The Westin Excelsior is architecturally grandiose, but hasn't quiet moved into the 21st century the way some other grand hotels have. The hotel is located near Via Veneto and Piazza Barberini, a beautiful and upscale commercial neighborhood, near some of Rome's best shopping. In the 1950's and early 1960s, Via Veneto was the swinging place to be where Frank Sinatra paraded up and down the boulevard for the paparazzi.
The bathroom is always the space I check out first. I like the mini shampoos and other amenities they put in here for us. As I soon learned, even a wash cloth in Italy was an amenity, as other hotels did not provide those.
My absolute favorite part of the bathroom was this amazing tub and the window in the bathroom that opens to the terrace.
Jim reviewing our itinerary for the tour that began the following day. We had this entire first day to explore on our own, at our own pace and get used to the time change.
We had a hungry visitor on our terrace, who also joined us for breakfast every morning (I swear it was the same one that came back.)
Our lovely travel agent sent us a sweet congratulations card and some chocolate dipped strawberries.
As we left the hotel to go explore the city, I snapped this shot before crossing the road. And let me say crossing the street is truly a leap of faith. Italian drivers pretend they don't see you and if you are timid or hesitate they will whip right past you. We learned that you must step out in traffic and TRUST they will slow down. It always worked, but oh my goodness it was scary.
Down one of the streets we came upon this fruit stand with vibrant fruits and vegetables! I loved it.
I had to elbow my way through the crowd to get a picture in front of the Trevi Fountain. It's hard to believe this piazza was nearly deserted before the 1954 film Three Coins in the Fountain brought new interest to this lovely spot. The fountain is supplied by water from the Acqua Vergine aqueduct and a triumph of the baroque style, it was completed in 1762. The focus of the fountain is Neptunus Rex, standing on a shell chariot drawn by winged horses and led by a pair of Triton's. It was stunning, but when we went back in the evening after dinner it was absolutely breathtaking. The lights, the people and all the energy...it made Rome my favorite city on our trip.
One of the most desirable areas of Rome is the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. This district is a maze of narrow streets and alleys dating from the Middle Ages. Jim was very jazzed to see the Pantheon and the only way to explore this area is on foot. We did SO much walking on this trip! Piazza Novona is bustling with side walk cafes, street artists, musicians and trattorie. The Pantheon is from ancient Roman times and is surrounded by a district built much later. This pagan temple has been rescued and turned into a church.
When we walked in, "Momma" came out of the kitchen to greet us and gestured for us to choose from one of the 10 empty tables in her restaurant.
Momma was so attentive, and I don't believe it was because we were her only patrons. She was warm, welcoming and didn't speak a word of English. We all laughed when I told her we didn't speak Italian.
Many pointing and hand gestures later, we had a bottle of water, a liter of house wine and this amazing appetizer on our table.
Parmesan with a slice of black truffle. I kid you not she brought out those two black truffles and a knife and shaved two hearty slices for us at the table.
Jim and I then split this Caprese salad which was so incredibly fresh with flavors bursting like pop rocks in my mouth. I knew we still had more food coming and tried not to get too full, but it was a salad that I could not stop eating. Fresh sliced tomatoes that were sweet, soft and flavorful mozzarella, fresh basil, black olives and all drizzled with olive oil.
We also had to try the prosciutto. It came with a dollop of fresh mozzarella and two basil leaves with two tomatoes. We gobbled everything up!
Jim's entree was the tomato spaghetti.
I know I ordered the better entree. Homemade gnocchi in a Gorgonzola cream sauce topped with Parmesan and THEN.... THEN, she brought back a black truffle to the table along with a grater and began to freshly grate truffle ALL over the pasta. Seriously? Shoot me now! No, wait...let me eat this meal then shoot me, I would die a very very happy woman. My chef friend Gabe has promised to show me how to recreate this meal at home. I guarantee I will post the tutorial as soon as we complete this heavenly meal.
On our first evening in Rome we learned how late the Italians eat dinner. Most restaurants were not even open until 7 or 7:30 PM. We had an hour to kill before our dinner reservation so we walked towards Piazza Barberini and stopped for a drink at La Baita.
When the restaurant says "American Bar" that means they have alcohol. When they say "bar" that means a coffee bar.
My first Italian Beer, Nastro Azzurro.
Luckily after we grabbed a seat on the covered patio, the rain started coming down. We were safe from the weather, but the unexpected thunderstorm provided us lots to look at as people came up from the underground transportation onto a wet street and began running for shelter. It was quite entertaining.
Looking at this picture brings me right back to this quaint restaurant. This was also a recommendation from the hotel, and we were so thankful that we had our first dinner in Rome at this place. http://www.vineriailchianti.com/
The restaurant looked so small from the entrance, but as our waitress led us back through numerous rooms to our table for two we realized what a big place it actually was.
Next we ordered our first Italian pizza. It had tomato sauce, mozzarella and thinly sliced prosciutto. We were surprised when it was delivered as a whole pie, no slices. We each took a fork and knife to it and could not believe how great it was. We love pizza, and heard pizza in Italy was better, but we were shocked to experience it ourselves. I will tell you this, I've never had anything like it before. The pizza crust was absolutely perfect. It was thin, but the tomato sauce didn't make it soggy. The edge had a great crisp crunch to it. We didn't leave any pizza.
Then the small plate of pumpkin tortellini came out. The dough was thin and soft, the stuffing of pumpkin puree was flavorful and then the entire tortellini was drizzled with brown butter and crispy sage. These were subtle and simple flavors, which on their own might be quite bland and boring, but together they were OMG. Pure bliss on a plate.
At the end of this meal, and every other meal in Italy, we ended with an espresso. In this picture also is the Grappa that Jim tried for the first time. I'd have to be honest and say it smelled and tasted like lighter fluid to me, but the waiter said he brought us the best grappa in the house... I'd hate to taste their worst grappa.
To the south of our hotel, Via Veneto comes to an end at Piazza Barberini, dominated by the 1642 Triton Fountain, a baroque celebration with four dolphins holding up an open scallop shell in which a Triton sits blowing into a conch. Overlooking the square is the Palazzo Barberini and also the spot where Jim and I enjoyed after dinner treats while people watching.
Grappa makes Jim a happy man. Do you know what I discovered on this trip?
and Gelato. Two things I could not get enough of on this trip. More stories to come!