David and Ginna Zoellner love to travel. We live in Nice, France, half the year; the other half we live near Chicago, Illinois. We do 'home-exchanges' to explore other areas as well as taking normal trips. We'd like to share some of our experiences with you.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Weekend in the Eternal City, December '07

David and I flew Blu-Express from Nice to Rome on Friday. Our dear friend, Suzy Ball, was in Rome for the week on a Rick Steves' Tour and we were to join her for the weekend. We took the train from Fumicino to Termini Station where we inquired about the trains the next day to Assisi and then took the Metro to Lepanto Station where we exited and walked to our hotel, Roma dei Papi, in a beautiful old building opposite the Castel St. Angelo, a great location. We dumped our bags and were directed by the reception to a local bar where we could eat at this strange hour (about 5 PM). We found it, Georgio Antonini, and enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine, sandwiches, and a selection of vegetables. Then a nice walk along the Tevere back to the hotel, a crossword puzzle, and bed. It's great to visit a city like Rome after having been there several times. You've covered all the "must sees" and can just enjoy the atmosphere and visit the neighborhoods.

The next morning we were up early to walk to Suzy's hotel, the Alimandi, which was not far. We met up, delighted to see each other again, and took a cab back to Termini where we purchased our tickets for the 8:14 train to Assisi. We got a little breakfast and then boarded; we had a 2-hour ride, giving us plenty of time to catch up on all our news. North of Spoleto the rain started, almost sleet-like; it would be a cold day. We arrived in Assisi and got the bus to the old town. We walked through the narrow streets, with Suzy oohing and aahing, even with all the rain and cold. We stopped at La Bottega dei Sapori where we looked at all the delicious foodstuffs: cocoa pasta, olive oils and balsamic vinegars, sauces and toppings for bruschetta. The owner suggested that she make up a tray for us to test various items; they were delicious. We decided to return after lunch to make our purchases.

We made our way to the Church of San Francesco, the main reason for the visit. David waited in a cozy bar while Suzy and I admired the Giottos and all the other interesting decorations in the church. Then we headed for lunch, to the same place as our last visit. Suzy had pasta with porcini, David had the guinea hen, and I had the raviolis with spinaci in a butter/sage sauce, while we all shared a bottle of delicious Sangiovese Merlot SAIO from the area. WE followed up with grilled sausage. For dessert we shared the torta Francesca (dry) and a zuppa inglese which was scrumptious.

Afterwards we headed back to the Bottega where Suzy bought a couple of bottles of crema di Balsamic; I got the lentils I love, a jar of crema di carrottes to top bruschetta, a bottle of olive oil, and some orange flavored pasta. I can't wait to try that, but haven't quite decided on the right sauce for it.

We also stopped at a ceramics shop. I purchased a small piece from Deruta; then Suzy found a beautiful dish from Umbria, more rustic than the Deruta pottery, and I fell in love with another piece and got that too. We were both thrilled with our purchases.

We got back to Rome at almost 8 PM and headed on the Metro to the Spanish Steps. We walked from there to Piazza Navona, enjoying all the Christmas decorations, the pretty shop windows, the festive atmosphere. At Piazza Navona we shared a couple of pizzas and a carafe of wine, surrounded by the lively atmosphere and all the booths set up for the Christmas bazaar with ornaments, creches, bafanas (the witch who brings the children gifts on Jan. 6), stockings, and so on. Then home to bed, exhausted.

On Sunday we met at 9 AM and took the Metro to the Quirinale Hill area near the Barberini Palace. We walked up the hill and came across the Quattro Fontane, fountains on each corner of the intersection. We had to take pictures of each. Then further on we found a beautiful park with a statue of Carlo Alberti on a horse (googled him but couldn't find him). On the base were wonderful friezes, one particularly interesting one of a battle scene. Still further we found a lovely church, San Andrea di Quirinale Hill, a jewel box of a church, oval in shape with pink marble, just precious. Then on to the President's Residence which is open only for four hours on Sunday mornings. We waited on line and it was so worth it! The furniture, the painted ceilings, the Murano chandeliers, the inlaid parquet floors, everything was fabulous. The building was once the home of the Popes, until they were sent to the Vatican and not able to live in Italy any more.

Afterwards we took a cab to Trastevere where we wandered about. We visited Santa Maria di Trastevere and listened to the end of the Mass. Then we looked at the fabulous decoration in this church - the floor of intricately laid tiles taken from Roman ruins; the glittering mosaics of Mary with Jesus - He has his arm around his mother in a sweet pose; the columns with their various crowns in Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

Then we found the Piccola Trattoria di Lucia, which we had read about in Fred Plotkin's book. It was tricky to find but worth the effort. We started with the house specialty of roasted vegetables - eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, olives, and a white broccoli. David had rabbit with carcofi for his main course while Suzy and I each had the house specialty, spaghetti alla gricia, pasta served with bacon and lots of pecorino, very dry and delicious. To wash it all down we decided to go crazy and have a bottle of Amarone. We felt like royalty having this special bottle of wine. We finished up with panna cotta with fruit for Suzy and the tiramisu (better than mine which is pretty good!). A wonderful experience. The bill was 97 euros for the three of us - half of it was the wine!

Afterwards we headed back to Piazza Navona, stopping along the way to do a bit of shopping - a sweater for me and some Murano jewelry for Suzy. I love the feeling of walking around this great city with all the history surrounding us. But the rain was getting to us after a while and we went back to the bar where we'd had supper on Friday night and had several glasses of wine and some small sandwiches and a plate of cookies. We were there for several hours, just catching up some more and comparing notes on books and movies. Then "Farewells" and off to bed.

Monday morning we were up early again, packed and ready to go. There was no one at the hotel who could take the payment - the cab driver was there, ready to go. Finally someone arrived and told us our card wouldn't work. Finally she had to take down the information and let us go. We got to the airport in good time, and alive with no thanks to the cab driver. Interesting experience at the airport - in the bathrooms there are air dryers for one's hands, the first ones that I've ever found that actually dry one's hands. They are so strong they pull your skin in wrinkles this way and that, but they do dry your hands. An easy flight back to Nice where we took the 23 bus home. Colin and Marguerite were glad to see us and had enjoyed the weekend in Nice, staying in our place. They took us around the corner for a nice lunch and left.

What a wonderful weekend.