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First Day in Rome: Caffe Sant’Eustachio and Fassi

March 29, 2012

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The glorious weather continues and we woke to an azure blue sky and sun warm even for early morning. Breakfast was in the bar opposite: a cappuccino and cornetto – croissant; even the plain version comes with a sugar glaze on top here. Then it was decided to walk ‘into town’ via the Colosseum. This is the best of Rome. The city is a monument, a museum in itself. We walked by the huge ruins of the Colosseum, past long queues and ignoring ‘gladiators’ trying to entice us to pay over euros to have our photo taken with them. This is where having Robert to hand – half Roman and looking every inch an Italian – is a bonus, so Jenny and I let him deal with them. On along the Via dei Fori Imperiali we passed the large expanse of the Forum where, within its ancient ruins, Romulus is supposedly buried, Caesar once trod and vestal virgins were housed.

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Walking round the Piazza Venezia we headed up Via del Corso to an Information stall to get a booklet about current exhibitions. Now, of course, after all this walking, it was coffee time again. But this time, walking through narrow alleys towards the Pantheon in the Centro Storico area, there were two of the world’s greatest coffee houses to choose from. Robert stopped at La Tazza d’Oro to buy coffee following a family tradition but then we chose to drink in Caffe Sant’Eustachio, my favourite but also a kind of joint favourite for them. This isn’t a place to drink cappuccino and Robert just ordered three caffes. Anyway, it was past 11am and you should never try ordering a cappuccino past that hour when you’re with an Italian. They’ll disown you. We stood at the bar, Italian style, and savoured the exquisite coffee; just a couple of mouthfuls, soon gone but ambrosial.

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The Pantheon, one of the buildings I like more than any others I’ve seen anywhere, is a favourite with Jenny too. So we went inside this former temple built around AD 120 and looked up in awe at its perfect semi-sphere dome, an incredible architectural feat, where light pierces through a 9m oculus.

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We wound our way through more narrow streets and alleyways, occasionally punctuated by breaking out into small piazzas, towards Campo de’ Fiori, Rome’s main market. Here a bustling crowd of shoppers and tourists compete to make a route through the stalls full of fruit and vegetables, pasta and kitchenware.

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We were making for a bakery to buy focaccia sandwiches for lunch. Tightly packed inside the small interior we chose what we wanted – I had grilled aubergine and mozzarella – then, having paid, made our way to the nearby Piazza Farnese to find a spot to sit down and eat. Paninis – or toasted sandwiches – in Italy are a completely different species to what’s found in UK going by the name panini. Here they are merely lightly toasted and the filling remains of itself and recognisable. It’s infinitely nicer and better tasting.

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Next stop ice cream and, slightly appalled that in all the times I’d been to Rome I hadn’t sampled the delights of gelato from the grandly titled Palazzo del Freddo di Giovanni Fassi, Robert led the way to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. This is his family’s favourite gelateria and arguably the best in the world. Though in Rome, it’s an argument that fires controversy much as deciding which is the best place for coffee. My own favourite to date has always been San Crispino near the Trevi fountain. Fassi, though, is unarguably the oldest gelateria in Rome. Inside it has more than a feel of Mussolini about it: austere and military. Yet the ice cream truly is divine; I chose dark chocolate, strawberry and zabaglione. I loved Jenny’s melon and red orange too.

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Well, we were definitely in need of a siesta by now so took a Metro ride back to the flat. Sitting on the balcony we enjoyed the last of the day’s sun before heading out to a local pizzeria – Cocco – another family favourite to meet Robert’s cousin Daniela again. Cocco is a simple place; no pretensions, just great Roman – thus crisp, thin-based – pizzas. We started with some Roman antipasti: suppli, a deep-fried rice ball with mozzarella oozing out of the middle as you bite into it. We also had filetto baccala, deep-fried, batter-coated salt cod; salt cod being a speciality and something I like a lot – soaked before use so not salty. We also had olive ascolane which was akin to a small, mouthful sized Scotch egg but with olive inside instead of egg.

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Pizzas followed. Daniela had the house special which was like a Marguerita with Parmesan and basil too, while I chose Deliziosa with Gorgonzola and prosciutto. Later, back at the flat the only way to end a perfect day was with a small glass of Monica’s homemade limoncello.

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