You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2015.

London is famous for its fog, and it would be a charming setting if you are not trying to travel into or out of it on a plane. The fog decided to blanket both London and Paris the night before I left for NYC and it wrecked havoc with all flights scheduled to go in or out of airports for days. After hours of delays, misinformation, and redirection by the British Airways staff, I finally got on the last Virgin Atlantic flight of the night to JFK thanks to the splendid LHR agent Louise G. This was my “virgin” flight with Virgin Atlantic and they are now my favorite airline. My seat had goodies waiting for me as I boarded, including an eye mask, toothbrush with toothpaste, pen, earplugs, and slippers in a “feel good kit”, headphones, and a clever blanket which had a cutout so you could slip it over your shoulders without excess material at your neck! This was standard issue in ALL seats, with extras like pj’s in upper class (yes, you get to take the comfy pj’s with you)!

The plane also had an ingenious remote/phone combo which accessed the broad range of inflight entertainment which took six pages to describe in the in flight magazine.

The staff was as cheery and professional as I’ve ever encountered, including one steward who literally climbed up on an armrest to help me get my coat from the overhead compartment because she was as tall (or short) as I am!

I even enjoyed (and watched) the entire safety demonstration because it was so much fun; this scene is about how to properly fasten your seat beat 😉

For an 8 hour flight, there were two meals and two snacks and yes, the flavors were as good as they sounded. The only time I’ve eaten this well on a flight was on Air France’s Business Class, of course Air France had better wine, but then that is a given, non?

Not only was the food fresh and healthy, it actually had flavor!

Arriving at JFK airport, the Airtrain got me from the airport to Jamaica station (where you buy your $5 ticket before exiting), and then I connected to the subway (on the same Metro card, just add a dollar amount of $3 for each ride) which not only runs 24 hours a day, but has technology which updates where you are on the route, as well as the connections and stops along the way! After Rome, this was like being in an altered futuristic universe!

American hotels like the Hilton Midtown may seem small compared to other cities in the US, but by European standards it is huge and full of deluxe features for the price,

like a big TV,

huge shower, and plentiful FLUFFY towels!

The view from the 22nd floor wasn’t bad either!

Coming back in the US after more than 2 years in France, and being back in NYC after more than 20 years, I had certain cravings. Katz’s Deli was made famous in the movie “When Harry Met Sally“, but they are famous to me for their pastrami. There is of course a sign showing you exactly where Sally had what everyone else wanted 😉

Pickles come with every order,

and I urge you to get a knish, which in NYC, is basically a fried bit of delicious mashed potato, either filled with something or plain. This knish was bigger than both my hands:)

Classic fries always go well with a sandwich.

A sandwich is about $20 and sides all cost about $5; this is HALF of a pastrami sandwich, and if you can finish a whole sandwich in one sitting, I bow to your appetite!

The best part of any trip is seeing friends 🙂

Put a few coins in a box at the left of the altar and the mosaic lights up for a few minutes:)

If you haven’t seen “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, please rent it, buy it, or borrow it, and watch it. Audrey Hepburn may have won an Oscar for her performance, but Rome also had a starring role and many of the iconic sites are featured in the movie.

The Trevi Fountain has starred in more movies than any other fountain I can think of, but it was closed for renovations. People were still tossing coins into the construction site, water or no water.

Not all fountains are famous, and not all of them work in Rome 😦

Thankfully some fountains in Rome worked beautifully:)

The Spanish Steps were also closed for renovations.

The Bocca della Verità, made famous in the US by the movie “Roman Holiday” was open, but the lines were so long for a photo op with a hand in its mouth, that I simply snapped this one through the gate.

This cute little red Fiat was parked nearby as if it was waiting for a close up, so I played paparazzi 🙂

A cappuccino is the best way to start a day in Rome, especially since nearly every bakery, bar, and caffe makes an excellent cup. The bakery near where I was staying, Desideri Caffe, opens at the crack of dawn and serves locals heading off to work (I got my last cappuccino in Rome before my flight at 6am). The price of coffee is controlled at a certain amount if you drink it at the counter, and it was only 1.10 Euros. Yes, this wonderful cappuccino was only $1.20 US! Being a bakery, they had plenty of sweet temptations, but the best reason for me to go back was after one visit, the man behind the counter knew me and asked if I wanted my “usual”:) The residential parts of Rome, like Monte Verde, are big extended families, and once you arrive, you are welcomed, usually with a smile.

As lunch time approaches, the sweets in the case become sandwiches, to go or to eat at the tables inside or on the patio of the bakery, which also has a full bar if you want a shot of alcohol in your coffee.

Isola Tiburina, or Tiber Island had more tourists, as you can see by the signs in English,

and the cappuccino at Tiberino was more expensive at a whopping 1.50 Euros, or $1.70 US at the counter. It was hands down the best cappuccino I’ve ever tasted. Yes, thank-you, more please…except I would have been a jittery wreck all day. It was a good thing they were out of cornetti, the breakfast pastry that is not a croissant, or I would have added a sugar high to my caffeine high:)

Their sandwiches for around 5 Euros or $6 US, looked amazing, but I had other plans for lunch.

Enoteca Spiriti is a wine bar opposite the Temple of Hadrian, not far from the Pantheon. It was the least touristy place I found in the area, so I took a chance and had lunch there.

Every one of the men wore a blue suit with a red tie, and all the women carried expensive handbags. They all seemed to know each other, greeting each arrival with kisses and or handshakes. I wondered if I had walked into a secret club, but then I learned Temple of Hadrian now houses a bank. Ah no wonder so many people were drinking water in a wine bar!

The decor and artwork were very original and low key.

My small tuna salad for 12 Euros or $13 US was as simple as it looked without any flavor to the dressing but very fresh ingredients, and well presented. My glass of sauvignon blanc at 6 Euros or $7 US was equally fresh and pure,

which seemed to be the theme of the place, extending to the breadbasket.

Even their toilet had an attachment if you wanted to rinse yourself after your meal, which I nearly wanted to do when I went to pay my bill and the waitress tried to add an additional service fee of 3 Euros, but since I had gotten the bill at my table, she couldn’t ask me for more since I had the itemized total tally in writing in my hand. Bankers aren’t the only ones trying to add fees!

I had a much better experience, and much better food at Litro, which was very conveniently located directly in front of a bus stop on a line I took into the touristy parts of town 🙂 The wonderful thing about Litro is that they are open all day, serve everything from snacks to full meals, and they have a good selection of wines and desserts. It’s a casual place with a small patio. It’s so warm and friendly, one day one of the owners was there playing with his son and feeding him as he was serving the customers.

There are daily specials on the chalkboard outside, and one day it was a bruschetta with guanciale for 5 Euros or $6. This was a perfectly grilled toast topped with pork “jowl bacon” dressed with excellent olive oil, the tender thin slices of smoked cured meat nearly melted onto the hot bread, and was so redolent with thyme and pepper, that my mouth had a little dance party! I had a nice glass of Mescita for 4 Euros or $5 with the bruschetta and that kept my hunger at bay until restaurants opened for dinner three hours later.

On another day between Roman lunch and dinner restaurant hours, I was so hungry, I needed a meal, so I ordered their tuna salad for 12 Euros or $13. This salad was easily the biggest one I’ve seen since leaving Los Angeles! The bottom of the bowl was filled with even more goodies, from tomatoes to cucumbers and olives, besides the eggs and uniquely fabulous Italian tuna in olive oil with bits of crunchy croutons. This salad was so delicious that I actually wanted to go eat it again but I was so full from my other meals, that I never got a chance to go back for another. This picture really doesn’t do the salad justice, but I was too hungry to even toss the salad before digging in, and once I did, I couldn’t stop eating until I had finished the entire bowl!

They had fabulous bread which arrived in a bag! I should have taken the bag with me, which is why I think they served it in a bag, especially since it was 2 Euros or $2.30 US for the bread.

The Trastevere neighborhood has become touristy, but it’s still got some charming corners tucked away on the little streets leading into the central piazza, like this one with Vin Allegro.

They are a very well stocked wine bar with a virtual store room in plain view.

They have a generous happy hour where for the price of a drink, you get to choose as much as you wish, as many times as you wish from the two tiered buffet. The buffet has everything from sandwiches to salads, vegetables, to meat, and everything in between.

I sampled a bit and enjoyed everything on my plate. You could easily make a light meal from the buffet happy hour if you didn’t want a full dinner. They also have a menu if you prefer something hot to go with your wine. Most glasses are about 5 Euros or $6, so when you consider you can eat as much as you want with a drink for this price, it’s an amazing value. Add the charming ambience and indoor /outdoor seating, and you have a very good address to go to before or after dinner.

The Piazza Navona is a huge draw (you’ll see why in a later post), and sometimes finding a place in the heart of tourist central is a challenge, but I found a place to sit and people watch nearby, without all the crowds. Mimi & Coco is a wine bar, but like all the wine bars I saw in Rome, they offer food and coffee as well. My glass of organic red wine was 5 Euros or $6 US (5 Euros seems to be the standard price in Rome for a nice glass of wine). Chips and pretzels were offered with my drink, and the tables of tourists next to me were eating California sized pizzas and salads. A great plus at this place is free wifi, so I got to catch up on my social media as I rested my legs and watched other people navigate all the cobblestone streets:)

Shopping is one of my favorite sports 🙂 I’m not the person to ask if you are looking for a designer handbag or the latest gadget, but if you want to find something food related, I can probably point you towards a place that will have what you are seeking at a good price. San Giovanni di Dio is a stop on both Tram 8 and Bus H which houses a large market for anything food related. This is a semi open market where locals shop for their daily needs, so do not expect anyone to speak English or cater to tourists who want to sample. If you want to experience a slice of the everyday life of Romans, from .50 Euro bargain bins to bring your own container olive oil purchases, this is the place. Walking among the many aisles, you’ll find proscuitto,


 olives, and their oils,



 Roman artichokes,

 and local tomatoes.

 There are also stands for meat, fish, sundries, and sweets.

The most popular Flea Market is this one on Sundays at Porta Portese, a stop on Tram 8 or Bus 75, with everything that you can imagine from old vinyl records to relics like watch faces your grandparents may have had. There are plenty of hustlers here, so unless you know authentic merchandise very well, do not believe everyone who tells you their brand names are real.

With all the priests and nuns in Rome, sometimes I felt as if I was in a Fellini film, especially seeing so many stores selling robes for the clergy.

 My favorite shops, besides the ones selling food, sell natural beauty 🙂

The Vatican State is not just where the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica are located, it is also the area around St. John’s Basilica of Lateran or San Giovanni Laterano, the oldest Christian church in Rome and the home church of the Pope on the outer edges of town. The cement pillars in front of the entrance mark the beginning of Vatican control, and there are guards standing nearby as “border control”.

If you are driving to the site, there are also border control booths for cars.

The “Holy Stairs” are located across the street in the plain beige building, where pilgrims climb the 28 marble stairs inside on their knees.

The main entrance to the church is massive

with imposing columns

and intricate sculptures.

Entering on the left side, you see all the booths for confession, some of which had priests

who spoke several languages.

Crossing over to the right into the main part of the church there were huge marble sculptures of all the disciples on both sides.

This is the center section of the church from the front door.

The center is of focus is the “Bishop’s Chair” where the Pope sits to officially become Pope.

The oldest church has the latest technology; on either side of the front door, there are multi language audio guides you can listen to while seated at the screens.

Tavernaccia da Bruno is my favorite restaurant in Rome, and my only regret is that I waited until my third day to eat there, because after I ate one meal, I knew I would be coming back everyday. When going to Rome, go to Katie Parla’s Blog Parla Food, for her suggestion and review of this place, I am forever grateful. The medium sized restaurant is a few blocks from the Trastevere Rail Station which has direct service to the airport for only 8 Euros or $9 US, so make this a stop on your way to or from the airport as either your first or last meal in Rome. If you can only eat ONE meal in Rome, come here:)

The space is warm and inviting, and filled with locals during lunchtime. I was the only non Italian speaker every time I went at lunch. Dinner crowds were much more international with virtually every language spoken in the dining room. The wait staff are all warm, friendly, and professional.

I met some fun food loving people at the table next to me from Germany, Heike and Kara, so they let me photograph some of their food, like this tomato bruschetta,

 and this guanciale drizzled with honey.

I can’t decide what my favorite dish was, it’s a tie between this wood oven roasted veal, with the tastiest crunchy skin served alongside garlic roasted potatoes for 13 Euros or $15 US,

or the most tender succulent tripe I’ve ever eaten for 12 Euros or $13 US,

or the moist wood oven roasted suckling pig redolent with rosemary and garlic, 13 Euros or $15 US,

 or the meltingly luscious eggplant parmesan with a crackly crust, 10 Euros or $12 US.

The easier decision is the winner of my favorite in side dishes because after I tasted the chicory with garlic and red pepper, dressed in olive oil and lemon, I ordered it every time with every meal, 5 Euros or $6 US.

The price for a very good quarter liter of wine was only 2 Euros or $2.50 US, which was also the cost of a liter of water, all the main courses ranged from 10-13 Euros or $12-$15 US, and the sides were 5 Euros or $6 US. They have pizza at night if you want a classic Roman version, and an espresso is only 1.5 Euros or $2 US. All my four meals were about 20 Euros or $23 US for a main, side, wine, and water.

The best thing about a neighborhood place like this is that they all welcomed me like family after my first visit, and I made friends with Heike and Kara, who shared two meals with me there. Sharing food with good company is the best part of life, especially in a place where both are excellent.

Romans love to stroll, especially at dusk before dinner and in the evening after dinner. The ritual is part of daily life, much as cruising in cars is in some parts of the US. One of the preferred places to see and be seen is at the Piazza Navona, which used to be a racetrack and still retains both the shape and spectators of olden times in modern ones. There are several cafes lining both sides,

a church,

and the famous Four Rivers Fountain in the center.

Artists show off and sell their work,

musicians perform,

and Romans and tourists mingle as the day winds down.

Another pleasant walk is along the Tiber River,

and if you want to stroll over one of the bridges, choose the one connecting to Isola Tiburina, the island in the middle. It may not be a yellow brick road to Oz, but it will lead you to a wonderful place to get a café or gelato 🙂

After my trip to Marseille, I learned to find a place for dinner that required as little walking as possible. Osteria dal 1931 was literally one block away from where I was staying. I walked past it and did a double take as I passed; the blackboard said they have a special menu at lunch for 10 Euros, or $12 US, which includes two dishes, a side and a drink!

I was the first diner in the place at 8 pm, eating with the staff as they got ready for the Roman dinner rush which started as I was leaving at 9pm.

When I first ordered I learned that although their menu is extensive, very few of the items listed are actually available, for example the rabbit, the spinach, and most of the soups were not offered any of the three times I went. One of the specials was a sliced beef dish with arugula and tomatoes that was both tender and savory for 8 Euros or $9 US.

On a cold rainy night, I chose the one soup available, a pasta and lentil, that had a rich soup base of vegetables and which arrived in a huge bowl. Thankfully it was all I ordered because I couldn’t finish the copious serving even though it was a perfect meal for a dreary wet night.

My favorite side dish were the Roman artichokes in lemon, olive oil, and garlic:) They were so good that I ordered them twice and immediately ate them before my main course both times. Depending on how many they have in the kitchen that day, they are either 3 or 4 euros, or $4-5 US which gives you either one or two. If you go to Osteria dal 1931 and order nothing else, order the artichokes!

Their chicory side was very simply steamed and needed something to liven it up, but if you just want plain greens, they will fit your bill.

On my first visit, the owner served me and offered me this purée of tomatoes, potatoes, and garlic, so addictive that I’m glad I didn’t taste it until I had eaten my artichokes and pasta because I would have filled up on it alone. It was a very warm welcoming place, and even though they don’t speak English, anyone could feel comfortable here using the international language of pointing and smiling. One evening there was a surprise birthday party for a little girl and all the adults hid so when she arrived she was jumping up and down with joy. It’s the kind of place that locals go when they don’t want to cook at home.

My favorite pasta dish in Rome was Pasta Alla Gricia here for 8 Euros or $9 US, a local version of a bacon and cheese pasta. An Italian friend insisted that if I was going to Rome it should be the one pasta I order, and I am so glad I did! The cured pork jowl was the closest thing I’ve tasted in Europe to US thick cut smoked bacon! This very generous bowl was easily enough for two, but it was so good I did my best to make a dent in it.

It was a delightful surprise to discover more bacony goodness as I ate about halfway through the bowl, because I realized that most of the guanciale was hidden underneath the pasta, like buried pork treasure!

A quarter liter (about 2 glasses) of decent red wine here is only 3 Euros or $4 US, but after coming for a few days, they filled my carafe up well past the quarter line mark! Water only comes in a huge bottle for 2 Euros or $3 flat or sparkling, and they charge a 1 Euro or $1.15 cover charge per guest here (normal in many restaurants in Italy). I never spent more than 16 Euros or $18 here for a very generous meal including wine, water, and a main and a side dish at dinner. If you would like to eat at a small family run local Roman place during your stay, get away from the touristy places and hop on the 44 Bus from Teatro Marcello which drops you off literally across the street at the Abate/Ugone/Donna Olimpia stop.

Fortified with food, I headed out to the Colosseo or Colosseum. We call things “colossal” for a reason and this is it!

Save some energy after your visit for the trek back on ancient cobblestones,

the Romans wore flat sandales for a reason 🙂




%d bloggers like this: