First full day in Rome, and we get up eat breakfast, and check out of the hotel. Here is the downside of traveling in December: Days are really short. With the sun setting between 4:30 and 5 pm, we don’t want to waste any daylight hours traveling. Instead our grand plan is to travel in the evening, in the precious hours between closure of the sites and dinner. This is why we are checking out now: Our trip will begin and end in Rome, but tonight we will be elsewhere.
Our guide for the day is AM. We have worked with her before and she is absolute delight – trained as an archaeologist she is a fount of knowledge. The plan is to spend three hours touring Ancient Rome. She meets us at the hotel and we stop in the Pantheon and then start walking toward the Forum and Coliseum. Our steps wander through Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and then she finds out D is Jewish. We must go to the Jewish Ghetto, where we see (from the outside) the Roman Synagogue. Built on the plan of a Greek cross, it is a beautiful church.
Our steps continue to meander across the Tiber and back only eventually leading back toward the Forum. D is fascinated. AM’s comments about him range from an affectionate (I think!), “He is a terrible man,” to “He is so interested. It is wonderful to show somebody around who is clearly enjoying it so much.” I agree with this assessment – this is, I think, my 10th trip to Italy. A few of the more recent have been joined by friends or colleagues and I just love seeing the expressions on their faces the first time they see some of the sights here. The funny thing is I remember far too little of the necessary stories. Still, if any of my friends wish to come, let me know! I will give you the worst tour ever!
So you know who else had a 3-hour tour? Gilligan! Remember how long that lasted? Well ours was only 5 hours. In the end we parted ways with AM and headed for a late lunch at Hostaria da Nerone, which was recommended on a generally reliable site.
D had straciatella alla romana, which is unlike any other straciatella either of us has ever had. Often egg drop soup is stringy, but this had little light “flowers” of egg in the broth. It was delicious.
Neither of us had a secondo, preferring instead to do another primo. I had spaghetti alle vongole. Still not as good as the seafood pasta I had with the cousins years ago, it was delicious. The clams were tender and the sauce was delicate, caressing the pasta. They danced an equally balanced dance in my mouth, neither overpowering the other. And the flavor of the parsley was equally valuable, sharing its time on the stage with the others.
D had another dose of carbonara. This was not quite as good as last night’s, but still ranked highly.
From there we visited Michelangelo’s Moses at San Pietro in Vincoli then gathered our bags and caught the 5pm train to Napoli. As we settled into our private cabin (this wasn’t planned that way) we stowed out bags. There was a nice cubby between the seats that was the perfect size for my camera bag.
We zipped along as fast as 292 km/h and made it to Naples in a mere hour. We disembarked and found the cab. As we loaded into the cab, I suddenly thought, “what am I missing?”
Yup, the camera bag.
Trains don’t stay in the station long – there is no reason to. I blurted out something and dashed off to the train, making flash second decisions on which track it would likely be found at. I guessed right, found the carriage, and there remained my camera bag. Whew! I didn’t see anybody else around, so suspect the train wasn’t leaving immediately, but had no time to sort that out.
We took the cab to the hotel. As we pinballed through narrow graffiti gilded streets enshrouded by the dark Neapolitan night, we reflected on words that many people had cautioned us with, “You’re going to Naples?! Be careful!!!” This is not the world’s cleanest city to say the least.
We checked into the hotel, a modern but very clean place near the center of town. We are in room 605. Yup … again. We cleaned up and then pointed our steps in the direction of the oldest pizzeria in town, Antica Pizzeria da Michele.
As we left our key at the desk (many hotels here require this) the porter asked where we were going. We told him and he commented that many tourists go there but there are other closer places that he prefers (he also commented that our initial choice was too far away). We ultimately decided that as all were in generally the same direction we should go toward one of his recommendations, but continue on if we were feeling up to it.
The streets of Naples were vibrant with locals. As dark and grungy as they seem, they are also real. This is a city where people live and work, shop and eat, drink and die. It is a place where Italian is spoken in large predominance, which is a stark contrast from Rome, where many randomly overheard conversations took place in English.
We reach the suggested pizzerie, but are not actually that far from da Michele, so continue on. We eventually find the pizzeria marked by rooms of stark white tile and searing fluorescent lights. We eventually order two pizze with cheese, a beer, and a coke. The beer was a Nastro Azurro. And the pizze were …
Amazing. They are clearly cousins of American pizza, but of a different breed. The crust is thin and soft. It is wet, even, from the tomatoes and oil. It isn’t sliced and eaten (although some do) – mostly it is eaten with knife and fork. Some might complain that the crust is soggy, but they are missing the experience. Good pizza like this is a mobile, with the crust countering the cheese and sauce, and this has it all. The crust has a slight char that stands up to the other flavors. It is wonderful.
As we head back toward the hotel, we pass Pizzeria di Matteo. This is an opportunity like no other, so we stop in and order more pizze. The tomatoes are better here, and D and I differ on which pizza we prefer. I prefer the first, with D preferring the latter. My complaint is the charred crust here. It goes beyond an accent, becoming burned and bitter. Is the pizza still wonderful. Yes – these are just quibbles we have.
Finally we find our way back to the hotel under the gentle light of the Christmas decorations overhanging the streets.