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We have wintered in Italy for four
of the last five years. The combination of low season
rates, fewer tourists and relatively warmer temperatures
than Toronto is a tough combination to beat. When Air
Canada had a seat sale to Roma, we grabbed it.
During previous winter visits, we
had traveled around Italy for about four weeks. This year
we extended the time to eight weeks, the majority of
which we would spend in Roma becoming entrenched in
everyday life. On our list for short visits by train were
Firenze, Genova, Bologna and Rimini and
Since we would be using the trains
in Italy only, we were armed with Trenitalia train passes
we obtained from Rail Europe before leaving Canada. We love traveling by
train, the convenience of rail passes and the cant-be-beat
service from Rail Europe.
The Air Canada flight was as good
as it gets in economy. We had an exit row with extra leg
room and empty seats in the center section across the
aisle where Linda as able to snooze for a while. Service
was very good and to top it off, we arrived fifteen
minutes early to sunny skies and 15░C.
With just carry-ons and a small shoulder bag we were off,
through customs and down the escalator to the Leonardo Express to Roma Termini in short order.
After purchasing bus tickets (1
euro for 75 minutes) we were just in time for the 360 bus
to Piazza Delle Muse (Parioli) and our home in Roma, Hotel Delle Muse. We have stayed here for years and when it
came time to plan this trip, we decided that there was
nowhere else we would rather stay. We enjoy living in
Parioli, an upscale neighborhood, close enough to the
city center. Its a pleasure to return to quiet
Parioli after wandering in the bustling city all day.
If you enjoy walking, its a
leisurely 45-60 minute walk to the city center. Otherwise,
the 360 bus stops very close to the hotel and its
just a 20-minute ride to Termini Station, where you can
make bus and metro connections to all parts of the city.
On the way to Termini, the 360 stops in Piazza Ungheria (10
minutes walk from the hotel), where you can change to
buses or trams to other parts of the city.
There are many
wonderful restaurants within easy walking distance of the
hotel. But you don't have to leave the hotel to enjoy an
excellent meal. The dining room is an extension of the
family spirit, a homey, cozy place to totally relax and
enjoy cooked-to-order, well-prepared dishes while sharing
as much conversation as you desire with other guests.
Hotel Delle Muse is a three-star hotel with five-star staff.
Its truly a home away from home. It is family-owned
and the long-serving staff is part of the family,
committed to the comfort of the guests. That is why most
of the clientele are regulars. We often find ourselves
meeting old friends in the dining room and lobby.
The hotel is housed in an old villa
with a pretty garden for lounging or enjoying a meal in
warm weather. The newly renovated rooms come in all sizes,
comfortably accommodating singles to families. All the
rooms have air conditioning, heating, en suite bathrooms,
satellite television, ADSL computer connections, heated
towel racks and direct dial phones. Our room also had a
large balcony with a table and chairs overlooking the
There are three computers at the
Internet point in the lobby. We enjoyed planning our
daily walks with the pocket-size guide book with coded
area maps and good descriptions of important sites, etc.
A separate city center map, with a coded list of most
streets on the reverse, is a practical and useful
supplement to the guide book. These excellent planning
tools are free for guests of the hotel.
After unpacking our bags (doesn't
take long to empty two carry-ons), we headed to the
dining room for lunch. Fresh mixed salad was followed by
two perfect pastas, spaghetti aglio, olio, pepperoncini
and tagliolini limone (thin pasta with lemon cream sauce).
Each day starts with a wide
assortment of breakfast foods; breads, fruits, vegetables,
cheeses, meats, yogurts, cakes, croissants, sweet buns,
cereals, juices and, new this year, chafing dishes with
scrambled eggs and bacon.
The lunch and dinner menu offers a
large selection of Primi pastas and soups and Secondi
beef, pork and chicken dishes. If you are in the mood for
fresh fish, just give the kitchen 24 hours notice.
Rounding out the offerings are salads, pizzas, and a
substantial vegetarian buffet. There is a daily menu that
includes a primo, secondo, contorno and dolce (first,
second, vegetable and dessert) for 15 euro, bread and
service included. Dining here is a wholesome, delicious,
fun experience and a good value option.
A Roman friend called to invite us
to join him and his wife for a visit to Orbetelo the next
morning. We do not normally like to get up early after a
long flight, but heck, we couldn't pass up the
opportunity to be with old friends and discover a new
Orbetelo is beautifully situated
next to the sea in the Maremma Region of Tuscany on a
small peninsula surrounded by two salt water lagoons,
Levante and Ponente. Nearby is the lovely seaside town of
San Stefano and offshore are Isola del Giglio and Isola
di Giannutri. This area is a very popular second home
destination for Rome residents.
We arrived in time
for the open air market set up on the banks of one of the
lagoons. It is very popular with the locals because there
is a nice assortment of quality offerings at good prices.
Our friends found some excellent wicker baskets and I
couldn't resist an addition to my hat collection and some
underwear at an incredibly low price. Poor Linda could
not find a suitable bargain.
Orbetelo has precious old,
pleasantly worn, narrow streets and buildings. This area
attracts an upscale crowd which is reflected in the fine-quality
shops along the main street. The sights and smells of
food always attract us and before long we were munching
on focaccia fresh from the oven, one topped with shredded
potato and the other with basil both with
scrumptious olive oil.
If you love life by the sea this is
a marvelous area for spending time in the warmer months
with beaches, boating, islands, swimming, fishing and
We didnt do much advance
planning for our time in Roma. Each day we would awake
when we felt like it, have a light breakfast and hit the
streets. Today was Sunday and we were still recovering
from the flight and our hasty trip to Tuscany. We slept
late and decided to take a walk around our Parioli
neighborhood to see if anything had changed since last
year. Everything was just as we remembered it except for
an apartment building being renovated around the corner
from the hotel, overlooking the park of Villa Ada. We
were ready to buy until we realized it would take a multi-million
euro lottery win to close the deal.
We did manage to
find a ristorante we had not tried before and returned
later in the evening for dinner. Taverna Rossini is
located on Viale G. Rossini 54. There is an outdoor patio
at the front weather permitting. The interior is
attractive brick and stone on two levels. The menu is
extensive and the prices are reasonable. We were seated
next to two Americans who are living in Parioli. They are
regulars here, as most were. There are never many
tourists in this part of the city, so you know that
"tourist trap" restaurants wont succeed
theyd never pass muster with the
sophisticated Parioli locals.
I started with zuppa di farro e
porcini followed by a secondo of tagliata de manzo (sliced
beef steak) in wine and herb sauce. The large portion,
grilled medium rare, was tender and tasty - a winner.
Linda thoroughly enjoyed her grilled lamb chops which she
declared had the wonderful natural flavor of fresh young
lamb. Good food, delightful dining neighbors and cheerful
wait staff made for a lovely dining experience.
Last year we purchased a Vodafone rechargeable SIM card and when we left
Italy, ran into roaming problems and charges for calls to
correct the problem. Today we hit the trail to the Via
del Corso location, where we had purchased the SIM, to
rectify the problems.
From Hotel Delle Muse it's about a 15-minute walk to the Borghese
Gardens where we took Via Pinciana along the gardens to
Via Francesco Crispy onto Via Della Mercede which ends at
Via del Corso. It had been about 45 minutes of walking
when the aromas a tavola calda at 46-47 Via Delle Mercede
overcame our senses. The throngs lined up for the
homemade foods and pizza al taglio (cut, sold by weight)
drew us in. We continued walking, while nibbling
When we arrived at Vodafone at 14:00
we found that they do not be open until 15:30 so we felt
obliged to wander down the street to our favorite
gelateria, Giolitti, at Via degli Uffici del Vicario 40,
for our first treat of 2006. Chocolate and bacio for
Linda and pistacchio and noci for me, both topped with
heavenly panna (whipped cream). Its always busy
here and particularly so at this hour as shoppers and
office staff are finishing off their lunches with dolci.
Back to Vodafone, we found the
young woman who took care of us last year. Its such
a busy office; we were surprised that she remembered us.
She tried to solve our problem and when she took it as
far as she could, she turned us over to one of her
associates, Giorgia, who worked with us very patiently
until she addressed all issues and we were 100% satisfied.
She told us that a credit would be issued within 24 hours
and we would get a text message to that effect. We got
the text message and to our surprise and delight a
telephone call from Giorgia to inform us that the credit
had shown up on our account. We were very impressed by
the level of customer care.
We went back to the Vodafone office
on via del Corso before returning to Toronto to recharge
the SIM, to protect our telephone number and cash balance
until next winter. Giorgia informed us that she had been
reassigned to central customer service and this was her
last day at the branch. Way to go, Giorgia, theyve
got your number!
Linda was in the market for a new
jacket by her favorite designer, SALDI! We joined the
throngs of shoppers who know the value of a euro. In two
hours she tried on 177 sale jackets without success.
On Via del Tritone we boarded bus #53
to Piazza Ungheria, a 10-minute walk from Hotel Delle Muse, and went to the supermercato across from
the bus stop to pick up some goodies for our room. Rather
than walk home with our bundles, we jumped on the 360 (with
our still-valid bus tickets), which came along just as we
exited the market.
Although our tickets were never
checked on the 360, there was fairly regular checking on
buses we took in the city center. The cost is so
reasonable; it doesnt pay to risk the penalty for
being caught without a valid ticket.
Back at the hotel, we had delicious
fettuccini with porcini mushrooms and some interesting
conversation with fellow guests from Norway.
The family environment of the hotel
is a reflection of its owner, Giorgio Lazar. He is ever-present
in body or spirit making sure that every guest is treated
with care and dignity.
Because he knows that we are always
looking for interesting places to visit he makes it his
business to have a list ready for us, which he
deliberately doles out slowly, slowly, so that we won't
be confused. :-) Today he suggested two churches which
share the same grounds: The Basilica of St. Agnes outside the
Walls and the Mausoleum of Santa
Costanza. They are located at Via Nomentana 364 although
the main entrance to Sant'Agnese is at Sant'Agnese 35.
The day was sunny and bright at
about 10C. The walk took 30 minutes from the hotel. At
Piazza Ungheria we turned onto Via Panama along the
grounds of Villa Ada which becomes a wide boulevard
called Via Chiana. We were intrigued by Trieste
neighborhood, another desirable residential area with
nearby shopping and eating choices and easy access to the
At the end of Via Chiana we turned
left and then right onto Viale Gorizia to Via Nomentana
and left again to our destination.
When we entered the portico of Sant'Agnese
fuori le mura, we met a television production crew from
Canada filming a documentary based on the novel "The
Geometry of Love" by Margaret Visser which is rooted
in this church. It was neat meeting fellow Canadians
documenting the work of a Canadian author.
The church, built at the level of
the catacombs, is accessed via a dramatic wide marble
staircase decorated with sculptures and inscriptions from
the catacombs. Its an exquisite church, built on a
basilical plan, with three aisles; marble pillars in the
nave support the seating for the nuns in a lovely
frescoed gallery, below a richly-decorated, wooden
ceiling. The apse is marble with a Byzantine-like mosaic
in the upper part depicting Sant'Agnese receiving the
crown of martyrdom from the hand of God.
The Baroque canopy of the high
altar is from 1614 and the statue of Sant'Agnese is from
the 17th century. The tomb of Sant'Agnese is below the
high altar and can be visited with a reservation. The
famous Catacombe di Sant'Agnese can be visited as well.
There is a garden and bocce club
between the church and the Mausoleum de Costanza. The
remains of a large basilica (which may have been a
covered cemetery) are in the garden. The mausoleum is the
only preserved part.
We stopped in the bocce club for a
quick coffee break and enjoyed watching the retired
gentlemen sitting around tables playing various card
games and smoking, beneath the no smoking signs.
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