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A Little Bit About a Lot of Things

A lifestyle blog with a focus on my food adventures

The last leg of our trip! We take a train, well three trains, to get from Nice to Rome. Nice to Ventimiglia, Ventimiglia to Milan and Milan to Rome. The train from Nice to Ventimiglia was a local train $11 US each and about an hour. Ventimiglia to Milan was $103 US for 2 tickets, first class (oh yeah!) taking about 4 hours.

The first class car from Ventimiglia to Milan has it’s own compartments, each with 6 seats. Unfortunately-ours was full.

They have a glass door that you can close for privacy, but honestly, it doesn’t reduce the noise. We are in the compartment with another couple and two other women. Apparently nose picking is an accepted social norm in Europe because we have seen a TON of people doing it with no shame. Meanwhile, the other man in the compartment, who is sitting across from my husband, is 2nd knuckle deep in- picking his nose!! He then proceeds to look at what he’s pulled out, and FLICK IT ON THE FLOOR. I discretely write a note on my iphone to my husband that says “you may want to check your leg hairs because the guy across from you might have flicked something in there”. He laughed, but we were both horrified.  The train has a few issues and is running a little behind schedule. We arrive at the Milan train station with minutes to connect to our next train-so here we are in the train station, running all the way across to the other side of the station-backpacks swinging from side to side and rolling suitcases being hurled on to the train to make sure we get on it. We get on the train and have first class tickets-$336 USD for two tickets booked well in advance through AAA. Imagine our surprise when we find that two people are already sitting in our seats. I ask to the the man’s ticket-and indeed we both have the same seats.  He tried to tell me that MY tickets MUST be fake (riiight). We, he and I, get off the train and find the manager on the platform. The manager tells us to get back on the train and he will find one of us new seats. So we get back on the train as it’s pulling out and if he were really a gentleman he would have offered me to take the seat and he would wait to find another one. Instead, he says, “OK well, I’ll go back to my seat and you can wait for a new one”. Nice one buddy, nice one. Chivalry must be a lost art form. So my husband and I wait with all our luggage in the hallway compartment next to the bathroom for about 20 minutes. The manager is nowhere to be found-I wait while my husband goes to look for him. After 20 minutes, we finally get new seats-seriously though, is this what I paid first class prices for? The train ride is three and a half hours from Milan to Rome-the seats are comfortable and they come by with a snack cart and a complimentary beverage. Are we there yet? Nearing the end of our journey, and this is so cliche, an attractive woman is walking down the aisle and literally falls in my husbands lap. She apologizes and continues on. My first thought is, ‘do you still have your wallet’ 🙂 Funny part about that whole thing is that when we leave the train station to get a cab to the hotel-they are going to the same place and we share a cab-it’s 14 euro on the meter but the cab driver says it’s 14 each. First sign of being ripped off in Rome, and not the last.

We are staying for three nights at the  Rome Cavalieri, located at Via Alberto Cadlolo 101. The hotel is a ways outside of the city center but they have a complimentary shuttle bus that leaves the hotel every hour on the half hour to piazza barberini. When you are at the piazza barberini-just look for the scallop shell statue-that is where the bus will pick you up (leaves piazza barberini every hour on the hour). As a Hilton Gold member, we are invited to use the Colosseo Lounge which is open daily from 6pm-11pm-snacks and beverages are served complimentary-great perk, even though we never had a chance to use it. Another great perk is that the hotel has a partnership with Ferrari, and can arrange a ‘test drive’ at the hotel.

Room 464. quite spacious with the living area and balcony.

Hilton Gold and Diamond members are also allowed to enjoy complimentary wi-fi. They provide you with different codes for each day you are there.

The hotel room is clean-thank goodness after our experience in Nice.

The bathroom is quite spacious. They provide Crabtree and Evelyn bath products.

I was surprised that this was the first European hotel we stayed at that had a bidet-I thought we would have seen them in all the hotels.

Our room was facing the well manicured lawn, where there were large lion statues.

The lobby.

The pool. As a gold member you were allowed to use the pool for free as well as the spa (ie. gym). In Rome, there is an entry charge for the pool as well as a charge to use a chair. This is one of 3 pools in the city, so in the summer time, they offer memberships to the public-not unlike the Colonnade in Boston.

We arrived late in the afternoon so we walk the property and then ask the concierge to find us a place for dinner. I had picked out three places, two he said we couldn’t get last minute reservations at and the third he hadn’t heard of, so he wouldn’t call. He told us of a “great” place to have dinner, La Fontanella, located at Largo della Fontanella di Borghese, 86. We tried to catch the last shuttle bus as it was leaving but it wouldn’t stop. Make sure if you decide to take the shuttle that you show up a little early-they leave and arrive with military precision. We took a cab down to the Spanish Steps, which was near the restaurant and walked around. If you walk down the via Condotti you will find all the designer stores: Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Hermes etc. We walked by the restaurant at about 7:30pm and there were no patrons. We walk around and come back at about 8pm. Still no patrons there. We sit and order a coke (4 euro) and a bottle of water (3 euro)-it’s almost like the Italians have never heard of tap water-everywhere we went, even if you asked for tap water, they brought bottled.

We grab a table out front.

The restaurant looks a little run down, but we give it a chance, thinking that sometimes the best kept secrets are places that don’t have all the glitz and glam. Our waiter tells us the specials. He brings us bread, which we later find that they charged us for (6 euros).

We order the cheese plate (10 euro) with two kinds of hard cheese and a sliced plum. The Parmesan is tasty and the other cheese,also a hard cheese, is not really my speed.

The waiter tells us about this great special, gnocchi with black truffles. So that’s what I order. I was hoping for fresh pasta, but this tastes store bought and a little on the gummy side. The sauce is light but really salty-I can’t feel myself retaining water by the second. (30 euros)

We also order pasta with roasted vegetables-the pasta is better than mine, and the vegetables were good, we just wondered why they cheese didn’t melt….The service was ok, considering by the end of the meal we were one of three tables being occupied. The other two couples that came, we happened to over hear, were from our hotel-so we wonder how much the concierge gets as a kickback for sending the tourists to this place. A few days later we were waiting for the shuttle and a couple from Chicago started talking to us. He said that he over heard us talking about the concierge helping us with restaurants and asked how they were. He said they come every year for their anniversary-the first year they took all the concierge’s suggestions and found them to be mediocre and every year they have been back they find places on their own.

It’s a little blurry, but we go to Tre Scalini for gelato after dinner, it’s located on the Piazza Navona, famous and pricey.

We go to the take out section and split a gelato.

We order the pistachio. Not bad, a little bit on the soft side so the trick was to eat it quickly! The Piazza Navona is a lively place at night. Around the perimeter there are lots of cafes where you can get a bite to eat, and in the center, in addition to three fountains, there tons of vendors with art for sale. The Fontana dei quattro Fiumi is in the center of the Piazza Navona and was designed by Bernini-he is responsible for a lot of architecture in Rome. There is also the fontana del Moro that was remodeled by Bernini in 1653. The statues and architecture in Rome are amazing-they are so detailed and intricate, it amazes me that they have lasted this long-the Romans built things to last!

Day 2, 9/11.

Breakfast at the hotel. A.MA.ZING! Is all I have to say about this buffet. They have everything you could possibly want here. Cookies, biscotti, shortbread, eggs of all kinds, meat, pastries, muffins, bagels, breads you name it, they had it.

There seem to be a lot of Japanese tourists here, so they even have a section with Japanese items.

My favorite item would be the strawberry tart…so tasty…I’m still thinking about it. The breakfast is included because we are Hilton Gold members. You have the choice to eat inside or out, and we chose to sit by the pool every morning.

We take the Rome Open Tour around the city to see the sights-it is far too warm to do as much walking as we had planned. They have a hostess on board and they only take cash, 21 euros each for a 24 hour bus ride ticket. There are 11 stops on the bus ride, and like the other open air double decker bus tours, they have headphones that you can listen to the audio guide in 8 different languages.

We head back close to where the bus will pick us up to get back to the hotel-and grab some lunch at a little cafe.

It looked a bit questionable, but it had sandwiches and pizza in the window and we made a split second decision to go in.

I had the carbonara, which was a bit questionable, seeing as it was more like scrambled egg on pasta instead of being a well blended sauce. I still cringe when I look at this….

We decide that we are going to spend the rest of the afternoon at the pool. It’s hot and crowded-the seats are close together. We manage to get two seats in the sun. The charge for the pool is 36 euros for two, which includes a foam mat for the chair with a terry cloth cover and a towel. There is a second pool, but that seems to be more for kids. I’m laying on my stomach, with my eyes closed, trying to get a tan, and when I open them, a super pastey guys foot is in my face because he’s taking off his white walking sneaker and his mid calf white sock. Ick. Be aware that you can smoke at the pool-if you don’t want to be near someone that is smoking, and everyone seems to be, make sure to ask if they have an area that has less smoke.

We score a reservation at Dal Bolognese, one of the places on my original lists, but they can only offer us 10pm. A little late for us for dinner, but we figure we can make it work. So to waste our time, we get back on the Open Tour bus and take the tour at night, hoping that the city would be as beautiful as Paris is at night, but it fell short. I had read that Dal Bolognese had some of the best pasta in the city-so I was amped to get there-they are located at Piazza del Popolo, 1/2.

The outdoor area would have been really nice to eat at, we weren’t given that option, so we ate inside, where it was quite hot. We had dressed up a little bit, fancier than jeans, but the couple in the photo, as you can see, is in jeans, work boots and flannel.

We start with the tomato and mozzarella salad (10 euro). The balsamic on it was excellent, thick and sweet. Very simple and pretty good.

I order the bolognese of course. The thin ribbons of pasta are good and the meat sauce is light. Best pasta dish I’ve had? Not by a long shot, but best pasta so far in Rome. When I was here about 15 years ago with my family, all I remember was eating amazing pasta every night…but this trip, I have to say that the food didn’t live up to my expectations.

We also ordered the sampler of sorts (not on the menu), for 15 euro you got macaroni, lasagna and ravioli. All very tasty-a great way to sample their food.

We ordered the tiramisu (10 euro), which was excellent-it was light and fresh, we gobbled it up in about 2 seconds. Probably the best part of the night. The service was just so so. Total dinner, 72 euro.

9/12. Breakfast at the hotel.

My sister in law gave us a great present while we were in Rome, a cooking class! The original one got cancelled for lack of participants, but she was able to find another through viator.com. You get to cook with chef Fabio Bongianni in his home, which, by the way, he rents the second floor apartment from a real life princess who lives upstairs! You can book a class online through his website www.fabiolouscookingday.com, and you pay cash when you arrive at his apartment-no cards. If you book through Vaitor.com you can pay by credit card. Fabio is very personable. He takes us on a walk through the Jewish Ghetto, now one of the most expensive and sought after neighborhoods in Rome-and shows us some of the archeological sites near his home. He seems to know everyone, maybe that’s because he opened a very successful steakhouse chain in Rome called T-Bone Station. He sold those restaurants so he could go back to what he loved, teaching people how to cook. On our tour he shows us a new space that he is opening up-a space where he can teach up to 60 people how to cook-did we mention that a high end line of commercial kitchen appliances in Rome sponsors him!?! So as we are walking, we go to a butcher and collect some chicken for today’s meal. He asks us before we buy anything, “what don’t you eat” and luckily-everyone eats everything. He also takes us to a Roman outdoor market where we buy the fresh produce we will be using for the day.

We meet three other couples for our class at Largo Argentina in front of the main entrance to the Theater (Via di Torre Argentina 52) at 9:30am. One couple is from Rhode Island and the other two are from California, so when we are split into two groups, it’s east coast vs. west coast 🙂

We make a bunch of different things-my husband said that now since we’ve had fresh pasta, we can never go back to eating it from a box. I told him we don’t have enough hands to string out pasta this long and thin…never mind that my kitchen isn’t big enough!

We made home made pasta Amatriciana, which is a spicy red sauce made with guanciale (pig cheek-you can substitute bacon or pancetta if you like). To make the pasta, the ingredients were all laid out for us-for white flour pasta you use water and with semolina flour pasta you use egg. Put the pasta in the fridge for 30 minutes, then roll out and cut into long strips. Form the pasta by making a “w” with the pasta at the top and then loosely rub your hands together to make the pasta twist a little-this will make sure that all the sauce is scooped up into the pasta. You can check out his recipes and a basic recipe for pasta (converted into cups instead of grams) at his website.

We made a vegetable lasagna. Sautee vegetables on the stove and then make a bechamel sauce with provolone cheese. Add sauce to the vegetables. Layer over fresh pasta that is cooked for a minute in hot water and then put in cold water to stop the cooking process. No mozzarella cheese here, just the bechamel and parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

Ravioli with gorgonzola and pear. We rolled out long sheets of pasta, and dropped filling evenly on top, then covered with a second layer of pasta and pressed to get all of the air bubbles out.

Roasted potatoes, chicken with a balsamic glaze, baked chicken with breadcrumbs and chicken liver pate.

Peaches in a white wine sauce for dessert. This is the one thing that we didn’t make, but it was amazing.

Fabio lives in an 2nd floor apartment that he rents from a princess. Pretty cool. The elevator only fits 4 people at a time and is finicky….made a few people nervous. The view he has from his apartment is AMAZING. The people in our class were really great, all young couples and we had a really nice afternoon. By the time the chicken came out, we were all completely full! The other couples were talking about their experiences on the train and the bus, they said that that was where there were pickpockets. One girl said that she was robbed by a woman WITH A BABY, but luckily she caught her and made her stand there while she checked her purse for missing items. They were telling us about Florence, where they went before they got to Rome, and how they were on strike-only between 9 and 5, so that stunk for them as tourists, but it was good for the people who lived and worked there, because they were able to have transportation. We also got into a conversation about Ipads and everyone had one-they said that they used it to download an app by some local Roman who put in all his favorite places to eat. Also, they would find a hot spot and just download the Rick Steve’s tour guide for where ever they were. Interesting hearing other people’s travel experiences.

On a side note, as we are walking, getting the tour of the area, he shows us this gelateria that all the Romans go to, and not for gelato, but for coffee.  If you want to stop by, it’s on Via del Lavatore.

As we are finishing up our lunch, Fabio comes in to chit chat with the group. It comes up that he mentions that he knows this guy, maybe we know him, he was on a show we may have heard of….Dancing with the Stars. Have we ever heard of Maksim Chmerkovskiy, uh…yeah! 🙂 Apparently they are friends. And, Maksim was on this other show, maybe we’ve heard of it? The bachelor. Oh yeah, that little show? So he was telling us that Maksim asked him (Fabio) to be on the show. Here’s a clip. Scroll to about 45 minutes in-but note that the clip is not in English. We leave and do a little shopping for some souvenirs for people back home.

We had dinner at Al Moro, located at Vicolo delle Bollette, 13, near the Trevi fountain. The concierge made us a reservation at 8pm-which was good because it got quite crowded. Al Moro is located in sort of an alley way-the restaurant cordons off its area by using shrubbery.

We had a nice table outside. It was slow when we arrived, only a few other tables were sat, but as the night went on, it became quite crowded. The service at the beginning was excellent, very attentive, but as the night got busier, the service lagged.

We started with the parma ham and melon (18 euro) which was really tasty, I always love this combination.

I had the carbonara (22 euro) which was much better than my lunch carbonara. It was exactly what carbonara should be.

We also ordered the amatriciana (22 euro) which was good, but not as good as what we had made for lunch. Total bill, 70 euro. We sat and lingered a bit after we had eaten. There were lots of guys selling knock off bags to tourists, and every time the cops came around, one guy who had a legit business would whistle, and the guys selling bags would swoop up all their merchandise and go running for another alley. We walked over the see the Trevi Fountain at night, super crowded, but SO worth it to see it all lit up.

We stopped for gelato at this place near the fountain called Melograno Gelateria (piazza di Trevi, 101) One scoop of gelato cost 2 euro. It felt like the best deal in Rome. Stay tuned for the last few days in Rome and a day trip to Naples/Capri.

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