Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Rome Trip (Day 8) -- End of Trip!

Day 8: Tuesday, May 24
We hit the road at 7:30am to avoid any potential conflict with the motorcade that was due to pass through in the morning (the U.S. Ambassador's Residence is only about five minutes from the hotel), and we were at the airport and through security within one hour. The Star Alliance airport lounge, Le Anfore, provided some basic breakfast items along with the necessary morning coffee. During our nine-hour flight to Washington, D.C., I took full advantage of the seat-back personal entertainment system by watching five (!) movies, including three foreign films (Japanese, French, and Spanish) and two selections from the Tribeca Film Festival. Sweet!

Our flight arrived in D.C. almost one hour early, so we had an even longer layover than we expected. We spent the 3+ hours in the United Lounge, which we were able to access for no fee since we were traveling on an international itinerary. Sweet again! The lounge was relatively empty when we first arrived, so I was able to find a quiet corner to spread out and do a bit of yoga before settling in to enjoy the snacks and adult beverages available in the lounge. As we were waiting to board our flight to Sacramento, I looked up and saw my colleague L waiting for the same flight. She was coming back from a work conference... small world, right?!

After a long day of travel, we got home to the kitties around 9:45pm Sacramento time, which gave us just enough time to unpack and get ready to return to work the next day and still get to bed by about 10:30pm in an attempt to counter-act the effects of jet lag.

Rome Trip (Day 7)

Day 7: Tuesday, May 23
Art Museum + Vatican Area Tour
Our first stop on our final day in Rome was the nearby Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporaneo (GNAM), which was just down the hill from our hotel.

The collection is currently displayed in a unique manner in alignment with the theme Time is Out of Joint, so instead of having artwork organized in a traditional way based on century or style or artist, each gallery contained an eclectic assortment of art, and it was left up to the viewer to determine what theme or concept might link the works together or how each piece of art might reference or reflect another. Fascinating! We particularly enjoyed several of the sculptures and some of the other pieces composed of non-traditional materials.

The GNAM collection includes works by some very well-known artists, including Monet, Klimt, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol.

Our original plan was to take the tram from the GNAM over to the Vatican area for our afternoon tour. However, after waiting nearly 15 minutes and not seeing any trams pass by, I decided to double-check the info at the station and luckily noticed a small sign indicating that the tram stop by the GNAM wouldn't be in service on May 23 or May 24. So instead we retraced our route through the Villa Borghese to board the Metro at Flaminio and ride it two stops to Ottaviano to save ourselves some walking (and some sweating -- another warm & sunny day!).

Once we managed to dodge the annoying folks along the sidewalk trying to sell Vatican tours and tickets, we found the lovely, quiet, and air-conditioned Rendez-Vous cafe as a lunch spot. Mr. E had pizza, and I had a salad with tuna along with an Aperol spritz.

We stayed in the shade as much as possible on the way to our tour group meeting spot. This was another tour booked through Trip Advisor/Viator and operated by City Wonders. And again, we had an excellent guide, the very knowledgeable, friendly, and unflappable Rosanna, who kept her calm and pleasant demeanor even when one of the other guests somehow managed to lose her Vatican Museums ticket about two minutes after Rosanna had distributed them to the group and warned us that we'd need them for entry!

Our 3-hour tour included parts of the Vatican Museums, beginning with the courtyard, where we also stopped in front of some explanatory posters about the Sistine Chapel, since Rosanna wouldn't be able to make any group presentation during that part of the tour.

We then joined the herds of people touring through various parts of the Vatican Museums, including the Raphael Rooms. Yikes. Way too many people. We couldn't linger in any area for very long, and even just trying to see the art was challenging sometimes due to the enormous crowds. Mr. E did still get some good photos, but I'd definitely recommend to anyone else to opt for the early-morning 7:30am group tour option in order to access the site before anything is open to the general public.

Our tour finished with a rather quick stroll through the Sistine Chapel, where we glimpsed the famous ceiling, and then Rosanna released us near the entry to St. Peter's so that we could explore the cathedral on our own.

As we left the Cathedral to walk through St. Peter's Square, we finally saw some of the Papal Swiss guards in their colorful uniforms.

Although we had hoped and planned to see the other part of the Menorah joint exhibition, we weren't able to find the right spot to access, so we just walked back to the Metro to return to the Flaminio station and find somewhere for dinner. Our primary criterion for an eating spot was functional air conditioning, as we were a bit overheated from all of the wandering around during the day, and we luckily found the nearby My Bags cafe, which offered fresh, light, made-to-order salads and sandwiches. Yum! And of course I had to order an Aperol spritz to go with dinner. We finished the evening with a final walk up the hill to our hotel to pack up and get ready for our departure the next morning.


Rome Trip (Day 6)

Day 6: Monday, May 22
Roma-ing + Jewish Ghetto & Museum
I started off the day with some yoga and then Mr. E joined me for a run that retraced my route from earlier in the week and added another bridge to extend the distance and time a bit. Much busier and warmer even just one hour later in the morning! We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast back at the hotel and then took the tram two stops to the other side of the River Tiber. Our original plan was to walk to the hop on/hop off boat loading dock, but as we strolled along the river, we began to realize that J's cautions about the boat tour were well founded -- the embankment walls are rather high, so you can't see much from the river's surface, and the water itself is rather murky. Definitely nothing like the Bateaux Mouches experience in Paris on the Seine!

So instead we decided to just walk all the way to the Jewish Ghetto and the Ebraico Museum, which were our final destinations for the day. We got some great views of the city, including St. Peter's Cathedral, as we crossed back over the river to the shadier side.

Our route took us past the Campo de' Fiori, with its large street market, and through the Piazza where the French Embassy is located.

We reached the Museo Ebraico just before noon, so we were able to begin looking around the exhibits on our own before joining the [very] brief 12:15pm tour in English of the Synagogue, which is right above the Museum. The tour consisted of sitting in the pews and hearing an overview of the history of the Jews in Italy, which is quite different from the two other primary strands of Juadism (Sephardic or Ashkenazi). We learned, for example, that all of the synagogues here follow the Orthodox traditions, including separation of men and women during services. Also, the liturgy in Rome is apparently different, as is some of the pronunciation of Hebrew.

Once the presentation was finished, we returned to the Museum to explore the rest of the exhibits, including a special exhibition about the Menorah, which was jointly organized with the Vatican Museums. In fact, our ticket price was reduced due to this special and first-in-history occasion, and we also received a pass to access the other part of the exhibition at the Vatican.

J had recommended a restaurant to us called Nonna Betta, which was just around the corner from the Museum, so we decided to try it out despite the busyness of the lunch hour.

We had to wait a bit for our order to be taken, but the food was delicious and the server was extremely friendly once we had his attention (thanks to the efforts of a fellow diner at the next table). Mr. E was persuaded to try to specialty of the house, a lightly fried artichoke, and then we shared the eggplant parmigiana and a white-fish stuffed ravioli. We also both ordered the kosher house wine -- red for Mr. E and white for me. We were a bit surprised when they arrived as half bottles rather than just glasses. Should have read the menu more attentively to note the 375ml next in the description!

After lunch, we made several purchases at the shop next door, including some Nonna Betta branded risotto mix and coffee beans, and then started to make our way out of the Jewish Ghetto area, stopping at a gelateria along the way. Mr. E had the pistachio (of course), and I was thrilled to have numerous and unusual non-dairy choices (makes sense in a kosher environment). I ordered the cinnamon apple sorbetto, which included bits of real apple and peel. Fabulous!

We took a different street on our way back towards the Campo de' Fiori, and I found a great bag for S that included free monogramming. The market was starting to close down for the day, but we still got to browse through several of the stalls to admire the local products, including oils, pasta, fruits and veggies, and leather goods.

We got back to the hotel with enough time to change into our swimsuits and hit the pool to cool down a bit and enjoy a poolside cocktail before the 6pm closing time. Dinner consisted of leftovers and items from our Carrefour trip along with a fresh pizza for Mr. E from a nearby restaurant that the porter recommended. We also shared the bottle of kosher Merlot that we had procured earlier in the day (and which was the same wine that Mr. E enjoyed with lunch).

Rome Trip (Day 5)

Day 5: Sunday, May 21
Civita d'Antino
I got up around my usual time and did a relatively quiet workout downstairs while Mr. E and J slept in. We all gathered for breakfast around 10am, enjoying the locally-made berry crostata and J's expertly made cappucinos. Mr. E and I both needed some extra coffee and protein, so J kindly made us some additional espressos and slow-basted eggs. Given the lingering clouds and threat of showers, we decided to forego our planned hike up to the nearby sanctuary and instead spent a couple of hours walking around Civita and learning more about its history, particularly its unique link to a group of Danish painters during the 19th century.

We eventually wandered over to the cheese-making demonstration and observed the milking of goats and sheep, playful antics of the sheep dogs, boiling and straining of the milk, and a sample of the final product.

Since we still had some time before our lunch appointment, J took us down to the Napoleonic Cemetery (hope that's the correct term), which is one of the few remaining extant examples from the era when all burials had to be outside the town walls. Interestingly, there's a small section outside the main building where one of the Danish artists is buried. Since he was Protestant, he couldn't join the other Catholic remains inside the building, but he was still honored enough in the town to deserve a burial spot.

We walked back up through the lower part of the town, admiring the cobblestone patterns, the fish in the reflecting pool, a couple of other interesting fountains, and a piece of "modern art," on our way to the Antica Osteria Zahrtmann restaurant for lunch.

The restaurant is owned and run by friends of J, who clearly have a passion and joy for hosting people and providing an amazing culinary experience featuring fresh, simple, local products. They were also wonderfully accommodating of my dietary limitations and allergies, which I always appreciate.

We began with fresh bread, a plate of antipasto cured meats for Mr. E and J, and large chunks of two local cheeses. The next course for Mr. E and J was the specialty salted cod, known as baccalá, which was in a salad-like mix with fresh greens, "bear garlic," and strawberries. Due to some potential translation issues, we weren't entirely sure if the bear garlic was "real" garlic (i.e. part of the allium family), but we figured it was better for me to avoid it, just in case. So my first dish was instead a delicious homemade spaghetti with fresh arugula, cherry tomatoes, and a very light sauce. Yum!

The next phase of the meal was ravioli for Mr. E and J and simple baked baccalá on a bed of arugula for me. At this point, my meal was done (that was plenty!), but Mr. E and J were served ribs in a fig reduction sauce with chestnuts and a final dish of baked lamb. Oh my... Mr. E forged ahead with trying dessert, which was a slice of rum-soaked panettone in a chocolate sauce, and I had a small bite just to taste. We all shared a bottle of the house red wine and quite a bit of water throughout the entire 3+ hour extravaganza. At the end of the meal, Mr. E and I also tried the house-made genziana, a distillate digestivo to help process all of the amazing food we had just consumed.

And, for this entire meal for the three of us, the total cost was only 85 euros. Incredible! Definitely worth so much more, both for the quality of the food and just the overall atmosphere and experience. Amazing!!!

Since S and the kids were spending the day in Rome, J kindly dropped us at a Metro stop near his father-in-law's apartment in the city, so we didn't have to take the train back as we had originally planned. We emerged at Flaminio, near where we'd had dinner the first night, and attempted to catch the #19 tram back to our hotel. For some reason, however, it didn't appear to be running, as we waited for nearly 45 minutes and saw quite a few #3 trams pass us by with no sign of a #19. So we ended up walking back though the Villa Borghese park and up the hill on Ulisse Aldrovandi. We were both still pretty full from lunch, so the walk was probably a good thing! I did munch on some of the yummy plain crunchy snack mix I'd bought during our Carrefour trip as we planned for the next day, and then Mr. E read a bit while I did my daily yoga before we both turned in for the night.