Christmas in Rome, part 2

The activities in my first post about Christmas in Rome were just ways to kill time between meals. I really go to Italy for the food.

Christmas Dinner at Osteria Sant’Ana (not affiliated with the guitarist, as far as we could tell) was a welcome feast of everything delicious about Italy. Appetizers of smoked buffalo mozzarella, fried artichokes, and prosciutto.

Spaghetti cacio e pepe, lasagne, salads, and big plates of meat for those who still had room for them.

Wild strawberries, Sicilian cannolis and cassata for dessert, followed by fresh clementines, and of course a little limoncello. For a restaurant filled mostly with tourists, they certainly fed us well.

Another blogworthy meal was lunch at Trattoria Da Luigi. We had a hard time choosing between all the delicious offerings, settling on tagliatelle ai carciofi, risotto con radicchio tartufato, grouper with zucchini flowers and pine nuts, grilled radicchio, and carciofi alla romana. Alas we had to resist the gorgeous antipasto on display as we entered the restaurant, since our stupid stomachs aren’t bottomless.

Before we knew it, it was time to hop on a train to Naples. Arrivederci, Roma.

Christmas in Rome, part 1

I’m a bit behind on my travel blogging. I’ll skip over a couple trips all together, but our winter adventures in Italy deserve a little more attention than they have received so far.

We arrived in Rome on Christmas Day to find the metro closed. No signs, no information, just a big metal gate closing off the entrance. Luckily our hotel was within easy walking distance of the train station.

Speaking of our accommodations, Albergo Ottocento is a nice, well-located boutique hotel within walking distance of many places of interest in Rome. And walk we did. The Christmas tree on the Spanish steps was a bit of a disappointment, but the sunset view from the top wasn’t.

The next day we headed over to the Vatican to see their tree and giant nativity scene*, and happened to catch a glimpse of the pope speaking to the crowd from a comically far-off window. I think he was discussing his new plan to get child molestation down to acceptable levels.

We saw a lovely art exhibit at the Chiostro del Bramante and then did some more wandering, including through the Christmas market at Piazza Navona. It was giant and loud and bright and tacky; nothing at all like a German Christmas market but fun anyway. A passing tourist’s remark about the “Panthanon” sent me into a giggling fit that could only be cured by a Campari-laden cocktail at the oh-so-charming Caffè della Pace.

More art at the Villa Borghese, which is a nightmare of rules (reservations required, you get kicked out after two hours, the required bag check refuses to take coats) but they get away with it since their art collection is so wonderful. Bernini statues, I will never get tired of looking at you. There was a special Carravagio Bacon exhibit going on; while I enjoyed the paintings I came out still having no clue what the justification was for putting those two artists together.

I get to the important stuff in part 2 of this post – coming soon.

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* My husband was surprised to see that one of the wise men was black. Guess it’s not like that in Montana.

Italy trip highlights: Eating Rome

We had no specific goals for our 1.5 days in Rome, except to eat well and relax. My last several trips to Rome were on business, so it was nice to reestablish this city as a place of leisure. There wasn’t any advanced planning involved beyond the hotel. It was nice. Especially the food.

All three restaurants we ate at this time came via an old copy of Fodor’s Italy. I’m usually not one to rely exclusively on guidebooks, but Fodor’s did us quite well on this particular trip.

Ditirambo – near Campo dei Fiori, we were a little skeptical of this cavernous locale when we arrived to find the only other patrons were a large group of old German men. Skepticism soon gave way to marvel; my appetizer of burratina (a soft cheese sort of like mozzarella) millefoglie with sundried tomato pesto was insanely amazing. I will remember that dish for a long, long time.

Arancia Blu – the first thing that struck me was the gorgeous, cozy interior; the second was the elaborate vegetarian menu. From our experience, the tasting menu is the way to go. So many delicious flavors. It was a bit of a hike from Termini, but the neighborhood was quite vibrant with nightlife.

Margutta Vegetariano
- [Edited to add: after a second visit, I can no longer recommend this restaurant. Service was slow and inattentive, and every bottle of white wine we ordered was brought to our table warm, without so much as an apology (when we asked what was up, we got a shrug and a “the refrigerator is broken.” The food was still good, but not enough to make up for the other problems.] Italian vegetarian restaurants two nights in a row! Margutta seemed to be having some service problems the evening we were there, given that we overheard complaints from the tables on either side of us. Although a couple of our (many) courses took a little too long to arrive, we otherwise found the meal itself to be fabulous. Each dish on the extensive tasting menus we ordered was delicate, artful, and yummy. The chic modern decor was also quite impressive. But what I really want to know is, who spends so much time and effort on a restaurant’s food and presentation, but then can’t be bothered to put a seat on the freakin’ toilet? Seriously, people. Despite the menacing unseated peeing arrangements and slightly slow service, our overall experience at Margutta was quite stellar.

In contrast to the guidebook-recommended restaurants, the gelato we ate was chosen purely based on my gelatodar (like gaydar, but for gelato), a skill I have honed through much practice, and which almost never fails. Subtle cues such as the colors, the signage, and the number of locals in line are all part of my elaborate system for sussing out the best gelato around.

Gelateria San Crispino
– if a gelateria is so cocky as to not even pile its gelato up for display, there’s a good chance that the flavor speaks for itself. The shiny covered containers at Gelateria San Crispino drew us in, and the exotic flavors got us pushing to the front of the line. Flavors like honey whisky, ginger cinnamon, and pear sorbet. Mmmmm.

Fior di Luna – here I went for my old standby gelato order: chocolate and pistachio. Pistachio is a very hit-or-miss flavor. Done well, it’s heavenly; done poorly, it’s not even worth my time. This is why gelatodar is so important. Fior di Luna passed the pistachio test.

name unknown – on the Isola Tiberia in the middle of the Tiber river, this gelateria looked unassuming, but offered up a solid version of my all-time favorite flavor: dark chocolate chili. Mmmm again.

Did we do anything in Rome besides eat? Yes, a little. Mostly we wandered around, soaking up the atmosphere. The Pantheon was a treat as always. And given that La Dolce Vita is one of my all-time favorite movies, a swing by the (insanely tourist-overrun) Trevi Fountain was practically predestined. We considered going into St. Peter’s, but given the long line we opted for people-watching in the piazza instead (easy to do when you’ve been inside multiple times before). I love vacations with no obligations!

Italy trip highlights: First impressions

I better get blogging about the details of our Italy trip before I start to forget them…

Let me preface this post by saying that I know Italy well. I’ve spent approximately two and a half years in the country. Since moving away in 2005, I’ve gone back many times. But still, my perspective is ever-changing. My brain constantly compares places to each other, and the reference point keeps shifting as I move about. Things that used to be normal parts of life now strike me as odd. Take my first impressions from this most recent trip…

We flew into Rome. The airport was run-down, hot, and dirty, and it took what felt like an eternity to get our luggage. It seemed like we had arrived in a 3rd-world country. Well, 2nd world, at least. The impression did not improve as we made our way through dirty corridors with broken glass where advertisements would normally be, nor when we arrived at the airport’s train station and found an abandoned, graffiti-covered old train parked on one of the two functioning tracks. Having a few minutes to kill before a real train showed up, we wandered into the bar for a coffee.

The second the dark, thick espresso touched my lips, all was forgiven. So what if Swiss airports are modern and spotless? Who cares how efficient the Munich S-Bahns are? When has any other country produced anything so delicious in the history of the world? My mood was suddenly elated, and my mouth watered as I anticipated all the other flavors to come on this trip…

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