American Airlines inaugurated a new nonstop flight from New York to Rome in May. Although American has been offering more legroom in coach than most airlines, making flights more comfortable, airline officials have said they plan to reinstall the seats that had been removed for the extra legroom on some planes.
Westin Hotels, part of the Starwood organization, has taken over the Excelsior Hotel (where everyone stayed with their parents on the post-college grand tour a generation or two ago) and the St. Regis Grand Hotel, which has fabulous circa-1900 public rooms and a first-class restaurant, Vivendo.
Both hotels have lovely, elegantly furnished rooms with marble bathrooms (the Grand has Hermes accessories) and excellent, discreet service. The Excelsior overlooks the Via Veneto (still fun, although no longer the “in” place of the ‘60s) and the American Embassy consular offices. The Grand was opened by Cesar Ritz in 1894 and reopened in 1999 after a complete restoration and renovation. They are expensive but worth it.
Westin Excelsior Hotel, Via Vittorio Veneto 125, 00187 Rome, Italy; phone 39-06-47081; fax 39-06-4826205.
St. Regis Grand Hotel, Via Vittorio Emanuele Orlando 3, 00185 Rome, Italy; 39-06-47091; fax 39-06-4747-307.
SunBay Park Hotel, Via Aurelia Sud Km. 68.750, 00053 Civitavecchia (Rome); 39-07-6622-801.
Off the beaten path
Domus Aurea: The Golden House, built by Nero after the fire of A.D. 64, has been open to the public since June 1999. It was once a magnificent palace with gardens and a lake, built on the Palatine Hill.
After Nero fell from grace, it was buried in rubble and now is well underground. It once was decorated with ivory, alabaster, precious gems and gold leaf, but little remains but a few faint frescoes. During the Renaissance, a hole in the rubble enabled painters to descend into the chambers from above to copy the frescoes, which were then called “grottoesque,” because the frescoes were found in a grotto. The contemporary meaning of “grotesque” is said to have been applied by an art critic of the time to the copies of the grottoesque paintings. Reservations for entry, which is by guided tour only, are required; phone 39-06-3996-7700.
Jewish Museum of Rome and Synagogue, Lungotevere Cenci, 00186 Rome; 39-06- 6840-0661; fax 39-06-6840-0684. The museum is in the Great Synagogue on the Tiber River, across from Trastevere. The Jewish community in Rome, Europe’s most ancient, dates to the second century B.C. The Jews brought with them the rituals of the Temple in Jerusalem, today called the “Italian tradition,” which differs from the Ashkenazi and Sephardic.
The Roman ghetto was established in 1555, and all 3,500 Roman Jews were required to live in a four-block area, surrounded by a wall with five gates and constantly subjected to flooding by the Tiber. The ghetto was abolished and the Jews obtained full citizenship after the unification of Italy in 1870. Theories on the origin of the word “ghetto” ascribe it either to the Indian “ghat,” meaning gate, or the Italian “gueto,” meaning foundry, the unhealthy section of Venice, site of the first ghetto. The Jewish Museum in Rome has some interesting religious artifacts, but it is primarily the synagogue itself, built in 1904, that is beautiful and worth a visit.
National Pasta Museum, Piazza Scanderberg 117, 00187 Rome; 39-06-699-1119; fax 39-06-699-1109.
This charming little private museum near the Trevi Fountain describes all aspects of pasta making. Machines used domestically as well as industrially are on exhibition, and there are delightful drawings, prints and photographs relating in some way to pasta, pasting making and pasta eating, throughout the rooms of the museum. The motto of the museum is, “If flour is silver, semolina is gold.”