Monday, July 20, 2009

2008 Winter in Rome Day 13

19th Dec

The Shopping Bus #100 was a free service to encourage Christmas shopping downtown. At the Tritone area, we did frantic last minute shopping since it was the last day for us in Italy. From the back of Spagna, we stumbled upon Villa M Medici and enjoyed peace in the park with the shopping madness below the hill. Lunch, off Popola across V L Savoia , was the biggest heap of carbonara ever at €8!

Fast forward the shopping and then it was pizza at Da Baffetto because it was mentioned in DK Top 10. The crust is thin enough but the soggy middle made us miss the pizza at Lucca. Service was brisk but not unfriendly. The last purchase in Piazza Navona was Santa hanging on a rope ladder, which will be look great outside our glass balcony on the twelve floor somewhere in Singapore.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 10,11,12

16th Dec

Capitoline Hill


Our wet weather program for the day was the Capitoline museums. 5 hours and hundreds of stone busts and statues in Palazzo di Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo, I was glad to be out enjoying the Teatro di Marcello. It looks like a mini Colosseum from the exterior and the approach from the slope near Capitoline brings the best feature out of the Teatro.


We checked out the Marmatine prison ( free with donation ) where Paul and Peter was said to have been imprisoned. The Metro took us to Ottaviano where we looked for Musicarte ( Via Fabio Fassimo ), hoping to look for violin bric-bracs. Unfortunately, it looks like a boutique shop for purchasing violin and we ended up with nothing.

Dinner was again at Dal Paino which has become my favorite trattoria because of the food, price and closeness to the apartment.

17th Dec


Anzio Museum

Operation Shingle was the operation Allied forces carried out at Anzio and we were eager to see the Anzio beachhead museum and British cemetery nearby. The train ride ( €3.20 one way ) from Termini to Anzio took slightly more than 1 hour. Meanwhile, I impressed Pat by validating the train ticket at a platform’s non-descript validating box ( among emergency box, tissue dispenser, ticket dispenser – thanks to Flickr and ) just before hopping onto a waiting train. I took care to alight at “Anzio”, after “ Anzio Colonia” as pointed out by oneTA poster since no arrival announcement are made in the train.

Anzio station was not what we expected and it had a hard- to-read area map outside. Indeed as in any town away from the capital, no one spoke English and “Parla Inglese lei?”,“Mi dispiace” and “Grazie” were insufficient to get us going. Relying on prior preparations using Google Earth and a compass , we stumbled upon the beachhead museum. It was a Thursday and not opened to the public but the caretaker took pity on us and we had the entire museum to ourselves, that sweet man. There was a very human aspect to the exhibits which was extremely touching.

Anzio beach


We headed towards Anzio town central but it was hard to locate because of the lack of human activity. At 3pm, we had a sumptuous lunch at a well patronized beachside trattoria .At the marina, we watched fishermen selling their day’s catch and a glorious sunset. The British cemetery was nowhere to be found. Besides, I did not wish to be locked up inside the cemetery after dark – an adventure best avoided. Then, it was back to Rome by the 5.30pm train ( hourly ).

18th Dec

The original plans was to see the aquaduct using the Archeobus. Since the service to this stop has terminated, we used the Metro and went down to Subaugusta, a 30 min ride. From Google Earth earlier, we mapped out the relative location with reference to Subaugusta and moved southwest until we hit the Aquaducts. It was easy to see from afar since the housing estate suddenly gave way to great space and greenery.

The aquaducts off Subaugusta was complete and stretched beyond the golf course. It was very beautiful, majestic and an engineering marvel. There were plenty of golfers and joggers in the vicinity so we did not feel too alone. My fellow companions had to tear me from the place and we moved north to a playground and ruins. Across Via Lemonia, we rested our feet at SG Bar at Via Claudio Appia and had the cheapest lunch in Italy, €13, with 2 primos , 1 dolce and coffee. Language was no barrier and we made friends with the boss , waitress Silvia, and received free T-shirts because we are “friends from afar”.

We continued our journey from Metro station Gioli Agricola and stopped by Colbi Albani. It had a wild sort of look for a park with farm houses. Actually I had forgotten why we made a stop here. If the sunset did not chase us away, a black man hounding us to buy hats in the deep wilderness did make us run all the way back to the main road. The entire place was a disappointment but the thoughts of making friends earlier more or less made the day.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 9

15th Dec

Stt Peter's

Plans for Anzio had to be shelved today because of forecasted bad weather. The wet weather program is to stay downtown and shop. This was not a very good idea because Rome is not very good for walking in the rain ( slippery cobbles, no sidewalk or shelter ). Anyway, we revisited St Peter’s Basilica simply because it is nearby and sheltered. We had to detour using Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II since Ponte Sant Angelo was closed due to a barge that was lodged under. It was 10am and there was hardly any queue at St Peter’s Basilica. The same couldn’t be said at 12nn when we left. Scores of people huddled in the rain waiting to enter.

Lunch was near a small bar off Viale Vaticano. We were charged an extra €2 for non-existent pane which the staff meekly reimbursed us when quizzed about this item.

Impulse buying became worse in rainy weather and the loot was mostly made walking along Via Cola Renzo – chocolates, leather goods, gelatos etc, an indirect result of trying to seek shelter. Walking south to Campo Marzio Roma,we noted that the crystal encrusted fountain pen is sold €2 lesser than the stall in Coin. To cut losses, we bought 3 more pens ( for Claire, Anissa, myself ) which came in incredible packaging.

That night, the Euro rose against the Singapore dollar and shopping zeal sizzled immediately. Thrift mode will have to be kicked in tomorrow. Museums will certainly be a cheaper option for the credit card.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 8

14th Dec

Campo De Fiori

From our apartment behind the Pantheon, we covered Campo de Fiori, Palazzo Ricci and Santa Maria inTrestervere in 3 hours. Claude Lebet’s violin shop at Palazzo Ricci was closed for the day, causing much disappointment to Hope. The atmosphere across Ponte Sisto in Trestevere became less touristy and more real. All its colorful lanes , fodder for more photo shoots, led us to S Maria inTrestevere. It was a moment of prayer and reflection in the sanctuary. Off S Maria, we became the first customers of the day at the corner ristorante. We couldn’t say no to the extremely friendly manager and lunch was the full works with antipasti,primo,second,contorto etc. The bill was round down to €60 because he couldn’t find small change.


From Via G Indundo, Ponte Sublicio,we search for the road (at the end of Via Marmorata ) that leads up the hill to Piazza di Cavaliari di Malta. Hugging the leftmost lane, we puffed up and were greeted by 2 heavily armed guards near the gate. 2 other tourists were peering into the keyhole and we tried to loosen things up by putting up touristy behavior – maps, cameras and queuing up. The metal plate around the keyhole was rubbed clear of rust by the nosy oily noses of tourists peering into the keyhole. Behind the keyhole, St Peter’s Basilica was framed up by trees lining the driveway. It was just that to see and what more with guards nearby toting machine guns, we went northeast by Via de Sabina.

City view

Among the tangerine trees, the view from Parco d Alessio of Vatican city and Rome downtown was as good as that from Capitoline Hill.
Down the hill at Santa Maria at Cosmedin, we queued behind Japanese tourists to put our hands in the mouth of truth / nostrils. Northwards to the Pantheon on Ponto Sisto, we gawked at city town council workers trying to dislodge a boat among debris near Isola Tiberina. It was a monumental task and I declared that photos opportunities of them at work would be available the next few days.

6 km and it is time to retire for the day. ZaZa pizza opposite Sant Eustachio café was recommended by the landlord and we concluded the pizza was a good choice to end the day with.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 7

13th Dec

St Paul outside the Walls

Back in Rome, skies cleared up after days of rain and the Tiber has subsided somewhat . A barge was still trapped under Ponte Sant Angelo and trash stuck on branches of trees indicating the last highest water level .

St Paul outside the Walls

The destination of the day was St Paul Outside-the-Wall. San Paolo Basilica ,reachable by Metro, was a short walk from the Metro station. It has an extensive façade and an equally impressive interior. Paintings on the walls depict Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus and his subsequent trip to Rome.

St Paul's chains

We saw the brick end of his sarcophagus and his prison chains, stirring great emotions. A pilgrim group made a grand procession into the church just when we were about to leave. Resonant guitar music and singing pulled us back and we hovered around to see a mini service of dedication and prayer, causing lumps to well up in our chest.

We left at noon and had great gelato outside the Metro station for a steal at €1.50 ( 2 generous gustis ). Near Barberini, it was pizza at Via della 4 Fontane’s Circo. The waitress hurried us along and soon we hit the streets. Someone approached us to support an anti-drug campaign and would not let us go until we part with €5.

We checked out fountain pens at Pantheon Cartoleria and a Made -in -Italy pewter fountain pen became mine for €47. I would have rejoiced at this great bargain if I had not discovered that it was probably not entirely new because of residual red ink still left in the cartridge.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 6

12th Dec


We have enlisted the help of Beppe from to bring us out of Florence to Pisa. He had earlier taken care of Alvin and his family earlier and came highly recommended because he speaks good English, has a wicked sense of humor and is a great driver. Prior to our trip, he had also helped me settle earlier problems regarding lodging arrangements in Rome so we took to each other like old friends. Our first stop in the morning was a Gothic church in Prato and there, we shamelessly sampled mounds of Prato biscottis from Antonio Mattei. We also sat out an anti-government protest at a nearby café discussing the merits of expresso.

A short ride and we ended up in Lucca. We started our walk through the old city from the city gates. Lunch was 3 pizzas on biscuit crust and fruit tart at Da Gherardo, in front of the Piazza Anfiteatro for about €30. It was the most low carbohydrate and delicious pizza I ever had so far.


Finally we headed west for Pisa. It was a smooth ride and we reached Pisa at 2.45pm. We had more photo shoots around the leaning tower and loitered around its surrounding vicinity for about an hour. At about 3.45pm, we made our way south for Rome.

Our regular dinner place in Rome

The Tiber had swollen somewhat because of the rain but Beppe was constantly being updated about traffic and weather conditions so we made good progress. We reached Rome just in time for a sumptuous dinner at Dal Paino ( Via Parione ).

2008 Winter in Rome Day 5

11th Dec

Train terminal at Florence

We woke up a sleeping cabbie and took the one and only cab at the Pantheon taxi rank at 6.30 am to the train station. Thunders snort of rumble in the northern hemisphere while the ones at the equator snort and snap. Anyway, it was our first thunderstorm in Rome but thankfully the roads were clear at that hour. It took us €10 and 5 minutes to reach Termini.

We took the first ES Italia train ( #9428 ) bound for Milan to Florence from binari ( track ) 4 at 7.30 am. The bin number was only displayed on the board minutes before departure so we had to be alert for new information. The anticipative migrating crowd looked away from the departure board and jerked into decisive action the moment information changed to white ( confirmed bin ) and we followed suit. We had reserved seats at carrozza ( car ) 6 seats 21,28,23. No worries about the number because we sat together facing each other.

It was a bumpy ride along flooded fields all the way north. We reached Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station at 9.30am, an 1 ½ hour ride. The rain has not caught up in Florence but the sky was grey. Near Mercato Central, I bought a leather back pack for €30, a lambskin belt for €15, cow-hide belt for Pat €20 and lots of biscotti. We would have bought more had it not been for the day-bag that grew heavier with each purchase.

Florence historic central is sort of miniaturized and we checked into Hermitage Hotel ( on foot ). We had booked the hotel ( triple €150 ) because it was minutes from Uffizi, our main interest of the day. Lunch was at the river restaurant across River Arno, near Vecchio, which was unexceptional with an equally uncommunicative waiter.


Hermitage Hotel had made a free booking for the Uffizi that comes with a priority code . We did not use the privilege and saved €4 ( per person ) reservation fees. That meant paying only €6.50 for the entrance each. The exterior façade was deceptively so-so but the works and corridor of the Uffizi are fantastic. However, I couldn’t enjoy some of the works due to low light condition at certain galleries, probably to protect the works. We left shortly after sunset and looked for sustenance. Help came from Ristorante Buca Poldo where we had fantastic Tuscany food ( gnocchi, vongole, ravioli,wine,café and sides ) all for a bill not exceeding €60.

Hermitage Hotel

It’s then back to Hermitage Hotel where we enjoyed Ponte Vecchio from its rooftop garden and the cool crisp air.