Naples: Pizza #3 at Di Matteo

Round three of pizza this morning. Our first stop was Di Matteo’s, which was less than a kilometre from our accommodation. We got there so early that it hadn’t actually opened so we stopped at a cafe for a rather expensive cappuccino (Luke) and lemon granita (me).

I absolutely hate queuing for things and so I like to arrive, if at all possible, when an attraction or restaurant opens. We keep watching docos or seeing pictures of pizza places here that are swamped with people but so far we haven’t had to wait for a thing.

Di Matteo only have a serving window so we bought one Margherita then walked down the road to a church and sat on the steps. When they hand you the pizza here it is in a sheet of paper and they fold the pizza in half then quarters to make it easier to take away. It cost all of €1.50.

We took photos and video before we ate, which isn’t as annoying as it sounds because it takes a couple of minutes for the pizza to cool down to eating temperature. I had brought along my trusty scissors and cut the pizza in half. Luke thought it would drip everywhere but using scissors worked well and I’ve been glad to have them on me.

We both liked the pizza a lot – Di Matteo has an excellent reputation. The sauce was piquant and the crust had a good texture and char but I think I prefer my pizza served flat. Folding means the topping and crust get squished. Plus serving on paper means the oil does inevitably start to drip and you have to watch out or it gets on your clothes.

After the pizza we took the funicular up to the Castel san Elmo and admired the view. There’s not actually a whole lot to do there apart from a small modern art gallery in the centre but the view from the ramparts is 360 degrees and positively stunning.

Tonight we’re going to another restaurant so I look forward to eating my pizza on a plate and maybe having another Aperol Spritz. I think it is a drink that will now always remind me of Italy, much as peach iced tea now reminds me of Turkey.

Lovely!

First Pizza in Naples!

I have never really heard anything good about Naples that wasn’t pizza-related. Perhaps a rumour about good museums, but when people talk about the city it is always as something of a cesspool of humanity and actual garbage.

To be honest, this photo could just have easily been taken in Rome or (language aside) London.

Perhaps it was to see if it was really as bad as people say that I decided I wanted to come here. I mean, could it really be more filthy than some Asian capitals like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh? And of course with Luke’s pizza obsession we were going to come here eventually.

We arrived by train and I was surprised at how new and shiny the main station was and linea 1 was entirely air conditioned too.

Also can I just show you this outfit that I took a sneaky photo of as this lady was getting off the train? Totally irrelevant but what an amazing item of clothing. Where would you even buy something like that? Not that I need to know since I’d never do it justice but… wow. Also I’d have it soaked in massive and undignified sweat patches within about five seconds of getting off the train but that’s a different matter.

When we reached our Airbnb flat the owner told us that the station is so nice because it is only a year old and it wasn’t representative of the rest of the network. Too bad!

Our Airbnb has also recently been done up and has some rather interesting lighting features – three colour-controllable LED strips in one wall and strip lighting around the ceiling. It’s more tasteful than it sounds and it’s actually a spacious apartment too, with lots of food available for breakfast and snacks. Pastries, biscuits, milk and juices. Very nice! We bought a litre bottle of Bombay Sapphire in the Croatian duty free ($35 AUD – bargain!) that we are taking with us from place to place for our evening post prandial drinks.

Also the apartment is on the ground floor, which is always nice! Especially in Naples where there are miles of stairs everywhere anyhow.

The atrium of our apartment block.

Now I have a travel tip for you!

We have gotten into the habit, if there isn’t an ice cube tray in our freezer, of pouring water into the bottom of some glasses before we go out exploring then freezing the whole. This means a nice cold glass into which you can pour wine or whatever when you get home after a day’s hard sightseeing.

So refreshing!

Luke had done some research and made a map of pizzerias that are generally considered top-notch. One was quite a walk from the others so we decided to hit that one first. Plus it had tables so we could dine in. Quite a few Neopolitan pizzerias are just grab-and-go storefronts.

It opened at 7pm so we had time to walk around a bit. Naples street art seems to be a cut above anything we saw in Rome. Which wouldn’t be hard since all we saw in Rome was tagging. Urgh.

We tried to find a bar for a drink but they all seemed to be stand-up affairs. I found a blog that said drinking isn’t big in Naples. What? Italians not big on drinking? This didn’t really fit all my stereotypes of Italian culture. More research will be required.

We got back to Starita as they opened and had already decided what we wanted. We were having their traditional Margherita and their specialty, a deep fried pizza. For this one the crust is deep fried until it is puffy then quickly baked with topping on.

I preferred the traditional, Luke preferred the fried crust but both were excellent.

While I would not go anywhere near so far as to say we are experts, we know a reasonable amount about pizza. Luke helped kick-start a pizza documentary that we have watched several times and if you read our entry on pizza in New York you’ll know how much we love it. I also like making my own from scratch at home so I was keen to get ideas on how to improve it.

Naples is the birthplace of pizza, but from Naples pizza spread via migrants to New York and Boston before being popularised in the rest of Italy. It began as a way for bakers to slightly cool the base of their ovens so that loaves of bread would not burn. To stop the pizza inflating like a balloon (as pita bread does), tomato sauce would be spread on it. This became a cheap early morning food for workers in Naples and then its popularity meant pizza was served all day. Putting cheese on pizza didn’t happen immediately – the Margherita was invented to honour a queen and the basil added to pay homage to Italy’s flag.

In Australia we think of ‘marinara’ as a seafood pizza but here it means a pizza with only tomato sauce and herbs, no cheese. Pizza here is very different to pizza in most other places. It is cooked unbelievably quickly – in as little as a minute – and the sauce is pure pulped tomatoes. The base is charred but the whole thing is a bit soupy in the middle and there isn’t as much cheese as we like to pile on at home. The joy of Neapolitan pizza is in the freshness of the ingredients. For the true traditional pizza the tomatoes must have been grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. The tomatoes taste so tangy and salty-sweet that, combined with the olive oil and cheese there is a buttery-richness that is magical.

All styles of pizza are good and pizza is a dish that is reinvented over and over around the world. Experiencing it in Naples doesn’t mean you have had the world’s best, it means you have added a dimension to your appreciation of it. At least that’s my feelings on the subject!

I would love to know what other people have thought of pizza they have eaten in Naples – or anywhere around the world! Where have you most or least enjoyed it?

Architecture, Art and Ancient History in Rome

Our first full day in Rome was up to me to program so I set the alarm for 6:30 so we could get out and about before the city was too hot. Even though it only officially has climbed to 32 degrees it feels much hotter when the sun is radiating off buildings and cobblestones.

First stop was a place I’d found on Pinterest in one of those articles that claims to know ‘secret’ things to do. How secret something can be when it’s the first article Pinterest shows me about Rome… well, I have my doubts.

Quartiere Coppedèo

Our Airbnb apartment was in a location that I’m pretty sure locals would call ‘the arse end of Termini’, the main train station. Despite being almost across the road, the station is almost a kilometre long and we have to walk the full length of it to reach the entrance.

The place were we visiting was a 45 minute walk past the north end of Termini and when we got there we found that we, rather happily, had it all to ourselves (apart from and old guy washing his car using water from the fountain), possibly because it was 8am on a Sunday.

It was gob-smacking.

Please note there is a chandelier in the archway.

I really like interesting architecture and Quartiere Coppedèo was an astonishing mix of Art Nouveau, ancient, medieval, Spanish, and baroque elements.

Essentially it is four buildings around an intersection with a fountain in the middle. Each building is distinctly different from its neighbours and each is in excellent condition and contains details, both small and large, that are entrancing.

Delicate frescos, wrought iron gates featuring animals and insects, crowns and swords and Viking ships!

Absolutely marvellous.

Next:

The National Gallery of Modern Art

I felt like seeing a bit of art to break up all the history and architecture.

Once again we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The lion sculptures out the front were lovely.

There were some classics inside, a Klimt, Monet and Chagalls etc. My favourite was this painting.

Such a gaze!

Now have a guess what this artwork is made from.

Go on.

Acacia thorns! The mind boggles.

Next we walked to the Castel San Angelo, which I had walked past the last two times I’d been to Rome but hadn’t thought to visit until I read surfnslide’s blog .

On the way we stopped for a drink outside a very grand building that I had to google and turned out to be the Supreme Court.

Even for a court this was pretty grand. Apparently locals call or ‘the bad palace’. I’m not sure if it’s a comment on the architecture or the clientele.

The Castel!

The Castel is one of the oldest and most complete buildings in Rome. It was begun as a mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian and his family but became a refuge for popes, who decorated it in the style to which they immediately became accustomed.

We get it, the church has all the money.

Pope bed!

Every window seemed to have a view of St Peter’s.

Great views could be had from the roof.

But then there’s great views from everywhere in Rome, really.

Next we walked to the Tavestere district for lunch. I found a little sandwich shop called ‘Donkey Punch’ (I will always be a sucker for a weird name) and I had a salad with pork and Luke had a sandwich with pork. Roast pork is a specialty of the region and the shop also did a great range of pickled and marinated salad ingredients.

What a menu! All their sandwiches were named after rock bands.

By this time our feet were getting a bit tired. We wandered around Travastere a bit and admired the lovely architecture. The peach and salmon buildings reminded me of Bologna.

It was definitely time for a classic Roman afternoon drink – an Aperol Spritz.

We strongly considered taking a taxi home but decided to walk and break up the last few kilometres with bar stops and gelato.

Amazingly, we managed to walk past the gelateria we visited on our tour last time. We’d gone along for a free tour advertised on the Couchsurfing site and the guy took us to Punto Gelato, who do excellent, and unusual, icecream flavours. No beer this time but I did see pine and also salsa! We were more conservative – I had one scoop each of fig and peach sorbets and they were outstanding.

Luke got pineapple and coffee which is a weird combo.

Next stop was an Irish bar and it was nice to not feel apologetic when speaking english to the bar staff. We were also given free daiquiri samples because they made too much.

Apparently it was the world’s best. It was certainly good, but… best?

Who gives out these awards anyhow?

On the last leg we passed this … building. I guess there’s a building under there? Can you imagine this level of growth being acceptable where you live?

We finished our big day out in Rome with a meal at the restaurant closest to our apartment, sitting outside in the warm night air, listening to a guy on the piano accordion.

Very Italian!

Italy: Random Photos.

This is pretty much just a photo post because there’s a bunch of stuff that I took with my phone that I didn’t have time to deal with earlier thanks to my laptop dying. Again.

Hope you like them!

I just don’t.. uh.. what?

Baby Jesus says ‘Wassup?’

Mary looks disappointed that Baby Jesus wanted to be painted like one of your French girls.

Saucy saints are saucy.

I’ve only included another photo of this fountain so one of my friends could see the animal the mermaid is sitting on. I… think it might be a sea-spaniel. With no ears. Or something.

Our initial thoughts were that Jesus was escaping from men with crossbows that had traveled back in time from the middle ages, when crossbows were invented, because they were gong to kidnap him and use his magical powers to enjoy endless amounts of awesome Jesus wine. Turns out it’s some other saint. Supposedly. 

Boy George’s great, great, great, great etc grandfather. For reals.

No funny here – just the best gelato shop… maybe in the world! Check it out if you’re in Bologna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italy: Venice

Everyone knows Venice. The gondolas, the canals, San Marco Piazza and all those pigeons. I hadn’t been to Venice before but it had made a good impression on Luke and he wanted me to see it too.

Right before our trip two of our friends had visited Venice and written about it online separately. Both had mentioned the crowds. Sarah had said that you just needed to get off the beaten path to avoid them, whereas Steve had been so put off that he recommended avoiding the place altogether. Too late, though – we had our train and accommodation booked so off we went. I’m not a big fan of crowds so I would say that my expectations were pretty low.
We’d booked a hostel near San Marco, the busiest spot in the whole city and we walked from the train station across the island with our big packs on our backs. After sending many things home and finally ditching our two person sleeping bag that was taking up about a third of my backpack, carrying my stuff is becoming much easier and we walked for perhaps an hour carrying about 20kgs each. Not a bad effort!
The crowds were pretty intense in parts on that first day. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and walked the busiest route, from the station via the Rialto bridge to San Marco then down the waterfront to our hostel. However as soon as we turned off the waterfront the little alleys and piazzas were very quiet and the charm of Venice became apparent.

So many window boxes full of flowers. Gorgeous!

I’d bought a map of the islands at the train station and it is truly a wonder to behold. The place is a real warren, few streets even run parallel. Most bend and twist and alleys that look like dead ends turn out to have a tiny passageway that joins you up to another square or a bridge. It’s quite magical.
Venice became even more enchanting the first evening when we went for a walk and found the city almost deserted. There were at least 5 gargantuan cruise ships moored near the city during our stay and many of the tourists stay off the island on the mainland where you can get much nicer accommodation for less.

Coincidentally, the day after we left Venice we saw on the news a story about people protesting these huge ships coming into the Venice lagoon. Would be ironic if it’s an environmental issue considering the standard Venetian practice is to throw all cigarette butts into the water.

This means that everyone’s pretty much gone by 8 or 9pm and you can wander without meeting more than a few dog walkers or delivery men. Even in San Marco there were only a couple of restaurants open and a few people gathered to listen to some musicians play by street light.
Needless to say, we bought gelato.
We had two full days to spend. The first we walked around the city and I got to do one of my favourite activities – orienteering! With the map and my trusty compass I navigated us via back streets and alleys to a few well known sights including the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which was not really worth the price of entry (unless you’re a big fan of surrealism and abstract art – which I don’t mind and do appreciate but the cost of entry was too high for such a small collection), although the trip was not wasted because on the way we passed a church that was having a free exhibition of work by a Chinese artist who really appealed to Luke and I. I’d describe it as fantasy-realism. A fascinating juxtaposition of lifelike portraits with backgrounds that depicted collages of objects, natural scenes, space and beautiful colours.

Stunning!

The second day we spent visiting two islands, Murano and Burano. Murano is home to famous glass-blowing factories. Although the island itself was very pretty the glass was… gosh. How do I put this nicely? Tacky as all get-out. Really, truly awful. There was very little that was even slightly appealing. Compared to the delicate precision and restrained tastefulness of Waterford, or the colourful organic exuberance of Turkish ceramics, I can’t say the stuff at Murano appealed to me at all. The worst of the lot of was the thick coloured glass chandeliers. Actually, no. The very worst thing I saw was a glass pillar on which sat a life sized glass eagle. Still, it was nice to see that while Italians might have a firm grasp on food, architecture, paintings and fashion, they aren’t perfect;-).

Sorry about the dreadful photo with all those reflections but you get the idea. I didn’t look at the price tag but how would anyone stupid enough to buy this be smart enough to earn enough money to buy this? Paradox!

I did like this funky big blue sculpture in the middle of town.

The second island, Burano, was an absolute delight. Traditionally the home of fishermen and lace makers, every house on the island is painted a bright colour and it was a photographer’s dream. I’ll let the pictures do the talking here. All I could think was ‘I want to stucco my house and paint it ludicrously bright colours… but which colours?!’.

Squee!

Heads up: when I rule the world you’ll all be forced to paint your houses like this.

My house will be this colour.

I love how the church is the only building not conforming.

We had a delicious lunch then caught the sea bus back to Venice.

Pizza-licious.

Speaking of food, we opted for dinner and some Newsroom to finish off the day in our hostel so we went to the local Co-op Supermarket and I bought a bag of salad leaves and a tin of tuna for dinner while Luke finished of the cereal we’d bought. The green salads – just a mix of baby rocket, tatsoi and a few other leafy greens, have been one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about Italy. I often feel disappointed when eating out in Melbourne and salads are presented full of leaves that are too old, bitter and wilted. Italians *get* a green salad. Tiny leaves, freshly picked, a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic. The beauty of so much of the food we’ve had here has been in its perfect simplicity. It’s been such a pleasure to eat leaves here that I’m already dreaming of getting some styrafoam boxes for growing my own salad mixes at home, hopefully year round.

So the verdict on Venice? I loved it. It’s a city that’s all about walking, which is my favourite way of getting around, and it’s hard to turn a corner without seeing something worth photographing.

Why is old stuff so cool?

Italy as a whole was lovely. Sure, there’s things not to like – people throwing cigarette butts everywhere, the spitting, begging, the ubiquitous dog mess. But the downs are definitely outweighed by the good stuff – the food, the fact that people aren’t generally trying to pull you into their shops (a very nice change after Turkey), the art, architecture and relaxed atmosphere. I think the secret to the generally excellent physiques of the locals (people here are definitely noticeably fitter than at home) is that walking is a big part of the culture here, which suits us just fine. I think we’ve been walking at least 12 kms a day and are feeling all the better for it.
So thanks, Italy! You’ve been grand.

Can you believe Luke thought this would make me look stupid? Old man.

Italy: Florence and Bologna

Irritatingly, my laptop has died for the second time on this trip. So while I’ll still be able to update it will have to be when Luke isn’t using his laptop. It also means limited facebook and everything else since I hate using my phone for anything that involves typing more than 10 letters. First world problems, eh? 

But on with the show

We booked three nights in Florence, which turned out to be enough time to get a bit of a feel for the place but it was certainly not enough time to see everything. We also had a bit of confusion regarding our accommodation – we arrived to find a note on the door with my name on it. Apparently the toilet in our room was broken so they’d booked us in at another hotel a few blocks away for one night then we’d be staying at another hotel for the second and third nights. Fortunately they were no further from the city, but all the checking in and out and extra taxis cost us money.

Fortunately our hotel was near a laundromat. And you know what makes spending an hour at a laundromat better? You guessed it.

We didn’t really do much homework on what there was to see in Florence before we arrived. I’d heard of the Uffizi Gallery and Luke was keen to visit that, but otherwise we just strolled around, took some photos and tried to stay out of the most crowded streets. Fortunately Florence is like Rome in that regard – the tour groups all seem to walk the same paths so if you want to avoid them it’s not difficult. Only the main piazzas and places like the Ponte Vecchio (Florence’s most famous bridge, lined with jewellery shops) are jammed with people.

On our first night we didn’t do a great deal. After a long nap (Italy seems to have brought out the nonna in me and I’ve had even more naps than usual) we took the advice of Guy I Met On The Train and Taxi Driver From The Station and ate at a restaurant that specialised in meat dishes and particularly a t-bone cut that is in season at the moment and also famous in the region. One serving was big enough for two. In fact it was probably big enough for four. The piece of meat must’ve originally been Flintstones-worthy but was cut into 5 pieces (each of which was a regular steak size but about 3 inches thick) and the ‘t’ bone was upright in the middle of the plate.

After a day of walking around town and taking photos (and perhaps eating the odd gelato) we spent part of our second evening at the Mayday Club, a small, quirky bar that we found on Tripadvisor which had a glowing recommendation from our friend James. It was indeed an interesting place, but I think we were there too early as we had it to ourselves for over an hour. The drinks were lovely though – I ended up having two glasses of strawberry wine and a cocktail, which ruined my plans for some night time photography.

Funk-tastic!

We did a lot of walking in Florence. We walked over both sides of the river and up and down many side streets. We ate some really great food in quiet piazzas and I bought a necklace and some earrings from a little boutique. The Duomo turned out to be much more interesting than I’d suspected… in fact I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t actually know what it was before we got there and then we rounded a corner and POW! Huge marble cathedral in pink, green and white! It was a bit optical-illusion-y, in that from some angles the statues and detail appeared painted on and the whole thing looked like a huge paper sculpture.

I couldn’t get far enough back to fit in this building with my 10mm lens. It’s huuuuge.

The Uffizi Gallery, which I *had* heard of, was interesting, although no photography was allowed (obviously I did take a few sneaky photos on my phone because I’m planning on going home, printing them out and selling them as the real thing… I mean *why* are we not allowed to take photos after we’ve paid heinous amounts to get into these places? Hrumph).  There were a few paintings I recognised and a few that were amusing and way, way too many Catholic artworks. Which is what they did in those days – I get it – but I’ve had enough. No more old art galleries for us on this trip. We’ve both come to the same conclusion.

Mountains of gelato!

On to Bologna. I don’t really like jamming two cities into one post. Most people get reader fatigue or something after about 500 words and I also like to make lots of posts so I can say ‘wow, look how many posts I’ve made’, which is stupid but there you have it (115 now! In 6 months! Pretty impressive, huh? If only I’d put all these words into a thesis I’d be a doctor or something by now).

So Bologna. It was pretty cool too. We’d decided to spend another 3 nights somewhere between Florence and Venice and Bologna was easy to get to and so decision made! Plus it was going to be another surprise city since neither of us knew anything about it. Actually, this whole trip is kind of dispelling my ideas about myself as a knowledgeable and worldly person. There’s so many places I know nothing about – but that’s the way of things, isn’t it? The more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know.

You realise you don’t know that fountains like this could be paid for by city councils rather than, say, feature in men’s magazines.

So Bologna.

It’s a city that exceeds every other in one respect: porticos. During the 16th century (possibly.. don’t google that. We went to a gallery exhibition on the history of Bologna but my memory is a bit hazy because I’m writing this about a week after but just go with it) when every other city in Italy (maybe Europe?) was telling people to get rid of their porticos, the governors of Bologna mandated that every house had to be fronted with a portico and they had to be at least 4 metres (well, obviously not in metres but you know what I mean) wide and high enough for a person on a horse to ride under. Which means that Bologna has over 40kms of weather-proof footpaths and that is a wonderful thing indeed.

Halfway up the world’s longest arcade.

One of these walkways goes for 3.4kms without missing a beat – that’s 666 archways, 519 stairs (we counted), not to mention a great deal of ramps, to the top of a hill just out of the city. From the top there’s lovely views over the countryside. For once our pleas to friends on Facebook was early enough to yield results we could actually act on. So thanks Nikki for that piece of advice.

One of the many thousands of water fountains dotted around Italy. One of the many things I love about this country. This one was at the top of the hill. Perfect!

Our friend Mauricio recommended a gelateria where we had a dark chocolate gelato that was … I have not the words. Like pure cream but almost bitter, dark and divine. We hiked to the other side of town to have it then on our walk back we found another of the same store within a block of our hostel. D’oh!

Speaking of our hostel, it was possibly my favourite from this trip. Not that it was all that special in any kind of luxurious way, but we had a room to ourselves, a four poster bed (handy for drying clothes), marble floors, a well equipped kitchen and it had this lovely old, faded elegance that lent a decadent air to our evening sessions of cooking pasta, drinking wine and watching Archer in bed. I think this is my favourite way to travel. Up at a reasonable hour, walk around lots, eat some great food, retire to bed to relax, watch something funny, write a bit about what I did that day and get a great night’s sleep, uninterrupted by the snores of 4 strangers (dorm accommodation is not my favourite thing).

The only other thing I have to mention about Bologna is the colour of the place. The whole town matches superbly in shades or ochre, yellow, salmon (normally my least favourite colour ever), umber, cream… it was another one of those eye-popping cities. Combine the amazing colours with the fresco’d, mosaic’d porticoes and it was a visual feast. Despite all this prettiness, Bologna is full of students rather than tourists and it was nice for a change not to be fighting through the crowds. It was also charming to come across young lovers sitting on railings, leaning in alleys, kissing and canoodling. Italians seem to do that a lot. Speaking of romance, next we’re in Venice!

A fountain in Florence. All the lens flare!

Italy: Rome

If you don’t want to hear about food and fashion then this is where you get off, sorry folks!

Crowds at the Trevi Fountain.

After our midnight arrival from Istanbul and surly mini cab driver who waited around at the airport til 1am hoping for more passengers after saying we’d be leaving in 10 minutes (do not even get me started on how much I hate Rome’s airports and all who dwell within them – it’s a long story) we eventually got to our hostel and grabbed a few hour’s sleep.

Half the hostels here seem to have a daily lock out policy – that is, you must be out of the hostel between 10am and 3pm so they can clean the place and it probably discourages some kind of nefarious activities that I can’t quite imagine people wanting to do around midday in a bog-standard hostel. So this resulted in us being up relatively early and making our way to a couch surfing meet up, where a guy had offered to do a free 2 hour walking tour of the ‘non touristy’ bits of Rome.

Exploring the back streets.

Luke and I were, as is always the case, the first people on the scene. Eventually a group of about 15 people gathered and our tour guide, Alessandro, turned up. To say the guy looked flustered and disorganised is to put it mildly. He seemed like he’d had a big night out and his heart wasn’t in it. He’d explain something as ‘You know about Romulus and Remus, right?’ and if one or two people nodded their head he’d gloss over the story with ‘and so on and so on’, which was not exactly helpful. I know a bit of Roman history so I could explain a bit to Luke but our hopes were not set especially high in the beginning.

Apparently there are enough churches in Rome to go to a different one every day of the year.

But then Alessandro started getting on track and telling us really interesting things and the tour turned out to be really great. We saw through the keyhole of the Knights of Malta‘s establishment, some beautiful and unusual churches and a garden with interesting forced perspective and saw a rock, supposedly hurled by the devil at some guy who was praying. Oh and we saw a church for a saint whose name I missed but who lived under some stairs for a while so his shrine has stairs. I called him Saint Harry Potter.

Our feet were getting quite tired after a while so we stopped for gelato, which helped.

Tomato gelato, anyone?

Then we stopped for antipasto plates and wine, which was fantastic. We tried food in combinations I’d never had before – like parmesan and honey, which totally works. There was also zucchini flowers stuffed with fresh cheese – I’ve fried my own flowers with mince before but had not thought to have them fresh.

Delicious!

My favourite bit was when Alessandro told us that only in Rome can you eat Jewish Roman cuisine, but right now Roman artichokes weren’t in season and they use other artichokes and they ‘ruin everything‘. That’s right, an artichoke grown 100kms away will make your dining experience a complete waste. There’s something so delightfully Italian, whimsical and fussy about this statement and the casual but slightly depressed manner in which it was delivered. It as probably my favourite Roman moment out of all our time there.

Antipasto plate.

The tour was both improved and slightly ruined by the fact that it was a couch surfing thing and so we all tried to both listen and chat throughout. When you meet up with a group of people that you know you have something in common with and many of those people have not had a decent chat with a person in days it’s really hard to shut them up and couch surfers are, by nature, extremely social creatures. Not to mention interesting. Two of the guys had been sleeping in Termini station because they couldn’t find anyone to host them. Termini station is like.. uh.. hard to describe. It’s really big, old, busy and quite a large number of people live there. Not middle class backpackers, either. It’s about as full-on as European train stations can get. Kind of like a refugee camp/train station.

Despite the tour being touted as two hours, Luke and I regretfully tore ourselves away six hours into the as-yet unfinished tour to go have a nap and rest our poor feet, which were unused to so much walking.

In the evening we went for a short stroll to a nearby fountain to get some long exposure shots, which didn’t turn out anywhere near as well as I’d have liked, then had a drink at a bar that looked more like a roadside kebab van. The drinks were nice though, and the weather in Rome was perfect for sitting out in the evening.

As we sat I contemplated what I’d seen so far of Italian fashion. Italy is definitely a place that can intimidate the visitor in terms of style and flair. Particularly if said visitor is wearing trainers with holes in them and the same two dresses for weeks. Women in Rome are seriously striking and dress beautifully. They wear completely inappropriate shoes and enormous sunglasses. Their hair is dead straight or perfectly curled. They smoke endless cigarettes and throw the butts carelessly into the gutter. They walk tiny dogs, huge dogs, and push prams containing designer-dressed babies. I can’t decide whether I’m delighted, amused or horrified. Probably a mix of all three.

There’s this crazy paradox to Italians. So focused on fashion and appearances and being skeletally thin, yet the passionate, almost worshipful attitude to food and drink. Not that I’m complaining. Well, the only thing to complain about is not having enough time, money or space in my bag to go properly shopping.

 

Next stop: Florence… or do you call it ‘Firenze’?