We woke up, and started our day by going and buying buffalo mozzarella, oranges, and bread from the Campo, with intentions of eating them for lunch later. Then, we wandered off to Tazza d’Oro to get a coffee…and then about 5 minutes later into San’Eustachio. I had two double espresso’s back to back; strangely, this didn’t/doesn’t really faze me anymore (although it’s probably not great for you), and I can definitively say that I prefer Tazza d’Oro. Sarah and I have been having this discussion the entire trip. Ultimately, we think Tazza d’Oro is better—although Sarah didn’t think so at the beginning. 1: Tazza d’Oro is cheaper and larger (meaning more space when you have to elbow in to drink your coffee at the bar). San’Eustachio is tiny and can get what I would describe as hectic at times. 2: Tazza d’Oro has better pastries—although San’Eustachio isn’t exactly slouching. 3: Tazza d’Oro has never messed up giving Sarah a macchiato. 4. Owner man at San’Eustachio isn’t very nice (Although I give him props for dealing with what must be an overwhelming herd of tourists more moronic and trying way less hard than us. We at least attempt to do everything in Italian, even if it’s bungled. We never walk in and start speaking English. We also understand the whole “pay first, get your receipt, bring it to the bar man thing”…confusing if you’ve never done it.). 5. San’Eustachio puts sugar in the espresso, unless you ask them not to, and it’s a 50/50 chance that they hear, understand, and execute when you do so 6. The coffee at Tazzo d’Oro is better. San’Eustachio does this weird excessively foamy crema—it’s almost like when they pull your shot of espresso, they goose it with the steam wand? (For those interested, there was literally a whole dissertation written by some reporter—I believe Mimi Sheraton of the New York Times—trying to reproduce what they do.) San’Eustachio is also perhaps a bit more on the floral side of things, and doesn’t have quite the same jasmine/bitter kick thing that good espresso has to the same degree. To sum it up, really you can’t go wrong with either, but Tazzo d’Oro—or Café del Biscione in the Campo—are better choices.
In between the four shots of espresso, we went into the Pantheon, just to take a look. It’s an amazing building, and even more amazing for surviving intact for such a long time. However, the interior is a little boring, I think, especially if you’ve seen it before. Not that we really are necessarily more into to what is in reality, the historical tackiness that is Baroque, it’s just that what’s going on with the Pantheon is more subtle. There aren’t any pretty pictures, just geometric shapes, and ingenious feats of engineering accomplished without any of the modern technology that we take for granted.
We came back and decided to eat some lunch in the Piazza Farnese, all of two steps away from our door. The Piazza Farnese was redesigned by Michelangelo, and also contains two Bernini (although not really over the top crazy Baroque Bernini sculpture) fountains with bath tubs that apparently were taken from the Baths of Caracalla. Yep, we just walk out our front door, and there it is. Anyways, great lunch, but we were eyed the whole time by carabinieri guarding the Pallazo Farnese—which is the French Embassy—complete with automatic weapons. Fun. We think they wanted our food. We ate lots of prosciutto, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and bread, before eating some oranges.
After lunch, we wandered over Trajan’s Market, which has been newly restored and boasts a bizarre Caravaggio exhibit that contains not one original—they are all hung prints. Trajan’s Market is amazing. You get unbelievable views of the Forum, the Coliseum, the skyline, and the somewhat oppressive Vittorio Emmanuelle monument (seriously, every time I see the chariots up top, I start humming Flight of the Valkyries, and whipping out Wizard of Oz fantasies in my head complete with flying monkeys and wicked witches). To top it all off, you’re wandering through what is in all reality, an ancient public building that’s 2000 years old, retracing the same steps as all of those shoppers and shop-keepers 20 plus centuries ago. Sarah and I thought this Caravaggio show would be the same one that all the paintings from the Borghese had been removed to…not so. They’re are all just prints. Sarah and I later found out that the real Caravaggio show is…down the block. Oops.
Anyways, next we went off to the Capitoline Museum and wandered around the Campidoglio—which was designed by Michelangelo. I could regale you with facts about the Campidoglio, but I don’t think they really add much to the scene. It’s obvious just by walking through that it’s an inspired public space. I do like knowing that the only reason the bronze statue (now a copy) in the center, of Marc Antony, still exists is because his right hand was raised in what seemed like a blessing. All the destruction minded early Christians figured it was Constantine, ie the first Christian Emperor, giving a blessing, and not a pagan emperor, and thus, it still survives. (Oh, and also—he has no stirrups, because those were an Asian invention, and weren’t commonly used in Europe for another 500 years or something. Ah yes, nerd power. Or more specifically, a combination of Rick Steve’s, a 400 level Renaissance history class, and some other guidebook.).
The Capitoline Museum is also up on the Campidoglio, and it’s a cool museum, crammed full of sculptures, and the turbidium, which was the ancient Roman record hall. All neat, although the Capitoline is beyond overwhelming. I particularly enjoyed a bust of Marcus Aurelius’s son Commodus. Apparently, he wasn’t a great emperor (but ruled for 12 years…SPQR is some powerful stuff), and was apparently, awful. But his bust is cool—he’s got an awesome lion skin, complete with head, and an apple in his hand. There are also cool exhibits that incorporate the remains of a Roman temple into the actual museum, as well as some neat bronze pieces, including the original bronze statue of Marc Antony. Oh, and there’s another museum on the other side that has The Dying Gaul, amongst other things, but after the Capitoline, Sarah and I were museumed out.
Next, we wandered off to Santa Maria in Cosmedin, thinking we might get a little Roman Holiday action in. No dice. For some reason, the line of people that want to stick their hand in the Mouth of Truth is about the same length as the line to the Vatican. Yikes. We’ve both done it before, so it was easy for us to just pass and say “no thanks.” So we kept wandering.
Sarah wanted to find the keyhole where you can see the Vatican through the Priory of Malta, which is sort of half-way between Testacchio, the Forum, and Trastevere. We wandered up there (through a pretty deserted back way that was lush and beautiful), before making our way to one of the overlooks. This particular overlook was called something to the effect of the “Garden of Oranges,” and featured a bunch of orange trees, as well as stunning views of the city. I wanted to eat an orange badly, but couldn’t reach one. Perhaps they trim the trees this way on purpose?
We kept walking, past a few more churches (there might be more churches than people in Rome), and got to the keyhole…which was guarded by lots of armed guard types. Four of them, actually. I found it rather amusing within the context of the lack of US Embassy protection, because these four dudes were standing around with automatic weapons guarding a keyhole on top of a hill. And they’re not even in the Middle East—this is Europe! The keyhole is neat; it is an inspired idea by someone clearly on the border of crazy and intelligent. Worth trekking to (not the keyhole by itself, per se, but all the other stuff on the journey with the key hole as the final piece).
From here, we wandered into Testacchio…which was sleepy in the middle of riposo. Eventually, after much hand-wringing about achy feet, the purchase of bus tickets, and no concrete idea when buses were coming, we just walked back. Not that far—just a little further than Porta Portese. But we’d walked a lot.
We got back and needed something to eat…so we drank an entire bottle of wine at 4 PM and ate a late lunch of a bunch of cheese, salami, and bread. This is our theme. Then, it was nap-time.
We eventually awoke and embarked on an epic quest for more sustenance. There are a number of places that we’d (or maybe it’s just me) like to go—one in particular in Trastavere called Augusto—seems to be impossible to get into. We arrived 15 minutes before opening…to a line that was longer than there were seats. Struck out again. Eventually, after what seemed like endless walking, we settled on the place that we’d passed earlier called Pierluigi.
Pierluigi is one of those joints where you pay for your fish by the kilo…expensive. There’s an enormous display of the day’s catch, which is on display for everyone to see. They had some awesome looking fish on ice, and the Irish Setter that was sitting with the lady waiting for take-out was remarkably calm with so much good stuff within a couple of feet. Awesome looking langostines, some regrettably endangered or probably not ethical to eat fish like John Dory, spiny lobsters, and an enormous tuna. Very obviously fresh by the way—clear eyes, clean smell, springy flesh, and they honestly didn’t care if you just reached in and touched something. Very different from the US, where I’m sure you’d get a health code violation or something similar. Just the fact that the Irish Setter was chilling in the restaurant would have been enough to set the majority of Los Angeles restauranteurs on edge I’m sure.
It was a good meal, and realistically, probably about half what we’d pay in the states for something relatively similar. It was still expensive for Rome. We had a great bottle of Friulano from Schiopetto, pressed octopus (Which was remarkably similar to mortadella—even in flavor. I don’t know that I’ve ever had octopus taste so meaty. Delicious.), puntarelle with lemon and anchovy (tasty and seasonal), a fresh pasta with swordfish and eggplant (very competent, but not awe-inspiring), and a fish that I can’t recall the name of. It was 500 grams (although they didn’t bring us the head…WTF we paid for it…and you’re making fishstock or something on my dime); and came filleted with oven-roasted tomatoes, potatoes, and olives in a white wine sauce. Competently cooked and quite tasty. The potatoes were unbelievable. After dinner, we came back and went to sleep.