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ix Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 6 3/30/2010 May 10, 2010

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Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 6

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Another nice day today and we were on our way to Florence. It was 7:40 AM and our bus just pulled out of Green Line Tour Company’s HQ just 4 blocks from our hotel. Although Rome has very few trees, I was still suffering the same allergy I had when I was in DC. I was still very miserable and had to take eye drops and Allegra to suppress the symptoms.

Florence was 270 KM north of Rome and it’d take us 3+ hours to get there. We’d make a ½ hour pee stop half way to there according to our tour guide; Alina. Alina was young, energetic and very knowledgeable who came to Rome from Russia. She got our group today because there were 10+ Russian tourists in our group.

Prosciutto for sale at a road side shop on the way to Florence from Rome

Looks good to me. So many choices.

On the way to Florence, we saw a city built on a high stone cliff called Orvieto. The city was famous for its chapels and wines. Alina told us that the region has been producing fine wines for centuries.

Florence is the most important city in the Tuscany region and is known as the city of museums and Land of Saints. It has beautiful landscape, towering cypress trees, yellow-colored houses with red roofs, wineries, piazzas, parks, galleries, churches, and statues. The Italian Renaissance period started in Florence about 700 hundred years ago. The city and the surrounding area produce good chocolate, excellent Chiantis made from Sangiovese grapes and wonderful olive oil. Alina recommended Montepulciano wine which I have never heard of. She added that Montepulciano wine has earned the prestige DOCG identification or the so-called Denominazione di origine controllata or “Controlled origin denomination.” Although I personally liked Ruffino from this region but next time when I go to Total Wine in McLean, I’ll for sure buy a few bottles and see it for myself.

We arrived at Florence at 11:15 AM and we’d first visit a couple of museum and then have lunch at a local restaurant. A local guide, Patricia, would take us to the museums and Alina will take over after our visits to the museum and right before our lunch. She had to show the Russian tourists around. By this time, the sky was getting cloudy and it looked like rain was about to start anytime now.

The first museum we went to was Gallerie dell’ Accademia or “Academy of Fine Arts.” The admission fee of €6.50 was included in the tour. Patricia told us that we were here to see the famous David statue by Michelangelo and other art work by him and other the famous artist. When we were in line to get in the museum, rain started to fall and some people bought umbrellas to sell. We were tempted to buy one but decided not to because the line was short and we’d get in the museum soon. Rain continued but the line started to move and we got in before the rain started to come down hard. While getting through the security, I failed to pass the scan even though I got rid of most of my metal belongings. in the end I forgot to retrieve my reading glasses but didn’t find out until near the end of the tour. I went back to the security and Patricia went to there with me but no one had seen it. Well, I had to get another pair done after we got back to VA.

Outside of Gallerie dell' Accademia with copies of art work on the street for sale

The first things we saw in the museum were four unfinished sculptures called nonfiniti or Prisoners, by Michelangelo. Every single one of them was stunning to see as if the characters were struggling to get out of the rock. It was amazing to see all the minute details of the sculptures including their faces, their expressions, muscles and veins on their bodies and their torsos when we were a few feet in front of them. In the hands of the famous artist, they practically came alive. It was remarkable and fascinating just to see these sculptures and I’d say “不虛此行”  “ bu1 xu1 ci3 xing2” (It has certainly been a worthwhile trip.) However, since any form of photo was not allowed in this museum, I didn’t have any photo of nonfiniti or David at all. Although David’s picture can be seen on the web, there weren’t too many photos of nonfiniti. Here is one of them

Galleria dell'Accademia (Firenze - Italia)

The next thing we saw was David at the end of the gallery. The white marble sculpture was the tallest free standing sculpture in the world according to Patricia. She pointed out the larger than normal right hand; bulging veins on his arms before the fight, the multiple interpretations about the subject but I actually didn’t get too much feeling from the most famous sculpture in the world.

Another sculpture we saw was The Rape of the Sabine Women (Rape means capture or abduction by the Romans). The screening and terrified woman with her soft skin and feminine body, the muscular and powerful Roman holding on to the his trophy over an old man protecting his face made a very interesting subject to view from different angles. We were allowed to stay for 10 more minutes but it wasn’t enough to see all the masterpieces in the museum.

From the museum, we walked to Florence’s cathedral called Duomo. It was a cathedral unlike any other cathedral in the world. It is the symbol of Florence and is called The church of Santa Maria del Fiore. The massive Gothic building took 500 years to finish and when we were there, the exterior of the building was being cleaned. Only the front façade and a portion of the side wall were cleaned to show its original glory.

In front of Duomo

Duomo Bell Tower and front door

The main front door of Duomo

Detail desigh on the door of the building in front of Duomo

The exterior of the massive building and a bell tower is covered in multi-colored marbles of pink, white and green colors which made it unique. The detailed designs could be seen everywhere and they were stunning and beautiful. The dorm can be seen from far away and is good contrast to the building itself. The inside of the cathedral was dark and not much could be seen except some of the original stain glasses dated back several hundred years ago. No wonder people of Florence are so proud of this wonderful building.

The next stop was Piazza della Signoria and according to Patricia the political center of the city. There were many more sculptures here including a copy of David, Fountain of Neptune, Hercules and Cacus, the Rape of the Sabine Women and many others. There were many artists in the city square displaying their art and +people from all over the world enjoying a not too bad a day because the rain had stopped right before we stepped out of the museum.

Piazza della Signoria

Copy of David at Piazza della Signoria

the Rape of the Sabine Women

Fountain of Neptune

Hercules and Cacus

Perseus With the Head of Medusa

Lovely outdoor restaurant at Piazza della Signoria

Fountain of Neptune

A young artist was making quick drawing with paint on the ground. He could do one within three to five minutes. About 10 Chinese artists with their make-shift stands were there hoping to draw Chinese names for the tourists. A group of musicians were playing their instruments to attract donations from the tourists.

€10 for 5 minutes of work. Not bad.

Although the sky was cloudy and the wind had picked up some, I had a very memorable trip at Florence and I could just sit here watch people coming and going enjoying their days here. I hoped that our tour group could have a late lunch at one of the open restaurants here such as Cafe Verdi: a bottle of wine, some cheese, a plate of simply pasta would be enough.

Well, that wasn’t the way it went. Alina showed up and we said goodbye to Patricia. Alina took us through a narrow alley to a huge (300+ seats) restaurant behind the piazza called Osteria dei Barognoelli and that’s where we’d have our lunch. The place was huge and there were many other tour groups there already. Other groups came by as we were eating our meals too. Well, so be it. We’d try to make the best of it.

We each had a bowl of tasteless potato soup, a plate of salad, one scoop each of two different kinds of pasta; penne with meat sauce and egg shell with tomato sauce and two slices of over-cooked and flavorless veal. Bread was tasteless and dry. I hoped that it wasn’t yesterday’s leftover. Drinks were not included with the meal. I ordered a ½ bottle of Vino da Tavola from southern Italy town of Bianco. The meal was quick and left me with the feeling of been fed 大鍋菜 da4 guo1 cai4like a pig in a cafeteria. We also had some desserts but it was so bad that I forgot what it was. So disappointing! Well, this gave me a good excuse to come back here again one of these days. Since we each threw just one coin into Trevi, we have to come back to Rome according to the legend. Once we are in Rome, we’ll have to make a trip up here again.

We were then given an hour of free time but were told to come back to the piazza by 4:35 PM sharp. We walked around the narrow alleys and found a small café. We ordered a pasty and some coffee. We also went to a couple leather shops but found their stuff very expensive. A few blocks away, a small piazza had at least 10 sculptures of famous Florence artists such as Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Donatello. We went back to the piazza to admire the sculptures and waited for our group and our tour guide to come back.  In the mean time, we just walked around the piazza, listened to Artists playing their instruments and watched the world went by.

Michelangelo

Da Vinci

Donatello

Never forget shopping but buying gold jewlry in Florence?

After everyone came back to the piazza, we walked for about 20 minutes to our bus. On the way back to Rome, our bus stopped by a road side shop for about 25 minutes. We didn’t arrive at Rome until almost 8:20 PM. We got off the bus not too far from Palazzo Margarita and gave Alina ₵20 for a very informative and pleasant trip.

Palazzo Margarita wasn’t far from the steakhouse we saw two days ago. I thought that we’d have a steak tonight instead of pasta. Five days of pasta was more than enough.

The name of the restaurant was T-Bone Station. It sounded like a steakhouse. It looked like a steak house from outside and it was busy when we passed by last time we were in the neighborhood.

We had to wait for a table when we walked in at about 9:15 PM which meant the place was very popular. Inside the restaurant near the entrance, I saw a poster showing a copy of Dallas Morning News. The date of the newspaper was May 24, 1935 and it cost 5₵ a copy. The headline of the newspaper was about Posse killed Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.

T-Bone Station in Rome

72 for a lousy steak dinner

On the left of the paper above the fold was a disturbing article about China. The headline was: Manchukuan Farm Village Wrecked by Japanese Bombs.

Chinese sources claim 1.000 dead as planes drop explosives on 20 towns
Fires still raging, Refusal of settlers to give up arms alleged cause of reprisal

The newspaper story talked about Japanese airplanes dropped bombs on innocent farmers in northeastern China. It was one of a series of Japanese invasions into China before China declared war against Japan on July 7, 1937. The China-Japanese war which last eight years from 1937 to 1945. The war seriously weakened China government which allowed the rise of Communist China and the eventually exile of the National Chinese Government to Taiwan. I never thought I’d see this kind of news on Dallas Morning News in Rome, Italy. Interesting!

The menu was very simple: appetizers, salad and soup, steaks, ribs and desserts. I ordered a small filet. Bao ordered a half rack of baby back ribs. We also ordered a bottle of Chianti.


The wine was again very good and it was very reasonably priced. The steak sucked. The potato was under-cooked. The rib was juicy but had no taste. The BBQ sauce was okay though. I guessed that busy didn’t necessarily equaled to good food when it came to steaks in Rome.

Roasted vegetables

Can't get any worse then this.

₵72 for a lousy steak dinner

Tonight was our last night in Rome. I liked their Chianti. I liked Michelangelo. I liked their pasta. I liked the relaxed feeling permeating from every corner in Rome: coffee shops, Gelatos, Ristorante, piazzas, fountains, sculptures and their museums. But not steaks!

I guessed that we have to come back sometime in the near future.

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Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 5, 3/29/2010 May 6, 2010

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Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 5

Monday, March 29, 2010

There was no tour scheduled for today. We had 自由活动 “zi4 you2 huo2 dong4” today which meant that we’d be on our own and do what we liked to do today.

One place we had to go was Sistine Chapel at Vatican Museum because we’d be out of town to Florence tomorrow. Our flight back to DC was only two days away.

We took metro to Ottaviano and walked toward Vatican Museum. About three blocks from there, we saw a line of people outside the wall and I knew we’d have a long wait to get in the museum. We walked to the end of the line which was about ¾ of a mile to museum entrance. Soon after we got in the line, a few people came by to ask if we wanted to hire them as tour guide and save an hour or two staying in the line. Many people went with them and so did we but we had to pay €20 more each for a total of €80.

We followed the tour guide to her office a few blocks away and waited for more people to join us. After about 15 minutes, we had enough people to form a group but we had to wait in the tour group line which was much shorter.

All in all, we probably saved a little more than an hour. Our tour guide took us to a display reserved for tour guides and showed us the overall layout of the museum and told us where to go to see what. We followed her around through many galleries and saw the incredible collections of the Catholic Church over the centuries. We saw many sculptures, paintings, religious arts, antiques, mosaics on the floors, statues, stain glass arts, mural painting on walls and vaulted ceilings and huge rugs hanging on the walls.

Vatican Museum

The crowd at Vatican Museum. The line extended way beyond the view in this picture

Female traffic cop near the entrance of Vatican Museum

Model of Vatican City

Book cover

In Vatican Museum

Ceiling art work

Ceiling art work

We followed the crowd 走马看花 “zou3 ma3 kan4 hua1” (Literally means looked the flowers on horseback. It implies gaining a shallow understanding through a superficial observation.) We went through countless galleries and finally entered the famous Sistine Chapel. At last the famous art work such as the creation of Adam and Final Judgment by Michelangelo were in front of us. The chapel was a room about 120’ long and 60’ wide with a 40’ high ceiling. We stood with the crowd in the room, raised our head and admired the excellent art work by the artist. There was a couple of museum staff constantly reminding people not to take pictures but many people still did. After the chapel, there were still many rooms filled with art work. A courtyard near the exit of the museum also had some interesting displays. We stayed in the museum for about 3 hours and came out at 2:30 in the afternoon. By this time, there was hardly any people waiting to get in the museum. If we were to visit the museum again, we’d come in the afternoon to avoid the crowd and save the extra €20 for the tour guide.

After leaving Vatican Museum, we took metro to Spagna Station and walked to Piazza di Spagna or Spanish Square the famous Spanish Steps. The first thing we did here is to have a light lunch at a restaurant called Babington Tea Room right next to the steps. I found this restaurant while surfing the Internet at Internet Point and found out that the restaurant opened more than 100 years ago in the late 19th century. Babington is an English tea room serving very expensive teas from all over the world, espresso, sandwiches, biscuits and desserts. I wanted to go there for the experience just like our indulgence of a quiet and expensive afternoon tea at Hong Kong’s 半岛酒店 “ban4 dao3 jiu3 dian4.”

The interior of the restaurant looked charming but old. Our young hostess was nice and took us to our table without any delay. Our middle-aged waitress was late getting to our table even though we were obviously ready to order. Maybe the waitress knew that we were tourist and this would be the only time we’d have a lunch here. Hmm, may be the restaurant’s management should look into this.  But once she took our order, the champagne, tea and the rest of the food came rather quickly.

We ordered Champagne High Tea for €44 which included:

A glass of Bollinger champagne,

Cucumber sandwiches, Smoked Salmon Sandwiches, egg and Curry Sandwiches, and ham and cheddar cheese sandwiches,

Fresh strawberries with hot chocolate dipping sauce,

Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream, and

Babington’s classic tea.

We also ordered a club muffin (€21) with chicken and bacon plus six of Babington’s Mignons (€9,) or bite size cookies.

The atmosphere was nice and the ambiance relaxing. There weren’t very many customers at 3:00 PM and we didn’t feel rushed or anything. Although it was expensive and there was more food than we could eat, we nonetheless enjoyed the quiet moment. The small bite sized sandwiches were good and I liked the varieties to choose from. The muffin was fresh and bacon crispy. But the mignon was something we couldn’t offer any compliments: 不敢恭维 “bu4 gan3 gong1 wei2.” They were dry and tasteless probably because they used no more than ¼ of the sugar Americans used to make their cookies in the U.S. About the only thing good about them was the way they looked. That’s something we could do without. And they were way too expensive. We were talking about €1.5 for each of them and that’s simply way too much.

Of course, the best part of the late lunch was the fresh strawberry and chocolate dip. We double and triple dipped and ate them all even though I didn’t like strawberry and only eat chocolate once a while. The Champagne was good too and was the perfect companion to the mini sandwiches and the heavier chicken and bacon muffin. The only thing bad was I could use another one but one was all I could have. The last one to come was apple with ice cream. By this time, we were already too full but we still managed to finish half of the apple and all the ice cream. Tea was okay but not special and certainly not worth the €10 price tag listed on the menu. The total bill came to €86.5; one expensive lunch.

In the end, I was glad to have tried it but I had to say that Babington’s was no 半岛酒店 and it would be one Rome restaurant I won’t go back to despite its long heritage.

The Spanish Square and Spanish Steps are a famous place for tourists and locals alike. There was a small ship-shaped fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia, at the foot of the Steps. I didn’t like the look of the fountain and thought it looked awkward. Both Bao and I liked the Spanish Steps even though there were so many people here. We took our time walked upstairs. We sat on the steps and watched people coming and going as if we had nothing better to do. At the top of the hill, there was another public square and many artists displaying their art works to attract business. We also liked to watch the artists who tried their hardest to draw for tourists. The church at the top of the hill has two bell-towers. Bao went in there and said that it looked like a private school.

Spanish Steps

From there, we walked at least three and half hours to the following places: Colonna dell’Immacolata, Palazzo Margherita, via Vittorio Veneto (made famous by La Dolce Vita), Café de Paris, Harry’s Bar, ruin of Roman city wall, Piazza Barberini, Colonna Traiana, Vittoriano and then back to Fountain Trevi.

Modern day commercial in the midst of ancient art work

via Veneto

Harry's Bar

Ancient Roman wall around the city of Rome

Many trees in Rome are trimmed like these

Fontana del Tritone at Piazza Barberini

Colonna dell’Immacolata

Along the way, we had stopped by a Burger King to use the bathroom. I ordered a small drink and a small French fries. The fried was €1.80. When I asked for some ketchup, I was told that each ketchup would be an additional €0.10. Hmm, this was the first time I had to pay for ketchup at a burger joint. This burger king had two levels but the bottom level wasn’t used. BTW, a Whopper Combo would set me back €6.00 or about $8.

Ketchup is €0.10

By this time, we’ve had enough exercise for today and it was time to take a break and have something to eat. We picked That’s Amore for dinner simply because we liked the name. It also looked very cozy and busy from outside.

That's Amore

Menu cover of That's Amore

That’s Amore was a small restaurant with no more than 40 seats. We had to wait for a table a table away from the entrance. The tables were small and had red table cloth. The open kitchen was in the back and we could see the chefs working inside but couldn’t see what they were cooking. The prices were very reasonable for a restaurant near Trevi. The overhead PA broadcasted Italian songs and the wall was covered with famous Italian celebrities: Sophia Loren, Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida.

We ordered a glass of house Chianti, a Peroni, a bowl of Minestrone soup, Grilled sausage with potato and Fettuccini Alfredo. The house bread had a very hard outer skin and it was a little dry on the inside.  Fettuccini Alfredo was excellent with a smooth coating of melted cheese and the pasta was certainly chewier than what I had in any of the Italian restaurants in America. Sausage was juicy enough that it dripped juice while I picked it up to eat. The meat was tender and the spice in the sausage complimented the taste of the sausage perfectly. I certainly could eat two more pieces of sausage but there were more potatoes than sausages though.

Both of us enjoyed the dinner and the ambiance. Service was quick and friendly. It was a memorable and romantic evening. We didn’t order any dessert because we went back to have some gelato at Trevi. We sat there by the fountain and enjoyed the gelato and our time in Rome.

Good selections at this Gelato shop

Tomorrow was our last full day in Italy. We’d travel to Florence very early in the morning with the Green Line Tour company. I guessed that we needed to go back to hotel because we had a very long day and we needed to get up no later than 6 AM because the bus would be leaving the tour company at 7:30 AM.

Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 4 Sunday, 3/28/2010 May 1, 2010

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Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 4

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Saturday three weeks before our flight to Rome was the beginning of daylight savings time for the United States. We lost one hour back then. Tonight was the 1st day of Italy’s daylight savings time. We lost another hour last night.  Will I get this hour back?

Our evening tour, Rome by night plus dinner and music, won’t start until 8:00 PM and someone from Vastours would pick us up between 7:15 and 7:45 PM at our hotel. We’d have plenty of time to look around before the tour.

I chose a city market about a mile away to go to after breakfast. This one was supposed to open every day of the week and was a good place to shop according to the ad I saw. On the way there, we’d go to Roma Termini and find out where we could buy tickets and take the train to the airport on Wednesday. I also needed to know the train schedule too.

We’re out by 10 AM and took us less than 5 minutes at Roma Termini to find out all we needed to know about the express train to the international airport. From Termini, the city market was only a few blocks away. However, when we arrived there, the market looked deserted. The walls were covered with graffiti. The steel doors were all shut and the streets looked dirty and old.  We decided to go to the nearest metro station and take the metro to the Coliseum. The metro ride cost €1 no matter where we went and it was quiet easy to follow the signs around as long as we got the direction of the train right.

The line to get in the Coliseum was very long and judging by its slow progress it would probably take an hour to get in. Many tour guides came to ask us joining them for a private tour and we could get in right away. Someone told us that we could get in faster if we rent an audio tape for a little more money. That sounded like a better deal because we could move at our own pace without being rushed. After spending €20 more, we got in within 15 minutes. Although it wasn’t very easy to follow the instruction and explanation on the device, we managed to complete the tour within 2 hours with plenty stops to take pictures, admire the majestic and impressive structure and pay respects to Roman’s engineering achievements. Part of the arena floor has been re-floored to illustrate the appearance of the ancient time. When I was inside, I couldn’t help but to picture the gladiators on the floor fighting their lives against each other and against vicious animals for a crowd of 50,000 cheering crowd. The images of Russell Crowe as gladiator Maximus, the white haired slave merchant, the black slave, the emperor, the cheering spectators  on the stands and the gruesome executions and cruelty kept popping up in front of my eyes as if they were real. Many innocent lives were lost in this arena 50 or 100 feet from me in the name of entertainment and here we were standing here 2,000 thousand years later admiring the grandeur of the amphitheater. Hmm, I wondered what‘s the problem with this picture?

Did you notice 168 on the recording device? 一路发

After our visit to Coliseum, we planned to tour the inside of the Forum but decided not to because it was getting hot and the tour may take another two hours. In addition, it was lunch time and we’d need to find a place to have something light to eat before our tour tonight and a dinner after the tour. We walked back to the metro station and were going to take the metro to Basilica St. Peter’s. Unfortunately I misread the map and ended up at a small pyramid we saw yesterday.

Pyramid of Cestius, Rome

On the way back to metro, we passed by this middle-eastern restaurant and decided to have some rice and a couple of slices of pizza for lunch. The friendly owner of the restaurant came and began to chat with us, He said that their food was prepared from the scratch everyday and offered some baked egg plants and shaved meat from a shawarma rotisserie similar to gyros found in a Greek restaurant. The egg plant was meant as an appetizer which was grilled and then marinated with curry and herb. The shaved meat definitely had lamb and beef. It might have chicken in there too. The meat was juice, tender and full of flavor. From its texture, I guessed that they added a lot of fat to layers of meat in the shawarma. It certainly tasted a lot better than what I usually get from Greek restaurants or from Greek places at food court in shopping malls. We saw a Middle Eastern customer who ordered a shawarma wrap which included lettuce, cucumber, onions, tomato, rice and a white-colored sauce made from yogurt in pita-like bread the size of a Chipotle wrap. It looked so good!

Halal Food Catering Service

Friendly Owner

We then found the train station nearby, took the metro back to Roma Termini, stopped by the Internet Point, exchanged for some euro, had some gelato on the way back to hotel and then took a nap before our evening tour.

We waited for our bus at about 7:10 but Vastours didn’t show up until about 7:50. Our tour guide was a gentleman in his late 50’s and there were about 20 people in our tour including two other Asians.

The first stop of our evening tour was the Trevi Fountain. As we walked to the fountain, I noticed that the restaurants along the narrow street got busier as we got closer to the fountain. Side walk tables were very popular even on a cool night like tonight. A few restaurants had their patio heaters on to attract passersby. Around the corner to the fountain was a street performer who stood motionless like a statue. A small crowd had already gathered around him as more curious people stopped to see what’s going on. The male performer asked a female tourist to hold his briefcase for him and stood motionless side by side with him. Then, as he moved his arms and head, she asked her to move with him. This act went on for about three to four minutes until he finally let her go which attracted a round of applause from the onlookers. Since we didn’t have too much time here, we walked with the crowd to the fountain and found people stood shoulder to shoulder around the fountain. Many were throwing coins into the fountain while others were taking pictures for each other. The small square was so crowded that it could only be described as 擠得水泄不通 “ji3 de2 shui3 xie4 bu1 tong1: which means that it was so crowded that even water could not trickle through. We stopped for a moment, took a picture, to the gelato shop and ordered a small scoop for each of us.

Street Performer, Trevi Fountain, Rome

Evening at Trevi Fountain, Rome

Gelato

Bicycle Rental Point, Near Navona Piazza, Rome

The bus then took us around a few other places such as Via Veneto, Piazza Barberini, Piazza Venezia, Vit­toriano, The Coliseum and St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. The bus finally stopped at Piazza Navona and we got to stay here for about 10 minutes. Evening at Piazza Navona was even more beautiful. People gathered around the fountains and stood by a few artists who were making drawings for a few lucky tourists. After we returned to the bus, our tour guide announced that our tour ended here and in a moment two lucky guests would enjoy a beautiful dinner and the rest of the guests will be driven back to their hotels. Hmm, I said that we were the two guests he had mentioned. After the bus dropped us off not too far from Piazza Navona, our tour guide walked us to a restaurant, talked to the manager and gave him a voucher. He then said that the bus driver would come back later to take us back to our hotel. He then left.

Basilica St. Peter's in the evening

The name of the restaurant was Casanova which had maybe 25 tables in the dinning room. The restaurant looked contemporary and comfy with soft lights, mirrors on the wall and white tablecloth covered tables. A bar was located near the front door and the kitchen was in the back. When we got there at 9:15 PM, there were two other tables at the restaurant and they had already finished their meals. We were seated at a table right in front of a small stage which had a piano and bench. A guy, who sat in front of the piano, was talking to two other people; a guy and a gale both in their late 20 or early 30’s, who sat on two chairs against the wall not far from the piano. Since the tour brochure said that we’d have music with our meal, I presumed that the guy would play the piano for us. the other two people I thought were the waiter and waitress of the restaurant and they were waiting for their tables to clear.

Dinning room of the Casanova Restaurant, Rome

At Casanova Restaurant, Rome

A guy came out of the kitchen and bought a candle holder with a candle to our table. He lit the candle and left. Another person, this time a woman, came and introduced herself to us and said in English that she’d take care of us tonight. She then asked us whether we liked to have some wine with our dinner: white or red. Apparently we didn’t have any choice of what brand of wine we could have. I asked for red wine and she came back with a bottle of red table wine with the restaurant logo on its label. She also mentioned that we’d get a four course dinner. All the while the guy at the piano played soft music for us and other guests at the restaurant.

Soon, our first course arrived which was two slices of roasted egg plants with a tomato-based sauce topped with melted cheese. Not particularly special, I thought! Before we could finish our egg plants, people at other two tables began to leave which left us the only two guests in the entire restaurant. Other people at the restaurant included the manager, the guy who bought us candle, our waitress, the pianist and the other two who were also on the stage. Plus two people in the kitchen, I counted eight. Just to serve us two!

As our waitress cleared the empty salad plates off our table, the other two persons stood up and walked to the front of the stage, smiled to us and then begun to sing Italian opera songs for us while the pianist played. I suddenly realized that they were waiting for us the entire time. They must be very disappointed that there weren’t more of us which made us somewhat uncomfortable. They sang two songs while we ate our second course which was a pasta dish.

Caserecci pasta with sun-dried tomato

The pasta was actually not bad at all: al dente caserecci pasta and sun-dried tomato with cream sauce, herb and shaved cheese.  The texture of the dark green-colored pasta was just right: a little chewy in the middle and somewhat rough on the outside. There was barely enough sauce covering the pasta unlike pasta dishes served in the United States which was soaked in the sauce.

After two songs, they and left the stage. We politely clapped our hands, acted like we enjoyed their performance and assumed that they would go home since they have done their duty tonight. The third course came which was veal cutlet and some vegetables in cream and pepper sauce. I didn’t like the way it looked and liked the veal and sauce even less. Even I could do better than this; I said to myself. At this time, I saw the bus driver came and the manager chatted with him and signaled him to sit down. He then sat at a table by the front door and waited for us to finish our meal.  Now we have nine people serving just the two of us. Soon the manager came out and gave him a plate of pasta to eat. Poor guy probably didn’t have anything to eat while drove us around Rome.

Then the trio came back to the stage and performed two more songs for us. At this time, we were more comfortable with their performance probably because we had drunk more than half of the wine in the bottle. We gave them €15 and thanked them for their excellent performance. They offered to sell us their CD for €15 which had 12 to 15 songs. We took the CD and had them signed their names for us. They then packed their stuff and left. The dessert was tiramisu which was okay but not great. Unlike its American version, this tiramisu wasn’t too sweet which was good but it definitely needed more rum and liqueur in it. We quickly finished ½ of our dessert, left €15 at the table, thanked the waitress for their fine service and complimented to the manager about his beautiful restaurant.

The driver got up and we walked to the bus waiting outside. Our ride to the hotel took less than 15 minutes from Casanova. We gave him €10 for the ride and said goodbye to him. It was a quarter to 11 PM. He’d probably be home by 11:30 at the earliest. It must be a long day for him. For us, that was a very expensive meal: we had already paid for the meal with the tour to begin with. We then spend €30 on the performers, €15 tips to our waitress and bus boy plus €10 for the driver. One expensive meal in Rome! And the meal was below average. No wonder that there were just two of us there. All other tourists probably have checked this out and avoided it all together. In fact, the tour was a bad one and no one should come at all.

At our hotel room, we compared two one-day trips to places outside of Rome and decided to visit Florence instead of Pompeii. We’d do that on Tuesday. Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel were on schedule tomorrow.

Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 3 3/27/2010 April 28, 2010

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Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 3

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Our tour today was Monument Rome which started at 8:30 AM at the Vastours office. We got up early to have some breakfast at the hotel and waited at the lobby for the tour company to pick us up. Just about when we were ready to leave our room to wait for the bus, Bao told me that our Canon Sureshot was gone. We looked but couldn’t find it in the room. She then said that it was most likely lost at the souvenir shop at Basilica St. Paul. She probably placed the camera on the counter as she paid for the chocolate we bought. Well, we’d have to make another trip to Basilica St. Paul after our tour early afternoon.

Around 8 AM, a guy showed up at hotel lobby and took us to a van parked nearby. After a couple more stops at other hotels, we arrived at the tour company at 8:20 or so. Tour bus started at 8:50 because some people had problems with their remote controls and earphones. Today we had about 40 tourists and our tour guide divided us into a Spanish speaking group and an English speaking group of about 20 people each.

The three-hour Monument Rome tour included visits of Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona and finally St. Peter’s Basilica.

The bus took us through Via Veneto which was made famous by movie “La Dolce Vita.” Since there wasn’t much to see from the bus, I had to come back later to check it out. After driving by Piazza della Repubblica and Najadi’s Fountain, our bus dropped us off at an underpass and our tour finally started on foot. The first stop was the famous Trevi Fountain which was at the junction of three streets or tri vie in Italian. Before we arrived at the fountain, our lovely guide got us together and gave us a brief history of the fountain because it would be impractical to gather us together once we got there.

A close up view of statues above the Trevi Fountain

Our tour guide told us that the fountain was the terminal point of one of many ancient Roman aqueducts which supplied clean water to ancient Rome. The concept of the fountain was originally sketched by the famous artist, sculptor and architect Bernini (widely regarded as the Successor of Michelangelo) in the late 17th century. However, his project was scrapped because the Pope who commissioned the design and construction of the fountain died. The construction of the fountain was revived in 1930 by Pope Clement XII and finally completed in 1762. It was last restored in 1998 completed with a big pump. When we got there, which was a mere 5 minute walk from where we were dropped off, there were already a lot of people gathered around the fountain. We were told to take 10 minutes to take pictures and to throw coins, one or 2 but not 3 unless you want to divorce your spouse, into the fountain. We managed to make our way to the edge of the fountain, took some pictures and threw one euro penny into the fountain which, according to our guide, meant that we’d come back to Rome one day.

The fountain was without question the most beautiful Western fountain that we’ve ever seen. Nearby, there were many restaurants and shops along the three streets leading to the fountain. Many of them had set up tables on the sidewalk. Since it was still early, the restaurants have opened for businesses yet. I could image that the restaurants would be crowded by tourists at lunch and dinner times. I also thought about coming back to here and enjoyed a night out and a nice dinner here.  Since we didn’t have time to waste, we quickly went to a gelato shop right by the fountain and had some gelato before walking to our next stop, Piazza Colonna and the Column of Marcus Aurelius. I wasn’t too sure what the tall column was for other than that it was constructed to pay tribute to Marcus Aurelius who was a Roman Emperor about 2000 years ago. It was so remarkable that the column has been standing here, its original location, for almost 2,000 years. A closer look showed the detailed art work of the raised relief of 2,200 figures on the column. In the interest of time, we didn’t stay here long because we still have a few more stops to go to.

Column of Marcus Aurelius

Pantheon was about another 5 minute walk from Piazza Colonna. It was a circular building of enormous size with more columns on the outside. In ancient Rome time, Pantheon was constructed to serve as the temple of all gods. Pantheon was later converted into a church called Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs. Unfortunately the exterior of the building was being refurbished when we got there but the sheer size of the building left me astonished of Roman’s engineering capability 2,000 years ago. Our tour guide told us that Pantheon has the second largest dorm in Rome, second to the dome at Basilica of St. Peters. What made the dome of Pantheon different from the others in Rome is that Pantheon’s dome has a big hole in the middle. Since the dome has no window, The Romans left a big hole in the center of the dome to allow the sunshine in.  As such, the floor and the building were equipped with a drainage system to drain the rain away on raining days. Our tour guide pointed out the holes to us and said that the original system is still being used to this date. Wow! 2,000 years and still counting! Amazing!

Drain holes on Pantheon floor from ancient Roman

A view of the inside of Pantheon

Piazza Navona, our next stop, was another 5 minute walk away. Piazza Navona was lively, charming and filled with artists of many kinds. The elongated public square within four walls of tall buildings had three fountains and a beautiful church. The Four Rivers Fountain was designed by Bernini in the mid-17th century, was under renovation. We still could see the amazing detailed art work of the sculptures through the Plexiglas windows on a fence surrounding the fountain. The four sculptures were four gods representing four major rivers of the known world at the time of Ancient Rome. There were two more fountains in the square, one each at the north and south ends of the square. There were many artists displaying their art work in the square and numerous restaurants lining both sides of the piazza. We took some pictures but didn’t have too much time admiring the art work because we were heading to our last stop of the tour, Basilica of St. Peters and the Vatican.

Piazza Navona, Egyptian obelisk and the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone

Piazza Navona

One of four gods of the Four Rivers Fountain

After a 10 minute pee stop at a souvenir shop near the St. Peter’s piazza, we headed to St. Peter’s Piazza. Well, before we could get in the basilica, we had to wait in line like everyone else: a line of about 300 to 400 people.

A marble statue for sale at a souvenir shop near St. Peter’s Piazza

The line in front of Basilica St. Peter's

It took us about 50 minutes to get in the church after passing through a metal detector. Before we got in the church, our tour guide told us that we’d gather around La Pietà by Michelan­gelo as a group and she’d tell us the story of the famous statue. From there, we’d go our own ways and anyone who wished to go back to the hotel should meet her in 25 minutes. We decided to say goodbye to our tour guide and stayed at the church for a little longer.

La Pietà by Michelangelo

Inside the Basilica St. Peter's

La Pietà, created about 500 years ago, was placed behind a bullet proved glass panel to prevent it from damage by visitors. In 1972, the statue suffered its greatest damage in the hands of a mentally unstable geologist with his hammer. The statue shows a young and beautiful Mary holding the body of Jesus after crucifixion. The statue was elegant and was truly a masterpiece by the famous artist. We stayed inside the church for about 45 minutes and Bao decided to go to the top of the dome but I was tired from all the standing and walking the entire morning. Since there was a long line to the dome and it was kind of cold inside the church, I decided to wait for her outside. After almost an hour she reappeared from the church and told me that it was truly worth the wait and the cost of about €10.

The dome of Basilica St. Peter's

A close-up view of the dome of Basilica St. Peter's

A view of Piazza St. Peter's and Rome

At Piazza of St. Peter's

We then walked around the main street of Vatican in order to find a place to eat but couldn’t find a good restaurant. We avoided a serve-serve cafeteria because it was too busy. We finally settled on a restaurant called Nova Café with six or seven tables outside on the sidewalk. The place was really a tourist spot because the menu had six languages including English, Japanese, Russian, Germany, French and Italian. Since there were few restaurants here, their prices were cheap either. Well, maybe there food was good, I said to myself. We ordered a pizza and pasta with prosciutto. The tourists at the table next to ours were a middle-aged American couple who came from Michigan. They ordered a bottle of white wine, shared a pizza, salad and a cup of soup. The pasta was good but there wasn’t much prosciutto to speak of. The thin-crusted pizza looked awful and tasted like cardboard. Our neighbors also agreed but we just had to make the best of what we have and enjoyed the pasta and made fun of the pizza with our neighbors. I called this 隨緣 “sui2 yuan2.” The worst of the whole thing was that we have to pay 15% service fee which was listed at the bottom of the menu. Because of our bad experience with Nova Cafe, let me forewarn you that you should avoid this restaurant by all means possible.

Well, we need to go to Basilica St. Paul to retrieve our camera. We took a taxi to there and got our camera. We also bought some more chocolate for ourselves because they were so good. We then took metro to Termini and stopped by the Internet point to check emails and review XB’s online Chinese resume. We then went back to the hotel for a nap after on our feet for the past 6 six hours.

By the time we got up, it was almost 8 PM. We walked across the street to a pizzeria called Pastarito for dinner. To me, this was just a run-of-the-mill type of Italian restaurant and I wasn’t expecting anything special from a restaurant such as this one. But it was very busy though. Maybe it was a Saturday.

I ordered a bottle of 2008 Sangiovese di Romagna from a winery called Poderi dal Nespoli. I have always loved Sangiovese “sahn-joh-veh-zeh” which is the primary grape for Chianti from Tuscany. Romagna is a region in northern Italy between Tuscany to the south and Piedmont to the  north. You may not have heard of Romagna but you must have heard of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati which are manufactured in this region. Wine wise, this region is known for Lambrusco which is well known worldwide but is not my favorite. Our Sangiovese di Romagna was a dark red wine with a lovely and complex taste and floral and earthy scents on the nose. I was very impressed by a wine that sold for €12.50. We also ordered the following to go with our lovely wine: Cesar salad for €7.00, Bread with Pancetta with smoked Provola cheese €2.00, peppered Mussels in white wine sauce €7.90 and Milanese Risotto with saffron €7.90.

A few slices of bread came in a basket. They were a little dry. A bad sign; I told myself. It got started on a wrong note. Cesare Salad at Pastarito was different from what we had in the U.S. It was a mixed green salad with red radicchio, cherry tomato, thinly sliced, juniper-flavored ham from Austria, croutons, and shaved parmesan cheese. There was no dressing because it was supposed to be an oil and balsamic vinegar dressing that we’d add ourselves. Hmm, this was an unusual combination but it was unusually good. Fresh greens and very sweet cherry tomatoes were mixed with this special flavored ham that I’ve never had before.

Bread with pancetta and smoked cheese was very good but, for the sake of lower cholesterol, I preferred the pancetta a little leaner and crispier. Perhaps, it could be stir-fried in a sauté pan before going into the salamander.

Next on was peppered Mussels in white wine sauce. Mussels have always occupied a special corner in our minds even though we don’t eat them often. It was way back in the summer of 1989 when our family was living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We packed our new camping gears, took our two kids, ages 7 and 4, and drove our car to Victoria Island of British Columbia for a four night camping adventure. We camped at a camping ground about 10 miles north of Nanaimo. On the fourth day, we left our camp ground in the morning and drove to the city of Victoria with the intention to return to our camp for the night. After a nice lunch and a tour of the city in the afternoon, we started to drive back to Nanaimo after 7 PM. I had planned to find a restaurant on the way back and have some fast food before returned to our camp. It was getting dark and the highway on the island wasn’t the easiest to drive. Around 8:30, it began to rain and we couldn’t find any restaurant anywhere because many have already closed for the day. Finally as we drove around a corner, we found a small roadside cafe with their lights on. We were so glad that we finally could have something to eat because we and the kids were very hungry. We settled down to our table and realized that the narrow dining room had no more than 10 tables and all of them had white table cloth and fancy silverwares. We also found out that there was a violist who was entertaining the guests of the restaurant. Needless to say, this wasn’t a family restaurant and we were kind of out of place here.

I didn’t remember what we have ordered that night but one dish we could not forget was their mussels with 髮菜 “fa3 cai4” in a white wine broth. I have had 髮菜 at Cantonese restaurant before but didn’t particularly like it. 髮菜 literally means hair vegetables because it, after soaking it in water, looks like human hair. It is a vegetable which can only be found in the Gobi Desert in northwest China. The Cantonese like it a lot because it sounds like 發財 “fa1 cai2” of 恭喜發財. The mussels were so tender and good, we ate them all. The broth was so delicious and flavorful that we soaked every piece of the bread with the broth and fed them to our kids. After dinner, rain continued and by the time we got to the camp ground, it was too wet for us to stay there. We ended up staying in a hotel instead. When we came back to Calgary and later back to the United States, I’ve tried to make that dish a few times at home. But to this date, my version didn’t even come close to what we had that particular night. Whenever we had a chance ordering mussels at restaurants big or small, we inevitably would compare it to that dish we had at a road side café on a rainy night somewhere between Victoria and Nanaimo.

To our surprise, we found that dish tonight at Pastarito in Rome. The mussels looked fresh and tasted a little sweet to me. None of them was over cooked and they were perfect. The broth looked so appetizing and we couldn’t stop drinking it straight from the bowl. The bread now tasted so delicious just like the bread on that rainy night more than 20 years ago. We were happy and satisfied.

Risotto was good and filling but it would be excellent if it had a little more butter and saffron too. We then ordered some coffee but skipped desserts. The check was to €43. What a deal!

Since it was still early and we had already taken a nap earlier, we went to Roma Termini for a walk. Later, we went to a bar called Twins across street from Roma Termini for a drink. The bar was crowded with young people and there were more guys than girls. It was very loud and we couldn’t even hear each other. Well, I guessed we really didn’t belong here.

Inside Roma Termini

Inside the bar Twins across the street from Roma Termini

Shortly after midnight, we left the bar and walked back to our hotel. Tomorrow was Sunday and our Rome Illuminated tour began at 8:30 in the evening. We’d have plenty of time on our own tomorrow.

Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 2 April 25, 2010

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Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 2

Friday, March 26, 2010

We had our free lunch at the hotel at a 2nd floor conference room. The guests were mostly Europeans and Americans. Bao and I were the only two Asians for the entire time we were there. The breakfast included coffee, juices, at least six kinds of pastries, cheese, salami, cereal.  Looking out, we saw dome tops of a church about 3 blocks away and a tower a little further out.

The weather was nice and we had the whole morning to ourselves. Our first of three tours, Ancient Rome, started at 3 PM and the tour company; Vastours; was about a mile away. We decided to go to the tour company and register with them first.  Along the way, we’d get some Euros, checked out the church nearby and tour the Repubblica Building.

It turned out that walking in Rome is a bit more challenging than I thought. I usually have very good sense of direction in a city. I’ll use landmarks to guide me, find the street names and figure out where I am. The entire had no tall buildings to guide me. There were narrow streets at many intersections which were like a network of maze crisscrossing at every directions. On top of that, it was not common to have street sign at each intersection. Some street didn’t have street signs and, when they had signs, the signs were on the other end of the street. We had to ask for directions and showed them the map to find out where we were and where we wanted to go to. When we finally got there, I didn’t have the right paper with me and the tour company guy told me to make sure bring the voucher back at 3 PM.

On the way we saw the church which is one of four most important churches in Rome:  Basilica Papale de Santa Maria Maggiore. However, it wasn’t open to public. We also saw Repubblica della Piazza, a semi-circular building, along with a beautiful fountain called Fountain of the Naiads. It was the first fountain we saw in Rome.

Basilica Papale de Santa Maria Maggiore

Repubblica della Piazza

To the north of the piazza is the remnant of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri; a church built inside the open pool of a former Roman Bath; Baths of Diocletian, the grandest of all Roman bathes.

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

On the way back to our hotel, we walked by many restaurants and cafes but decided to stop by an alley Cafe  of the Repubblica della Piazza to have lunch. The Dagnino Café was very busy with office workers who came and grab a croissant sandwich, pizza or some packaged food for lunch. We sat outside and took our time to enjoy a light lunch. I ordered a glass of white wine. Bao had water. I had home-made lasagna. Bao had seafood salad with basil flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The seafood plate had too much squid with no very little vegetable. Lasagna tasted good and very moist inside but the portion was too small. In addition, it had very little sauce which was way different from what I used to have in the States.

Dagnino

Home made Lasagna at Dagnino

Seafood Salad at Dagnino

We went back to the hotel, got our tour vouchers and went back to the tour company. The bus started right about 3 PM with about 20 tourists. Our tour guide was an Italian and she told us that we’d visit the Capitoline Hill, the Coliseum and Basilica of St. Paul’s outside the Walls.

Our tour bus passed by Pallazzo Venezia, the formal palace for popes starting some 500 years ago and then dropped us off at the foot of Capitoline Hill, one of seven hills in Rome. . The first thing we saw was flight of steps, called “Cordonata steps,” leading up to Piazza del Campidoglio and Capitoline buildings. The original designs of the steps, the Piazza, the Capitoline buildings were conceived by Michelangelo in the sixteen century but was constructed over a period lasting 400 years. We walked up the Cordonata steps (unlike the steps we usual see, these sloping steps were designed to allow horse and donkeys to walk) to the Piazza and around the building to the other side of the Capitoline Hill.


Immediately around the corner of the Capitoline building was the Monumento Nasionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, or Vittoriano to the Italians. This magnificent building was completed in 1935 to honor the first king of a unified Italy. Our tour guide told us that many Romanians and Italians do not like this building because it looked like a wedding cake. But I liked it because of its beauty and sheer dimension.

Monumento Nasionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

Vittoriano was built of pure white marble from Northern Italy, It had majestic stairways, tall, slender columns with elaborated designs of leaves and scrolls, beautiful fountains, a huge sculpture of the first King of Italy on a horse and topped with two sculptures of winged goddess, each on a chariot drawn by four horses. The entire building was 443 ft wide and 230 ft. The building was very impressive and was the grandest building I’ve ever seen.

In front of Vittoriano at the bottom of the Capitoline Hill was one of the most important archeological areas in the world: the Roman Forum. This was where the Imperial Rome Empire began more than 2000 years ago! Wow!

Ruins of Roman Forum

Skyline above the ruins of Roman Forum

We saw ruins of the Roman Senate building, government offices, monuments, temples, arches, memorials and countless statues. It was too impressive to describe it by words.

The next stop was the Constantine Arch and the Coliseum. The Constantine Arch was erected about 1,800 years ago to commemorate the victory of Constantine the Great over a western Roman emperor by the name of Maxentius. Constantine was the first Christine Roman emperor who tolerated other religions in ancient Rome.

The lower building with small windows used to be a shopping center in Roman time

The Coliseum was breath-taking in its monumental size and grandeur. Our tour guide told us that the design of the coliseum was highly efficient to allow up to 50,000 spectators around the elliptical shaped arena.  Our tour however didn’t include a tour of the inside the Coliseum so that we’d come back later if we wanted to go inside. Nonetheless, the Coliseum clearly demonstrated the superiority of Roman Engineering more than 2,000 years ago.

Our tour guide in the center of the picture

Roman Street was paved with stones of various sizes

Amphitheatrvm Flavivm

Comstaintine Carh

Our third and last stop was a visit of Basilica of St. Paul’s-outside-the-walls or commonly known as St. Paul-without-the-walls; the so-called Aurelian Walls built 1800 years ago around the city of Rome by Roman Emperor Aurelian to protect the city. The basilica was founded by the Constantine the Great over the burial place of Apostle Saint Paul. This was the second of the four most important churches in Rome that we’ve visited. I was taken aback by the Façade of the basilica, the statue of St. Paul, the 20’ tall doors, the intricacy of the design, the interior of the church, the beautiful paintings of the ceiling and the dorm and the columns.

St. Paul-without-the-walls

St. Paul

A pair of angels at each side of the 20′ tall front door

Ceiling decoration

On the way to St. Paul’s Basilica, our tour guide told us that the Church’s gift shop carried the most delicious chocolate that she had ever had in Rome. After the tour, we stopped by the gift shop and bought enough chocolate for my staff at the restaurant and a few for ourselves. Sure enough, the chocolate was creamy, rich, smooth, delicious and wonderful. It was far better than Godiva or some of the imported Belgium chocolates that we’ve had before. If you are in Rome and you like chocolate, you have to stop here to get some for yourself.

Vastour Bus

Traffic Jam in Rome at 6:20 PM on a Friday evening

Our tour ended at about 6:20 PM and the tour bus took all tourists back to their hotels. We decided to get off the bus near Basilica Papale de Santa Maria Maggiore, the church that’s two to three blocks from our hotel. When we got off the bus, we saw many people congregated in front of the church and we kinds of  凑个热闹 “cou4 ge1 re4 nao4,” or joined the fun, and went there to see what’s going on.

Ha! The church door was opened and we’re told that the church has a regular mass service every Friday afternoon. We got inside the church and saw two to three hundred people there. We admired the beauty of the church and stayed there for about 10 minutes. However, but couldn’t make out any of the words being said because the service was held in Latin.

Inside of the Basilica Papale de Santa Maria Maggiore

We went back to our hotel, walked to the Internet Point, checked our emails, and checked out the progress of XB’s online Chinese resume and his personal essay. We then walked to Roma Termini to see what’s available for dinner. We liked to see what common Romanians eat when they were on their way home.

There were several restaurants, cafes, a McDonald’s and sandwich shops in the busy building. Every eating establishment was full of people waiting in line to get something to eat. We chose a self-serve diner because we liked the choices and the freshness of their food on display. After we paid for our meal, we took a seat that’s about 10’ away from a piano where a young pianist was playing for cafeteria’s guests. I took a picture of the pianist and he later took a picture of me probably because he didn’t see many Asian tourists before.

Sel-serve restaurant in Roman Termini

Dessert option #1

So many choices.

Many Italians ordered the pork

Our Dinner on a tray

A boot-wearing pianist

Evening at Roma Termini

Underground Shopping at Roma Termini

We ordered a half bottle of wine for €2.7 and a fruit Torte for €3. The Prosciutto E Melone was €5.9. The big plate of Spaghetti Alle Vongo (small clams) was €5.4. And Zuppa Ceci (Chickpea Soup with carrots, celery, and pancetta) was €3.8. We also ordered a plate of Butter Spinach for €3.90 to get some green leaf vegetables. The simple meal was great and cheap. And it came with free entertainment!

We then walked around the shops of the basement of the train station because many of the shops were still open for business. While Bao was shopping, I found out that in Rome, one needed to have changes to go to the bathroom. Roma Termini was still busy just like when we first arrived here. However, we didn’t want to venture out too far away from the train station. We then got some espresso and gelato before called it a day.

We had to get up early tomorrow because our second tour started at 8:30 AM at the tour company. We had asked the tour company to pick us up at the hotel around 7:45 AM.

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