Thursday, November 17, 2011

48 Hours in Rome

Is not enough time. I was blown away by how much there is to see, explore, ingest, and imbide With every turn I discovered a different piazza or a new narrow winding street filled with it's own shops and history to discover. I could have easily spent a whole week there and still felt like I didn't see everything I'd want to. Since I didn't have a week, I had 48 hours, I tried my best to squeeze everything in, and definitely had some delicious food along the way.

After arriving in Rome midday Sunday, we checked into the hostel, near Termini station, and began walking towards the colosseum: a walk taking us through a wide area of the city. On the way, we stopped for a pizza lunch. The pizza wasn't the best I had while in Italy but it was still very homemade tasting. The cheese was slightly less fresh than in Florence while the dough was more "Italian" and soft in the middle but the true star was the spicy salami. It packed a lot of flavor and really made the pizza. After lunch, we continued our walk to the Colosseum where we toured the unbelievable structure. The most amazing part to me was not its incredible condition today or the elaborateness of it for the time it was built, but the remarkable history of the stadium. During its use as a sight of gladiator battles, over 700,000 people were killed there, animals were made to fight prisoners who'd been rubbed with a female animal scent, and patrons were whipped up the stairs to expedite the time it took to fill the stadium. The richness, perverseness, and all out gore of the stadium's history, plus the architectural wonder and cultural pervasiveness of the building itself made it an incredible place to visit. After our walk around in the sun (oh how I missed the sun) it was absolutely necessary to get gelato. Instead of regular gelato however, I opted for mousse, which is commonly sold along side gelato many places. I chose a honey almond flavor and oh my gosh was it good! The first flavor was of the airy cream of the mouse, followed by a crunch of an almond and then the lingering sweetness of the honey. It was gone in about two minutes. Next, we wandered through many of Rome's famous piazzas, past monuments such as the "wedding cake monument" (Ermilio Vittorae II) and over to the Pantheon. I'm sure the open dome of the Pantheon always looks cool, except maybe when's it's pouring rain, but at twilight it was amazing. The sky was a dramatically bright shade of royal blue which seeped in through the opening casting a hue over the ancient church. We then continued on to the Trevi fountain where we made a wish and threw our coins in, according to the legends of the fountain. Hungry, from a long day of sightseeing and traveling, we got dinner from the casual, La Famiglia by our hostel. The restaurant was small and rather unassuming in decor but filled with mainly Italians. The bread was a strange foccacia bread with too many olives for my taste, although one is too many for me. To start, I got a tomato salad which was perfect and fresh. Comprised simply of tomatoes and basil, I took the liberty of covering it in olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. For my dinner, I had the homemade lasagna. I've never been a big lasagna person, and then I didn't eat meat for forever, so I decided Italy was the ideal place to make my ruling about lasagna; I am now a lasagna fan. La Famiglia's lasagna was delicious with layers of soft pasta and oozey cheese topped with crumbled meat and all covered in homemade red sauce. To make the meal "healthy" we got a side order of mushrooms with truffle oil. Not exactly keeping the meal light but definitely keeping it delicious.

Monday, I woke up early and boarded the bus to the Vatican City. Luckily, we only had a short wait to tour St. Peter's Basilica. The cathedral was gorgeous with a huge number of mosaics, statues, and smaller chapels that ranged in style from incredibly opulent to simple and modest. Then we proceeded to the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel where, by some miracle, we had NO line! The museum was full of interesting information and beautiful old rooms. My favorite room was the map room: a long room completely filled my ancient frescoes detailing ever region of Italy on separate maps. The Sistine Chapel was unbelievable and make me marvel, for the second time in a weekend, at the incredible talent of Michelangelo. Walking from the Vatican City back across the river, after getting a pair of great fake sunglasses on the street, we wandered through the old Jewish Quarter. For lunch, we ducked into a very small shop selling pizza and salads from behind a counter and full of entirely Italians. It's no wonder it was so crowded: the pizza, and the price, was unbeatable. The counter was constantly taking giant pizza squares out of the oven and as you ordered, they chopped your requested amount off the block. Then, in a way to rival NY, folded the pizza pieces in half and wraped it in a piece of recycled paper. The best part was, instead of tasting like a NY slice, the crust was thin and crackery while the cheese and sauce tasted fresh and Italian. We then went on a tour of the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. Being a history nerd, I really liked the tour and loved imagining how the Romans lived, which is easy to do due to the high number of intact ruins. Since it was only about three in the afternoon, I couldn't yet justify dinner so we instead went for a snack. Sipping my wine in the Campo de'Fiore and soaking up the mid-afternoon sun was truly a character building afternoon activity. To make it better, we ordered suppli, a famous Roman dish, to go with the wine. Each suppli was fried and filled with rice, a rich creamy cheese, a little sweet tomato sauce and a lot of goodness. Despite the somewhat off-putting name and motto, Sloppy Sam's - classy in the front, sloppy in the back (a reference to the tranquil outdoor seating area compared to the frat-house decor of the bar inside) - the suppli were delicious and a perfect afternoon snack. Relaxed and rejuvenated, we wandered along Via del Corso, a main shopping street, before making our way back across the Tiber river to Trastavere. The area is very picturesque with narrow cobblestone streets, blocks of restaurants ranging from kitchy to gourmet and beautiful old buildings. My dinner at La Scala was the best meal of my time in Italy! We began with the house Chianti and bread. The bread basket includes these great sweet breads. They were heavy, dense breads and each was a different flavor. My favorite of the sweetbreads had a roasted hazelnut in the center giving the bread a dessert-like quality. The regular bread was also very good, ad were the oil and vinegar. For our starter, we split a Roman artichoke, another of the city's specialities. The medium size artichoke was prepared with olive oil, tarragon, thyme, basil, and several other spices. The whole thing was cooked perfectly from the delicate texture to the lasting flavors of the seasoning. It was so tender even the stem was delicious enough to savor and the tarragon really gave it a fresh flavor, keeping the whole dish from being lost in the oil. For my main course, I had the fettucini fruti de mare. The noodles themselves tasted and looked hand cut. The pasta was filled with succulent, head-on shrimp, a generous serving of mussels, a few clams, calamari and octopus that were all very fresh. The sauce was a light red sauce with a dash of cream that really complemented the fishs' freshness and natural flavor. Despite being ridiculously full, we got a chocolate torta for dessert. The top of the cake was almost like a thin layer of meringue followed by moist cake and then a large layer of ricotta cheese, followed by a layer of chocolate and then some type of biscuit crust. What made the cake so good though was the ricotta. It was infused with orange and orange liquor, giving it a very summery flavor whilst the chocolate worked to give the cake a taste fit for November. It was a truly great meal and a perfect end to a wonderful weekend in a fascinating city. A city in which 48 hours is not nearly enough to explore the thousands of years of history, culture, and architecture that make Rome the incredibly multi-faceted city it is today.

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