10/10/2003 Italy in Fall 2003 Day 3
Jim and Diana write:
Another beautiful day...a little warmer than yesterday--probably in the high 70's by the afternoon; the sun is shining and the sky is blue. Our first stop is a church around the corner from our that has not been open that I can remember since we started coming to Rome ten years ago. Santa Maria della Pace is located in one of Rome's prettiest streets and it has an interesting facade designed by Pietro della Cortona. Inside, you can see a painting by Raphael and some intricate Renaissance stone carvings; the church has a unique octagonal shape and it is much brighter than most Rome churches due to the clear windows under the dome. The church is also famous for the attached cloister designed by Bramante, where art exhibitions are held frequently.

Next we head down to the Museum at the Terme of Diocleziano (the Baths of Diocletian). This museum displays an extensive collection of Roman statuary and inscriptions. When we get off the bus, we find that the museum is closed today because of a "sciopero"--a strike. This is one of the hazards of traveling in Italy--there is always a possibility of strike when you least expect it. We walk next door to the large church--Santa Maria degli Angeli--which is built into the ruins of the Terme. It is striking to walk inside this church; the outside walls are old Roman brickwork but inside it is a sumptuous and extensive Renaissance church. However, it is not one of the more interesting churches in we walk around for a while and leave.

We had planned to visit the nearby churches of Santa Prassede and Santa Pudenziana, but it was already 11:45 and both churches close at noon--another facet of the difficulties inherent in sightseeing in try to carefully coordinate your plans and have options ready just in case. We decide to head to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, one of the seven pilgrimage churches in Rome, which contains a number of relics, including a piece of the "true cross". According to Cadogan's Guide, it is open "non-stop" from 7 am to 7 pm.

We have a small adventure taking the tram to the church...we make several false starts, end up taking the wrong tram for a short distance, recover quickly, and finally get on our way. A side benefit of our misadventure is that we get to spend some time at the Porta of the major gates through the Aurelian walls...and to see the unusual tomb of one of Rome's formost baker's from the 3rd century A.D.

We get to Santa is a big church built into a larger palace set on a big piazza. We sit down and start reading about the church in our guidebooks. This is the church that was the palace of Helen, the mother of Constantine, the emperor of Rome who adopted Christianity. While we are reading, a young man comes up to us, asks if we speak Italian, and tells us that the church will close in five 1 pm...and will reopen at 2 pm. Another surprise for the intrepid tourists....We take a quick look around, run to the chapel with the relics and leave.

Sitting outside in the piazza, we have to rethink our agenda....since we didn't get to see the spectacular mosaics, we decide to look for a place to eat in the neighborhood and come back at 2 pm. With no recommended restaurants in the area, we are on our own. We pass a large restaurant that first appears to be closed, but in fact it is open. We see from the street a big table filled with bowls of pasta and some cooked vegetables. Once seated, we ignore the menu and decide to have that daily special....a big portion of delicious pasta, chick peas and potatoes in a savory sauce. I have a dish of the vegetables--broccoli rabe--and Diana has a pretty salad. A very satisfying lunch....The name of the restaurant is Santa Croce.

We finish our visit to the Church...the mosaics are indeed worth the return trip. By this time, we are ready for a break. The weather is still lovely, although a bit warm. We don't want to go back the hotel yet, but we need something somewhat relaxing. I suggest that we get on the tram which will take us to the Tiber near Testaccio and that we take the boat back to the Piazza Navona area. This seemed like a good idea, but the tourist demons were out in force today. First the tram took forever to come. Next, we get to the boat stop on the river and the sign informs us that the service at this location will start sometime in the future. We scramble back across the bridge to hop a bus.....that takes to Piazza Venezia. Then we have to walk to other side of the piazza to get a bus back to the hotel. This whole adventure violates one of my cardinal rules of sightseeing...don't waste time waiting for buses; take cabs--you usually have more money than time.

In the meantime, at the hotel, we moved upstairs to a room on the top floor (the fourth floor); this room has a large terrace with nice views over the neighborhood. We sit outside for a while, but the day's adventures (and misadventures) have tired both of us out and we end up taking naps.

We meet Maureen for an aperitif at a great wine shop and enoteca, the Enoteca del Parla mento di Achilli and then go on to dinner with Franco at La Matricianella, an oft-written up slightly upscale trattoria just off the Corso, not far from the Spanish Steps. Our meal illustrated the fallacy of the statement that "you can't get a bad meal in Italy." In truth, the meal wasn't bad but it was very ordinary. Three of us started with a variety of the house specialty...fritti. We shared batter-fried ricotta puffs, potato skins, anchovies, and cauliflower--all okay, but not exciting; Franco had a traditional Roman-Jewish dish--skate with broccoli in broth (which was okay.) For our secondi, I had a coda di vaccinara (stewed oxtails)--very unmeaty and unremarkable), Diana had a mixed grill of calamari and large shrimp, the calamari were very rubbery, Franco had another Roman specialty--baccala (dried cod), and Maureen had eggplant with parmigiano, which she said was very unexciting. We drank a Grignolino from Piemonte, which again was just okay.

We decided to flee before dessert and headed to one of Rome's best gelaterie--Giolitti, where we enjoyed the gelato and stood on the street talking for a while before heading back to the hotel. A good evening with good friends.