it off, I need to get ready for my walk to see Befana and probably by some croccante, solid nut brittle, all nuts with the sugar syrup holding them together. Some has been very good, some just OK. another oh so good item!!

I cooked with Chef Fabio and his assistant yesterday noon after shopping in the morning with her. Again this year I signed up with International Kitchens for a class with Chef Fabio in Rome. This time I chose the half day shopping, cooking and eating class. The class I took in the past was a full day which included a trip to his home in a village outside of Rome. I have chosen Fabio because he is one of the few offering classes for one person though more could join. This year I was the only one.

I met his assistant Monica and we set off. First we walked through the Ghetto area and stopped for a slice of pizza. This was about 9:45 am. Then we went to the market having discussed food I liked or hated. She bought artichokes, radicchio, onions, and tomatoes and then headed to a meat market where she bought a single chicken leg/thigh combo and had them boned.

As we headed to Fabio’s apartment not far from the Trevi Fountain, we stopped for coffee at one of the two famous Rome coffee experts, the Cafe St. Eustachio. I just had coffee, but could have added the typical Italian breakfast of a cornetto (like a croissant). We arrived at this apartment (the other is near the Spanish Steps), and the fun began!

I won’t go into the details of the chores I performed. Let’s just say, I chopped, stirred, rolled, stirred, kneaded and filled following the chef’s or Monica’s directions. It was a fun experience though sometimes I felt like I had too many fingers, like when I couldn’t manage to separate the yolk and white of an egg (I don’t have trouble with this at home). Kneading the gnocchi dough was especially fun as he insisted I had to make sure it oozed out between my fingers at the start on the way to reaching the right consistency.

Here’s the menu. First course was gnocchi with tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil. These were garnished with deep-fried eggplant. Chef Fabio ate several courses with me though he was also busy answering the phone. Next was ravioli stuffed with artichokes, ricotta, and egg (yes we made the dough and filled them.) I told Monica I would eat 4 max; I was already not hungry. We also made lasagna with some of the pasta dough. The filling was sautéed radicchio and onion in a white sauce with mozzarella and Parmeggiano. The chicken ended up in two dishes, one was marinated in brown sugar and half balsamic and half apple cider vinegar then sautéed until caramelized. The other was baked after being “double dipped” in flour, egg, and bread crumbs (“always make your own!”). Monica added a bit of tomato and mozzarella to the top. I managed one piece of each. There was also a deep-fried potato croquette and another of eggplant, luckily both small, but good! And, of course, we had wine–red because that’s what I like.

After all this Chef Fabio asked if I felt like dessert. I said maybe a bite. So off we headed to one of his restaurants, That’s Amore. It’s decorated with pictures of lots of movie stars from the past–Dean Martin, Steve, McQueen and others. There people were having lunch but we sat at a table and had what he called a small piece of a dessert made of very thin pastry, chocolate chunks, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. It was not very small in my eyes.

After this my adventure ended and I tottered home–about a 15 minute walk–and collapsed on my bed around 2:30 pm. I enjoyed this day and have found Fabio’s recipe page on line. I will see if I can find any of the recipes we made. He told me that since this was my second session I was now one of the family–a nice comment from an interesting and nice man.

Suffice it to say that I could barely drag myself out for the Dark Rome walking and bus tour that night. This included a start with a drink and anti-pasti plate. No one who knows me will believe that I left 90% of my food on the plate. Did drink the wine, of course. And it was a good tour.

Off to wander the nearby area this evening.

Have to tell you about a great tour I had to Tivoli. Of course, it was pretty pricey because it was a private tour. But the Walks of Italy guide was excellent. And I do enjoy ruin running so wandering over some of Hadrian’s huge villa was a treat with somebody who could tell me what every ruin had been. She was also very good in the gardens of Villa d’ Este with its many fountains, a place I love.

Tivoli brings up another subject or two. I had to buy a train ticket at the Rome Tiburtina station, not the main one. It is a huge place and still being worked on and not at all filled. I completely missed the ticket office, but one of the train customer service agents showed me how to use the automatic ticket machine–except my credit card would not work. She knew why too and I have heard this before. American issued cards do not have a certain chip that Italy cards have ( maybe other EU countries too), and the machine wants the chip. Luckily I had the cash I needed, and the machine ate that and spit out the ticket. I have not had trouble with my cards in stores or hotels so maybe it’s newer machines, but it is something to be aware of.

Also that day I managed to get lost in the station trying to get out. I followed every exit sign and didn’t find an exit. I wanted to take the bus rather than the Metro and then change to a bus. A kind construction worker lead me down two levels and pointed the way, but I still found no exit. Finally another of those nice young customer service agents could speak English and told me how to get to the bus. I still had to go down and then up a level. By the time I was done I had started to feel like the old Kingston Trio (I think) song about poor Charlie who couldn’t get off the MTA and was riding ” ‘neath the streets of Boston”–if any of you are old enough to remember that song.

Another day I spent part of on the Appian Way. I decided to go to the Saint Calixtus catacombs since I had toured the Saint Sebastian one on another trip. A mistake! Of course, the S. Calixtus is the one all the tours go to and the one most visited, which I think is the problem. The groups are too big; the English tour must have had 25 to 30 people. The guide had a strong accent and began talking before all the people in the group had made it into the rooms we stopped in. On this trip I also visited the catecombs of Saint Priscilla out near the opposite edge of town. This was great, only three people on the tour. It was easy to get interested and sense the feeling of the guide as he explained the rooms and paintings. It reminded me of the tour of St. Sebastian in the previous trip. I really recommend if you can take the time to visit one of the catacombs on your own that you choose either St. Priscilla or St. Sebastian. Both can be reached by public transportation though St. Sebastian is on the Appian Way and probably easier to reach. When I toured there I was the only person on the tour. Also according to the sign I saw when I visited the church, the catecombs donàt close for the noon break there.

After I had taken the St. Calixtus tour, I walked on down to the Fosse Ardeantine memorial to the over 300 Roman citizens who were shot by the Nazis in retaliation for a Resistance attack. The bodies were buried in the cave where they were shot, but after the war Rome recovered the bodies and identified them. Each is buried in a separate sarcophagus with a small light bulb that burns all the time–a very peaceful and moving area.

My last several days were as busy as the rest of the time. On Saturday I visited the Ara Pacis, which is the Altar of Peace of Augustus, much of which has been reconstructed. I also went to the first of the four sites of the National Museum of Rome. Palazzo Altemps is chiefly a museum of ancient statuary in a palace that also still exhibits part of the decoration in the rooms and the chapel. If I had managed all four sites in three days, I could have visited for only one 12E ticket. However, that seemed a bit much in three days so I ended up buying two tickets and still about said, “Enough!” Terme di Diocleziano is built right into the baths and features communication in early Rome and archeological evidence of that culture and two rebuilt tombs in one of the vast halls. Palazzo Massimo features sculptures from Augustus on as well as frescoes and other decorations of the ancient well-to-do villas. Crypto Balbi is a study of the “layers” of Rome in one small area of the city, showing evidence of homes, industry, churches, etc from Ancient Rome to now. You can see how much higher the present-day street is. All four are really interesting to me.

I also visited San Clemente where you can again go down and down into Rome’s history. On top is the present 12th Century Church. The Irish priests who have had charge of the church started the excavating in the 19th Century. From today, you can go down to the 4th Century church and still see some of the frescoes from then and also a Mithraum area. And you then go down to the 1st Century Roman street with parts of the buildings and hear the water rushing under this part of the ancient city. On that day I also went out to St. Peter’s and enjoyed the vast space with far fewer people than the previous visit two weeks before.

I can’t end without one more food adventure. This was a walking tour in the evening. We stopped at a cheese shop and enjoyed samples of four kinds of cheese along with bread, walnuts and pomegranate seeds (why the latter I don’t know). If we wanted wine that was extra, but how can you have a cheese tasting without wine. From there we went on to a Norceria, pork heaven! It is called that because Norcia is an area of Italy known for its cured meats. We could try anything on the sample plate on the counter, about five different items and we also each got a slice of prosciutto. We sampled pizza by the slice–pizza rosso with just tomatoes and pizza margarita with tomato and cheese. By this time it was raining quite hard, actually the worst rain of the time in Rome. Of course, my umbrella was back at the hotel so I had to succumb to the ever-faithful sight when there is even a chance of rain–the umbrella man. I spent 4E on a pink umbrella, which I willed to whoever needs it at my hotel. We also went to an organic gelato shop and could have two flavors. I picked Vin Santo and cantucci, gelato made with dessert wine and the crunchy cookies you dip in it–my favorite Florence dessert and great tasting gelato in Rome. And we finished with espresso at Cafe S. Eustachio.

The rain continued the next day so I did a bit of walking in the Spanish Steps area, bought my Parmigiano-Reggiano to bring home–vacuum wrapped or Customs will get it. I wandered over near the Pantheon and Piazza Navona for a last look. On my last day, I first walked down Via Giulia through Piazza Farnese and around all the stands in the Campo dei Fiori market, one time I wish I could cook! Then I ended my wandering the way I decided several years ago to always end my time in Rome. I walked up the Capitoline cordonata and then up more steps to the back of the Victor Emmanuel Monument. There I rode the modern glass elevator just about to the top and looked at “Rome from the Sky” as the city calls this excursion. From there I could see just about all of my favorite places in all four directions. I can’t think of a better way to say Arrivederci Roma. But there was one more item I had to take care of. After I had packed or I should say stuffed my two little suitcases, I wandered the few blocks for one last ritual. I threw my coins in the Fountain of Trevi. I surely hope it works again!

Arrvederci all. I hope you enjoyed my travels and my words

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