Roma IV & Arrivederci Roma

I awoke around 8:30 but the heavy, dark clouds and the intermittent down pours gave me permission to stay in and write.  I am still trying to get caught up.  Bloggers that do this for a living really do work for their money.  The process is just that, a process.  Add to the mix working on an ipad, plus the array of difficulties with technology I have had and…well, this is where I am…behind.

I open the window once in awhile to allow the thunder its full effect.  Again, rainy days do not get me down (for the most part).

Later in the morning, I hear someone at the reception desk.  I walk out to be greeted by Gabby and her boyfriend (owner of the Guest House) Alesseo…I’m liking saying that name.

They offered a walk for today up to see Piazza Garibaldi.  I would take the 8 train, then the 115 bus up to the top of the hill, walk around to San Pietro in Montorio and see the Tempietto built by Bramante.  They assure me the rain has gone for the day.  They even took me up to the roof top (via crazy route) to show me the clouds have moved from the sea.  Side note on the rooftop: The view was amazing!  Gabby and Alesseo pointed out all the major sites in Rome from this vantage point.  Oh what I could do with this space.

Now Gabby and Alesseo are wonderful hosts.  They are organized, tidy and easy to communicate with…but weather people they are not.  As I walked to the train, the clouds open up again.  I decide to leave that walk for another visit. And as it is well after breakfast and lunch, I go to a favorite spot from my last visit, Grazia & Graziella.  I order a spritz (remember…I know I just left my bedroom and I am now drinking…but it is around 3:30 in the afternoon) and as they did last time, they brought these yummy snacks to accompany it, including my favorite oily bag of fresh pane.

I sit and can’t help but hear a conversation being had with the 2 next to me.  The tables are all but 4 inches apart.  Anywho, one I believe is English and one from New Zealand.  The guy from England is going on about how Americans are all the same…and his perception is not good.  He says there are some small “pockets” that are worth something and goes on to name San Francisco, Austin, Boulder.  The girl from New Zealand chimes in and says, “Oh, when did you visit America?” and he replies, “I’ve never been but…”.  The girl later adds she has been to Boulder but everyone is always high there.

Let us all remember, ya never know who is listening.image

This gentleman you see below works at Grazia & Graziella.  He was constantly moving around, flirting with tables of young girls, flirting with young girls as they walked by…being Italian….oh wait…that’s a stereotype…sorry.  At one point, he comes out with a large water gun and a “fight” with a girl from another trattoria ensues.  Soon another guy from another trattoria appears and his weapon of choice…a large red bucket.image

A little while later an older couple, I’m talking about my age, comes in, breezes past, let’s call him Fabio, breezes past Fabio and starts looking for an empty table.  He gives his “audience” a look of displeasure, unbeknownst to the newbies.  He says in a loud voice, “Ciao!”…they do not hear him. “Ciao!  ciao!  Buonasera!  Good Evening”  With each greeting he looks around as if he cannot believe the rudeness of these two.  He finally announces, “If you-a do not-a say-a buonasera, I no-a give-a you-a a table-a.”   They did get a table, but everyone else got another show.

A not young, not old Italian couple leaves their table, hand in hand.  They walk a few steps away from the trattoria, then begin an intense hugging, kissing session.  After minutes of this, they stop, look into each other’s eyes, light a cigarette and share it as they walk off.  Crack me up!

I look at the clock and see it is time for me to head to mass.  I attended mass on my last visit at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere.  It is one of my favorite churches.  As you may remember, it is said to be the first church in Rome dedicated to The Virgin Mary and one of the oldest churches as well. The original floor plan dates back to the 340s and much of the structure to 1140-43.  The large areas of important mosaics are from the late 13th century and are by Pietro Cavallini.  image

During mass, I understand a few more words than I did last year…here and there…piano, piano.  Although this is a tourist point, most of the people attending mass are locals, knowing and greeting each other, moving about in the smaller rooms and corridors as if this is an extension of their homes.  The feeling of home and comfort is so great in this chiesa, that the gentleman behind me has fallen asleep and is happily snoring away.

The sounds outside along with the flickering of lights tells me another storm is here, but like in Assisi during my last visit, in the church, I am safe and warm.

After mass, I roam my neighborhood.  Today, I decided to not exceed its boundaries.  Since this is my last night, I’ve decided to eat as the Italians do, late.  As I scope out a place for dinner, I run across this piccolo pastaccieria.  When I see a group of people inside with a guide, I think, ok…I’ll try.

I enter and the group is passing around a little, gold tray.  Each time they are trying a different dolce.  Each is met with approval.  I move up to the counter and point to the different ones I would like to try.  They are tiny, so I get 3 of each.  The woman behind the counter is patient and then ends telling me her favorite.  I think they are hazelnut meringue.  I add 3 of those as well.  She weighs my batch, I pay 3.20 euro and I store them in my borsa for domani’s train ride.image

I go back several trattorias the ones on the other side of Via Trastevere are more crowded than the ones on my side of the tracks (literally).  I end up choosing one that is not on Gabby’s list, Dar Sor Olimpio al Drago.  It is 10 meters (I’m just saying that…I don’t measure well in meters, but they tend to say that a lot) from my Guest House.  I am seated at a small table on the street/piazza. (In the photo below you see my empty table.)  Each time I lean in my chair, I fear I will topple over as it tips backwards.

As I am settled in my evening spot, I watch others looking for theirs.  There are the couples walking by, stopping to read the menu, giving looks.  Within this piccolo piazza, there are 3 trattorias.  The more popular looking, with the strung lights and bigger space, is the one Gabby advised me to avoid.  This is the one that most of the men vote for.  I watch as couples do the, “I want that IF you want that” dance.  Two italian preteens walk by arm in arm chatting.  Shortly behind them, 3 older italian women walk by arm in arm chatting.  Nice.

I look over the menu and choose Gnocchi Ricotta con Salvia.  This will definitely be a recipe I try to replicate in casa.  It was so good.  Comfort Food to the highest degree.  The rain has brought cooler temps so this is perfetto!  I wish for Avery as I know she would appreciate this dish as much as I do.  I order panna cotta for dessert and my waitress asks, “Do-a you-a like-a the caramel-a?”  Certo!

This was very nice ending to MY Roman Foodie Tour.image

Before going to bed, I make sure I am all set for my departure in the morning.  Gabby has told me where a taxi station is and says with my train leaving at 10:30, I could leave around 10:00.  Silly Gabby, I leave at 8:30.  What if there are no cabs, what if it is raining, what if Putin is headed to mass (ha) and causes yet another closure or rerouting?  Cosa se, Cosa se, Cosa se?

I arrive at the stazione in plenty of time.  I watch the crowds then realize this odd little headache I have is probably from not having my daily dose of espresso, yesterday or this morning. image

So I grab my first cappuccino of my vaca and feel relief.image

Armed with my biscotti from ieri, I am ready to go.  I won’t go into my brief panic when trying to find the binario for my treno.  Just a tip for you- 2 and     2 est are two-a different tracks.  I think my still watering left eye, made train attendants have pity on me and helped me find my way.

Quick review of Highlights of Roma- Helpful Gabby, Nice clean, sleek room, Cacio e Pepe, Trumpet Player, Funny “If Art Could Talk” Post Cards, Colosseum Tour with Guido the Guide AND THESE BISCOTTI!!  If you are in Roma, you must seek this place out.  Truly OUTSTANDING!!image

On this treno, I have an assigned compartment and seat.  When I enter all but 2 of the seats are taken and a man from Australia is struggling to put his wife’s luggage in the overhead compartment.  He gives up and leaves it in the space between the seats.  I roll in the Ferrari and he asks if he can put mine up for me.  I tell him, it is quite heavy and I saw him struggle with his wife’s.  Just as trying to get a middle school boy to do something for you, this approach of “Oh…it is too heavy for you” worked again.  The four Australians will be heading to Firenze in a few days and I share my tips with them.

I arrive in Chiusi about 2 hours later.  Milena meets me.  It is great to see her again.  After knowing each other for less than 24 hours 2 years ago, Milena feels like an old friend.image

At the house, she asks a favor of me.  The room I had last time and the same room Mom and Dad had last year when they visited has been requested by a business man that comes through often.  She asks if I would mind terribly choosing a different room.  She shows me 2 different ones.  I choose this one.image

Although the view is not quite as good, I like this room even better.  Letting the wood and white speak for itself it the way to decorate.

Milena has another couple checking in soon which allows me time to unpack and get situated.  Only staying 2 nights, I basically work from my suitcase while here.

Milena and I then drive into Chiusi to grab a quick bite to eat.  We catch up over salads and vino.  She tells me she has a couple of things planed during my visit.  At 4:30, we will pick up her friend, Diana, and “make-a a drive-a” to Montepulciano and Pienza.  I am so thankful to Milean for taking this time to show me these beautiful villages.  Without a car, I would not have had the opportunity.

I cannot share much with you about these towns.  We literally “made-a a walk-a” through.  Milena and Diana being patient with me as I snapped a few photos.  What I do remember were the views from Montepulciano and the aroma of pecorino in the streets of Pienza.imageBeing with these 2 close friends was fun; listening to their conversations as they spoke over each other, yet understanding each other.  Diana looks exactly like Laura Dern but with strawberry blonde hair and Milena is a younger Diane von Furstenberg.  Even when I show pics of these famous people, other friends we hang out with agree.  imageThe views from the top of Montepulciano are unparalleled.  We were there when the sun was hot and high and the air hazy.  I cannot imagine what a sunset here would be like.imageimageimageAfter our quick tour, we rested and then met again for dinner.  Another friend of Milena’s was coming to pick us up and take us all to dinner.  Roberto arrived in a brand new Mercedes van (he owns and operates a car service in the area- Autonoleggio Rent a Car, Caroti di Caroti Roerto) and we all pile in- Roberto, Milena, Diana, Milena’s two beautiful girls, me and Roberto’s son.

When Roberto introduced himself, he shared with me that his english is “not-a too-a good-a”, but it was enough to communicate with me that he has driven for “a-Russel-a Crowe-a, Sarah-a Jessica-Parker-a, Morgan-a Freeman, Bill-a Gates-a Google-a” and I add, “And now, Paige Conn”.

We drive and drive then arrive at an Agriturismo of sorts.  Tonight the large restaurant has only a few families.  All who seem to frequent.  The kids run around like it is home.

Roberto and Milena suggest me trying pici con ragu.  This photo does not do the dish justice.  Again, comfort food.  Pici is a thick, hand-rolled pasta, like a fat spaghetti.  It originates in the province of Siena, which Chiusi is a part of.  I ate every bite!  When Roberto pours the vino rosso, I hold up a glass, I notice he hesitates, pours wine into it, then adds, “Wrong-a glass-a”.  oooppss.image

Just because the Limoncello (will always remind me of Franco) is serve, it does not mean the evening is over.imageThe kids continued to run and play.  All decided to get tattoos.  When Milena was handing out the money to buy, she gives me a silly look and says, “Paj-a…do-a you-a want-a a tattoo-a too-a”.  Nope, I’m good.image

Earlier, Milena told me that although she has 1 tattoo declaring she is a Scorpio, she wants to get 2 more.  I ask her what she wants and she says she does not know.  I, like a mother to a 40ish year old, tell her to remember how they will look when she is old.  She replies, “Yes-a, but-a we will all-a have-a them-a” and smiles.

As the night winds down, we would gather kids and be missing one, find that one, then miss another.  This went on for quite a while.  The crescent moon was low and large.  Che Bello!

Driving back through Chianciano, Roberto would say, “Paj-a…that-a eees-a my shop-a (Roby’s Women’s Fashion), Paj-a…that-a eees-a one of my-a petro stations.”  Roberto works hard and does well.

The next morning, I wake slowly, enjoy breakfast with cappuccino and prepare to “take-a the waters”.image

Milena had planned for us to “take-a the waters” and enjoy a day of relaxing at the piscine termali or thermal pool.  We gather the girls plus Nicolo and andiamo.

The day seems perfect for this, kinda sunny, kinda cloudy, not too hot for the warmth of the waters.  My only issue was the swim cap.  Earlier, Milena has asked, “Paj-a…do you have-a a cap-a for the swimming-a?”  Uh..no…never!  I tell her I really don’t think I need one and she tells me it is a “rule-a”…oh.  Milena pulls 4 or 5 from her swim bag.  One has 2 cigarette holes burned into it.  She laughs and adds, “Theeesa one-a eeesa for going to-a the banca”…funny.

As Milena advertised, the day was nice and relaxing.  My favorite part, aside from sporting an ill-fitting swim cap, were the cement lounge chairs, of sorts, that had millions of bubbles shooting up from them.  As you sat in the warm, mineral water enriched with healing elements (that’s them talking…not me), bubbles burst up from chair, giving you a light, warm message.  I kept laughing, but no one else was.  The thermal waters were known to the Etruscans and the Romans…this is serious business.imageReturning to the guest house, we retired for a bit more relaxation, and then prepared for a dinner in with famiglia.  Apart from the 4 rooms Milena has as the bed and breakfast, there is a wonderful space where Milena and the girls live.

Tonight, Roberto brings pizza and plenty of it.  We also have every bevanda known to Italia.image

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The night is just like any other spent in the company of good friends, filled with great conversation (Kendra Scott, Alice, Roberto’s 12 year old daughter coming as an exchange student to Texas, and the difference between the english pronunciation of Tree and Three), laughter and broken glass…certo!image

Best Of- B and B ‘s

First…some great news!!!!

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The scatola gialla has arrived!!  I was so happy to see the pink slip in the mail box.  And even happier when Mom and Dad brought it in.  It looks as if it had a tough journey; all broken and taped, but what matters is all the goodies (yes, more ephemera!!) are here…no more loose ends; me, the Ferrari and the scatola gialla all arrived at different times, but we all arrived.

I wince a bit when I say I have been home two weeks now.                                                No doubt…there are wonderful things about being home; family, comforts of home, friends, family, comforts of home….wait, I already said that….ok….I am stumped…I know there are more, but I’ll have to get back to you.

Two weeks has allowed me to reflect, tell stories, miss certain things, etc.  During this time, I ask myself questions; “What was your best fill in the blank?  More often than not, a debate ensues.  I have to qualify and qualify, substitute, consider a different opinion, be reminded of something ….and that’s just talking to myself….                                                         But I think I am ready to make a few non-binding (my favorite kind) commitments…

So let’s start with my B & Bs.

Gosh…I actually got a bit nervous just then….I guess this is making it feel like a formal ending…..

Best Bedroom/Bath Layout & Comfy Bed– Chiusi and Vence

L' albero di gameli, Chiusi

L’ albero di gameli, Chiusi

Le2, Vence, France

Le2, Vence, France

These two B & B’s get three Best Of’s each!  I loved the eclectic mix and feel of the decor in Le2, but L’albero di gameli’s understated elegance made me feel pampered for the night.  Did I ever mention the wonderful scent that filled the air there?  I  know scents can be tricky.  Something someone loves gives someone else a headache.  But the scent Milena has here is so subtle…just enough to make you think “aaahhhhhhhh”.

Best Room View- Sorrento and Assisi (See now I thinking Anacapri should make this list as well….)  But I am going to stick with my first two because I tend to like heights….I so loved being on the rooftops of these places.  B&B Belvedere Sorrento gets top honors I think because of all I could see and hear; Piazza Tasso, the sea, the rooftops, people’s windows, the streets below.

Rooftop B&B Belvedere

Rooftop B & B Belvedere

B&B Belvedere Sorrento

B & B Belvedere Sorrento

I guess it gave me more “scenes” to picture myself in while Hotel Alexander’s (Assisi) view of the rolling hills of Toscana were like something out of an Italian fantasy.

Hotel Alexander, Assisi

Hotel Alexander, Assisi

Plus, in B & B Belvedere’s column, I so enjoyed my evenings on the rooftop with a glass of wine or a treat I had grabbed from the streets below.

Best Hotel Host/Hostess- OK…no surprises here…say it with me….FRANCO!!     Because I was Franco’s guest for 5 nights he of course gets top honors, but Milena comes in a close 2nd with only 1 night to impress!!

Il mio amico Franco!

Il mio amico Franco!

Franco and Family were just absolutely wonderful.  I cannot say enough about my time there and without Franco’s kindness, Anacapri would have just been another bellissimo posto on my trip.

Milena at work

Milena at work

Milena, with two precious girls in tow, went al di sopra e al di la to make my one night in Chiusi perfect AND help me.  With both of these special people, I feel I now have amici in Italia.  Are there ANY better souvenirs!?

My parents are already planning on adding these two spots to their next trip to Italia.

Best Breakfast- B&B Roma Central

Pasticceria across the via from B&B Roma Central

Pasticceria across the via from B&B Roma Central

A typical italian breakfast is so very different from a typical American breakfast.  Cakes, cheeses, pastries and of course cafe.  In Roma, every morning I looked forward to going to the pasticceria across the street, handing the guy on the other side of the counter my hand stamped post-it note, choosing my pastry from the glass counter and deciding how I wanted my caffeine presented that day; cappuccino, espresso, macchiato…no way an Americano!!  I didn’t sit at a table alone, I stood at the counter quickly eating my pastry and  downing my cafe in no more than 3 gulps like all my other italian neighbors.  Perfetto!

Best Location, Location, Location (Hotel)-

This is a toughie.  There are pluses about almost every single place I stayed.  The total number of B&B is 10 and I have to say I would rebook 8 of them.                                Rome, although the location put me near some cool neighborhoods and close to the train station, I would try another location before returning.  That has NOTHING to do with the quality of my B&B, it was great, but next time, I am thinking Trastevere.                                 Anacapri, part of the charm was that I would walk to town several times a day.  Staying out of the city center allowed me to peek into lives and the same lives at different times of day.  That I loved.  The aromas of what was for lunch or dinner, the conversations floating out of open windows, passing familiar faces on the streets.  And of course the tranquil beauty of Il Giardino dell’arte; my terrace, the Bay of Naples in my arms…bella!                   Sorrento, couldn’t have been better.  Walking distance from the train station, a corner off Piazza Tasso, my rooftop terrace…..ya gotta love the luggage pulley!                                                                                                     Chiusi, with a car and the intention of exploring Toscana and Umbria….definitely a place to return to.                                                                                                                               Monterosso, Hotel Margherita has a perfect location and I love their shared terrace/patio.  It was definitely one of my favorite “offices”.  A common outdoor area is a huge plus, especially if you are staying for several days.  This space allows you to hang and unwind without feeling closed up in your room.                                                                                          Florence, Great location.  Far enough from the touristy centers to allow you a buffer zone, but close enough to everything; train station included.  Via Faenza is lined with small trattorias, groceries, enotecas and more.  On my next visit, I might check out options  in Oltrarno, but that is nothing against B&B Bencidormi.  I would love a place with that common outdoor area I was speaking of…I’ve got a while to do some research…I’ll let you know….                                                                                                                                     Assisi, Again, if you are going to Assisi, the location and terrace of Hotel Alexander seem perfect.                                                                                                                                     Vence, As long as church bells, LOUD church bells add to your experience LE2 is ideal.

8 out of 10....not bad!

8 out of 10….not bad!

Best Overall B & B Experience, Il Giardino Dell’Arte

Top Honors go to Franco e Famiglia

Top Honors go to Franco e Famiglia

This is taking EVERYTHING into consideration.  To put into Franco’s words, the time here will “crazy you”.   Bravo e Grazie Mille Franco!!

Is there anything about the B & Bs that I neglected to mention?  If so, send me a comment and I am sure I will have an opinion to share.

Next up, Best Of- Food!

Chiusi

I wanted to share more about the Tuscan town of Chiusi. If I had tired of shop after shop peddling their wares to tourist in Sorrento, Chiusi was the antidote. Chiusi is a Tuscan town whose origins date back to the first millennium before Christ. In the 6th century BC, Chiusi was one of the most important cities in the Etruscan federation.
After visiting the “now historic” post office, Milena dropped me off in the historic center of Chiusi (pronounced key-oo-si). It was kind of odd. I walked the street under threatening skies with no one around. Shops were closed, restaurants battened down, churches…open.

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20130702-222309.jpg Etruscan History Museum

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The views from the edge of the old center are picturesque.

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While I roamed, I notice that shops were slowly opening, restaurants were beginning to show life by putting out chairs and setting the tables along the street.
This town actually shuts down for their riposo. I looked at many a menu posted along the streets and had decided upon one. However, they were not to open for another hour. So I found a “bar” or street cafe to enjoy a local glass of red.

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Seated along with me where locals enjoying their evening gossip.

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Although Chiusi seems to be a traditional town, that doesn’t stop some of the locals from expressing themselves….

20130702-223208.jpg You go girl! By the way, this donna was in her 70’s!
As I walked back to my restaurant, I noticed 2 holes in the ground covered with thick glass.

20130702-223412.jpg Below were the remains of Roman mosaic floors…how cool is that!?

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And now for dinner. I had not eaten since….well, I had not eaten at all except for a KIND bar I had in reserve in my borsa. I was going to treat myself to a nice, authentic Tuscan meal. I asked the waiter/owner for his recommendations.

20130702-223710.jpg He had me at the water bottle!!! I loved the colors of the glass and label!

20130702-223826.jpg Then a glass of Tuscan red. Although I just got a glass…..he let me keep the cork!

20130702-223932.jpg THE best Panzanella I have ever had; cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, anchovies, capers, basil, lettuce, rustic bread and mozzarella. Talk about fabulous.

20130702-224147.jpg And just in case you thought salt and pepper meant salt and pepper….

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Then an oh so tender “steak” with pepper and poached onions.

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20130702-224327.jpg I only wish I had had room for dessert.

At that point I tried to walk back to the B&B but got a bit confused. I asked directions from an older local woman and she gave them to me with great enthusiasm….but alas, I had no clue as to what she was saying….the directions went on for a long time. I got, “non andare al lago”. So I repeated, “No lake.” But after that it was just fun to listen to. So I turned on my cellular roaming for a minute and called Milena. Pronto, she was there! So, so sweet and thoughtful. I actually forgot I was a customer. Milena made me feel like a visiting friend.

20130702-224753.jpg The girls, Gaia and Eliona were not as comfortable…unless I had my camera out!
This morning, Milena once again went out of her way to take me to the station.

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20130702-225147.jpg Milena at her desk.
Milena, like Franco in Anacapri, has many years experience working with a major hotel in Milan. It is evident that this experience gives them their eye for little details. She and her husband just recently ventured out to open L’albero di gameli. The beautiful building was built at the beginning of the ‘900. Recently it has been completely restored and renovated saving the classical Tuscan style. L’albero di gameli and Chiusi would be an oasis as a home-base while exploring the Tuscan and Umbrian regions.
Little details that Milena attends to; a fabulous bed (“little” you say?! Well, when the other 3 you have slept on feel much like the beds at Pompeii…I read where the beds were simply stone slabs set atop a disc to keep animals from climbing up) a nice one was obviously going above and beyond, a wonderful variety at breakfast, local shampoo and body wash and one of my favorite details, the scent that wafted through my room, not strong, not sweet, just wonderful!

With two young girls and a young business as well, Milena works very hard. When hearing about my adventure she said, “Like the Julia Roberts.” I thought “Eat, Think, Pray, Eat”….the sequel.