On Wednesday November 28 our friend Kathy Lloy Collins arrived for a one week stay and had invited her friend Lyn Caruso to join us.
Sandy knows Lyn also and has worked with her at Lahey. Sandy served them her homemade cannelloni bean soup and fresh baked banana bread while we all caught up on life events before they took a three hour nap. We kept their first evening low-key and just walked around the neighboring streets and shops before having dinner at Ristorante Ambrosia on the rooftop of Hotel Artemide just across the street which was newly renovated and re-opened only the day before. This is the hotel our friends Rebecca and Adam recently stayed at. Kathy and Lynn did not have any set itinerary as Lyn has been to Rome before and Kathy just wanted to enjoy time with us as we have not had an opportunity to spend quality time together for ages. Sandy planned their first days agenda which started with a nice two mile walk to Vatican City where we found the line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica to be non existent and walked right in.
We marveled at the opulence of the Basilica and could not help but wonder how many impoverished and starving people could be helped by the wealth of gold and marble surrounding us. We left the Vatican and clocked more serious walking mileage to the Jewish Ghetto where Kathy treated us to lunch at our favorite restaurant Sora Margherita which never fails to please us both in ambience and food.
We have lost count of how often we have been there, but despite our frequency in a short time frame we are never seated in the “locals” section at the front of the tiny restaurant. After lunch we ambled around the area admiring the synagogue and hidden piazzas and shops until we were back to Piazza Venezia.
Kathy and Lyn went to the rooftop of Vittorio Emanuele II Monument aka the typewriter, wedding cake building or Vittoriano while we had coffee across the street. They joined us at the coffee shop and we took them up to Capitoline Hill and city hall and enjoyed the evening overlook into the night lit Forum.
We returned home for a light healthy dinner of hummus with veggies and introduced them to our favorite card game of Burraco which they picked up quickly and got hooked on as we did when our friends the Leone’s introduced us to it. It has now become a tradition as we have played it with all recent house guests.
Friday 30 November we booked a five hour private tour of the Coliseum, the church and grounds of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the Forum and the churches of St. Peter in chains and St. Ignatius of Loyola. Our guide Francesca Saurini was the same tour guide Marjy and Dan used and we highly recommend her. She was very informative and provided a driver and comfortable Mercedes van.
We started with the coliseum and enjoyed an exclusive separate VIP entrance into the arena standing on the exact spot where gladiator games took place. As a side note she said the movie Gladiator was well researched and Italians feel that Hollywood has created an accurate representation of its history. We have put this movie on our rewatch list along with the Dan Brown DaVinci Code movies. While on Aventine Hill with Dick one week ago looking through the keyhole into the Sovereign Military Order of Malta we had become curious about this group and asked Francesca in advance if she could get us in. Lucky for us their only tour day is Friday and we were privileged to gain access to this Sovereign territory and enjoy an hour plus tour by another guide.
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is a Catholic lay religious order traditionally of military, chivalrous and noble nature. What we heard was that you have to be part of the nobility and very rich in order to be invited to join this group. We saw their small simple church and the adjoining garden. This is an interesting little known tour of Rome but not recommended for anyone with limited time or budget.
Francesca next took us to San Pietro in Vincoli which we covered in our last blog and then on to her favorite Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola which features a false dome with a trompe l’oeil painting on canvas simulating a real dome. This is a beautiful church with a spectacular painted barrel dome and beautiful marble.
We have visited here numerous times. At the last minute we decided to add on a tour of The Forum with Francesca and we were not disappointed, looking at ruins is meaningless if you don’t know what you are seeing and she gave us some great insight as to the history and buildings of the Forum.
We enjoyed a light tuna salad dinner at home and played more Burraco. We prepared them for an early rising on Saturday morning as it is mandatory to arrive at the Trevi fountain before the crowds. At 8:25 we hit the Trevi fountain and captured on camera Kathy’s first view reaction as she entered the tiny square that houses this majestic fountain. The area was relatively uncrowded and we did get some good pictures. Lyn was reprimanded by the Polizia as she stepped onto a rock in the fountain which she has done on all prior visits there. The Spanish Steps were also uncrowded providing for more good picture opportunities. Having some time to kill before their visiting the Shelley/Keats house museum at the side of the Spanish Steps we took them for coffee/breakfast at Canova Tadolini which is a very interesting cafe we visited in 2013 with Dick and Andrew. The place is filled with large sculptures by Adamo Tadolini.
After Kathy and Lyn visited the museum we had a most pleasant time wandering the streets adjacent to Piazza Spagna. Via Margutta was a new find for us as it is hidden away between the fancy shopping street Via del Babuino and the hillside of Park Villa Borghese. It is highly recommended as it is so quiet and charming with some very interesting local shops.
We spent the afternoon at home and Lyn taught us how to make gnocchi from ricotta cheese rather than potatoes which results in a much lighter pasta. She had learned this skill from her Italian grandmother.
Lyn’s maiden name is Baglioni and she wanted to have drinks at the Regina Hotel Baglioni which we have visited three times already. We walked to the hotel and had drinks at the bar before having gnocchi with pesto at home.
Our waiter was very impressed to have a Baglioni as a client and spent a lot of time talking to us. He has traveled extensively in the US, mostly by bus, and has been in all of the lower 48 states. Quite impressive for a hotel bar waiter.
Kathy and Lyn are antique flea market aficionados and so Sunday was flea market day. After some faulty research we decided the best one was the Mercato di Porta Portese which is in Trastevere. Unfortunately it turned out to be an endless row of inexpensive clothing, kitchen goods, electronic gadgets and toys which went on for about ½ mile. After being stuck in the markets crowds for what seemed like hours we finally broke loose and headed for lunch at Antico Arco which is a widely recommended restaurant on top of Janiculum Hill. We would also add our recommendations as it was a great fine dining experience. We taxied home so that the girls could continue shopping the stores in our area. Lyn had mentioned that her Baglioni roots were in Campagnano di Roma and when she added that it was only 18 km from Rome we absolutely jumped at the chance of another adventure. Jim never passes up an opportunity to drive especially if it take us through narrow city streets or on snaking little roads up into the mountains. This sweet medieval town was actually 18 miles from Rome and did not disappoint us. We found parking then set out to explore and hopefully connect Lyn with relatives. Our plan was to head to the comune or city hall and start asking questions. On the way we came across a beautiful war memorial with the names of locals who had died in the first world war and one of the most prominent names on the monument was Brig. Baglioni Vincenzo.
This was looking promising now. We then went into a very old building with the name comune on it and walked into the archive office which was manned by three young people who did not speak much English. Lyn’s little bit of Italian got across that we wanted to research the Baglioni ancestors. The girl said that she was related to the Baglioni’s and had a relative in Boston. She then walked us to the Baglioni Jewelry store which was closed. Seeing our disappointment she pulled out her phone and called her father who called the owner of the shop only to find out she was in Rome. We decided next to find the church and on our way we discovered the real city hall. Sandy and Lyn were on a mission and went to the office that had the town records. They approached the secretary and once again managed to get their point across despite language barriers. When she heard the name Baglioni she made a phone call which turned out to be Lyn’s second cousin who told her that she would meet her at the city hall. After about 20 minutes she pulled up to meet us.
They talked about how they were related and exchanged contact information. We offered to take her to lunch but she had a prior commitment in Rome. We said goodby and headed more into the medieval village which led us to the parish church, chiesa di San Giovanni Battista which unfortunately was locked up and closed as they do not have a priest to service it. The Gothic church is squeezed between very old stone houses. Its foundation dates back to 1200 and it has a beautiful bell tower.
We wandered the streets around the church then Lyn treated us to lunch at Ristorante Righetto in the center of town. Our last stop was to the Cimitero Comunale Dei Cappuccini. Within seconds of entering we found a Baglioni mausoleum which was unlocked so we entered and took pictures to record names of Lyn’s possible ancestors.
It was perfect weather for walking among the dead with cloudy dark foreboding skys. Lynn found many Baglioni names on tombstones for more in depth research. We spent about an hour there and departed before sunset with fond memories and images of an extremely friendly village and warmly accommodating civil servants in the town hall. On returning to Rome we treated them to cocktails at the Stravinskj Bar in the Russian Hotel which gave us a chance to wander the city and enjoy all of the Christmas lights of Rome.
This was a memorable day for all of us and may even be the highlight of our visit from Kathy and Lyn.