Europe diary, day 15: Secret Rome and generous wine bar

Saturday 18 November

It was time for another sleep in this morning. I got up a bit after 08:00 and M. snoozed a bit longer. We had lazy breakfast and left for some leisurely strolling around Rome on our last full day here. M. wanted to go by the Trevi Fountain so we could toss coins in before we leave, and I went through my Secret Rome book to end some interesting things that we could see in the rough vicinity. I found a couple of things over near the Spanish Steps plus a couple near the Mausoleum of Augustus, and figured that would make a nice loop to walk.

The Trevi Fountain was packed with people, as usual most of the time. Most of them were jammed in the front though, so we had room to go down the steps on the left side and approach the water easily on that side. We tossed a couple of small euro coins in and took a selfie of the both of us. Sometimes you just have to to the standard tourist things!

From here we walked over to the Spanish Steps, approaching up the hill from the south side towards the top of the steps. Just before reaching the church of Trinità dei Monti is the Palazzo Zuccari, which has an interesting facade with giant stone faces carved around the main doorway and adjacent windows on either side with gaping mouths where the door and windows are.

We passed by the church and continued north to the Villa Medici, where a fountain stands in front of the main door, the fountain centrepiece being a cannonball which has been drilled through to provide the water spout. There are cannonball marks on the front door of the villa, and multiple legends about what exactly happened to cause them, all involving Queen Christina of Sweden, who was staying in Castel Sant’Angelo in 1656. One says she fired a cannon from the Castel deliberately at the villa to wake up Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici to go hunting. A second says she had promised the painter Charles Errard to knock on the door of the villa, where he was staying, at a certain time of day; but she was late for the appointment and kept her word by firing a cannon to “knock” on the door. A third (perhaps the most likely) says she simply fired a cannon at random from the Castel and it happened to hit the front door of the villa.

We descended the hill and walked west across the city towards the Mausoleum of Augustus and the Tiber, where there were two other points of interest I’d chosen to see. One was a vertical marble strip on the exterior wall of the Chiesa San Rocco all’Augusto, which marked the heights of various floods of the Tiber River over the centuries. This would have been very interesting and a good photo, but unfortunately when we arrived there the small street that the marker faced was fenced off for works, and we couldn’t get close to it, and could only see about the top half of it over the fence. SO that was a little disappointing.

Nearby is Piazza del Porto di Ripetta, where there are two ancient stone columns near a small fountain. Again, these columns record flood levels. Ripetta was an ancient port on the river where ships would lade and unlade goods for the city of Rome. We found the columns and could get right up to them, but the upper parts were obscured by thick foliage from adjacent trees, so we didn’t get a great view of the entire columns, but it was good enough.

From here we walked back to our apartment to have a rest and make some lunch. Rather then buy lunch out, I made us grilled cheese sandwiches, using the bread and Parmigiana cheese we’d bought a few days ago. The bread had dried out a bit, but nothing that a good dose of olive oil and time in the frying pan wouldn’t fix! I sliced some fresh tomato to top mine. It was very crunchy, but good with good quality cheese.

After resting a bit after this lunch, we went out for another stroll, in a different direction. I’d lined up some more interesting sights for us to see from Secret Rome: a water clock at Palazzo Berardi, and the Fontana delle Mammelle opposite the Galleria Spada in Piazza Capo di Ferro.

The water clock is one of only two functional water clocks in Rome, using the aquifer water pressure that drives the many fountains and public water spouts across the city to move the clockwork. It’s inside the Palazzo and when we arrived the front doors were locked. I said, “This is the place – it’s inside this door,” and M. went over to the keyhole and looked through and said, “I can see it!” And indeed there was a decent view of the clock, although several metres away. I tried several times to take a photo of it through the keyhole, but the multiple lenses on my iPhone frustrated me by constantly switching, which meant that the lens I’d been using was aligned through the keyhole but the one it switched to had just a view of the door around the hole. I had to try every cardinal orientation of the phone to get it to work audit only managed to focus correctly on the last attempt. While making this fuss of looking and photographing through the keyhole, some strangers walked past. One pair had a woman who obviously knew what we were looking at, and told her companion to take a look, while another pair of people were just curious and came over to see what we were doing, and we told them to have a look. This is the cool sort of thing I love finding in different places – something that you’d never notice if you didn’t know it was there.

The Fontana delle Mammelle is a small fountain in a wall niche on the outside of a building, surmounted by a sculpture of a woman. But the interesting thing is the optical illusion trompe l’oeil painting around it, which makes it look like it’s on a wall with strongly shaped stone blocks, despite that fact that the wall is perfectly flat. The Secret Rome book had a photo of this from inside the door of Galleria Spada, but when we got there someone had parked a large car right between the fountain and the door (clearly in a no parking area). So I had to content myself with a photo from closer. We did go inside Galleria Spada briefly, since the ticket office was deep inside the complex somewhere and we could go in the front door and walk around the courtyard without having to pay. In fact I couldn’t even see where the ticket office was supposed to be.

From here we walked back to our apartment and rested some more. We really wanted to take it easy today before our flight tomorrow. About 17:30 we ventured out to the wine bar Vinoteca 900 again for an aperitif. M. wanted to try some limoncello, while I had a glass of pinot grigio wine. The owner of the place brought us complementary nibbles again – taralli biscuits, peanuts, and olives. We expected this as it was the same as last time. But then a bit later he brought us two small wooden boards with bread and meat one them, one with salami, the other prosciutto, dressed with balsamic vinegar. I asked if this was complementary and he said yes.

This made us feel like we should give the guy one of the koalas we’d brought from Australia to give to people who were nice to us. But we’d left the remaining two at the apartment! I dashed back to get one while M. waited – luckily the place was only about 200 metres away. We ordered another wine each, red this time. And he brought us another plate of bread and salami! This was really generous. Other people in the bar were getting food, but they were ordering off the menu and having platters with cheese and stuff – it seemed like we were the only ones just having a drink and getting free food. As we left to settle the bill at the cashier, M. gave the owner the koala and he was delighted and gave her a big hug!

Back at our apartment, I cooked us dinner in tonight, using the leftover groceries from a few days go. I made another frittata, with the eggs and vegetables and Parmigiana cheese. It felt good to have something simple and not as rich and heavy as all the dinners we’ve been having this week!

Then we showered and packed our bags for the flight home. It departs at 10:50, so we need to be out of here by 07:00 and walking over to Spagna to catch a metro train and then the airport express from Termini. So it’s a bit of an earlier night tonight, and a much earlier start tomorrow.

This may be my last chance to post before I get home to Sydney on Monday evening, since we only have a 1:25 change of planes window in Singapore! Hopefully there won’t be any issue with that. In fact I may not post until Tuesday, since we’ll be very tired and want to get to bed quickly.

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