Rick's Roman Holiday
|To meet friendly Romans, flee the tourist crowds and find a tucked-away wine bar.|
By Rick Steves
In Rome, an enoteca (wine bar) is a popular, fast, and inexpensive option for lunch. Surrounded by the local office crowd, you can get a fancy salad, plate of meats and cheeses, and a glass of good wine (see blackboards for the day's selection and price per glass). The area around the Parliament (popular with that crowd) has plenty of enoteche handy for your sightseeing lunch break — check an up-to-date guidebook to make sure a place is still open.
Osteria Enoteca al Bric is a mod bistro-type place run by Maurizio, a man who loves to cook, serve good wine, and listen to jazz. With only the finest ingredients, and an ambience elegant in its simplicity, he's created the perfect package for a romantic night out. Wine-case lids decorate the wall like happy memories. With candlelit grace and few tourists, it's perfect for the wine snob in the mood for pasta and fine cheese. Aficionados choose their bottle from the huge selection lining the walls near the entrance. Beginners order fine wine by the glass with help from the waiter when they order their meal. While Al Bric can be pricey, feel free to establish a price limit (e.g., €30 per person without wine) and trust Maurizio to feed you well.
Ristorante Enoteca Corsi is a wine shop that grew into a thriving lunch-only restaurant. The Paiella family serves straightforward, traditional cuisine at great prices to an appreciative crowd of office workers. Check the blackboard for daily specials (gnocchi on Thursday, fish on Friday, and so on). Friendly Juliana, Claudia, and Manuela welcome diners to step into their wine shop and pick out a bottle. For the cheap take-away price, plus €2, they'll uncork it at your table.
Ristorante il Gabriello is inviting and small — modern under medieval arches — and provides a peaceful and local-feeling respite from all the top-end fashion shops in North Rome. Claudio serves with charisma, while his brother Gabriello cooks creative Roman cuisine using fresh, organic products from his wife's farm. Italians normally just trust the waiter and say, "Bring it on." Tourists are understandably more cautious, but you can be trusting here. Simply close your eyes and point to anything on the menu. Or invest in "Claudio's Extravaganza," and he'll shower you with edible kindness. Specify whether you'd prefer fish, meat, or both. (Note that Romans think raw shellfish is the ultimate in fine dining. If you differ, make that clear.) When finished, I stand up, hold my belly, and say, "La vita è bella."
|Treasures and trinkets clutter the Porta Portese flea market.|
Porta Portese Flea Market (Mercato delle Pulci)
For antiques and fleas, this is the granddaddy of markets. This Sunday-morning market is long and spindly, running between the actual Porta Portese (a gate in the old town wall) and the Trastevere train station. Starting at Porta Portese, walk through the long, tacky parade of stalls selling cheap bras and shoes. Along the way, check out the con artists with the shell games. Each has shills in the crowd "winning big money" to get suckers involved. Hang on to your wallet — literally, in your front pocket. This is a den of thieves. The heart of the market for real flea-market junk (hiding a few little antique treasures) is the area from Piazza Ippolito Nievo to the Trastevere station (on Via Portuense and Via Ippolito Nievo; to get to the market, catch bus #75 from Termini station or tram #8 from Largo Argentina; get off the bus or tram on Viale Trastevere and walk toward the river — and the noise).
In the Center: Galleria Doria Pamphilj, filling a palace on Piazza del Collegio Romano, offers a rare chance to wander through a noble family's lavish rooms with the prince who calls this downtown mansion home. Well, almost. Through an audioguide, the prince lovingly narrates his family's story, including how the Doria Pamphilj (pahm-FEEL-yee) family's cozy relationship with the pope inspired the word "nepotism." Highlights include paintings by Caravaggio, Titian, and Raphael, and portraits of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez (on canvas) and Gian Lorenzo Bernini (in marble). The fancy rooms of the palace are interesting, with a mini-Versailles–like hall of mirrors and paintings lining the walls to the ceiling in the style typical of 18th-century galleries (from Piazza Venezia walk 2 blocks up Via del Corso and take a left, Piazza del Collegio Romano 2.
|St. Paul's Outside the Walls: A heavenly, sterile slice of the Vatican.|
In South Rome: St. Paul's Outside the Walls (Basilica San Paolo Fuori le Mura) was the last major construction project of Imperial Rome (c. A.D. 380) and the largest church in Christendom until St. Peter's. After a tragic 19th-century fire, St. Paul's was rebuilt in the same general style and size as the original. Step inside and feel as close as you'll get in the 21st century to experiencing a monumental Roman basilica. Marvel at the ceiling, and imagine building it with those massive wood beams in A.D. 380.
It feels sterile, but in a good way — like you're already in heaven. Along with St. Peter's Basilica, San Giovanni in Laterano, and Santa Maria Maggiore, this church is part of the Vatican rather than Italy. The church is built upon the supposed grave of St. Paul, whose body is buried under the altar. (Paul was decapitated two miles from this spot, and his head is at San Giovanni in Laterano.)
Alabaster windows light the vast interior, and fifth-century mosaics decorate the triumphal arch leading to the altar. Mosaic portraits of 264 popes, from St. Peter to the present, ring the place — with blank spots ready to depict future popes. Pope #265 — Benedict XVI — was recently installed, alongside blank medallions for future popes. Find John Paul II (to the right of the high altar: Jo Paulus II) and John Paul I (to his right, with a reign of only one month and three days). Wander the ornate yet peaceful cloister — decorated with fragments from early Christian tombs and sarcophagi of people who wanted to be buried close to Paul.
The courtyard leading up to the church is typical of early Christian churches — even the first St. Peter's had this kind of welcoming zone (modest dress code enforced, Via Ostiense 186, Metro: San Paolo, exit the Metro station and look for the church's round tower.)
Montemartini Museum (Musei Capitolini Centrale Montemartini) houses a dreamy collection of 400 ancient statues, set evocatively in a classic 1932 electric power-plant among generators and Metropolis-type cast-iron machinery. While the art is not as famous as the collections you'll see downtown, the effect is fun and memorable — and you'll encounter absolutely no tourists (Via Ostiense 106, a short walk from Metro: Garbatella). If you're tackling Rome with kids, this museum is ideal: it's uncrowded and cool, immersed in an old power plant, with art placed at kid-level.
Daytrip to Ostia Antica
For an exciting daytrip, take a Metro / train combination from downtown Rome to Ostia Antica, Rome's ancient port. The most underrated sight in Rome, it's similar to Pompeii and a lot closer. Tour the ruins and museum using my self-guided Ostia Antica Tour (written with the help of Tom Rankin, a partner in Context Travel, which leads small, educational walking tours of Rome).
To maximize sightseeing efficiency on your Ostia daytrip, you can easily visit the sights in south Rome when you return from Ostia to Rome. Catch the train from Ostia to Rome's Piramide Metro stop, where you'll find a cluster of sights: an ancient Roman pyramid and gate; a Protestant cemetery (with the tombs of poets Shelley and Keats); and Monte Testaccio — an ancient trash-heap of pottery turned into a lively restaurant and nightclub scene. Nearby is the Montemartini Museum (described above; Metro: Garbatella) and St. Paul's Outside the Walls (described above: Metro: San Paolo).