Day three and we actually did have to get up early today: we had 9am entry tickets for the Galleria Borghese. For those who don’t know, this art and sculpture collection features stunning works by Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael, and Bernini—just to name a few. You are also only allowed 2 hours entry before being kicked out and advance reservations are a must. So while we’d visited before on our 2009 trip to Rome, it was definitely worth going back for a second time to spend more time with these magnificent works of art.
Further advice for first-time visitors: plan to arrive about 45 minutes in advance in order to retrieve your tickets (this can be time consuming as many people are confused about the process) and to get through the mandatory bag check line. They don’t necessarily tell people they have to check their bags, but they do (including any purses, umbrellas, cameras, etc)—so don’t waste time in the final admission line only to be refused entry and sent to the back because you didn’t check your belongings first.
Once inside, we maxed out our time with the incredible Caravaggio paintings and Bernini’s staggering sculptural works. Even if you don’t normally go ga-ga for sculpture, you will be left breathless by Apollo and Daphne and The Rape of Proserpina. The sweetie also spent a lot of time with Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love, as he is working on a (full-sized) copy of it at the moment.
Kicked out at 11am, from there we hailed a taxi to get to Palazzo Colonna. The Colonna Palace is only open one day a week, from 9am – 1pm, so we weren’t going to miss out on our only chance to see it! And we certainly weren’t prepared for the incredible, staggering sight of its interior, particularly the awe-inspiring ballroom which may in fact be one of the most magnificent private “rooms” in the world. (Sweetie said he thinks it truthfully puts Versailles to shame.)
While there is floor-to-ceiling art throughout Colonna, by such masters as Tintoretto and Carracci, it’s really the overall effect of extreme splendor and wealth which impresses more than any individual works. We spent a little over an hour there in wonder and delight, and I’d say it’s well worth a visit by anyone who has the chance while in Rome.
We left a little before 1pm to find a light rain outside. After a little shopping for small mementos and souvenirs, we decided to grab a light lunch and decide what to do with the rest of our day. Walking about I recognized Bibo Ristorante—which had been the location of our first lunch in Rome in 2009. Nothing fancy and yes, geared a bit more to tourists than locals, I remembered they made a fine Roman-style pizza. So that’s what we both ordered: a simple Margherita for the sweetie and a mushroom-and-prosciutto pie for me.
Worth noting, if you can tell from my photograph: this is a pretty typical Roman-style pizza. The crust is very, very thin: almost cracker-like. It reminds me almost of matzah, which may be a tip of the hat to the influence of Jewish cooking on Roman cuisine. This was a nice pie, I appreciated that the mushrooms were indeed fresh and the prosciutto generous. It was a worthy stop with a half-liter of rustic red while planning the rest of our day.
Sweetie wanted to revisit Santa Maria del Popolo, to see the Caravaggio paintings there again. The rain was letting up a bit so we decided to slowly make our way there, with a few stops along the way. The first would be to see the Trevi Fountain again, but then the rain started again and I saw a sign for an archeological site, Città dell’Acqua Vicus Capriarius. Why not? I’m always up for some ruins and this seemed like it might kill a little time for the storms to pass.
This ended up being a fascinating archeological “museum” of ruins just uncovered in 1999. Here one sees the remains of a 4th century Roman mansion and a section of aquaduct, connected to the Trevi fountain. The fascinating thing is seeing the layers of history before one’s eyes, and how modern Rome is built upon these remnants of ancient times.
From there, we did make our way around the corner to see the Trevi Fountain in a break between raindrops. With the weather it wasn’t quite as much of a mob scene as it often is, but it was still busy. Mostly we sat and enjoyed while everyone else got their photos of throwing coins over their shoulders—been there, done that!
From there, it was a slow—VERY slow—walk up Via del Corso toward Piazza del Popolo. I know the Italians love their passeggiata but this was far more than I’d ever seen before, and on a mid-Saturday afternoon no less! Via del Corso was literally just one throbbing mass of people, sidewalks and other traffic be dammed, I’m guessing because of the holidays and with the Epiphany just 2 days a way. I’ve never seen such a mob scene in the streets walking about and window shopping. It was certainly an experience! We did divert off the main traffic eventually so we could also revisit the Spanish Steps, and see the beautiful presepe there at the top. The lights were just coming on for the evening as well, and it was lovely walking the streets in the holiday lights and in the shimmering glow of a light drizzle yet.
There are several beautiful churches around Piazza del Popolo, but this time we only visited Santa Maria del Popolo to see Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion on the Way to Damascus. The importance of these works is crucial to the development of Caravaggio’s career and recognition for his new style of realism, and it’s potent to see the contrast of his paintings against Carracci’s Assumption in the center of the Cerasi Chapel. Interestingly, when we first visited the chapel in 2009 there was only one other “art geek” there with us, studying the work intently. On this evening we had to fight our way through a crowd of at least 20-30 all trying to get their glimpse at Caravaggio’s work. I predict in another decade or so, Caravaggio is going to reach da Vinci levels of “fandom” and appreciation with the general public. And it’s not unmerited, the more one sees of his work first-hand…
It was just after 5pm and time for a break—preferably one involving a little bit of alcohol. I chose to avoid del Corso and walk down Via di Ripetta instead, which was quieter and less overwhelmed with stores and crowds at this time of the night. We ducked inside a small bar, Caffe Ripetta, which ended up being a perfect place to linger for an hour or so relaxing and enjoying some (very stiff) spritzes. They also kept us well-fed with copious bar snacks and well-entertained by their “over-achieving barista” (thanks AdamB.), who couldn’t resist turning every espresso-based drink into a chocolate-laced work of art.
After that, it was time to find our way home…if we could. Oh but with a pit-stop at Gusto, a lovely kitchen supply/cookbook store we’d found last trip where we ended up this time buying a few beautiful tiny pots for my “laboratory”. I ended up getting turned around and walking halfway back to Popolo, at which point we just hailed a taxi and went back to our hotel in Aventine to crash/sleep/recuperate for a few hours.
Sweetie napped while I did some internet work and research. While we’d snacked around 5pm, I wasn’t going to miss at least a “light” dinner that evening! So when he awoke around 9pm I said it was time to go out for some kind of dinner nearby in Testaccio—there were several places I wanted to try that were within a short walk of our hotel, and 9pm is just about prime dining time in Italy. So we trudged down the hill, past Via Marmorata, and the first restaurant on my list that we came upon was Trattoria “Da Oio” A Casa Mia. The name is a mouthfull, but I had wanted to eat here last trip as it was recommended by Rick Steves as being a perfect example of classic Testaccio (that is, organ meat inspired) Roman food. As we looked through the door there was one two-seat table available…could it be? We asked and sure enough we could be seated. Our timing seemed perfect as within 5 minutes there were at least 4 or 5 other parties waiting for a seat.
Some of the hold-up that night was a large (say 20 or so) family party taking up at least half of the front dining room. But we were in no rush, and did not mind the family chaos around us. Indeed, kids were climbing upon their family table, playing with model cars in the cramped aisle, parents apologizing but the waitstaff waved and said no worries—and no, there were no worries at all. This felt like dining in a family home or kitchen and the entire experience was one to savor.
We skipped antipasti having had so many munchies throughout the day. Mostly I wanted a hearty pasta dish—and Carbonara seemed the way to go. It’s not something I normally order at home but I figured I should try it in the city of its creation.
Oh my god. Can I just say…oh. my. god. I am not one often left speechless by food, but this may very well have been one of the most epic and delicious pasta dishes I have ever had in my entire life. Look at the richness of the egg color. The salty cheese. The beautiful meat, most certainly guanciale and not pancetta or bacon as so many places substitute. I was in Heaven. I could not get enough.
Sweetie had ordered the rigatoni con la Pajata. If you don’t know what pajata is, click on the link. I’ll save those of delicate substitutions from an explanation here. Our waiter had even asked him if he knew what pajata was before agreeing to accept the order. Sweetie thought I wouldn’t eat it but I will say I thought it was delicious, and I’d have no qualms ordering it again myself—certainly when combined with pasta, the overall taste/effect was of that of perhaps calamari and a little ricotta cheese mixed with tomato sauce. What’s wrong with that—and what’s wrong with making sure to enjoy all of a veal calf instead of just the prime cuts of meat?
We also ordered polpetti and one Roman-style artichoke as secondi to share. The artichoke was delicious, well-marinated in lemon, spices and olive oil to have a rich yet still fresh taste. The polpetti were very tasty as well, in a nice tomato sauce that was perfect to mop up with our crusty bread.
Our dinner total was only 60.50 Euros—and that’s with water and two half-liters of tasty wine, which I see now based on our receipt that they only charged us for one. I would say ignore some of the “haters” on TripAdvisor complaining about this restaurant and do not miss if you have the chance while in Rome—and want a really authentic, homey experience with excellent food at a reasonable price.