A Birthday in Rome
We woke to another unseasonably warm, but thankfully sunny and gorgeous day in Rome. I always begin the first day with my groups with a tour of the Jewish Ghetto, primarily because most people don’t know the long history of what happened to the Jews in Italy. But since my daughter and friend hadn’t yet arrived thanks to a cancelled flight, I sent the group off with the lovely Inger to guide them while I waited for them at the hotel.
There is nothing so great after a long trip than arriving in Rome and finding your way to your first coffee – and perhaps nowhere so well known as Sant Eustachio right near our hotel.
I like to start newcomers to Rome with a quick loop around – first just slightly west from our hotel to the huge Piazza Navona, always teeming with tourists, always filled with artists and street performers. Luckily this year the fountain cleaning was complete and all of the scaffolding had been removed.
It was baking hot out there so we quickly moved throughout to the north of the pizza to exit over to the Hotel Rafael, a top shelf place filled with some original Picasso ceramics, but more importantly to us at the time, a rooftop bar and restaurant wi sweeping views of the city. If you are new to a place, getting up above it all is the best way to get your bearings.
We quickly popped back down from the roof to head over to the Pantheon. It’s an amazing place, with a roof that’s exactly as high as it is wide, with a huge open oculus in the center.
The group returned from their tour just in time to join us at an outdoor cafe facing the Pantheon for lunch. After a bit of confusion about how the waiter wanted us to order and lot of drooling over the long menu, we managed to order just about one of everything. Arugula salad with cherry tomatoes, pizza Margherita, and my very, very favorite thing in Rome, spaghetti carbonara – creamy, great pancetta or guanciale, yum!
After lunch the group split again into two tours – the first to the ancient ruins with Inger, the others to the Borghese Gallery to meet a guide. That gave my daughter and me the opportunity to spend the afternoon together, and she opted for the trek over to the Vatican. My favorite way to walk to the Vatican is down the Via dei Coronari, the pedestrian only street that ends across from Castle Sant Angelo. From that bridge there is a great view south to St. Peter’s whose dome rises above Vatican City.
As you approach St. Peter’s you pass by iconic umbrella pines and enter the piazza in front. It’s overwhelming how large the entire place is if you’ve never been there.
My daughter had chosen this outing in order to climb to the top of the cupola for the unparalleled views of the city, but first you wind your way up inside the intricate dome, filled with gorgeous mosaics. By the way, we walked the entire way as the line for the elevator that takes you half way up is always longer.
It’s quite crowded along the tiny balcony of the cupola, and it smelled pretty bad thanks to everyone sweating profusely from the climb and the unseasonably hot day, but it was a beautiful day to see the sights from up high. We only stayed a few minutes before making our way back to the hotel to clean up for dinner.
A unique way to enjoy dinner in Rome is through Home Food’s program that allows you to dine on authentic cuisine of the region in a private home. This was my third time to visit the lovely and gracious Flavia, and it was fun to see her again.
Our meal began with a crostini with anchovies and a melted, and delicious, fiordilatte cheese. I tell everyone, even if you think you hate anchovies, you will love this!
Next up was a classic timballo, a special pasta dish with cheese and meat baked inside a pastry crust. My daughter is already planning to make her own version, suggesting she would like to add broccoli and perhaps a marinara sauce over it. Not classic, but her own creation.
The entree included turkey meatballs made with fresh ricotta cheese, giving them a fabulous creamy texture, accompanied by peas and a mixture of eggplant and cherry tomatoes.
Dessert is always special at Flavia’s with her baba rhum cake – complete with a candle and a song for my birthday this year…
…followed by chocolate mousse in small china cups topped with pistachios. Thanks, Flavia, for making my birthday so special!
After tucking everyone in for the night, My daughter and I “snuck” back out for a nightcap in a cafe facing the Pantheon, all lit up for the night. You’ll pay extra for seats like this, but the people watching and the ambience are worth every penny. When it struck midnight, my birthday now officially over, we strolled back to the hotel to pack for the train to Puglia. We’ll be spending the week at The Awaiting Table cookery school, staying at a castle in Spongono. I can’t wait!
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