Strolling and The Coin

C was still looking a little wilted this morning and overall enthusiasm for high adventure was lacking, so we took it easy. It was slightly past noon when we started talking about going out. I was not really up to anything that required big effort and I told him so. Then he said, ‘Why don’t we just go throw in that coin? After all, you promised….’

Oooookay. According to The Spreadsheet we were supposed to go to the Baths of Diocletian and the Massimo alla Terme museum. I could not muster my enthusiasm, so throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain did not sound bad at all.

And maybe, on the (long) way there we could go and do the Palazzo Farnese and Palazzo Spada described in the Michelin Green Guide. We headed out over the Ponte Sisto and those awful trees from Hell that line the Lungotevere Raffaello Sanzio along the Tiber and have caused us lots to sneezing, wheezing and sniffling over the last week and a half.

Never forget to bring your allergy medication when traveling in the spring. NEVER. Those trees are pretty, but not fun at all.

We take the little road, Via Giulia, that puts us right behind the Palazzo Farnese and in front of Palazzo Falconieri, the house of the Hungarian Academy and Embassy in Rome. They had a few modern art pictures out and an awesome Borromini loggia on top, but they were closed until after lunch. Being 12:45pm, this meant another 3 hours. At least.

There were a few churches to see in the area, but every single one of them was shut. Time to give up and see about throwing those coins in. We crossed Piazza Farnese where I got yelled at for taking pictures of the carabinieri (gendarmes?) which were out in full force, double barricades and everything.

Palazzo Farnese is the seat of the French Embassy. It can be visited, they tell you that you need to make reservations 2 weeks in advance. This is a LIE, well… a misleading statement should be the right term (but I’m still pissed). I tried a month in advance and it was 100% full of the entire 2 weeks that we were going to be in Rome. What they mean, is that they will not accept reservations closer than 2 weeks before the visit because they need the time to actually run a basic security check on their guests.

We walked across the Campo di Fiori where the market was going in full swing and the crowds of tourist were thick.

Then we continued across Piazza Navona on our way to the Fontana di Trevi. But kept to the streets north of the Pantheon, off the main drag.

Now, this is about to get real sentimental.

This past January, my beloved brother in law Michael, passed away after a brief but brutal battle with pancreatic cancer. He had been married to my baby sister for almost 9 years in one of those fairy-tale worthy love stories that you only hear about. They were true soulmates.

He was a performing magician by trade and vocation. Around the time he met my sister he had broken up with his partner in life and magic and was entirely burnt out of the business. But it did not take that long for him to want to be back on stage, and this time my sister was the one that stepped up to be his assistant. Yeap, she was the one springing out of the box and being levitated over musical instruments.

The joy they found in each other came through in every performance they made. Pure magic.

They came up with a wonderful act and one of the first places they took it was Greece. But on their way there (or back, I don’t remember anymore) they stopped in Rome for a few days. They had never had a ‘real’ honeymoon so they decided that this was it.

As they threw their coins into the Trevi fountain they promised to each other that in their next life they would meet again there and would instantly know each other. And also, try not to have such a big age gap (we also need to work on that one for the next round!).

When Baby Sis heard that I was going to Rome, she asked me to throw in a coin for them. And I know it’s not supposed to work like that, but I also think that we make our own magic along the way. So I promised to throw in that coin for them. And ours too, of course.

This trek to the fountain would be our third attempt. Though it was a Monday, lots of Italians were bridging over Liberation Day, so the city was booming with visitors.

I have said it once, and will say it again. Though I don’t know how true it holds for the peak of the season… but if you step away one street or two away from the main drag, you will find yourself in a completely different city! There is such an abundance of empty streets and quiet courtyards, beautiful churches you can have to your own. So we took the long way around Montecitorio and didn’t get into the big crowds until we were almost to the fountain itself.

No, it was not empty. You might need to go there at 3:45am to get that. But it was manageable. We came down the side stairs, prepared our coins, filled the heart with intention, and threw them in. Hopefully we all get our tickets back to Rome in the future. In this lifetime for C and I, as well as in the next for the four of us.

Then it was wine-o’clock.

We wanted to get out of the crowd so we retraced our steps back to Via dell’Orso and found a tiny place that looked like they would be happy to serve just drinks. This is an issue. Lots of restaurants will not seat people during lunch or dinner times unless they are going to eat something. ‘Go to a bar’ is what they say.

‘Per bere solamente?’ Our Spanish/Italian is atrocious but it gets us by. ‘Si, prego’.

They let us settle in a nice outside table in the perfectly tranquil short alley next to their restaurant. It was covered with ivy and had a trickling (drinking, not fancy) fountain in the back, so it was quite cozy as well. We ordered a beer for C and a white wine for me. They also brought out a few pieces of the most delicious cross between pizza crust and cracker I have ever had. It was thin yet doughy, but also crumbly like a biscuit. It was well salted and peppery. Delicious.

IMG_4848

The place is in a corner not far and across Orso 80. I’m 95% its called La Bistroteca according to TA’s map. We regretted not being hungry because every plate that was served around us looked great.

I made a quick stop by Frigidarium for gelato: half nocciole and half pistachio with saffron.  Both were excellent but the saffron was incredibly aromatic, bits of pistachio gave it wonderful texture.

We made our way back to the Piazza Farnese and asked the very tall and rugged looking head officer if there was any chance of getting in in case of a no-show. ‘Non Madame, no chance whatsoever, it does not work like that.’ I think he remembered me from the pictures I took in the morning.

None of the churches opened in the afternoon either so we just had to settle for going into the Palazzo Falconieri where you can observe the Borromini loggia from the nice courtyard. But you are not allowed to go up because it is the location of the Hungarian Embassy. This was beginning to get on my nerves.

I still had one more place to check out in the neighborhood; the Palazzo Spada. The building’s claim to fame is Borromini’s Architectural Perspective, and of course the painting residing in Galleria Spada.

The perspective can be observed from the courtyard, through the glass windows in the library without paying the entrance fee. But if you are really interested in the subject matter, I think it is worthwhile to go and look at it from close. The main courtyard by itself is worth walking in for a peek.

The gallery is presented in the original 17th C style, with a multitude of paintings almost wallpapering the four rooms. It has some important pieces, including a couple by Artemisa Gentilichi, one of the very rare renaissance female painters whose work has only recently began to be uncovered after having been ‘appropriated’ by her male family members for centuries.

My main interest was in the garden’s perspective tunnel. This ‘fake gallery’ was constructed to make the small courtyard look huge from the main reception area. Borromini used a double colonnade and reduced the size of the columns consecutively, following the rules of visual perspective to make a space look as if its depth was 40m when in fact, it is only 9m deep. The ‘huge’ statue at the end is only 2m high.

That was it, we were done for the day. Though we had mostly ‘strolled’, we did put in a few miles. Back over the Ponte Sisto and we made it as far as the Antico Caffe del Moro where a little outside table in the sun was calling our name.

We discussed our dinner options. Of course, dinner could be made at home…but that would require grocery shopping. ‘What about the place around the corner over there, the one that always has the long queue in front of it.’ After finishing up our wine we went over and looked to see if we could give our names and make a reservation. Nothing. Place was tightly shut.

Back to the apartment we went to relax for a bit and then returned to Da Augusto at 7:40, to see if we could get a table. There were already about 15 people in front of us and we could see the staff still having their family dinner inside.

We counted the tables we could see through the windows and it looked like a pretty good bet that we would be able to get seated; the place is small. We decided to wait. A few minutes later, the line was about 30 people deep.

The doors opened up at 8:00pm on the dot and we were the fourth party to be seated. Since this was a Monday, their menu options were limited (the menu is posted outside and it clearly states which dishes will be available per day).

We made an effort to be ready with what we wanted so that our orders could go in early into the kitchen. The order was written on the paper tablecloth and just told to the kitchen. The table we had was next to the service counter and we could see into the kitchen. It was fascinating! Those ladies must have been working together for years.

We both had the rigatoni (the only pasta on Mondays), C had it with sugo di carne and I had it with amatriciana. Both were good, though mine was a bit high on the acid. For secondi I had the Monday special, Lenticchie e salsiccia (lentils with sausage). If it had been a tad warmer it would have been perfect.

Did I mention that the place is tiny and the doors were fully open so they can serve the outside tables? Did I mention that the temperature was in the upper fifties? At least we were out of the wind, but no one took off their outerwear to eat. So yeah, a tad warmer would have been appreciated. And a second sausage.

C had the Conigilio al Cacciatore (rabbit in a light wine sauce) and it was delicious. Rabbit can easily become rubbery if overcooked, but this was perfect. Clearly the winning dish of the night.

There was nothing especially enticing for dessert and I was surprised to see that they did not serve coffee. But thinking about the queue, it makes sense for them to not encourage people to linger. So we finished our wine and walked out by almost 10:00pm. And we were one of the very first parties to leave, so anyone that did not get seated on the first round had a looooooong wait for tables.

I would certainly recommend the restaurant but maybe not on a Monday as there are many more options available for each other day of the week.

We dove into a little bar for our machiatti (espresso with a tiny drop of milk to cut it) and happily retired to the apartment so we could crash for the night.

—Monday, April 24th


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