55 hours in Rome

One of the great joys of studying in a city in the middle of Italy is the short distance between centralized Tuscany and other parts of the country. For example, the local train between Florence and Venice is just under four hours, next week I’ll be taking the fast train to Naples, getting there in only three hours, and this past weekend my friends and I took the fast train to Rome in an hour and half door to door. Amazing!

Since I used to drive the 6 hours to and from the University of Richmond, VA a few times a year when in undergrad and have spent many a summer weekend commuting 3 hours to Montauk, NY for fun in the sun, such short distances between major Italian cities is a dream. Obviously in Italy, there is always the potential for a strike which can shut down public transportation for many hours/days, but in general, traveling with the train is pretty effortless once you get the hang of how to buy tickets, remembering to validate them, ya da ya da.

Some time in January my friends and I decided that we wanted to plan an overnight adventure somewhere. While we all love Florence, sometimes the best way to appreciate the city you live in is to get away for a weekend and hopefully return with a fresh perspective. In brainstorming ideas, there were talks of Siena, Parma, maybe Bologna, but we finally settled on heading due south to Roma. Since Kathryn, Molly and I had all been to the city a few times already (geez, how lucky are we really??), we felt free from the obligations of visiting all the major touristic sites – which would mean spending two days traipsing around to and fro with fanny packs and our wallets hidden safely down our pants. Don’t get me wrong, I love a visit to the Sistine Chapel and the Villa Borgese, but the intent of this trip was to try to see the city void of large tourist groups and the snaking lines found outside all major cultural sites.

As I happily (and maybe forcefully?) took the reigns for planning the extravaganza, the first thing I sought out was a bed and breakfast in a convenient location. While it is always convenient to stay near the train station as that is where we’d be arriving and departing from, when thinking about evening adventures, the area around Termini is not the best at night with return times past 11 pm. Instead, I focused on Trastevere, an area I’ve heard has a great night life, young people and restaurants. Calisto 6 B&B was the perfect place to call home for 2 days. Located literally above a bar in Piazza S. Calisto, Calisto 6 is ideal for young travelers who want to stay a step up from a hostel in a lively location filled with Italians and other young tourists alike. The only downside was not so much the loud hum of people at the bar until 3 am, but more so the city cleaning crew who came the next morning at 7:30 am and proceeded the throw glass bottles into the back of their truck for about an hour. Get awakened by the shattering sound of some one repeatedly throwing empty beer bottles against your bedroom door was maybe the harshest wake up call I’ve ever experienced. Such is life, and as I am a morning person, there was no way I could get back to sleep so I got up and started the day (the other ladies, all able to fall back asleep with smiles on their faces, were less phased by the early morning action…).

The neighborhood:

View from our window. Small church with strange painting of a woman located on bottom left of facade.

Street art (or graffiti depending on your opinion) located all around the neighborhood.

The culprit! The meanest Saturday morning wake-up call!

Up at what seemed liked the crack of dawn (although it was nearly 9:30 am when I left the house) I headed to a place that I knew could cure my slight hangover from the night before: the Campo de Fiore Market. For those of you who caught my review of Florence’s Sant’Ambrogio market for arttrav, you already know about my love for open air Italian markets.

In Roma, the piazza Campo de’Fiore (meaning “field of flowers”) is overrun by the market Mondays-Saturdays, 7 am – 1:30 pm. Like most markets of this genre there is everything from fruits and veggies, underwear to coffee pots, tartufo spreads and spice vendors being sold to tourists and locals. The energy in the market was buzzing by the time I got there. Vendors were jovially shouting across stands to one another, there were locals discussing recent soccer results, old ladies screaming that they had the best priced artichokes in town…a scene of organized chaos and to me, the epitome of all that is great about this country. Every emotion of the Italian psyche can be found at the market and I was happy to be an innocent onlooker in the heart of the action:

Spices galore! I picked up some "troppo piccante" peperoncino and also the spice mixture for Pasta Cacio e Pepe. I am pretty sure this is a regional dish. My understanding of making it is that you start with a long stringed pasta (spaghetii or fettucine), cook according to directions on box MINUS 2 minutes. While pasta cooks, grate a whole lot of cheese in a large serving bowl, add some spice mixture (maybe a tablespoon per serving?) and olive oil. When the pasta is cooked and drained add in with just a bit of some reserved pasta water (to form a very thick paste), stir furiously, top with more cheese! The vendor went over all this with me, and when I suggested the use of Parmigiano Reggiano, he paused, pursed his lips and said, "Non mai (not ever!) Usa solo Pecorino Romano, ha capito? (use only Pecorino Romano, understand?!)" He then repeated this about 3 times to make sure I understood. I live for cooking lessons at the market.

The most beautiful vegetable I've ever seen. There is something about Roman artichokes that makes my heart melt. Pure beauty in its most natural form.

The largest peppers I've ever seen.

Father/daughter duo I schmoozed with for a few minutes.

Man has got skills. Was slicing all through our conversation. He didn't even have to look at what he was doing! I almost had to pull up a chair and ask for a lesson...

Tartufo pyramids!

Right around the corner from the market is the Roscioli Bakery which we lunched at during our first day in Roma. Another suggestion from my father, the bakery makes huge, rectangular shaped pizzas, I would say about 1 foot thick and 4 feet wide (they must use special ovens and pizza boards because the shape is unlike any I’d ever thought possible). Every few minutes a new type of pizza comes out – they have everything from classic margherita to pizzas topped with sausage and broccoli rabe to potatoes and ham. To order you just tell the guy how much you want to spend. For example, you can say “2 euros di pizza bianco” and he’s cut off a slice of that amount for you. If this was to be your lunch meal, I would say a 3-4 euro slice would be more than enough. They also have a “tavola calda” section (literally meaning “hot table”). It is prepared foods behind a deli counter that they warm up when you order. We checked out the whole scene and had a tough time deciding between pizza or a warm meal. But once I heard the lady behind the counter point to a potato dish with some sort of fish and proclaim it was BACCALA E POTATE PER VENERDI, I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t take my eyes off the harmonious medley cod and potato. The girls and I were all sold. We also picked up some marinated eggplant and artichokes and found a counter to linger by. As my diet in Florence severely lacks fish, I was almost whimpering with joy at the flavors and textures of this dish: rich, moist, melded perfectly together and subtly spiced as to not overpower the fish. I wish I had an image but my mind was far from my camera at this point and well, you know how it goes… but here are some pics of the place:

The bakery section. Worth a stop alone.

We flirted with the pizza guy in hopes of a free slice. No dice but still always fun to talk with the guys behind the counter.

The "tavola calda" section. Notice in the foreground the eggplant sitting happily in some oil and herbs. They were the perfect consistency: not breaking apart but practically melted in your mouth. God I love the way the Romans treat their veggies!

Elyse and Kathryn in front of the bakery.

Alright, if keep writing at this pace we will be stuck in Rome forever (NOT a bad thing, but with a trip  to Naples coming up and then a visit to Robert’s family in 2 weeks AND I never finished telling you about the trip to Chianti with John and my Mom (+ surprise guest), oy I must move on with my blog life.
So, here is a list of other life changing, must see (and taste) to believe the greatness of restaurants, meaning NEXT TIME YOU ARE IN ROMA EAT HERE:
ai Spaghettari (Location: Trastevere; Highlights: fried zucchini flowers, artichoke brushcetta, Rigatoni alla Amatriciana, Spaghetti alla Carbonara)
Antica Enoteca (Location: Spanish Steps; not life changing food but wonderful choice while in a touristy area; calming ambiance and handsome decor. Primi’s are well priced and I have had their caprese salad in the past (a big ball of mozz surrounded by fresh tomatoes) that can’t really be beat.
Ditta Trinchetti (Location: Trastevere: Highlights: life changing Scamorza con Verdure (basically a large ramekin of mozz and grilled vegetables that are run under a broiler and topped with fresh olive oil), lasagnes (Molly had gorgonzola and radicchio that looked and smelled delicious); ambiance: french country kitchen; perfect lunch spot

The foreground shows the Scamorza con verdure and then a simple plate of beautifully treated marinated artichokes from Ditta Trinchetti.

While I have been talking a big food game, one of the other highlights of the trip was an afternoon at Maxxi, a new contemporary art museum located in northern Rome (from Piazza del Popolo, take tram #2, four stops up, museum is to your left). The architect, Zaha Hadid is originally from Baghdad and currently lives in London. Her design was chosen over 273 other candidates and the result of her work in Rome is absolutely breathtaking: 

The ebb and flow of the building's curving lines along with the great space of the plaza was like a breath of fresh air. Kathryn and I agreed that it was a rejuvinating experience to be in a museum setting in Italy that let visitors freely move about without the limitations of a defined path or route (which is typical in Florence due to the make up of old buildings and the traffic control issue in touristy sites).

The reflective windows show a mirrored image of the neighboring buildings, subtly linking the museum with its surroundings. Both the visitors up in the viewing deck and also those on the ground level are provided a glimpse of the residential neighborhood from their varying standpoints.

So many lines and shapes oh my! And it all just flows so well together.

Finally, some pics of my friends and I taking in some of the “have to” sites of the city. You’ll notice a new cat, Molly, whom I’ve sort of known since arriving in Italy last August (we actually met in Poughkeepsie, NY when I went to drop off my visa application in June). I feel both sad and ecstatic that after 5 months of living in the same city, we JUST realized we lead freakishly parallel lives. Mostly in our love for food, food shopping, fashion blogs, How I Met Your Mother, creating and following itineraries, avoiding tourist traps (especially those restaurants in Italian piazzas where men are dressed in pathetic Renaissance garb that reminds me of the fair in upstate NY that I used to go to on school field trips as a child – terrifying all around) like the plague. Molly and I are at our best with sandwiches in palazzos, people watching the afternoon away. She is one of those people whom I instantly felt like, wait, haven’t we known each other a lot longer than we have? Which is always a good sign… blah blah blah she’s great and will most probably become a regular around here. Blog world! Meet Molly:

Molly and I at a joint in Florence. Please take note of Kat's sweet face in the background and that Tori in the back background was having a serious day dream at 11 o'clock at night.

Back in Roma:

A big thumbs up for ancient ruins around the Jewish Quarter.

Those who know me well know my affinity for old Jewish ladies. I hope in another life I come back as this woman with her fabulous coat and effortless Sundays spent reading the newspaper outside a Kosher deli.

Contemporary art space in the quarter with a powerful work by Israeli artist, Menashe Kadishman. "Fallen Faces" is best known as a permanent installation at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Classic shot at the Trevi Fountain.

A few more shots around town and then we’re done!

Trastevere at 9 am.

I was more interested in these hipsters than the Colosseum. That's bad!

Kat was the first to notice the space invaders around town. Here is a view of a big guy in Testaccio.

Soccer in Trastevere. I had to sincerely hold back from jumping into this pick up game...

And there you have it. 55 hours in Rome. If you haven’t already picked up on it, I sort of fell in love with this city and the neighborhood of Trastevere. The people, the sites, the laid back attitude, well in many ways is another world from my life in Florence. As both my parents are from southern Italy, maybe it’s something in the air or water that I am attracted to? Not sure.

But now settling back in rainy Florence, as hoped for, I am appreciative of this little city and all the ups and downs of everyday life. I finally am starting to feel like a local and I must admit, that is a very good thing.

Allora, time to finish up this glass of wine and start studying for an Italian exam tomorrow.

La vita e certainly bella.

A dopo!

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About Lauren Raffaela

Ciao ragazzi, mi chiamo Lauren. I am writing from Florence, Italy where I am in school for a Masters in Museum Studies. When not in school I spend my days strolling the streets, trying to look like a local. I love to people watch, go jogging before the city is awake, have small talk with old ladies and am constantly stopping to read menus in restaurant and cafe windows just to see what they're up to. My favorite gelato flavor is noccioloso and I try to control my intake to one (or two...) a week. My blog focuses on my adventures and discoveries - both about this beautiful city (and country) and about myself. If you would like to touch base or have any questions please feel free to leave a comment on my posts and I'll be sure to get in touch. Grazie and ciao!
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3 Responses to 55 hours in Rome

  1. Love this site- will follow it like Marisa T. followed her calling for Damon Bradley in ONLY YOU- see you soon Lau!

  2. neighbor says:

    You look as thin and as gorgeous as ever. Your focus on food makes me hungry and also makes me wonder why you arent 200 lbs!!

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