Tag Archives: Lunch

Castel Gandolfo: Vatican by train

13 Sep
One of the goals we have in staying in Italy for some time to come is to continue exploring our own backyard, i.e., Roma and environs. We’ve enjoyed some less-visited sights over the past three years, and continue to look for new ones. Afterall, una vita non basta!
St. Peteràa from the inside. A view from the garden, where the Pope takes his daily walk.

St. Peter’s from the inside. A view from the garden, where the Pope takes his daily walk.

Early last week a new tour was announced in the Italian press: Vatican by Train. That got Ric’s interest pretty fast. According to the press, the tour, called “Vatican by Train Full Day” would run only on Saturdays and the first run was September 12. We could be on-board for the maiden voyage!
Here’s what the Vatican website had to say
With the exceptional opening of the Barberini Gardens and of the Museum of the Apostolic Palace, the Pontifical Residence of Castel Gandolfo welcome the public at large.
Visitors who book the Vatican by Train will have access to the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Gardens and to the botanical and architectural wonders of the Pontifical Residence, known by as the “second Vatican”.
Further exploration revealed an ambitious schedule and the likelihood of a 13 hour day away from home, but we have time…. The schedule for the day broke down like this (wording from the Vatican website)
8.00 am: Avoid the queue at the entrance. Tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel with an audio guide;
10.00 am: Walking tour of the Vatican Gardens with an audio guide;
11.00 am: Departure from Train Station of the Vatican City State to Albano Laziale and transfer to the Pontifical Villas by shuttle;
12.30 pm: Tour of the Pontifical Villas (Villa Barberini) by tourist train with an audio guide;
1.30 pm: End of the tour and exit from the Pontifical Villas.
Free time
4.45 pm: Transfer from the Pontifical Villas to the train station of Albano Laziale by shuttle;
5.18pm: Departure from the Train Station of Albano Laziale to the Roma San Pietro Station
Beautiful lawns fall away toward teh train station. Hard to imagine all of this is inside Vatican City.

Beautiful lawns fall away toward the train station. Hard to imagine all of this is inside Vatican City.

Leaving home about 06:30, we arrived at the museum entrance a few minutes before 8:00, fortified by cappucino e cornetto at a nearby bar. It was clear lunch would be a long way off and we had miles to go before we ate. We were admitted quickly, as promised with our voucher. Exchanging it for tickets and an audio guide took a few minutes, but by 8:25 we were outside the Pinacoteca, which we had decided would be our focus.
There is no way one can “do” the Vatican Museums in less-then-two hours. A few people we spoke to later in the tour tried a mad dash to the highlights such as the Sistine Chapel and Hall of Maps, but everyone eventually realized this was not a best-of-the-Vatican tour.
Fountain in the Vatican Gardens, reminiscent of Villa d'Este.

Fountain in the Vatican Gardens, reminiscent of Villa d’Este.

Our decision to focus on the Pinocateca was fortuitous: We were completely alone for at least 20 minutes. Just Ric and me, fabulous works of art, and a dozen guards hunched over their smartphones. (Whatever did museum guards do before they had smartphones?) Some tour groups arrived, stopped at major works then moved quickly on. We took our time, saw the entire gallery, then had a brief rest before the garden tour. If you ever want to be alone in the Vatican Museums, head for the Pinocateca at opening.
Under clear blue skies and warm-not-hot sun we were escorted through the Vatican Gardens by a group of uniformed guides and a number of “suits” and journalists. The museum officials were shepherding the inauguration carefully, ensuring it went smoothly. And it mostly did.
Bougainvilla still in bloom, the Vatican Gardens.

Bougainvilla still in bloom, the Vatican Gardens.

Our garden tour was also audio-guided, and we had a wee map with audio points described, but it was difficult to know where our group of about 100 people was and when we should punch up each number. Still it was beautiful, not at all what I expected, and while not encompassing the entire tour (which according to the website is 2 hours long) it was a good overview.
We ended at the Vatican train station, a seldom-used and closed-to-the-public relic of a prior era. Thanks to Papa Francesco, more of the Vatican properties are being opened to mere mortals and the chance to take the train out of this station was a strong motivator for us.
Not the steam train the media portrayed....

Not the steam train the media portrayed….

We expected a steam train. All the news media featured a vintage train, but on arrival we found a modern Trenitalia train of the type used on the FR lines. It was fine, comfortable and air-conditioned, but not the historic experience expected. I have to wonder if there was another train that day, but all of the articles I’ve found were written before the 12th and so I think the pictures are “file photos” and certainly not from the event we attended.
We had a nice ride to the station at Albano Laziale, where buses met us and ferried us through narrow streets and up the hill to the entrance to the gardens. There, we boarded a trenino to tour the estate, again with audio guide. Absolutely stunning is all I can say. I had no idea Domitian had a summer palace here, but then why wouldn’t he? The history is, as with almost any grand villa in Italy, long and complex. What remains is a place of beauty comparable to Versailles. Some is wooded, some planted in formal gardens, and there is a farm. Did you know the Pope has a farm? Chickens, white goats, cows, bees: everything one needs in a self-sustaining estate.
Click on any photo to enlarge it or for a slideshow.
Wrapping up about 14:40, we had three hours of free time. We set off to find a restaurant along the lake, where we had lunched a couple of years ago. But wait, where the hell was the lake? Pulling up Googlemaps we found we were in Albano Laziale, not Castel Gandolfo. Duh! Not close to the lake, we started wandering the town, which was mostly closed for la pausa. Not a lot of restaurant options we could see, but peeking down a little alley Ric spotted a trattoria. From where we stood it looked closed, although someone was inside sweeping up. “Siete aperti?” I asked. “Sí! Accommodatevi!” We took a cute table on the patio just as a group of Americans we knew trooped in. They, too, had been surprised by ending in Albano Laziale. They had a reservation for lunch 3 km away in Castle Gandolfo! Feeling slightly less stupid for misunderstanding, we relaxed and prepared to enjoy lunch. We were fortunate to have a little family from the U.K. join us at a neighboring table and engaging in conversation we discovered they had expected to end the tour at the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo. Surprise!  Perhaps all of the English-speakers misunderstood? Maybe the Vatican website was less-than-clear? Nonetheless, I can highly recommend Trattoria Rosmarino should you make the trip to Albano.
Cin cin! At Trattoria Rosmarino. Highly recommend!

Cin cin! At Trattoria Rosmarino. Highly recommend!

A long lunch ate up the free time (pun intended). There are a number of ruins and sites in Albano for the more industrious tourist, but we had been on-the-go since dawn with not much energy left, so a luxurious lunch was perfect. Back on the shuttle bus before 16:30, we arrived at San Pietro Station just in time to get a train to the tram to go back home, another adventure in public transportation for us.
Isaac, our dining partner at Rosmarino.

Isaac, our dining partner at Rosmarino.

We were very confused about the relationship between the estate we toured in Albano and the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo. A little map-based research showed they are on the same property, but the gardens are accessed by the public through Albano, and the Apostolic Palace is at the other end, the north end, closer to the lake. One can visit the Apostolic Palace, any day but Sunday, and only in the morning, and apparently only through the month of October, presumably to be revived in the spring.
I suspect another day trip to the area is in our near future.
For more information on all of the tours, go to the Vatican’s Online Ticket Office. 

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015!

6 Jan
The last two weeks have been busy what with four – count ’em – four holidays in Italy! December 25 and 26 (Santo Stefano) we spent in Ortisei (see prior posts), then returning from vacation we had two more holidays to enjoy: New Year’s Day and Epifania.  Life is good!
New Year’s Eve we traveled to our favorite trattoria in Roma, Antica Taverna. The owner Paolo and our favorite waiter, Giovanni, took good care of us and we enjoyed a protracted dinner with too many dishes to name them all and a steady supply of good red wine. The dessert was the only item I managed to photograph, a delightful tortino al cioccolato.  It tasted 10 times better then it looks. It was THAT GOOD.  We slipped out before 23:00 in hopes of finding a cab before the whole city descended into chaos. The buses stop running at 21:00 on NYE because they can’t make it through the streets effectively. Can you imagine? Shutting down the buses because there are too many people in the streets? The Metro runs but unfortunately nowhere near our home. We can walk from Antica Taverna to home in 75-90 minutes, but it was really cold (for Roma) and walking did not seem like much fun. What luck! We found a cab at an obscure cabstand near the restaurant! Got home in time to endure 45 minutes of neighborhood revelry.  Some year we need to be brave and go down to the party in via Fori Imperiali and see the fireworks over the Colosseo. Some year.
This weekend was the start of the winter saldi (sales). We had a couple of purchases in mind and headed out into a bright if chilly Sunday along with THOUSANDS of people making their way to our destination, a major shopping street near the Vatican. We made our way by bus to transfer to the Metro at Termini. The Metro was packed like the Japanese subway on a business day. I wanted to take a picture of how crowded it was, but I couldn’t maneuver to do so packed in as I was with my arms pinned! We wondered at so many people heading out to shop! We might have bailed in the Metro station but by that time we were like cows going through chutes and there was no turning back. Moo. When we got to our stop, the hoards headed down the street toward the Vatican. It was then that we realized they were headed to Piazza San Pietro for the Pope’s angelis. Shopping was busy too, but not quite the cattle drive.
Today is Epifania, the official end to the Christmas season, also called Befana, when the witch La Befana visits the children leaving candy for the good ones and coal for the not-so-good children. Having no young children around and having spent Christmas out of Roma, we decided to have a small group of friends for a decidedly non-traditional lunch. Is Italian-Swedish a fusion cuisine? Our new friends and soon-to-be-landlords had voiced an interest in Swedish meatballs, and she wanted to make a special Neopolitan pastiera for dessert. Combined with a purè di patate casserole, Swedish pickled herring, Swedish cheese, a beet salad, and Italian salumi, it was cross-cultural event. Unfortunately as we got into entertaining we forgot to take more pictures!
So now we have to go a week-and-a-half until the next holiday, Martin Luther King’s birthday. Hope I can make it!

Bits and pieces

30 Nov
It has been a long time since I posted to Good Day Rome. How to catch you up on our busy month?
We started with an outing on Ognisanti (All Saints’ Day) November 1. It was a spring-like start to November and we were not alone, but it was divine to walk among the ancient aqueducts yet be so close to home.  Click on any picture for a larger view. 
Ric had a couple of eye doctor appointments, including one with a doctor who specializes in the vitreous gel of the eye and the retina.  (Narrow focus.) This doctor said no further treatment was needed (yea!) but that he should have frequent check-ups. Va bene.
In sharp contrast to last year’s memorable and wonderful event, we choose to spend a quiet Thanksgiving this year: no cooking. I made a turkey breast on Sunday prior and we ate some excellent meals during the week, but on The Day we ate a decidedly Italian lunch at our favorite trattoria, following  a visit to the Norman Rockwell exhibition that is currently in Rome.  
We hardly recognized Antica Taverna when we arrived for lunch on Thursday! We have been eating there for years, 90% of the time in their delightful outdoor area, under the sky in summer and in the enclosed, heated “annex” in winter or rain. The Mayor of Rome, Sindaco Marino, has waged war on what they call tavolino selvaggio or “wild tables,” and has made the restaurants in the centro storico pull their tables to a minimal protuberance. The motorini can go through and cars can pass through the ZTL practically knocking pedestrians out of their way, but the tables have to be cut back. Even in Piazza Navona they have receded.  This new regulation severely restricts the small restaurants like AT that have more than 50% of their seating outside. Jobs were lost in this stupid move, but I doubt Marino will be mayor for long so perhaps the tables will go wild again.
I also started a new blog, Our Weekly Pizza, to chronicle our ongoing mission. Please take a look. If you like you can subscribe, or you can find it on Facebook , Google+ and Twitter.
We are wrapping up November with Christmas preparations. The holiday movie season kicked off with our annual viewing of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” on Wednesday, and our extensive  collection (I think 28) Christmas movies is queued for viewing. The apartment is decorated except we do not yet have a tree. Hope to pick one up tomorrow. (Much more of a challenge than you might think.)  We have two trips coming up as well: Venice in early December and hiking in the Dolomites over Christmas. I will be sure to post some photos from those expeditions.
What have all of you been up to?

Surprising Spiez

6 Jan

I wasn’t going to blog today (January 5) but we had such an interesting experience in Spiez, Switzerland, I had to write.

Castle on a lake

Castle on a lake

We had a 3 hour layover in Spiez, waiting for our train to Milano. Good time for a walk and lunch. Spying the restaurant in the train station, I checked the menu just-in-case that was our only option. Spiez is small, it’s Sunday in religiously conservative Switzerland, and choices might be limited.

In the U.S. certainly, and for the most part in Italy, one would not expect much in the way of “cuisine” in a railroad station these days. In Italy you can get a good panino to-go, decent wine, pastries, and of course, fine espresso on-the-run. In my limited experience in train stations in the U.S., all I have seen is over-cooked hotdogs, bags of chips, and similar culinary delights. Gone are the days of white tablecloths, crystal glasses and sparkling flatware with “home-cooked” Sunday dinner. My expectations were not high for Spiez.

After a walk thru the town (there’s a castle and a lake), we returned to the station, not having seen

Castle kitty, expectant mamma

Castle kitty, expectant mamma

another option. To our surprise the Restaurant Bahnhoff Buffet was thronged with diners (most of them older than we are) and the clock was only touching noon! Despite the fact we did not have a reservation (who knew?!), they seated us next to a cute old couple (yes, even to us they were old) and their ancient hund. Although my German is almost non-existent, it was better than the server’s English, so we managed to order one of the four daily specials. It was the best meal at the best value of any we had in Switzerland the past few days! Starting with potato soup, we then had access to a salad bar.

Fish filets, potatoes and carrots. The big yellow things are NOT lemons. They are buttered potatoes.

Fish filets, potatoes and carrots. The big yellow things are NOT lemons. They are buttered potatoes.

In typical efficient Swiss manner, much like dining in small town USA, the entrées were delivered before we could finish our salads: perfectly pan-fried perch, buttered potatoes, al dente carrots, side of tartar sauce. I felt like I was back in Lindstrom, MN, having the Sunday dinner special at the Dinner Bell Café, except there the fish would have been walleyed pike. The tables were lined with locals whom we suspect eat there every Sunday. For CHF 19.50 (about Euro 15.85) per person we had a 3-course fresh, reasonably healthy meal.  Of course, in typical local fashion, a glass of mineral water and a cup of coffee were about CHF 4.00 each, clearly a profit generator. We were thus successful in emptying Ric’s pockets of Swiss francs before returning to Italy. Another reminder of small town USA “dining:” Elapsed time from entering the restaurant to exiting: 45 minutes. In Italy we’d have barely finished in time to make our train 2 hours later.

The dining room at Restaurant Bahnhoff Buffet, full of locals, no English.

The dining room at Restaurant Bahnhoff Buffet, full of locals, no English.

Another amazing thing I have not seen in all of our travels the past 3 years: lockers. Switzerland apparently is not in fear of people who would do harm leaving objectionable items in stations. For CHF 5.00, we were able to secure both suitcases and walk freely about the city. What a treat! We saw lockers in the small towns of the Berner-Oberland, and now in Spiez.  There is luggage storage in many Italian stations, with an attendant who will charge a few euros for a few hours of storage. However, some of these close (of course!) for la pausa at midday. So if your train is at 13:00, you may not be able to retrieve your bag because la signora who took your euros and gave you a claim check is enjoying her 90 minute lunch, obviously away from the train station since there is not a nice Bahnhoff Buffet.

If you are ever in Spiez, don’t hesitate to eat at the train station. If it’s Sunday, you might want to call ahead for a reservation!

The castle in Spiez

The castle in Spiez

On the last day of Christmas….

Piazza Navona Jan 6If you were a tourist in Rome today, Epiphany, you’d have awakened to beautiful sunshine. Perhaps desiring to go to Piazza Navona and see Bernini’s masterful Fountain of the Four Rivers, sipping a glass of wine in a cafe, gazing at the fountain. Ah, bliss! Except when it is La Befana or L’Epifania, a national holiday. It seems every family in Rome was there today to visit the Christmas market one more time.  Balloons and strollers, parents and grandparents, vendors and street performers: Absolute madness.  Today was the LAST day of the 12 days of Christmas. Tomorrow is back to school!

Minnows for Lunch

5 Sep

I don’t miss having a car, but from time to time we succumb and rent one. For one thing, we need to keep up our skills, and we also find it handy for certain shopping trips. Plus it’s necessary to have a car to see some of the more rural sites not efficiently served by train or bus. So a few weeks ago we targeted the Labor Day weekend for some daytrips and shopping, planning to rent a car.

Because our little neighborhood Hertz franchise closes from 1:00PM Saturday until 8:30AM Monday, we need pick up the car on Saturday morning. So we planned a few adventures: a trip to Villa d’Este in Tivoli to see it at night, which is only possible a few nights each summer; a shopping trip to IKEA; a daytrip to the hill town of Cività di Bagnoreggio, which is hard to reach by bus. Then Ric got roped into working Saturday and Monday, so we curtailed the plan to go to Cività. Oh well.

Freshwater lake in Lazio, peaceful, uncrowded, great lakeside dining.

Freshwater lake in Lazio, peaceful, uncrowded, great lakeside dining.

Summer is waning so although Ric had worked a long day Saturday, in the evening we set off for Tivoli with a Google Map printout in hand, the name of a very good restaurant, and high expectations for Villa d’Este.  But thanks to the genius of Italian street signs and the inefficiency of the GPS on my phone, we never found Villa d’Este nor the restaurant.

The street signs have two points of failure: street names do not correspond to what Google Maps says they should be, and the “way-finding” signs are impossible to follow.  I would turn in the direction pointed to by a neat little Villa d’Este sign, then turn at another, and then see nothing. No further directional, no entrance signs, no parking lots, lots of dark streets. So I would come around and try again. Nothing. I asked locals and they pointed in what (to them) was an obvious direction. But nothing. Maybe we are idiots but with both of us searching high and low, we could not find this place. I resorted to the GPS on my phone which has gotten us out of jams in the past, but she insisted we drive down a limited access street into a Zona Traffico Limitato, which would carry a huge fine. By this time, we’d been in the car about 90 minutes, Ric was tired and cranky as a toddler, so finally we settled on a place to eat – I would rate it as OK – and once fortified tried again to find our star attraction. Still unable to find it, we headed back to Rome, where apparently we should have stayed for this evening. I seldom get lost walking.

Cut guy I had lunch with at Lago Bracciano.

Cute guy I had lunch with at Lago di Bracciano.

On the bright side, we got to IKEA before the crowds on Sunday, then headed north to a lake I’d read about, Lago di Bracciano.  Here we found a quiet freshwater beach scene with excellent lakeside dining. We did not get lost and had a fine lunch. I had a broiled freshwater fish called coregone, which is much like some of the types in lakes in the Midwest of the U.S., and Ric had a fritto misto that included a large number of what looked like whole fried minnows. We certainly used a lot of minnows as bait for fishing in Minnesota but can’t say I ever saw them in a Friday fish fry. These were very tasty, but we got the giggles to think of eating minnows.

Next summer our niece and nephew will visit with their two kids, followed by Ric’s son with wife and four children. Since they will be here during high heat, a trip out to Lago di Bracciano might be just the ticket for cooling off. But we’ll have to rent a car. <SIGH>

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