rome: it wasn’t built in a day, but we attempted to see it in one

Seeing as for almost two weeks now I have now been back with my feet on the ground and head out of the clouds, I think it’s nearly high time for me to stop prattling on about all of the fabulous wine I guzzled, delicious food I ate, wonderful sights I saw, and delightful people I met whilst on vacation.

Nearly time.

If I moved onto regular programming now, and went back to talking about normal things like baking cakes, braising chicken legsspinning ice creams, and battering and frying broccoli rabe, I would never have a chance to tell you about three very important things that I accomplished in Rome.  Serious stuff, folks.  You see, as our weeks abroad sadly passed by and wound down to their last day, we always had one last little carrot of adventure dangling in front of our noses, keeping us from feeling gloomy about the inevitable end to a whole-lotta good times.  Though some of our plans unexpectedly (and wonderfully) changed, from the start of our trip we had planned to spend our last evening in Rome, thus preventing us from the torture of making the three-and-a-half hour nail-biter of a drive back to the DaVinci airport on the same day that we were booked on a nine-hour flight back to the States.  Plus, neither of us had ever been to Rome, and seeing as we were already going to be over in that neck of the boot as I guess you could describe it, it would be a shame to miss out on at least a little time in the center of one of the Earth’s most influential and prolific empires.  Rome is a sprawling city, and with only an afternoon and evening on the docket with which to experience it, we had zero intentions of making our last hours in Europe stressful, by attemtpting to ramrod every single piece of the guidebook into our last day.

Instead, we took a bit more of an unstructured approach.  I thought long and hard about exactly what I just had to do and see while we we counted down our final hours in Italy, and of all of the wonderful things that exist, our list boiled down to three essentials:

1. See the Colosseum
2. Eat a bowl of cacio e pepe
3. Drink a really great Negroni

All in, I think a very reasonable ask.  We arrived in Rome to gray skies and clouds that were just hanging on, barely holding off from spilling their soppy contents in the form of millions of raindrops down over the famed ruins of the ancient city and onto our heads.  The drive back from Positano was no less harrowing than the drive there, and as I white knuckled the car into the tangled center of the city, I gave a literal cheer (and geeky fist-pumps) when I spotted an open parking spot on the street next to our hotel.  After briefly consulting a map and a few well traveled friends, we had decided to stay in the Centro district, which is the historic center of ancient Rome and a very central and walkable place to be.  Centro killed two-birds with one stone: it had relatively easy access to the highway that would take us to the airport early the next morning, and the close proximity of our hotel to numero uno on the above list meant that we only had to source out a fantastic bowl of pasta and a couple of stiff drinks in the capital of a country known for some of the finest food and drink in the whole world.  In other words: as easy as the proverbial pie.

We stayed in a boutique hotel called Hotel Fortyseven, and for our one night stay, it was perfect.  Lacking perhaps a bit of charm that generally comes along with staying at a bed and breakfast, the modern and sleek Fortyseven made up for in convenience, cleanliness, and courtesy.  Each room came equipped with a very well stocked Nespresso machine, and though I generally think those little coffee capsules seem wasteful, I wasn’t going to argue with a hot cup of espresso to help ease me out the door the next morning.  We had a lovely concierge who took pity on our fumbled attempts at Italian, and kindly offered to dial us up a reservation that evening at the restaurant of our choice.  The check-in/check-out processes were very streamlined and quick – both pluses when you’ve got a limited amount of time on your hands.

We zipped up our rain jackets and prepared for a wet adventure, but somehow we got lucky, and those teetering clouds never made good on their wet threats.  First order of business: lunch.  Once again we found ourselves hungry and faced with that weird time that is after lunch but not quite dinner, and had to find a bar – with decent food – on the fly that we could settle in to for a hearty snack.  We managed to find a cute little wine bar tucked up off a cobbled street, and were back in proper working order after drinking two very cold (!) Italian beers and sharing a crackling-thin crusted eggplant pizza.  A bit of wind pumped back into our travel-worn sails, and we were off to work on our admittedly only mildly ambitious Roman bucket list.

Rome is, at its essence, a visual spectacle that tells a story spanning thousands of years, and one that renders any architecture that remains standing in the States to virtual infantile status.  As I mentioned when recounting our experiences in Rye, England, putting one foot in front of another on streets that have witnessed such significant history is truly humbling; these cobbled roads have felt the feet of members of ancient societies, plebeians and aristocrats, high ranking religious leaders, celebrated and continually influential artists, famed military conquerers, barbaric warriors and buttoned up soldiers, and gladiators being marched off to their certain deaths.  When you attempt to comprehend the battles that have been fought and won and the ideas that were conceived and then executed that contributed to Rome’s checkered and colorful history, in that moment it is astounding to be standing in the exact spot were history was very literally being written, and with thousands of years in it’s making.  Had they any clue they were making pivotal choices and decisions?  Had they an inkling that their names would go down in history books that would be impressed upon children for hundreds and thousands of years?

Can any influential member of society ever truly estimate what their impact might become?

We only walked fifteeen minutes before we turned a seemingly nondescript corner, and found ourselves facing the Colosseum.  A colorful snake of people wove their way through the streets, the pops of primary colors from their rain jackets thickening as we drew closer, and the impressive structure loomed higher with each singular step.  The burnished copper color of the stone walls created an almost spooky contrast against the light charcoal skies, and its size, though not necessarily all that large by modern building standards, was truly extraordinary considering lack of the complicated modern building tools we rely so heavily on in modern times.  Vendors selling ticky-tack “I ♥ ROMA” merchandise were clustered in and around the streets like the grapes that make the country’s famous wines, and were an unfortunate reminder that this beautiful vista was one of the most highly visited tourist attractions in the world.

I managed to spot a pug strolling along the street, and made a mad dash over for a few Roman pug snuggles before we made our way out of the crowds and onto quieter streets.  We again defaulted to relying on our old friend Anthony Bourdain, and decided to take his advice in fulfilling parts two and three of our inventory.  After a quick trip back to the hotel for a wash-up and bit of anticipatory packing, we walked over to Freni e Frizoni, a trendy bar in Trastevere, to satisfy our Negroni cravings.  Its title translates literally to “brakes and clutches” as the space once housed an automobile garage, and its original quirkiness and industrial-chic feel remain today.  The bar is also a busy cafe, taking to the somewhat unusual concept of having a buffet, which though I did not sample, have heard to be actually very good, and an affordable option for young people and travelers.  We ordered up two Negronis, and sat outside under increasingly clear skies, drinking the bitter orange drinks in the company of young Romans all kicking back with friends on a Saturday night.

Our appetites whet from gin and Campari, we traversed up back over the bridge to Tiber Island, where we had staked out the cozy Sora Lella as the perfect place to have our last supper.  We walked to the back of the restaurant and up a narrow set of stairs, and were seated in a small upstairs room that was already clearly very busy.  When we sat, I immediately noted the lack of English swirling around me – usually a very good thing, as the caramelly smoothness of Italian meant that actual Romans were eating here, and not just eager tourists falling victim to trite and overdone restaurants catering exactly to them.

We ordered artichokes two ways: first lightly fried hearts that came with a mousse-like aioli dipping sauce, and then a grilled version, that had seared and caramelized-sweet grill marks and was drizzled with a fresh mint vinaigrette.  The different flavors perfectly complimented our full-bodied red wine, and the contrast between the herby grilled heart and the more decadent fried version was a wonderful start to the meal.  I of course ordered a plate of cacio e pepe for my main, and was thoroughly impressed by the thick housemade tonnarelli noodles that were cooked exactly al dente, and then coated in a richly satisfying sauce of pecorino romano cheese and hearty grinds of black pepper.  Cacio e pepe is like a grown-up’s excuse to shovel what is essentially mac and cheese directly into your mouth, and I took full advantage of a fancy name allowing me that pleasure.  James tucked into a plate of tender oxtail with a spicy tomato sauce, and we capped off the evening by sharing a special strawberry tiramisu, made with tender ruby-colored wild strawberries and layered with a plush Zabaione.

Completely sated and having satisfyingly cranked out our list, we set our alarms and flopped happily into bed.  Most of the time, when a vacation comes to a grinding halt, I am left with that all-too-familiar feeling of dread that it went by too fast and I didn’t properly soak it all in.  This trip was so very different.  We had some of the best times I have ever had, and experienced it all in some of the most beautiful and unique settings I can imagine.  We saw incredible old friends and met exciting new ones, and did so while still managing to spend a lot of quality time with just each other.  As I boarded our flight, I cozied in to the seat and actually found myself looking forward to the nine forced hours of dozing off, movie watching, and (mostly horizontal) relaxation.  I was excited to get home and squeeze the puglet, to have catch up chats with family and friends, and to get back to our home in Colorado, and settle into a Springtime that would already be in full swing.  The best kinds of vacations are those where you return and feel you’ve gained something more than just a tan, or a few residual pounds from too many cocktails and second helpings of pasta.  This one, was exactly that.

{the piece de resistance: the colosseum}

{gray skies, that only made the architecture stand out more}

{feeling very small}

{wearing raincoats that thankfully never needed to have their hoods flipped up}

{a roman pug named mateo: i die, obviously.}

{a cross section of history}

{fuzzy, but very cold, italian beer for lunch}

{silver skies}

{a perfectly green ride}

{two negronis, per favore}

{settling in for a cozy last supper}

{and finally, cacio e pepe.  my trip is complete.}

{strolling riverside on the walk home}

{a bluebird morning, the day of our departure}

{clean lines cut against a crystal sky}

And for good measure (I pinky swear I am finished after this) a few snippets of our single evening spent in Ravello.

{the stunning coastline}

{welcome sparkles to make our arrival that much more pleasant}

{the gorgeous gardens of the palazzo sasso hotel}

{the preferred mode of transport}

11 responses to “rome: it wasn’t built in a day, but we attempted to see it in one

  1. What a whirlwind – great photos – thanks for sharing!

  2. You are getting me so excited for our trip to Sicily next month!! Amalfi Coast and Rome will have to be our next Italian jaunt.

  3. Seeing your image of the Coliseum made me remember…I ate pizza right across the street one afternoon…AWESOME! Thanks for bringing back a memory!

  4. Cory, you absolutely MUST go back and spend more time in Rome – it’s my favorite place on earth, and I’ve been there about 10 times now. I actually take groups on cooking tours to Puglia, but we start our adventure in Rome, learning about the roots of Roman cuisine that came out of the Jewish Ghetto. I’ve found that after the first few visits when you “check off” the big things – Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Vatican City, Piazza Novona, ancient ruins – then the beauty of Rome really starts to show. Spending some liesurely time walking through Gianicolo Park for the views, climbing to the top of the Minerva or the Rafael for the views with a cocktail, sipping coffee at the counter at Sant Eustachio, sampling gelato at San Crispino and Giolitti multiple times to see which is really better, having dinner in a private home in Rome, scoping out the daily market at the Campo dei Fiori, shopping (or window shopping as budget would allow) along the high end Via Condotti, or strolling on the pedestrian only Via dei Coronari to see the small antique dealers. And the food and wine – well, that requires several trips just to take it all in! Call me if you ever want to join one of my Italy cooking trips – next one in May 2013!

  5. Pingback: don’t you just love it… « Reading Italian Maps

  6. Such a well written piece, it really makes me wish I was there! Thank you for sharing it! :)

  7. Pingback: life, lately: a wrap up of 2012, according to instagram | eat and relish

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