The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Monday, 2 May 2011

Italy: Rome Part IIIa - the Vatican, and a scrumptious lunch @ Dino & Tony

On our second morning in Rome, we took the bus to Vatican city. I had no idea that the Vatican is the smallest country in the world! Despite that, we still managed to get a little lost. I must admit that we didn't really have a plan on what we wanted to do at the Vatican, and the only thing we really wanted to see was Michelangelo's famous painting on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It just so happened that we only had time for that, and unfortunately didn't get to go inside St Peter's Basilica (the queue for which was incredibly long, stretching all the way to the other side of the square). Not surprisingly, like at the Colosseum, we encountered many tour guide touts outside the Vatican targeting unsuspecting tourists to join their tour groups, claiming that the waiting time in the queue was at least 1 hour long. Curiously, the nearer we got to the museum entrance, the touts would claim a shorter waiting period. The guided tour was very expensive, costing as much as the entrance fee itself! Being a little wiser, we ignored these salespeople and headed straight for the entrance, which didn't really have much of a queue (certainly not as long as we'd been hearing). A tour guide who was leading her group out of the museums saw us join the unreserved tickets lane, and she kindly told us that we should go down the reserved-tickets-only lane to get priority entry because we had our 2-year-old in a stroller. It's nice to enjoy little perks like that - a small consolation for the big hassle that it is to travel with a toddler! We got a portable audio guide for only a few euros extra, and we went straight for our goal via a wheel-friendly route, which would most probably not an option if we had been in a tour group. Anyway, the bottom line is to ignore the tour touts and get to the sights on your own. The lines are almost certainly never as long as they say they are, you won't be constrained by the time schedule of the tour, and you can save quite a lot of euros which can pay for a lovely meal.

Tourists over-running St Peter's Square:

The 25.5m tall obelisk from the Circus of Nero, standing in the middle of the square:

St Peter's Basilica (the dome barely peeping over from where I took the shot):

Inside one of the galleries at the Musei Vaticani (the Vatican Museums). Thankfully Zak fell asleep while we were walking around looking for the Vatican Museums:

Perhaps the most famous part of Michelangelo's painted ceiling at the Sistine Chapel - The Creation of Adam:

A view of the painted ceiling, stitched (painstakingly!) together from four images. Photographing a 'panoramic' series of shot of an overhead ceiling is no easy task, and putting them together is even more difficult! Not perfect, but this is the best I can do out of the images I have:

St Peter's Basilica's central dome, viewed from the Vatican Museums:

We were hungry for lunch after seeing Michelangelo's beautiful artwork inside the Sistine Chapel, and we headed to a nearby trattoria, recommended by our B&B guy. The meal we had at Dino & Tony was simply fabulous. It has such a happy and jovial atmosphere, and one of the guys (either Dino or Tony because of the way it seemed like he ran the place) was even singing as he was serving up the food. We were told that the house specialty was the antipasto, so that was what we got.

The Antipasto was simply and truly delicious - three plates including a four-cheese pizza, a hot plate of goodies and cold cuts of prosciutto and salami. The hot plate of the antipasti included creamy croquette, meatball, stuffed olive, cheese parcel and a calzone with spinach and ricotta filling. Piping hot out of the fryer and oven, these five delicious morsels were enough to help us forget the previous night's extremely disappointing dinner. I am not a big fan of deep-fried anything, but the croquette, meatball and stuffed olive were perfectly crispy without being greasy. The wood-fired pizza had delicious slightly charred edges and melty topping. The cold cuts were great with the complimentary bread.

Hot antipasti:

A cross-section look into one of the fried balls (stuffed olive):

The pizza tasted a lot better than it looked:

Next up was a pasta dish selected by our host (he'd said "Leave it with me" when I'd enquired which pasta dish; I love it when the restaurateur is confident that the food he serves is good). It was a simple but well-prepared bowl of al dente penne that had been tossed with a generous splash of olive oil and crispy bacon and sprinkled with parmesan. So simple yet I couldn't stop eating it!

A simple penne dish:

We were full after devouring the antipasti and the pasta, but Rob could not resist dessert! And oh, the desserts! The Italians certainly know how to do sweets. We ordered the specialty of the house which was actually several different types of desserts ranging from frozen to tarts to cake, and they were all so yummy! I liked the bowl that contained a type of custardy mousse, perhaps their version of tiramisu or zabaglione? I wish I'd asked about it.

Plate 1 of the house specialty dessert included granita di caffe con panna (coffee granita with cream?), nut-topped cookies, Italian sponge cake and a baked custard tart:

Plate 2 of the house specialty dessert - delicious golden custard mousse-type dessert:

I'm inclined to say it's a tiramisu, although not like any tiramisu we've had!

We were pretty happy campers after lunch that day! Do check out Dino & Tony if you're heading out to the Vatican.

Dino & Tony Hostaria-Pizzeria
Via Leone IV, 60
00192 Roma, Italy
Tel. +39 6 39733284

I am only halfway through our second day in Rome, and coming up next will include details of our best espresso moment (and we're not big coffee drinkers) and more food!

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