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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

La Dolce Vita...When in Rome, Let's Roam...

La Dolce Vita...

When you’re all grown up in your thirties, and I say that with a profound sense of irony, for anyone out there who might miss it (i.e. who doesn't know that I’m a sarky mare) it can be hard to get together with beloved friends from one’s younger and more vulnerable years. My particular group of great friends, the ones you meet in your first term but do not wish to give up in the second, but in fact are the ones that you keep for life, see each other with bittersweet rarity these days, with all of us living either in different parts of the country or – at various times – abroad.

Centurion on his cell...

There is some sense of rightness, then, that in order to reunite we would need to do so on foreign soil, where all of our ‘otherness’ lives, our different jobs and partners and paths are momentarily put on pause while we hold our beautiful reunion together in a place unknown to all of us which sets us, once more, on terra firma of our long lost university days, when everything was before us.
And so to Rome, which wasn't built in a day, but where our marble and stone friendships survived in all of their original glory and rose to their former obelisks and mighty friezes as if we had never started to lay foundations elsewhere, as if this, the original project of our friendship, was all that there was.

Roma Roof Terrace

At university we had wanted beauty and love and learning, so there was really no better place (especially considering half of our party were Classicists anyhow), and there was also tennis and the promise of a Matisse exhibition as well as the eternal gelati and food in general to lure us. We stayed in the leafy and peaceful Parioli neighbourhood at a magnificent place found on airbnb which catered for 5 people, perhaps an unusual number for most, but perfect for our purposes. Here we looked out from a great height onto the unused gardens of the Polish embassy and ate slices of prosciutto di Parma on the roof terrace each morning (and possibly afternoon and evening, such is my obsession with that particular food stuff…)


I had packed with some ridiculousness, nodding at the style I so wanted to exude in line with the holy grail of fashion streets – la via Condotti – six pairs of shoes and four pairs of sunglasses, one per day. I planned my outfits to allow me to - comfortably (my feet (no I’m afraid I must mention my feet and my back, even though their decrepitude does not suit the style of a blog about Rome…) – explore the known and the unknown piazzi of the city and its treasures whilst styled in my most beautiful dresses and outfits.

Gardens of the Villa Borghese...Can you picture the nymphs at play?

We had a few shared quests: to eat ice cream every day, to eat well every day, to see Caravaggios and Berninis between this eating, and wander through the squares and streets together absorbing the sound of church bells and bicycles and melodious Italian voices (broken only by the equally eternal street salesman with their “Selfie!” shtick).

Security after the Selfie-Stick-Sellers

I joined the party post tennis, post sunburn from the tennis when there was no shade of any kind, but pre-Matisse Arabesques exhibition and a visit to the fundamentals of Rome: the Colosseum and forum area. With only four days I knew there would be some effort needed physically to attain more flavours of the city than simply a couple of (large) scoops of gelati, but nonetheless, barring my near decision to nix the whole trip in favour of a few hours more of precious sleep at 4am last Thursday when my alarm went off, I was delighted and determined to do.

Panzanella on the terrace. Perfect lunch.

I arrived in time for lunch on the terrace of our apartment, which was in a modern-ish building (comparatively; I think Augustus probably would have loved to have built marble elevators but even he couldn't make that work…) but with views of other mansion blocks (and I really do mean ‘blocks’) in the area. Jasmine and massive Amaryllises, as well as an actual Roman vine gently sat in stately fashion beside us and above us as we indulged in panzanella, prosciutto (of course) and pink wine.

Ah beautiful (not cruel) amaryllis

(I should say that I’m not planning to write much about my friends here, except to say that they are wonderful, because that part of my life is not just private (and of course they are not blogging so I respect their right to privacy) but even though I've made some attempt to tell you about our friendship I don’t think I could convey here how it works with all of our differences and ever make you understand how magical and potent a mixture of all the right aspects of a delightful long-standing bond ours is. Plus you’d never get all the private jokes, though some of those may make it into here, and if you’re not laughing, well, then, I was right, wasn't I?)

Dinner of steak and rocket...and parmesan savings. Delicious!

Fresh food is found aplenty in the UK of course, but just as you cannot, really, get croissants that actually taste as if they've been bought straight from the boulangerie, in London, you also find it hard to find prosciutto di Parma that has the remarkable dual features of being ultra-thin but extra-fatty and flavoursome. I’m a complete prosciutto addict at the best of times, but this stuff. It was something else. Worth the plane fare on its own. I had prepared for the trip carefully by packing loose clothing that would accommodate my ever expanding belly during the food fest, and I was glad even after that first lunch to have done so. I even indulged myself with a nap in the afternoon, choosing being awake and dinner with friends over the Galleria Borghese, because I still need to make these choices to ensure that I stay healthy and can last through a holiday.

Tonnarelli. So, so, so good.

I chose dinner locations (not sure why I decided to assume the stress position...) on both nights we ate out together during my visit, by the coincidence of my nap on the first day and because I and my friend Kristian remained alone for the last night. As always I was concerned to choose a good enough location (hello higher standards, nice to see you came with me to Rome) and consulted a few reviews on Trip Advisor, keen to see reviews in Italiano and for the price to suit our not-too-deep-pocket requirements whilst the menu satiated our tightening waist bands.

Beef carpaccio and red radicchio...delicious

At Mamma Mia, near the Galleria Borghese, dinner service begins at 7:30pm and I managed to convey in stunted Italian a request for table for four at 8pm to the charming waitress who decided – though it was clear that to make this request comprised the sum total of my Italian – to be polite and answer me in Italian (grazie mille!). We ate amazing first courses of delicate crepes with tomato sauce, zucchini and other vegetable tempura, presented in tiny ‘chip pan’ like mesh container, and thick, juicy mortadella adorned with balsamic dressing to add the sourness to the meat’s sweet flavour.

Crepes at Mamma Mia...and all I can say is, well, how can I resist you?

The next point is trickier to navigate: are we hungry enough for primi (pasta) AND secondi (meat) or should we divide and conquer? We chose the latter option (and I would recommend that less is more because they really do give you ‘more’) and therefore had the chance to taste some of both: ravioli with bacon and red wine (you had me at ‘bacon’) and tonnarelli with cacia e pepe – cheese and pepper – the Roman thing to eat and rich and fabulous, even though it sounds on paper like I’m describing the Roman equivalent of mac and cheese. Black truffled risotto had me drooling when the menus arrived and did not disappoint and nor did a tiny sliver of the enoteca and lardo salumi (I think that’s how you spell it…apologies if not) which is a moist and tender steak fillet with a very thin slice of fat stretched over the top, giving delectably fatty flavour. Yum.

Spanish steps...a panoramic tourist vista

The next day we ate pizza, Roman style, for lunch, ordering a selection of slices – we nearly didn't manage it all but forced it down like true British school children taught to finish what’s on our plate – and – of course – gelati. Photographs of food can never convey the flavour but, yum, again, and thrice yum.

Pizza Romana...So good I sacrificed my size to it

On the final night we wandered our way to Trastevere, across the Tiber, for a different vibe and type of square – not the massive stately piazzi with their grand churches and anonymous stone palaces but poky, tiny squares where there are bursts of bright flowers, old and new cars crushed into the non-existent parking options, and where you’re more likely to see someone’s washing hanging out of the window than be harassed to take a selfie or buy a wilting rose.

Trastevere - the Brooklyn of Roma?

We ate at Meridionale, another Trip Advisor find, after an almost unsuccessful email exchange where I tried to book dinner for 7 using email and misunderstood the reply – it was a ‘yes’ but we thought it was a ‘no’!

Prosecco chasers. Salute!

When prosecco chasers sent over, we already knew we were onto a winner, but here were our menu choices in this delightful, hidden gem: beef carpaccio with red radicchio and hazlenuts was delectable and huge, salmon carpaccio with tangerines and salad less impressive but juicy; spaghetti de l’nduja (spicy sausage) was spicy indeed and we were grateful for the rich but soothing familiar flavours of tonnarelli con cacia e pepe again…ahhh. No dessert here – far too full – but I can recommend the Poggiomaestro Toscana we drank with our meal, which was rich but not overbearing. A delight.

Andouille sausage pasta...spicy but nice

There must always be more to write about Rome, and there is, but with a full belly and happy heart I will leave it there for now and save the shopping and more for another post. A prossima! X 

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