Whenever we land in Rome I never know what to expect, at least from ourselves. The Ancient City boasting still standing structures thousands of years old is constant; airlines and people, not so much. Will we be on time? We will be overcome by jetlag and unexpectedly sleep until noon? Will I have clean underwear? One time we smacked down to Earth at 7 am – only to find that our luggage did not – and we shopped for clothes on nearly 24 hours of travel and no sleep only to force ourselves to go on the Vatican tour we had prearranged and already paid for. It ended up being a particularly harrowing tour when after all that, I fell asleep sitting on the corner of a marble plinth and only woke up after I was at about 45 degrees to the marble floor which I was quickly hurtling towards. After that, we try not to plan for our first day anymore. We also try to land in the afternoon. We have a brief nap, a nice dinner, and then try to get a good night’s sleep, waking when we’re ready to a leisurely morning of coffee, a croissant and figuring out our day.
Sometimes we just walk around the city until it’s time for lunch, revisiting our favorite places and discovering new ones.
This past June we felt like go-getters and decided to visit Castel Sant’Angelo, which we had shamefully never been to. It’s been well over a year since I wrote my first post on Rome and we’ve had some new discoveries, particularly on this most recent trip. Castel Sant’Angelo is one of them.
Just across the Tiber, we had taken plenty of photos over the years of the statues that line the bridge and lead up to the Fortress/Mausoleum/Papal apartments/Museum. Now we were finally going inside. This being one of the few things we’ve ever done spontaneously on a vacation, we had to wait in line for tickets, but found the wait to only be 15 or so minutes, which passed easily, there being plenty of fun stuff to photograph while we snaked our way into the Castel. Being before noon, the heat and humidity weren’t unbearable yet, and once we got inside the actual fortress, there was shade and birds and a breeze. The tour itself is incredibly well curated with plenty of signage full of interesting details and the most spectacular views of Rome and the Vatican. And there’s even a café on one of the upper floors.
This time we also checked out the Palazzo Doria Pamphilij which boasts 3 Carravaggios, although not his most interesting work save for the fact that one is of a boy and his goat being interrupted seemingly in flagrante delecto.
And we discovered some new restaurants, although discovered hardly seems like the right verb to use when describing Al Moro, a restaurant tucked away on a side street near the Trevi Fountain that seems as old as the waiters wearing white dinner jackets and handing you a wine list the size of a bible and menus typed in different fonts, some of which had been added after the original printing. It’s a bigger menu than we’ve seen in most places, with many dishes being “alla Roma” or “Al Moro” and nothing more specific said about it than that. Yet when The Husband asked if they had “Fiori di Zucca” after not seeing them on the menu, they basically just said, “Sure” and brought him some. We also had anchovies which, while on the pricier side, were the best we’d ever had, and served simply with toast and butter, curled so as to be super soft and spreadable. After that I had the mantiche pasta with porcini and sausage, which was cooked perfectly al dente.
We’re pretty sure they sat us in the American section, which was fine because we met a delightful couple from New York. One husband spoke flawless Italian having been born there, and they confessed to us a mutual obsession with Italy that their friends just didn’t understand. Their favorite was Sicily, where we were on our way to a few days later, and their passion for it made us even more excited to see it for the first time, Sicily being the litmus test by which they judged every else they ever went. “Is it better than Sicily?” The answer for them was always, “No.”
Our last two trips we had the pleasure of eating at Il Sostegno, a small place near the Pantheon, which features a Cacciatora and potatoes that I’m told by a Roman is the best he’s ever had. If you don’t already know, in Rome the Cacciatora is made bianco, no tomatoes, just with the most amazing vinegar and white wine sauce that was on my lips weeks after I came home.
Also, I have to recommend Obicà in Campo di Fiori. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t that a chain and don’t they have like 4 in Los Angeles alone? Yes. However, we were fortunate enough to stumble into it before we knew any of this. It’s conveniently located and open all day serving wines by the glass and small plates as well as other dishes, so it’s always a great stop if you missed lunch, or can’t make it to dinner or just want a drink and a snack late at night before going back to your hotel. They have a great selection of cheeses, fried foods and various accoutrements: anchovies, olives, bread, salumi, tomatoes. Everything is such top quality we can’t help but order all of it and then wonder why our lunch needs to be put on a second table.
This last trip being during the summer, we were in town for the nightly festa along the Lungotevere – the banks of the Tiber River. Full of shops, games, pop up cafés and bars, you can wander all night at a leisurely pace, grabbing a drink or food to go or stopping to listen to live jazz at one of the cafés, which is the perfect soundtrack to walk to with someone you love on a hot summer night in Rome.