So after our first day in Rome, we woke up on Monday morning ready to hit the streets and start seeing the city. Being her third trip to Rome, Meghan knew the city well and was an awesome tour guide, even as I kept pulling her off track to find something else I wanted to see or take advantage of some photo opportunity.
Up until this point, I really hadn’t felt too much like I was in a foreign country. Yes, we had eaten two great Italian meals and seen St. Peter’s, but I’ve eaten Italian before and seen pictures of St. Peters. When I REALLY felt like I was in a different country was when we had breakfast that morning at Castroni’s, a little gourmet food store across the street from the hotel. Breakfast in Rome is far different than our American eggs, bacon, toast, and home fries. While standing at a "bar," we ordered cornetti (croissants) and cappuccino which we ate while standing there, then paid at a separate register. These "bars" are everywhere and they all serve breakfast the same way. Considering American’s "on the go" culture, I’m amazed that it hasn’t become more popular here. Experiencing that different little aspect of life really made me realize that I was someplace different.
Afterwards, we walked down Via Cola Di Rienzo to Piazza del Popolo and Santa Maria del Popolo, the first of many churches we would visit. I started to get my photo "legs" back here, experimenting with some different shutter speeds and angles around the fountains and churches.
We went off in search of Gusto, which was a little anti-climatic, but found Piazza Augusto Imperatore, and the Mausoleum of Augustus. Now I really had fun with photos, using the below-street level angle, overgrown ancient structure and a beautiful old church to frame each other.
Across the street was the Museo dell’Ara Pacis, a museum with only one regular exhibit in it, but while we were there was featuring a retrospective of Valentino, most of which was visible from the outside, an interesting choice for a museum that charges admission…
Lunch was a simple affair at Autogrill, a cafeteria style restaurant with food that was just average for Rome but better than just about any cafeteria food I’ve had.
We walked off lunch with a walk over to and up the Spanish Steps. This also gave us our first taste of the aggressive street gypsies out to con, swindle and generally relieve you of your money and/or wallet. Everything from "selling" roses (aka shoving them in the girl’s hands and then asking the guy for money), to coming up to you and asking you to give them a finger so that they can show you a trick with the string they are holding. If you’re willing to let a stranger tie something to you, you might as well just throw your wallet on the ground and get it over with.
We had a little mis-adventure getting back to our hotel, taking a bus going in the wrong direction and ending up in a remote part of Rome that I think may have qualified as the suburbs. Once we got back we relaxed for a few minutes and then headed off to the NAC again for an evening prayer service and then a fabulous dinner prepared by Jono’s fellow seminarians.
Let me tell you, these Seminarians know how to live. They have this beautiful rooftop patio that overlooks the city of Rome, eye-level with St. Peter’s on one side and an expansive view of Rome on the other. The dining area at one end is enclosed with a great industrial-grade kitchen and a fireplace. Our first multi-course meal of the trip (but certainly not the last!), we began with wedges of melon wrapped with prosciutto, then moved onto rigatoni alla norcina, a hedonistic combination of sausage, cream, cheese and mushrooms mixed with pasta. It was fabulous if far from approved by the American Heart Association. The next course was a layered eggplant Parmesan, and then a simple tomato and mozzarella salad drizzled with olive oil. The meal was capped with some gelato.
After the meal, Jono took us up for a brief look from the true rooftop of the building. Not only do the seminarians know how to pray, live, cook, and eat, but they know a good place for a patio when they see one. A small but amazing patio overlooks St. Peter’s, Castle St. Angelo, the Tiber, and all of Rome. Easily the best view in all of Rome. If the Westin could build a hotel there, they could charge a $1,000 a night for a single bed.
After another long and exhausting day, we headed back to our hotel and passed out, ready for day three in Rome…