Friday, January 16, 2009

When in Rome...Part 3 (New Years, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain)

It was the last day of the year and I was lucky enough to spend it in Rome! I was pretty excited for what the day held, but after sleeping in, we didn’t really have any plans. We jumped in a taxi and headed to the Spanish Steps – the area of town where the Piazza Spagna is and the famous staircase that leads to the Church of the Trinity (Triníta dei Monti).

I found out that the Spanish Steps were built in between 1723-1726 to connect the Piazza and the church together and now, the 137-step staircase still stands and is one of the most popular spots in Rome – for both tourists and locals alike. Looking at this picture of me on the Spanish Steps, you can barely make out the steps themselves and it’s kind of like looking at a Where’s Waldo – but instead it’s a Where’s Amanda. It was great to be at this famous place with a few of my closest hundred friends to join me! Of course we scaled the steps and took in the view from the top. You can see quite a lot of Rome from the top but what really stands out is the massive amounts of shops at the base of the Spanish Steps. This area is known for the high-end stores that are spread around the neighborhood – Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Armani, Jimmy Choo (or however you spell it! You can tell I don’t shop there haha) and many more. Just because I only make a teacher’s salary didn’t stop us from looking around and poking into shops. While there are a lot of popular designer stores, there are also other stores – accessory stores, book stores, upscale food stores and much more.

From my tour book I found a café that I wanted to stop at while we were in the area – Antico Caffé Greco on Via Condotti. The book told me that this café has been serving coffee since the 1760s. If you can stay in business that long, I figured it must be a good cup of coffee! The red velvet seats, gold and brown wall decorations and small little round tables helped create a fancy ambience and the waiters wearing suits helped a bit too! When they brought our check to us, it was in a little envelope, so no one knows your bill and then when you leave, you leave the tip in the envelope and seal it – genius! My caffé latte was tasty and it was fun to drink it, mixed in with locals having their regular coffee and tourists experiencing this quaint place along with me! My little travel book hit this one right on!

Before coming to Rome I made it a quest to not only find my Christmas ornament (like I always do) but to also find something for my kitchen that I can have for many years and will remember it was from Rome. I didn’t want it to be flashy and scream Rome, but rather a regular kitchen item that I would always appreciate. I found lots of possibles – ravioli maker (but honestly when will I ever use THAT?), oil and vinegar thingy where the vinegar is held in a glad container that looks like grapes inside the glass container that holds the oil (really cool but I was sure it would break on the trip home) and some silverware with crazy looking handles of all different colors and designs (Italy is very famous for this kind of silverware, but of course I was not in the mood to spend a few hundred euros on silverware, but I DID love it. I will eventually buy it – maybe I should get a house first). Nothing was calling to me and then all of a sudden we entered a designer kitchen store and ta-da I saw it – a cute little glass decanter for wine with a hole in the middle. Perfect! I like to drink wine and I always will – and it was a good price! Mission Accomplished!

After some hard shopping, it was time for some pizza – Rome style! After being spoiled by New York pizza for a year (Rest in Peace Mimmas – my favorite NYC pizza place), I haven’t found any pizza I really like here in Europe, but I figured if I was going to like it anywhere, this would be the place right? Boy was that true – we found a little café that served pizza squares. They don’t serve it in triangles like we do, nor do you buy a whole buy; instead, you tell the guy how much you want (sign language helps a lot since we didn’t speak Italian) and then he cuts it once for your piece, throws it in the oven to heat it up some more, then takes it out, cuts it again and puts on piece on top of the other like a pizza sandwich. Cheese with priscutto pizza might be my new favorite!

With pizza in hand, we boarded a night tour bus ride on one of those two-story buses that has the top open. GREAT idea for sightseeing – not such a great idea when its about 40 degrees outside haha. We froze but got to see the city by night on the last night of 2008! When it was over we navigated our way to Piazza de Popolo (piazza of the people) for the New Year’s Eve festivities. I was estatic when I saw a person selling fireworks on the way there. I ADORE fireworks and haven’t done one for a longggg time. When I left Washington (where you do them every 4th of July and New Years) I went to Arizona where it’s too dry to do fireworks, then Baltimore where you can’t light off fireworks in the city area where I lived, and then to NYC where you of course can’t light them off – so imagine how excited I was to get some! I bought some pop-its and was like a little kid throwing them around and laughing every single time ha. I also bought some sparklers and was pumped to light them off at midnight – fireworks and Rome – what more could you ask for for NYE! After some wine, we went to the Piazza and I was really surprised. The piazza is gigantic, but the people were not standing in the middle – in fact everyone was standing in a circle and the whole middle was open…why you ask – because EVERYONE had brought their own fireworks as well and would run to the middle, light them off and run back to the circle. I was in heaven! I shared my sparklers with the people standing around me and we all had a great time writing in the sky and saying goodbye to 2008. At midnight, after no countdown, which I thought was very odd, fireworks started to fire off from the top of the Piazza. For thirty minutes people were cheering, opening champagne and watching the huge fireworks show! Happy New Year!

Once the fireworks show ended we attempted to find a cab, which was a horrrrrrible idea. Our hotel was way too far to walk but on NYE it is basically impossible to find a taxi. When we finally found one we were shocked when he dropped us off and the bill was 60 euros – SO expensive and pretty illegal of him to charge us that, but oh well!

The first day of the year we started out right – sleeping in! We lounged around the hotel for a good majority of the day and when we finally ventured out, headed to the Trevi Fountain. Like the Spanish Steps, I was there with a few of my closest hundred friends – as this is a huge tourist spot in Rome. Finished in 1762, this statue stands in the spot where three important roads of Rome used to converge – tre vie – get it?! It is said that if you throw a coin into the fountain over your left shoulder with your right hand you will find your way back to Rome another time. I threw LOTS of coins in hahaha. Seems like a lot of people do that because the government collects about 3,000 euros a DAY from the fountain – which helps a supermarket that provides food for disadvantaged families in the city.

Walking around some more, I started to realize that even in this new city, I have lost my culture shock that I had when I first arrived in Europe. It was so fun to hear some of Tom’s comments that three months ago I am sure I made too but now I don’t think anything of it. For example, the streets in Rome (Spain as well) are very narrow and many of cobblestone. We would never think a car would speed down these, let alone a bus! One time Tom said – Honestly, who drives down this – and I was like Tom, it’s a road haha. The funny thing is that I thought the same thing when I first got to San Sebastian! From 1 euro coffees, siestas and 10pm dinners, I realized I am really adjusting but had a great time watching someone else experience culture shock!

We made our way through some more shops and found a secluded little restaurant. I like the restaurants that are not right in the middle of the touristy area and are a little more off the beaten path. This one was called Al Brie and as soon as we walked in, you could smell cheese cheese cheese – yippee! The smell of cheese and shelves and shelves of wine when we walked in were a good clue that we were in for a great dinner! A variety of cheeses, homemade pasta in boar sauce (yea yea, be proud of me, I tried boar sauce and liked it), a meat something dish and some Italian pudding something for dessert with some pear vodka made for a great dinner. While I didn’t know what I was ordering or eating half the time, it was delicious and it made me miss homemade noodles (especially the Noodle Palace with my Grammy!)

While we hadn’t accomplished much on the first day of the year we headed back to the hotel to rest up for the next day – a trip to Florence! I was excited but wanted to be fully rested. So far 2009 was going perfectly!

More to come…next up: Florence!


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