Italy with the Family Day 8: Firenze to Roma

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July 1st 2014
Published: July 2nd 2014
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Mark got some frustrating work news yesterday evening (#$*!* Government) and that distracted him, to the point that he was up from 1 to 3 working, including two phone calls to the US using Hotel David’s free call service. I am happy to report that I slept through all of this (didn’t even find out about it officially until the morning) yet despite all of that, we were up before 7 to get packed, go do a couple of last minute things in Florence and then catch the train to Rome. We were showered and packed by 8 and went up for breakfast. The Hotel David has a very nice continental breakfast with both a dining room inside and a covered terrace outside. We have opted for the terrace every morning as we did today. Mark brought his breakfast bread—a coffee cake looking delight—down stairs to the terrace and then went back up to get his coffee. When I walked down with my breakfast, there was a little sparrow nibbling away at his coffee cake. It flew away as I walked up. When Mark got down stairs, I told him about his breakfast mate and asked him if he wanted a new piece of coffee cake. He said no, it was fine. I had a roll with ham and cheese, but I forgot a knife (again—a daily ritual) so I went back upstairs to get one. When I came down again Mark leaned in and said, “A she-wolf was trying to eat your breakfast but I fought her off.” A little later we saw the bird at another table scavenging for scraps. He said, “Is that the bird?” I said probably. I asked, “How come the she-wolf isn’t here?” He said, “With what I did to her, she isn’t coming back.” We laughed. That is one funny man.

After breakfast, we brushed teeth and Mark downloaded his pedometer to his computer. He said we walked 7.3 miles yesterday and 5 the day before. Whew! No wonder our feet hurt! We brought out luggage out and checked out of the hotel, left our luggage with them and hiked into town. Our goal was to visit the Museo de Duomo today but guess what? It’s under renovation and will not be open again until November 2015. So no Museo de Duomo on this trip. It was about 9:30 by this time and the Duomo opened at 10. I wanted to look for a gold cross on the Ponte Vecchio so we headed in that direction. On the way we stopped in a ceramics shop that I had seen several times before. This time I left with goodies including some Christmas presents although all of it is being shipped. The VAT (Value Added Tax) was taken off and that paid for half of the shipping so overall, a good deal. Then we wandered a bit but finally found the Ponte Vecchio and I window-shopped for a cross. About the 4th store on the left had a large display of crosses in the window (Mark found them—yay Mark!) and we went in. The lady showed me a couple that were typical Florentine, and I chose one of those. That was pretty easy. After that we walked back to the hotel. No Duomo visit for us this time but we’ve heard that the outside is the stunning part of the building and we did see that, several times.

The hotel called us a taxi and we were off to the train station. We had a reservation code like last time and went up to the machine, clicked the Union Jack, entered the code but this time it wanted an additional code. We didn’t have an additional code. We tried again. Same result. A gypsy girl approached and took over. Same result. She finally looked at the ticket and said, “You don’t need an additional ticket. Just show the conductor this paper.” Okay, that was 2 Euro well spent.

The train came in right on time, we boarded with no problems and it left right on time. It was a very nice train, complete with a beverage and snack service. We got back to Rome at 1:35 on the dot and made our way out of the station to the taxi stand. A man came and said, “You need taxi? Where you going?” Mark told him and he said, “No problem.” I said, “No we’ll get in the line.” There really wasn’t much line and there were lots of taxis. He said, “Madame, this is a real taxi, a licensed taxi.” It was so we proceeded. Then he said, “Where you going?” and Mark told him. He said, “No problem. 45 Euro I take you and your luggage.” The ride from the HGI to the train station a week ago cost about 20 Euro. We said, “No, too much,” and turned around. He said, “It’s a long way!” We said, “No it’s not! We took a taxi from there to here a week ago and it was 20 Euro.” We walked back to the line. A taxi driver came up and said, “I take you for 25 Euro.” Fine. It’s still too much but how do we negotiate our way out of that? On the plus side, he did make a bee-line for the hotel which if he was running a meter he probably would not have.

Got back to the hotel and got checked in and then started the laundry duty. That’s a job after being on the road for 8 days! Didn’t get it all done before we had to leave for today’s highlight: a food tour of Rome.

The Rome Food Tour was led by a delightful young British girl who moved to Rome 14-years ago for a 3-months abroad experience and stayed a little longer. Now she is married to a Roman and Roma is home. The tour took place in the Trastevere region of Rome which is known for its classic Roman cuisine. We took a tram to get there—you should have seen us navigating on the paper map (Mark) and Google Maps app (Beth) to see if we could figure out the exact closest stop to the meeting point. It turned out to be Circus Maximus which was still about 1.5 kilometers away. But we walked as fast as we could and made it 10 minutes late but before the group had left the meeting spot. Whew! All of the tastings took place in a small neighborhood on La Isola Tiberina, a small island in the middle of the Tiber not far from the ancient part of Rome. The first place we stopped we had prosciutto, melon and a Roman cheese which reminded me of cottage cheese made from mozzarella instead of, um, whatever they usually make cottage cheese from. It was smoother than cottage cheese both in texture and flavor. It was a very simple place that had been in the same family for three generations. Next we went to the coolest restaurant that was located in a 8th century Jewish synagogue. The synagogue had burnt down in the 1200s and was rebuilt the outside was still the same, including the Hebrew written at the base of the surviving towers. In this particular place the tasting took place in the basement which dated to about 80 BC. That, my friends, is OLD! She also told us that there are two floors below the cellar where we were and each one of those goes back about another 100 years. To sit amidst that kind of antiquity is truly stunning. Not to mention the wine was pretty good too. Here the guide gave us the best tip. She said when you’re in a restaurant, tell the waiter the price you want to pay for a bottle of wine and either ask for a recommendation or for them to select. She said most tourists choose Chianti Classico because they are familiar with it, but that Italians produce (and consume) the most wine of any country in Europe. Many Italian wines are not exported due to government regulations (that compulsory thing) so most of the good wines are only available in Italy. Try a different wine, she said, and if you don’t know what to order, ask for a suggestion. The people will be more than happy to help. I thought that was a great idea!

The next place we went was a bakery with amazing cookies but, interestingly enough, the owner is a big animal lover and prides herself on making cookies with no animal products, therefore, margarine instead of butter. Weird. We tasted three kinds of cookies, the best of which was a combination meringue and oatmeal cookie. It looked like a lightly baked oatmeal cookie but when you bit into it, it was very light like a meringue. It was called (in Italian) “It Tastes Better Than It Looks.” After this we went to a cheese shop and tried some pecorino Romano (very tasty—and a sweet man who owns the shop. His picture is there with the sheep who give the milk to make the cheese). Two doors down was a place that sells supplí, a ball of rice, mozzarella, and tomato sauce that is then breaded and fried. Yum! The guide said, “This is Roman fast food! No need for McDonalds!” Amen to that!

Next we went to a bread and pizza shop, which made Napoli style pizza—a thicker crust. I have to say, by this time I was hot and I didn’t have much appetite so Mark ended up doing more tasting than I did from this point on. The first thing we did at the bread shop is go into the baking room, which featured a hazelnut-shell burning 9,000-degree oven. Okay, it probably wasn’t 9,000 degrees but it felt like it. There was an old man, Pepi, 82-years-young, making a pizza and preparing to put it into one of the long ovens that lined one wall. Our guide talked about the oven and baking a bit and then mercifully let us escape back to the place of cool oxygen. We tasted the pizza (I took a bite and when Mark was finished, I handed him mine. J) which was quite good. This place serves pizza by weight. You tell them how much you want, they hack it off, weigh it and it’s yours. They also supply much of the bread for the Trastevere restaurants.

While walking to the next place, our guide showed us a hydrant-looking fountain that was pouring water into a bucket and out into the street. She said these are all over Rome and are connected to natural springs and have been in place since the ancient aqueduct system was created during the Roman empire. She said that if they didn’t have these fountains all over Rome, the pressure would build up and the whole system would explode. She showed us that if you plug the down spout, there is a hole in the top of the spigot and the water flows out there. She also said to feel free to drink from them and fill your water bottles from them. We said, “When in Rome…” and tried it. The water was quite cool and refreshing and we’re still here. 4 million Romans can’t be wrong, right?

The next restaurant was a real restaurant where we did a pasta tasting and had some good red wine. They served us first a bruschetta with a swordfish topping. The swordfish was shaved so thinly that someone would have had to tell you it was swordfish. Next came a ravioli stuffed with Ricotta and spinach and topped with a simple tomato and cream sauce. I ate that. Mostly though, I drank water. There was also a pasta with bacon and olive oil and a fetuccini-style pasta with a mushroom cream sauce. Mark tried it all and said it was all very good. He liked the mushroom sauce the best.

Last stop was the gelato shop—of course! Our guide spent a lot of time explaining why gelato that mounds up over the top of the containers is not real gelato, it’s from a mix. The reason is that real gelato is fairly heavy and it will not mound like that. Fake gelato has a lot of air whipped in and that’s why it will mound. She also said to check the colors of pistachio, banana and mint gelato. If the pistachio is Shrek-green, the banana is day-glow yellow and mint is bright green, it’s not real gelato. Pistachio should be a muddled brownish-green, banana should be off white and mint should be white since they use mint essence. Lastly she said if the place offers 101 flavors, it’s probably the fake stuff. She said real gelato is made with fresh ingredients so doesn’t last more than 3 or 4 days. If they have 101 flavors, they can’t sell out of a flavor in a day so it’s probably fake gelato. All good things to know. I mean, if you’re going to eat gelato, eat the real deal, right? After enjoying our gelato (I got custard crème and stracciatella or chocolate chip, Mark got dark chocolate and almond—both very good but not as good as the gelato in Florence.) We said our goodbyes and headed off to the taxi stand to made our way back to the hotel. Didn’t feel like figuring out the tram system at 10 p.m.

We put the last load of laundry in the dryer and then went to the bar to watch the world cup USA vs. Belgium match. Since I used to live in Brussels this was a bit of a win-win for me but really, come on USA! Didn’t turn out that way, alas. Those Belgiques were tough! We went back to the room and drifted off to sleep thinking, Tomorrow Andrew and Erika get here!! Yippee!!!


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