Today we decided to visit the National Roman Museums. A ticket to one museum comes with free admission to many sites, so we decided to make a day of it and see how many sites we could make it to. We started the day by grabbing some pizza at Pinsere, and got some unique flavors this time. I got a pizza with ricotta, figs, and honey, and Shelby got a pizza with Italian ham, cheese, and tomato (perhaps Shelby’s wasn’t too unusual). Both were delicious, but our favorite was Shelby’s, and I was lucky that we’ve been splitting our meals on this trip.
We then hopped on the bus to the first museum, the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. The museum wasn’t crowded, and was also very different from what we expected. We were thinking that the museum would be set up like a history museum, but it instead felt more like an ancient art museum. One of the things that I really enjoyed were the dozens of busts displaying hairstyles of women over the centuries in Ancient Rome. It was really cool to see women represented in some capacity, since so much of what we’ve seen have been celebrated men of the eras. It was also really interesting to see how famous women shaped hairstyles of the time. Another really interesting exhibit was a large statue of a boxer sitting down. The sculptor etched droplets of blood on the arms and legs of the athlete, and it was a realistic detail that we had not seen before.
Although the museum had some interesting pieces, it wasn’t really what we were looking for, so we decided to check out the crypts. We hopped on a bus to the crypts, but first wandered into another church on the way.
The churches here are incredible. They have impossibly high domed ceilings, ornately decorated with statues and frescos that look so real it’s difficult to discern what is painted in 2D from what is sculpted in 3D. The large walls of the churches give way to smaller rooms that have a variety of things on display: ancient artifacts from the site, ornate crosses, tombs, etc. There are also smaller prayer rooms in some of the churches. One of the most interesting things about these churches is that when you walk into them, it’s like you leave the city and step into a different world. All of the street noise, people, and bustle of outside immediately disappears and you are standing inside of this enormous, quiet, peaceful monument of art. It’s really incredible.
After spending time looking at the church, Shelby and I made our way to the Crypta Balbi. I really enjoyed this museum because you could actually walk through the crypts, which were located below the museum itself. They had metal grates set up as walkways so that you could walk below the museum, but above the crypts, preserving the archeological site. We explored this for quite some time, and then with about an hour before the Baths of Diocletian closed, we hopped on the bus again to head that way.
We made it to the baths just before they closed the ticket booth (which closes a bit before the museum), and they let us through because we already had a ticket from the other museum. The baths were really interesting, but about half of the museum was closed for renovations. We walked through what we could, but it was good that we left this site for last because it didn’t take much time to see.
On our way back to the bus stop to catch a ride home, we decided to grab some dinner. We were by the Termini station, one of the largest and busiest of Rome, and as a result, there were many touristy restaurants and shops nearby. As we were walking past all of these, I happened to catch a glimpse of an impossibly tiny restaurant. I walked past it within two steps and backtracked quickly because the only thing I saw was this beautiful roasted pig in the window. I told Shelby to walk towards me, and asked if she wanted to eat here, and she thought I had gone mad. The restaurant was so small, she couldn’t even see it, and she probably thought I was seeing things after our long day. But then she saw it. She was skeptical, but something told me to walk in, and when we did, it was like crossing Platform 9 3/4. We stepped into this small restaurant with 4 tables, all of which had people. And because it’s so small, you just grab a seat and make friends with whomever you share a table — for us, it was this old Italian man who didn’t speak English. We ordered red wine, which came from a tap and was surprisingly good and refreshing. Then the owner of the restaurant laid out a paper mat in front of us, carved meat off of the suckling pig, grabbed some rolls from a bin, and put it on our paper mats. It was delicious. Some of the best food we ate in Rome. The restaurant was called Er Buchetto and was established in the 1800s, and the owner is the 5th generation of his family to operate the place. Everyday they have the same thing: roasted pig, fresh bread, red or white wine, and a small assortment of optional sides.
After thoroughly enjoying our meal and experience, we headed home for the night, happy and satisfied with our new find.