The Day That Saved Rome
Updated: Feb 25
Yesterday we walked too far on crinkly cobblestone streets. Crinkly – like jumbled and uneven and bumpy cobblestones that wear on your soles. Sure, we had seen a lot and went on an almost-private walking tour of the city with our lovely guide, Angela-from-Syracruse-now-living-in-Rome, and we had an alfresco lunch where we ordered far too many dishes. But, even so, we went to bed cranky, because we knew we had to do something about our hotel. (Well, at least one of us went to bed cranky, but we won't mention his name.) What was going to happen in Rome? Were we going to like it here?
Today was another hectic day, but (spoiler alert) it all turned out fabulously. To cut to the chase, we changed hotels, not for the first time on this trip. But this time it wasn't our fault. Honest.
Palm Suites (where we had booked and were staying) is a semi-hipster, semi-design, semi-assed haven. Sure, we had views on the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, but the single, overhead, bare lightbulbs in each room were too bright; essential plug-ins didn't work; the sofa was rock hard; sitting on the toilet you were jammed against the towel rack built into the sink; and, the tipping point, the WIFI didn't work.
The staff, though, was fantastic – professional, understanding, and genuinely friendly. (Although Milli, our concierge, called in sick today... after having to deal with us all day yesterday. Coincidence, we're certain.) In any case, the WIFI on our floor could not be made to work and the staff helped find a solution.
Palm Suites, it turns out, is sort of a junior hotel to Palazzo Manfredi, a Relais & Chateaux hotel not far away that sports its own view of the Colosseum (photo above, though that's not our room view). The clever solution was to move us to a (smaller but nicer) room at Manfredi.
We packed. Again. We unpacked. Again.
Of course, that kind of work makes a person hungry. We're in Rome, dammit, we must eat pizza, we told our new hotel concierge in so many words. He, clever Rome native, sent us to Emma Emporia, in a neighbourhood on the other side of Piazza Venezia, just a bit too far away to walk.
Did we mention how much much we enjoy Roman taxi rides? Step in the car and you are cast in an Italian caper, going improbable speeds down narrow alleys, bumping along crinkly cobblestone streets, missing pedestrians by millimetres. It all ends with a magnificent car chase down the Spanish Steps. You get the picture.
Emma Emporia.The exterior tables next to the narrow and crinkly cobblestone street were nothing, and the entrance to the place didn't promise much more, but Diane had the insight to ask to sit inside. We were led past a few tables in a hot room next to the pizza oven. Not promising. But then around a corner and down a few steps was what felt like a secret entrance to a fabulous modern place with Ella-like jazz playing. In place of a traditional bar, there was what you might call a ham bar: special aging coolers where the ham-tender carved up aged prosciutto as well as a selection of those famous Iberian hams.
We felt so good there, so Roman, that we let the waiter talk us into a white truffle starter that we assumed would cost a fortune. Then, true to form, we again ordered too many dishes. How could we pass up fritti zucchini flowers with anchovies? Or suppli, homemade rice balls redolent with fresh mozzarella, sent for a quick dip in the deep fryer? But, the star of today's lunch was thin crust pizza. Diane ordered a classic pizza Margherita and Mark went for the pizza with olives, buffalo mozzarella, escarole greens, garlic, and anchovies.
Damn. 2:30! Quick, into another taxi for another madcap ride to Galleria Borghese for a 3:00 PM guided tour. Galleria Borghese is the only museum in Rome that exclusively uses timed entrances. It works like this. At the designated hour, the doors are flung open to the crowd of people who have booked that time. Entries are not staggered, the entire time-ticketed crowd is let in in one massive swoop.
For two hours only. At the end of 120 minutes a loud, buzzy announcement tells everyone politely but firmly to get out. There's another crowd waiting to swoop in.
Madcap Taxi Ride II got us to the door exactly at 3:00 PM. Our guide, Alex Chiarot, was an artist (a painter) who works the tourist season from April to October so he can spend the rest of the year furthering his art career. Classic Italian guy. What was better, the art we saw or his haircut? He spent a lot of time running manicured hands through his dark hair and making eye contact with the four of us (it was a small group) and touching us each on the arm or shoulder as he spoke.
He was a fantastic guide and the two hours was mesmerizing, focusing on the works and lives of Caravaggio (paintings) and Bernini (sculpture). We learned a lot. None of it has been retained in our tired brains. We told you we had to pack and unpack. Again. Right?
After the exhausting two-hour tour, we relaxed on a bench in Villa Borghese, the park that surrounds the Galleria. Alex walked by, heading home, stopping to talk and touching us each on the shoulder. If we wanted a great sunset view of Rome, we should walk to Rinascente department store where there is a 7th-floor rooftop bar affording a panoramic view of the city.
"If you need advice about Rome, just write me. I love my city."
We took his advice and walked twelve minutes down hill to the department store. The view was as wonderful as Alex had said and we saw it as the sun was setting. We imagined we were scouting locations for the caper movie that would be made about our time in Rome, and took a rare selfie. (We're not going to show you that photo.) Luckily, we also spotted the couple who will be cast to play us in the movie. (We're certainly going to show you that one.)
In the space of a single day our attitude went from "Rome? I'm not so sure." to "Rome? It's eternal !"
-Diana & Marcos
photographs copyright Mark Craft