Before I get into the sight-seeing of last weekend, I must mention the best meal I’ve had thus far in Rome. Let me set the scene: Friday night, St. Peter’s Square, 7:45pm. I was off to meet a friend who I hadn’t seen since graduating from Middlebury four years ago, the one and only Scott Gratton. Scott is now back in the states, but is spending the next two years finishing up his seminary school at the North American University that overlooks the Holy See here in Rome. After meeting at the obelisk, we were off to Trastevere – the ‘hip’ neighborhood (think Williamsburg-esque) – to eat at Scottie’s favorite place in town.
His favorite place in town is now my favorite place in town, and if you are ever in Rome, definitely drop in and give the crew my best. La Botticella is the name, on Vicolo del Leopardo. It is run by a lovely woman named Giulia, and the waiting staff were the ever friendly and helpful Massimiliano and Gabrieli. I only wish I spoke a bit more Italian so I could thank them more elaborately for a great feast. We started off with the best mushrooms I’ve ever had. Sauteed and spiced to perfection, these funghi were fantastic. Next was melanzane con parmaggiano (eggplant with parmesean), delectable to say the least. Gabrieli then brought out a plate with a sizeable sphere of mozzarella di bufe (buffalo mozzarella) with basil and tomatoes, and the last antipasto dish, fiori di zucca, an amazing fried zucchini/cheese masterpiece. All of this was supplemented by an excellent red wine and some acqua naturale. The main dish was a heaping plate of carbonara, which we nearly were able to finish. And the final act was an unreasonably tasty fraggola (strawberry) tart, similar to a tiramisu with fresh strawberries substituted for the coffee flavor. Oh, I can’t forget our digestive of caffe and benzini (gasoline), or the funny way to refer to a fiery shot of limoncello. All in all, stupendous.
Oh and no, there are no pictures of the meal. I prefer eating food to documenting it on film, sorry I’m not sorry.
After a wonderful evening catching up with Scottie, I was off to see some of what the Vatican had to offer the following morning. I met my friend from work, Marko, at the same obelisk in St. Peter’s at 7:00am. After gazing for a few minutes at the grandeur of the area, we got in the queue to get into the Basilica. If there ever were a church designed to cause people’s jaw’s to drop, this is it. Magnificent, enormous, bright, enshrined with intricate artwork, you name it.
We milled around for a bit before being herded out of the main region of the church, as I believe they were setting up chairs for Sunday’s mass service. After realizing we wouldn’t get better access to the altar area, we headed for the sky.
By the sky, I mean we went senza ascensore up to the top of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. For you Italian aficionados, yes that means we opted to walk the entire 551 step climb rather than take the elevator halfway up. An amazing climb it was – mostly in a spiral staircase to the top of the main building, then you enter inside the building at the lower level of the dome, and finally you follow a tilting corridor that wraps around the interior wall of the dome. Not built for tall people, let me just say. I managed, and the reward was well worth every one of the 551 steps I took.
A theme is building here on my trip to Rome: get glimpses of the city from every high point that exists. FAO roof, Palatine Hill, il Vittoriano, the Spanish steps, and now the top of St. Peter’s. This one, although a bit hazy, was spectacular. Also, the papal gardens just kill it. Has to be some of the most expensive, anal landscaping on the planet.
Marko and I spent a good half hour on top of the Basilica, noting the little candle stands that lined the precipitous dome (it was formerly lit by candles rather than electric lights in the evenings, and there were workers that would literally repel down to light/set them…), the way that Italians form lines (more of a mob scene around any entrance, in this case to a special service at the Basilica it seems), the exterior of the Sistine Chapel (has to be the most contradictory building in terms of interior extravagance vs. exterior normality), and we even could see the courtyard across from my apartment building.
After descending each step once more – though we stopped for a cappuccino on the roof of the building, and I wish I had had a postcard to send from the drop on said roof – we ended up inside the Basilica for one last hurrah.
As you know, I’m not a religious man, but I have a great respect for the devotion displayed within and around the walls of San Pietro. Definitely one of the most impressive institutions in the world, and it welcomes people of all walks of life within its walls each day. If I may say one thing though – I was a bit disappointed that my boy the pontiff Francesco didn’t show up to give me the thug hug he owes me. He’ll have to make it up to me when I visit the labyrinth that is the Vatican museums.