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"We are not in the States anymore, y'all." An Italian trip report.

"We are not in the States anymore, y'all." An Italian trip report.

Old Jun 8th, 2014, 08:52 AM
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a timely reminder, Kay, that a great night doesn't necessarily need stellar food, but definitely does need good company, atmosphere, and decent service.

Like you I always hope that I will manage to plan to eat at places I have researched in advance, but rarely do our trips work out like that - one of us isn't that hungry, or doesn't fancy whatever has been planned or....on our recent trip to Valencia, DH was just determined that he wanted to eat at the place that had the comfy seats in the square near the cathedral and nothing would dissuade him. At his insistence we had ordered and started to drink our wine before he realised [as I had already twigged] that there was little on the menu that we were likely to want to eat but the look on his face made me start to laugh so in the end we had a most enjoyable evening.

but we did have a stellar meal at the end of the trip in a place that we had previously spotted so it all worked out well in the end.

incidentally, on our class trip to Rome a year or so ago, my italian teacher had a novel way of getting recommendations for restaurants - she just went up to someone in the street and asked them! As she is the only italian person I've ever been on holiday with I have no idea whether this is a common italian approach to restaurant choice, but it worked for her - and us.
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Old Jun 8th, 2014, 09:08 AM
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Question: Where did you turn in your rental car in Venice? I am trying to decide airport or train station. We are going into Venice for a few days after turning in the car prior to leaving on cruise. Traveldawg.
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Old Jun 8th, 2014, 09:10 AM
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We found that after the "free" breakfast at the hotel, we were not hungry for lunch till late. Lunch was usually a substantial meal so we were never ready for a full dinner so had something light. Often we picnicked in our room. Still perfect, but did not make for a "foodie" trip report.

I do love reading everyone's who are though.
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Old Jun 8th, 2014, 11:57 AM
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annhig and LCBoniti - That's exactly it. It is difficult to plan in advance because you don't know how you will feel, what you will want, or if you will be hungry or not. We also tend to eat the hotel breakfast and a late lunch. But I sure do love reading the reports that focus on the food.

traveldawg - we dropped our car at the airport in Venice. I don't remember why we made that decision! We rented through Hertz and I think the airport was where they wanted the car to be returned. It's a bit of a walk from the car drop off to the docks where you can take a water bus or a water taxi over to Venice. We took a taxi and it dropped us right at our hotel - very nice.
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Old Jun 8th, 2014, 01:33 PM
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Fabiolous Cooking Day: Tuesday was the day of our cooking class. We were all really looking forward to this!

I have to confess that this was my second choice cooking class. My first choice was Andrea Consoli, but his baby was due to be born sometime near the day of our class so he couldn't guarantee that the class would actually happen. There was a good possibility of a last minute cancellation.

Because taking a cooking class in Rome was so important to all of us I made the reluctant choice to go with Fabio.

We ended up really enjoying it.

We met Fabio from Fabiolous Cooking Day at a bar near Largo di Torre Argentina at 10:00. There were the four of us as well as three more guests from Canada. They were great fun and we really enjoyed their company.

Our first stop was Campo dei Fiori to pick up some fruits and vegetables, then to a cheese shop, and then to the butcher. The butcher was great about helping pick out the best veal and then pounding it thin before packaging it up. Yeah, my butcher isn't quite as helpful. In fact, I don't actually have a regular butcher. I think I need to get one.

We then followed Fabio like little ducklings as he walked briskly through the center of Rome toward his new place of business. On the way he took us through Palazzo Spada with the forced perspective optical illusion in the courtyard. You can see the illusion of a columned gallery 120 feet long with a large statue at the end. In reality the gallery is only 26 feet long and the statue only about 2 feet high. Borromini created this illusion with the help of a mathematician. It was something I had read about and always wanted to see so the short detour was a nice little treat.

Fabio's new place is a 3 story penthouse that begins on the 6th floor of an apartment building. His top floor is a large rooftop with amazing views of the historic center of Rome. His fireplace surround and mantle were made of a gorgeous onyx which captivated my building contractor/designer husband. I will not be surprised at all one of my husband's next clients ends up with an onyx fireplace surround.

There was only room for 6 or 7 in the kitchen area of the house and Fabio told us that this location would always be for small groups.

We started working on food prep right away. There was plenty for all of us to do. The only thing that was a little confusing was that we were working on so many things simultaneously that it was a little hard to understand what was going to go with what. For example one person might be cutting up tomatoes for the panzanella salad while another was slicing zucchini that was going to be used in a sauce while another was chopping mint that was going to be used in the dessert, while another was mashing steamed eggplant for a fritter.

Even so we had a great time and were able to discuss the food while we ate and see exactly how it all came together. We learned some new techniques and improved our Italian cooking. D loves gnocchi and has made it, but not mastered it, he learned exactly what he had been doing wrong. My husband and I have taken a pasta making class locally and make fresh pasta on occasion, but Fabio's class helped us to see some mistakes that we had been making in the dough preparation.

Fabio was a typical Italian male - or perhaps stereotypical. We liked him. He was handsome and cared about his appearance, had a dry wit, his mama called while we were there and he answered, he was thinking about finally having a child now that he is in his 50's...

He told us that Romans believe that they already have it made because they are Roman and don't think they should have to do anything else. He did that Italian thing, that hand movement and said, beh, I'm Roman you know. It was really funny. My response was, "oh just like Texans!" I completely apologize to all Texans! I have lived there myself, but I was going for a laugh and knew that even those not from the US would be familiar with the Texas mystique.

You know humor is one of those things that doesn't always translate culturally - I've found the Italians to be very kind, but also more likely to tease in a way that a more sensitive person might not like. There was a clove of garlic left on my cutting board. Fabio was out of the room and I asked his assistant if I should slice or mince it. I was asking in English and the assistant said yes, but there must have been a communication issue because when Fabio came in and saw the minced garlic he acted shocked and said Romans do NOT chop their garlic! He would not let me hear the end of it! He was teasing and all the other guests were defending me, I thought it was funny, but I could see an incident like that ending up on Trip Advisor with someone saying that Fabio was rude to them.

Speaking of assistants, Fabio had Alisha and Sandeesh. They were superb, two young people running back and forth washing up the dishes, making sure sauces stayed stirred, bringing us eggs or a new knife or whatever we needed. We decided that we would all be better cooks if we had Alisha and Sandeesh helping us on a regular basis.

We ended up making a delicious panzanella, gnocchi with a sauce that contained eggplant and zucchini, ravioli stuffed with ricotta and zucchini in a cream sauce, cavatelli in a tomato sauce, veal saltimbocca in a wine sauce which D and I declared to be much better than what we had at the restaurant the night before, 2 fritters - one potato with a smoked cheese in the middle and one eggplant, dessert was strawberries with balsamic vinegar sugar and mint.

It was a lovely meal, made by all of us, served by Sandeesh, accompanied by good wines and good conversation, eaten on Fabio's rooftop looking out at Rome.

A great time.
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Old Jun 9th, 2014, 04:57 AM
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sounds like a great day's lesson Kay. Have you been making any of the dishes at home?

<< It is difficult to plan in advance because you don't know how you will feel, what you will want, or if you will be hungry or not. We also tend to eat the hotel breakfast and a late lunch>>

we deliberately don't eat the hotel breakfast [in fact we just book room only where available] and just have a coffee and cornetto in order to ensure that we have enough room for lunch and dinner! we may not eat a full meal at each, but we will certainly sit down and have something.
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Old Jun 9th, 2014, 06:37 AM
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I love love your trip report. This time last year I was on my way to Rome for the 1st time, and I would gladly go back. We stayed near Piazza Navona. There were two things I just had to do every day: eat a gelato and pop into the Pantheon (not necessarily in this order!). Thanks for sharing.
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Old Jun 9th, 2014, 07:32 AM
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I took the class with chef Andrea a few years ago. I didn't know he was about to be a papa! So fun. You would like it very much, I think - maybe for the next trip! - but it sounds like you had a great time with Fabio! Your comments about the senses of humor made me laugh, because the same thing happened with Andrea. He caught me and another participant throwing out the juice that came out when we chopped the tomatoes, and looked at us in horror and told us never ever to do that again.
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Old Jun 9th, 2014, 07:43 AM
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Am with you about the meals. We usually ate where we "dropped" or "drooped". Your class sounded like fun.
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Old Jun 9th, 2014, 11:16 AM
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I really appreciate the fact that there are people reading and commenting on this report! Such an encouragement. Thanks to all.

Nicely full and pleasantly tipsy after our late lunch we decided to head back towards our hotel and then do some wandering. D really wanted to spend a little more time in the Pantheon as he felt he had been too jet lagged on our arrival to fully appreciate the magnitude of what he was seeing.

I know Rick Steves isn't a popular guy around here, but we had all downloaded some of his free audio tours before we left home and took the time now to listen to the one for the Pantheon. It wasn't bad! Gave us even more of an appreciation for this ancient structure.

After that we went over to Trevi fountain and fought through the crowds for our obligatory coin toss photos.

Although I love my good Nikon camera, there is one disadvantage to it - not only am I not always comfortable handing it to a stranger to take a photo, but when I do - they rarely get a good shot! For some reason everywhere we went tourists of all nationalities would ask P to take their photo for them. She would oblige and then often request that they return the favor with her point and shoot. I can't tell you how many photos she took for strangers at the Trevi fountain. It became almost comical because she could barely take a step before some else handed her their camera. She obviously looks trustworthy.

From there it was over to the Spanish steps. Unfortunately, the Fontana della Barcaccia, the sinking boat fountain, was completely surrounded by a plywood fence. You could barely see it. I was disappointed for D and P.

We went to the top of the Spanish steps, down the road that skirts the Borghese Park, and down the steps of the Pincio to Piazza del Popolo. Such a grand piazza! I think it is beautiful, but prefer the more intimate, cozy spaces that dot Rome.

The best thing was that, finally, on my 3rd visit to Rome, Santa Maria del Popolo was open while I was nearby. We were able to go into this inconspicuous church, jam-packed with amazing art. I was disappointed to find Raphael's Chigi chapel scaffolded. I could kind of, sort of see through and around the metal bars. The Caravaggios were perfect and the whole place is wonderful. Definitely try to see it.

There was a gelato stop somewhere in there and we wandered and window shopped our way back to the hotel just in time to enjoy the rooftop bar at the Del Senato.

Dinner that night was at Osteria Pizzeria Agrippa which was recommended by the hotel. It was very close to the Pantheon in a very touristy area. It was another "pretty good" meal. They had a really nice wine list, we had a Frascati that was quite good. D and I had one of the evening specials which was a layered dish (they called it lasagna) of sea bass, tomato, mozzarella, eggplant, and pesto. It was stacked high, beautifully presented, a little hard to eat, and honestly a little bland. P had fettucini with seafood, and my husband had a beef filet with four cheeses and walnuts. His was the best by far. Really good. I will say that the service was excellent and very warm, unusual for such a touristy area. They also happily showed us the lower part of the restaurant where they found remains of the baths of Agrippa during a renovation.

The layers of Rome are fascinating aren't they? They can barely dig anywhere without discovering something ancient and important.
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Old Jun 9th, 2014, 12:31 PM
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Kay, I just found your trip report, and it's great! Thanks for all the details. It sounds like you had a wonderful trip! Can't wait for the rest!
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Old Jun 11th, 2014, 10:40 AM
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I LOVE the layers of Rome!!

Your cooking class sounds like such fun! We did a pasta-making class in Florence that was a highlight of our trip. We also ended the meal slightly tipsy, but that was part of the fun.
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Old Jun 11th, 2014, 11:19 AM
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Great report, thanks!
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Old Jun 11th, 2014, 11:59 AM
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Still enjoying this very much. I don't know why there are so many Rick Steves "snobs" around here. I have always enjoyed his TV specials and found helpful, practical info in his guides.

More, please!
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Old Jun 11th, 2014, 12:34 PM
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Loving this trip report! Eager for more!
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Old Jun 11th, 2014, 08:09 PM
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Kay, I've lived in Texas for 25 years and I take no offense at the Texas comment (especially because I was born and raised in Chicago!)

I am happy to see so many here self-identify as feeling "at home" in Rome. I have tried for years to explain to people my love of Italy (also, no known ancestors here), but more so my feeling of "my soul is at home in Italy". Glad you feel comfortable there, too.

So much of your trip mirrors many of mine. I love the French church in Rome, as I'm a big Caravaggio fan. I also love St. Agnes in Agone. I think she is one of the most beautiful "small" churches in Rome.

I may have to look into that cooking class with Fabio. Sounds grand.

Loving the TR- looking forward to more! (I just finished my TR from my April Italy visit- good you got an early start on yours!)

Grazie!
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Old Jun 12th, 2014, 08:20 AM
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Fabulous trip report!!!
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Old Jun 13th, 2014, 05:47 AM
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Thanks you so much for all of your comments and encouragement!

I was reading another trip report about traveling with a group and it reminded me that perhaps I should tell you how we handled the money. That seems to be always an issue with a group.

We all handled our own transportation. We were flying coach and our friends were using frequent flyer miles to upgrade to business class so it was just easier to all make our own reservations. (Plus who the heck wants to travel on the same plane with friends who are headed up to business class while you are crammed into coach! )

We simply said arrive in Rome on this date as early in the morning as possible. Worked out great.

I was arranging all the tours, so I paid those that had to be prepaid, totalled up the receipts, split it in half and D and P sent me a check for their half which I received before we left. Tours or classes that we didn't have to pay in advance we paid individually.

We were staying in hotels so paid our own individual lodging.

We split all meals in half, right down the middle. Usually one couple would use a credit card for the whole bill and the other would give them cash. Or we would all put in cash. We all drink wine and eat similar amounts so we were pretty sure it would come out even in the end. None of us were concerned about being a Euro or 2 or 5 ahead or behind.

There was one point where the whole rental car went on our credit card so we figured out D and P's half and they paid for meals, etc. until they had met that amount. It was funny because it did seem like he was paying for stuff FOREVER. Kind of nice for us even though we knew it was all going to even out.

Most importantly, we talked about how we were going to handle the financial endo of things before we left. I flat out told them that we would not be asking waiters to split checks. I think it is important to hash all of that out beforehand even when you know each other really well, and especially when you don't.

As the main (only) planner I kept meticulous notes, kept every paypal receipt, informed everyone regularly of the cost of the trip and what they owed, etc.

I do recognize that we were an easier group than most as far as this goes. We've been friends for 25 years, have traveled together before in the states and have an element of trust that might not be there in other groups.
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Old Jun 13th, 2014, 06:34 AM
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The Roman Guy - Vatican Tour: This was our day for the early morning Vatican tour with The Roman Guy. Again this was my third tour of the Vatican with a third tour company. Every thing I said regarding the Colosseum tours with these three groups still stands as far as who should take which tour.

For me personally, I'm going to give the edge to Walks of Italy on this one.

Always, there is something special about seeing the Sistine Chapel without crowds. I highly recommend doing this if you can swing the extra cost. we enjoyed this time with Walks of Italy and The Roman Guy.

When I did the Walks of Italy Pristine Sistine tour last year the Vatican museums quickly became crowded to the point of misery just after opening. Awful. However, the tour guide still managed to convey the wonder of the place and had so much interesting information to share.

I was thrilled to find that the crowds were much more manageable during the tour with the Roman Guy, but the information seemed sparse. For one thing the tour is only 3 hours and when you get in early and spend a good bit of time in the Sistine Chapel - there just isn't a lot of time left to really see and appreciate everything else. I will say that D and P and my husband loved the tour. So again, this is a good tour for first timers, perhaps not so much for those who have been there before. Just my, a bit jaded, opinion.

The best thing about our visit was that we weren't packed like sardines and barely moving in the hallway of the maps, we could actually walk around without being trampled by groups in St. Peters Basilica, we could see the Pieta without performing judo moves to open enough space to get near it.

There was one tour group who were all being especially noisy in the basilica. They were chattering loudly in a language I didn't understand and snapping silly photos as if they were at a picnic or an office party instead of in a place of worship. A guard jumped all over them in English. Of course we eavesdropped as he explained, also loudly, that this was a church, a holy place, and they needed to behave appropriately!

Our plan was to climb the dome after the tour but it was drizzling and threatening to really rain, so we decided to go on back to the hotel for our umbrellas and rain gear. Sure enough, the skies opened up as we were walking and we found ourselves buying umbellas from the street venders. Even so, we were drenched by the time we got back to the hotel and...wouldn't you know...just as we stepped in the lobby the rain stopped and the clouds parted revealing beautiful blue skies.

We were so lucky with weather on this trip. That was the only moment of rain and the temperatures were near perfect the entire time.
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Old Jun 13th, 2014, 07:01 AM
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Thanks for the feedback on The Roman Guy, I'm looking at the early morning Vatican tour too.
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