Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Buon Anno

Our Roman New Year was much like every other: an early dinner, copious champagne and Joe on his own at midnight since I’d fallen asleep an hour earlier. But this year Joe was busy at midnight, furiously taking pictures of the magnificent fireworks that burst from every corner of the city.

New Year’s is one of those holidays we actually enjoy celebrating by ourselves and this year was no different. We flew back to Italy from London and then took the three and a half hour train south from Milan to Rome. One of the only hotel reservations we’d made before we left the States was for the Rome Cavalieri, a five-star Hilton/Waldorf-Astoria property, for New Year’s Eve 2011 and New Year’s Day 2012. An invaluable perk of being a business road warrior is the accumulation of all those frequent stay points and Joe’s allegiance over the past few years to all properties Hilton landed us at Rome’s premier address on New Year’s Eve for free.

The sumptuous Cavalieri sits on 15 acres of parkland high on Monte Mario, just north of the Vatican and overlooking the panorama of Rome with a spectacular view of St. Peter’s dome. Built in 1963 to appeal to the sophisticated, A-list, cocktail crowd of La Dolce Vita, its ugly modernist exterior brickwork, chipped and missing in many places, is the only aspect of the hotel not on par with the rest. Currently a favorite among diplomats and high-end business travelers, the hotel was filled with such types and their families for the New Year’s holiday. Contrary to the haughty arrogance often encountered at such a high-end establishments, the staff were uniformly approachable and friendly and cheerful Buon Anno was heard everywhere. Our sizeable mahogany-filled room was richly draped in a palette of blue and gold and the enormous bed was piled high with pillows. Had we felt a hoarder’s need for additional pillows, there was a menù dei cuscini, which proposed a dozen additional options (from horsehair to buckwheat hull). The spacious marble bathroom included a travertine sink, a bronze wastebasket on clawfoot legs and a shiny towel warmer. Joe’s Hilton Honors complimentary package included breakfast, Internet, unlimited use of the spa and access to the Colosseo Lounge, which served free drinks and light fare all evening. Having settled into such a splendid spot, we never left the Cavelieri and its grounds, determined to bask in the surrounding luxury for every single one of the 48 hours of our stay.
Just for fun, we checked out the New Year’s Eve Capodanno menu at La Pergola, the hotel’s three Michelin star rooftop restaurant (the only three-star in Rome): with champagne, wines and music included, it was a bargain at just 1,200 euros per person! While not everything at the Cavalieri was quite as dear as La Pergola, the prices were still vertiginous and we headed straight for the simple, complimentary spread at the Colosseo Lounge for our New Year’s celebration. The champagne flowed freely and we made a meal of pistachios, grilled vegetables and cheese. On so many of our past several New Year’s Eves, we counted down the years and then months to our mythical Gap Year departure date. But this year, with no more days to cross off the calendar, we simply celebrated the fact that we were living the Gap Year dream as we beheld the twinkling lights of the Eternal City. Growing fuzzy with champagne, we mused about our itinerary for 2012 and imagined fresh adventures yet to unfold. So often I have spent the days around the New Year inspecting the rooms of my life, drawing up to-do lists of things to toss out, cracks to be patched and foundations to secure. But this year we spoke about potential – what lay ahead for the remaining eight months of our trip and then what awaited us thereafter. We did our best not to be overwhelmed by the prospect of later-in-the-year job hunts and the daunting reality of rebuilding our stateside life next fall. With our fill of champagne, we headed to the Cavalieri bar for a New Year’s nightcap – the only item for which we paid over the course of our two days – and toasted what was possible for 2012.

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