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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.