italy

Ejo #105 – Drunk In….. Rome

Roma!  You might be surprised to learn that even though I’ve been to Italy eight times in my life, I’ve never been to Rome before.  I figured it was time, so David and I booked a three night stay at the end of our Sicily sojourn.  And I’m SO glad we did.  The moment we hit the streets, eyes wide in wonder, I fell in love.  The vibe, the architecture, the people, the opera floating into my ears from an open window down a cobblestoned alleyway.  It was such a delight to discover that Rome wasn’t going to be a huge let-down.  That it really is as wonderful as everyone says it is.  Naturally, we hit the ground running, already slightly tipsy from our flight from Sicily.  Surely you’d be disappointed with anything less.

 

WELCOME PICK UP

Taxi rides from Fiumicino Airport into the centre of Rome cost a flat fee of €48.  So, check out this cool life hack – for the exact same price, you can get a chauffeur-driven Mercedes to whisk you into town instead.  All you have to do is book it in advance and the driver will meet you and escort you into a luxurious, air-conditioned vehicle.  No queueing in line, no smelly cab, no confusion about where your Airbnb is located.  None of that shit.  This one’s a must do if you’re travelling to Rome.

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Better than a taxi, any day of the week.

 

VICOLOFT APARTMENT

We normally stay in Airbnb accommodation when we travel.  This time was no different, but this particular apartment was also available on other sites, and I have to say that I’m getting a little peeved with Airbnb’s extortionate service charges – so if I can get the same place for €70 less why the hell wouldn’t I?  We stayed in Vicoloft, an awesome apartment managed by the very lovely Alessandro, located in wonderful Trastevere.  This beautiful, cobblestoned neighbourhood is situated across the Tiber River, offering the best of both worlds – it’s walking distance to most of Rome’s incredible attractions but also a nice escape from the tourist hoardes.  Even better, this part of town rocks a great vibe every single night of the week.  I tell you what, Romans sure do love to party!!!  Our apartment was located in a particularly lively part of town, with local revellers going strong into the wee hours.  Luckily the windows are double (maybe even triple) glazed, which means that when you’re ready for bed, the place is as quiet as a tomb, despite the masses downstairs partying like it’s 1999.

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Crisp, clean sheets.  And art.  Minimal perfection.

INFO:
Vicolo De’ Cinque 16, Rome
CLICK FOR MAP

 

PIMM’S GOOD

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that Aperol Spritzes are ubiquitous in Rome.  They are literally everywhere.  And you can bet your bottom dollar we guzzled plenty of them during our three day stay, eschewing the tradition of having them just before dinner.  Hey, traditions are made to be broken.

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There’s a charming tradition in Italy called aperitivo, during which you buy a pre-dinner drink and they bring you free snacks to whet your appetite.  How civilised.

 

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We had these Spritzes during a power outage in our ‘hood – this bar had a generator, and we were lucky to squeeze these in before they ran out of ice.

 

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What better way to celebrate success at the shops than with an enormous Aperol Spritz.

 

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Pimm’s Good Bar was my favourite.  First we ordered espressos (espressi??).  When they came out we ordered Spritzes and the waiter high fived us.  It was 11am.

 

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The waiter wanted to join us in a Spritz – you could see it in his eyes.

INFO:
Via di Santa Dorotea, 8, 00153
1000-0200
CLICK FOR MAP

 

 

MR. BROWN

We stumbled across this wonderful little bar, a couple of steps from our place, and decided to give it a go even though it had just opened and was totally empty.  The old dude smoking on the bench outside rushed in to take our orders and promptly made it very clear that he was only bar-sitting until his son, the owner, turned up.  But he was still more than happy to make us a drink.  How fucking cool is that.  We ordered negronis and then helped him to make them when he pretended he didn’t know how.  And you know what?  It was the best damn negroni I’ve ever had.  Listen kids, when I travel and when I drink, my absolute favourite experiences are in places like this.  I will go to five star hotel cocktail bars but they’re kinda same-same the world over.  When you want to go deep into a city or a neighbourhood, then these are the kinds of places where you’ll meet locals.  Where you talk to the owner, and watch them go about the day to day business of running a small bar.  I live for places like this.  This whole “Drunk In….” series exists because of places like this.  So, next time you travel why don’t you look for the seediest bar you can find, support a local business and have a fucking good time.

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This bar was literally five doors down from our apartment and ended up being our absolutely favourite haunt.  By the time we left three days later the owner was hugging us and giving us free shots.

 

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I know I might come across like a fancy girl, but I love nothing more than a dingy bar with a cool bartender making me tasty drinks.

 

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The Porno shot, in case you were wondering, is Mr. Brown’s home made concoction.  It’s a little sweet, a little spicy and designed to encourage more drinking.  Oh, and at €1 a pop, they’re very fucking dangerous!  Suffice to say that five Porno shots gave me the worst hangover of our holiday.

 

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The infamous Porno shot.  The picture’s a little fuzzy, because so was I.

 

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Dad was fucken awesome, chatting to us in broken English and free-pouring the tastiest damn Negroni’s we had on the whole trip.  Total highlight.

 

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During the day the bar was empty, and we had the owner, his feisty girlfriend, and his Dad to ourselves.  At night it was a totally different story.   The place was totally packed every night.

INFO:
Vicolo de’ Cinque, 29, 00153
1700-0200
CLICK FOR MAP

 

SUPPLIZIO

Suppli are the perfect snack.  So, what’s suppli, you ask?  Well, my friends, suppli are deep-fried balls of rice – kinda like arancini, but also kinda not.  Firstly arancini is Sicilian and suppli is Roman.  Secondly arancini are huge and suppli are bite size.  They’re also delicious and made in an assortment of flavours and fillings, which means they’re the perfect mid-afternoon snack to wash down with a cold beer.

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The Classic suppli – rice, chicken giblets, tomatoes, mozzarella and Parmesan.

 

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Cacio e pepe suppli – rice, Pecorino Romano, mozzarella and black pepper.  Mmmmm!

INFO:
Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 143, 00186
1130-1600, 1630-2130
Closed on Sundays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

EL MOJITARO BAR 

As you know, strong coffee is a stalwart companion to any drunken shenanigans.  And as you’d expect, Rome has some of the best, and some of the strongest coffee around.  We didn’t have a single bad cup of the stuff, but I do think that the reason for that was that we stuck to espressos rather than milkier concoctions.  My suggestion is to walk into any espresso joint, order an espresso while jauntily standing at the bar and chug it down for an instant jolt of caffeine.  Don’t linger – that’s not how the Italians do.  A couple of pointers: NEVER, not in a million years, order a cappuccino after 11am.  You’ll be laughed out of the shop.  And don’t order a latte unless you are in the mood for a glass of milk.

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My favourite espresso bar in Rome.  Mostly because it was roll-out-of-bed-and-lurch-down-the-street distance from our apartment.  But also for the friendly service and fantastic, strong coffee.  Apparently they also do amazing mojitos, but we were there just for the coffee (I can’t believe I just wrote that!)

 

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Check out the marbling on that crema.  That’s some coffee-porn right there.

INFO:
Vicolo del Cinque 5, 00153
Mon-Fri: 0630-0200
Closed on Saturdays & Sundays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

 

PASTA E VINO

I want to say that we ate well at every meal in Rome, but the sad fact is that we didn’t.  When an awesome hole-in-the-wall restaurant gets reviewed really well (or features on a TV show – Anthony Bourdain, I’m looking at you down there) it starts getting a lot of tourist traffic.  And the problem with that is that bloody tourists don’t actually like real Roman food.  They like their idea of Roman food.  So out go all the authentic recipes that made the place awesome in the first place, replaced by a bunch of dumbed down, standardised dishes which are shit.  I was disappointed at nearly every single restaurant we ate at.  But not this one.  Pasta e Vino exceeded all  my expectations and if you’re looking for a relaxed place to eat some outstanding pasta then you should come here.  Some wonderful friends (shout out to the Micheners) bought me a meal in Rome for my birthday and I chose this place as it had some pretty good Italian reviews on Tripadvisor.  The service started out a little aloof (as is the norm in Rome), but over the course of lunch warmed up significantly.  And the food?  Well, let’s just say I had the best plate of pasta I’ve eaten in my entire life here.  ‘Nuff said.

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All the pastas.

 

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David had the bucatini all’Amatriciana, a very traditional Roman dish made with tomatoes, olive oil, pecorino and the magic ingredient: guanciale (cured pork cheek).

 

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This is the dish I’ll be thinking about on my deathbed.  Bucatini alla Gricia – basically Amatriciana, minus the tomatoes.  Bloody amazing.

 

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All topped off with a beautiful Sardinian white wine.

INFO:
Vicolo de’ Cinque, 40, 00186
1200-0000
CLICK FOR MAP

 

 

GALLERIA BORGHESE

One very fine morning David and I got up super early and walked about an hour from our place to the Galleria Borghese.  I have a very close friend who sometimes wants to smack me in my face because when I travel I’m not very much into museums or sightseeing.  I’m just not.  I don’t need to see that shit.  But every now and again, I meet someone who is SO enthusiastic about a place, that it triggers something in me.  That’s when I go out of my way to seek a bit o’ culture.  And that’s exactly what happened with Galleria Borghese.  I met an older gentleman at a wedding last month and he was positively effusive about this museum.  His eyes just lit up when he mentioned the artwork inside.  He described it to us with such passion.  That kind of enthusiasm is kinda sexy, and definitely infectious.  I immediately booked tickets to go and check it out while we were in Rome.  This museum books out weeks in advance so we were very lucky to get in.  And it was totally worth it.  It really was an incredible experience to behold all that historical art set in such splendour and extravagance.

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The Borghese Museum.  It’s incredible how much art is contained behind these walls.  A mindblowing and enlightening experience.

 

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I’m getting this exact same picture painted on our bedroom ceiling at home.

 

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Hello, David.  😉

 

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Bernini’s fucking astonishing Ratto di Proserpina, which until today I didn’t realise translates as Rape of Proserpina.  Fucking intense.  Please, please, please look at Pluto’s muscular hands digging into Proserpina’s flesh as he drags her struggling ass down, into the Underworld, to be his queen.  This thing was carved out of marble, people!!  MARBLE!!!!

 

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When you’ve just spent two hours gazing upon the disturbing magnificence of Bernini and Caravaggio, it’s time to hit up the Museum cafe and get yo’self an espresso and an Aperol Spritz.  Stat!

INFO:
Piazzale Scipione Borghese, 5, 00197
0900-1900
Closed on Mondays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

TRATTORIA DA TEO

We didn’t have any dinner reservation on our last night in Rome and that nearly turned out to be a big mistake.  All the places we wanted to eat at were full and we started to get nervous that we’d be stuck eating a slice of pizza at the local kiosk (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Trattoria da Teo was on my list of places to try, and our final chance at nabbing a table as it was getting pretty late.  Once again we lucked out and were given the last table for two.  This place was rocking with an awesome atmosphere, jovial and friendly service and very delicious food.  We were happy to let our fantastic waiter make recommendations from (and off) the menu and we weren’t disappointed with his choices.  By the time we ordered the limoncello dessert, we were on such good terms with him that he comped us two generous nips of limoncello to go with it.  Now that’s service.

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A beautiful restaurant, with street-side dining, that serves delicious and traditional Roman food that is as authentic as you’re going to get.

 

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Squid and artichoke for antipasto.  Bloody delicious.

 

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We were lucky enough to get the last serve of this special seasonal dish of stuffed zucchini flowers.  So yum!

 

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Another recommended dish of fettuccine with mushrooms

 

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Spaghettig with tuna, olives, capers and super fresh tomato.  Delish.

 

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Limoncello dessert and limoncello digestivo.  Coz you can never have too much limoncello!

INFO:
Piazza dei Ponziani, 7A, 00153
1230-1500, 1930-2330
Closed on Sundays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

 

MORDI E VAI

One of the food highlights of our trip to Rome was this amazing sandwich shop in a markethall, about a 45 minute walk from our place.  It was on our list of must-do’s, but we hadn’t really been able to find the time to make it here during our three days in Rome.  Luckily, on our final day we had to check out of our apartment at 10am and found ourselves with 2.5 terribly hungover hours to kill, so I made us walk to this place in the searing heat just to get one of these damn sandwiches.  Props to David, who loyally trudged behind me as we schlepped along the sweltering riverside to get some lunch.  And it was SO worth it.  This place is awesome because it serves proudly traditional Roman cuisine in a street-food style.  So you can get tripe, you can get offal, you can get oxtail – as well as less confronting fillings of meatballs and braised beef.  There may be a vegetarian option, but I’m gonna be honest, I did not notice.  I was too busy salivating!!!  We had done a bit of research and everyone was telling us (as I am now telling you) to get the allesso.  When you do, owner Sergio is gonna grab a panini bun and dip that baby right into a big vat of lardy, delicious gravy before stuffing it with the softest, tenderest damn slices of beef I have ever seen in my life.  This is topped with some delicious, bitter greens and the whole thing wrapped up in a plastic bag coz that baby is juicy as hell.  Best fucking hangover food EVER!!!

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Sergio Esposito making us our sandwich.

 

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Get the panino all’allesso.  You will thank me for it.

INFO:
Nuovo Mercato Comunale di Testaccio,
Via Beniamino Franklin, 12/E
0800-1500
Closed on Sundays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

Ejo #54 – Adine: A Beautiful Place To Stay In The Tuscan Countryside

There is a place, deep in the Tuscan countryside, that surreptitiously stole a little piece of my heart 12 years ago. It’s a piece I don’t mind having lost, because I am compelled time and time again to return to the scene of the “crime”, leaving behind a little bit more on each visit. It has been said that home is where the heart is. And I believe this to be true.

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The hills in Tuscany really do roll!!!

To wit, I am a 100% Greek-blooded, born-and-bred Australian, living in Dubai for the last several years. I am sad to say that I have never felt (or in the case of Australia, no longer feel) at home in any of these places. Don’t get me wrong – I love Australia and I will always have a home there (thanks Mum), and I’m sure that if I was to move back, the feeling of being at home would return. But I’ve increasingly started to feel like a tourist whenever I visit my own home town. And Greece? Forget about it – I’ve never belonged there. It’s nice to visit, but that’s about it. So, what about Dubai? Well, my heart simply doesn’t think very much of the place, so even after more than 5½ years it still doesn’t feel like home.

So why do I stay in this place that my heart holds in such contempt? One reason, and one reason only. It’s the travel. It’s the opportunity to explore this magnificent planet of ours and discover places in the world that feel like home, not because I live there or because it’s where my family are from, but because they resonate with me. Home becomes the place which embraces me as I am and the place I actually feel I belong.

In 2012 we travelled 100,032 kilometres in the air. In 2013 it was 106,097km. And 2014 is shaping up to be a 104,365km kind of year. You would think that with all those airmiles we would have travelled to some pretty amazing places. And you would be right. Absolutely spot on! I give you full permission to hate on me for a few moments. I mean, shit, I would. But, I would like to point out that amazing places don’t necessarily equate to places you could spend the rest of your life. Of all the incredible cities, towns, and one horse villages we’ve been to, only a couple have fulfilled that criteria for me. Of course, it is no secret that I am helplessly in the grip of a torrid, passionate love affair with Amsterdam. Enough said about Amsterdam. Today I am going to introduce you to my other happy place. A place that envelopes me with love whenever I visit.

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Avenues like this are a mainstay of the Tuscan countryside. What’s not to love.

Let me tell you about Adine. Adine is a tiny hamlet nestled in the rolling hills of Chianti, about 25km north of the beautiful city of Siena. Consisting of less than a dozen properties, it has been standing watch over picturesque vineyards and fertile olive groves since the 11th century. Next time you think about updating your iPhone to the latest model, have a think about how old that really is. These houses made from rough-hewn stone have been standing their ground since the Middle Ages. Literally.

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The chapel at Adine. Did people really congregate here 1000 years ago? Yes, they did.

I first stayed at Adine in 2002, with an ex-boyfriend and some friends in a villa apartment owned by the lovely Simonetta Palazio. I admit that I fell in love with Simonetta the moment I saw her. And I swear it wasn’t because she’d baked me the most incredible apple cake as a welcome gift (well, maybe it had a little bit to do with that). With a halo of white hair surrounding soft eyes and a gentle smile, she is easy to love. She is “simpatico”. After a week spent in Il Ghiro (one of the two villa apartments owned by Simonetta), we became firm friends. It’s been a friendship that has lasted great swathes of time and distance, to develop into something akin to family. Perhaps Simo is the reason I feel so at home when I am in Adine.

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The kitchen in Il Ghiro. The sink is the original (yep, from the 11th century). Mindboggling. The flan is blueberry and yummy (compliments of Simonetta!!). I can always count on a delicious welcome gift from my friend’s kitchen. Delizioso!!!

A little bit of history. Simonetta bought her villa in the hamlet of Adine 20 years ago. When she first moved in there was no heating, and she and her youngest daughter Manu would sleep in front of the fireplace wrapped in blankets, with woolen hats on their heads to keep warm. After separating from her husband (whom she’d been with for 38 years), Simonetta fell into depression and loneliness. She decided to rent out one of the rooms in her home for some company. Though the idea was spawned from necessity (some company, and a little extra money) she loved it. She enjoyed meeting people, and made friends with many of her guests (including me).

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One of the most incredible spots on earth – Simonetta’s terrace. Overlooking Tuscan landscape, there is nowhere better to contemplate life, drink a glass of red wine and unwind. Bliss. Simonetta started off serving breakfast to her guests on the terrazza – her guests are welcome to sit out there whenever they like.

 

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Sit down with a book and a bold red wine. What better way to spend an afternoon.

Simonetta, apart from being a loving and hospitable host is also a very talented cook. She took this skill and expanded her homestay experience to include cooking lessons. She was actually so good at it that for many years she was part of a group that travelled the world giving cooking classes (Max, from Red Hill Estate in Victoria, Australia is a fan and a friend). She has given that up now but still takes bookings for her two beautiful apartments and will also give cooking lessons if you ask her nicely. I have such fond memories of being invited to watch as she has whipped up some fresh pasta, or a red pepper marmalade or delicious dessert. And I’ve been luckier still to have feasted with her and her family on special occasions. Oh my god, the feasting. My mouth waters at the memories. Her specialties are focaccia, trenette al pesto and hazelnut ice-cream (my absolute favourite!!!).

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Il Ghiro’s patio overlooking a courtyard and Adine’s chapel. Perfect for breakfast under the Tuscan sun.

 

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Buon Appetito. I NEVER cook on holiday. Except when I am in Tuscany. Who needs room service anyway!!!

 

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Our effort at one of our favourite dishes: spaghetti con funghi, aglio e olio. Not too shabby!!!

So here’s the thing about staying at Adine. It is a beautiful place, but there are a few things it’s not. It’s not a 5 star hotel. It’s not an expansive, lavishly furnished villa with a swimming pool and daily cleaning service. There is no big screen TV, no air-conditioning, no room service and no gym. So if you’re looking for that kind of experience, perhaps Adine is not for you.

So what is it? It’s genuine, it’s rustic and it’s charming. It’s eating simple foods, the freshness and quality of which burst into song on the plate. It’s history and warm friendship and long walks in unspoiled nature. It’s a heart-expanding sun, made golden orb, settling in for the night over velvety hills. It’s a peace so deep, it actually takes a couple of days to get used to; to unplug. But when you do, the reward is profound. It’s looking outward toward the gorgeous countryside, and finding something special within yourself. It’s wine (we are in Chianti after all). It’s fireflies on a late-summer evening. It’s the cleanest air you’ve ever breathed (unless you’ve been to Antarctica). It is heaven on earth. And if you’d like to experience this little piece of paradise (before Simonetta sells up and moves to Rome to spend more time with her grandson) go to Adine now. Tell Simonetta I sent you. She will surely welcome you with open arms.

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Pici is the thick, hand-rolled regional pasta of Siena. I’d have to say it’s my favourite pasta in the world.

 

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The walled city of Siena is a labrynthine, cobble-stoned wonderland. Here is the Piazza del Campo at twilight. Magical.

 

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A week’s worth of imbibing. Somehow we never suffered a hangover.

 

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Simonetta’s gorgeous garden.

 

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Siena has some of the best gelati I have ever eaten. My favourite is nocciola!!!!

 

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This was taken in 2006 when I visited Adine solo. I was so taken with the countryside I had to stop the car and take a photo.

 

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Simo and her beautiful daughter Manu. And one of my favourite puppies on earth, the sadly departed Lyuba.

 

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When I see this sign, I know I am moments away from home.

Note: In writing this ejo, I’ve been reminiscing about my previous visits to Adine and poring over old photos.  It has ignited the need to “go home”, as it’s been over three years since I’ve seen my friend Simonetta and spent time in her house.   Yesterday, I booked my ticket for a quick five day visit next month.  That’s how powerful the pull of Adine is.  If you don’t believe me, why don’t you go and see for yourself.  For more photos, please click HERE!

 

Adine – A Portrait

My friend Simonetta’s Tuscan guesthouse, Adine.  These beautiful photos were taken by very talented local photographer, Martino Balestreri.  Whilst they certainly capture the essence of how lovely Adine is, it is no substitute for going to visit yourself.  You can contact me about staying at Adine (and I will put you onto Simonetta), or you can contact Simonetta directly through the Adine Facebook page or the website.

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