Today was Easter, and Sarah and I had planned to check out the outdoor Mass at the Vatican. Easter is the biggest holiday in Rome (or so we hear), and Easter Mass is a big deal. We woke up, put on something nicer than our standard issue blue jeans, and headed up to the Vatican. Unfortunately, it was raining. We haven’t had any rain on this trip (although it sprinkled for about 30 seconds in Cortona), and it was really nasty outside. Thankfully, I had brought my North Face.
Sarah and I walked up to the Vatican, expecting it to be a little more crowded. We stopped in the Campo and were surprised to find Café Biscioni open. (They have great coffee—my favorite other than Tazza d’Oro; I might even like it more.) We had heard everything was closed, but there was a lot of stuff open. Again, rightly or wrongly, not the Italy that we remembered from just a few years ago. Nevertheless, I was delighted to not be in a funk from lack of caffeine.
We headed up to the Vatican, still really expecting it to be more crowded. Normally, there are 60k people that pack into the square (which to be fair, is huge), but it didn’t seem that there were nearly that many there. We also were way over-dressed. Maybe it was the rain? We couldn’t really see much, except for a platform on the steps of the church, and a ton of umbrellas. Sarah got some great photos—mainly of colorful umbrellas, but we took off pretty quickly.
After getting back home, we still had a while before we had to get to our lunch reservation at Checchino dal 1887 in Testacchio. I made the reservation a few months ago when I found out the Easter Sunday is the only Sunday of the whole year they’re open. The restaurant has been there since 1887, and is considered one of the best restaurants in Rome. Specifically, they’re known for their offal. We hailed a cab, got schooled by yet another great Italian cab driver on correct pronunciation (Seriously, the cab drivers here have been awesome, friendly, and professional in a way that we don’t get in LA. Maybe the cabbies here make more money or something? We’ve been really stoked on every single one of them.), and then got a whole mouthful of enthusiasm and hand gestures when he realized where we were going. Apparently, he likes Checchino.
We got there at about 12:15, it was still raining, and we stuck our head in the door. The staff was still eating staff meal. We got blank stares, and then hightailed it out the door. We wondered what we had done, but we were the first people there. We decided to wait, and by the time 12:30 rolled around, we’d had a conversation with one of the cooks smoking a cigarette outside, and figured everything was cool. At 12:30, we walked right in and were greeted warmly. A little strange given the beginning, but it’s an Italian place.
Thankfully for Sarah, they had a special Easter menu that was, for the most part, free of offal (The restaurant is located across from Rome’s slaughterhouse that closed in 1976; a lot of the Roman specialties started because people—specifically the poorer people and the people that worked in the slaughterhouse—had to use the “quinto quarter,” because it was either cheap or they were given it for free. Offal is also more perishable than other meats from what I gather. The restaurant did have some offal on the Easter menu—fritti of lamb hearts, lungs, and various other pieces. ). I had been intent on trying their trippa alla Romana, but we ordered everything off the Easter menu instead. We ordered a “stew” of fresh favas, guanciale, and artichokes, a weird tart with cheese and bacon, a fettucine with porcini’s, and roast lamb with potatoes. We washed this all down with an excellent 28 Euro Roman wine—2003 Dives Cesanese. Then we had a selection of cheeses (taleggio, saffron and pepper hard cheese, and a weird blueish cheese) with a Sauternes-style sweet wine from Sicily (crazy good). A couple things stood out about the meal. First, the place was formal but the food wasn’t. As an example, we ate off china, and there were full place settings. Sarah was excited about the chargers. Second, it’s fairly inexpensive compared to a comparable restaurant in the states, and everything we ate was pretty good, but it’s perhaps more exciting to go eat at a cheaper place. The reason being is that they don’t really offer anything more than a really competent interpretation of a traditional dish. Don’t get me wrong, everything was good, but Sarah in particular has been feeling this way about the restaurants we’ve been to.
While we were eating, another couple of Aussies came over and introduced themselves. Strangely, this is the second Aussie couple that has introduced themselves to us in two weeks, given us their contact information, and invited us to stay with them in Australia. Are Aussies super friendly? I don’t know, but both couples that we met were, and maybe it’s a coincidence, but they were both Australian.
Sarah and I had asked earlier to see the cellar at the restaurant, which is built into Rome’s unofficial “eighth” mountain, which is the pile of broken amphorae in Testaccio. Apparently, it was cheaper to just throw the amphorae (terracotta jugs) away rather than reuse them, and over 500 years or so, an enormous mound accumulated—called Monte Testacchio. (Testacchio is a Romanization of the word for arm of amphorae.) We invited the Aussie’s down to see it with us. It was a highlight of the meal to be sure. You can see all the amphorae in the cellar, and there are tons of “dead soldiers” in the cellar that are basically the greatest hits of wine. Plus, the cellar is fairly rustic—it even has the horns from a bull in there. It sort of reminded me of Montana or something. Anyway, it was a good time; I don’t know that we’ll ever go back, but I’m glad I went.
Next, we meandered back to our place for a nap. A bottle of wine on Sunday afternoon plus dessert wine is a recipe for sleepiness. (And Sarah and I have come to believe that drinking mid-day is the REAL reason that riposo is such a big part of Italian culture.) On our way back, we picked up a giant brightly-printed-fluffy-foil-wrapped chocolate easter egg. We’ve seen them in most of the grocery stores, and figure they must be the Italian equivalent of a chocolate bunny in the US. They’re basically giant Kinder eggs, filled with a Made-in-China surprise. Ours contained a tiny stuffed koala we’ve named Jacques. After all the eater egg excitement, we took our nap, and later woke up and wandered around for a bit.
We made a rough triangle from the Corso down to Via Tritone (which leads into Via Veneto), and then back. Of particular note was our little jaunt into the Baberei Palace, which is under construction. It was about 7:30, and it was closed. Err, well, it was supposed to be. The Palace grounds themselves are cool to look at; we had a nice wander through the garden. However, what really shocked me was the fact that the front door to the antiquity museum inside was wide open… Oops. I actually stuck my head in and took some photos; I’m sure that I could have waltzed right inside and had a look. Kind of crazy. Kind of Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler-esq. If you can imagine someone just leaving the door to the Metropolitan Museum of Art open and unguarded, then you get the picture.
A nice Italian family took our picture, and then we came back to our place and ate more cheese, salame, bread, and an Aglianico while watching a German movie called The Lives of Others. It was a great movie about the Stasi and artists in 1980’s East Germany. Then it was time for sleep.