Two Things in One Day?

On our fourth day in Rome the morning routine seems to be setting in: I wake, I type, he sleeps in, eventually we have breakfast, loiter around while getting ready, and head out. The overplanner in me is secretly horrified at all this wasted idle time. But I tell her firmly to hush and enjoy the ride.

Today we had a rather full agenda (well, comparatively): prepurchased tickets to the Domus Romane for the 2:00pm English tour and a visit to Trajan’s Market and Forum. En route to these two ‘main events’, a few ‘minor’ spots would be hit. At least that was the plan.

When I told C about the schedule he looked at me as if I had somehow betrayed him: ‘Two things in one day?!?!? I thought this was supposed to be a relaxing vacation….’

My inner overplanner fainted and had to be revived.

We went across the Tiber over the Ponte Palatino and landed directly on the Piazza de la Bocca della Veritá, the Mouth of Truth of Roman Holiday movie fame. I had thought it would be interesting to finally see it as it is our third trip to Rome and we had never made it there.

Though this is technically not true, I’m 99.9% sure that we walked past it on our first visit because I have a picture of the Ercole Vincitore temple directly across the street from it and then another from the Circo Maximo that is a few meters past. So we MUST have just missed it. Yeah, that is how unprepared for Rome I had been in 1999.

I didn’t really care much about the stone, what I really wanted to see was the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, an 8th century church with the tallest medieval belfry in Rome. AND its portico houses the infamous drain-cover stone carved with the face of a man, also known as the Mouth of Truth.

This was Easter Monday, a bank holiday across Europe. Let’s just say that the place was packed and the line to stick your hand into the Mouth went down almost to the Forum’s back entrance. I was ready to give up on going in when I spotted a separate door on the side, completely empty.

We could go into the church itself with zero queue. Yay! The basilica was built during the Byzantine Papacy and is more reminiscent of Greece than of Rome proper. It also houses the relics of Saint Valentine, a prominently displayed skull covered with a crown of flowers.

There are several beautiful frescoes to be admired and for a single euro per person you can go down to the small crypt where Pope Hadrian is buried (very skippable).

As we left the church I realized that you can actually see the Mouth of Truth from outside the portico and snap a picture if that is all you want without lining up in the queue. So I did, and now there is no reason whatsoever to return. Been there and (sort of) done that.

Our chosen route took us past a few very nice apartment buildings and the church which houses the Seat of the Greek Orthodox Church in Rome, naturally we went in for a quick peak. This street, Via di S. Teodoro, provides one of the best views to be had of the Roman Forum from above without paying the admittance fee.

But the street that we had been looking for according to the map seemed to be inside the Foro, leaving us no choice but to go up and into the Campidoglio (tough luck, I know, but every step counts) and down to the other side of the hill on our way to Trajan’s Market.

We had lingered along the way and now we were almost too late to go into Trajan’s Market and see it before our Domus Romane 2:00pm reservation. We went in to see if there was an earlier tour to be had but it was German. No thank you.

Now, there are some tours where you can chance it and opt to go with a foreign language group, this is NOT one of those. You would miss out on everything.

Anyway, we had an hour to wait…. We went a bit further uphill and bought the tickets for Trajan’s Foro/Market and then it was the perfect timing to have a cold beer under the warm sun.

A few words of advice about this tour: #1 – Don’t go if you have issues with walking into and standing on a pitch black room.  #2 – Don’t go if you are not comfortable with walking over glass floors or afraid of heights. #3 – Don’t go on this tour if you have depth perception issues on low light. #4 – Don’t go if you have issues standing in place for more than 15 minutes as it is hard to move around in the darkness.

This visit is more of an audiovisual experience than an actual tour of the 4th century Roman Ultra Luxury Palace. You go into several pitch dark rooms and then each feature within the room is lit individually, followed by the projection of its reconstruction onto it.  Be prepared to suddenly realize that you are standing on glass 10ft above ground. It is very well done and visually impressive.

The groups are limited to 15 people and even that might be too many to follow all the indications and visual cues.  Though the recorded narrator speaks slowly and clearly, the lights move quickly around and you have to pay close attention not to miss anything.

I do not want to dissuade anyone from going, it IS a beautifully made and carefully designed ‘show’. The ruins of the palace themselves are unique and certainly worth the visit. I think it is particularly suitable for teens and young(ish) adults.

The tour ends with a very nice presentation about Trajan’s Market and especially about his column. The perfect preparation for a subsequent visit to the site. That by itself was worth the price of admission to me (though finally sitting down in a cool dark room… even as an interested listener I might have nodded off a time or two).

Overall, I liked it but I was uncomfortable and even a little queasy walking over the glass. C had no issue with the setting but initially had a hard time following the narration. Glad we did it but neither would be interested in a repeat visit.

It was time to go on to the Second Thing.

I asked him. I did ask him. ‘Do you want to go to the forum now or you want to leave it for another day?’ His response, ‘we have the tickets, we are here now, so let’s go see it’. So this one is NOT on me after all.

The result? We were both wilting 15 minutes into the whole thing and did not give the exhibits much consideration. Our fault, not theirs.  Like the Roman Forum, this might be another place better suited to visiting with a professional tour guide. Or tired feet and overstimulated senses.

Honestly? Besides giving you a better sense of the grand scale of the monument (completely valid point), there is not really much more to see than what can be observed from the street outside the gates. A portion of the Via Bibetica can also be seen from the outside besides the main entrance.

I will unashamedly (I’m a big girl and I don’t do what I don’t want to do anymore!) admit that we gave up after half an hour and did not even go down to the lower levels. Maybe we missed something wonderful but we were just not into it. It was –in our case- an entrance fee (13E ea) that would have been better invested in a nice bottle of wine or a few Aperol Spritzes.

We slowly walked back through the Ghetto to the Trastevere and plopped down at the Cave Canum bar for some more cheap wine and bad service. After half a liter of white and no real lunch we thought it would be a good idea to just go for an early dinner.

Technically we should have gone grocery shopping and eaten at home but we were both too lazy and tired from all the walking.

C denies it but he thinks that resorting to public transportation is a sign of physical weakness and potential lack of character. I think its just plain common sense. Save your feet for actual sightseeing.

After a brief consultation on TA (what a joke!) and Elizabeth Minchilli’s EatRome app (good one!), a closeby restaurant was chosen: Trattoria de Gli Amici.

This place was recommended not only as a good place to eat but also because it is managed by a community organization that employs disabled persons.

For primi C had Tonnarelli Cacio e Peppe, he tends to like his pasta overcooked so he is struggling a bit the ‘al dente’-ism of the pasta dishes we have been served but he enjoyed the flavor very much. I had Rigattoni with a Tomato and Baccalá (codfish) Ragú. I will definitely try to replicate this dish back home.

For secondi it was an extremely unphotogenic but deliciously tender Lamb with Artichokes for C and Baccalá a la Romana for me. Mine was good but I picked two dishes that were too similar and got overloaded with the tomato sauce.

I very seldom have dessert (all my free calories are destined for wine) but after seeing some of them go by and considering all the kilometers walked during the day, I chose to have the Pannacotta with Caramel Sauce. It was great! The sauce was just at that well caramelized stage hovering at the edge of being burnt but stopped on the side of maximum flavor, was particularly outstanding and perfectly complemented the not too sweet custard.

Overall a solid good meal and no allowances whatsoever were required to accommodate the disabilities of the very professional waitstaff. Kudos to the ‘Amici’ (Friends) that unobtrusively supports and coaches them through the service.

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