Hills with a View – Climb One!

View of the Vatican from the Aventine HillView of the Vatican from Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill, Rome, 2012

Within the ancient walls of Rome are the Seven Hills upon which the city was built – Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinial, and Viminal.  In addition there are many other hills outside the walls of the historic center – Cispian, Janiculium, Monte Mario, Oppian, Pinican, Vatican, and Velian.  All of them offer spectacular views and I encourage anyone visiting Rome to take the time to climb one or more.  One of my favorites is the Aventine.  There you can enjoy one of the best views of the city as well as the church of Santa Sabina, mother church for the order of Dominicans.  I recommend approaching the hill from the north near the Circus Maximus and departing down the hill toward Via Marmorata. Time permitting visit Vopetti and the Protestant Cemetery.  You can spend an entire day in this rione (Ripa)

Car Spotting – Rome

Fiat 600 Multipla, TrestevereFiat 600 Multipla, Trestevere

Strange, exotic, unusual, head turning cars are common in Rome especially from an American viewpoint.  I happen to be a self proclaimed “car nut” and am never disappointed and always pleasantly surprised by what drives around the corner – Fiats, Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, Lancias, Isotta-Fraschinis and then some.

One of my all time favorites is shown above.  The Fiat 600 Multipla “van” (1955 – 1970) seats 6 adults  comfortably, has a top speed of 58 mph, and goes from 0 to 60 in just under 35 seconds.  I wish American vehicles were offered in such fun colors!

The Pleasure of Food

Kersten Family at Ristorante Da PancrazioEnjoying a typical Roman pranzo at Ristorante Da Pancrazio, Campo di Fiori

Too say Italians love their food is absurd.  They obsess about it!  Having eaten in just about every region of Italy in every conceivable type of establishment I will say that I especially enjoy traditional Roman dishes.   Roman cuisine evolved from a historical perspective from creative use of what the nobility threw away or “paid” their servants.  Many of the typical Roman dishes incorporated inexpensive items – offal, organ meat, etc. knows as the “quinto quarto”.  Today’s dishes have evolved from those recipes and focus mainly on fresh vegetables, cheeses, and pastas.

When visiting Rome I balance trying new places and new dishes with my favorites.  Some of my favorite places in the Campo di Fiori are listed here.

Cafes, Enotecas, Gelaterias, Osterias, and Pizzarias

Walking the Via Appia Antica

Visiting the Appia Antica Rome, 2007David, Kimi, and Joe in front of one of the many imperial monuments lining the Appia Antica

It must be the romantic in me that brings me back to this ancient and oft travelled road whenever I visit Rome.  You could spend weeks walking along this stretch of highway dating back to 312 BC and referred to as “the queen of the long roads”.  You can still see grooves worn in the stones by years of chariot traffic.  While I highly recommend you visit I also highly recommend that you plan your visit as there are many options and you can end up frustrated, tired, and dusty if you wing it.  Generally I recommend 2 to 3 hours actually walking along the Appian Way not including getting to and from the park.  This will leave you time to tour one of the Catacombs that allow visitors.

Below are some good links to help you plan to enjoy this amazing park and make the most of your visit.

Official Website of the Parco Appia Antica

Recommended Reading – The Appian Way – Ghost Road, Queen of Roads

Christian Catacombs of Rome

Making Pasta

One of the best adventures you can have in Rome is to take a cooking class.  You meet interesting people from around the globe, have a wonderful shared experience, and you get to eat what you make.   WARNING: It can be addictive!

One of the most intimidating foods for me was pasta.  It is an investment of time and you need the proper equipment.  Like most things the investment is worth it!  I had tried and tried at home but to no avail.  I am a visual learner and will always be grateful to Andrea for showing me the proper way to prepare delicious pasta.  The following recipe is easy to make and I know you will not only enjoy the experience but you will also impress your friends. Once you get the hang of it you can make pasta in about 30 minutes.

Ingredients for pasta for four people:

4 cups of flour (Important to get flour that is tipo 00 – this is a very finely sieved flour, In Italy it’s called farina di grano tenero, which means ‘tender’ or ‘soft’ flour.  Most Italian speciality stores carry this item)
4 eggs and a pinch of salt

Equipment:

Pasta Maker (I recommend the Imperia Pasta Machine)
– Bowl, Fork, Pastry Scraper, large plastic pan/tray filled with semolina flour

Instructions:
Mix 4 cups/400gr tipo 00 flour with 4 eggs.  Pour the flour on a flat stable surface, I prefer the countertop, and create a well in the middle of the flour about the size of your fist.  It should look like a squat volcano.  Crack the eggs into a bowl to ensure that you don’t get any egg shells in your pasta.  Pour the eggs into the well you have created in the flour.  Add a pinch of salt. Carefully and slowly begin to whisk the eggs with a fork incorporating flour from the sides of the well. You can also pick up some of the flour between your fingers and slowly drop into the egg mixture from about 4 or 5 inches above – keep whisking.  Continue doing this until the flour and egg mixture are well incorporated.  If the well breaks it is ok just have a pastry scraper handy so you can keep pushing everything together.   At some point you need to use your hands and knead the ingredients together.  Don’t be intimidated. When you are finished you should have a ball of dough about the size of a baseball.

Now you are ready to crank the pasta through the pasta machine.  Cut the dough into four equal size pieces with your pastry scraper.  Pat the dough flat so you can feed it into the opening on the machine.   Rub with some flour so the dough doesn’t get stuck in the machine.  Begin cranking the pasta through the machine with the setting set to the widest width.  Do this about three times and then reduce the width to about half and crank through three or four more times.  The pasta will get thinner and longer – you may need to cut the resulting strip (4 inches wide and possibly 18 inches long) of pasta in half at some point and then feed both halves through.   Reduce the width again to the slimmest setting and crank the pasta through again a few more times.   You will be amazed at how the pasta “grows”. Andrea’s advice to me – “You know the pasta is perfect when it feels like a baby’s bottom” smooth smooth smooth.   Once you achieve the desired thinness you can then use the cutting mechanism to make linguini, fettuccine, or spaghetti.  One secret that Andrea showed me – have a large plastic pan/tray filled with semolina flour to put the cut pasta into.  You can then shake the pasta around gently in the pan and the flour will keep the pasta from sticking together before you cook it.  Let the pasta sit and rest for few minutes before cooking, then put a large pot of boiling water over high heat. When the water is boiling, toss in a tablespoon of salt with the pasta. Stir to keep the pasta from sticking. Cook for a few minutes (1 to 2 minutes, fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried) until a piece of pasta tastes cooked.  You are now ready to serve your spectacular effort with a variety of choices for sauce, Bolognese, Marinara, Alfredo, etc. Joe the Pasta Maker

One of the Things I Miss Most About Italy

View of Rome from Spanish StepsThe daily migration of the clouds across the city provided endless reasons to look upward.   I still dream about the jumble of colors in Rome, the the juxtaposition of the tiled roofs, faded golds, rusts, pinks of the buildings and the vibrant blue, gray, yellow, and white of the ever changing skies.

Fountains of Rome – Fontana di Piazza Farnese

Piazza Farnese FountainFontana della Piazza Farnese, Detail, Rome, 2012

One of the best features of Rome are the many fountains.  There seems to be an endless supply of water in the Eternal City much of it still arriving via ancient aqueduct to some of the most spectacular fountains in Europe.

Two of my favorite fountains are an identical pair located in Piazza Farnese which are made of granite bathtubs believed to come from the ancient Roman Baths of Caracalla.  I spent many an afternoon in the piazza  watching the light filter through  the water.

Fontana di Farnese, Rome, 2012

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Amalfi Coast – Positano

Positano Harbor, Amalfi Coast, 2013 View of Positano Harbor from Hotel Poseidon, Amalfi Coast, 2013

Of all the places in Italy that I have had the good fortune to visit the Amalfi Coast is the one place that I most often think about.  There are not enough adjectives to describe the beauty of the convergence of the sea and the coastline. Easily reached by car via the Autostrada Del Sole “Motorway of the Sun” (A1) or taking the train from Rome to Naples and then taking a bus or taxi to the Amalfi Coast.  If you drive you will definitely put a few notches on your drivers license as the combination of switchback roads and deathwish motorcyclists is something you have to experience for yourself.

Beyond the seaside towns of Sorrento, Positano,  Ravello and Amalfi there are several other destinations I would recommend – Capri and Paestum being two of my favorites.

Positano, Amalfi Coast, 2013Positano, Amalfi Coast, 2013

The best way to enjoy this part of Italy is by boat and there are many options from water taxis to private charters.   I highly recommend considering renting a boat and spending the day with Barbara and Antonio local residents and two of the most charming people you could hope to meet.   They are both very knowledgable about the history of the area and by boat can take you to some of the most spectacular grottos, coves, waterfalls, out of the way restaurants, and islands in the area.  Barbara Tours Positano (Boat Charters)

Boating from Positano to Capri
Boating from Positano to Capri with Barbara and Antonio, Amalfi Coast, 2011