Friday, November 9, 2012

All Roads Lead to Foam

I hope all of you have the chance to see Rome at least once in your lifetime. There is something disarming about a modern city dressed in the architectural clothing of its forebears. The first time you spot the Colosseum from down a cobblestone lane, it will take your breath away. You can walk up to the Pantheon and touch it. And, depending on the museums you choose to visit, you can have your choice of standing in the presence of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, or Caravaggio.

But, even the most amazing cities on the planet take a little know-how to make the most of your time in them. So, here is my list of the top 7 things to keep under your traveling hat -- when in Rome.

Uno. Drink a cappuccino whenever you damn well please.
I can't tell you how many times I've read about the "rules of cappuccino" in Italian guidebooks. Basically, this most delicious of coffee libations is not to be consumed after breakfast, lest the person drinking be considered a hideous tourist unfit for holding a passport. After breakfast hours, it's more appropriate to ask for an espresso.

Now, I love coffee. Luh-uv. I will drink an entire bowl of coffee. If you've visited the blog before, you might even think Ed and I are crazy for itThat said, I don't like espresso. At all. So what about me, Rome?! Huh? What about ME?!

Espresso tastes like a punishment, with a little lemon peel on the side. It's coffee's angry step-child. Bitter. Rushed. Those little cups make me feel like I'm playing tea party. Sip, sip, gone. InappropriateIf only espresso was served with a dollop of delightful milk foam to make it more palatable. Well, there's an inspired idea! 

Truthfully, I drank cappuccino at all hours of the day whilst in Rome and never experienced a sideways glance from locals, waiters, or other travelers. From what I can tell, all of the 'no foam' hype has been overinflated. So, if you enjoy a little steamed milk in your coffee, drink on.

That's my niece, Kelley. A fellow lover of beans.

Due. Most of the hotels that you can afford are crap.
They are often very tiny and far from the center of town with iffy food at inflated prices. Get used to this idea. Opt for a place that at least has breakfast included and a free shuttle into the city center.
(If you can afford a nice place, make sure that you specify a double bed...not two twin beds pushed together. Also, I dislike you. Mainly because I'm irrationally jealous of your giant piles of money.)

Tre. Steer clear of the Pope on Mondays.
While it's true that St. Peter's Basilica is open every day and that is absolutely something you should try and include in your Roman itinerary, the Vatican museum is closed on Sundays. For this reason, we extended our trip in Rome an extra day and decided to hit Vatican City on a Monday. Packed doesn't even begin to to describe our time in the museum. Wall. To. Wall. We were a continuous, slow-moving, international, noisy herd.

Prior to your visit, I'd definitely recommend purchasing the timed museum tickets online. Additionally, plan to start with the Basilica and plan to take all day. Wear comfortable shoes. The audio guides are fantastic. Definitely spring for one, if you don't have a tour guide. While in the museum, you will naturally get excited and start to pick up the pace as you get closer to the Sistine Chapel. Do yourself a solid and slow it down when you get to the modern art section. It's transcendent. 

Quattro. The Early Bird does not get the bucatini.
No doubt about it, Italians know food. There is nothing more stylish than slapping on your best leather boots, curling those eyelashes, and ordering up some apertivo (small bites and cocktails that precede dinner). Sounds great, doesn't it? What a lovely concept! Why did Italians think up this genius art, you ask? Because they were STARVING!

Splitting a portion of cacio e pepe is perfect for apertivo.

Here's the deal. Lunch in Italy starts right after breakfast and goes until around 3pm. Dinner, however, does not usually start until close to 8pm. Therefore, between those hours, you will invariably become ravenous and want to eat anything you find that's open. Don't do that. Trust me. Time your meals out. Eat lunch. As late as possible. And, plan on a late dinner. Then, if you absolutely cannot wait another moment, grab some apertivo around 7pm; but, resist the urge to order more than a small bite. Or, if you grew up in my family, you'd skip appies altogether and plan a gelato break for about 6pm...or maybe one at 5pm and one at 7pm. Speaking of gelato...

Cinque. I'll have the one with all the sparkly, crunchy, fruity bits on top.
Okay, this is not a perfect science; but, there are definitely a couple of things to consider when selecting a spot for brain freeze. If the gelato isn't displayed with impressive toppings garnishing each flavor, keep walking. Make sure you see some traditional flavors, such as frutti di bosco, pistachio, or zabaglione. Lastly, ask to sample a flavor or two. The consistency should be lush and velvety. Never thin, course, or icy.

Most importantly, wherever you decide to stop for the frozen treat, do yourselves a favor and DO NOT make it anywhere near the Vatican. You're welcome.

Seriously, the worst gelato of my life.
And, I don't kick many ice cream desserts out of bed.
(I actually tossed it right after this picture and found a better gelateria.)

Sei. Apologies, Anderson, but just say NO to wine and leather if you're not a Vanderbilt.
If you are branching out during your Italy stay and planning on visiting any part of Tuscany, do not try and buy wine or leather in Rome. You will definitely find a lot more value as you move toward the more rural areas of Italy. I perused boots and purses in Rome that were marked up 300% from what I had seen further north and many had a 'Made in Tuscany' stamp. Um, hello?! If you want to purchase the perfect distressed leather bag or Brunello di Montalcino, why wouldn't you go directly to the source?

Sette. When you just need to eat anything other than pizza, risotto, or carbonara.
Now, I know you are already rolling your eyes thinking that this day will never come; but, the truth is that a person can only eat so much traditional Italian food before they start to develop bolognese belly.

My sage advice to you is to search out "new Italian" restaurants. Guidebooks, such as Lonely Planet, will have them listed in a separate category. We were starting to go out of our minds on this last trip, until we sought out the foodie haven, Il Grappolo d'Oro Zampano. Braised rabbit stuffed with potatoes and sausage. An octopus salad that still haunts my dreams. Definitely one of the top 5 meals of my life.

There you have it, folks. Now you're ready to hit the Roman streets. Just watch out for overzealous rose sellers -- trust me, they're everywhere. And, maybe study up on a couple of phrases to help you blend in. I strongly recommend the Travel Linguist's free videos on YouTube. I was surprised by how much Ed and I were able to absorb with just a week of pre-Italy study. Here's one to get you started. Try it over an *extra foamy* cappuccino!

I can't tell you how many times Ed and I told each other to stick it "up you tardy."
(Warning: Basic knowledge of Italian is required to get that bad joke.)

Davvero una vacanza Romana!

A piĆ¹ tardi,


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:


  1. Replies
    1. Indeed! I suppose you are spam...but you are very insightful spam at the very least!