Roma!

Thing that apply to Rome today: restaurants, travel around the city, helpful tidbits

“Taverna del Ghetto”

Unfortunately I have to write my first “dislike” about a restaurant. The food was good not great, and the service was fine but again it was missing something. I’d done some research before my visit and had stumbled upon Taverna del Ghetto’s very expansive website. This probably should’ve been my first warning. Restaurants in Rome generally don’t have websites, or if they do, they’re very simple with a wonderfully inaccurate English translation. Do a little browsing and you’ll see what I mean.

We were also hailed by a gentleman at the door, not a good sign. Sometimes restaurants place a waiter on the sidewalk to give a sales pitch to passersby. It can be a little intimidating, especially on a touristy avenue, to be onset by all these people wanting you to eat at their establishment. Unless you want to eat at their restaurant, don’t buckle when they promise you “Pizza! Pasta!” Taverna del Ghetto was respectful about it but the more you travel through the city the more you’ll begin to recognize small signs like that, and perhaps look elsewhere.

Our only excuse for buckling at Taverna del Ghetto is we were hungry and a bit jet lagged. I feel a bit guilty for bashing the restaurant, because there really was nothing wrong with it. The existence of a website and available menu is a comfort for some travelers, and it’s location on Via del Portico D’Ottavia means that it’s close to the Capitoline Hill and Piazza Venezia, but just enough of a walk to be away from the crowds. But as far as the food is concerned, I’d go across the street to “Ba Ghetto.”

Here’s the link to the restaurant’s webpage.

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“Ba Ghetto”

Located on Portico d’Ottavia, Ba Ghetto is a kosher restaurant with great food. I ordered the Bucatini Amatriciana for starters and the special,  grilled salmon with pine nuts. So good. The salmon was a nice hefty piece of filet that was fresh and moist. I was most impressed by this, because paying more for seafood at a new restaurant can be risky. After all, you’re at the mercy of the chef. What if they bring you a smaller portion low not-so great fish? Not to worry here. The seafood that night was plentiful. Another member of my group ordered clams and had a similar sized portion.

My pasta was also a nice surprise. Bucatini is a heavier version of spaghetti, so I was a little hesitant to order it. Back home I make thin spaghetti or angel hair but I wanted to try the amatriciana so I gave it a shot. I haven’t made angel hair since. The bucatini was cooked to an insane level of al dente perfection like a new standard for what pasta can be. The amatriciana sauce is a spicy tomato based sauce here served con carne, or with meat. Pasta is often served with   small slices of cured pork similar to a thick slice of proscuitto. This meat was neither fatty or chewy (as it can sometimes be). The sauce is traditionally spiced with crushed red chili and paprika and the version at Ba Ghetto was a nice combination of both.

The service here was nice and not pushy and if you’re looking for a decently priced restaurant with great quality food Ba Ghetto gets the recommend.

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Tips on Visiting Rome: Water

Rome is famous for it’s accessibility to water and modern Rome is no different. If you’re planning on visiting the Eternal city, especially during the summer, invest in a water bottle! It’s a great way to save Euros from your travel budget! There are fountains everywhere known as nasoni where you can fill up with fresh, clean water.

I can’t stress enough how grateful you’ll be to have it during June, July and August. Buying water from vendors is expensive and the same goes for restaurants. And when you’re in the middle of the Roman Forum and the Mediterranean summer gets to be a little too much, you’ll be glad you have some water. Plus, there’s a nasoni on the Forum. Make a game of it and see how many historical places you can fill up at. Holy water, anyone?

Here’s some more in depth articles, one that has a video to demonstrate how to use a nasoni. You laugh now…

The Nasoni: Rome’s Ubiquitous Public Fountains

Can You Drink from Rome’s Water Fountains? Really?

And yes, there’s an app for that.

Drinking Water 

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The Vatican Museum – Musei Vaticani

Alright, the Vatican Museums, a roll up your sleeves endeavor to visit or write about. It’s the mother of all museums in Rome and certainly one of the preeminent museums in Europe. According to Wikipedia it cracked the 5 million visitors a year mark in 2011. The Museum houses many, many of the world’s finest and most valuable pieces and visiting is a modern day pilgrimage for many tourists around the world.

Vatican Museums

Vatican Museums. Photo courtesy of Forbes.

For such a heavy weight, the Museum finds it origins in the discovery of a single sculpture. In 1506, the Laocoön was dug up from the Oppian Hill and purchased by Julius II and brought to the Vatican. Today it can be seen in the Pio-Clementine section along with many other equally impressive works of antiquity.

Visiting the museum is on many to-do lists and is easier if you plan accordingly. First, the Sistine Chapel is located within the Museum. A ticket to the Museum will enable you to see the famous Chapel. Also, the entrance to the museum is not through St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s on the north side of Vatican City. From the center of the Square, walk through the colonnade on your right and you’ll see a medieval looking gate. Follow the crowd of people through the gate and walk, keeping the huge wall on your left hand side, as you make a loop around the city. As you walk, note the vastness of the wall. Just because you hold the keys to heaven and hell doesn’t mean the Pope was free from enemies.

If you plan on visiting, I highly recommend purchasing a ticket online. There are two designated lines at the entrance, one to buy a ticket at the counter and one for the online prepaid. If you have a confirmation printed out for prepaid ticket, show it to a guard and they should direct you in the right direction. Make sure you’re standing in the right line. The line for prepaid tickets should be much shorter. The line to purchase tickets at the door will probably wrap around the city walls.

I snapped a quick picture to help illustrate.

Here is the entrance to the Vatican Museums. The line on the right of the entrance, is for on line reservations and would file through the barricades seen here. The line to purchase your ticket at the counter is on the left.

Here is the entrance to the Vatican Museums. The line on the right of the entrance, is for on line reservations and would file through the barricades seen here. The line to purchase your ticket at the counter is on the left.

The Museum is primarily self-guided and is broken up into several sections. Here’s a quick list of those sections along with what they designate. Click the links for more detailed information.

Braccio Nuovo

Translated as “New Wing” the Braccio Nuovo was built as a response to the French returning many of the pieces Napoleon had, er, borrowed. No slouch when it came to choosing the best artwork, the Braccio Nuovo is home to terrific Roman sculptures of emperors and gods all dating back to antiquity. Highlights include Augustus from Prima Porta and The Nile.

Pio-Clementine Museum

Named for the two Popes who oversaw the foundation, this section is a grouping of large rooms that house Greek and Roman Sculpture. Some of the best Greek and Roman sculpture.

Vatican Picture Gallery – Pinocoteca

The art wing of the museum and perhaps the quietest area in the entire museum. It’s a pleasure to remove yourself from the hustle and bustle just outside and take your time perusing this collection.

Garden and Courtyard

The Vatican Gardens offer tours if you book in advance. The courtyard also has some interesting features like the Pine Cone, Sphere within Sphere, and base of the Column of Antoninus Pius and Faustina.

Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel

The last two sections come packaged together, as you may pass through the Raphael Rooms to reach the Sistine Chapel. You’ll be directed to the Sistine Chapel from every nook and cranny of the museum so don’t worry about missing it. The Sistine Chapel does close fifteen minutes before the museum though!

And here’s the problem. I suspect, although I haven’t asked, many people visit just to see the Sistine Chapel. Once you fall into line to see Michelangelo’s ceiling it’s a Hotel California situation, you can check in any time you like but you can never leave. The path directs the crowd down the Gallery of Maps and through the ins and outs of the Raphael Rooms. Here you will see some terrific tapestries as well as the Room of Constantine.

The museum offers a “Long Way” and a “Short Way” to the Sistine Chapel. I’ve never taken the short way, but I can say that by the time you complete the “long” tour, it’s a biblical odyssey in itself. The length of the gallery and the ins and outs leading up to the Sistine Chapel are can be tiring so plan ahead.

The Creation of Adam, from smithsonianmag.com

The Creation of Adam, from smithsonianmag.com

Perhaps this was simply my experience, but I first visited the Museum on a busy Monday in June. Rome can be famously toasty during the summer, so plan accordingly and keep hydrated. Seeing the Sistine Chapel can take a while from beginning to end, so just to be sure, sip some water before you begin. You might consider taking a pause in your visit to visit the cafeteria, where you can find a terrific array of sandwiches and salads, or do as I did and grab something at the vending machines just inside the main entrance. Once you’re refueled and given your feet a break, start your trek to the Capella Sistina!

Because the Vatican Museum is such a large job to tackle, I would just advise to take your time and enjoy more than just the headliners. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the crowds and the number of pieces, so I would start a short list of what you personally want to see, then track them down when you get there. Maybe pick up a guidebook, or down load an app on your Ipad to really explore the Museum, maybe even before you get there. You can purchase audio tours at the entrance, as well as guidebooks before you start your quest.

When you visit:

Here’s a link to the Museum website that provides an interactive guide to the museum. I always find it helpful to get a layout before I travel.

Interactive guide

Also on the page is a link entitled “Not to be Missed works online.” Consider it a solid cheat sheet for those that want to make a personal list of things they want to see.

Be advised that there is a metal detector and security to pass through, just as there is for St. Peters Basilica. Don’t panic. This isn’t an airport or a Swiss border. They just want to make sure no one is going to harm the artwork. And considering how close they let you get the to the pieces it’s probably a good idea. So gents, leave your pocket knives behind. The museum is wheel chair accessible and staff are fluent in many languages. Don’t forget that although this is a museum and the dress code shouldn’t apply, at the Vatican it does. The Sistine Chapel is still a holy space so make sure your knees are covered as well as shoulders. Gentlemen will get called out on this too.

Hours: FOR THE MOST PART the museum is open Monday through Saturday, 9am to 4pm. Check with the official website, because the Vatican observes many religious holidays as well and will be closed on those dates. You can find the official site here.

(Good days to visit: There probably aren’t slow days per se, but on a day where the Pope has a service, such as Wednesday, might not be the most opportune time. And while a Monday might seem convenient since many other museums across Rome are closed on Monday everyone else is aware of that too. Thursday, Friday, and possibly Saturday might be your best bet.)

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La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali

La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali

La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali

Right next to the Imperial Forums! So glad we stopped in here. I’d read one blog describe the restaurant as a “Working class neighborhood” restaurant and that is precisely what it is. It’s warm and welcoming just one street over from the clamor and clangor of the tourist hot spots on Via Cavour.

I’d recommend stopping in here for lunch in between a Coliseum and Roman Forum visit. It’s run by an extended family, and the waitress speaks English quite well. The carbonara and putanesca came out piping hot, and the saltimbocca gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “mouth-watering.” The house wine was good and fairly priced but the main things that sold me were the atmosphere and the location. Here you can dine with locals instead of…well, your neighbors.

To find it with walking directions, go down the Via dei Fori Imperiali, heading toward the Coliseum. Stop at the intersection of Via Cavour, where there is a small park of trees and benches on your left. (History buffs, this is right at the Forum of Nerva) Go down the small flight of stairs, past the water fountain, and it’s right up that street, one over from Cavour.

Trust me, one street over makes all the difference.

For the link to the restaurants home page, click the link here. They have a menu, address and pictures!

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Il Fornaio – a bakery

Il Fornaio - a wonderful bakery

Il Fornaio – a wonderful bakery

Situated just off the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Il Fornaio is a bakery specializing in more kinds of breads and pastries than you could possibly sample. It’s just down the street from Campo di Fiori and if you’re travelling down the CVE on your way to or from the Vatican it’s a convienient place to pick up something sweet. We stopped here to grab some cookies before heading to St. Peters on Christmas Eve. During the summer, it’s also a quick place to get a cold soda and can be a lifesaver at the end of a sweltering day.

There are typically two ladies working there. One at the cash register and the other behind the counter. I know more Latin than Italian, so if they were rude (as one reviewer claims) I am always blissfully unaware. What I am aware of is the bag of goodies in my hand as I head out to my next fantastic destination. Romans are fond of extracts when cooking and traditionally use less sugar than we’re used to so keep that in mind.

Prices are according to weight, so order as much or as little as you like. When in Rome… 

Here’s the link to more information, thanks to TripAdvisor.

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Forno da Milvio

Forno da Milvio at night. A great pizzeria just off of Via Cavour.

Forno da Milvio at night. A great pizzeria just off of Via Cavour.

Forno da Milvio is a family run, neighborhood pizzeria in the Monti district, close enough to the Roman Forum that it makes a delicious and convenient place to have lunch or dinner. I’ve stopped by a few times on both my trips to Rome and have not been disappointed once.

The pizza is delicious and inventive and baked in the oven right at the counter. The staff is super friendly and there are always locals zipping in and out, sometimes taking it to go, or relocating to the back of the restaurant with a beer, where they have plenty of table seats to get out of the sun and rest your feet. The pizzas are the long thin type, and are ordered by how large you want your portion to be. This works out great because sign language is a breeze.

Inside of Forno da Milvio. It's bright and airy with plenty of seating.

Inside of Forno da Milvio. It’s bright and airy with plenty of seating.

Forno da Milvio appears to be run by a grey haired gentleman preparing the pizza, pastas, breads, a few meat dishes and a terrific salad, while his wife sits and the entrance and mans the cash register with warm smiles. I’ve been by a few times on my own for a late night slice and it always feels like dropping by your grandparents house. On that note, this is definitely a kid friendly atmosphere. It’s air conditioned and has a bath room for customers.

Four euros and change get you a good portion of pizza and a can of soda. It’s a quick, local stop over as you move from the Coliseum and Forum, or before I go into the Capitoline Museum. The pizza is just as good if not better that the restaurants that line the lower half of Via Cavour and I get a little satisfaction out of visiting a Mom and Pop place. There’s a small selection of beer available as well. It’s casual and fun, and the Suppli were the best I had in Rome. They even provide a really great salad with vibrant romaine lettuce, that can be a godsend in between all the pasta. Forno da Milvio get the recommend!

Located on Via dei Serpenti, just off of Via Cavour.

On Fridays they serve my favorite kind. Tuna, artichokes, grape tomatoes, oregano and just a little cheese. So good.

On Fridays they serve my favorite kind. Tuna, artichokes, grape tomatoes, oregano and just a little cheese. So good.

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“Pastificio”

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My Parents outside of Pastificio

Travelers on a budget rejoice!

I’d heard about Pastificio from a number of blogs and guides and wanted to track it down and see for myself. I managed to squeeze it in out of pure luck when my family and I were headed from Piazza del Popolo to the Spanish Steps. We’d already been to the Borghese that morning and were looking for a place to eat. The Spanish Steps area isn’t such a great place for that. But I saw storefront from the corner of my eye and didn’t hesitate.

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Tried and failed to take a picture without being noticed. Anyway, you can see the interior is really simple. Pay at the counter and have a seat.

Pastificio is a one of a kind place. It masquerades as a pasta shop for most of the day except for a small window beginning at 1 o’clock and ends when they run out of food. For four euros you can get a hefty serving pasta, you have a choice between two, and for an additional euro you can get a cup of house wine. No white table cloths here, as paper and plastic is the norm. We managed to slip in the door at two o’clock and find seats. My parents were a bit put off by the informal dining but as a college kid, when someone hands me a plate of gnocchi that smells like heaven and weighs as much as my purse I don’t hesitate.

The gnocchi was incredible. Piping hot, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in Rome. Light and airy, with a sprinkling of parmigiana cheese, I couldn’t even finish my entire serving. It came with a single meatball that was so good I can’t even complain that I only had one. If I had twenty four hours in Rome I’d stop by again.

If the food hasn’t sold you yet (Seriously, so good) the location should. It’s a stones throw from the Spanish Steps and the best shopping in Rome. If you’re on a budget, then Via dei Condotti is really just for the atmosphere and window shopping. Which makes Pastificio even better. The area is pricey and the restaurants reflect that. If you’re there to shop till you drop, be time efficient and stop in any way.

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“Gallo Matto”

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Table setting in Gallo Matto

A special note of appreciation to “Gallo Matto” or the “Chicken House” as their business card says. We ate Christmas dinner here and the memory has been inexorably added into our family annals. As I’ve said before, I’m not a foodie, nor am I involved in any shady reimbursement deal where they send me their carbonara recipe in return for my praise. Although…

Seriously now, the Chicken House was a gem. They squeezed out another table for us amongst the groups and families already dining. The restaurant includes a wood oven that the chicken is prepared over and gave the place a wonderful smell. The food was typical Romana cucina and fairly priced. The homey atmosphere takes over and before you know it you’re settling into your chair like a regular who lives just a block away.

But the star of the show was the gentleman playing piano. He kept up a steady stream of Christmas songs, blues, jazz, tunes that kept everyone in the restaurant smiling in recognition. Once the language barrier was crossed, he played “As Time Goes By” for my mother, a story she’ll be telling every Christmas from now on. He gave Louis Armstrong a run for his money with his rendition of “What a Wonderful World” that put a cherry on top of a memorable Christmas Day.

The interior is made up of quirky decorations and it is a good sized restaurant, something that may be more important during the crowded summer months. Our waiter was attentive but not pushy, and it being Christmas I felt like the entire staff was enjoying it as well. All in all, Gallo Matto took us in with welcome when a place just down the street asked us to come back at nine. It’s located in the Monti neighborhood, at the high end of Cavour near Santa Maria Maggiore.

For the address and further reviews follow the link to TripAdvisor  here.

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The Capitoline Museum

Photo courtesy of Museicapitolini.org

The  Capitoline Museum – Musei Capitolini – is a museum of the city of Rome itself. It dates back to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated a series of sculptures that had previously been kept in the Lateran. The return of some of Rome’s history to the City’s symbolic center created a feel of revival that matched the current Renaissance. More notable works were added to the Museum’s collection when Pope Pius V decided to rid the Vatican of “pagan” images.

The Capitoline Museum is housed in two main buildings: the Palazzo dei Conservatori, and the Palazzo Nuovo. These buildings combine with the Palazzo Senatorio to form Michelangelo’s architectural plan for the square. The museum entrance is through the Palazzo dei Conservatori, which is home to sculptures like the Capitoline Wolf and the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius. The Pinacoteca on the second floor is the art gallery, with works by Titian, Tintoretto, Van Dyck, Rubens and Caravaggio.

The Conservatori is linked to Palazzo Nuovo by a tunnel through the Tabularium. From the exterior, this building is identical to Palazzo dei Conservatori. Inside, this building also houses many powerhouse sculptures, such as the 3rd century BC works known as the Dying Gaul and the Capitoline Venus.

If you plan to visit, the museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00am until 8:00pm, except for December 25, January 1, and May 1. The late closing makes this an ideal stop for a late afternoon visit. Tickets can be bought online, or at the museum entrance on the Campidoglio.

For more information, visit the Museum’s webpage Here.

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