Sunday, July 7, 2013

eating our way through rome and the time elevator (oh, yes)

There are many challenges inherent in an eight-week trip. Add two kids and the challenges increase exponentially. A big part of surviving – and making the most of – a vacation like this is adjusting whatever plan you have to meet those challenges. Our five days in Rome have put us to the test and I think Keri and I have proven our worth. At the every least, Lauren and Owen are leaving Rome tomorrow with better feelings about it than they had two days ago. I’ll call that a victory.

Our first change of approach was with breakfasts, which have been previously discussed and for which Keri deserves total credit. As we were sitting around the table enjoying our latest mix of fruit, cheese, and bread, Lauren announced that she loved our Rome breakfasts. Owen stayed silent, still loyal to his beloved Frosties.

Our second big challenge has been combination of heat, which we cannot control, and walking, which we would prefer to do more rather than less, but know it taxes our kids.

We had originally intended to get an early start to the day yesterday, but circumstances – namely in the form of an overnight upset stomach for Owen – put an end to those plans as none of us was up before 930. Given a later start, we scrapped our initial plans to visit the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum, knowing it would be a bad idea to walk around in the mid-day sun and look at buildings and ruins that require some degree of imagination and context to appreciate.

So, we audibled and took the subway (Owen: “I never knew there was a Tube in Rome?”) to the Vatican and walked back to the flat, seeing a number of things in between. There are two subway lines that run through central Rome. The one that took us from our flat to Termini employed a subway train that I am certain had been used in the opening credits to Welcome Back Kotter, or maybe the The Warriors. Really, I have never seen a train so covered in graffiti. It was actually quite beautiful.

Getting off at the Vatican stop, we walked down Via Ottoviano, past the entrance to the Vatican Museum and directly to Piazza San Pietro. During that brief walk, we were asked about 50 times whether we needed tickets to the museum or the basilica. (Keri and I had been to the museum on our honeymoon and did not feel the kids would get much out of it. We further decided before we left it was not going to be worth the lines to get into the basilica, although I would like to see it at some point.) We walked through and around the square and I scrapped together for the kids my best summary of the Roman Catholic Church and the significance of this place for the largest movement of the largest religion in the world. I think they understood what I was talking about, but that could have been a result of the heat stroke and its impact on all of us. (Note: Lauren seemed particularly upset by my description of a crucifixion. Apparently, they don’t teach that in Jewish day school.)

We walked toward Castel Sant’ Angelo, stopping for much-needed gelato and water on the way. Castel Sant’ Angelo is a round castle that sits on the Tiber, directly east of the Vatican. It was originally Hadrian’s tomb, later serving as a mausoleum, a fortress and prison. We did not go inside, walking around the park area below and enjoying some much-needed shade.

When we summoned the strength to go on, we crossed the Tiber and made our way to Piazza Navona, once the site of a stadium and long been one of Rome’s most famous public plazas. Owen required a strawberry icee and Lauren a cup of delicious cantaloupe to press on. We then made our way past the Pantheon which, despite my fears, my children recalled from two days prior.

It was then to something called the Time Elevator. Keri and I had seen on TripAdvisor some positive reviews for this, which we understood to be a 45-minute movie that provided a good overview of the history of Rome. At worst, we thought, it would give the kids a little bit of context and would have them out of the heat for nearly an hour. The show runs every hour and we had just missed the 330 show, so we cruised up to the Trevi Fountain which was, as always, swarming with people. The fountain is really beautiful, but the crowds are overwhelming, so we were not there more than ten minutes, when Keri got an inspiration – we need to get the kids some protein. The little hamburger-eaters had eaten nary a bite of meat since we hit Italy and Keri and I recalled there was a McDonalds in the area and set off in search of the same.

We ended up at a Burger King, instead. I take back what I wrote before about Italian efficiency. This place was everything you would expect – a hideously slow system in which the cashier took one order, waited until all the food was ready, served that food, and then took the next order. Amazingly, that led to a twenty-minute wait in line. I cannot think of a redeemable thing about Burger King other than its speed and efficiency. Take those away, which this one has, and you would think the whole enterprise would collapse. You’d be wrong, as this one was pretty busy.

As we were waiting for the kids’ food, the skies opened up. I remember seeing a few clouds when we were at Trevi Fountain, but this was kind of out of nowhere. And this was a most serious rain. We were happy to see some rain to cool things down, but wanted it to end, at least long enough to make our way back to the Time Elevator. Just as requested, the rain stopped at 415, we went outside and walked briskly (I have never seen Lauren move as quickly as she does to avoid getting rained on. If only her PE coach could see her now). By some miracle, the rain held off until we were steps outside the Time Elevator, when it came down again. Thank you, Saint Costanza.

The Time Elevator. We were led into a small antechamber where there was an awkwardly put together video display informing us that the Time Institute had created a Time Elevator to travel back in time to allow us to learn about Rome’s history.  The Time Institute? Really? Like giving a name to some fake group of Italian scientists added some legitimacy without which our 45-minute film experience would have been ruined? The Time Elevator? I assume the Time Machine name is owned by the H.G. Wells estate or Walt Disney or Halliburton, or something, so that could not have been used, but elevator? Sure, I believe in time travel and all, but only if it takes place in a device that moves and which is familiar to me. A Delorean? Not convincing. Escalator? Don’t be absurd, no sane person would time travel by escalator. Elevator? Now, were talking.

The antechamber presentation also contained a warning for those with heart problems, back injuries, or motion sickness. I looked at Keri. What the hell had we signed up for?

We were led into the big room, which had three large movie screens at one end. We were placed in a twelve person cart that looked like the kind you typically see for an indoor amusement park ride that tries to simulate movement. Again, I could think of why, if we were getting a history of Rome, it would be necessary to make us feel like we were on the Starship Enterprise. I still am lacking an understanding of that one.

The movie, which was in English, was pretty bad. It covered some of the high points of Roman history, from Romulus and Remus to Vittorio Emanuelle II. What substance there was greatly diminished by the inexplicable involvement of some “doctor something or other” from the Time Institute (who did what, I have no idea) as well as the random, nausea-inducing movement. It was as though someone had a big pile of money and needed to spend it or face some horrible punishment. There was really no other reason to explain the expensive and totally awful technology that led to the random herky-jerky movement we were forced to endure.

We came out 45 minutes later, Keri and I the dumber for having seen the “film.” Owen said he enjoyed it and asked a few follow up questions. We also avoided the rain, kept the kids’ day going, and I got some good blog material so I’ll call the whole experience a slight win.

Our dinner last night was at Trattoria il Tettarello, which is a few minute walk from our flat. I saw when we walked in a serious-looking brick pizza oven in the back. I figured it would be good, and I was right. All four of us really enjoyed our pizzas (I ended up eating every last bite of my funghi pizza, as well as a little of the margherita the others were eating). As we were headed towards the gelateria we had been the night before, we spotted a different one called Fatamorgana. I recalled seeing some glowing reviews about this one, so we gave it a try. Good golly, miss molly, that was some serious gelato. Lauren got a mix of stracciatella and tiramisu, the latter of which was so damn good, I walked back into the shop and got my own order, along with one scoop of creamy banana with sesame crunch. I’m not sure which of those two was the better. I’ll just say if you are in Rome and anywhere near this place you do yourself a favor and go there.

Having gorged myself last night, I had all the inspiration I needed to get up and try another run. This time, I went phone in hand (beyond the mapping ability, I now need to use my phone, having shorted out my iPod on my last, ill-fated run) and took a route that I knew from our prior walks. I ran to the Tiber by way of the Colosseum, Circus Maximus and the old Jewish Ghetto, ran up the river to the Vatican, and came back by the Wedding Cake monument. It was much warmer than my earlier run, but not getting lost made it a whole lot better.

Following another good breakfast, we headed off toward the Spanish Steps. The walk there seemed to take a lot out of Owen, who was entirely unmoved by the beauty of the steps and adjoining plazas. He walked up and down with us, but not without some serious complaining. We were then off to the Villa Borghese, central Rome’s largest park. Owen and I enjoyed a nice game of catch, paying tribute to great Italian ballplayers like Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mike Piazza.

We walked around the park a while before finding our way to a small pond on which you could rent a row boat for twenty minutes, which we did. The worker who boarded us seemed to assume I would be the sucker rowing the other three, and sat us accordingly. We saw some ducks, turtles and fountains as we rowed around the pond. Lauren and Owen enjoyed telling me where to go. (They would like me to say that they really had wanted to rent a four-person canopy bicycle, but we saw the row boat first.)

We then headed back to the flat, going down Via Veneto so Keri and I could show the kids where we had stayed eleven years ago during our honeymoon. Owen cajoled us into stopping at a McDonald’s after that. Without going into detail on the experience, let’s just say the operation plan seems to be similar to the one employed at the Burger King we hit yesterday.

Owen further announced, about halfway through his snack, his omnipresent need to use a public bathroom during any meal. Keri waited outside as Owen was in this, a single-person bathroom that served the entire restaurant, for close to fifteen minutes. The several people waiting for him to emerge were none too happy. He finally came out, explaining that it took him so long, in part, because of a cleaning crew that interrupted his work. Keri is certain no cleaning crew could have been in there, as she was at the entrance/exit the entire time. We’ll have to investigate further.

Tonight finished off with a great meal at Chicco di Grano, another local haunt. Lauren had her go-to margherita pizza and the rest of us had pasta. Mine was a porcini mushroom oil-based sauce with thick noodles. Really good. I ate a couple pieces of the bread, as well, and part of Lauren’s pizza. I had apparently given up entirely, so why not enjoy myself, which I did when we returned to Fatamorgana, where I got the banana cream/sesame again, this time with a scoop of my favorite, coffee. I ended up eating some of Lauren’s, as well, as she had mistakenly ordered a scoop of pistachio (which was incredible).

I think it is safe to say we ate well during our five days in Rome. Challenges be damned. We know how to stuff our faces when the time is right. And that, as much as anything, makes for a good vacation, particularly one in Italy. On to Florence . . .

1 comment:

  1. Most entertaining as always, Tim!! Lauren will never be satisfied with "regular" gelato again-and as for you..I have the elliptical AND treadmill reserved when you return to AZ.

    Safe travels to Florence!