Tag Archives: Rome

Christmas in Rome – A train to Florence, an overview of the city, and a delicious dinner

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Christmas in Rome – A train to Florence, an overview of the city, and a delicious dinner

In keeping with the tradition of adventure, Sarah and I went on a big trip for Christmas and New Years!

This year, we met up with Sarah’s family in Italy, traveling to Rome and Florence; not quite a perfect midpoint for everyone, but it was close enough. And, also, you know. Rome. Florence. Amazing!

Please forgive me for some of these being a bit out of order… the posts are organized somewhat chronologically… but also organized by theme and location.  Some may not be exactly in chronological order, so for reference please see the initial summary post, which has a complete day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the adventure.

 

Thursday, 28-Dec-2018 – Overview of Florence, and a trip to a trattoria

Rome wasn’t the only city we were seeing on this trip though, and as all good things must come to an end so did our adventures in Rome. With one last cup of coffee, we caught our train out of Rome, headed North toward Florence.

Honestly, the train ride itself was pretty simple and non-noteworthy. It was pretty, seeing the Italian countryside… but we couldn’t see a huge amount of it through the drizzling rain, and the train itself wasn’t on elevated tracks and so didn’t have the best of views.

The more interesting note came once we arrived in Florence, and caught a taxi to our new base of operations – As taxi drivers are known for, our driver had opinions. And thankfully, she was willing to share her opinions on food with us… We seriously had a laundry list of places to eat by the time she dropped us off, so once we unpacked we had merely to pick a spot and walk on over.

First, a note about our AirBnB. Like Rome, it turns out it’s not easy to find a place for six people in Florence. But in this case, we didn’t have a penthouse apartment… no, in this case we had a palace. Seriously.

We’re talking 20ft ceilings. We’re talking sculptures, a jacuzzi, and murals on the ceilings. We’re talking a huge kitchen (with surprisingly few pots and pans…), and a back yard complete with grill and parking area. And of course, what palace would be complete without a crazy lock system, with a huge skeleton key. Yep, it had one of those too. It was grand, but was still dignified and functional with cozy couches and a lovely family area.

The AirBnB reflected the city itself – the city was grand and soaring, though it was definitely different than Rome. Where Rome was palatial and opulent, Florence was deliberate and dignified. Think an old Italian man, sitting in his vineyard smoking a cigar and sipping a fine wine. He’s not walking around telling everyone he’s cool, he just is. Florence wasn’t ostentatious – it knows who it is, and it’s dead set on enjoying that fact.

We were near the city center, right by the Ponte Vecchio, down a small side street in a neighborhood of narrow streets and tall buildings. Florence is definitely filled in – like more European cities, it was packed tight inside the defensive walls, and while the walls are mostly gone now they still effect the structure of the city itself. It’s crowded, definitely more so that anything in Portland, and probably even more so than most parts of Boston.

Rome was similar, but where Florence differs is that it’s more… renaissance, I think? Solid wood, big brass door knockers, for some reason the whole city brought Galileo’s telescopes to mind. That style of burnished wood banded with gleaming brass is what stuck with me, even though most of the buildings were still made of hewn stone (That Sarah and I could have totally climbed, FYI).

Short version: Florence is beautiful, and I found it a bit more personable than Rome.

 

But I know what people want to hear about – Food. This is Italy, after all, and delicious food is arguably the first thing people think of, probably tied with art and science. Our food journey started almost as soon as we got settled in; we did do a quick grocery run, but as soon as we were done we looked through the recommendations that our Taxi driver gave us, picked a spot, and headed out.

 

The winner? A small trattoria within walking distance called Trattoria Sant’Agostino. We walked in, and knew that we’d made the right decision. It wasn’t packed… but it quickly filled up as the night went on. By both people, and glorious smells… We went with the tried and true tactic of the tasting menu – we just ordered a ton of amazing bits, and everyone had a bit of everything.

    • Starters: Florentine bread (bread cooked without salt, traditionally from the Siege of Florence when salt wasn’t available), Prosciutto plate, sauteed / caramelized onions
    • Pasta Course: Papardelle with Boar sauce, and Spaghetti with artichokes
    • Main Course: Braised boar, Fried chicken with rabbit chunks, and Braised beef
    • Wine: A liter of the house Red, with two bottles of sparkling water

After we finished, it was honestly all we could do just to walk all the way home. We were crashing quick, thanks to the overwhelming meal… which was a good thing, since tomorrow was our visit to the Uffizi gallery!

Christmas in Italy – Exploring and wandering through Rome

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Christmas in Italy – Exploring and wandering through Rome

In keeping with the tradition of adventure, Sarah and I went on a big trip for Christmas and New Years!

This year, we met up with Sarah’s family in Italy, traveling to Rome and Florence; not quite a perfect midpoint for everyone, but it was close enough. And, also, you know. Rome. Florence. Amazing!

Please forgive me for some of these being a bit out of order… the posts are organized somewhat chronologically… but also organized by theme and location.  Some may not be exactly in chronological order, so for reference please see the initial summary post, which has a complete day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the adventure.

 

Various days, between 22-Dec and 27-Dec – Exploring Rome, and the outdoor sculptures

Rome is huge.

I mean, you already knew that. But take how huge you think it is, and then make it huger. Yes, that’s a word now.

I mean, Rome isn’t the size of LA (I think), but it’s just so… dense. There’s so much to see, and so much to do. More amazing food than you could eat in a year, or in ten years. More beautiful sculptures and sconces and buildings and, and, and…

It’s impressive, let’s just leave it at that.

I wrote up some pretty concise posts about a lot of specific places that we visited earlier, but there were a lot of spots that we simply saw in passing, or stopped in for dinner at. They didn’t really lend themselves to inclusion in other posts, so I’m going to put a few of them down here. Think of this as a compilation of short stories from Rome?

Fancy dinner out, 26-Dec

One of Greta’s coworkers was unexpectedly in town, and invited us out to dinner at a restaurant that he knew nearby. Since we’d planned on doing a fancy dinner out on the town anyways, this was a perfect way to get an insiders scoop on where to go. We dressed ourselves in our finery, and headed out for an especially excellent meal (as if every other meal wasn’t also exceptional!)

The ambiance was more casual than I think we expected, but it fit in well with the expectation of Italian eating. I could see a college student bringing their Grandma here, or the Prime Minister entertaining a foreign dignitary.

The food…

Starter: The whole table split a plate or roasted artichokes, half cooked the traditional Roman-style, and the other half cooked Judaean-Style

Pasta Course: Sarah and I split a plate of gnocchi, topped with cheese and cooked almost like a crem bruilee

Main Course: The table shared a roast spring lamb with rosemary

Dessert: Chocolate cake with pear, and a tiramisu

Wine: Sparkling wine to start, followed by a few bottles of house red with the main course

Street Votives

Something I’d never seen before, but in Rome there’s constant reminders of Christianity. I mean, yes of course there’s the uncountable churches, but there are also a ton of small devotionals, inlaid into the walls along the streets. Some of these look recent and cared for, and some look like they’ve been undisturbed since the 1700s. They’re not hugely obvious or confrontational, but if you take the time to notice they appear nearly every block.

Obelisks

Across the city, we saw multiple tall stone Obelisks. To me, they looked almost Egyptian, but I learned from Sarah and Bill that they were basically storybooks, similar to the triumphal arches in design. They’d tell a story, winding around the tower, of some major event such as a major military conquest or annexation.

But, as time went on, ideals changed. Where the obelisks originally had statues of emperors or generals, the Church replaced them with saints and effigies of Jesus. Now, most of them will have a haloed figure at the top, crowning the ancient stories of Rome.

Man, I don’t know. Just glorious architecture.

Seriously, the architecture in Rome was beautiful. So many amazing stone buildings, crawling with ivy and flowers. Interior courtyards, and even small sewer inlays. Instead of the street drains, they’d have carved stone features. Seriously amazing.

Shopping in Rome

Whoof. This one. On our last day in Rome, we had the morning unbooked – since we’d be getting on a train in the early afternoon, we didn’t want to rush any sightseeing. Instead, we earmarked the day for a bit of fashion…

And man, fashion is expensive. My goal was a nice Italian sportcoat, and I’m not lying when I say that I found multiple beautiful ones, that I would have loved to take home. Thankfully, common sense prevailed… or more accurately, the aneurysm that I had when they showed me the price protected me. Not that they weren’t amazing, and probably worth it… and the sales people were definitely willing to negotiate… but not down into the low triple digits, unfortunately.

Aside from fashion, Rome is also known for Art… thankfully for us, since Sarah had been whipping through the supplies that she’d brought with her from the States. This was Rome, so finding an art supply store wasn’t any sort of challenge… the challenge came from trying to find the specific type of paper she needed, out of the uncountable different options available. But again we prevailed, and escaped with exactly the type of paper she needed.

Christmas in Italy – Exploring Ostia Antica

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Christmas in Italy – Exploring Ostia Antica

In keeping with the tradition of adventure, Sarah and I went on a big trip for Christmas and New Years!

This year, we met up with Sarah’s family in Italy, traveling to Rome and Florence; not quite a perfect midpoint for everyone, but it was close enough. And, also, you know. Rome. Florence. Amazing!

Please forgive me for some of these being a bit out of order… the posts are organized somewhat chronologically… but also organized by theme and location.  Some may not be exactly in chronological order, so for reference please see the initial summary post, which has a complete day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the adventure.

 

 

Wednesday, 27-Dec-2017

One of the targets that we’d locked in before flying to Italy was a historic site called Ostia Antica – I hadn’t heard of it before, but a quick search told me that it was a set of ruins from a port city that fed Rome, and acted as a barracks for troops. Interesting, and since it was a train ride outside of Rome it would be a great chance to see a bit of the countryside.

The day itself started kind of roughly – I don’t really know why, but for some reason I had a heck of a time mobilizing myself and getting moving. Just a high gravity day, I guess… but once I drank some coffee and ate a coronetti I was feeling right as rain. Which was critically important. Since it was, in fact, raining outside.

Our first order of business was to get umbrellas. Greta and I took the lead on that one, which was honestly quite an easy task, since there were umbrella salesmen on literally every street corner as soon as we left the apartment. We ambushed one (or were ambushed… I’m honestly not sure which) (Ed Note: Greta and Ben were ambushed) and started the time honored tradition of haggling.

Our case was made a little weaker due to the fact that we were standing in pouring rain, but we still negotiated the guy down to 50% of his asking price. He wanted 40 Euro, we paid 20 for four umbrellas. Not bad, right?

 

Wrong. We still got swindled.

See, what we didn’t know is that these umbrellas came from “Jim’s bad umbrella emporium”, or some equally disreputable manufacturer. We learned this when, not 5 minutes after paying, the first of the four umbrellas inverted and collapsed.

I won’t reference these umbrellas again, but just keep in mind that Sarah and I were the only ones with full mountaineering rain gear, and the rain was STILL getting through our gear. The rest of the group were contending with umbrellas that were… less than reliable. As the day went on we kept a casualty count of the umbrellas. The longest surviving one lasted until we got back to Rome, but not all the way to our door.

Anyways, moving on from umbrellas.

Our train ride was lovely, and a bit eye opening. We started out at the station under the Spanish Steps, and quickly left Rome proper. Once we were past the main city, we got to see a bit more of the real version of Italy; Small towns, interspersed with empty buildings and abandoned apartment complexes. It was a stark contrast to the opulence of Rome and the Vatican, and reminded us that Italy itself is far more than just the main cities that we were staying in.

We de-trained in Ostia Antica, braving the rain once again. It was a short walk to the main historic site, but once we were there…

Ostia Antica is basically a huge open-air excavation of ancient Roman ruins. I mean that – there are main paths, but almost nothing is off limits except for the active excavation areas. Walking along dirt paths, you can nudge the mud with your boots and see beautiful mosiacs still buried underneath. The buildings aren’t restored, and very few of them even have placards… It’s honestly as if we just teleported into a video game, exploring undiscovered ruins.

Since the area was so vast and disconnected, the group splintered off pretty quickly – Sarah and I headed deeper into the uncontrolled ruins, while Bill and Greta followed the main path and Henry and Leah headed toward the museum.

 

It was beautiful, and we quickly got lost in exploring.

I found an old building choked with vines, that we could crawl into and explore. Sarah found the main amphitheater, and walked me through how it compared to present-day theater setups. We found giant mosaics, old fountains, and even an ancient public bathroom (no, we didn’t use it). It was amazing, and we quickly became lost in the exploration.

Thankfully, Bill and Greta pulled us back to reality with a call to lunch; we hadn’t quite noticed, but the hours had flown by, and we were a bit overdue to meet back with the group. We all met up for lunch, then explored the on-site museum – basically where they took all of the exceptionally interesting finds as the ongoing excavations uncovered them. The museum was quite small, for the scale of the area, but definitely worth seeing.

The path home was a wet one, but we persevered somehow. The rain had been getting worse as the day went on, and actually turned to hail by the end… but thankfully by that point we only had a few hundred yards to go before we hit the shelter of the train station, so it was only mildly unpleasant… and honestly just added to the adventurous feeling of exploring ancient ruins.

 

The last adventure of the day was dinner – It was Sarah and my’s turn to cook, so we settled down on the train and concocted a rather brilliant meal plan for the evening, based on what we had left in the kitchen. Not to toot our own horn, but… it was glorious. We based it on the standard appetizer, pasta, main course list from a traditional Italian meal, with a small twist – we combined the pasta and the main, and had two conflicting dishes. One was heavy with a red sauce, and the other was light with a butter sauce. I like to think that they contrasted well.

Appetizer, to tide everyone over: Bread & dipping oil

Salad course: spinach salad with green beans and seared steak strips

Main Course #1: Papardelle with red sauce, with sausage and mushrooms

Main Course #2: Orecchiette with prosciutto and butter sauce

Wine: A light Red, if I recall correctly