Saturday, December 14, 2013

Roma...part deux

THE final leg of the trip. Well, I'm writing this a day after I was supposed to be home from the airplane, so Roma doesn't really feel anymore like the final leg of the trip, but, for the sake of the blog, we will call it that. 

We got on an early high speed train to Rome, so we were there in no time. My dad was hurting a bit and I was feeling only alright after our big night with Cherry. We dropped our bags off at the hostel that was really more like a hotel because we had a private room with our own bathroom. Fancy! It was kind of nice returning to a city for the second time. I knew where to go, how to get there, and without wandering around so we were able to have quite an efficient day. 

The last time I was in Rome, I kept trying to eat at this place called Pinsere which was the number 1 restaurant in Rome, according to Trip Advisor. It should be noted that it has now dropped to number 2; most likely because of their inconsistent hours. They were only open from 9am-2pm, despite their trip advisor post saying it's good for 'late night eats'. Well today, we were determined to go there because we would be there within their hours. We walked the short walk from the hostel, got to the door that was open and the server said they were closed for a private event for some rich guy from Dubai. WTF? You have to be kidding me. He recommended a place just down the street that was supposed to have good pizza so we went. It was a small shop with prepared pizzas of different varieties. They cut you squares or rectangles depending on how much you want and you pay per kg. My dad and I didn't totally get the concept or we would have tried different types. We opted for a mushroom pizza that had creamy cheese on it. Then, we added a delicious spicy oil in lieu of red chili pepper flakes. It was delicious. We need to bring that to the states! 

We continued on our walk and hit up all the hot spots that were in a short distance; the Spanish steps, Trevi fountain, the pantheon, some big piazza I'm blanking on the name, and then St. Peter's Basilica. It was nice to be able to soak in the sights this time because the last time I was glued to my camera. It was exciting to see my dad experience these places for the first time because they are really amazing. 

We continued on the course and walked to the Santa Maria Travestere neighborhood where we stumbled on a group of people hovered around a table eating some bread and wine. We tried to figure out what was going on and lurked nearby hoping to be invited in. Shortly after, a kind Italian man said 'prego, please, enjoy'. He cut a large piece of this sweet bread covered in powdered sugar. Heaven. Then he poured us a large glass of wine and explained that they were artists and they did this once a month. He shared about his family and how he was retired and kept busy by painting and being a part of this group. It was such a perfect Italian moment and another memory that I'll keep with me for a long time. This is Elrico or Rick as he had us call him.

We kept walking, now covering many miles, and made our way to the coliseum. By now, we had seen almost every top sight there is to see in Rome, except for the Vatican. I couldn't do that tour again, no matter how beautiful the artwork was. Sorry dad! We finally got back to our hostel after walking for about 10 hours straight. We relaxed, called Colin and Mom, and got a game plan for dinner. 

Trip advisor led us to a nearby modern Italian restaurant that reminded me of something you'd see outside of Italy. Their take on Italian cooking, if you will. We started with a mixed green salad and then I ordered the braised veal with crispy potatoes and my dad got eggplant Parmesan topped with salted cod. I have to say, he won that order. Mine was very rich and comforting, but his was perfect. The saltiness of the fish with the smooth eggplant and tomato sauce complemented each other. Still hurting from the night before, we opted for only a glass of house wine. We finished with 'tiramisu' if you can call it that. It was more like deconstructed tiramisu and had all the flavors, but was in a glass dish and seemed more like a layered espresso pudding. This meal was delicious, even if it wasn't home traditional Italian.

We walked the short walk back and rested up for our final day. Quite a difference from my Contiki tours that had me out till 4 in the morning.

Our final day was filled with even more walking. We started with breakfast at the hostel and then started the walk to the Coliseum for our day of Ancient Rome. We wanted to avoid the shady characters at the train station so we walked entirely out of our way and ended up next to a grocery store that had the sweet powder sugar bread that we had the previous day. I figured it would be the perfect thing to bring for my coworkers so I bought one and so did my dad. I secretly, well not so secretly, can't wait to cut it up so I can have some more. Hopefully it makes it till Wednesday. [follow up: it did make it till Wednesday and was exactly how I remembered it]

We walked back to the hostel, dropped off our huge boxes of Italian cake and started out again, losing about an hour, but gaining a worthwhile treat. This time, we just sucked it up and went by the train station and shortened our route a fair bit. We finally got to the coliseum and found someone offering a tour. I learned some interesting things on the tour including some of the shit they did in the coliseum. They tied people up to poles and let wild animals that had been caged for a few days with little food into the arena and watched as the animals ate the people alive. That was just a warmer up before they had two people fight to their death. They set up matches against little people they called nets and big people that were covered in heavy armor that tried to fall and squish the little people. How messed up is that? We wondered around there for a bit and then went on the Ancient Rome tour.

The Ancient Rome tour was another interesting tour where we found out that the reason the area is so desolate and destroyed was because, in the fourteen hundreds, the church moved back to Rome and they decided they needed to make more churches. They had no money, so they scavenged on some of the buildings that weren't being used any more. Bronze tees that supported the coliseum, gone. Marble on all the facades of the buildings in Ancient Rome was ripped off and used to make the new churches. The bronze that used to cover the pantheon, now is on top of St. Peter's crypt. It's really sad to think that all of the buildings would still be in place if it weren't for the additions that the church made. However, you walk into St. Peter's basilica and it was put to good use...

By now, it is 3pm and I'm starving. Our small breakfast from the hostel is long gone and I'm doing everything in my power to not get hangry at my dad. I tell him I'd like to wrap up the tour and he says ok, but then continues to snap photo after photo after panorama. I was losing patience quick. In Italy, they take breaks between lunch and dinner to get ready for the next service. We were inching close to that closing time. He did get some good photos, but I was at my end.

Finally, we exited the Ancient Rome area and made our way to the pizza restaurant my mom and I are at when she was here. Looking back, we should have gone to somewhere closer, even if it was in the tourist area because it took us about 45 minutes to walk to the pizza place. As we got closer, my dad and I remembered we were out of cash and would need a place that took cards. Well, those places don't exist in this area, so I really started to lose it. And then it started raining. Seriously? The one day I don't wear my huge puffer coat with hood it rains? Perfect. We finally scrounged in our wallets and pockets for whatever remaining change we have and find a small pizza place that was similar to the spot from the day before. We had like 8 euro and ordered our pizzas. The total came to 6 euros and we quickly ate the pizza and I immediately felt a calm come over me. The rain had stopped and we walked back to the hostel to relax before dinner, grabbing a couple beers before we got back. 

I found a restaurant around the corner that had great ratings and served lasagne, which is just what I wanted for my last meal in Italy. We made reservations for 8 and drank our beers in the meantime. We walked in and it was much more crowded than when we made reservations. Good sign. We were seated next to two young guys and my dad immediately started a conversation with them. The waiter brought over two glasses of prosecco and gave us a chance to peruse the menu. I settled on lasagne and my dad ordered the fettuccini with seafood (another favorite of mine). 

We ordered the house wine and continued our conversation with the two English guys who ended up being cousins. Our food came out and my lasagne was the perfect serving and my dads was a heaping pile of pasta. It was good, not the best, but our company at the table next to us was so fun that the meal seemed excellent. We ended up moving over to their table and had shots of limoncello and exchanged stories of travels to areas that we had all been. Finally, the waiter came over and said the restaurant was closed and we looked at our watches and it was 11:30pm. We had talked with them for so long and the time flew by. We said our goodbyes and dad and I walked the short distance to our hostel still chatting about how fun the two guys were. We packed what we could and got ready for bed, anxious that we were finally heading home. 

Rome was still fun the second time I was there and I even saw places I didn't get to see with my mom. My dad was able to be 'my mom' and rely on me for directions which is a huge change for him. I was so ready to go home, but the last meal made it a bit bittersweet because it's so fun to meet these new people. I hope when I get back to sf (if I ever do) that I continue to meet new people while out. It's great to hear their stories and find similarities in our lives. 


Second or last stop on my tour. I can't believe I began this trip in October and now it's December. Time flies when you're having fun.

My dad and I got on an early train out of Venice after we found a nearby supermarket to grab breakfast and snacks for lunch. As the train attendant came around with snacks and drinks, we chose the champagne. You can see we are settling nicely into the first class train thing.

We changed trains in Florence and headed to Pisa for a quick touristy afternoon. For those that have been to Pisa, you know there is really not much to do in Pisa, except to pose with their construction fail that has made them famous. We made our little picnic of salami, cheese soaked in Cabernet, fresh bread filled with delicious seeds, and a bottle of vino with our bathroom cups we stole from the hotel. It was actually a nice day; clear and sunny, maybe even a little warm. We sat on the grass and enjoyed the day. We even did our part to put the tower back in place.

After a couple hours, we headed back to Florence to start our touring there. The place that we stayed was just perfect. I'm a huge fan of airbnb now and recommend it to anyone traveling. The ability to cook while on vacation is like having a piece of home and it's nice to have more than just a room to put your stuff down in. This place was exceptional and the hosts were so kind. They gave us a list of their favorite restaurants, caf├ęs, gelaterias, and supermarkets. 

We decided to try one that was just a few minute walk from where we were staying; Antica Mescita in the San Niccolo district. We walked in and they were still getting everything set up so they got us bread, olive oil, and wine to tide us over. 

The entire menu was in Italian so I was really unsure what to get. I understood 'bistecca' ans remembered Marina telling me about the infamous florentine steak. Shortly after we sat down, an older couple walked in and we chatted with them for a bit. The old man got up almost mid conversation and said one moment and walked outside. He reappeared shortly holding a green bottle of olive oil and he explained it was olive oil his family made just in October and that we could share it with him. It was fabulous and so fresh. At the end of the meal, he ended up giving us the entire bottle to take home. It was such a sweet gesture and I'm excited to share it with family when I return.

The waiter came over and explained the menu and gave us some pointers on where to begin. He suggested a bread soup that was a Florentine staple and then the florentine steak to share prepared just as the chef would like it, rare. We agreed and were excited for what we were going to taste. He brought out the soup, told us to add olive oil, and dive in. It was so yummy. It had black cabbage which reminds me of kale, beans, tomatoes, carrots, and, of course, bread. My dad was so happy with this meal and the company we shared I thought he would shed a tear. 

While we were enjoying the soup, he brought out the steak for us to check and make sure it was to our liking. Holy cow. This had to be where that expression came from because this thing was glorious. House of Prime Rib ain't got nothin on this.

We continued chatting with our neighbors in what English they could understand and learned a bit more about them and their family. The waiter brought out the cooked steak and cut it for us explaining that it was ok to pick up the bone and eat what he called the 'priest cut' that is right next to bone. It was amazing and head the best flavor. It might have been a little rare for my dad, but I didn't mind the pink in the center because it was so tender.

We finished the meal with another house specialty - cheesecake topped with orange glaze and chocolate chips and a coffee. I can't believe I order coffee at restaurants, at night time. What has Italy done to me?

We said goodbye to our new friends and thanked them for the olive oil. It was the perfect Italian meal and everything that I had hoped for. My dad clearly enjoyed himself and, I'd imagine, he will be sharing this story for many years to come.

After dinner, we walked up to the top of the hill to Piazza Michelangelo to burn off some calories from our rich meal and to get a beautiful view of the city. There is a bronze version of the David statue at the top of the hill and it is quite a site to see.

The next day we got up and had planned to go to the Uffize Museum and the Duomo. We stopped to get coffee and breakfast first, but it wasn't easy finding a place because my dad said they all looked 'too fancy'. I guess when you're used to McDonalds for breakfast, anything is fancy. Finally, I got him to agree to go in to a place near the museum and we spent a whopping 5 euro on two coffees and two croissants. Less than Starbucks and look how pretty it is (I had already eaten my croissant before I remembered I needed a pic, oops).

We went into the Uffize museum and went room by room to look at all the paintings and sculptures. I don't know if the Louvre spoiled me, but I wasn't that impressed. I know, it is supposed to be THE biggest collection of Italian art and mind blowing, but after about our 6th room of paintings that were hanging in a church at one point, I sort of zoned out. Plus, my dad wanted to read all the information, so it was dragging on a bit. We were there for over 3 hours and I was getting hungry. He sensed my restlessness and sped up his tour. We found a nearby pizza place and shared a insalata mista and a sausage and mushroom pizza with some house wine on the side. It's as delicious and just what I love about Italy. 

With full bellies we continued out exploring the city and stumbled about the Duomo, a beautiful church in the heart of Florence. We went in the church and looked around and then went into the basement of the church where there were remnants from hundreds of years ago. We got the ticket that allowed us access to all parts of the Duomo; including the parts where you can climb the tower and dome. We decided to start with the tower first, a modest 430 steps to the top. It was quite a climb, but worth the views.

When we got done with the climb, we had obviously earned some gelato and found some at a nearby cafe that also had free wifi so we were able to FaceTime my mom too! 

We hung out in the warm cafe for about an hour and then went to the grocery store near our apartment to make a nice Italian meal in our kitchen. I convinced my dad to splurge the extra 60 cents to get the fresh pasta instead of the box pasta and a fresh ragu sauce instead of a can of sauce. We were going to have paperdelle pasta with carne ragu, a fresh mixed green salad, and a fresh load of bread. We also picked up a couple bottles of wine, breakfast goodies, and some snacks for the day. Our meal was delicious, if I do say so myself. The vino - an amazing 5 euro bottle of chianti - paired perfectly and the company couldn't have been better.

We took it easy the rest of the night and woke up early the next day to get as much stuff some as possible. We went back to the Duomo to climb the dome this time. 

My dad and I had finished getting countless panoramas of the view and were relaxing on the bench when we noticed a girl trying to get a selfie with the complete view behind her. My dad offered to take the picture and we started chatting with her. She was from Singapore and traveling in Italy for 6 weeks. She had a great personality and was fun to talk to so we continued the conversation at the nearby cafe over a couple glasses of spritz - an Italian cocktail served over ice. We split off to go to museums but decided to meet up for drinks that evening.

My dad and I went to have our leftover pasta for lunch which seemed to be better than when we ate it fresh. We had some vino along side and then headed back out to continue seeing the city since it was our last day. We were off to another museum, the Accademia, that housed the original sculpture of. Michael Angelo's David. I know you're not supposed to take photos...but I did. I didn't use a flash, so I don't see the big deal. 

The David is so impressive, it really is something everyone should seem the craftsmanship that he took carving it is absolutely incredible. Every detail is captured from his muscular body, the veins in his hands, to the toenails on his feet. The rest of the museum; however, was not much to speak of. I don't understand why the David isn't at Uffize museum which would make more sense. Oh well, another way to get 11 euro out of a couple of tourists. 

We wandered around the city after the Accademia museum and found the gelato shop that Amanda had told me about, Grom. It was tucked off the square and had all housemade gelato. I decided on straciatella and pistachio and my dad got the hazelnut and pistachio. Unfortunately, it turns out I'm not a big pistachio fan, but the straciatella was delicious! 

After going around the city for another couple hours, it was time to meet up with Cherry. She led us to a place called Small Bar that serves pizza, paninis, chips, peanuts, and olives for free when you buy a drink. What a great deal! Cherry had a bottle of wine started and we continued to have more until we finished our third bottle. We were there for so long that the bartender even showed us his cellar that he is building stocked with racks and racks of wine. Unfortunately, he didn't open any reserve bottles for us, but it was still fun to see his collection.

This girl Cherry was so funny. She warned us about never going to the bathroom after a Chinese person because of their interesting habits, she told us about her travels, Singapore culture, and we even planned for her to come to sf to visit. She was a great addition for the evening and made our time in Florence extra special with her company. I couldn't help but think, that would have been me traveling by myself and how much I would want to meet people to enjoy an evening with. We walked around the city and my dad was set on trying a cannoli. We asked a local where to get one and he said, 'those aren't in Florence, they are a Sicilian specialty!' Despite his guidance, my dad continued on his search for a cannoli. We found a gelato shop that had some and bought two to share. I took one bite and immediately had to spit it out. It tasted as if the filling were vomit flavored. Pungent and bitter and not what I was expecting at all. So disappointing! We found a fountain sculpture of a boar that was similar to one we saw in the museums and decided to take a picture. You almost can't tell who is Asian here because my dad was laughing so hard. 

I don't know if it was the bad cannoli, walking around the city, or just the wine that was already in our bellies talking, but we decided we needed more wine and that we should go back to our apartment and drink more. That's always a good idea, right?  Especially after seeing my dad in the picture above. Wrong. We finished another bottle of wine and then Cherry went home. I passed out dreading the hangover that I knew I would wake up to, especially on a travel day. Sure enough, I woke up with a pounding headache, but it was Saturday and I would be going home on Monday. Hooray!

Florence was a favorite city of mine. It's another place that I wish I had longer to stay because I feel like I wanted to see more of the city and the surrounding areas. Also, meeting the people that we did made it such a memorable place. When I crack my olive oil bottle at home I will think of the older couple from our first night there. The Duomo was by far the best 'deal' if you will. For 10 euro you got access to all parts and the stair climbs were refreshing and had some of the most beautiful sites on the trip. 

Final destination, Roma.