My brother is a chef and his one goal on our Italian vacation was to eat as much good food and drink as much good wine as possible. I signed up for that immediately.
We started our vacation in Rome- 5 days. And these photos just can't do it justice. There are cute shop-fronts, quaint restaurants and bars (for coffee not beer), pizzerias and gelaterias are everywhere.
We ate our weight in pizza and most was excellent. Generally, if we were in a nicer restaurant the pizza was well worth it. And the toppings were wonderful- anchovies, ham, fresh basil and the quattro formaggi- which was an artery clogger- was sooooooooo delicious!
Did I mention that we had beautifully DRY weather for 98% of our glorious Italian vacation? And dining outside (with a heater of course) provided some great opportunities for people watching.
And did I mention that Italians apparently don't get sick of eating Italian food every day.
There isn't the culinary variety that we take for granted over here. We did see a couple of Chinese restaurants and an Irish Pub but mostly you have small neighborhood restaurants serving fresh pasta, beautiful salads and pizza. (I am spoiled by my beloved Portland: Mexican, Thai, Sushi, Middle Eastern food--and Italian-- all in my neighborhood!)
Food presentation is big here. This is the little shop beside our condo with its meats and cheeses displayed so beautifully. The pastries always looked gorgeous, the gelato was piled high and the holiday candy and bakery displays were amazing.
Next up: the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Forum in Rome. Brace yourself.
Beanie, me, my brother Justin, Brandi (Bean's sister) and my husband Bert
Today is my birthday. My fortieth.
Truth be told it has taken me several months to adjust to the word "forty". Why is that? Why is it that my big birthdays- my 30th and 40th- were a bit harder to swallow but birthday 39 was just a walk in the park? Why is it on these birthdays we step back and look our lives and take stock: what should I have accomplished by the age of 40?
“WHAT I DO TODAY IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE I AM EXCHANGING A DAY OF MY LIFE FOR IT.” –HUGH MULLIGAN
I googled "bucket list" and man, people have some odd ideas of things they *must* do before the kick the bucket. I have no desire to scuba dive, go to Burning Man or own a Capuchin monkey... but here is my list:
Learn to play chess
Be a good parent. Successfully raise a teenager. (work in progress)
Sea kayak in Alaska
Go white water rafting
Ride a jet ski (well I rode on the back of one, does that count?)
Machu Picchu – Cuzco, Peru
Killer whale watching in the San Juan Islands
Drive across America, coast to coast
Try crazy bug food in Asia
Celebrate Chinese New Year in China
Ride in a helicopter
Santa Fe New Mexico
Feel an earthquake
Yellowstone National Park
Get another tattoo
Grand Tetons National Park
Yosemite National Park
Glacier National Park
See a professional tennis match
See a professional baseball game
See a professional football game
See a professional basketball game
Visit The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Today has been a lovely day. Went out to breakfast, saw the latest Sherlock Holmes movie, had ice cream for lunch, got Cold Play tickets (yahoo!) and this cookbook, bought some books, went out to dinner and now am crashing: new books + sugar coma = bliss.
Rome was the first stop on our multi-city whirlwind tour of Italy. And as you know, I am a planner and a list-maker so of course I did my research. And what can I say, Rome is a complicated place... At first I wanted to title this post, "Everything they say about Rome is true." But I don't want to lump Rome into one big stereotype. So I'll just say...... a lot of what they say about Rome is true!
Outside the Capitoline Museum
Rule #1: Drivers in Rome are insane.
We learned this fairly quickly after we arrived. Enzo came to pick us up at the airport and drive us to our apartment. And this is where we learned that:
Lanes are merely suggestions for where one should drive one's car.
If there is room for your car then you may drive there even if it means crossing two lanes of traffic and cutting off a bus. Enzo drove smack dab in the middle of two lanes for the duration of our trip.
There are huge intersections with no traffic signals, no lanes, no order and yet there are no crashes and no people leaning out their Fiat windows cursing at each other:
You can park anywhere. Even if it isn't a real parking space. Even if your car is going the wrong direction.
Scooter drivers in Rome are even more insane. By virtue of owning a scooter it is perfectly legal to weave in and out of traffic and ignore all rules of the road.
Rule #2: Walk aggressively.
If you wait for some polite driver to let you cross a busy thoroughfare then you will wait a looooooooong time. You can spot newbie tourists stepping tentatively off the curb at busy intersections, trying not to get ran over by maniac scooter drivers. But, alas, we were stepping out in front of double decker busses like the locals in no time.
Rule #3: Pay attention to your money.
There are many ways to become separated from one's money in Rome and many people who will gladly separate you from it. Here's the scenario: we were excited- there are freakin' ancient ruins right next to the ice cream place- do you believe it?! There is a bright red Vespa scooter outside too- how quaint! We're eating gelato in Italy- woo hoo! Four gelatos later we were FIFTY DOLLARS lighter. Watch out for hidden charges and checks that aren't itemized.
Rule #4: Everybody goes on strike.
Strikes usually occur a few times a month and, strangely enough, most are planned ahead of time. Everyone from garbage workers, taxi drivers, public transportation and, in our case, workers at the Colosseum.
Rule #5: Rome is overwhelming.
Everything is big. Everything is old. Everything is fast. Pace yourself and trust me, don't forget to bring band-aids for all the blisters you're going to get.
Gladiators waitng for their photo op at the Colosseum
Rule #6: Beware the pushy gladiator.
And the pushy scarf guy, rose guy, cheesy plastic lighted reindeer antler headband guy. It begins to feel like everyone wants to sell you something.
Rule # 7: Schedules are...flexible.
I don't know how many times we asked a shopkeeper/restaurant person/tour operator when they close and they said, "Ummmm....... about..... 4:15." Not 4pm. Not 4:30. Not even a confident, definitive declaration of, "4:15!" No, there is definite contemplation going on here.
And schedules can be odd: we're closed Mondays, open 11-3 on Wednesdays, 9-4 on Thursdays, 10-2 on all other days. Except Saturdays.
Rule #8: Everyone in Rome dresses better than you do.
Wear black and you're doing okay. Wear stiletto boots and you're doing much better. Wear black and stiletto boots and smoke and you'll pass as a local.
Rule #9: Don't go in the summer.
I guess I can't officially tell you not to go in the summer because I went in December but I did hear from many a local that the crowds are much tamer in the winter months. Going in December definitely had its advantages but we lucked out- it only rained twice in our 17 days- not usual.
Rule #10: You'll either love it or hate it.
This I heard a lot so I was pretty prepared to hate Rome. "It's too crowded." "My wallet was pick pocketed." "I was almost ran over by a speeding taxi."
But we actually liked Rome quite a bit. Being that it wasn't raining, there weren't scores of people everywhere and we didn't get anything stolen outright (not counting our overpriced gelato that should have come with a complimentary scooter for that price) All in all we had a great time.
p.s. I hope you don't expect anything other that Italy posts for the next month because I have about 1300 photos to go...
Our recent trip to Italy has made me contemplate many things:
How do women in Italy walk effortlessly along cobblestone streets in high heels?
How can I figure out a way to get paid to quit my job and do a comprehensive and exhaustive study of tiramisu?
How can I incorporate more gelato into my life?
Is there a height requirement to be a nun? Every nun we saw was 5 feet tall or shorter.
What is the life expectancy of a person trying to cross a busy street in Rome?
Would there be life without Nutella?
Why aren't the city streets filled with overweight Italians? How could I have eaten, for the last 17 days, a brioche every morning, slice after slice of pizza, glorious amounts of gelato and more pasta than I have ever consumed at any point in my life and... I still LOST TWO POUNDS.
Here are my observations:
I walked my ass off. We literally walked aaaaaaaaaaaall day. All day. If we weren't wandering around the city streets we were running to catch a bus. If we weren't on a walking tour we were running to make a train.
Every place we stayed had stairs. Not three steps up to the front porch, I'm talking 20-70 stairs up to each apartment. And you're walking up these stairs multiple times a day. And they are old steps, constructed ages ago when steps didn't need to be "to code"-- one step 8 inches, 1 step 11 inches, and the next butt burning step is 15 inches tall. Oh my Lord.
You will not find Ranch dressing in Italy. Or Thousand Island, Creamy Italian, or Catalina. Italians use oil and vinegar. Period.
There aren't fast food joints on every corner. I saw a few McDonald's and one Burger King restaurant and, don't get me wrong, they were packed, but there were no Taco Bells, Arby's, or Jack in The Boxes everywhere.
So while I don't plan to continue to eat pizza and pasta every day (I actually found myself craving broccoli) here are my new year's resolutions: