Monday, June 15, 2009

A Roman Holiday

La Dolce Vita

On Friday we met up with my sister and brother-in-law in Rome for a weekend of eating and sightseeing in this Eternal City that is 2700 years old. The last time I was in Rome was half a decade ago on a post-college whirlwind European backpacking trip with a friend from university. Rome is exactly what I remembered it to be: an open-air museum and beautiful as ever. Unlike five years ago where my friend and I stayed in a spartan hostel, we booked an apartment on Via dei Coronari near Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s most beautiful squares teeming with caricature painters, musicians, and tourists, and an area with great nightlife.

Roma, non basta una vita (literally, Roma, a lifetime in not enough) – every corner, every block has some sort of Roman ruin or cathedral; there is no other way to see this fascinating city but to walk. From Piazza Navona, we made a stop at the Pantheon on our way to lunch at a local trattoria called Enoteca Corsi on Via del Gesú. The Pantheon is by the far the best-preserved Roman structure built in 27 BC. The grayish symmetrical dome is impressive. I was constantly reminded of all my friends who studied architecture...I wish so and so was here for a architectural history tour!

The Pantheon:

Leisurely lunch at a local trattoria:

After that, we walked to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum via Piazza Venezia. Anyone who makes a visit to Rome cannot miss this imposing neoclassical monument built to commemorate the unification of Italy. You’ll probably walk by it several times during your trip to Rome.

Next stop, the Colosseum and the Roman Forums/Palatine Hill. No introduction needed for Rome’s most popular sights! It’s a must on your Roman Holiday. This 50,000-seat spectator arena was used to watch gladiators fight panthers, lions, and tigers, and other gladiators. The Roman Forums are largely in ruins; you’ll find yourself wondering around and ponder upon the greatness, that is the Roman Empire.

After dinner at Armando del Pantheon, which was recommended by Chowhound and was a miss (!), we made our way back to the apartment and enjoyed god-knows-how-many bottles of wine and prosciutto to make up for the uninspring dinner.

On Saturday, the sightseeing plan for the day was Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica – the church and the square are both truly magnificent. Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, ordered to build a basilica on Vatican Hill. There is no church and its outdoor square that compare to St. Peter’s Basilica for the level of detail, ornate sculptures, masterful paintings, and sheer beauty. The Vatican is extremely busy – hordes of tourists, so expect long queues to get inside St. Peter’s Basilica as well as the dome, where we queued for at least an hour in the hot sun to climb 551 steps up to the dome of St. Peters for an amazing view of Piazza di San Pietro and Rome. Definitely worth the wait.

The beautiful St. Peter's Basilica:

On top of the dome:

Following lunch and a “siesta” back in the apartment (well, I took a siesta while my sister, Albert, and Keenan drank wine and was being mischievous by putting Michelangelo’s David-clad apron over my dress -- yes, imagine all you want; it was a Kodak moment) was another afternoon of walking in the blazing sun (it felt 40 C | 104 F) from Piazza Navona to Fontana di Trevi to Piazza di Spagna/Spanish Steps, and Piazza Campo de’Fiori. The Trevi Fountain was larger-than-life sculpture/fountain that took up an entire piazza. If you are foreign film buff like Keenan, then you should recognize that the Trevi Fountain was the famous scene in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita where the blonde beauty, Sylvia, danced around the fountain in her sultry black dress. Unlike Fellini’s film where the fountain was deserted, the Trevi Fountain was swarming with tourists…lots of American tourists (yes, we do get a bad rep as being loud, overweight, and obnoxious).

Being goofy at the Spanish Steps:

We made our way back to Piazza Navona where we had dinner at Pizzeria da Buffeto, probably Rome’s most popular pizza institution for classic Roman-style thin crust pizza. Hiking up the dome of St. Peter’s was definitely worth the wait. Not worth the wait was the long queue at da Buffeto; the pizza was good and the atmosphere was fun, but not worth the wait in my opinion. Good thing the pizzeria was just around the corner from our apartment where we came home and literally crashed.

Sunday, we did what the Romans do best – people-watching over a cup of cappuccino at Piazza Navona (we like this square a lot!). We were leisurely all of Sunday --- lunch, gelato, and more vino. Lunch was another local trattoria, de Francesco, just off Piazza Navona. It was a sign when we stumbled upon this humble restaurant, and then later saw a painting of it on Piazza Navona.

We shared a cab to Fiuciumino airport in the evening where my sister’s 8:15 pm flight to Barcelona on Vueling was delayed by four hours!! She could have flown from Rome to Dubai in four hours! The airline gave them vouchers to a horrible self-service restaurant in the airport. Poor thing. Our own flight back to London had minor delays boarding, but once aboard the plane, we were delayed another 30 minutes. It was a long evening…we didn’t back to our flat until 2 am.

Rome is a must-see! We had a fantastic Roman holiday, even better was the quality time spent with family!

Roma, Italia

More photos here.

Ciao! Lily

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