From May 1st to May 11th, Celeste and I galavanted around Italy drinking tons of wine, seeing some amazing sights, and of course, tasting the local cuisine. My parents were worried I wouldn’t find anything to eat, and a few people warned me not to expect pizza to be the same. But guess what, I survived, and I probably ate better over there than I have in years. I wouldn’t say I ate a great variety of foods, but everything is fresh, everything is homemade, and everything I tried was delicious… except the black squid ink spaghetti… that wasn’t so delicious, but at least I tried it.
When we arrived in Rome on the 1st, we were struggling. Our flight left Chicago at 4PM on Thursday yet we didn’t arrive in Rome until Friday at 9am; and given that I can’t sleep on planes, I was pretty exhausted, but we had a full day ahead of us. After getting a bit lost dragging our luggage to the hotel, we finally got our bearings and got the day started on 0 hours of sleep. We knocked out the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, and the Roman Forums on that first day. It was a lot of walking and left us pretty hungry, so it was time to sit down for our first meal in Italy. Not sure where to eat, and with no reservations (or “book” as they call it) we just dropped in on a random restaurant that seemed interesting. I have no clue what it was called so I can’t recommend it, but I can tell you that the inside looked like what I imagine the inside of an “American Picker’s” house looks like. There were little do-hickeys and whatcha-ma-call-its all over the walls. It was like a Chili’s on steroids, but way smaller, with no baby back ribs. Even though the special was some sort of chicken dish, that seemingly every table in the place was eating, I decided to go with a pizza. I was still a bit nervous ordering a pizza since everyone told me that it’s not like American pizzas, but the Margherita pizza, with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil sounded simple enough, so I went with it. Celeste got some sort of pasta dish, maybe something with noodles and bolognese sauce, I can’t remember exactly, but whatever it was, was decent. My pizza came out, and guess what, it was pretty much exactly what I expected. I don’t know if the people I talked to back home just assumed that I thought Italian pizza would look like Papa John’s or Dominos, but in my mind I was thinking more along the lines of pizza like “Spacca Napoli” in Ravenswood; and that’s exactly what I got. It was probably about 10″ round, a little doughy and soft, and uncut, but it still tasted delicious. At least at this point I knew that I wouldn’t starve on this trip because you can always find a pizza place within view no matter where you are. I actually didn’t think that pizza was actual a super popular food in Italy, but it absolutely is and pretty much every restaurant sells pizzas. Maybe it was just because we were in the more touristy areas, but still, pizza is delicious.
Our actual day 2 consisted of sitting on a train as we made our way up to Venice, but I’m going to keep this post dedicated to Rome so we’ll skip ahead to the end of the trip when we returned to rome.
Our first day back in Rome after venturing to other parts of the country consisted of walking to the Borghese Gallery only to discover that our tickets were for the following day, wandering to the Spanish Steps, where we would be accosted by Indians trying to sell us fake sunglasses, purses and roses (the roses weren’t fake, but the people were still annoying). and finally settling down to a nicer dinner, at which we were severely underdressed.
Ok, maybe we weren’t that underdressed, but where most people were wearing polos and button downs, we were wearing t-shirts and hoodies. Ristorante La Pentolaccia was definitely one of the better meals we had during the trip, and the food was pretty good too. We started off with the raw ham and ball of mozzarella cheese, which was pretty good. I’m not a huge fan of the ball of mozzarella cheese, even though I do like mozzarella, but the raw ham at all of these different restaurants was always amazing. At one restaurant in Rome, which we’ll get to, actually cut the ham right off the hunk of meat right behind our table; Celeste was awestruck by it. But anyways, back to this current meal.
For our first course I ordered the hallow spaghetti with bacon and tomato sauce. I’m a sucker for bacon so I figured there’s no way it could be bad; bacon makes everything better. It wasn’t terrible, but the bacon wasn’t really the same “bacon” as I was expecting. It wasn’t the crunchy, super salty, delicious bacon I usually have with my eggs in the morning, it was more of a soft, chewy, thicker piece of pork belly. It wasn’t bad, but just not what I was hoping for. The pasta and the sauce were very good, so I just moved some of the bacon pieces to the side and continued with my meal. Celeste had the shrimp pasta, which was basically just some noodles on top of a huge prawn that sprawled the entire circumference of the plate. She tried to get me to eat some of it, but I wasn’t really having any of it; she seemed to enjoy it though.
For our second course we split an order of chicken marsala which was delicious. I’ve never had chicken marsala so I wasn’t even really sure what it was, but it tasted much better than I expected, and it looked much tastier than the raw tuna our neighbor ordered.
Day 3 in Rome consisted of getting up super early to make our way over to the Vatican to check out the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican is an absolute madhouse. I highly recommend making your reservations for the Vatican Museum ahead of time as it gets you access at a certain time no matter how long the line is… and it was damn long, even at 9:30am. Also, the time on your ticket is more of a guideline; we had tickets for 9:30am, but were able to get in around 9am. The museum was very cool, but crowded at points, especially the Sistine Chapel. I’m still amazed at how some of these artists managed to paint the things they did, and how they’ve survived so many years.
After the Sistine Chapel you’re let out right in front of the doors for Saint Peter’s Basilica, which was super convenient. If you didn’t do the museum tour you would end up being stuck in a line that stretched the entire length of the Vatican square.
The Basilica was very cool. I’m not the most religious guy in the world, but the architecture and the history that surrounds these massive churches is just breathtaking. Even if you’re not religious I highly recommend seeing as many of the old churches as you can, they are incredible.
Lunch consisted of a Margherita pizza at Gran caffe del Passaggero as we rested our feet before having to make our way back to the Borghese Gallery. The Borghese Gallery is very strict on their no camera, no bags, no entry before your allotted time policy, so we had to wait outside for about 45 minutes before we were allowed entry, but at this point we were just happy we actually had the tickets.
Since it was such a long day that day we decided to just hang around the area by our hotel and find somewhere to eat there. We ended up a a restaurant about 100 feet from the hotel, but it’s name escapes me. It was at this hotel where Celeste was amazed by the fact that they were cutting the raw ham right off the leg right behind us. Unfortunately we did not try the raw ham, I’m not sure why, but instead went for bruschetta… again. We ate so much bruschetta I don’t know that I can look at another tomato for a while.
For my entree I had the spaghetti al ragu, spaghetti with meat sauce, and it was absolutely amazing. It was probably one of the best dishes I had during the whole trip, which is surprising because I thought for sure that the pizza would be my favorite. For our second course we got the fried calamari. In the states we usually eat fried calamari as an appetizer, but apparently in Italy the idea of eating something heavy and fried before eating the lighter dishes is frowned upon. They tasted exactly how I expected them to be, albeit a little salty, but super fresh tasting; definitely not frozen in a package. We topped the meal off with a free shot of limoncello which I enjoyed, but Celeste didn’t, it was too sweet for her. It basically tasted like what I would expect a melted down lemonhead to taste like.
The last couple days were spent wandering the city in search of some of the major sights we hadn’t seen yet. The Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon were on the top of that list. The Trevi Fountain was cool, but the sheer amount of people huddled around it was absolutely insane. For some reason, based on pictures on the internet and in books, I assumed the Trevi Fountain was in this large square or something, when in fact it’s jammed in between a bunch of buildings leaving very little room for tourists to gather and throw their euro into it. I was much more impressed with the Pantheon anyways.
The history of the Pantheon, the architecture, and just the beauty of it made it one of my favorite places in Rome. We spent our last few daylight hours hanging right outside of it, drinking wine and conversing with a nice Canadian couple and a guy from Norway. You can’t find that sort of thing in the US. Sure the US has history, but to sit and have a glass of wine in front of a structure that was built in 126 A.D. is just incredible, there’s nothing like it here.
I don’t remember a whole lot about the food we ate on these last couple days, but I do remember that after wandering down some small alleyways and roads we found ourselves at Da Francesco for lunch where I had yet another Margherita pizza, but this one was probably the best one I had the entire trip. The restaurant itself seemed to be full of locals and tourists alike, all enjoying a variety of pizzas. The only ones that didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves were the super annoying American women at the table behind us who kept trying to ask the servers if they knew some dude. I don’t know if they were expecting a discount, or special treatment, or what, but all they were doing was giving American’s a bad name (not that our name is that great to begin with). It even made me embarrassed to say I was from America.
When you’re in a foreign country have some manners and be respectful. Don’t assume that the “rules” you abide by in the US will translate to another culture. Assimilate yourself to the ways of whatever country you’re visiting and respect the people catering to you while you’re on vacation and you’ll be just fine.
Our time in Rome was spent walking, eating, admiring, drinking, and walking, but I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. The food was delicious, the sights were amazing and the wine hit the spot. Hopefully Celeste and I get to go back again during our lifetime, but if not, I’m glad I got to experience it with her and I look forward to the next adventure…
Don’t worry, we’re not done yet. Stay tuned for posts about Florence and Venice in the coming weeks.