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…).
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:
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:
- 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
- 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:
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:
Back in Roma:A few more shots around town and then we’re done!
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.