The adventure is planned: My folks and I have been talking about meeting up in Europe for years, but life always seemed to get in the way. Since my sister’s death last year, however, my dad and I have had a lot of those meaning-of-life talks. He mentioned that he regretted not seeing Europe. I mentioned that I was long overdue for an Italy trip, and that he would enjoy Tuscany. With our new life-is-short mentality, one thing led to another, and we decided to do this trip. I had a neat window of availability after the haggim and before my next conference and series of courses, and early October is often a great time of year in central Italy.
My dad trusted me to make the plans, set the itinerary, do all the research, book all the hotels. I wanted to give him a taste of Italy, and not be in one city the whole time.
Day 1 (arrival in Rome): There was no way we could coordinate flights that arrived at the same time. To take advantage of deals, David (my dad) arrived Sunday morning, and I didn’t arrive until the evening. But all went well. The airport shuttle that I arranged was there and the people actually found David, rather than the other way around. He was the last one dropped off, so he managed to get a free tour of the city on a gorgeous sunny morning. At the hotel, they graciously allowed him to check in immediately, rather than wait four hours for the “official” check-in time. (I had done some prep work and put in a special request to the hotel.) Being able to dump your gear and take a shower after that transatlantic schlep is really critical. Refreshed and awake, David was able to head out on his own. Armed with Rick Steves’ guide-book, he walked from our Termini-area hotel to the Colosseum, soaked up the sites, enjoyed some gelato, and was looking as fresh as a daisy when I reached the hotel that evening. We headed out for dinner and an early night.
Hotel Serena was just great. Tiny rooms, but clean and amazingly quiet for Termini, and run by a very friendly and helpful staff. They put out a decent breakfast spread, including yogurt and fresh fruit, so we were all set to head out the next day and explore.
Day 2 (Rome): We had a lovely warm, sunny day for seeing the Eternal City. We did a large walking loop, stopping at the opera house (nothing on that night, unfortunately, because I really wanted some opera in Rome) and sitting for a few minutes in the grand salon at the old Quirinale. She’s a bit frayed around the edges, but still a spectacular old hotel with oodles of charm and class. The grand salon is decorated with antiques and a glorious chandelier that made us feel rather underdressed in our travel pants and walking shoes!
Our route took us past one of the many monuments dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II. This was actually one of David’s favorite sites, simply because the of the sheer lunacy of it. The upper levels house busts and statues of endless guys, probably mid-level bureaucrats who needed recognition in exchange for political favors, but who didn’t rate their own mid-piazza statues!
We continued on to the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, which was the palace of the noble Doria-Pamphilj family (popes, princes, political intrigue, and plenty of painted ceilings). We wandered through the rooms, stunned at the extent of the art collection, which included works by Caravaggio, Velasquez, Rubens, Bernini, Raffaello, and more. By the end, my neck was slightly stiff from staring at all the intricately painted and gilded ceilings. Near the entrance was an oppulent bath, full of marble and cherubs. Definitely a royal bathroom!
By then, we were famished. I navigated us to a restaurant that I had read about, only to discover that it is closed on Mondays. David spotted another place that looked OK, and it turned out to be terrific. Great pizza, lovely fresh salads, and cold beer.
Refreshed and refueled, we headed to the Pantheon. It was a mob scene of tour groups, but the Pantheon itself is so big inside that there was plenty of room to move around. A group of young people were holding an impromptu choral performance, greatly appreciated by crowds. David and I were both sorry to see that the Catholic Church had replaced all the original Roman statuary with madonnas and such, but the building is still worth seeing.
We strolled back in the late afternoon, enjoying the quiet side streets and the noisy busy roads with the insane scooters that seemed intent on running us down.
We really liked all the gorgous doors…
…and the itty-bitty cars…
…and the plants growing down the sides of the old buildings…
We were still about a kilometer or more away from the hotel when it started to rain. Looking for a bit of cover, we spotted a tiny gelato place, barely bigger than a phone booth. We ducked inside and had what turned out to be the best gelato on the trip. The chocolate was dark and intense without being overly sweet; the coffee was strong; the mint had a real kick. Big generous scoops and reasonable prices. We shlurped happily as the rain eased up, and we walked back to rest a bit before our evening adventure. (A gelato sidenote: this was the best. Others were good. Venice was bad, like crappy American ice cream, insipid and too sweet.)
Our evening was determined by one of these strokes of good luck that happened to us throughout the trip. When we had visited the Pantheon and were fighting our way through the crowds at the entrance, a young man had stuffed a flier in my hand. Hmmm. An evening of opera! Just what we wanted! We decided to take a chance on it. Turns out that the performance, in a very low-key venue a mere three blocks from our hotel, was terrific. Two sopranos (one good, one really good) and a tenor, accompanied by a young woman on the piano, and all our favorite shmaltzy arias from our favorite operas: Rigoletto, Le nozze di Figaro, L’elisir d’amore, La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Norma, Carmen, and finishing up with La Traviata. The singers were in period costumes and they were just a few meters from us, sometimes walking down the aisle, inches from our seats, those big voices needing no artificial amplification. They wanted everyone to join in with Libiamo ne’lieti calici (aka “Brinidisi”), so we left with that silly tune stuck in our head. As David says, that Joe Green could really milk an um-pa-pa for all it’s worth. Really a delight. Here are the singers posing with three young Russian fans, the pianist, and the virtuoso clarinetist who provided the musical interlude between the primo atto and secundo atto.
It must have been close to 22:15 when we found a place for dinner and sat down. The evening was still so balmy that we chose to sit outside, and had average food while being pestered by a guy hawking the most appalling shlocky fake jewelry and annoying toys. However, different people have different taste, and the big group of Germans at the next table thought the toys were hysterically funny, and ended up buying a singing, dancing gorilla. Go figure.
It was close to midnight when we wrapped up our first day.