Romeancing Italy

“Don’t worry if your goals seem crazy to other people.  Oftentimes the crazy ideas are the ones that have the greatest impact.”

After spending some time relaxing on the Amalfi Coast, Valerie and I went to visit one of Europe’s most famous cities, Rome.  Although the weather was extremely hot, we still managed to see nearly all of the notable sights and monuments.

One of the best parts of Rome is that it is large, but relatively compact.  We kicked things off with two walking tours in one day.  In less than seven hours, we saw most of the main features of the city, which left us plenty of time to explore the following couple of days.

I wasn’t that impressed with the Spanish steps.  For how many times people mentioned that we had to see them, I just thought they were…..steps.

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Sorry for the tilted picture, but this is the oldest cafe in Europe which opened in 1760.  The building looks like it’s in surprisingly good shape.

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The Pantheon was constructed as a temple to all Gods, and is home to the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.  The top of the dome has a natural skylight where rain actually falls into the structure.

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We ended up waiting in a quick line to see St. Peter’s Basilica, part of the Vatican.  They are somewhat strict with the dress code, so Valerie had to buy a scarf to cover up her bare shoulders.

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Although gelato isn’t very popular in the US, it’s the mainstay of Italian dessert.  You could say that gelato shops are the Italian equivalent of coffee shops.  The problem is that you never know how good the gelato will be at any given place.  That is……until you experience this heavenly food at Giolitti, Rome’s oldest gelato store.

I went to Giolitti last summer, but for some reason, I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I did this time.  When you take a bite of creamy gelato from this place, no doubt it will be one of the most decadent desserts you will ever taste.

The thing that blew me away was how true the flavors tasted to actual food. I’m not sure how many varieties they have, but some included: Nutella, coffee, cream, banana, mango, chocolate, Bailey’s, mint, vanilla, among dozens of others.  When we took a bite of the Nutella, it was as if they poured Nutella out of a jar, made it more airy, and chilled it before putting it into the dish.  Simply amazing.  And the whipped cream they put on top is made fresh daily.P1020707 (Large) P1020708 (Large)

In my opinion, no trip to Rome would be complete without seeing the Colosseum and the surrounding ruins.  Although we didn’t go inside either one, the walking tour provided a good enough vantage point to see both well.  Watching Gladiator on the way to Rome got me more psyched up to see the Colosseum than three venti skim Starbucks lattes.

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One monument that I didn’t see the first time I was in Rome was the Trevi Fountain, so we decided to see what all the fuss was about.  It turned out to be my second favorite sight only to the Colosseum.

Why is Rome’s biggest fountain so slick?  First off, it was mobbed with tourists, so the people watching was fantastic.  Valerie and I were placing bets on who was American, whether a photographer could get a couple to pose for a 5-euro Polaroid, or who the police were blowing their whistles at every five minutes.  The fountain itself is so huge that it just towers over you, which is a really impressive sight.  Valerie and I enjoyed it so much that we sat on a ledge where we could see the entire area and just relaxed for over an hour.

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Valerie and I were constantly talking about the differences between the Parisians, Italians, and Americans.  It was starkly apparent that many Italians indulge in calorie-rich meals because they were notably more stout than Parisians, but still a far cry from the size of Americans.  I think part of it might have to do with the fact that nearly all of the pasta and bread is white, not wheat.

Customer service was a binary event nearly every place we went.  Either the staff was extremely welcoming and bent over backwards to serve you, or they behaved as if you practically didn’t exist.  We went into plenty of small stores where we were the only people there, and none of the workers could muster even a “Ciao.”  Who s**t in their oatmeal that morning?

Since Italian food is done in every imaginable way in the United States, we weren’t that surprised by anything we ordered.  To be honest, a lot of the food was pretty salty, and the portions weren’t that big.  I ended up ordering two entrees at most restaurants we visited, and sometimes I was still hungry afterward.  A good amount of the food also seemed prepared ahead of time.  If I wanted a lasagna out of a white microwaved tray, I’d go to Pick ‘N Save.  Nonetheless, here are a few of the things we ate:

Croquets with marinara sauce and cheese were very popular throughout the entire country.

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This risotto and salmon was one of the tastiest dishes I ate in Italy.  Yes, it was me who loaded it up with fresh parmesan cheese.

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And this seafood risotto was practically still moving when it was served to us at a restaurant overlooking the Amalfi coast.

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Gnocci Sorrento style – served with red sauce and basil.

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Although we didn’t eat them, I had to take a picture of the one American-sized sandwich we saw on our trip.

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I don’t always eat eggs for breakfast, but when I do, I want them scrumble.

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As our trip came to a close, I think we both missed a few key American conveniences like air conditioning and free, sanitary bathrooms.  We both enjoyed the fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants style of the trip, and there isn’t anything that I would have done differently.  We got a healthy dose of European culture, saw a lot of amazing sights, and found plenty of time to relax and be in the moment.  It has been real Europe.  Until next time….ciao!

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