Having just enjoyed three days in the capital of the British Empire, we made the 2+ hour flight southeast to the seat of the ancient, mighty Roman Empire. Roma. Rome.
My husband and I were in Venice in 2015, and I couldn’t wait to return to the glorious country of Italy. The sites, the food, the shopping, and the leisurely lifestyle. FO40 needs a dose of Italy ever year! Here’s what we did on our trip in the Eternal City.
The journey from Fiumicino-Leonardo da Vinci airport alone was a bonus tour through the hills and valleys surrounding and leading into Rome. We arrived after lunch at the welcoming Hotel de Russie, centrally located on the Piazza del Popolo within minutes of the Spanish Steps. Re-connecting with Steve and Claudia, we had the pleasure of cocktails with the one and only Tony May and his wife, along with my longtime friend and sorority sister, Tony’s daughter Marisa May. After the closure of their SD26 restaurant in NYC (and our neighborhood favorite!), Marisa re-settled to Rome with her husband Leonardo Metalli. We made a boisterous crew under heat lamps in the Russie’s courtyard- it was so great to see Tony and Marisa along with their spouses and friends.
The group grabbed a few taxis and made our way to “Travastere” (“across the river” – the Tiber) to the dining spot that Leo and Marisa had arranged for us.
From the moment we sat down, it was clear that Osteria Da Zi Umberto would be a highlight of the trip. No sooner had we managed to wedge the party of 10 into a spot meant for 6, heaving plates of Italian classics covered all table-top real estate. Lightly fried cod cakes and zucchini, mounds of fresh mozzarella and prosciutto, and pasta classics bucatini all amatriciana, cacio e pepe, and carbonara. Carafes of more than adequate table wine were drained, spirits lifted, and bellies filled. Leo and Marisa (of course!) knew the owners, and we were treated like family in true Italian style. The shockingly small bill for the entire party only added to the warm glow of this great 1st dinner in Rome.
In a city teeming with history and iconic destinations, we tackled one of the “Big 2,” also known as, The Vatican. We met our Rome tour guide, Vanessa, at 7am (all these early wake ups!) and taxied to the entrance of the Vatican museum for our private guided tour.
Within this fortress, Popes have been picked, empires have risen and fallen, and the center of the mighty Roman Catholic Church has been seated for over a millennium. You will be amazed at the stunning array of antiquities and architecture of this complex- statues, reliquaries, paintings, frescos, and tapestries from centuries and places far and wide.
The spectacular map “walkway” alone could be the highlight of this museum, were it not to spill into the ethereal Sistine Chapel. All I can say is make sure you see this wonder of the world. It is visually stunning and exudes a celestial, spiritual aura that will move you regardless of faith. Everyone was in awe.
As singular as the Sistine Chapel is, then there is the Basilica of St Peter. It’s the largest basilica in the world and is an amazement itself. The legendary “Pieta” sculpture is a main draw (easily found, follow the crowd to the right upon entry) as is the main altar. Look up- the vaulted ceilings are breathtaking, and around every corner is another scene of Catholic Church importance. Upon exit, be sure to wander through the vast piazza where crowds gather for special masses with the hope of a glimpse of the Holy Father. The kids also liked straddling the line between the Vatican and Rome, technically a national border!
Already on our feet for 5 hours, we were ready for lunch. Luckily we had reserved a table at Salumeria Roscioli – a must try restaurant tucked inside a local market. Unlike many more casual spots, you’ll be best served to make a reservation at this great eatery. The adults shared a savory assortment of “antipasti”- salami/prosciutto/cheeses/bread and a fine bottle of red (great choice Steve). Our genetic gifts to mankind (children) mainly fed their pasta addiction, and who could blame them.
Part refreshed, part “knackered,” we managed one more stop before some afternoon downtime at the Russie. Like a year-round Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the Trevi Fountain draws hoards of visitors day and night. It’s worth a visit (though be prepared to reject 28 petitions to buy a selfie-stick) as the block-wide fountain is a beauty. The family photo here will rival the Buckingham Palace shot for 2017 Holiday Card top billing.
From here, some shopped the tony Via Condotti while Harrison and Dave played tourist and scaled the Spanish Steps. What a view.
Dinner capped the evening at the nearby Dal Bolognese, just off Piazza del Popolo. More refined than the bustling ZI ‘Umberto of the prior night, the restaurant delivered very satisfying dishes (including a signature Bolognese). Again Big Stevie delivered with a great wine selection, and the tiramisu dessert was one of the best we’ve ever tasted.
We met Vanessa at the Russie at a much saner hour and set out for our day in Ancient Rome. The Colosseum grew nearer and nearer, as impressive from a distance as up close. Hard to believe this ancient stadium still stands at all- for perspective, can you imagine any semblance of MetLife (Giants) Stadium standing in the year 4000 AD? Vanessa shared anecdotes on the various parts of the structure- who sat where, what “performances” took place, how animals were moved (an elaborate series of manual elevators and tunnels under the main surface). IPhones were put to liberal use and all enjoyed seeing the legendary site.
From here, we entered the Palatine Hill/Forum grounds- the “ancient ruins of Rome”. Here emperors lived (and died), here the Senate met, here tribute was paid to the ancient gods, here commerce and intrigue unfolded. Study up ahead of time as there’s a lot to take in over the grounds of these ruins.
We found a great pizza place called Emma and laid siege to a variety of thin crust pies and pastas (kids again!). Claudia and Dave skipped wine for a cold Italian lager, and the young bunch had gelato #8 at this satisfying spot.
The kids went ahead back to the hotel, and apparently a gelato shake- (who knew there was such a thing?) while the 2 couples walked to and through the somewhat disappointing Piazza Navona (I remember it much more bustling when we were here on our honeymoon). Dave found some amazing tie bargains at Davide Cenci as recommended by Steve, the ladies later found Prada and Gucci.
Adult drinks at the Russie’s well-appointed lounge preceded a celebratory New Year’s Eve feast at the excellent and elegant Ristorante Al Ceppo. The adage of “eat, drink, and make merry” was certainly in full motion as we rang in 2017 with sparkles, firework blasts outside, champagne, and the traditional Italian New year tasting of lentils and sausage. Spirits were high, laughs were shared with dear friends, and the only subdued note was the thought of the 5:30am wake up for our connector flight from London to Rome. The Russie concierge van shuttled us back to the hotel, disco music blaring and Americans in full roar!
Rome, Roma, Italy, Italia- we miss you and FO40 will be back soon!