We're hit by the familiar yearning for hot eggs and fluffy pancakes. Continental breakfasts just don't do it for us. A bit of internet research and we jump onto the scooter to the Bakery House. We pass the old Olympic compound. The buildings are a lurid grapefruit pink. Our brunch spot is next to a non-descript parking building and at the corner of a narrow street crammed with scooters, cars, and old ladies hurrying up the road. The internet article said this was the best place to have an "American" breakfast but honestly, the Bakery House is Japanese to a tee. Pastel colours, super kawaii knick knacks, perfectly arranged meals that look exactly like the picture. Before my pancakes have even appeared at my table, I fall in love with the Italian at the table next door, with his hair rakishly falling all over his face.
We're rudely parted from our beloved Roman scooter at lunchtime. He's got to be brought back to give joy to other tourists in Rome. I feel sluggish and slow on my own two feet. Down the road, there's the Spanish Steps, Palazzo Barberini, and the Pantheon to visit. Last night, I tried to book ticktets for the Borghese Museum and was flatly denied. Pro tip: don't book your Borghese visit the night before. You'll only be disappointed.
Instead, we go to Palazzo Barberini which has a couple of Caravaggios in an exhibit. For a college art history paper, I once wrote about paintings of Judith and Holofernes. I get to see one of the best ones, after Artemisia Gentileschi's, in real life. It's in the exhibit and it is cool. Judith is a badass. She's wearing pearl earrings while sawing Holofernes' head from the rest of his body. She has a look on her face like, "I don't have time for this. I have stuff to do." There's no terror, only irritation. Just yesterday, I was gazing up at Michaelangelo's version on a spandrel in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. This time, Caravaggio wins. Hands down.
The Spanish Steps underwhelms. I look up at the masses and say sniffily, "This tourist site has aged." There's not a bucket of flower to be seen. Instead, there's scaffolding and the steps are topped with massive billboards for H&M. It's like the Spanish Steps are H&M sponsored now. The crowds are massive for no reason, I suspect, as a result of decades old tourist myth that say you have to see the Spanish Steps. People, there's nothing to see here. We quickly leave to hunt for lunch.
We take the strongly placed context clue of locals and tourists lining up in front of a tiny pasta shop called Pastificio. A small cardboard sign announces in a hurried scribble of English and Italian that the pasta will be ready at 1 pm. Inside, everyone is hulk smashing down plates of pasta and plastic cups of red wine. It has all the hallmarks of a cult favourite.
You get a good heap of pasta for 4 euro. There are two choices doled out from two silver trays; tomato or carbonara. We both have tomato. It's a simple sauce with big square bits of bacon and lashings of pecorino and black pepper on top. The noodles are glistening in olive oil. It's one of the best pastas I've ever had, rivalling my shrimp one from Johnny's Trattoria in Venice but surpassing it in price. 4 euro pasta! We eat from takeaway containers sitting at the bottom of the Spanish Steps. I photobomb a number of selfies.
We get lost in the animated cobweb of streets between the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon, criss-crossed by Via del Corso and Via del Tritone. Pedestrians and tourists rule this part of town. The cars and scooters have to wait for us to move from the roads. Everyone is promenading, shopping, taking pictures, and enjoying themselves. It's a Sunday afternoon Roman crush of people.
I have my head buried in the map. I'm insistent on finding one of the best gelato joints in Rome, Giolitti. We circle round and round mammoth government buildings guarded by police. As we get closer, people pass us licking their gelatos cones with relish. I'm in a frenzy. Me want gelato.
There's a strange system inside Giolitti. You line up to tell the lady what you want. I take a stab in the dark and say "Medium". She gives us a ticket. Then, we have to double back into the crowd, fighting the people standing in line for their ticket, and elbowing our way to the front of the 5-person deep mass of gelato fans. I'm ruthless and at the front of the line with our tickets in a few minutes. My medium order gets me 3 scoops of ice cream and a chocolate-rimmed cone. Score! I choose Biscotti Oreo, Chestnut, and an unknown flavour in a strange beige colour called Marsala Custard which turns out to be alcoholic and not like custard at all.
We barely step out of Giolitti when the gelato starts dripping down my fingers. Now I understand the rows of people standing and sitting outside the shop licking their gelatos into oblivion. I join them, sitting myself on a chain strung between two poles and get to work. The gelato is out of this world; creamy, flavourful, not too sweet. I'm in gelato heaven. Even if I am sitting in a dirty Roman side street, gazing at some scaffolding. It's gelato cloud nine.
We follow the swirling crowds to the Pantheon. The building is as impressive as always. This grey mass looming over a square ringed by graceful, pastel buildings. It demands your attention. Unfortunately, it's closed on a Sunday afternoon. A crowd of people rush up to the board with the hours, demanding to see the evidence with their own eyes. This is almost as disappointing as the Trevi Fountain. I have to apologise to Rob again. The Pantheon inside is super cool.
For dinner, we're having a hotel bed picnic courtesy of DeSpar. It's junk food central. I eat torrone and we drink cheap Italian wine.