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Since my motto is “I will travel for great food”, the main reason I went to Rome was to eat 🙂

I ate so many delicious things in one week that I may have been channeling Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat, Pray, Love“. I believe that there is very little in life as satisfying as the pleasure of taking your time to savor all the flavors and delights of great food, sharing it with others perhaps, but I got to do that a bit later in the trip.

The only appointment I had made for a sight was for the Vatican Museum and Pizzarium is literally one block from the Metro Station Cipro which is the stop for that attraction. The place also goes by the name Bonci, the creator/owner of Pizzarium, who was there one of the three times I went, training staff on how to dress some slices properly. A rarity in Rome is that they are open every day of the week, although the hours vary a bit on Sunday. If you don’t want to wait during Lunch and Dinner go in the lull of the afternoon or late at night. The first day I went around 1pm and waited about 30 minutes, another day I went around 6pm and there was no line at all. If it’s crowded, grab a number and watch for it to be posted on the screen above the counter. You order on the left, pick up your drinks and then go pay as you wait for your order to be delivered on the right side of the counter. Condiments are also on the right side of the counter, but I didn’t want to ruin the perfect flavors by doctoring up my slices.

Every hour and every day, there are new selections, and everything is sold by weight. Prices range from about 20 Euros to over 30 Euros per kilo, a good sized portion will run you 8-12 Euros or about $10-15 US. If you want to try more than one flavor, ask for small slices so you can eat two because their scissors work fast and cut generously unless you tell or show them you want smaller slices. I learned that Rome is almost like the US when it comes to portion sizes, but without doggie bags unless you order your pizza to go:)

I went three out of my seven days in Rome, and never tried another pizza place after my first bite here! The first pizza I got was a spinach, buffalo mozzarella, and anchovy on tomato sauce. The toppings were outstandingly fresh (these were not the canned anchovies you find in the US), and the crust had a crunchy bottom, but the soft chewy texture of a great baguette on top. It was the best combination of topping and crust I’ve ever tasted in a pizza. There was a reason there was only a small bit of this choice left in the case, and I was glad I got some before it was gone. At first I thought it was too much to finish, but I couldn’t stop eating and “somehow” I polished off the entire serving.

My second time I went for something more traditional, a tomato basil, and an artichoke heart and potato dusted with pecorino cheese. Once again, astounding crust and incredible vegetables. This combo would be a vegetarian’s dream, and this time I got two smaller slices and a beer to wash it all down.

For my last day, I went back and saw Bonci putting out the sausage, ricotta, tomato, and basil, so I had to try that as well as the kale with cured lard and mushrooms which Bonci dressed himself with more kale and olive oil. I couldn’t stop smiling from happiness with every bite. I could happily eat here every day. With an ever changing menu, friendly staff, and an owner who is passionate about his pizza, you can’t go wrong with any choice.

Italy is famous for their gelato, so one day for breakfast (yes, I really did channel Elizabeth Gilbert), I got some at Sora Lella on Isola Tiberino (the island in the middle of Rome). I wasn’t the only one, getting gelato for breakfast at 11am 🙂

Since it was a nice day, I strolled over to the bank of the river and ate it with a view of the water.

My friend Chantal had just been to Rome a few months ago for her birthday and she told me I HAD to go to La Romana because she didn’t even like gelato and loved it here so much that she went daily.

Just as Bonci’s Pizzarium was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, La Romana was the best gelato I’ve ever eaten. They make it there, and have been since 1947. I chose a “small” Fiordelatte (flower of milk) and Sacher (like the chocolate torte flavor) for 2 Euros, or about $2.30 US, which included chocolate or vanilla sauce in the cone, AND home made whipped cream on top! I only added the chocolate at the bottom of my cone and luckily I had plenty of napkins because I forgot and bit into it making a delightful mess like a kid eating a sundae:) The consistency is lighter and smoother than any gelato I’ve tasted, and the flavors range from the unusual to the approachable, like tiramisu.

La Romana is near Termini Station, so grab a cone or cup on your way to or from the station. It’s behind the ruins and across from the government buildings with all the armed guards, not far from the planetarium which had this inscribed above the door, a quote from Dante’s Divine Comedy, “Love that moves the sun and other stars.” Dante may have been referring to the pizza and gelato in Rome 🙂

The exterior of Pantheon in Rome does little to convey the magnificence inside, even with its stately columns facing the piazza, your eyes are drawn towards the fountain and obelisk in the center, but as you approach, the size and workmanship become more evident.

 The interior is a feat of engineering and art.

The oculus is open, rain or shine and the system of drainage for the rainy days still works to this day.

 The view along the side gives you an idea of its scale.

 Looking out over the center piazza, everything else looks miniaturized.

 The fountain an obelisk in the center is the perfect place to sit

 as you listen to the musicians

and watch the entertaining people in the square.

 If you explore just a few blocks away,

 there is the Temple of Hadrian now the home of a bank,

the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva combines Baroque (elephant), Gothic (interior), Egyptian (obelisk), and pagan (built over the grounds of the Temple of Minerva),

and La Maddelena, a church named after Mary Magdalene 🙂

Rome is a crazy loveable city; it is a city like your hot tempered uncle who would take a baseball bat to a car parked blocking his driveway, but who also volunteers as coach for the local Little League team and buys them all ice cream after every game, win or lose. Your ability to endure the volatility of emotions, transit, and weather will determine how much you enjoy this city. If you want everything to work logically, on time, based on efficiency or with people who are reserved, go somewhere else. Really. London perhaps, but not Rome.

This was one of the first things I saw as I landed at the airport, open at 9 AM, a wine bar:)

The baggage claim area had free tablet usage and signs in English, and of course only the youngsters (and I) took advantage of the technology. I would soon learn that there are pockets of Rome that are miraculously modern and there are many that have been left to the whims of chance.

After picking up my luggage, I found the ground transportation about half a mile away, and proceeded to wait in a growing horde of impatient people as one, then two buses, ran 30 minutes late, jammed to the aisles with arrivals and their luggage. Once I arrived at Termini Station, the central transportation hub of the city, the machines for metro and bus tickets were out of order and I had to pay cash at a newsstand to buy a pass (most newsstands sell bus, tram, and metro tickets and passes but they only take cash). I found my bus in the maze of over 12 stands (there is no map, and even the ones you buy do not list where the stops are since many are decades old). I asked my driver to let me know when my stop was coming up. Twice. He only replied, “Not yet” as he listened to his music with his earphones. I peered out at every stop to see if I was at the one I wanted since the LED display panel in the bus did not work (only about 10% of them DO work). I highly recommend that you take the train instead of any bus into town, or if you don’t mind paying for being stuck in traffic, you may opt for a taxi, but make sure it’s an official white one with a flat rate of 48 Euros into the center of town from Fiumicino Airport.

Three and a half hours later I finally unloaded my luggage and headed out to the Victor Emmanuel Monument next to Piazza Venezia and The Roman Forum, which are all next to each other and a major transportation hub. This is the Victor Emmanuel Monument, and getting across the round about is a challenge for many tourists. If you are not used to New York City drivers, and staring down the oncoming buses, cars, and scooters as you walk across, just follow a large group as they cross, because 1) there are no traffic lights, as if that matters, and 2) no buses, cars, or scooters will stop for you and wave you across as they would in California, so you would be stranded on a curb all day and night.

The statue in the middle is as big as it looks, the moustache of the first King of Unified Italy is 5 feet long! Please note there are guards here, so no strollers, sitting, eating, drinking, or jumping at this monument or you will be sent outside the gates.

The staircase on the right side is a little less steep heading up to the Palazzo Senatorio.

If you want to save some climbing you can take these stairs for a “shortcut” to the top of the Victor Emmanuel Monument from this side, and if you follow the directions in the Rick Steve’s Rome book you can find the elevator in the back.

 Any way you go, there will be stairs,

and more stairs if you want to visit the adjacent Santa Maria Aracoeli.

Once you make it to the top, go through the preserved historical area to the left under this arch

or walk on the other side by this fountain,

for these views of the Roman and Caesar’s Forums.

The right side of the Victor Emmanuel Monument

abuts the Insula (apartment) Ruins and the Santa Maria Aracoeli church which you can see in the upper right side of this photo.

Finding your way around can be challenging, but there is ONE map I found at Palazzo Venezia at the terminus of the Tram stop, detailing where the buses stop so I took a photo for reference. Many times the opposite direction for the same line is a block or two behind or at a cross street, NOT across the street.

 This map was also there showing all the trams lines and stops, and it was the ONLY one I saw.

Many of the brand new buses don’t have working LED screens showing bus numbers or stops coming up, so the old fashioned paper and tape method is used to show the bus number on the windshield and occasionally on the side window. Hand written, of course.

My bed was one of the most wonderful sights I saw all day 🙂

Bistro du Cours is in an area with a tree lined pedestrian street, a welcome respite of calm from the busy urban environment nearby. It had glowing reviews, a warm welcoming server, and a very comfortable setting. The other patrons were all regulars who knew the waiter by name, always a good sign in any restaurant.

With many options at lunch from 16 Euros to 32 Euros, I chose the mid range 20 Euro ($23 USD) three course meal, a true bargain for the skill and ingredients, like this starter of fried zucchini blossom.

 The merlan, or whiting, was cooked perfectly with a crisp skin and moist tender flesh.

The portions were so generous I opted for the café gourmand for dessert which came with tiny portions of their desserts of creme brulée and a berry cream crumble with a sesame crisp. Everything was done well and the ingredients were fresh and well sourced, so the complimentary reviews I read were well founded. It was very “correct” as the French say, meaning the service, atmosphere, and food were worth the price.

My local host told me his number one choice for a place to eat in Marseille was The Rowing Club, a local secret. On my first day I looked for the address but I couldn’t find it, so after verifying the location with my host I finally found it on my last night 🙂 This was the view from my table.

 As the sun set, the view changed, but was still beautiful.

I was so full from lunch, I ordered two appetizers, the first was supions, or baby squid, for 16 Euros or about $18 USD, perfectly grilled with garlic and served with a wedge of lemon, this was so tender and perfectly seasoned that I could have eaten two of these for my meal.

I was happy I had ordered two appetizers instead of a main course when the gambas, or prawns, with two fried raviolis stuffed with crab came (18 Euros or about $21 USD). These may have been the best gambas I have ever eaten, grilled to perfection with succulent tails and heads full of juices which I sopped up with the fried ravioli. The combination of the two appetizers was plenty for dinner, but I saw some tables who ate appetizers, a main course, and dessert! A small glass of Chablis was 6.50 Euros or $8 USD which is expensive for France, but many people came just to drink at the bar and enjoy the view, so think of the price as a location charge:)

This is the only sign indicating where the restaurant bar is from the main road. It’s between the Sofitel hotel and the sailing school near the bus stop Saint Nicolas.

 As you walk or drive down the side road, you can see the restaurant on the roof of the building.

 There is a sign, but it’s inside the building

which also holds the club’s trophies and a gym.

  A great way to end the day and my stay in Marseille.

The Mucem and Fort St. Jean are both connected spaces which house a variety of exhibitions, as well as a garden and several places to eat.

 The bridge allows you to walk from one to the other

 ending on the Mucem end at the outdoor cafe

 with views of the port

and reasonable tariffs for such a splendid location. I found it funny that Pastis was less expensive than a soda or a cappuccino, but it is a local drink whereas the others are not:)

 I got off in front of the church and walked across to the Mucem.

 On the fort side, there is a huge outdoor garden with sculptures,

 sitting areas, and a culinary school cafe open from lunchtime to 6pm.

 I barely fit in this tunnel

 which led out to this view,

 and this view.

 From the vantage point of the fort you could see the entire Vieux Port.

 In case you got lost, there was a model to show you how all the buildings connected.

Since I had an unlimited transit pass, I took the buses that followed the coastline and got off wherever it looked interesting, like at Vallon des Auffes, a small fishing village known for great seafood. The two places I wanted to try were both closed for renovations, but this magnificent monument had fresh flowers commemorating those who had passed in the wars of the Middle East.

Further east along the coastline, there are small beaches and restaurants on the edge of the Mediterranean with spectacular views.

 Portions of the road literally straddle small anses and the sea,

and some brave souls climbed down to sit in solitude, while others kayaked.

You can see the Chateau d’If, which was a prison and the inspirational setting behind the “Count of Monte Cristo”. There are tours by boat from the Vieux Port if you would like to go visit.

I went as far as the Hippodrome and Botanical Garden, because to see the Calanques on the other side, it’s better to go by boat and the weather was not good boating weather.

Going west, there are huge shopping centers, industrial shipyards, and quaint little villages like this,

 with much smaller ports

 than the one in the center of town 🙂

Today’s post will give you an idea of what it’s like wandering around Marseille, so enjoy your stroll 🙂

 I thought it so fitting that a carousel was set up in front of the stock exchange:)

 The original Opera house was destroyed and they rebuilt it.

 Museum Cantini.

 Fountain in front of the Bank of France branch in Marseille.

 Ricard originated in Marseille.

 Churches welcomed sailors into port.

 A former hospital is now a five star hotel.

 Beautiful ironwork balconies.

 No so beautiful buildings also abound.

 Surprising artwork in a tunnel near the mixed media center Friche La Belle de Mai,

and more traditional artwork

 in the Antiquity neighborhood.

 One side of the old port is covered with touristy shops and restaurants.

 Wander a bit away from the port and you will find much more interesting shops and places to eat,

 if you don’t mind climbing stairs. The guys in the picture were moving heavy furniture!

 City Hall is directly behind the port and a picturesque place to sit and relax.

 There are a few wider tree lined streets in the center of town,

 but most streets are so narrow only one person can walk on them at a time,

if cars aren’t parked on the sidewalk all the way down the block!

Sunset means it’s time to get an apéro 🙂

The markets, food, and drinks, all reflect the diversity that abounds in Marseille’s melting pot of cultures. My local host said the African market at Noailles was THE place to go shopping for food, so of course I went. The market is huge, but since I have almost no sense of direction, and the metro had five exits on different streets, I wandered around the neighborhood a bit before finding it.

I saw this in a small square, but this was not the main market.

This was the main aisle and that building at the end was the metro exit I should have taken!

Nearly every fruit and vegetable was available and unusually for France, you picked your own!

Prices were incredibly low, about a third of Parisian prices:)

They had passionfruit from Benin, just as delicious as the Asian variety.

Plenty of fish,

shellfish, octopus, and oysters.

Some stands along the intersecting street sold cooked food, like this bakery with Moroccan bread

and snacks baked in the ovens behind the shop shelves.

This is the front display of Saladin Les Èpices du Monde, aka what I call Spice Heaven. That small dark entry to the left leads the way to the biggest and best spice store I’ve ever seen.

As you enter you see jams, nuts, and seeds,

that stretch on for rows and rows, with everything from almonds to sesame seeds.

As you go deeper into the store, you find the dried and candied fruits and marzipan blocks,

and then you see this! Bags and bags of every spice in every form you could imagine,

as far as you can see, and as you wander deeper into the spices, you find more!

The other side of the store has bins of teas and herbs ranging from rooibos to verveine. The most wonderful thing was their prices, which were so low I bought 50 grams of pink Himalayan salt for only 2 Euros or about $2.50 USD which I’ve seen in Paris and the US for $20 for the same amount! Everything is sold by weight so you can buy as much or little as you wish with the minimums posted in each bag of spice.

After a morning at the market, I wanted something simple for dinner, and La Table Ronde served Brittany food a few blocks from my rental and reservations made online enjoyed a nice 40% discount off the food. There were charming photos around the tables showing life in Brittany.

Since I was early, I was one of only two tables, and luckily it was a slow night because the waitress was gone and the chef was acting as both waitress and cook!

Brittany is known for its cider, butter, and crepes, so of course I ordered cider with my meal.

After looking at the menu and seeing the poor chef/waitress alone, I ordered a large dinner salad with langoutines and herring on a bed of sea beans and lettuce dressed in a lemon dressing that was a perfect light meal.

I went back on another night to try the crepes and there was a waitress, a manager, and the chef, so I asked for a recommendation from the waitress. She suggested the scallops with leeks in a butter cream sauce and it was delicious, if a bit too much for me to finish,

since I wanted a dessert crepe 🙂 One of the nice things about this place is they use organic flour and source ingredients locally, and the waitress and chef were both wonderfully warm. Dinner on both nights was less than 20 Euros or $24 USD including drinks when reserved online.

Marseille is close to Corsica and many people who live in the city come from the nearby island, so it’s no wonder that they serve beer from Corsica. I’m not usually a beer drinker, but after a hot day I sat in a cafe in the shade and could not think of what to order, so the waiter recommended this. I liked it, but the American girls next to me wanted Budweiser (which they did not have). Hint to tourists, order something local rather than what you regularly have at home…

After eating some big meals, I thought I would get some tapas at Cafe Populaire, around the corner from where I was staying. I learned that I should have asked my host about the place first, but hindsight is always 20/20. The atmosphere, service, and drinks were great, but the tapas were disappointing. The fried calamari at 8 Euros or about $9 USD, were completely uninspired, with no crunch or seasoning, even dipping them in the sauce didn’t help.

The mixed seafood at 8 Euros or about $9 USD, had some fried shrimp with shells, supions, and calamari. The batter was crunchy, but even though I squeezed both lemon wedges hoping to add some flavor, it didn’t help. I heard from my host after telling him where I ate that they were looking for a new chef, and apparently still had not found one yet.

I was so full from my lunch that I really didn’t mind, so I had a lovely wine from nearby Cassis for at 8 Euros or about $9 USD, and just enjoyed the beautiful setting:)

There are no shortages of churches, statues, and fountains in Marseille. At the transit stop Les Réformés, there is the Église Saint Vincent de Paul,

 this monument,

 this fountain,

 and this gazebo.

There is also Dame Oseille, a tiny cafe with a handful of tables inside or out.

Even though I was in a seafood city, the braised lamb sounded too comforting to pass up. I was very happy with the meat that was literally fork tender, the crisp and creamy polenta cake, and the roasted cherry tomatoes. For just 14.50 Euros or about $16 USD, this was a bountiful plate with lively flavors and quality ingredients. I was also happy to see salt and pepper on the tables and have no desire to use either:)

I had to have fresh fish while in Marseille, so what better place than a restaurant that was also a fish market? La Boite À Sardine is only open from about 11am-3pm, and if you only go to ONE place for fish in Marseille, go here. You can call ahead for a reservation (they only speak French) or wait up to an hour for a table, either way it will be worth the effort. Trust me 🙂

This is not a touristy place, so don’t expect any English spoken (I had to tell a guy looking for the bathroom where it was because the wait staff didn’t know what he was asking). They are very friendly and helpful, and will show you the fresh items on the menu if you don’t understand the French words:)

This was the most fun place I went to during my entire five days in Marseille. One of the chefs literally wrestled a huge live lobster on the counter, I met two local women at the counter who both said this was their favorite place in Marseille, and the staff joked with me throughout my meal, saying I had to finish my plate by closing time at 3pm, and when I didn’t touch the bread basket after seeing the copious plates of food, they asked if I was on a diet:) Even though I never asked for wine (3.5 Euros or about $4 USD), they served me a glass since it was inconceivable that anyone would eat without drinking some wine!

I started with six medium sized Camargues oysters which arrived with their shells on, and my favorite addition, wedges of fresh lemon for 12 Euros or about $14 USD.

They were “medium” to the staff, but large to me; I barely had room to put the shells once I lifted the “lids” off the oysters!

I ordered the mackerel with mustard sauce and sardine croquettes which had a minty tomato sauce side, and when this platter came out I gasped; this was a serving for ONE for 14 Euros or about $16 USD! Now you see why the waiters said I had to finish by closing time:) The mackerel had the most tender sweet flesh I’ve ever tasted for mackerel and honestly I was satisfied after eating one, but it was so good I slowly finished both. The sardine croquettes were a bit dry without the tomato sauce, and I only ate about one and a half because the fish was so good.

The fun decor of the dining room with scales, nets, and shells is continued in the toilette downstairs.

Thankfully the metro and tram were only a few steps away

with plenty of seats to transport my very full tummy back to my rental for a nap:)

Marseille has been a center of commerce for centuries, and one of the oldest professions linked to this port is fishing. Every morning the local fishermen and women arrive at the Quai des Belges in the center of the Vieux Port, or old port, to sell whatever they have caught that morning. Boats range in size, but most are modest worn affairs which show the wear and tear of a hard working life tied to the sea.

There is no middle person at this market, the ones who fished in the morning are the ones who sell what they caught. The fish were literally taken from the nets and placed into the blue selling tubs as I walked past. Each merchant tub had a number on it so you could see that they were legally licensed to do business at the port.

Presentation is less important than quality of the fish here.

This guy has probably been fishing since he was a boy.

Some of the bigger fish are cut to order and sold by weight.

The day’s catch included tuna and swordfish.

There were quite a few women selling fish and enjoying espressos with each other:)

There were also eels, octopus and a lobster for sale.

A shark or two literally lost their heads,

and prices were so low compared to Paris that I was tempted to take some fish home (8 Euros or about $9 USD for 2 lbs of fish).

The Quai des Belges is also the central hub for buses, trams,

and in the metro, they have aquariums 🙂

Besides fish, Marseille is known for its soap, with stores offering varying qualities and perfumes all over town. I strolled around the Vieux Port and found a soap museum and soap store called the Savonnerie Marseillaise de Licorne. The store is attached to a soap museum, and there is also a factory in town that you can tour for free if you want to see how the soap you are buying is actually made locally with local ingredients. This company has been in business for over 100 years and still makes their soap by hand, right down to their trademark stamps! The shop personnel were so helpful and kind that I bought a big cube of lavender artisan soap embedded with bits of lavender (3.50 Euros or about $4 USD). This company also has a smaller store on the other side of the port with the same products if you don’t want to walk to the museum shop near the Theatre de la Criée. I compared my purchase to soaps in other soap stores and was very happy I bought where I did because you can immediately tell the difference between real and fake Marseillaise soap by the intensity of the perfume and the smooth non waxy feel of the soap itself. I had it in my suitcase and all my clothes now smell of fresh lavender 🙂

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