From the moment I jump in the cab, there is a sense of gradual transition as you journey into this incredibly beautiful city filled with dust, cracks, and occasional garbage bags. It’s all here.
For me it begins as we pass the Sheraton Hotel. Out in the distance is Esposizione Universale Roma (EUR), a 1930’s modernist vision community of how Rome should be in the new world. It didn’t really work out that well but it left us some interesting buildings and now a trendy neighborhood with parks and metro access to both the beach and the center of town. That’s the other thing about Rome – it’s a beach city. The Roman port of Ostia is connectible by metro from the beach resort through Acilia and trendy living areas of Rome to the Colosseum.
Then for me the real transition begins. The first sight of any significance is the white marble Pyramid of Cestius outside Porta San Paolo gate. Then you make that turn up the Aventine Hill with the Palatine Hill facing you. Residential palaces in pink Roman stone look down on the vast field of grass that is the Circus Maximus, one of the largest arenas in the world during roman times.
It becomes frenetic and exhausting at this point with ancient fragments popping up every second it seems. The right turn at the bottom of the hill takes you by the Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth). Opposite from that there is a Greek temple then a Roman temple and as the roads start to move around, you start to see what looks like the Colosseum but in fact is Marcello’s amphitheater, the Teatro di Marcello. Behind that is Octavia’s portal and the Jewish ghetto. On the right side lies the most glorious juxtaposition of stairways anywhere. There is the very subtle Capitoline Hill Stairs, the Cordonata, right next to the severe and steep medieval stairway that leads to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli. On the right hand side beyond the stairways is the slightly incongruous, but ever faithful tourist site for lost travelers, the 19th century wedding cake built to commemorate the unification of Italy in 1870 named the Vittorio Emanuele monument.
We are now in the Renaissance period with the Piazza Venezia with Trajan’s Forum on the right and I have disappeared into Rome before even my first cappuccino.
When you travel anywhere in January, especially in Europe, there is a good chance if you are an American and love American football, there is a major game going on. As it happened, I was in Barcelona when the Patriots were playing Kansas City so of course my first inquiry on my smart phone was to find an Irish bar.
Irish bars are these remarkable institutions found in every city in the world from Shanghai to Istanbul. The Irish understand the needs of the modern sports fanatic. Yes, they sell you Guinness and Harp along with local brews and average food, but the thing they do the best is stay open late so that we can all watch an American football game long after the other bars in the neighborhood have closed. Irish Bars and American Football simply go hand in hand. My favorite bar in Rome is Scholar’s Lounge and it is ironically next to Berlusconi’s house. I guess he doesn’t mind the commotion with all the parties he hosts!
Irish bars are good for soccer in the afternoon, and American football or baseball into the late evening and early morning. Plus they rock. They understand that one television screen is not enough – they have 10, maybe more – and everybody gathers there. I often thing that some people never leave the bars. In Barcelona, I’m not sure when the bar even closed. It’s a late city and the Irish bars can outlast any city ordinance for closing. It must be because my grandmother is Irish that I feel right at home drinking Guinness and watching an American football game in a beautiful city.
I’ve been coming to Rome for a long time, yet every time I want a great lunch I always end up at the same place: Da Fortunato al Pantheon. It seems as though the waiters have been there as long as I’ve been going there. They remember you, they’re nice. The most important thing is that the food is simply out of this world. I always have the same thing, depending on the season: either untarelle, a chicory dish with anchovies, or radicchioalla grilla, the spaghetti alla vongole veraci and a large bottle of sparkling water. It’s quite simply the greatest lunch experience I’ve ever had in the world.
It’s simple; the restaurant is discreetly tucked away behind the Pantheon Square, the Piazza della Rotonda. I am sort of a chaotic kind of guy and I know Rome really well – I like to experiment, try different restaurants, and discover new things in cities. But there’s never been a time where I’ve been in Rome and not gone to this marvelous institution; because in the end, there is simply nothing better than the food at this restaurant.