Friday, October 30, 2015

My Favorite Roman Pizza & Gelato

Since my motto is "I will travel for great food", the main reason I went to Rome was to eat :) 

I ate so many delicious things in one week that I may have been channeling Elizabeth Gilbert in "Eat, Pray, Love". I believe that there is very little in life as satisfying as the pleasure of taking your time to savor all the flavors and delights of great food, sharing it with others perhaps, but I got to do that a bit later in the trip.

The only appointment I had made for a sight was for the Vatican Museum and Pizzarium is literally one block from the Metro Station Cipro which is the stop for that attraction. The place also goes by the name Bonci, the creator/owner of Pizzarium, who was there one of the three times I went, training staff on how to dress some slices properly. A rarity in Rome is that they are open every day of the week, although the hours vary a bit on Sunday. If you don't want to wait during Lunch and Dinner go in the lull of the afternoon or late at night. The first day I went around 1pm and waited about 30 minutes, another day I went around 6pm and there was no line at all. If it's crowded, grab a number and watch for it to be posted on the screen above the counter. You order on the left, pick up your drinks from the refrigerators, and then go pay as you wait for your order to be delivered on the right side of the counter. Condiments are also on the right side of the counter, but I didn't want to ruin the perfect flavors by doctoring up my slices.

Every hour and every day, there are new selections, and everything is sold by weight. Prices range from about 20 Euros to over 30 Euros per kilo, a good sized portion will run you 8-12 Euros or about $10-15 US. If you want to try more than one flavor, ask for small slices so you can eat two because their scissors work fast and cut generously unless you tell or show them you want smaller slices. I learned that Rome is almost like the US when it comes to portion sizes, but without doggie bags unless you order your pizza to go:)

I went three out of my seven days in Rome, and never tried another pizza place after my first bite here! The first pizza I got was a spinach, buffalo mozzarella, and anchovy on tomato sauce. The toppings were outstandingly fresh (these were not the canned anchovies you find in the US), and the crust had a crunchy bottom, but the soft chewy texture of a great baguette on top. It was the best combination of topping and crust I've ever tasted in a pizza. There was a reason there was only a small bit of this choice left in the case, and I was glad I got some before it was gone. At first I thought it was too much to finish, but I couldn't stop eating and "somehow" I polished off the entire serving. 
My second time I went for something more traditional, a tomato basil, and an artichoke heart and potato dusted with pecorino cheese. Once again, astounding crust and incredible vegetables. This combo would be a vegetarian's dream, and this time I got two smaller slices and a beer to wash it all down.
For my last day, I went back and saw Bonci putting out the sausage, ricotta, tomato, and basil, so I had to try that as well as the kale with cured lard and mushrooms which Bonci dressed himself with more kale and olive oil. I couldn't stop smiling from happiness with every bite. I could happily eat here every day. With an ever changing menu, friendly staff, and an owner who is passionate about his pizza, you can't go wrong with any choice. 
Italy is famous for their gelato, so one day for breakfast (yes, I really did channel Elizabeth Gilbert), I got some at Sora Lella on Isola Tiberino (the island in the middle of Rome). I wasn't the only one, getting gelato for breakfast at 11am :)
Since it was a nice day, I strolled over to the bank of the river and ate it with a view of the water.
My friend Chantal had just been to Rome a few months ago for her birthday and she told me I HAD to go to La Romana because she didn't even like gelato and loved it here so much that she went daily. 
Just as Bonci's Pizzarium was the best pizza I've ever eaten, La Romana was the best gelato I've ever eaten. They make it there, and have been since 1947. I chose a "small" Fiordelatte (flower of milk) and Sacher (like the chocolate torte flavor) for 2 Euros, or about $2.30 US, which included chocolate or vanilla sauce in the cone, AND home made whipped cream on top! I only added the chocolate at the bottom of my cone and luckily I had plenty of napkins because I forgot and bit into it making a delightful mess like a kid eating a sundae:) The consistency is lighter and smoother than any gelato I've tasted, and the flavors range from the unusual to the approachable, like tiramisu. 

La Romana is near Termini Station, so grab a cone or cup on your way to or from the station. It's behind the ruins and across from the government buildings with all the armed guards, not far from the planetarium which had this inscribed above the door, a quote from Dante's Divine Comedy, "Love that moves the sun and other stars." Dante may have been referring to the pizza and gelato in Rome :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Pantheon in Rome

The exterior of Pantheon in Rome does little to convey the magnificence inside, even with its stately columns facing the piazza, your eyes are drawn towards the fountain and obelisk in the center, but as you approach, the size and workmanship become more evident.

 The interior is a feat of engineering and art.

The oculus is open, rain or shine and the system of drainage for the rainy days still works to this day.
 The view along the side gives you an idea of its scale.
 Looking out over the center piazza, everything else looks miniaturized.
 The fountain an obelisk in the center is the perfect place to sit

 as you listen to the musicians

 and watch the entertaining people in the square.
 If you explore just a few blocks away,
 there is the Temple of Hadrian now the home of a bank,
the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva combines Baroque (elephant), Gothic (interior), Egyptian (obelisk), and pagan (built over the grounds of the Temple of Minerva),
and La Maddelena, a church named after Mary Magdalene :)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Piazza Venezia, Victor Emmanuel Monument, and the Roman Forum

Rome is a crazy loveable city; it is a city like your hot tempered uncle who would take a baseball bat to a car parked blocking his driveway, but who also volunteers as coach for the local Little League team and buys them all ice cream after every game, win or lose. Your ability to endure the volatility of emotions, transit, and weather will determine how much you enjoy this city. If you want everything to work logically, on time, based on efficiency or with people who are reserved, go somewhere else. Really. London perhaps, but not Rome.

This was one of the first things I saw as I landed at the airport, open at 9 AM, a wine bar:)

The baggage claim area had free tablet usage and signs in English, and of course only the youngsters (and I) took advantage of the technology. I would soon learn that there are pockets of Rome that are miraculously modern and there are many that have been left to the whims of chance.

After picking up my luggage, I found the ground transportation about half a mile away, and proceeded to wait in a growing horde of impatient people as one, then two buses, ran 30 minutes late, jammed to the aisles with arrivals and their luggage. Once I arrived at Termini Station, the central transportation hub of the city, the machines for metro and bus tickets were out of order and I had to pay cash at a newsstand to buy a pass (most newsstands sell bus, tram, and metro tickets and passes but they only take cash). I found my bus in the maze of over 12 stands (there is no map, and even the ones you buy do not list where the stops are since many are decades old). I asked my driver to let me know when my stop was coming up. Twice. He only replied, "Not yet" as he listened to his music with his earphones. I peered out at every stop to see if I was at the one I wanted since the LED display panel in the bus did not work (only about 10% of them DO work). I highly recommend that you take the train instead of any bus into town, or if you don't mind paying for being stuck in traffic, you may opt for a taxi, but make sure it's an official white one with a flat rate of 48 Euros into the center of town from Fiumicino Airport.
Three and a half hours later I finally unloaded my luggage and headed out to the Victor Emmanuel Monument next to Piazza Venezia and The Roman Forum, which are all next to each other and a major transportation hub. This is the Victor Emmanuel Monument, and getting across the round about is a challenge for many tourists. If you are not used to New York City drivers, and staring down the oncoming buses, cars, and scooters as you walk across, just follow a large group as they cross, because 1) there are no traffic lights, as if that matters, and 2) no buses, cars, or scooters will stop for you and wave you across as they would in California, so you would be stranded on a curb all day and night. 
The statue in the middle is as big as it looks, the moustache of the first King of Unified Italy is 5 feet long! Please note there are guards here, so no strollers, sitting, eating, drinking, or jumping at this monument or you will be sent outside the gates.
The staircase on the right side is a little less steep heading up to the Palazzo Senatorio.

If you want to save some climbing you can take these stairs for a "shortcut" to the top of the Victor Emmanuel Monument from this side, and if you follow the directions in the Rick Steve's Rome book, you can find the elevator in the back.
 Any way you go, there will be stairs,
 and more stairs if you want to visit the adjacent Santa Maria Aracoeli.
Once you make it to the top, go through the preserved historical area to the left under this arch
 or walk on the other side by this fountain,
 for these views of the Roman and Caesar's Forums.

 The right side of the Victor Emmanuel Monument 
abuts the Insula (apartment) Ruins and the Santa Maria Aracoeli church which you can see in the upper right side of this photo.
Finding your way around can be challenging, but there is ONE map I found at Palazzo Venezia at the terminus of the Tram stop, detailing where the buses stop so I took a photo for reference. Many times the opposite direction for the same line is a block or two behind or at a cross street, NOT across the street. 
 This map was also there showing all the trams lines and stops, and it was the ONLY one I saw.
Many of the brand new buses don't have working LED screens showing bus numbers or stops coming up, so the old fashioned paper and tape method is used to show the bus number on the windshield and occasionally on the side window. Hand written, of course. 
My bed was one of the most wonderful sights I saw all day :)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Bistro du Cours & Rowing Club in Marseille

Bistro du Cours is in an area with a tree lined pedestrian street, a welcome respite of calm from the busy urban environment nearby. It had glowing reviews, a warm welcoming server, and a very comfortable setting. The other patrons were all regulars who knew the waiter by name, always a good sign in any restaurant.
With many options at lunch from 16 Euros to 32 Euros, I chose the mid range 20 Euro ($23 USD) three course meal, a true bargain for the skill and ingredients, like this starter of fried zucchini blossom.
 The merlan, or whiting, was cooked perfectly with a crisp skin and moist tender flesh.
The portions were so generous I opted for the café gourmand for dessert which came with tiny portions of their desserts of creme brulée and a berry cream crumble with a sesame crisp. Everything was done well and the ingredients were fresh and well sourced, so the complimentary reviews I read were well founded. It was very "correct" as the French say, meaning the service, atmosphere, and food were worth the price.
My local host told me his number one choice for a place to eat in Marseille was The Rowing Club, a local secret. On my first day I looked for the address but I couldn't find it, so after verifying the location with my host I finally found it on my last night :) This was the view from my table.

 As the sun set, the view changed, but was still beautiful.

I was so full from lunch, I ordered two appetizers, the first was supions, or baby squid, for 16 Euros or about $18 USD, perfectly grilled with garlic and served with a wedge of lemon, this was so tender and perfectly seasoned that I could have eaten two of these for my meal.
I was happy I had ordered two appetizers instead of a main course when the gambas, or prawns, with two fried raviolis stuffed with crab came (18 Euros or about $21 USD). These may have been the best gambas I have ever eaten, grilled to perfection with succulent tails and heads full of juices which I sopped up with the fried ravioli. The combination of the two appetizers was plenty for dinner, but I saw some tables who ate appetizers, a main course, and dessert! A small glass of Chablis was 6.50 Euros or $8 USD which is expensive for France, but many people came just to drink at the bar and enjoy the view, so think of the price as a location charge:)
This is the only sign indicating where the restaurant bar is from the main road. It's between the Sofitel hotel and the sailing school near the bus stop Saint Nicolas.
 As you walk or drive down the side road, you can see the restaurant on the roof of the building.
 There is a sign, but it's inside the building
which also holds the club's trophies and a gym.
  A great way to end the day and my stay in Marseille.