DM and MM's Italy/France 2012 Diary

Day 3 - San Giovanni

Monday, 30 April, 2012

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We have just finished a leisurely lunch back at our apartment. We bought bread first thing this morning from a bakery on a corner just a short stroll away, and added cheese, tomato, cucumber, and also prosciutto for me from a small supermarket just a couple of blocks in the other direction. We stopped there on the way back in from our morning excursion, which was to San Giovanni to see the basilica there and also the street market at Via Sannio.

We slept straight through from about 20:30 last night until we both woke up at 04:45 this morning, so that was a solid eight hours. We dozed a little bit more after that. With a later bedtime tonight, that should take care of any remaining jetlag. The sun came up a bit before six and we got up for an early start since we were awake.

The first thing to do was procure some breakfast, which we did at the aforementioned bakery. It was a smart little shop on a corner, with counters full of delicious looking sweet biscuits and other tempting morsels such as cannoli and pastries. We didn't see any croissants though, so I asked the guy if they had any, and he said they were out the back and asked what sort we wanted. He spoke a bit of English so we had no real trouble. We got two cornetti con marmalata, which turned out to be a very earthy jam of blackberry I think, with a hint of something else in it, almost aniseedy. The croissants were delicious and we enjoyed every last sugar glazed crumb. We also bought a large loaf of pane sciapo, which is a very crusty white loaf that we used for our sandwich lunch just now. We'll definitely have to go back to that bakery again to pick up some of their other treats.

While we were out, M. filled her water bottle with fresh spring water from one of the many drinking fountains that dot the city here. It was interesting being out and about so early, as we saw several delivery trucks going about their business and only a few other people walking around the tiny streets near our apartment.


We've just returned from dinner. But first to complete the morning's adventures.

After breakfast we headed over to Piazza di Spagna to catch the Metro to San Giovanni. On the way we spotted the supermarket we'd failed to locate last night, just opening for business, with metal shutters half rolled up. It was no wonder we hadn't noticed it last night, as it was completely hidden with the shutters down.

Spanish Steps: empty
The Spanish Steps at 07:00 am

Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps were virtually empty this early in the morning, so we spent some time getting some photos of us on the otherwise empty steps. Unfortunately we couldn't sit on the steps, because they'd just been hosed down and were wet. One or two other tourists were there taking photos, but it was easy to get shots with nobody on the steps, which must be a rare occurrence at most other times.

We bought tickets and took the Metro six stations south to San Giovanni. The morning commute at this time wasn't very busy and it was a quicker trip than we expected, so we arrived at San Giovanni pretty much right on 08:00, when the street market was supposed to open according to the Lonely Planet. First, however, we stopped in a nearby bar so M. could have a cappuccino, while I had an orange juice. I expected this to be freshly squeezed from the oranges they had on display in a bowl, but they simply opened a small bottle of juice. It was dark red blood orange juice, and delicious. Then we located an ATM and got some cash out, walking a couple of blocks south until we found one. Then we headed to the street market, only to find most of the stall holders just setting up for the day, with many of them having nothing out yet.

Christo Salvatori
Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterino

We decided to kill some time by walking over to the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterino. This enormous cathedral was an imposing square edifice with numerous large statues on the top of the front facade. Before we got there though we passed by numerous workers setting up a large stage for tomorrow's May Day concert, doing sound checks and so on. Inside, the Basilica was amazing, with giant marble statues lining the walls, a detailed coloured marble mosaic floor, and a stunning ceiling covered with gold and other decorations. We arrived at a good time, as the Basilica was fairly empty, but as we walked around several large tour groups came in. One group set up in the seats right in front of the central altar and began singing. As we finished our tour of the building, a procession of priests emerged from a door and began some sort of service with the group.

Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterino
Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterino, interior

At this point we retired to the attached cloister area, for an admission fee of €3 each. This led us into a secluded courtyard with a lovely garden of lawn, roses, and other flowers, surrounded by a marble columned walkway. Around the outside walls were fragments of decorations that had been used in the Basilica, or were left from Roman times in the area. A room off the side held various priestly vestments and tapestries that had previously been displayed in the Basilica. Another room here held some toilets, which we made use of; they were brand new and incredibly clean and modern.

Basilica floor
Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterino, floor

We left the Basilica and headed over to the Via Sannio markets, which were set up by now. The stalls along the street were pretty junky, with incredibly cheap faux leather bags and jackets and belts, watches, sunglasses, socks, and underwear. Every second stall was basically selling exactly the same stuff. But when we reached the western end of the street and turned into a collection of stalls that were set up in perpendicular rows leading back from the street, they turned out to have some better quality stuff like jeans, T-shirts, and real leather goods.

M. stopped at one leather jacket stall to try some on. The old woman there didn't speak much English beyond the names of a few colours. She repeated "bella" a lot whenever M. tried a jacket on, and compared her to the "principessa nuova", which I determined was "Princess" Kate. M. liked the look of a blue jacket, and when I asked the woman the price she indicated it was originally €120, but she would reduce it to €90 for us. A minute later, without any further prompting, as we simply silently considered this, she reduced it to €85. She said it was made in Bologna, where they have the best leather, and it was a copy of a Dolce Gabbana style. At this point we decided to look around a bit more first and left to check out some of the other stalls. M. tried on some jackets at some of those, but liked the first blue one best, so we eventually returned to the old woman's stall. As M. tried the jacket on again, the woman told us it was only €80. Now the bargaining began. I'd told M. that when we offered something lower, the woman would launch into her story about having starving kids and not being able to pay the rent and so on. I suggested a price of €60, and she duly launched into the routine, insisting (in rapid Italian) that at €80 she was giving us such a special deal that it would bankrupt her, or something to that effect. I went up to €70 and she gave me the "you poor deluded boy" look and actually patted me on the cheek. She refused to move even to €75, which I was actually expecting she would leap at, so we bit the bullet and handed over €80. It's tough bargaining in a foreign language in a foreign country, especially when you don't even have any real bargaining skills in your own language.

Via Sannio market
Markets at Via Sannio

As we left, M. said she'd been prepared to pay something of the order of €250 for a leather jacket here, so was very pleased with her purchase. Obviously it's not a big brand name and the quality may not be quite as high as that, but M. gave a it a good once over and seemed happy with it. There were quite a few Italians in the market buying similar stuff, so obviously they go there for bargain clothing as well.

We hopped back on the Metro to Spagna. By now it was midday and the trains were packed with people, so it was a tight squeeze. Not quite a full on crush from all sides, but close to it. The Spanish Steps were now populated with a lot of tourists, but nothing like the mass we saw yesterday. We stopped briefly for a few photos, then walked back down Via Condotti to our apartment. We stopped on the way in the supermarket to pick up some groceries. It turned out to be a tiny, squished affair, stuffed into one of the old buildings that make up this central part of Rome. The entire supermarket was about the size of two normal shops, with aisles so narrow you had to turn sideways if someone wanted to walk past you. We picked up some apples and pears, as well as tomatoes and a cucumber, weighing and labelling them ourselves as we'd learnt to do last time we were in Italy. We grabbed some emmenthaler cheese, and some prosciutto, then some Weetabix and milk for breakfast. I looked for dental floss (which I'd forgotten to pack in our hurry to leave home), but they didn't have any, so I picked that up in the pharmacy right near our apartment as we walked back (where it cost a whopping €5 for one tiny packet; we later found them in the supermarket for much less).

Spanish Steps: full
The Spanish Steps, now full of people

Back in our accommodation, we made sandwiches using the bread we bought this morning and the supplies from the supermarket. It was good to have a simple home made sandwich lunch, rather than buying more pizza or something out. As we were eating lunch, a light rain started falling outside. We'd felt a few drops at the market earlier, but now it hung around for maybe half an hour as we were eating. But then it cleared up and the sun started to come out for the first time.

We left for another excursion, this time heading north to the Ponte Sant'Angelo and its marvellous marble sculptures of angels. I have a photo of one of these angels from our 2001 trip, and wanted to capture a full set this time, now that I'm using digital instead of film. There are ten of them on the bridge, but it wasn't until we reached the very last one that we recognised it from my old photo. It was now sunny and hot, with no shade to be had on the bridge. The bridge was also full of touts selling cheap junk to tourists, so unfortunately it was a less pleasant place to stroll that it could easily have been.

Ponte Sant'Angelo
Ponte Sant'Angelo

Once crossed, we headed west to the Vatican. Our plan was to quickly pop into Basilica San Pietro to admire the internal architecture again before a leisurely stroll home to meet M.'s brother Tony (visiting Rome from London, timed to meet us) for dinner as we'd arranged. On the way, we stopped in a bar-cafe for M. to have a coffee. Being after 11:00, the custom was to avoid cappuccino, so M. elected to try a macchiato caldo. The guy serving was obviously used to foreign tourists, so when M. said the words in Italian after some struggle with the pronunciation, he declared "bravo!" and happily went to make the coffee.

Italy has good coffee
A successful coffee break!

We reached Piazza San Pietro to find a queue to enter the Basilica snaking out, around to the right, then more than halfway around the huge square. The queue must have been 300 metres long, easily. It was shuffling along regularly, but still the thought of spending maybe half an hour or more standing in the burning sun didn't appeal, so we gave it a miss this time and walked back across the Tiber River, choosing a different route to the one we'd arrived on.

Vatican grunge
At Piazza San Pietro

We stopped by at Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini, which the Lonely Planet recommended as a sightseeing stop. Alas it was closed, but the exterior was imposing and impressive. From there we walked down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, passing the Chiesa Nuova (new church), which of course meant it was only about 400 years old. We cut left into some narrow laneways that were very atmospheric and picturesque, until we started running into tourist territory again near Piazza Navona.

Fountain of the Moor
Piazza Navona

The Piazza was impressive, full of people milling around the three great fountains there, as well as many hawkers selling artworks of wildly varying quality and price, from 5 minute pencil caricatures, to mass-produced-looking watercolours of stereotypical Roman scenes, to oil canvases. We wandered up and down the length of the highly elongated "square", stopping at the north end while M. checked a shop that sold stationery. The cafe next door advertised a WiFi zone, so I tried it with the iPad and lo it was open with no password, so I quickly took a photo of the Piazza and posted it to Facebook.

Horse unleashed
Horse sculpture in Fontana della Nettuno, Piazza Navona

From the Piazza, we headed east to the Pantheon. We stopped in another pocket-sized supermarket we stumbled across to grab a chocolate bar for some energy before reaching Piazza della Rotonda, where the mighty Roman Pantheon sits. This Piazza has changed, with the infamous McDonalds now nowhere to be seen - a change for the better in my books. And unlike San Pietro, there were no queues to enter the Pantheon, so we went in and admired the cool interior for a while.

Pantheon, 11 years exactly
The Pantheon

By now it was approaching 17:00 and we wanted to shower before meeting Tony, so we headed back to our apartment. We stopped briefly outside the Pantheon to recreate a photo I took of M. here eleven years ago, in the same position and pose. (I later calculated that the previous photo was taken on the exact same date, 11 years earlier.) It was tricky, with so many people wandering around, but I think I managed it tolerably well. Back at our lodging we showered and changed for dinner. We figured Tony might be somewhat late, so we were resigned to waiting in the street for some time (since he had no way to call us inside the apartment). But as we walked out just after 18:00, we spotted him waiting for us across the street.

We went inside and caught up chatting until about 19:15 when we figured it was late enough to go out in search of an open restaurant for dinner. We tried one that Signora Cardelli listed as her favourite on her tip sheet, Settimio all'Arancio on Via dell'Arancio. We got a table for three, electing to sit inside to avoid smokers in the al fresco area. The menu was interesting and we ordered some stuffed zucchini flowers and a bean and tuna salad for starters, followed by house-made gnocchi al pomodoro for M., a veal dish in a sauce for me, and a beef roll with mashed potato for Tony, plus serves of Roman broccoli (the sort with the spiral heads) and some fried endive with olives and capers that Tony picked. It was all good, though the endive dish was quite salty. For dessert Tony and I tried the torta della nonna, grandmother's tart, which turned out to be a biscuit-like crust surrounding a filling of custard with pine nuts, topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and dusted sugar. Also very nice.

Torta della nonna
Torta della nonna, at Settimio all'Arancio

After dinner we returned the short walk to our apartment, where Tony left to go back to his hotel, while M. and I turned in for the night.

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