Honestly, this was a bittersweet day. It was out last day in Rome, and I really was feeling pretty crummy from the effects of my “ostriche” day. Also, it’s also our 9th anniversary. Sarah and I did a lot of stuff today that we didn’t get to do other days. First, I was off to get a coffee while Sarah got ready. I can’t function without it! Sarah needed to get a coffee later; she also got one last cornetto from Caffe Biscione. We also got some pizza bianco from the forno for the plane, and some of those amazing oranges.
Our plan was to go to the other side of the river and check out the Villa Farnesina, which was the home of Anthony Chigi, the wealthy and famous banker. The Villa Farnesina is famous because it sports frescoes by Raphael and his studio. At one point, Michelangelo had plans to connect the Villa Farnesina with the Villa Farnese (on the Piazza Farnese right by us) via a bridge over the Tiber. He even built an arch over Via Giulia (a cool arch), but eventually for whatever reason, the project fizzled and they remain separate.
Villa Farnesina isn’t a “must-see” type of attraction, although it is neat to see if you have time. The frescoes aren’t that spectacular, especially in comparison to some other major Raphael frescoes in Rome (such as the Stanze in the Vatican museum), but there are hardly any people there, and it’s interesting to see how a rich, influential guy like Chigi lived in the Renaissance. Perhaps the most interesting part of the frescoes is the fact that there is a big difference in terms of quality panel to panel. You can tell what Raphael (presumably) painted…and what was painted by his studio. There really is an enormous difference. The different rooms feature lots of animals, fruit, and scenes from mythology. Once you get upstairs and see Chigi’s bedroom, you can’t help but think what it would be like to sleep in a room with so much extraneous, gaudy, over-the-top décor. I also couldn’t help noticing how much marble was used to create his palace—I’m sure that on top of all the art, the place must have cost a fortune.
After the Farinese, Sarah and I walked to Tazza d’Oro to get one last caffe, before heading to Volpetti, in Testacchio, which many people consider to be the best deli in all of Rome. On the day we explored Testacchio and walked by the keyhole, it was closed. I’m glad that we made the 20 minute walk to go to Volpetti. Volpetti is stuffed full of tarts, cheeses, pastries, wine, and salami; it smells great. I wanted to eat the whole place, despite the fact that I was still not feeling well at all.
The guy helping us was awesome; he let us try all sorts of fritti that they had by the pizza. Eventually, we settled on an enormous fried squash blossom stuffed with anchovy and cheese, potato pizza, and some pizza with tomatoes.
Volpetti also has an attached “tavola calda;” Sarah and I should have gotten some stuff there, but we didn’t see it until after we’d procured some lunch. We walked out towards the covered market, hoping to see it in action (quite famous), but we were too late and everything was getting packed up. We went to find a place to eat, and ended up sitting next to the fountain by the Porta Portese bridge. The fountain commemorates Testacchio—it’s all amphorae, with water flowing out just like wine. Stuffed, we walked back home.
Sarah decided that she wanted to get an olive oil can that she saw in the Campo, so we stopped off to get that before we took off for the Vatican. Sarah and I have both been to Saint Peter’s multiple times, but the size, scope, scale, and grandeur of the place makes it a must see every time you can. Our two previous walks past the Vatican proved to be quite crowded, so we elected to skip it. It was definitely less crowded than the previous times. Sarah was having a good time taking high-dynamic range photos in the square and we had an English couple take our picture before we went to get in line.
The line itself moved pretty quickly…but the main reason that there even was a line is that you need to go through the metal detectors. To understand how absurd the whole security thing is at the Vatican, you have to understand that even Rick Steves complains about it. He doesn’t complain about much, and he has a point. It’s pretty funny that you have to get metal detected for just this church in Rome. I imagine that it would be quite an annoyance if Saint Peter’s was where you chose to go to church on a regular basis. A guy in front of us, a respectable gentleman in his 60’s with a tour group, was forced to throw away his utility pocket-knife. And the Pope wasn’t even in the church! I suppose that some of this stems from the fact that the church is the holiest place in Christendom, and there have been some wing-nuts who have wanted to hurt the Pope, or artwork. Michelangelo’s Pieta (situated on the right side), for instance, was attacked in the 1970’s by some dude and now resides behind a lot of bullet-proof glass.
Once inside, I was immediately overwhelmed by the scale of Saint Peter’s. I’ve seen it at least three times previously, but was still blown away by the scale, size, and amount of art stuffed in. We spent about 30 minutes wandering through, admiring the Pieta (from a distance…), taking in all the Bernini stuff (the baldacchino and the Dove Window perhaps being the most obvious), and all the rest of the art. Sarah took a lot of photos. I spent a lot of time looking at the baldacchino, which I hadn’t done before. It’s covered in bees (the crest of the Barbieri family, who commissioned the work), and apparently, much of the bronze was taken from the roof of the Pantheon. It’s an enormous, fascinating piece.
After many pictures, we bid Saint Peter’s good-bye and headed to Piazza del Popolo to see Santa Maria del Popolo. Every time we went by, this church was closed. For what it’s worth, this church is swarmed with people that have The DaVinci Code in hand as the church features prominently in it. I don’t know that this church previously was such a “must see,” despite the cool stuff inside.
We wanted to see the church to see the Chigi chapel, designed by Raphael. The church is covered in scaffolding and has been under extensive renovation. The last time I was in it, in 2004, I got to see the Chigi Chapel, but basically nothing else. This time, it was the opposite—the Chigi Chapel was all but closed, while the rest of the church was open. The Caravaggio’s were neat to look at—I’m glad that I saw them. From here, Sarah wanted to go back to the Spanish Steps. We walked over and took some more pictures, before heading back to the Pantheon to got to Tazza d’Oro and purchase some cappuccino cups. After buying 8 Tazza d’Oro cups and saucers, we wandered back home to get ready for dinner and pack.
On our way to dinner, we stopped at Largo Argentina and watched the cats in the Area Sacra for about 10 minutes. It’s a peculiar sight seeing dozens of cats wandering through Roman ruins. People take care of the cats; the area is a cat sanctuary. It’s a quintessentially weird Roman experience to stand there and admire the ruins and the cats.
For dinner, we made a reservation at Al Pompiere (the Fireman), located in the Jewish Ghetto. The restaurant is covered in old frescoes and vested waiters. It also has great service (somewhat of a rarity in Rome). I remember the last time I ate at Al Pompiere—it was good. It happens to be one of Sarah’s two favorite restaurants in Rome. We got there, and for whatever reason, a unique thing happened: we couldn’t seem to pronounce Sarah’s last name correctly…or correctly enough for the waiter. This was odd, just because we NEVER have to spell her name in Italy. Davis? That’s a bit weird for Italian. But Corrado? That’s the equivalent of Smith. After some weirdness, and my attempts to roll my “r’s,” the waiter finally got Corrado.
This is Sarah’s place, specifically for the grilled cuttlefish, spaghetti all’amatriciana, truffled gnocci, and carciofi all giudea. So guess what we ordered? Calamari alla griglia (no cuttlefish), spaghetti all’amatriciana, truffled gnocchi, puntarelle, and a carciofi all giudea to split. We also got a bottle of Fiano di Avellino. To put it mildly, this is the best restaurant that we’ve eaten at in Rome. No contest whatsoever (except, maybe, Il Tajut – Sarah’s other favorite). The amatriciana, blew every other version we’ve had out of the water, as did the calamari alla grglia and the puntarelle. Sarah thinks the carciofi alla giudea is better than Da Giggetto, although I think it’s comparable, if a little different. I’m pissed that I wasn’t feeling better (I was still really not feeling good), because I ended up not feeling good and having to actually leave amatriciana on my plate. I think the waiter was a bit pissed, but if I could have, I would have eaten every last bite.
Our waiter was a cool dude though; he even gave me change so that Sarah could buy three disposable toothbrushes from the bathroom. Yes, I asked him for change so that she could buy disposable toothbrushes. Between all the left food, not knowing how to pronounce Sarah’s last name, and our strange requests, I think he must have thought we were a little crazy.
After dinner, we stopped to get some postcards and other random souvenirs (I bought myself a funny Vatican bottle opener), and we walked to the Trevi Fountain, because we had to take part in the ritual of throwing coins in. Sarah and I each three in a handful of pennies we’d accumulated, and then threw in some pennies together. Fun, but bittersweet. Conscious of the fact that we were leaving in 7 hours, we stopped by San Crispino one last time. I got half whiskey gelato, and half cacao di Valhrona. Sarah wanted a cone, so we went off to Giolitti, where she got chocolate and mint chocolate chip. I gave some Italians some bad directions to the Spanish Steps, but only realized that I’d given them horrible directions when Sarah and I popped out there…whoops. Despite the fact that we didn’t want to, we went home to catch some sleep before our 5AM pick-up for the airport, and called it a night. Ciao Roma.