Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Rome - Tuesday - 4/28/15

We slept until 10:30 this morning, and continue to have a tough time adjusting our sleep schedule to suit Italy's clock. But it's fine because we're on vacation and have no one to report to. Anyone who knows me should be familiar with my passion and commitment to my overall health and well-being, and therefore shouldn't be shocked to hear our first adventure of the day was the Westin gym. After we got lost finding the gym in our own hotel, I ran for 45 minutes while Eric, being the good sport that he is, forced himself to workout to keep me company. I expected the gym to be empty assuming most guests would be out doing touristy things midday in Rome, but instead there was a steady stream of people coming and going who were just as dedicated to their overall heath and well-being as me!

As I began my run, a lady to my right who was in the middle of what seemed like an extensive aerobics workout class all on her own (don't get me wrong, I was impressed with her commitment) shrieked at Eric and I in an effort to get our attention. Interrupting me during a workout, especially a run, is a huge "No No" in my book, but I decided to be polite and pay attention. Turns out, she is from Lynnfield, the city in Massachusetts where Eric works, and wanted to suggest a cool route for an outdoor run. Small world. We explained that we decided on the gym due to the rainy weather, and that we would consider the outdoor run for tomorrow (although we both knew that wasn't going to fit into our schedule). We didn't mention that detail because she seemed ultra excited and I didn't find it necessary to burst her bubble.

After swiping a lovely green apple from the spa and 2 pocketfuls of green tea hand wipes, we headed up to shower. On the way up the stairs I almost choked on the rotten stench of cigarette smoke. They must allow smoking indoors somewhere and wow, it was bad. It reminded me of an old and unventilated Vegas casino.

Anyway, after our showers we ordered 2 cappuccinos and a pot of coffee. Room service is such a luxury. As I sat in our suite's living room sipping a perfectly made cappuccino, I felt like I was in the middle of a scene on reality TV showcasing the life of some super spoiled and rich person. I must admit it felt damn good to be living it and not watching on TV!

Eric spent time researching our public transportation route to our first real adventure of the day, or the "twilight travestere foodie tour." After even the concierge seemed rather confused on how to get there, we decided on a cab. That turned put to be an excellent decision. The ride cost less than 10€ and was completely painless. It's fun to cab because you get to see a lot of the city from the comfort of a backseat. Every time I turned my head, there was an amazing ancient structure. I also noticed there is a rather impressive shopping district in Rome and many cool looking stores with names I don't see in the USA. Unfortunately, I don't think there will be much time for shopping. Oh well, that'll at least save me a few bucks.

Our foodie tour group met at 4pm in front of a church on a tiny little island between Rome and Travestere, right on the Tiber River. This was my first time seeing the river and it's very scenic.

Tiber River

View of the church from across the Tiber River

One thing I love about Rome is that you'll find a great number of trees and gorgeous greenery. So picturesque. Being the Type A super freaks that we are, we arrived too early and decided to take a walk around.

Lots of trees in Rome which is a great quality for any city

Taking walk around the area before our big foodie tour

We surprisingly came across the Circus Maximus, which turned out to be a big open field with ancient ruins across the street. Unless you are particularly passionate about the Circus Maximus, definitely don't waste your time. Even though we had only walked a short distance, we got lost. Eric frantically launched google maps and of course, the rain began to rear it's ugly head again after finally clearing up an hour earlier. Eventually I insisted we backtrack and we made it to our meeting spot on time.

My first impression of the group of 9 was, well, I wasn't impressed. Everyone seemed pretty lame based on the lack of personality that was displayed within the first 5 minutes. Luckily, I was wrong and it turned out to be a great group. This was definitely the highlight of my trip to Rome so far, just as the reviews on TripAdvisor suggested it would be. Travestere is the neighborhood I have been looking for since I arrived, with it's charming cobblestone streets, narrow pathways, quaint boutiques, and foodie reputation. In conclusion, I love Travestere! But no worries, I'm not done telling you why. Let me start by providing a brief history on my fellow tour mates.

First, a couple on their honeymoon who flew in from Mayalsia that morning! They were very sweet and kind, and staying a few blocks from the Vatican (I know, who cares where they're staying. Oh, that's right, I do!). I noticed they didn't drink much on the tour, which is generally a huge sign of lameness (sorry Mom) but it was probably the jet lag. Next, we have an older man (upper 60's I think?) who is from New Zealand and traveling alone. He is a cyclist who recently suffered a stroke in the middle of a race in South America. I felt bad, but also happy that it didn't stop him from traveling the world on his own. Brave! He wasn't the only lone traveler. There was also a girl, around 30 I think, nearing the end of a two week tour of Europe. She was from Sacramento and looked a tiny bit rough around the edges, but was very personable and full of stories. She was my favorite in the group by far. What makes someone Nina's favorite you ask? Someone ballsy enough to admit they carry a half bottle of red wine in their backpack to ease anxiety when lone traveling gets stressful. Hilarious. There were also 2 guys, mid to upper 20's, from New Orleans and dressed in ultra preppy attire. I believe they were in Rome for a wedding. Eric thinks they were a couple but I couldn't tell. Finally, there was the middle aged lady from Colorado who showed up the last second. She had this bewildered expression on her face and didn't apologize for holding us up. I thought to myself, "this lady is definitely the weirdo of the group." After a glass of prosecco, I discovered she was normal (in a good way, not a boring way) and was staying at our hotel! Her husband was attending the Sothebeys conference and she was doing her own thang while he sat in meetings. Good for her! (By the way, when is my job going to send me to Europe for a conference?) Oh, our tour guide was a lady with an English accent who lived in Rome for 15 years. She married a Roman, and had a bubbly personality perfect for tour guiding.

She asked us to get to know each other by stating our names and the one Italian food we'd bring if we were trapped on an island forever. Half the group said red wine, so they clearly misunderstood the question because the guide specifically said FOOD. I also wondered why they were wasting their time on a foodie tour when they could be at a winery? Whatever. Since I'm sure you're dying to know, I said pizza and Eric said meatballs.

As we walked to our first stop I immediately noticed the charm of this town.

Charming Trastevere

Charming Trastevere

There were already more enticing shops and restaurants in 4 blocks than I had seen in the last 2 days! We were off to a good start! After a short walk we arrived at this slightly dive-y looking restaurant named "Da Enzo". There were two tables set up with glasses of prosecco and fresh Italian bread baskets (mmm my favorite things). I chose a seat on the end so I could quickly exit in case of an emergency (just kidding, I just like end seats because they're more spacious) and everyone quickly recognized my shameless obsession for snapping photos of everything in sight. Turns out I opened the door for camera usage and almost immediately everyone was zooming in on their food and everything around us. I was a tad bit disappointed that we didn't get prosecco refills, but by the end of the tour I was beyond stuffed, so it turned out to be a good thing. First up was a grilled artichoke, which we were told are in season. It was excellent! I am not just saying it was excellent because I'm overly excited about my food tour. It truly was and I could have easily eaten a plate full. Fun fact - Owen Wilson frequents this restaurant for lunch while filming a movie nearby.

Our first stop - Da Enzo restaurant. Our guide is in the navy trench. Man from New Zealand with the white hair

Charming interior of Da Enzo

My excellent artichoke - you can eat the stem too

After everyone was nice and loosened up after cocktail number 1, we headed to our second destination, which was this tiny restaurant hidden in an alleyway named "Spirito di Vino". It wasn't open, because restaurants in Italy don't open until 7 for dinner unless they're in tourist zones. After the guide recited a lengthly explanation describing the history of the building which I didn't listen to because I was too busy taking photos, we headed to the restaurants basement which was an ancient wine cellar. Yes, wine! It was pretty neat as you can imagine. I felt like I was on the set of some Disney movie where the bad guy was thrown into a dark scary dungeon. It was a bit chilly down there and also humid, which I believe keeps the corks from rotting. The wine we tasted was excellent (I swear it really was) and they paired it with delicious appetizers. There was a meatball, salami, bread, and a small dish of lentils for each person. The guide told us Italians eat lentils for New Years. Apparently, the more lentils you eat the richer you will be in the new year. The guide told us she ate a ton of lentils on New Years and didn't get richer. Shocker!

Exterior of "Spirito di Vino" and our guide with her umbrella

The appetizers we enjoyed with our wine

How cool is this wine cellar?!

After the wine we headed to a well-known bakery and sampled three different types of cookies, all delicious and so fresh!

Cookies! One of each for me please!

The baker doesn't use any butter which I thought was pretty cool, only oils. There were what looked to be three family members just chillin' in the corner of this tiny bakery. Of course I wondered why they didn't have anything better to do, but at the same time I love how Italians spend tons of time just visiting each other and hanging out. It's something my Lebanese family does a lot back in US, but generally seems unusual for Americans.

Real Italian bakery - Check out the retro stove stop. I want one in my house!

Next up is a cheese shop where we sampled 2 different cheeses, one aged and one wasn't aged. Eric and I un expectantly preferred the cheese that wasn't aged better. This was a very nice shop and the people working there were friendly. I'd love to buy cheese and bring it home. The guide said we could if we vacuum seal it. We'll see.

CHEESE Galore! 

Eric standing next to a tower of Romano. Look at the bucket of oil that's dripping from the cheese next to Eric's feet

Our group sampling the aged cheese

They sell this brand of pasta in the USA! I know because my Mom raves about it

Naturally following the cheese shop was the meat shop. This was Eric's favorite because he gorged on porchetta, which is an Italian delicacy and our guide's favorite food. It was presented on a platter and everyone took several pieces. Before we left, Eric took the platter and ate every remaining piece. The butcher said "manja manja!" I sampled a creamy ricotta cheese with bread and honey. It was heavenly, so smooth and light.  

My creamy ricotta cheese with bread and honey. I never knew ricotta could be so good!

Wide array of olives 

At this point it started pouring. Thank goodness I wore my leather boots, because my feet stayed dry despite the massive puddles everywhere. Poor Eric got his feet soaked. Oh well, better him than me, lol. We walked a few blocks to a teeny tiny take out joint that was packed to the max. We ate this delightful arancini ball, similar to what we can order in Boston's North End but I guess a little different. All I can tell you is that it was soooo good! Nom nom!

Arancini ball really hit the spot

After all this food we still had "dinner" awaiting at yet another super cute restaurant nearby. We entered through the back door and a long table was set and waiting for us. The place had so much character, from the tiles decorating our pretty table to the cured meats and cheeses hanging above. I love Italy! We passed around still and sparkling water, and of course, wine. There is nothing that beats the wholesome goodness of homemade pasta. It's so hearty, somewhat earthy, and much more satisfying than the boxed stuff we eat at home. I hear-by vow to use to my kitchen aid to made homemade pasta very soon (and by soon I mean... Ummm.... Hmmm I will fit this activity in somewhere). We were served gnocchi, linguine with cream sauce, and ravioli family style. Usually I have to stop myself from eating "too much" pasta because it's addicting and goes down so easy (like junk food). However, when indulging in the real thing, I felt incredibly satisfied with a much smaller portion than I would normally eat.


pasta with white sauce was my favorite!

The conversation at the table was light and fun. My new friend from Sacramento told us about her cooking class experience the night before called "cooking with Nonna." It sounded pretty sweet but I quickly realized I have my own Nona who makes homemade Italian food and I could cook with her for free! I will also have to make time for that at some point.

Dinner aftermath - I love the tiles on the table

Last and certainly not least was the famous gelato joint called Fatamorgana. No matter what, there is always room for gelato and we all ate two scoops.

The famous Gelato Shop!

The guide gave an interesting spiel on gelato that I actually listened to. It's estimated that 75% of the gelato in Rome is garbage, AKA, full of artificial ingredients, preservatives, and air. Yes, air. For those of you who have travelled to the Mediterranean, you are most definitely familiar with the grand displays of fluffy gelato with endless flavors. If you haven't been to Europe, I'm sure you've been to Vegas and know exactly what I mean. I guess they pump air into the gelato to make it fluffy. And those bright colors are artificial flavors. For example, the pistachio flavor shouldn't be a lime green color. Instead it should look dull, like a real pistachio. I know, I felt stupid after learning this too because I am totally a sucker for those grand displays!

After the tour we tipped the guide 15% as advised on the website. It cost $96/person so this wasn't cheap! I think some people didn't tip at all! Oh well, maybe good karma will come our way.

We shared a cab back to the Westin with Mrs. Colorado, and chatted about Rome. She is headed with her husband to the Amalfi Coast next. She also has a daughter who lives in a loft in downtown Detroit! She bought it a few years back for $50K and is now selling it for $170K. We talked about how up and coming Detroit is :))

After unwinding in the hotel room I wrote this summary of my day on my iPad. Eric spent his time researching pick-pocket prevention. It's scary how strategic these people are, and young. Apparently the biggest group of offenders range from 10-16 in age (girls and boys). We both promised to be on extra high alert going forward, and will plan our attack at the train station where we're most at risk. Now I keep thinking about this and it's freaking me out!

It's currently 1am and I finally finished my summary. Unfortunately, I barely feel sleepy! Dang it I hate this time change thing! Grrrrr

1 comment:

  1. Another facinating date decribed by the who new Nina could write and captivate an audience with her life experiences and photography. I am very engaged and looking forward to the next few pages.