18 December - Emotionally Spent

We got up a little after 07:00.  Crystal didn’t feel like doing much of anything, and Justin didn’t feel like staying in the room, so he went out whilst Crystal read, did crossword puzzles, and had a leisurely morning.  

Justin’s goal this morning was to check out the view from a famous keyhole in a building atop Aventine Hill.  He’d read it was incredible, and justifiably famous.  So he did some diligence on how to get there, checked the route, checked the optimal timing, and a walk on a Sunday morning should’ve been very relaxing and given him a great view.  So he followed all of the directions on Google Maps, took the exact route recommended, and started his long walk.  Along the way he saw what he thought might be the view (of St Peter’s dome) at a dog park close to Aventine Hill.  Once at Aventine Hill, 99% of the way to his goal, there was a locked gate.  There wasn’t supposed to be a gate there, and certainly not a locked one, but it was locked and he couldn’t do anything about it.  So he checked Google Maps again, and there was theoretically another route to get to the keyhole, so he tried that - it was locked too.  There was then a third available route - also locked.  So he never got to accomplish his goal, for reasons beyond his control, so he made a different goal, to see some of the sights in and around the Roman forum, since it had been rainy and miserable two days prior.  He was certain this would be doable, even if the original goal wasn’t.  He once again diligently followed the directions to the entry gate, and got there right as the gate was opening.  But he saw a sign indicating that tickets weren’t available at the gate, that they had to be purchased online.  So he got out his phone to do that, followed the instructions, and saw that tickets were available…late in the afternoon.  We were going to be watching the World Cup during that time in the afternoon.  So this wasn’t going to work either.  He regrouped and changed his goal again, this time walking along the outer perimeter of the forum, along every single fence and gate separating the free area from the area requiring entry tickets.  He took photos through gates, over fences, through breaks in trees, etc.  He saw most everything he wanted to see, even if it was from a slightly different vantage point, a little further away than optimal, a little more difficult to get to, etc.  In the end, he got to see a lot of nice things, got a lot of exercise, and felt like he accomplished something even if he didn’t succeed in either the primary or secondary goals he originally had.  Anyway...the experience seemed timely.

It was almost 10:00 when Crystal texted, stating she was west of the hotel, sort of near the Marcus Aurelius column.  Justin was by Altare della Patria, not too far away, so we met back up a few minutes later, and walked north towards Piazza del Popolo, where we saw yet another Egyptian obelisk.  From the piazza we walked east up a steep hill to a park area with amazing views to the west.  There was a guy playing guitar of classic rock songs, including Hotel California by the Eagles.

We walked east through the park, walking in no specific direction and with no specific destination in mind.  We saw a lot of locals out enjoying their Sundays, including some people swinging their kids on swings, some young adults practicing equestrian (we’d never seen this in real life before), plenty of dogs playing fetch, and one kid riding a pony with his family walking alongside.  There were plenty of tall trees, and the temperature was very comfortable, warmer than we’d had anywhere so far on the trip.  We walked as far east as the Borghese museum, then turned around and walked south back towards the hotel.  Shortly before getting to the hotel we saw a parade of Santas on motorcycles, one Justin had seen by Altare della Patria right after Crystal texted around 10:00.

We looked for somewhere to eat, having exhausted most of the places we had put on the “short list” prior to flying over to Europe.  Eventually, given how many restaurants we now knew were right around us, we just zoomed in very close to our hotel on Google Maps and just kept clicking restaurants until we saw one close to us with a high rating.  We ended up deciding on Gallinaccio.  When we walked over there, we realized that we’d actually seen it several times already, and had given thought to going in there on one of the prior days, so we were happy to see that’s where we were going now.  

Crystal got some artichokes and a margherita pizza.  Justin ordered rigatoni ‘gricia’ that had guanciale and pecorini.  We split a bottle of La pietraia rosso, by Pietra Pienta, an inexpensive shiraz that we thought was excellent, let alone for the price.  The rigatoni was also excellent, just what Justin was hoping to order.  Justin asked Crystal which of the pizzas on the trip had been her favorite, and she said it was at Al Profeta on our last night in Venice.  Whilst at lunch we looked at Google Maps for the closest pubs, knowing where one was (right by the hotel), but figuring there were plenty of others.  After leaving lunch, we went to several, and they were all either already full or (gasp) not yet open.  

So we decided to go a little further afield, which meant east, away from the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon area.  We tried The Flann O’Brien, about halfway between our hotel and the train station.  Here there were some seats available, and we got a seat right near the front door, in a corner with nothing behind us and at least 3-4 televisions in front of us.  We got seated around 14:30 for the match that was set to start at 16:00.  Our waiter was Filipino, which was unexpected.  We each ordered a beer to begin with.  

The place was essentially full by 15:00, certainly all of the tables were.  Lots of unhappy folks came in, and quickly left, after then.  Most of the tables near us had people supporting Argentina (either that or they happened to be wearing Argentina jerseys), but about 4-5 French men in their 20s came in and stood in the standing area amongst the tables.  The TVs were high enough that people standing near us wasn’t an issue at all.  Shortly before the game started one of the servers shut the front door and told people that the bar was full.

When the game started, it was a good mix of Argentine and French fans.  Early in the first half Messi converted a penalty to make it 1-0 for Argentina, and later in the first half Argentina had a great counter-attack that resulted in a second goal.  France didn’t even attempt a shot on goal in the first half, and made two first half substitutions, which is very unusual.  Some French fans left at halftime.  Crystal texted Dewey and told him he could come by, as we figured they’d let him in if he was with us.  Fortunately this worked as expected, and he stood with us to watch the second half, eventually taking Justin's seat.

To be candid, the first 30 minutes of the second half were kind of boring, as Argentina was rolling to victory and France wasn’t making much of a game of it.  But then France converted a penalty to make it 2-1, and the French fans perked up a bit.  Then Mbappe for France scored another goal almost immediately thereafter to make it 2-2, and the whole bar went nuts, good and bad.  One of the Argentina fans at the table next to us sat down on the ground, motionless, to the point we actually checked on her (she was fine).  The game went to extra time, and Messi scored another goal to put Argentina back ahead, and the vibe in the bar reversed yet again, with the Argentina fans now ecstatic and the French fans bummed out.  Then, just before the match ended, France earned and converted another penalty shot to make it 3-3.  

The game went to penalty kicks and everyone in the bar was a mess, just emotionally spent.  The word “tense” understated the mood.  France had one penalty shot stopped, missed the target altogether on another shot, Argentina kept making all of theirs, and eventually they won when the guy that committed the stupid penalty just before the end of extra time converted the penalty shot to win the World Cup.  So he redeemed himself, one might say.  The France fans exited the bar quickly, and meanwhile the Argentina fans stayed to celebrate and hug each other.  We stayed to watch some of this, then headed out ourselves, basking in what we’d just witnessed.

The walk back to the hotel was shorter than we thought, only about 8 minutes away.  We’d gotten to the bar via a circuitous route of other pubs, and we didn’t realize how close we actually were to our hotel.  We picked up Clarita and headed over to dinner at Trattoria Della Stampa Dal 1956, not too far from the hotel.  We all shared some jamón serrano.  The two of us ordered the same dishes, aglio olió pasta, followed by meatballs.  Dewey ordered spaghetti with anchovies, then tuna carpaccio.  Clarita ordered artichokes, followed by ravioli.  Everything was very good, but maybe a notch below some of our other meals.  Or, perhaps, we were worn out and coming down from the game.  The wine, Cesanese del Piglio by Terenzi, was also good but not great.  Back at the hotel, Crystal went to sleep, and Justin tried to watch NFL RedZone but kept dozing off.  We had an early wake up tomorrow, so eventually he just gave up and went to sleep early.

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