Porchetta will get us there

Our efforts in walking and riding across Roma yesterday caused an outbreak of sleeping in, despite the strongly irresistible hotel breakfasts and aided by our unusual move of closing the shutters on the window the night before. We had sussed out a cultural activity for today and happily discovered that it was (literally) around the corner from our hotel in the Palazzo degli Esami – Van Gogh Alive! The Multisensory Art Exhibition.

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Vinnie!

We made it to the exhibition by around 10am, purchased our tickets and headed in to what was basically a large format, high def slideshow of Vincent’s works that slid from era to era accompanied by period appropriate music. It was in a large, dark series of rooms and the producers had attempted to camp it up by (fortunately sparingly) animating some of the components of the artworks being projected, but, all in all, it was a lovely experience. Multiple large screens and a classical soundtrack which included Eric Satie’s Gymnopédies and Saint-Saën’s, Danse Macabre (which I’m glad was Saint-Saën, because I couldn’t figure out the relationship between Van Gogh and Jonathan Creek – Ich bin ein philistine!) we spent a lazy couple of hours immersed in the immersive experience, before heading out and over the road and into Trastevere for a walk through the old parts and a search for some lunch.

Lunch appeared to us in the form of a classic roman porchetta sandwich, which is exactly as advertised, porchetta on bread, heated for a moment in an oven, wrapped in thick paper and as delicious as hell. The porchetta fuelled us for the run to the sneaker shop (well, the tram and slow walk down via del Corso to the sneaker shop), where sadly, we couldn’t rouse number young son for his FaceTime visit to the store and he had to settle for the shoes we chose yesterday. Shoes purchased and feet sore, we kept slow walking through the posh stores for a while; stopping to admire street artists – actually we were privy to shift change for the guy dressed as a Maharajah floating cross-legged above the footpath. They threw a large black cloth over floating guy and the new guy and proceeded to thrash about like two cats in a bag for five minutes until both emerged as if nothing had happened in plain clothes (the floaty thing remained hidden so as not to ruin the magic).

Another couple of hours in the hotel bar and then out to dinner in the Jewish quarter, aiming for a restaurant that we discovered was closed. Fortunately (or not) it was very quiet in the old town (due to the sub-zero temperatures) and we bounced into the restaurant next door, Il Giardino Romano, which provided us with an adequate repast, though nothing special.

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Il Giardino Romano

The healing powers of the hotel bar

Right. So, we’re in Roma and recovered from the ignominy of dining at 7pm last night (with the tourists!) and ready to get out there. About this time last year, I was probably heaping praise on this hotel’s breakfast spread, so I’ll skip that bit, but suffice to say we were appropriately fortified to face the challenge of peak hour roman traffic to return our little Panda to the hire company.

The GPS had plotted a circuitous route that saw us plunge headfirst into the centre of Roma – so long as we could extract ourselves from the tetris-style park the Panda was now part of. A Smart4Two had parked perpendicular to the curb not 10cm behind us and ahead was about 20cm before the next car. Without the aid of reversing cameras, but with the able waving assistance of Pip, we managed to extract ourselves and escape as the next car was preparing to reverse into the space (how they even thought they could it, I do not know). The drive was surprisingly uneventful, despite the near squashing of a van driver who exited his vehicle while it was triple-parked in a two way street with triple-parked cars on both sides – we even managed to get fuel before we reached the rental car office.

Car dumped, we turned our attention to the eternal search for a wee café and found a jolly barista who even provided directions to the nearest railway station (’cause we were out in the Roman suburbs). In all the times we’ve been to Roma, we’ve never used the trains to get anywhere other than from or to the airport, and we even spoke of the metro, another first for us in Roma. The train was on an elevated line and we weren’t quite sure of our destination, which we subsequently discovered we over-shot by a couple of stations, and had to return to a station where the tannoy announcement boldly asserted that it was possible to change to the metro line A. The signs to metro line A pointed us out the door. That was it. Out in the car park – no metro station in sight. Turned out that it was indeed possible to change to the metro line A if you were prepared to walk about two kms up hill and around several corners. We did and metro line A soon delivered us to Termini, the main station and a short walk from Eataly in Piazza della Repubblica. We discovered Eataly in New York – the co-creation of a number of folk including Iron Chef, Mario Batali – and were keen to see the Italian version. Not as big, or extensive, (there is another larger one across Roma) but a likely luncheon venue and gift-atorium. Lunch was good, but not fantastic and we were successful in the gift buying department, before we headed out to join a large crowd of folk ogling the frozen fountain in the middle of the Piazza – unusual for Roma apparently.

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Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri – all freezed up.

Now fully engaged with the metro thing, we returned to the depths and subway-ed our way to the Spanish Steps, which featured another frozen fountain as well as the usual thronging masses and horse-drawn carriages. We spent the afternoon roaming the expensive shops along the Via Veneto and down around Via Corso, before stumbling into a sneaker shop to spoil our children (who are both sneaker-freakers). We had to take pics and seek approval and correct sizes before we could return to the shops tomorrow for purchasing. (even after the pictures, number young son wanted us to FaceTime him from the store tomorrow and film the rows of shoes …)

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Who approval required

A big day’s walking meant a big taxi home and a couple of hours in the well appointed hotel bar trying a range of remedies. Unwilling to risk being run out of town as early diners, we waited in the bar until 8:30-ish before heading up the road to the restaurant district of Trastevere for to find a restaurant. We found a very lively Tonnarello that provided us with a very lovely dinner and an amount of red wine to further aid our recovery from the big walking day. It was all fried squid, ox tail and meatballs before a dash back to the hotel in the -4C night.

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Tonnarello

If you see a break in the snow … Don’t you ever let a chance go by

We woke at dawn. That’s 7:15am. It was -8C. But it wasn’t snowing. There was snow out in the hills – we could see that coming. We knew we had a small window to run. We’d arranged with Emma, our contact, to leave the keys with the Neighbour’s letterbox. Left Emma a note explaining what had been left behind foodwise, grabbed the rubbish and our remaining bags and raced to the door, and entered the slow motion world of the icewalker. Negotiating fresh ice with several bags each was the sort of vision you’d see wind up on one of those compilation, “World’s Craziest Idiots” shows. Still we made it down to the main path in only 10 minutes and were home-free until Pip found some fresh ice and slipped. (Rudely, before I could get my camera out!)

No injuries apart from some pulled muscles and a twisty knee (quite a blow to her self-image as an ice dancer), but she was determined to crawl back to her feet and limp the rest of the way to dig out the car.

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Not our actual car – snow free by comparison!

Found the car with about a foot of ice and snow on it; doors frozen shut; wheels half covered in ice and snow – but it started and provided heat to the windscreen while Pip scraped away at the ice. We slipped out of the parking space and felt the snow chains grip the icy road just as the first flakes of the next snow storm started falling. Everything seemed to be working, the chains meant it was largely a second gear trip out of town, but we weren’t slipping and the brakes seemed to eventually stop stuff. Made it down the hill without incident – only the occasional car overtaking – and onto the Strada Statale 7, which was relatively clear. Our dilemma was whether to leave the snow chains on in case there was ice and snow on the road between here and the Autostrada, because if we took them off, we’d never get them back on again. It was about 85km and we were crawling along at 50km/h making a hell of a racket (as snow chains are wont to do), when the racket changed to a clanging, bashing kind of a racket, and not in a good way.

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Stock Photo – but taken this week

We pulled off to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, -4.5C on the dashboard gauge, light snow falling and thought for a while. A couple of cars stopped and enquired if we were alright. We were of course, as we’d decided to call the roadside assistance we’d paid extra for at the start of the rental. They didn’t have anyone available who could speak English, so asked for our number and they would call back in a couple of minutes. Got the same response when we called them back in half an hour. So we took stock of our supplies – half a bottle of drink and a packet of lemon Grisbees. We’d be OK. Decided to take things into my own hands and remove the snow chains (the crashing was the repair old mate in Calitri had done with wire coming un-repaired and flailing about inside the mudguard). Now I had bad memories of removing snow chains in my younger days – very difficult – and it was something I had not been looking forward to. Took a while, but got ’em off and continued our journey, hoping the road remained clear through to Avellino. Light snow fell most of the way, but very little and easily avoidable ice on the road. We were on target for Roma by 3:30pm.

It took until about noon before the 15cm of ice on the roof surprised up by slipping down over the windscreen and completely obscuring our vision for what seemed like an age while rounding a corner – but you know, newbie fail!

Now that we knew we would make Roma – we rang ahead and booked into our favourite hotel in Trastevere (Yes. We have a favourite hotel in Roma, so what?) and sat back for the 2 hour dash along the autostrada.

The drive into Roma was relatively easy and we arrived the hotel round 3:45pm, snatched a street park right near the place and hit the town. Sunday night in Roma – hit the Trevi Fountain and found a Chinese restaurant before a reasonably early night.

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