Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Home safe and sound

After a very long day of traveling I am back at home in Greensboro. It's been a wonderful trip and I'm already looking forward to the next one. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Last Day in Rome

Today was my final day in Rome. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I would love to have gone shopping with all of the “Saldi” going on, but unfortunately space is at a premium in my luggage (probably a good thing). I had my breakfast in the room, did a little surfing and headed out about noon. I went up to the metro station which was very close to the hotel. I went down and checked it out. I hate not knowing how it works, so I just did a little observation. Along this area called “Republica” there is the most elaborate McDonalds I have seen, complete with columns out front.

I hate to admit it, but that’s where I went for lunch and wow did it taste so good to me! I felt a little guilty, but then again I have been eating all Italian for 2 weeks. I really wanted sushi, but that just doesn’t seem to be much of a possibility in Rome. After lunch I decided to try and take the metro and it turned out to be so easy. I was able to pay 4 euro and get an all day pass – you can’t beat that! I decided to hop on and head towards Vatican City. The main reason I haven’t been before is because of taking a cab (the drivers in Rome scare the life out of me!) While riding the train I saw 2 little boys, one was about 7 and the other 5 and they were riding metro by themselves. At one particular stop they got off, both holding hands an went on their way! I really hadn’t planned on going into the museum because of the usual queues. I decided to at least see how long the lines were. You had to walk quite a ways to get to this entrance. I went straight in, through security and up to the ticket counter. I couldn’t figure out where the line started. Next thing I knew I was into the museum. I don’t know if it was because it was about 1:30 in the afternoon or because it was a Tuesday, but there was no waiting. The museum was really incredible. There were so many sculptures, tapestries, and gorgeous ceilings.

We were in this small room that has a beautiful ceiling and I overhead this 20 something guy ask if this was the Sistine Chapel!! I couldn’t help myself but I laughed out loud. I may not be the world’s greatest art connoisseur, but I certainly now what the Sistine Chapel is supposed to look like.

There was a beautiful courtyard before we got into the main part of the museum and you would see the Basilica in the background.

There was an added bonus for me, quite a nice display if Egyptian artifacts.

I think I spent more time in this museum than Uffizi. We entered this amazing hall called the "hall of maps" and the ceiling was indescribable.

At the end of the all of this was the piece de resistance, the Sistine Chapel. I need to get on Google and look up the specific scenes, but it is truly a masterpiece.

I can’t even fathom how it was done and survived all this time. I spent quite a while admiring the ceiling as I figure I may likely not be back. After exiting I managed to get caught in a tour group and ended up in the basement with the crypts of all of the past Popes including John Paul II. It was a really neat thing to see. We soon exited into the main courtyard, and the line to get in the actual Basilica was very long. I opted to skip this and just enjoy the grounds and take some photos. Each of the past two trips I have only managed to snap a few shots as we shot by in a car/bus.

By now it was already after 5, so I headed back to the hotel. I wanted to pick a good spot for dinner. I did some research and talked to Hunter and Mom and Dad – figured I had better make sure I had a ride home from the airport tomorrow. Someone had suggested a restaurant over near the Colosseum, so I headed back out on the metro. Since it was on the blue line (which is at Termini) I did a trial run for tomorrow since I will be taking the train from there to the airport and I wanted to make sure I knew how to walk from the hotel. In no time I was at the Colosseum, again. It sure is beautiful at night. I think this is the first time I have seen it lit up in person.

Even though I thought I knew where I was going, I searched for about 20 minutes for the restaurant and couldn’t find it. I even asked, but no luck. I settled for another little place that was quite busy and lively. Two ladies from Cork Ireland were seated next to me and I really enjoyed their conversation. They are both widowed and travel to Rome each year for holiday. For dinner I had the bruchetta, fried zucchini flower and their specialty pasta. It was all very good. I had their tiramisu for dessert (had to have dolce one more before I left!) It was already 9:30 so I figured I should head on back and of course get packed up! Packing wasn’t as bad as I thought, but I am going to be loaded down tomorrow. Good night and I’ll see you Stateside very soon!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Another Day Exploring

I decided to sleep in a little today since I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be at a specific time – not to mention the room was very dark and the bed was very comfortable! I also needed to check online to see what types of foods I could bring back. Much to my disappointment prosciutto is no the “no” list. I did manage to go out around 11:00 and see that the city had come to life. It’s such a different place from Sunday when most things are closed. I didn’t want too heavy of a lunch today, so I stopped in at a little café and had mozzarella and spinach on focaccia bread. It was very simple but extremely good. This was a great vantage point for watching the craziness that is Rome go by. I finally found my way over to Trevi Fountain.
(This last photo was taken on my way back, much later in the day. The colors are so different.)

It was much more impressive (to me) than the Spanish Steps. There were tons of people there as well as tour groups. I spent a while people watching and met a couple traveling from Australia and later a nice gentleman from Scotland who was traveling through Europe. I had asked him if he would take a photo and it surprised me when he spoke English. He was only in Rome for a day, so he was hitting all of the highlights. We chatted a while and then I headed off to Campo dei Fiori which was supposed to be a popular market place. En route I did stop at the Pantheon again and go inside – still as beautiful as ever.
I also went to the Piazza Navona and watched some very interesting “human statues”. When we were here in January this place was so quiet which was very different from today.
By the time I got over to the market place it was almost totally shut down (probably a good thing considering my packing situation). I may try and head over there tomorrow. For some reason I was extremely tired today – could be the heat and lack of caffeine. I did go by the local grocery store only a few blocks from here. I bought some yogurt and fruit for my breakfast in the morning and some bottled water. By the time I headed back to the hotel it was already after 5:00. I wanted to find somewhere close, but nice for dinner. After a little research I found a small Ristorante that was only about 8 blocks away. I headed over there around 7:00 which is still very early for dinner here, but I was quite hungry for about the first time since I left the States. I ordered the bruschetta as a starter and it was probably the best I’ve ever tasted. For my entrée I had something I’ve wanted to try, spaghetti alla vongole, which is spaghetti with clams, garlic and olive oil. This also had some sort of heat to it, which I think was red pepper. It was a very good dish. I hadn’t had my sweetness fix for the day so I ordered the mille fogle (which is something we had made last week). Theirs was entirely different, but still a great dessert. The waiter came over and brought me this little glass and poured in this peach liquid that turned out to be the house special, meloncello. It had the most unusual, but good taste. He said they make it there, but wouldn’t tell me how. I may have to experiment with that one at home. I headed back about 8:30. It’s funny, I don’t feel nearly as safe in Rome as I did in Florence. The hotel has a rooftop terrace, so I did go and have a look up there. I also found all of these different vending machines, including one with all kinds of wine - now that's what I call a vending machine!
I called it an early evening but did get to talk to Hunter and my Mom as well as watch a little bit of Gladiator on my computer (after turning on the TV and finding out not a single station is in English). Off to bed and my last day in Rome tomorrow.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Parting is such sweet sorrow

It is truly hard to believe that Sunday has already arrived. I had to get up this morning and face the reality of packing. This time I truly did have more than I arrived with including a tin of olive oil, some of Franco’s Limon cello and balsamic reduction, not to mention a little truffle paste. I spent at least an hour trying to cram everything back into my backpack, but soon decided to give it a break to go and get some breakfast. Most of the crowd was already down there and I enjoyed another morning of prosciutto and melon (can you tell I have a new found breakfast favorite!). Nicole and Scott were the first to depart and it was so difficult for all of us to say goodbye. They were off to Cinque Terra and then Milan before finally returning to Australia. Cheryl, Dinah and Florence were the next to leave on their way up to Florence. Suzanne and I shared a cab down to Arezzo to catch the train to Roma and Kari and Ingmar left after us. Barbara was there of course to see us off – she is such a fantastic property manager and hostess. I only hope I get to go back again!!! Our train to Roma was about 15 minutes late and we managed to get on the wrong carriage. After some navigation I finally got to my seat and settled in for the 2 ½ hour trip down to Rome. We arrived at the chaos also know as Termini about 1:30. Suzanne and I parted ways but said we would phone each other for dinner. A few short blocks later I arrived at my hotel, which has only recently opened. It is a very modern and pleasant place. I enjoy hotels with some character, but then again a nice modern hotel is a nice change. I didn’t spend long in my room before heading out. Rome is such a large city compared to where I’ve been the past 10 days, so it took a little adjusting. Most things were closed since it was Sunday, but I managed to find a little place for lunch that also had a view of the Colosseum. I enjoyed a pizza and some people watching. It is more difficult to be by myself now since I’ve had such fantastic company during the last week. After lunch I continued walking. I saw a little square that looked familiar and sure enough it was where Mom and I had dinner 2 years ago before we headed out on our cruise.

I think I have been to Rome too often when things start looking too familiar. I did go down to the Colosseum and enjoyed just sitting and looking admiring the architecture.

It doesn’t matter how many times I’m here at the Colosseum, it always amazes me.

I took a different route and went over past the Palentine and Forum and found this beautiful church. They had it open and as I walked in I realized there was a wedding ceremony going on. Somehow, they didn’t seem to mind me coming in the back to take a peek.

From there I went on exploring all the way over to the Isola (island in the middle of the river) and across to the Trastevere area.

I found my way back by the Pantheon which was encased in scaffolding - I'm so glad I have my photos from January! It wasn’t long before Suzanne called and she was at the Spanish Steps people watching. I managed to make it over there to the mob of people and find her.

We found a little place for dinner and had a prosecco and some pasta with tomato and basil sauce. I have to admit, the food we made up in Tuscany rivals any I’ve had elsewhere in Italy. After dinner we took a stroll and did some window shopping and had some gelato. Suzanne was flying back in the morning so we headed on back. I think I walked about 2 miles today around the city so I am exhausted. I was able to talk to Hunter and Mom and Dad on Skype since the connection is faster. They could all hear how much I loved my week at Torre del Tartufo. I have just two more days before coming home!!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Final Day of Cooking

Today was the last full day at Torre del Tartufo and our last cooking lesson. I can’t believe the week has gone by this fast. I tired to sleep in a little, but then again I didn’t want to miss one bit of this day. I really enjoy the European style breakfast. I am going to be eating a lot more prosciutto when I get home! I was very excited to be able to upload the photos from the past couple of days – and what a great place, just by the pool. It’s a bit funny to me, I was trying to figure out what I would do with my time until 3:00 each day when we had cooking class, so I very “wisely” brought a couple of books and a new cross-stitch to start on (not to mention the many movies I have on my computer). I realized to day that I have not watched television in well over a week, but I just today opened my book and only managed to get to page 48. I have enjoyed everyone’s company so much that the time just flies by and like tonight it’s already almost 2:00 AM and I am just getting to my room. Most of us spent the morning sunning by the pool and only managed to move when we heard lunch was served.

Today we had the lasagna made with a pesto béchamel sauce that included potatoes and green beans. This was a first for me and I was quite skeptical, but wow, what a great flavor! We also had the beef stew that Nicole, Dinah and I had made on Thursday. It has such wonderful herbs and spices. It takes like something you would find in an exotic locale. Our dessert was a fig tart which we all decided was just so-so and yet we managed to eat it! After lunch it was back to the pool until class at 3:00. With it being the last day one might think we would get a break, but we had lots of cooking ahead of us. One of the really neat things is that we prepared some of the dishes for the incoming guests who arrive tomorrow after we are gone. Today it was Florence (and the machine), Scott and myself who has the pasta course and we were all excited that we were making gnocchi! The gnocchi itself was not that bad to make. It all came together surprisingly well.

We also made a duck ragout (for which we also had to debone 2 ducks). We all also pitched in on other elements that were going on all around the kitchen. Dinah did a fabulous job of pouring up our very own Limon cello to take home.

I can’t remember when I’ve been this excited to cook. We had our “wine break” with a spinach tart. We had this under the pergola with the gorgeous view behind. I did find that I was a bit melancholy today since this was our last day together. I have met such wonderful people and I can only hope that our paths cross sometime in the near future. We wrapped up the cooking around 7:15 so that we would have time to change for dinner (but I had to run down and take a few more pictures of the sun setting).

Per a request we were having mojitos before dinner, so we met back at 8:30. I will say Paola makes the best mojitos I have ever had. I don’t know if it’s the atmosphere, the people, or maybe just the wine, but the food and drinks are just wonderful. It was off to have our final “gala” or maybe we should say graduation dinner. Our starter was a vegetable napoleon of sorts. I admit that I wasn’t exactly excited about this one, but as soon as I tasted it I was sold. It was layered with marinated and grilled vegetables with puff pastry and of course Franco’s wonderful balsamic reduction (that I might say had us all in tears on Thursday!). The next course was the one that we had worked on, the gnocchi with duck in a white sauce. I have to admit I gasped when I tasted this dish. The flavors and the gnocchi just melted in the mouth. I could have made an entire meal out of this, but I’m glad I didn’t. Our entrée was rack of lamb served with sautéed spinach and caramelized onions with pine nuts. The flavors were so fresh and amazing. I am glad that I know how to “French” a rack of lamb. Dessert was the piece de resistance, chocolate lava cakes. From the presentation to the taste – it couldn’t be beat. That will be a must for my next dinner party (let’s hope my chairs arrive soon). I don’t think I’ve mentioned it most of the week, but we had beautiful red and white Tuscan wines with our meals. I had the best of intentions of writing them down, but alas, that didn’t happen. It was our typical after dinner with the liquors that came out and our very own batch of Limon cello. There was a lot of reminiscing that went on tonight as well as our certificates of completion being handed out.

Kari was supposed to be on a 10 am flight tomorrow from Florence, but she managed to get it pushed back until Monday. We all stayed up talking and laughing until well after midnight. At least we will all get to spend our breakfast together in the morning – now if I can only get everything packed! Tomorrow I am on to Roma.