Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Eating in Italy

So, I held off on the details of eating out just because I knew it would be plenty of material for a post in and of itself.  Let me say this: eating out in Rome was absolutely amazing.  Nearly every time I ate something there, it was like eating the best whatever it was that I had ever had.  Just incredible.  The other big pro to eating in Italy: it's cheap!!  John and I consistently had an appetizer between us, two mains, and a half liter of wine for around 25 euro.  Just insanely cheap.

A few places for those who may find themselves in Rome: Vecchia Roma, Petrucci, Tre Pupazzi, Le Tavernelle, and Perdingianu & Croccorgia.  These were my absolute favorites of the places we hit- and all but one were recommended by the concierge.

Le Tavernelle:  The very first place we ate in Rome and it did not disappoint.  Complimentary Prosecco with our meal wasn't a bad way to start.  I had a delicious, but simple, ravioli stuffed with cheese topped with parmesan (remember, this is the place where they thought I wanted more cheese).  The fantastic thing about this dish was the light coat of olive oil that the ravioli was served in.  There was a basil leaf sitting on top of the dish, and you could taste it in the oil.  It was amazing.  Delicious.

Vecchia Roma: Old Rome, run by Fabio, and we were always waited on by what appeared to be his son.  We were also always brought bruschetta before our meal, in addition to the delicious bread basket.  The tomatoes were so ripe!  It was absolutely perfect.  The best bruschetta I've ever eaten.  I got (yes, both times we went) the spaghetti carbonara- and it was divine.  An egg sauce and bacon with spaghetti, topped with parmesan cheese.  How can you go wrong?

Tre Pupazzi: Recommended by Rick Steves, this was a yummy place to eat.  John and I both had the special: fettuccine with porcini mushrooms and truffle.  Let me just say, if you ever get to order something with "truffle" in the title, do not miss the chance.  It was really delicious.  No sauce to speak of, but again, served in an incredible olive oil.  This time, instead of basil, it tasted truffle infused.  Yum!

Petrucci: This was another dinner spot near the hotel.  We ordered antipastos della casa (house appetizers) and were served a HUGE platter with fresh slices of mozzarella and tomatoes, fried eggplant, fried zucchini, bruschetta, meats, cheeses, and olives. This was incredible.  The bruschetta had amazing flavors.  The tomatoes were ripe, it was absolutely perfect.  Best bruschetta I've ever eaten (this sounds familiar...).  We were both so full after the appetizers, but we had each ordered a main as well.  I had pesto potato gnocci, John ordered ravioli with smoked (which was translated as "smooched") salmon.  While I wasn't nuts about the gnocci (I'd never had it before), the pesto sauce was incredible.  John's was delicious as well- the smokiness was lovely with the cheese stuffing.  This was also where we had the best tasting house wine.  At most of the places we ate, a half liter was about 4 euro.

Perdingianu & Croccorgia: Our last dinner out in Rome.  This was a Sicilian inspired restaurant and was an interesting foil to the other food we had eaten.  They had similar menu items, but with slight differences.  Here, we also got the antipastos della casa.  Again, meats and cheeses, but this time the meat was spicy (thank goodness John tried it first) and the cheese was a soft, maybe goat's milk, cheese and a pecorino (one of my favorites).  The eggplant slices were grilled, not fried, and there was also olives and a slice of grilled red pepper.  My dinner was amazing.  I had tortellini with a creamy sauce with ham and mushrooms.  I can't post my exact words when I ate my first bite, but suffice to say, it was tasty.  Beyond amazing.  I have no idea what John ordered, but I definitely won the main course contest (though his was pretty good too).  Dessert, on the other hand, was a bit of a let down.  I ordered tiramisu and I was so excited.  What I got was some soggy cake at the bottom of a bowl with vanilla pudding on top, sprinkled with cocoa powder.  John won the dessert battle, ordering Catalina Crema, a similar pudding cup but with a topping that tasted like caramelized sugar.  Yummmm

I will say this about eating in Rome: it was hands down the most consistently amazing food I have ever encountered.  *However* our success was entirely thanks to the guidance of Rick Steves and our hotel's recommendations.  We did try to eat out on our own once and we were not met with success (may I refer you to the blog entry previous to this).  So, eater beware: avoid the tourist spots and try to eat where the locals are.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rome Day 5: Arrivederci Roma

Our final day in Rome and we had to check out of the hotel by 10 am.  Our flight wasn't until that evening, but fortunately, the hotel let us leave our bags there while we wandered around for one last round of tourism.  We went past the Jewish Ghetto again and found our way to Campo del Fiori.

At Campo del Fiori, they were having a market with lots of goodies.  There were vendors with the typical I Heart Roma shirts and bags, some other clothing sellers, and food.  Lots and lots of food.  There was this great vegetable stand with the most gigantic red bell peppers I have ever seen, humongous eggplants, and everything looks bright and ripe.  It was fantastic.  Another few stalls were selling pasta and herbs.  The pasta guy would start to sing a song and the vegetable stand man would join in.  One vendor had all sorts of different truffle items: straight up truffles, truffle oil, truffle with parmesan, and truffle butter.  Another vendor had jars upon jars of honey.  There were all different kinds: thyme, "woods," chestnut, orange, eucalyptus, acacia, "sweet," and mixed flower.  I wish I could have had samples!
Victor Emmanuel Monument
After the market, we stopped at a sidewalk cafe to have cappuccinos with a lovely view of the Victor Emmanuel Monument, which we couldn't seem to get away from the entire time were there.  Every time we got a little turned around, we ended up at the Victor Emmanuel Monument.  The sun was shining, and John and I actually got uncomfortably warm, which I loved.  We then went off for lunch without the help of a concierge recommendation.  Big mistake.  We ended up at this horrid restaurant because we got so hungry looking that we just gave up.  It was a nightmare- almost literally.  There were Halloween masks hanging on the walls, Santa Clause costumes in opened packages, dried meat hanging unused above the bar.  We put in our order and John took a piece of bread from the basket.  It literally snapped in half and crumbed into little pieces.  I feigned illness, put 4 euro on the table, and we canceled our orders and left.

The lunch we ended up with wasn't bad, but it wasn't great.  Then we picked up our bags from the hotel and headed off to the airport.  I checked a bag and we made it through security.  I went to use the ladies, which was actually co-gendered and had everyone confused.  When I came back up, John informed me that I had been called back to security.  We went back and they said they needed to search my bag.  Strange, but okay, and I started to give them my laptop bag.  No, they needed to search my checked bag.  Fine, go ahead, I checked it!  Nope, I had to leave my bag with John and go with a non-English speaking male security guard back through the airport, outside onto the tarmac, and into a little corner where some trucks were parked.  With no one else around, he had me open the bag and he sifted through it, occasionally holding something up for me to clarify what it was, even though I'm pretty sure he didn't understand me.  It was unnerving, but uneventful and I was brought back through security and John and I managed to have a peaceful flight back to Dublin.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rome Day 4: Finally Taking It Easy

This post is going to be remarkably short because we finally did remarkably little the entire day.  Our third full day in Rome found us both exhausted from all the walking and sight seeing the days before.  So we took the day easy, wandering around, doing some light shopping (gifts for family), and eating.  Lots of eating.  But we did hit up the National Museum, which had some really great Roman sculptures.  Favorites included Pugile, an ancient Roman reproduction of the ancient Greek discus sculpture, and an incredibly ornate sarcophagus.

After the museum, we went to a familiar place for lunch and had yet another delicious meal.  The bruschetta that always comes out before our food seems to be a treat only for certain guests, so I think we had our hotel to thank for that.  An old man with white hair and thick glasses sat down at the table next to us for lunch.  He seemed to be friends with Fabio, the owner, and also got bruschetta.  After we finished eating, we stopped at a Gelatto shop on the way back to the hotel.  The old man was there, eating out of a cone and giving himself a white gelatto mustache.  John got pistachio and I got Gellatine, which is a mix of chocolate and vanilla with little cookie crumbles in it.  It was delicious and they were both served with a little cookie on top.

As we wandered around more, we saw a neat street artist who worked entirely with spray paint to make these really cool pictures.  They looked like sci-fi posters, but they had famous monuments like the Colosseum or the Egyptian pyramids in the foreground.  It was fun to just sit and watch him work and to see the picture transform.

And that was about it for our fourth day in Rome.  Most of the day revolved around eating, which I'll talk lots about in another post.  It was a lovely, relaxing day to just take in the streets of Rome.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rome Day 3: Adventures in Ruins

Day three started with another great breakfast at the roof top garden.  Then we were off to the Colosseum!  Somehow, we never noticed on our first days in Rome that the Colosseum was visible down the street from our hotel.  It was pretty spectacular to see.  Once we go to the Colosseum it was just amazing.  (Side note for the Minnesotans, the Romans had a retractable tarp to cover the Colosseum in case of bad weather.  And the Twins have...?)  There really isn't a way for my to describe the Colosseum- it was just beautiful.  And through some of the arches, we had great views of the Arch of Constantine.  It really was just spectacular.

After the Colosseum, we moved on to the Roman Forum.  This was really pretty and I got a lot of great pictures, but it wasn't as interesting to me.  I'm not sure if it was residual exhaustion from the trek the day before, but it wasn't my favorite stop along the trip.  We walked all over the Forum and then up to Palatine Hill, which gave more spectacular views of the Forum and of Rome in general.  I think amazing views was a theme for the trip.

After the Forum, we were on our way to Bocca della Veritas, of A Roman Holiday fame.  Along the way, we walked along the Tiber River, which has had its banks built up extremely high after a flood several hundred years ago.  We also walked through Circus Maximus, where the chariot races used to be held.  Much more dangerous than NASCAR, though John wondered which way they turned.  We got our little touristy photo op with the Mouth of Truth and then we went through the Jewish Ghetto, where we stopped for some delicious kosher food.  From there, we were off to the Pantheon, which we had seen before on our night walk.  The outside was having some reconstruction done, so it was half covered with scaffolding, but the inside was really pretty.  The Pantheon was originally a monument for all religions, hence the name.

On the way to our next destination, we did a little window shopping, which turned into actual shopping when I found a great pair of shoes (much MUCH cheaper than the ones from Dublin that I ended up returning).  Then it was back to window shopping as we passed by Chanel, Dior, Dolce and Gabanna, Missoni, Escada, Prada, etc.  I might have drooled, just a little bit.  Then we were at the Spanish Steps.  It was absolutely milling with people.  Particularly with guys carrying bushels of roses and trying to force three on you as you walked by "I give, I give."  No thanks.  We climbed (yes, more steps) to the top of the Spanish Steps just in time for a beautiful sun set.

The day ended like all of our days in Rome: with a fantastic dinner and an exhausted crash into bed.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rome Day 2: Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica

John and I started the day with breakfast on the roof top garden and it did not disappoint!  A selection of rolls, cheeses, meats, and fruits along with juice, cappuccino, coffee, and about 20 kinds of tea.  The only bad thing about the morning was it was raining.  But, we figured we had weathered Ireland well enough, and so we took off on the metro to go to Vatican City.
Map Gallery
The Vatican Museum was stunning and overwhelming.  There was art literally everywhere.  The ceilings were painted, the walls had art, there were sculptures all around, and even the marble flooring was beautiful.  My personal favorites were the Map Gallery (just for the sheer abundance of color and art) and the rooms with paintings by Raphael.  He wasn't one of my favorite ninja turtles, but the rooms (particularly the Constantine room and the Liberation of St. Peter) were spectacular.
Raphael's Liberation of St. Peter
One of the most inspired parts of the Vatican Museum is, of course, the Sistine Chapel.  If I thought the rest of the museum was overwhelming, this was beyond.  Of course, the creation of man was spectacular, but I also really liked the Temptation of Eve, which has the serpent looking like part man, part tree, part snake.

After we went to the Vatican Museum, we had lunch at another amazing restaurant (this time recommended by Rick Steves).  Then, we moved on to St. Peter's Basilica.  Again, absolutely stunning.  The inside of the church is amazing.  It is absolutely gigantic!  Here is also the original Pieta sculpture by Michelangelo, which was another highlight for me.  Then, John somehow convinced me to climb 551 steps with him up to the top of the cupola.  In addition to the gorgeous views from the top, at about the half way point, we got to go inside the church again where we were up close and personal with the art at the tops of the interior arches.  What had looked like paintings from below were actually massive mosaics.  It was pretty amazing.  We reached the top (finally) and the views were breathtaking.  The rain had stopped and the sun was out and it was just incredible to see all of Rome all around.

After our adventures there, we wandered back to the hotel for a small (and much needed) rest.  Dinner that night at Petrucci provided another superb meal.  Unfortunately, we had to wait a while to go to eat, as we were informed that restaurants wouldn't be open for dinner until at least 7:00 pm.  Fortunately, on the other hand, we didn't have to wait quite as long as we thought as we also found out that we had been operating an hour behind all day due to the time change.

After dinner, we were off for a night walk where we saw Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon.  There were lots of people out and about and a bunch of street vendors selling art, jewelry, and the usual knock off handbags.  We were so exhausted at the end of the walk, that we grabbed a cab to drive us the short trip back to the hotel.  Slept like a rock.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rome Day 1: Dublin to Rome

Armed with a large supply of digestive aids, John and I took off from Dublin to Rome for what would be 4 blissful, though exhausting, days.  The flight itself was fine.  Ryan Air, as would be expected, doesn't give anything complimentary.  However, we did spring for the priority Q tickets and got to pick seats in the emergency row so John would have some extra leg room.  Unfortunately, we ended up seated across the aisle from a family with a young boy.  I just knew it would be rough.  Surprisingly, though, it was the father who caused most of the problems.  From drumming loudly on his meal tray with pens to arguing with the flight attendant about returning to his seat for landing, he was not a very pleasant man.  On the bright side, there was an off duty flight attendant seated by the window in our row who switched seats with me so John and I could see Rome lit up at night as we landed.  We saw the Colosseum and St. Peter's Basilica from the window.  It was beautiful!

We checked into our hotel after getting overcharged for a taxi ride (note for future travels: don't tip the cabbie when they charge 4 euro extra for transporting 3 carry on sized bags), and the hotel room was stunning.  Lush fabrics covered the walls and it was just gorgeous.  The front desk concierge recommended Le Tavernelle for dinner and it did not disappoint.  Delicious pasta and free prosecco served with the meal.  Not too shabby!  Despite some tummy troubles from traveling, I could tell I would like my time in Rome when I stopped the server to ask for more water.  Before I could ask for water though, his first guess was that I needed more parmesan cheese.  Any place that always assumes you need more cheese is alright by me.

Since we'd gotten in relatively late (though we later found out that we had gotten in even later as Rome was an hour ahead of Dublin), we decided to hit the hay, looking forward to breakfast on the rooftop patio.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

28 Days Until Home

It's been a while since my last blog post.  I was happily jotting about Italy and Dublin with John.  Sadly, he had to leave a few days ago, so now it's just me, my troubled internet connection, and my massive amount of essays left here on the Emerald Isle.

Since I'm flying home before the exam period concludes (I tried to change to a later flight once I learned my finals schedule, but there was literally nothing available before Christmas), I've been assigned essays in lieu.  It sounds like it should be a big lucky break for me, but in reality it will be a ton of work.  I have approximately four weeks to write four essays, each with around a 5,000 word limit.  So, 20,000 words from now I will be getting on an airplane home.  It sounds so much closer in days.

In the meantime, I plan to work a lot and blog a little.  I will be blogging over the next several days about the trip to Italy with my notes taken when we were there.  I can safely say that Rome was the most amazing place I've been to yet.  It was absolutely beautiful, the food was incredible, and there were so many sights to see.  The food was so good as a matter of fact that I'm going to devote an entire post simply to eating in Italy.

Less than a month left on my adventure abroad.  I can't believe it's gone by so quickly!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dublin Today, Rome Tomorrow

John is here and has been for several days now.  We've had a terrific time!  Some highlights of the trip so far:

A real Irish breakfast at the Quays.  Included black sausage (aka black pudding, blood sausage, blood pudding) which was delicious and much better than the white sausage in my opinion.

The Guinness Storehouse.  Still worth the money- this time I (we) learned to pour the perfect pint.  We also met a couple from St. Paul- small world!

Jameson Distillery.  NOT worth the money.  Save the eleven euro (student price), go to a bar, and get three shots: Jameson, Jack Daniels, and Johnny Walker Black Label.  Then you'll have the taste test all set up without the horrible tourist trap feeling tour full of mannequins and stuffed cats.  It was definitely not my favorite part of the trip thus far.  But now, I am officially a whiskey taste tester and I have the certificate to prove it (along with one proving I can pour the perfect pint.  I might frame them both and hang them alongside my J.D.).

National Library.  Bought Kim her requested book on Yeats, got one for myself as well, and a free t-shirt!  Walked through the Yeats exhibit which was neat.  I would have loved to have had a few more spots with readings from his works.

National Gallery.  Very cool works here.  While there was a lot of strangely shaped children (from the era in which painters gave children the same facial proportions as adults), the Jack Yeats exhibit was terrific and there was one room with highlights from a closed wing that included a Picasso and a Monet.  Very pretty.

Queen of Tarts.  Lovely place for tea and some blackberry apple crumble.  I had an Alice in Wonderland moment.

The Winding Stair.  Despite not having reservations (note to self for next time), they were able to seat us and we had a fantastic meal.  Absolutely delicious food and I would go back over and over again.  Even though we only had the table until 7:00, we never felt rushed by the servers and were waited on attentively.  My spinach, mushroom, and feta parcel was amazing.  Highly, highly recommend.

We also stayed right next door to Oscar Wilde's house.  Speaking of Oscar Wilde, we saw some workers fixing his statue.  Apparently he lost his head, literally.

Tomorrow we are off to Rome and I could not be more excited!  I will try to post an update or two while we're there.  But I'll be taking notes so I can blog when I get back too.  Cheers!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Back to Dublin, Back to Reality

...okay, not really the second part.  We landed in Dublin and made our way to the hotel, where I discovered we have a supreme view from our balcony of a great building that has a changing color light display.  Really cool- we're in an industrial area near the Samuel Beckett Bridge.

Today, we went to Malahide to explore Malahide Castle, where I have wanted to go ever since Dublin's Culture Night.  The castle did not disappoint.  First, Malahide is a beautiful place with lots of greenery (changing to autumnal colors) and cute little houses.  The castle was located at the back part of a winding path through various fields and wooded areas.  And the castle was exactly what you picture when you hear the word "castle."  Turrets and stone and just lovely.  We went inside and took the tour, which was also really great and informative.  The furniture was spectacular- most of it dating back to the mid-18th century.  There were great portraits throughout and it was surprising to learn that the castle was actually lived in until the 1970s when it was finally bequeathed to the town.  Another interesting point for me was that the Boswell papers on Samuel Johnson were discovered at Malahide Castle.  Such an interesting place!

Tomorrow, sadly, my parents leave to return to the states.  Fortunately, my fiance will be here in Friday!  Then it's more Dublin tourism followed by a trip to Rome.  Can't wait!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Paris: Day Three

Today we started off with a delicious breakfast at the hotel and a slow meander to the Eiffel Tower.  From there, we hopped back on the bus tour and hopped off at the Louvre!!!!  The lines weren't too bad and we got inside pretty quickly.  I made a bee line to the Mona Lisa, since I figured it would only get more crowded as the day wore on.

From what I had heard, I was expecting to be underwhelmed by the Mona Lisa.  But, I was pleasantly surprised to still be in awe of the work even after seeing it in person, albeit from a roped off distance and through tinted glass.  After taking a few pictures (no flash, though I felt like the only person obeying the rules), I wandered at a more leisurely stroll through some other points of interest in the museum.  Highlights for me include: Winged Victory, Cupid and Psyche (my personal favorite), and Venus de Milo.  Some of the ceilings were just phenomenal too.  A really amazing museum and well worth the visit.  From there, we hopped on the bus again and took a few short stops at Notre Dame, Arc de Triumph, and Palais de Chaillot.
Cupid and Psyche
It was a pretty relaxed day topped with a delicious dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Paris Home.  Mom and I shared a pizza and Dad had some salmon.  The best part though was the service and the company.  There was an older couple who came in after us from Rochester, NY.  They were trying to figure out the menu and the waitresses with our efforts managed to explain what "chevreuil" was in English.  The waitresses tried to explain that it was Bambi, with a very thick French accent, which I decoded into venison.  It was a pleasant evening.  Now: time to pack for our return to Dublin!
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