Monday, October 19, 2015

Piazza Navona, Borghese and the Vatican {Italy, Part 6}

We stayed a few blocks away from Piazza Navona at BdB Luxury Rooms Navona and absolutely loved our neighborhood. There were so many restaurants and bars with locals enjoying aperitifs and intense games of chess - so different from the crowds at Piazza Navona/Pantheon just a few steps further.

Basically right below our hotel was the yummy Gelateria del Teatro, so we grabbed a few scoops here and wandered over to Piazza Navona. Bernini and his Four Rivers fountain are the focal point here. We also stepped into the Pantheon as well before we had to head back to Piazza Navona. Jason's aunt, uncle and cousins were in Rome, so met up with them for an apertif at Cafe Bernini. So fun to meet up with family abroad! This post could also be entitled - all things Bernini for all the amazing things we saw by him all over the city. 

That night, we walked to another country - Vatican City! It was drizzling out, so the crowds were sparse. It was nice to just wander without being harassed to buy something for once! While we didn't go inside St. Peter's this trip, it was still amazing to see the place all lit up at night. We grabbed some delicious pizza al taglio (by the slice) directly below our hotel at Pizza del Teatro to round out the night.

One of the favorite things I did last time I was in Rome was visit the Borghese Gallery because of the amazing sculptures guessed it - Bernini! We had scheduled our time months in advance and it ended up being free because it was the first Sunday of the month. Thankfully we did, because it was booked up for days! 

Bernini's first masterpieces, Pluto and Persephone, Apollo and Daphne (a personal favorite) and David were all commissioned to sit at the Borghese's suburban villa. The level of detail in these sculptures is just mind-blowing, especially considering they are carved out of one piece of marble. I was also excited to see a special exhibition of couture sculptural fashions by Azzedine Alaia. It was a perfect way to spend a few hours and because tickets are timed, it meant that we could wander around without too many crowds. So glad that pictures are now allowed because I think I was able to get some great shots.

After a stroll around the gallery and the gardens, we walked to Come il Latte for the BEST gelato of our trip. I love that even the very best gelato is 3 Euro or less - such a fun way to treat yourself each and every day (and we most definitely did). On our way back to our hotel, we passed through Piazza Barbarini where we saw another fountain by Bernini! I loved all the fountains in Rome. The best part is the ice-cold, free, drinkable!, water. 

We ended our day walking down the (in repair) Spanish Steps and seeing the (in repair) Trevi Fountain. I know it's been 10 years, but last time I was here, the church behind the Spanish Steps were being repaired too! I guess that's necessary for a city that is as old and as frequented as Rome.

We had a super early flight, so we took it easy that night, having a relaxed dinner at Da Francesco. This was truly Roman dining at it's finest - outside, seated family-style! We had a delicious bruschetta along with cacio e pepe and spaghetti carbonara. When we got back to our hotel, we drank the wine we had bought in Chianti and may or may not have broken our room key trying to open the bottle...worth it. Ha.  We made it home early (thanks to a little run through the Amsterdam airport...) and our bags made it home 2 days later. 

All over Italy (though Naples and Rome were the worst), there are scams.  In the Naples train station, there was a pickpocket who was trying to "help me" purchase my train tickets. What he was really doing was trying to distract me by selecting the wrong train station/price/etc. so he could nab my bag. Just being aware is usually good enough, but in this case a good strong 'no' was necessary. On a smaller scale, there are people pressuring you to buy everything, but roses were the most common. We saw so many people just take a rose out of frustration, and then of course you get harassed further until you pay for the rose. Just keep walking. I had someone literally put a rose on my arm and I just let it drop to the ground. 

While those things were annoying, it didn't take anything away from the experience. Italy is amazing and beautiful. I'm absolutely sure we will be back. It is one of those magical places for me and I'm so glad I got to bring Jason with me this time. My favorite place was Rome and Jason's was the Amalfi Coast, but I think our favorite times were wandering (walking or driving) with no real plans. Dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) for sure! Basically, while we may not be the biggest lovers of Europe (we much prefer Asia), we are now both huge fans of Italy.

Up next: A Puerto Rican Thanksgiving in a month!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Trastevere & Ancient Rome {Italy, Part 5}

Our first morning in Rome started super rainy - actually the only rain we'd seen up to this point. We allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit and eat a slow breakfast at Casa & Bottega which was a cute little cafe across the street from our hotel. Once it stopped raining, we made out way Tras Tevere (or across the Tiber River) to start our food tour with Eating Italy.

Our first stop was a pastry shop that had been in the heart of Trastevere since the 1970s. We tried some bignes (more commonly known as profiteroles) stuffed with zabaglione cream. Our next stop was Antica Caciara where we tried the traditional Roman cheese - pecorino romano! This shop was a family-run place that had been passed down through the generations. It was easy to see that this is where the locals come to get their cured meats, salamis and cheese.

I Suppli was one of the more unexpected shops. Suppli is a deep fried ball of arborio rice, stuffed with cheese and cooked in a tomato sauce. We had the mini versions, but we heard that this is a pretty standard afternoon snack - the Romans version of fast food! The next stop was our favorite - Antica Norcineria. We had the simplest thing here - piazza bianca with porchetta. Jason isn't usually a huge fan of pork, but this one was a show-stopper. It was made with garlic, salt, pepper and rosemary and cooked in a wood-burning oven just outside of Rome. It was so juicy and flavorful! My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

At the San Cosimato market, we were able to meet some of the vendors and sample cantaloupe melon with two different types of prosciutto - one sweeter and one saltier. The cantaloupe in Italy is sweeter and juicier than any I have ever tasted.

It was still early in the day but it's always a good time for gelato, right? Our next stop was Fatamorgana. One very important thing we learned here is that most gelaterias in Italy sell "fake" gelato. You know, that fluffy, brightly colored stuff? Not real. So basically don't buy gelato that goes higher than the container and make sure the color of the flavor exists in nature (pistachios aren't bright green - more brown/green). Their paradise punch with Madagascar chocolate was some of the best gelato I had on our entire trip.

Finally...lunch! We sat down to a communal lunch of gnocchi, spinach and ricotta ravioli and cacio e pepe at Enotecca Ferrara. The food was exceptional and the surroundings were quaint and charming. As full as we were after lunch, we walked through a piazza and down a few of Trastevere's alleyways to make a bit of room for dessert at Innocenti. This is a fourth-generation biscuit company making over 100 different types of biscotti in it's 50 foot oven. We had yummy brutti ma buoni ("ugly but good") cookies packed with hazelnuts.

Our final stop was amazing. The original walls of Spirito di Vino were built to house a synagogue when the area was in the Jewish quarter. This was older than the Colosseum! We also had a delicious desert of crema cotta (similar to creme brulee but without the caramelized top) with a glass of zebbibo sweet wine that I really enjoyed. This was one of our favorite things that we did in all of Italy - I definitely recommend this tour to anyone going to Rome!

After the tour was over, we walked back to the other side of the river to explore all things Ancient Rome. We grabbed our tickets to the big 3 attractions at the Palatine Hill (time-saving tip!!) and completely skipped the line at the Colosseum. After exploring inside the Colosseum, we walked over the the Forum. Jason and I were both feeling pretty "over crowds" at this point, so after a walk around the Forum, we started to make out way back to our hotel. We stopped in Campo di Fiori for a piazza bianca at a forno (delicious!) on the way back to our delightfully uncrowded neighborhood and called it a night.

Up next: Our last Italy post - Piazza Navona, Borghese Gallery & the Vatican!