Sunday 3rd June: Siena to Rome. The Baltour bus was booked for 11am so we had plenty of time in the morning to get ready. The station was not far away but we had to take a taxi with our luggage. Once again the bus was very comfortable and in three hours we were in Rome Tiburtina bus station. We caught a cab to the hotel (Grand Hotel Ritz) where we were given an upgrade to a Junior Suite. So we have a bedroom with attached bathroom and a sitting room - very nice and comfortable.
As it was Sunday, everything was very quiet and most shops were closed when we went for a walk to check out the neighbourhood. Back at the hotel we decided to have a drink in the bar on the 7th floor. The cost of two glasses of wine convinced us that we would not be going back or to the restaurant so we returned to the supermarket around the corner and bought supplies. With the salads we bought, we opened our good bottle of Chianti and had half.
Monday 4th June: A big day in Rome. The hotel is situated just outside the main part of Rome city but they operated an hourly shuttle from 10am to near the Spanish Steps and a return trip at 6pm. Once we arrived we went to the metro and bought a two-day pass. Then we went to Termini, changed lines and got out at the Colosseum. The plan was to spend the day walking back from there. As we left the masses at the Colosseum, we could see much of the Roman Forum from above. Then we cut around behind to the Capitoline Hill and the Campidoglio, the beautiful square designed by Michelangelo.
Then we headed away from the centre towards the river and the Jewish Ghetto. We had not been in this area and it was a fortunate choice as we came across the remains of the huge Teatro Marcello started by Julius Caesar and the quite newly restored Portico d’Ottavio, a second century BC gate. In the Jewish quarter we stopped for a beer and then headed west, crossing Via Arenula to the Campo de’Fiori.
Here the fruit and veggie stalls were buzzing as were the pavement restaurants all around the square. We hunted down a recommended restaurant just off the Campo in Piazza Farnese called Da Giggetto. Here I had the best Spaghetti Carbonara I’ve ever had and Heather had a lovely pasta with prawns. The only issue was the fan that blew not only air but mist all over us as they used to do in the Greek and Roman theatres to keep people cool - it did not do much for my hair!
After lunch we made our was along Via Guilia and crossed the river at Ponte Vittorio Emanuelle II to take another look at Castel Sant’Angelo. It still rose majestically above the tourists but the street vendors had taken much away from the beauty of the Ponte Sant’Angelo. We walked along the southern side of the river under the large and beautiful trees, passing the Piazza dei Tribunali opposite until we reached the Ara Pacis memorial and turned down Via del Corso towards the Spanish Steps.
When we reached them, it was far too early for the shuttle so we shopped around the area looking for a wallet for Heather but in vain. Then we waited at the appointed place for the shuttle, very footsore and weary after such a long day. It was straight to the supermarket for some salad, etc. and an early night. The hotel delivered the bottle of wine that was included in our package and it was very welcome. A couple from the hotel had told us of a walking food tour they had done so we went online and booked an interesting one in Trastevere for tomorrow evening.
Tuesday 5th June: Walking food tour of Trastavere. For our few days in Rome, we had decided not to revisit many places we had already seen but just walk in different areas to soak up the atmosphere. The walking tour of Trastevere was four hours from 5 to 9pm so we had a lazy morning and took the midday shuttle in to the city. This time we headed in the opposite direction on the metro and got off at Lepanto so that we could walk down Via Cola di Rienzo. This was the street that became very familiar to us when we spent the week in Rome earlier. Up near the Vatican we had a light lunch. We intended to pay a quick visit to St Peter’s but one look at the queues put paid to that and we crossed the courtyard to head south.
The way up to the Gianicolo hill took some finding but eventually we were able to take in the lovely view of Rome from up there - not a high-rise in sight, just domes. It was a hot afternoon but fortunately the walk through the park was mostly shady with a nice breeze. The meeting point for the tour was the Isola in the Tiber so we were heading south through Trastevere. As we came down and out of the park we found the lovely Fonte Acqua Paola which we had not seen before.
Trastevere was very quiet in that 3-5pm time when everyone has a rest. We reached the meeting place on the Isola Tiberina with time to spare and a thunderstorm coming so we found a table in the only little cafe there and had a drink to cool off. It had been a long walk. Heather had a Prosecco but I was talked into trying a Hugo, a version of a spritz with almond syrup and mint instead of Aperol. It was very nice and refreshing. We spent a few minutes visiting the Church of St Bartholemew in the courtyard outside where all the side altars were devoted to “New Martyrs” from different parts of the world.
Then it was time to meet our tour guide, Michele, a very personable young Italian man. Over the next four hours he took us to seven different and amazing venues in Trastevere. We started at Da Enzo’s, a little trattoria where it is almost impossible to get a booking. There we had an aperitivo of Prosecco and antipasti of prosciutto, melon and scatciatella.
The next stop was Spirito di Vino where we were taken down to an underground area dating to 80BC. This is now the cellar for this restaurant and only groups like ours are allowed there to eat. We had a dish of very slow cooked pork with a very good red wine. This place is also famous because, when the ancient vault was discovered, it contained a statue of a sportsman, the first statue with a back ever found. This statue is now in its own special room in the Vatican Museums.
After that came the shop where Stephanie Innocenti makes award-winning biscuits and we sampled some of her best (bought some, too!). Next it was Nocineria Lacozzilli for mouth-watering porchetta, pecorino and the best gorgonzola plus some artisan beer from the area.
People were massing around a hole in the wall with only a doormat to identify it as I Suppli, famous for its street food. The pizza by the slice was crisp and tangy but the suppli were divine - little balls of rice with mozzarella inside coated in crumbs and deep fried. We did as the locals do eating it all on the street. Apparently the owner sees no need to put the name or any signs outside as his shop is always full of people!
Further around we came to Casa Mia, a very traditional restaurant where we sampled two types of pasta and more wine. The final stop was Fatamorgana renowned for both its traditional and gourmet gelati. There were so many varieties on offer here that it was very difficult deciding. Fortunately, this brought the tour to an end as nobody could fit in any more. Trastevere came to life in the time we were there and the whole atmosphere was very enjoyable.
We were now on the very opposite side of the city from our hotel and as there was still some light in the sky and we had metro tickets we caught a cab to the Circo Massimo metro and went up to Flaminio and from there it was one stop on the train to our hotel. It was nearly 10pm when we arrived but we had had a thoroughly memorable evening.
Wednesday 6th June: An afternoon in Frascati. Once again we had a much needed leisurely morning packing up and took the 11am shuttle to the city. As we were over trudging around Rome in the heat and crowds, the plan was to take a train out to Frascati for old times sake as this was where we first used to catch the train into Rome. We made the train by the skin of our teeth and it was one of the smart new Jazz regional trains. Half an hour later we were in Frascati and trying to find the tourist information centre. This proved futile so we simply wandered until we came to the Piazza Mercato. It was the time of day when everything was closing but we sat in the square and had a prochetta sandwich and a glass (plastic) of Frascati wine for 5euro each. It so happened that we were right outside the little shop where we had bought our first “Family Pack” of meats, cheeses and olives and he still had a sign offering the same pack! Back then we had felt much more like locals and less like tourists, especially when we bought our “sfusi” wine in refillable bottles.
After some more wandering and admiring the view back towards Rome, there wasn’t more to see so we returned to the station and retraced our steps back to the hotel. For our last night in Rome, we went across to the nearby Nina’s Fish House Restaurant and enjoyed fried baby squid, grouper ravioli in saffron, pasta with prawns and lime and a salad as well as a bottle of Vermantino Spumante which has become a favourite.
Thursday 7th June: Time to say goodbye. Our shuttle to the airport was booked for 8.30am so after breakfast we were ready to say “Arriverderci Roma”. It has been a wonderful trip but we have decided that, if we do come back to Italy, we will take a villa for a month in some small village. Of course, friends would be welcome to join us for some of that time. Till then we are looking forward to home and routine as well as catching up with everybody and everything.