Tag Archives: italy

Vacation Recap Part IV: Rome

3 Jan

This post is a long time coming. I’ve actually had it ready for well over a month, but I didn’t want to post it during Vegan Mofo because it’s pretty dairy-laden. Here it is now, folks. Enjoy!

This is Part IV of IV recapping my recent Italian excursion. Read Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here. You can also read about my tirade against American Airlines here.

Our adventure left off on October 9 as my taller half and I boarded a train for Rome. We made a mistake on this leg; we did not buy our tickets the day before. As a result, we had no seats on the train. Instead, we occupied part of the hallway between two of the cars, near the bathroom. It made me grumpy, very grumpy, but luckily I recovered before our arrival.

When we arrived in Rome’s Termini station, we bought tickets to the metro and hopped off at the Spanish Steps area. Then we checked into our room at the Hotel Panda:

Immaculate, lovingly furnished, and freakin’ tiny. The room was really too small for the two of us. I had nightmares two nights in a row about suffocating that I can only assume were caused by this room. However, I have only positive things to say about the hotel itself. The staff was wonderful, and the location could not be topped. But if you are traveling with someone else, I would recommend a larger room.

As I said, we were near the Spanish Steps:

That first day, we visited the Villa Borghese, and my feet have never hurt more in my entire life than they did that day. See our tired faces (and the Galleria’s reflection)?

But we saw the Trevi Fountain:

Fourth time’s a charm:

(Yes, I’ve been to Rome four times.) The trip also included the Pantheon:

And the Vatican (more on that below):

And the amazing ruins in the Jewish Ghetto, called the Portico d’Ottaviano:

And those other ruins:

If you go to Rome, you must:

  • Make the trek to the Villa Borghese. You will have to climb a giant hill, but do it. It houses Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpine, which is the most amazing statue I’ve ever seen, including Michelangelo’s David. Check out this hilarious/awesome video showcasing it. It also has a Raphael painting of a girl holding a unicorn the size of a puppy (which made me think of Keiko!).
  • Have Sunday brunch at il Margutta (more below).
  • Stroll around Piazza Navona at night.
  • Throw your coin in the Trevi Fountain (see above).
  • See the Portico d’Ottaviano in the Jewish Ghetto. The Roman Forum is cool, but this was even better. It’s free, and you are practically right up against everything. Plus, the Jewish Ghetto is breathtaking.

Let’s talk Roman food now.

October 9
We had breakfast in Florence, as I reported before, and we did not eat again until dinner that night. It wasn’t because I wasn’t hungry; it’s because my feet hurt so much that I considered removing them several times. However, because our hotel was near the Spanish Steps, all the food nearby was tourist-central. Eventually, we wiped away the tears and began our Roman Death Food March. It was the longest two-mile walk of my life. The end result, however, was Zaza’, a pizza-by-the-slice joint:

Mine had cherry tomatoes, arugula, mozzarella, and rosemary. It was phenomenal. My taller half had a classic Margherita, which was good, but not as good as mine. With two bottled waters, dinner cost us €5.50. Yeah, not kidding. We ate outside on a curb. I was very classy, I’m sure, in my tiny dress (see Trevi Fountain picture above).

Then we somehow found the strength to walk to San Crispino, which supposedly makes the best gelato in the world. I think it was the sugar and fat calling my name that kept me going.

I had hazelnut meringue, caramel, and cinnamon-ginger. The hazelnut meringue was freakin-frackin-flippin-flappin delicious. The other two were good but not great. My taller half had caramel, regular hazelnut, and yogurt. His were also good but not great.

Then we returned to the hotel, and our feet cried themselves to sleep.

October 10
We treated Sunday as a bit of a free day, which was nice. Our intended brunch place didn’t open until 12:30, so I had a coffee and gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut) brioche at a nearby place. I don’t have a picture, unfortunately.

After wandering about for a bit, we made our way back to il Margutta, a vegetarian restaurant (!!). They offer a Festivity Brunch every Sunday and holiday. For €25 a person, you can choose from 50 different dishes, including salads, hot dishes, fruit, juice, dessert, and coffee. Wow! Check out the non-brunch menu, which includes vegan options:

And look at the swank interior:

We were some of the first people there. Once the food was ready, we made our way through the line. Nothing was marked, so I can’t tell you exactly what is what, but I do know it’s all totally vegetarian and abso-freakin-lutely delicious. Here is my first serving:

My taller half had the following:

Then we had more food. Here’s mine:

And of course, dessert was mandatory.

At €50 total, this was by far the most expensive meal we had, but it was completely worth it. As much as I loved Osteria la Zucca in Venice, il Margutta was our overall vacation fave. I never wanted to leave.

That afternoon, we went to the Jewish Ghetto, which was really fun. I tried to hunt down a pastry shop recommended by the guidebooks, but I sadly never saw it. We took the bridge to Isola Tiberina, the world’s smallest inhabited island, and then to Trastevere to stroll. We were too full from the massive brunch for dinner, so instead we went to Gelateria Giolitti for dessert. It’s the gelato place featured in Roman Holiday, apparently.

I had marron glace (candied chestnut, a favorite of Pope John Paul II), mint, and dark chocolate. My love had bananas, coffee, and a flavor we can’t recall. It was definitely the best gelato I’ve ever eaten, and that’s certainly saying something. However, the place was absolutely crammed with a tour group. There are a ton of flavors, and you’re expected to shout out your choices quickly. Compounded with a turbulent, sardine-can-packed-and-rude-woman-filled bus ride earlier in the day, my anxiety kicked in, and I had a panic attack. It was my first one since college, so I didn’t recognize the signs quickly enough. I was doubly disappointed by it because of how delicious Giolitti was, but I was not going to venture a return visit. Hopefully my next trip to Rome will work out better.

That was the end of our otherwise lovely day.

October 11
Monday saw us rising at 6:30 a.m. to arrive bright and early at the Vatican. We had breakfast at Bar Castroni not too far from the holy city. Once again, no photo, but it was honey-topped brioches for both of us, coffee for him, and a caffe macchiato for me. The brioches were incredible, probably the best ones on the entire trip.

It’s important for me to tell you that it rained that day, and it was chilly. Anyway, we visited the Basilica and then decided to save €3 by walking up the stairs (more than 550) all the way. Let’s talk about some exercise. Check out the view once more:

For the record, we made a major mistake. We should have gone straight to the museums instead of St. Peter’s, but we didn’t realize this. So after our descent, we spent four hours (no, that’s not a typo) in line in the rain. The good news: we met a really nice girl from Romania who I believe was called Simona. The bad news: we stood in line in the rain for four hours. By the time we entered, I was starving, so I went to the caffeteria for a cornetto and coffee. I didn’t take a picture since I wasn’t supposed to use my camera inside the museum (though everyone else did). My taller half and I got separated, then reunited, and then separated again. It was stressful, but at least we got to see the sights.

We returned to the hotel because I’d effectively been wearing drenched clothes and shoes for six hours. After changing, we ventured to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and then – more importantly – Pizzeria Baffetto (which means mustache). This was such a fun dinner experience. We began queuing up at 6. Italians don’t eat dinner before 8 typically, but the line to this place was miles long by 6:15. We were the first at the door, though definitely not the first to order.

Because the place is small, we had to sit with strangers, a lovely, young French couple. Our table was right by the wood oven. Signore Baffetto was gruff and awesome, but I was too intimidated to take very many pictures. I do apologize for that. However, just imagine watching an experienced pizzaiolo throwing dough, flinging toppings, and perfectly cooking each pie. It was breathtaking and invigorating and oodles of fun. I found this great shot online, though:

Source.

Eventually, we had pizza:

Mine topped with mushrooms.

My taller half’s four cheese. We both had more Italian Coca-Cola and sparkling water and left happy and full. During dinner, we watched the mustachioed owner snap at people who tried to sneak in without waiting in line. At one point, an old woman attempted to do so, and he yelled at her to wait like everyone else. She gave him a “cut me some slack” look, and he responded, “Cammina!” which means “Walk!” Minutes later, he walked by our table and pinched the cheek of the gal sitting with us. It was awesome.

You didn’t think we were too full for dessert, though, did you? We decided to try San Crispino again since it was close, and I was hoping to be wowed.

I had crema di San Crispino, clementine, and their special chocolate; my taller half had crema di San Crispino, the amazing hazelnut meringue, and cream. Again, the hazelnut meringue was amazing, but the others were just fine. Giolitti was better, even if it made me hysterical. After eating, we walked around Piazza Navona and then returned to the hotel. I had my first claustrophobia nightmare that night.

October 12
We slept in until 9:00, which was an excellent choice. For breakfast, we popped over to Caffé Greco, an historic bar built in 1760:

Apparently Keats and Casanova liked it. So did we. We both had cream-filled brioche. I enjoyed my final real cappuccino, and my love had coffee.

We looked at ancient stuff that day. When we were ruined out, we had – wait for it – gelato at Ara Coeli:

Mine was pretty insane. I went with pine nut and nutello. I assumed the latter was Nutella-flavored gelato, but it ended up being straight-up housemade chocolate-and-hazelnut spread. It was brilliant. The two were incredibly good together. The nutello was so intense, though, that I had to give some to my taller half.

He went a little crazier than I did with four flavors: banana, lemon, white chocolate, and caramel.

After some Roming (get it?) around, we strolled over to Confetteria Moriondo e Gariglio to buy some artisanal chocolates. I bought a large dark-chocolate medallion with toasted hazelnuts for my mom. I sure wish I knew what happened to it. (That is not code for “I ate it!” I honestly cannot find the darn thing.) We got a little assortment for ourselves, too. Check out the adorable packaging:

I had incredible dark chocolate with cinnamon shaped like seahorses. My taller half chose three: milk chocolate with coffee (amazing!), milk chocolate with raspberry (so good!), sugary mint dipped in dark chocolate (delicious!).

We did a little shopping, returned to Piazza Navona, and then made our way to our final dinner destination: Cacio e Pepe.

The weather was nice, even if it was dark, so we ate outside. First we ate fresh bread:

And then we died. And then we were revived in time to eat the house specialty (cacio e pepe, surprisingly, which is pasta with cheese, pepper, and butter):

We died again. The noodles were incredibly long and clearly made fresh that day. The dish was packed with flavor. It was a great farewell to Roman cuisine.

By this point in the trip, I was exhausted and not feeling well, so sleep came quickly.

October 13
We left the hotel at an ungodly hour to catch the first metro to the train station. Then we took a train to the airport. I had breakfast there. I won’t show you the cappuccino and brioche because I think you get the point by now. My love had coffee and fruit salad.

I won’t talk about the flight because I’ve already given my rant. Just know that I was not happy.

My health deteriorated on all the airplanes. When we arrived at our layover in JFK, I purchased a Mediterranean wrap (Field Greens, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, and Sun-Dried Tomato Relish, hold the feta and olives) and orange juice from Au Bon Pain. It tasted incredible, possibly because I felt pretty ill. And thus I embraced my dairy-eschewing ways back in my homeland. I slept on the next two flights as much as possible, and eventually, we returned home.

So that, my friends, was my culinary adventure through Italy.

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Vacation Recap Part III: Florence

3 Nov

This is Part II of IV recapping my recent Italian excursion. Read Part I here and Part II here. You can also read about my tirade against American Airlines here.

So let’s see . . . where did we leave off? Oh yes, ‘twas the morning of October 7 and our departure from Brescia. It was time to hop on a train bound for Florence!

Because Brescia is a small town, getting to Florence required changing trains in Padova. We had a narrow, 15-minute window, and I knew that was going to be trouble. Italian trains are notoriously late; in fact, this trip featured the most consistent trains I’ve encountered. Both of my overnight trains before had been hours late. Anyway, inevitably our train to Padova was exactly 15 minutes late, but I wasn’t going to give up. We sprinted, bags in hand, down a flight of stairs, back up another, and then to our car on the other train. We made it! I can’t imagine it took longer than 30 seconds.

When we arrived in Florence, we walked to the hotel, Locanda Orchidea:

Ahhhhh. The fates smiled on us and gave us a free upgrade to a room with a private shower. Woo hoo! Look at how amazing the room was:

We paid €65 a night for this place. It’s unreal!

Over the next two days, we did the things one should do in Florence, such as climb 463 steps to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome in the Duomo:

Check out that view of Tuscany:

And wake up insanely early to be the first people in line for the Uffizi:

And enjoy the sunlight reflecting off Ponte Vecchio (that’s sunrise, folks, not sunset):

And buy clothes you just can’t live without:

Sweater dress from Zara and the most amazing vintage boots from a lovely boutique along the Arno.

If you go to Florence, you must:

  • Visit the Uffizi. It’s touristy for a reason. Every room is filled with amazing art, even the hallways. Get up early and go!
  • Have gelato at Grom.
  • See The David. Even if you don’t look at anything else in the Accademia, you would be crazy not to see this massive masterpiece.
  • Shop at Boutique Nadine on the Lungarno.

And now, food:

October 7
Our day started with the unpictured brioche and coffee I mentioned in Part II. The eating continued that afternoon with gelato from Grom:

I had salted caramel and fiordilatte, which is basically cream. My taller half had coffee and crema di Grom, the house specialty, which combines egg, Piedmontese cookies, and dark Columbian chocolate. The flavors were incredibly smooth, and I loved that the place uses some organic and lots of seasonal ingredients.

For dinner that evening, we had panini at Antico Noe`. I apologize for the insane crappiness of this photo, but we ate outside after dark:

I promise that isn’t bacon. Mine was filled with a squash-blossom frittata, and my love’s was Caprese-style (mozzarella, tomato, and basil). We both liked ours a lot, but mine was really, really, really good. We had more Italian Cokes on the side. Craving a little snack, we also had something crunchy and salty:


PAPRIKA PRINGLES! I love these things so much. I am sad every time I remember that they are not available in this country. I don’t know why Pringles wants to deprive Americans of this most delicious flavor of potato chips, but they do. Oh yes, and we had the Hot & Spicy ones, too. They were good, but I love Paprika, forever and always.

October 8
This day started earlier than I care to admit: 6 a.m. The guidebooks went on and on about four-hour lines at the Uffizi. Since we didn’t have a ton of time in Florence, this was not a good option for us. My taller half turned to me the day before and asked, “What are the chances you’ll get up at 5 tomorrow?” to which I could only reply, “Honestly, honey, there isn’t a chance in hell I’ll wake up that early.” We compromised with 6 instead. The museum didn’t open until 8:15, but by golly, we were the first two crazy people there.

Anyway, rising that early meant no breakfast beforehand. Instead, we explored half the museum and then ventured down to their bar around 10:00. I had a cappuccino and brioche (cream-filled), and he had just the former. Since I didn’t let my booty touch a chair, it was surprisingly inexpensive. And tasty, too. It’s unpictured, though, since we weren’t supposed to use cameras inside.

We saw lots of wonderful art, and I encourage all of you to read about it. I did not take pictures because I find it insane when people photograph pieces inside museums. It’s disrespectful and degrading to the work (and I mean that literally). Instead, Google the museum and get out there yourself someday.

After all that culturin’, these Okies needed some food. We walked over to ‘Ino, a paninoteca, for lunch. Mine had stroza (a kind of cheese) and a pesto made of zucchini. Sorry again for the blurriness.

My taller half enjoyed gorgonzola and mustard, which was not at all like the American variety. Both came on phenomenal bread. I could have eaten my weight in it.

After viewing the David (hey, baby), we had more gelato. But of course. This time, the location was Gelateria dei Neri:

I had white chocolate and Mexican chocolate. He had chocolate with orange and hazelnut. The chocolate with orange took the cake for Most Likely to Make You Slap Your Mama.

After some strolling and shopping (see above), we decided to have aperitivo at Pop Café for dinner. I sipped a Coke, and he had sparkling water, then we dove into the free buffet:

It was all-vegetarian at the beginning, but eventually the meat came out. Of the meat-free choices, we enjoyed a grain salad (I can’t figure out what kind) with tomatoes, bread, veggies with curry dip, and a tasty risotto. I had seconds of pretty much everything. I was getting a migraine, so we couldn’t stay long, but it was a tasty end to the busy, busy day.

October 9
We awoke early-ish for our departure from beautiful Florence. Since the hotel did not have breakfast available, we strolled down the road looking for Chiaroscuro, a café with a very positive reputation. However, they decided not to open on time, so we had to scramble to find somewhere else. Enter Bar Cucciolo (which means puppy – I love it!). It was close to the hotel and open, so we went for it.

Gorgeous cappuccino and coffee (mine and his). I also had a cream-filled brioche (obsessed much?). The service was delightful, and since they had just opened, everything was fresh. They also didn’t make us pay to sit – woo hoo! The walls had fun pictures from the bar’s early years in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. So fun and unexpected. I highly recommend the place. It was a delicious breakfast.

And then we grabbed our bags for our departure to Rome. Look for Part IV soon!

Vacation Recap Part I: Venice

26 Oct

This is Part I of IV recapping my recent Italian excursion. You can also read about my tirade against American Airlines here.

We flew away on a jet plane (or three) on October 1. We didn’t actually arrive in Venice until about 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 2. After gathering our baggage – oh wait, we didn’t do that, because we are crazy Americans who went carry-on-only. Seriously. It was one of the best choices we made the entire trip, especially the return portion. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

We took a bus from the Venice airport to the Piazzale Roma station, where we then hopped onto a vaporetto, or waterbus. Behold:

Eeek! We’re in Venice!

We stayed at the lovely Locanda Silva for three glorious nights. The room was basic and clean:

But it had a terrific semi-private balcony:

This is a food blog, so I won’t go into all the minutiae about every single thing we did and saw. However, I do want to share a few pictures and tips. Here is my favorite shot I took, of a side canal near our hotel:

Here is a blue door that I’ve heard people really like:

Here’s Basilica San Marco, which is amazing and was also five minutes from our hotel:

And here I am sporting my shades on the island of Murano:

If you plan a trip to Venice, you must:
· Eat at Osteria La Zucca (more details below)

· Enjoy hazelnut (nocciola) gelato at Da Nico (below, too)

· Visit Basilica San Marco – we thought paying extra for the Pala d’Oro was worth it, but if you want to save the cash, just take a free walk through the church.

· Visit the island of Murano. The views alone are worth it, but I also adored the Chiesa di San Donato. It’s free.

· Stroll along the Grand Canal at night. Bonus: take a vaporetto ride at night. Sigh.

· Check out the contemporary art at Punta della Dogana. It’s a nice antidote to all the baby Jesuses and altar pieces you’ll see throughout Italy.

As I said, this is a food blog, so let’s get on to the Venetian tasties.

October 2
Our first night, we were tired. I mean, tired. See?

That’s what 30 hours without sleep look like. Anyway, we had dinner at a place called Cavatappi. It started with sparkling water and bread:

I’d be lying if I said we limited ourselves to one basket. Or if I didn’t admit to eating the second basket entirely by myself. Oops. Anyway, Cavatappi specializes in cichetti, which are essentially Italian tapas popular in Venice, but none appeared to be vegetarian. Instead, I had poorly lit vegetarian pasta:

Noodles with mixed veggies in an olive-oil sauce. Pretty self-explanatory. My taller half had gnocchi with peas, cream and feta cheese:

His was pretty darn good. For dessert, we had a plate of soft cheese, honey, and walnuts:

Um, wow. I’m glad I decided to eat dairy in Italy. We returned to the hotel immediately after and fell asleep early, as in before 9:00.

October 3
We planned to spend pretty much all of Sunday doing a walking tour, since a lot of things are closed on the holy day throughout Italy. We started it all off with a big, beautiful breakfast at the hotel:

Two rolls with light cheese (I think it was provolone – it wasn’t quite so yellow in person), cornetti (croissants) filled with I believe apricot preserves, delicious Italian yogurt, orange juice, and sadly American-style coffee. There was also jam, butter, milk, and cereal that I didn’t touch.

Then we set off on our walking tour. There were museums and bridges and churches. Most importantly, however, there was our first gelato of the trip – and my love’s first true brush with Italian gelato.

I’m an old pro:

It was from Da Nico. I had hazelnut and chocolate; he had coffee and banana. We both agreed that the hazelnut was heavenly. In fact, it was one of the best I had on the entire trip. The other flavors were good but not mind-blowing.

By the end of the day – which involved getting lost and venturing past Venice’s prison – we were quite hungry but trying to save some dough, so we had takeout pizza from Cip Ciap (pronounced chip chop).

A small pizza Margherita, a slice of four cheese, and a slice of grilled veggies. The latter two were on foccaccia. We also had bottled sparkling water. I think the entire meal cost $10. We enjoyed it in the Piazza Santa Croce, where there is a grouping of picnic benches available for anyone to use:

It was absolutely gorgeous.

Afterward, we had gelato again at La Boutique del Gelato that I sadly forgot to photograph. I had tiramisu and panna cotta, and he had lemon and hazelnut. It wasn’t as good as Da Nico, but I still ate it.

October 4
By this point, we were both thoroughly in love with Venice, so the prospect of leaving was not terribly enticing. However, we had one more day to pack full of fun and excitement. It began with a breakfast identical to the day before’s and then a walk to Caffe’ Florian in Piazza San Marco.

It dates back to the 1700s. More importantly, it is Bond approved:

The plaque translates to, “The places and drinks preferred by 007.” Bah ha ha! And yes, that is why we went there. I live with a lovely man who spent the years he should have been reading Dr. Seuss devouring James Bond novels. He had hot chocolate, and I had my first cappuccino of the trip:

Sooooo good. American hot chocolate is basically sewage compared with the European stuff, sorry to say. We drank standing at the bar, because gracing a chair with your rear automatically triples the price. I’m not kidding.

Then we Basilica San Marco-ed it up and visited both Lido (oh oh oh oh) and Murano.

For more on the latter, keep your eye on my crafting blog. When we returned to Venice proper, we needed fuel – and by fuel, I mean gelato. Enter Alaska. This wasn’t no “I can see Russia from my house!” Alaska; it is an artisanal gelateria with a bunch of interesting flavors. (Hint: always opt for a gelateria calling itself artisanal – artigianale – or one with housemade – “produzione proprio” – stuff.) I enjoyed ginger and almond:

my taller half had gianduja (chocolate with hazelnut) and malt.

While we huddled on a stoop to enjoy the sweet stuff, raindrops started falling in our gelato. Before long, we looked like this:

HOT. We had to go back to the hotel to change quickly, ‘cause I was soaked through and through. Once we approximated dry, we headed back out for one of the two best meals we enjoyed in the entire country. Hello, Osteria La Zucca:

There is meat on the menu at La Zucca, but the inventive veggie dishes are the stars, or so say the guidebooks. We were not led astray. Again, it started with bread, including these great sesame sticks, and sparkling water:

We opted for three veggie dishes to split.

These included (clockwise from top) a potato-squash-cheese cake, carrots in curried yogurt, and Venetian artichoke patties topped with pesto. Oh, and a piece of bread and cucumber. I don’t have anything negative to say about a single one of these. The potato cake was my favorite, but I wouldn’t kick any of them out of bed.

We both ordered dessert. No, gelato earlier didn’t count; that was lunch. My taller half described his frozen limoncello mousse as one of the best things he’s ever eaten in his life. It was tart and sweet and had a wonderful consistency. Mine was really uncharacteristic for me. It was essentially a persimmon pudding with a little chocolate sauce and cayenne pepper, and it was fantastic. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed it. I’ve mentioned some of my food texture issues in the past, but one of my major ones is chunks of cooked fruit. This was a surprising win.

We were seated next to an older French couple. My French is limited to counting to 10, a few random vocabulary words (billet, sortie, mercredi), and the two phrases I recall from French class in fourth grade: “une boite de crayon” and “la plume de ma tante est sur le bureau de mon oncle”. My taller half, however, still understands a decent amount. He informed me that they were mostly minding their own business until I ordered our dinner in Italian. They were impressed. This discussion then led to the remark, “he is old enough to be her father.” Yes, if my boyfriend had impregnated someone in elementary school, then yes, he is conceivable (hardy har) old enough to be my father. Silly, nosy French.

Anyway, Zucca was our last meal in Venice excluding breakfast the following morning at the hotel. I’ll update with Part II: Milan/Brescia soon!