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We were lucky to have several sets of visitors with us in Rome during the second half of the trip. By November, my husband was calling me “the travel agent,” and I’d gotten pretty good, if I do say so myself, at leading an introductory walking tour of Rome from our apartment in Trastevere to the Villa Borghese.

But, embarrassingly for a fledgling tour guide, it wasn’t until the end of November that I realized where I should have started my Rome tour all along: the top of the momument to Vittorio Emanuaele II, or the “typewriter” as Romans not-so-affectionately call it.

For 7 Euros, you can take an elevator at the back of the building up to the top floor. Sounds like a rip off, but when you get to the top, believe me: you’ll see one of the best, if not the best, views of Rome possible.

Using the printed skyline guides, you can figure out where everything you’d possibly want to see during a visit to Rome is. It’s so helpful to start with an aerial view of a city when you’re beginning your trip, I think. You become familiar with where things are in relation to each other, and you can start to map out an order for the sites you want to see that makes sense.

And, most importantly, above all the traffic jams and the noise, you can truly step back and take in the beauty of Rome. With that brief but powerful refresher of why you came to Rome in the first place, I guarantee that despite your jetlag, you’ll be energized for the trip ahead.

Dining Out in Rome

When I tell people that I spent the fall in Rome, the question I’m asked most frequently is, inevitably, what I miss most about Rome now that I’m back in the U.S.. And, just as inevitably, my answer is: the food.

But really, how could it not be? If you ask me what type of restaurant I want to go to tonight in the states, I’ll almost always say Italian. So being in the country where my favorite type of cuisine originated from was pretty much a dining fantasy for me.

I did learn, however, that may of the things we take for granted as being “typically Italian” when we’re at an Italian restaurant here in the U.S. are actually “typically American-Italian.” As any Italian will tell you, there’s a big difference.

If you’re taking a trip to Rome anytime soon, here are some things I picked up while eating (a lot) in Italy that I think are helpful to know before you sit down for your first meal:

Bread isn’t a warm up for the first course
Sure, your waiter will most likely bring over a basket of bread after you’ve ordered. But, it’s not free (usually the cost is around 1-2 Euro/person) and it’s not going to come with olive oil, or even butter, for you to dip it in. All those fancy Italian places you’ve been to in the U.S. serving fresh-baked artisinal bread accompanied by fancy olive oil? That won’t happen in Rome. Most likely, the bread will be nothing special taste-wise. It’s actually just a vehicle to mop up extra sauce when you get your entree. As a result, you’ll rarely see Italians nibbling on bread while they’re waiting for their meal; they’ll wait to “fare la scarpetta” (or make a little shoe) to soak up the remnants with when they’re done.

Soup isn’t considered an appetizer
As a soup lover/fantatic, this killed me. Soup is generally considered a primi, which is also the area of the menu where pastas fall. So, ordering say, pasta e ceci soup to start, followed by bucatini alla carbonara and passing on a secondi of meat or fish is kind of a faux pas. Some waiters will let you get away with it (while making it a point to let you know how gross they think it is), but some will just flat-out tell you no.

Meatballs don’t come with spaghetti
One of my favorite Italian words is the word for meatballs, polpette. It makes them sound so delicate and tiny, no? Anyway, if you want to order polpette, by all means do – they are delicious – but be warned: they will come covered in sauce, accompanied by nothing else. Combining them (a secondi) on one plate with pasta (a primi) is just not done. By the way, you’ll never see chicken parmesean either. Another Italian style dish created in America!

Menus don’t read like a “greatest hits” of Italian cuisine
I’ve been to so many Italian places in the U.S. that feature a wide variety of Italian staples: dishes like risotto Milanese, Tuscan white bean soup and spaghetti Bolognese are offered side by side. In Rome, you’d be extremely hard-pressed to find a non-tourist trap restaurant that mixes Italian dishes from different regions. Many menus serve only the Roman classics like cacio e pepe, carbonara, amatriciana, etc. Sure, there are a few Tuscan restaurants in Rome, but they’re serving a menu of only Tuscan dishes, and likewise for any other regional restaurant you might find. There’s no mixing and matching.

These are the kinds of things I think of now when I eat at Italian restaurants in the U.S. (oh, what a curse, I know!) Whenever I’m wondering what is truly “authentic” and what’s not, I smile and think about the cooking class I took in Rome. We were getting ready to bring the amatriciana out to the tables when a student asked the chef if we should top it with some julienned parsley. Our instructor asked him to repeat himself, as if he couldn’t believe what he just heard, stared at him and said, incredulously, “But there’s a bay leaf in that sauce!” Ah, we Americans have so much to learn about Italian food.

I know a lot of bloggers do weekly round ups, and I’m a huge fan. Typically published on Fridays, they get me excited for the weekend, and it’s always fun to catch up on things I’ve missed online during week. If there’s one person who never wants to miss anything on the old internets, it’s me.

I thought I would jump on board and start doing round ups, but I got to thinking about how Mondays are the day when I actually need the most motivation and distractions. Everyone knows Monday is the worst day of the week (sorry, Monday), so I thought it would be more fun to put together some things to look forward to for the week ahead.

Here we go!

I read Bon Appetit’s Southern issue yesterday, and it includes some seriously awesome looking recipes. I’m trying this one for Chicken & Dumplings tonight. It involves making your own gnocchi, and I can imagine that you could use them as a base for dozens of other dishes in the future. I’m also dying to make their Potlikker Noodles with Mustard Greens, Chickpea Stew and Stir-Fried Lettuces with Crispy Shallots, among many, many others. Bon Appetit is so good lately, do you agree?

This Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday! I am beyond excited that the Giants are playing. With my husband being from Indy, and me being a huge Peyton Manning fan as a result, we’d initially hoped to go to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis and watch the Colts play this year, but it wasn’t meant to be. But, let’s be serious: I’m from New York, so I’m just as pumped about Eli and the Giants being there. On Sunday, I’ll be making this recipe from Smitten Kitchen for Scallion Meatballs with Soy-Ginger Glaze and trying not to freak out, have a heart attack and die during the game.

From the above, you may be starting to think that I all I think about is food. You’re pretty much right, but in an effort to be a more rounded (and skinnier) person (the months in Italy took a toll, people!), I’m trying to get into a running routine. I set up my Nike+ account this morning, and I have to say: it is so cool! I have the Nike+ iPod sensor, which fits into a slot in the bottom of my shoe, and it makes running outside SO much easier. It syncs with your iPhone and a little voice alerts you to each mile you’ve completed as you listen to music (in my case, all 90′s jams). I was mapping runs using MapMyRun prior to this, and using the Nike+ sensor is just so much easier. After you finish your workout, you can upload the details to Nike’s website, where they save all the info on how far you’ve run, plus you can set goals for yourself and create a tiny avatar of yourself running and saying motivational things (see mine above). I highly recommend it. Disclaimer: you pretty much do need to have Nike shoes with the slot for the sensor in them for this to work. Luckily, there’s a Nike Factory store in NOLA, and they had some really affordable running shoes.

Lastly, here are a few more links to things around the web to spice up your Monday afternoon:

How to defriend people in real life.

Paula Deen has been getting so much flack lately that I kinda feel bad for her even though I am very turned off by her diabetes-announcement-strategy thing. I don’t want to pile on, but this slideshow from Complex showcasing her 10 Deadliest Recipes is worth a gander. They’re pretty gross (cheeseburger with donuts for buns or deep fried butter, anyone?).

There are so many great new restaurants opening in New Orleans it’s getting hard to keep track. Next on my list to try are the French-Vietnamese restaurant Tamarind at the new Hotel Modern and Manning’s, Archie Manning’s new restaurant in Harrah’s.

Speaking of Mannings, if you’ve been following the drama regarding Peyton Manning’s future in Indy, this article from yesterday’s New York Times is worth a read (sob).

I love the Best American Short Stories anthologies. The 2011 one is out and I can’t wait to finish it this week.

And, J. Crew has some awesome colored jeans. It’s important to wear bright colors, so people know you’re alive.

Happy beginning of February! Hope everyone has a good week.

I Heart Bologna

Before I left Italy, I may have developed a moderate (ok, major) obsession with the city of Bologna. In my last three weeks in the country, I took three day trips there.

It’s no small task, really; the journey from Rome takes about four and a half hours round trip, assuming you take the fast train or Le Frecciarossa. Fun fact: translated to English, Le Freccia, as the Italians call it for short, means “the red arrow.” It never fails to make me smile, although I have no idea why. Incidentally, if you are planning train travel in Italy in he near future, have a look at this New York Times article which explains various discounts that are available through TrenItalia’s website – the savings are significant, and you shouldn’t miss out.

Moving on, now that you know all about train travel to Bologna, there are two facts about the city that I think you should know to put it into context.

First, it’s a university town. The city is host to the University of Bologna, and as a result, it just feels younger, and a little more alive, than many other Italian cities. There’s this feeling in the air that things are happening here, and the majority of people you see seem to be genuinely enjoying life as they go about their daily businesss (strong contrast to Rome here, in my opinion).

In a lot of ways, it’s the Italy you imagine when you’re on a particularly good date in an Italian restaurant in the states, and begin to brainstorm (fueled by a few glasses of Chianti, of course) how amazing your life would be if you just quit your job and moved to Italy.

My Italian fantasy went something like this: I’d ride my bike to the market in the morning, joking with all of the vendors (who know my name and think of me fondly as their wonderful, free-spirited foreign customer and friend), go pick up some goodies at Prada (which I can now afford since I’m basically Italian and all Italians wear Prada and Gucci all the time), then I’d close out each day drinking excellent wine and indulging in food so good I can’t even begin to imagine it, since it’s way better than anything I’ve ever experienced in America, and to even try would just blow my mind into tiny pieces.

Reader, shockingly, my Roman life didn’t turn out that exactly way, but I digress. This does, however, bring me to the next thing you should know about Bologna: it is a city that is serious about food. I’ve heard it said that the rest of Italy refers to Bologna as “Bologna the Fat,” but I like another translation of this sentiment better: “Bologna the Plump.” It just seems nicer.

Regardless of which moniker you use, you get the point: people in this city like to eat, and they like to eat well. The tortellini originated here, and the cities of Parma (known for its parma ham, proscuitto crudo), Modena (famous for its balsamic vinegar) and Reggio Emilia (the birthplace of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese) are all nearby.

And, despite the fact that there’s an Eataly in Bologna, the specialty market culture is still thriving: there are dozens of butchers, vegetable stores, fish shops, wine stores and flower stores lining the streets just off of Piazza del Maggiore and Piazza del Nuttuno, the two main piazzas of the city.

Because of all this, a visit to Bologna can be unabashedly food-focused. To be honest, this was totally refreshing to me, and probably the reason I fell so hard for the city. Unlike Rome, there aren’t an endless amount of museums and historical sites that beg to be visited.

When you’re there, do as so and don’t be embarrassed: start your day with a cappuccino, wander through the streets shopping (by the way, the shopping is truly excellent), spend a couple of hours lingering over vino and tortellini for lunch, walk it off by visiting a church or a piazza in the afternoon, hit a wine bar by dusk, and indulge in spaghetti Bolognese for dinner. It’s called living la dolce vita, remember? Salut!

Also, if you’re interested, here are a few places I visited in Bologna and would recommend:

Lunch or Dinner
Da Gianni a la Vecia Bulagna – via Clavature 18
Ristorante Diana – via Independenza 24
Bistro 18 – via Clavature 18/b

For Food Gifts
Tamburini – via Drapperie 1
Eataly – via degli Orefici

For Wine
Tamburini
Divinis – via Battibecco 4/c

Where I’ve Been

Image

Well hello again, old friends. Happy new year!

As you may have noticed, I took somewhat of an extended break from the blogosphere. There’s no dramatic reason behind it. It’s just that not being in any one place since the beginning of December has made it a bit tough to sit down and write.

But now that our travels are over for the time being, it seems like it’s about time to get settled back into this little corner of the internet. So, along with unpacking my bags (finally), and jumping back into NOLA life (Mardi Gras is 28 days away, can you believe it?), I’ll be sharing some of what’s happened over the past couple of months.

Looking forward to it!

Thanksgiving in Italia

Thanksgiving in Rome is tricky. On one hand, there’s no acknowledgement of the holiday whatsoever, which really makes you want to celebrate it in some way, but, on the other hand, it’s a lot of work to pull together a meal resembling an American Thanksgiving dinner. To try or not to try? That was the question.

In the end, we compromised. We threw together an American Thanskgiving lunch, and went out for a fancier than usual Italian dinner.

From the picture above, you may be wondering if we actually were able to procure a turkey in Rome. The answer is no. Our Italian oven has a height of, at most, 8 inches. After several animated conversations where we mostly spoke English and the butcher mostly spoke Italian, we learned that it would be impossible to find a turkey small enough to fit in our oven.

So, we picked out a nice looking chicken, and said yes when the butcher asked if we wanted him to clean it out for us. This meant chopping off the head and feet in front of us, and offering us the eggs which were still inside the chicken. Things got a bit too real for me in that moment.

We picked up some bread, sausage and veggies for the stuffing at the Testacchio Market, and were on our way.

I have to say, the stuffing was my favorite part of the meal. No surprise there, since this is true for me in America as well, but it was super moist and flavorful.

We made our own breadcrumbs, which was a first for me, and cooked them with browned sausage and sauteed onions, carrots and celery.

We were unable to find brussels sprouts at the farmers’ market, so settled for cauliflower. Sauteed with olive oil, garlic and white wine, this dish turned out to be another (accidental) favorite.

As for the ambiance, importantly, we’d been given a turkey centerpiece by a friend’s mom, which took center stage on our small table.

The Italian sports channel kindly played an American football game (the previous Sunday’s Pats-Chiefs game).

Complete with naps on the couch and too frequent checks to see if the turkey (aka chicken) was done, it almost felt like home.

Because of the size of our oven (see above), we abandoned any attemps to create a pie and settled for a dessert of macaroons I’d picked up in Paris earlier in the week.

All in all, I have to say: I think the lunch was a success.

Locks of Love

I started getting really excited about going to Paris after reading this article on CNN.com. The author had been to Paris before, so used this trip to wander around the city sans the visits to the major monuments and museums that populate the agendas of most tourists. Since I’d also been to Paris before, I thought it was a perfect approach, and, to be honest, I’m kind of on sight seeing overload right now.

Anyway, the article started with a photo of a bridge that was filled with locks inscribed with messages of love. I loved the image and the idea. It seems so wonderfully hopeful and unjaded, in a way that you really don’t imagine for the typical Parisian. Maybe the romantics buying and inscribing the locks are mostly tourists?

Whatever the case, it was so fun to see. The article mentions one bridge in particular – Pont des Arts – but I saw them on several pedestrian bridges.

It reminded me a bit of the end of Love Actually (it’s Christmas time and I’m a girl, so I’m allowed to bring up that movie, ok?) where there are a thousand different scenes of people lovingly greeting each other in the airport, and finally, they reference the title of the movie when the voiceover says that “love, actually is all around us.”

Clearly, I always cry at that part. But to be honest, I hardly ever see anything in real life that makes me feel that way.

Aside from these locks. So that, in (not-so) brief, is why I absolutely loved seeing them.

PS – my internet is back on!

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