Arrivederci, Roma

Yesterday, I parted ways with Rome.  I packed my bags, said my goodbyes, and left the place I’ve called home for the past ten weeks.

It’s been an incredible quarter abroad – from listening to lectures in the Forum, to traveling on the weekends, to learning how to properly taste wine, I’ve loved every minute overseas.  But, more importantly, I’ve learned a lot.  I have retained a surprising amount of Roman history and could probably put together a great historical walking tour of the city, replete with museum stops, church visits, and great photo-ops.  On the flip side, I can also recommend great local eateries (the best pizza you’ve ever had), ex-pat/international student hang-outs (no Italian required), and weekend destinations within Italy (Tuscany, anyone?).

Here are some highlights from my time in the Eternal City (in no particular order, because ranking them is impossible).  I’ll also be adding more (backdated) posts on Rome & my travels from the last few weeks soon.

Pumpkin & Amaretto Ravioli at Le Fate

Let’s just say it was the best dish I’ve had in Rome.  It was one of their specials the night I went, and I split it with my roommate (we should’ve gotten one for each of us, in retrospect).  My ravioli standards will never be the same again.  For the record, this restaurant is great for reasons beyond just their ravioli – I’ve been twice because it’s just down the street from my apartment, and everything I’ve tried has been delicious.  Other standouts include their eggplant parmesan, bruschette (trying at least a few of their varieties of bruschetta is a must), and tiramisu.  It’s a charming little place, decked out with French-inspired, fairy-themed decor and plenty of twinkling lights.

Viale Trastevere, 130

Galleria Borghese

The Bernini sculptures in Galleria Borghese are some of the most unforgettable works of art I’ve ever seen.  His Apollo and Daphne, the Rape of Proserpina, and Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius are incredible beyond words – and no, I’m not exaggerating.  I don’t mean to sound dramatic (maybe just a little); I was just blown away by the detail and skill exhibited in his work.  The other highlights of Galleria Borghese are its five Caravaggio paintings.  Learning about Caravaggio’s life, style, and significance in the Italian Baroque and then going to see his works in person was a great experience.  A classmate and I also gave a presentation on a biography of Caravaggio in the very room that contains his five paintings, so that made it particularly memorable as well.

Piazzale del Museo Borghese, 5

‘Roma dal Cielo’ – A Visit to the Top of Il Vittoriano

The wedding cake of Rome offers some great views of the city – views that rival even those of the Gianicolo, the lovely hill on which my apartment is located (the second highest hill in modern Rome, but not one of “the seven”).  I would suggest going at sunset, so you can watch the sky change colors as the city lights up.  The top of Il Vittoriano has an incredible view of the Colosseum, which happens to be my favorite monument in Rome…reason enough to pay the 7 euro to get up there.

Piazza Venezia (entrance on the east side of the monument, on the left when facing it)

Breathtaking night view of the Colosseum

Breathtaking night view of the Colosseum

Dar Poeta

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll mention it again – Dar Poeta è la mia pizzeria preferita a Roma (Dar Poeta is my favorite pizzeria in Rome).  Their ‘Dar Poeta’ pizza is one of the best I’ve had.  And it’s even better when followed by a Nutella and ricotta dessert calzone.  Speaking of desserts…

Vicolo del Bologna, 45 (near Piazza Trilussa)

Giolitti

The best gelato in Rome is at Giolitti.  A friend who studied abroad in Rome last year suggested it, and I finally made it there a couple of days before I left (right after I completed my final exam, in fact).  I had a 3-flavor, chocolate-dipped cone, with champagne, rice, and ‘opera italiana’ (candied nut, I think).  Champagne and rice gelato flavors?!  My friends and I were all wowed by the champagne gelato, and I loved the rice (I’m a big fan of rice pudding).  One of my friends also tried a delicious ‘caramel fig’ flavor.  I wish I could go back.  At least I ended my time in Rome on a high note.

Via Uffici del Vicario, 40 (near the Pantheon)

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A Wonderful Week in Rome

Last week was both the best and worst week in Rome… (Misleading title, I know.)  ‘Best’ because I did lots of awesome things; ‘worst’ because I had a ton of work due for class, lost a lot of sleep, and was utterly exhausted by the end of it all.  The important thing is that it ended on a high note, and the lack of sleep was worth it (2 classes down, 1 to go!).  So what made it awesome?

Let’s start with Sunday.  My friends and I woke up in Siena, ate lunch and stopped by our favorite gelateria in Florence, and returned to Rome early enough to get a good night of sleep.  If that’s not a great start, I don’t know what is.

Monday and Tuesday were slightly miserable – full of paper-writing, journal-writing, and general stress.  But Tuesday night I got to participate in a wine class (in my own apartment too)!  I now know how to professionally open a bottle of wine… You know, just in case I ever find myself in a situation where I need to pretend to be a sommelier.  Who knows what new adventures Paris will bring!  Anyways, we tasted two different red wines, the first of which was quite strong and tasted like black pepper (I’m serious!).  It’s amazing what flavors you can discover when tasting wine more consciously.  I noticed strong vanilla undertones in the second, milder wine, but others (including our sommelier-in-training instructor) tasted green bell peppers.  It was a ton of fun, and I’d definitely take another class.  I guess I’d better keep practicing my flavor-discerning skills in the meantime… ;)

Wednesday was the first day of our third and last course, which I was excited for (despite its copious amounts of reading) because it focuses on the history of Renaissance and Baroque Rome through art.  It’s my first art history class, and I’ve always wanted to take one.  It’s going be more work than our previous two classes, but I’m enjoying our class discussions and site visits so far.  We’re heading to the Vatican this week and Villa Borghese next week!

Thursday marked the official end of the paper-writing frenzy, so that afternoon, after visiting a church for class, a few friends and I went to the movies.  We bought tickets for an Italian movie called Io e Te, Bertolucci’s newest film.

I had no idea who Bertolucci was when my friends and I decided to go see this movie (we saw an ad on the back of a bus), but he’s a famous Italian director (as you probably already knew).  The movie was intense, but amazing.  I highly recommend it (with subtitles).  We saw it without subtitles for the true cultural experience, which was fun and only slightly confusing.  Luckily for me, my roommate read a synopsis beforehand and summarized the basic plot for me during the previews.  The best and most rewarding moment was when I recognized a phrase I learned in class – “Ha un mal di testa” (Her head hurts).  I’m putting my limited knowledge of Italian to good use!  After the movie, my friends and I went out to dinner in Trastevere, ending the night on a good note.

The fun continued on Friday.  After class, a few friends and I went out to lunch at my favorite pizza place in Rome, Dar Poeta (get the pizza by the same name and the nutella and ricotta calzone for dessert).

Zucchini cream, speck, and mozzarella pizza – a winter special (not as good as the Dar Poeta, but not bad)

After an incredibly filling lunch, we headed to the Campo de’ Fiori market.  It was actually my first time at that particular open air market, which is kind of surprising given that it’s open every day and is close to where I have class.  We went to just check it out, but ended up finding a couple of elusive but imperative Thanksgiving dinner ingredients (did I mention we’ll be cooking a giant Thanksgiving feast on Tuesday?): sweet potatoes and a pumpkin for pumpkin pie!

The magical Thanksgiving stall at Campo de’ Fiori

We were pretty ecstatic, and for good reason – since Italians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday), typical Thanksgiving ingredients are hard to come by, namely, turkeys, sweet potatoes, pumpkin (canned or fresh), cranberries, and pecans.  Now to try to make a pumpkin pie from scratch…

After a nice, long, well-deserved nap, I made dinner and then went to see Balthazar, a Belgian band, perform at Circolo degli Artisti, an intimate music venue/pseudo-club not far from the Termini train station.  I went by myself, partly because my friend couldn’t go at the last minute, and partly because I needed some me time.  It was such a fun experience – the venue is amazing (tons of outdoor seating, a couple of bars, and a cozy concert space) and Balthazar was incredible live.  I had listened to a few of their songs before going, since I hadn’t heard of them before discovering them on the Circolo degli Artisti website, but their live performance was much better than anything I had listened to online.  Like icing on a cake, if you will.

Balthazar live at Circolo degli Artisti

My exciting week finally came to a close on Saturday, at ‘Cinema’, the Rome (International) Film Festival.  A friend and I woke up really early to try to catch a 9:30 am showing of “Tar”, an artsy American film starring James Franco and Mila Kunis, but we didn’t make it in time.  Turns out it wouldn’t have made a difference because they had cancelled that showing anyway.  Instead, we went to see “Jianshi Liu Baiyuan” (“Judge Archer”), a Chinese kung-fu film.  Fortunately, it had subtitles in English and Italian.  Despite having no idea what to expect, I really enjoyed the movie.  It had a creative storyline and held my interest throughout.

It’s experiences like these that make me feel really grateful to have the opportunity to study abroad.  I feel almost like a local – I know my way around, can function in Italian, and do more than just the touristy things in my free time.  Cultural immersion – once just a phrase thrown around in my study abroad application – has become reality.

Mie Cose Preferite… (My Favorite Things)

We just learned how to say “favorite” in Italian class the other day, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to my favorite things.  Accordingly, it will be all about food (with photos!).

It’s taken me quite a while to start to blogging again, mainly because I’ve had a ton of reading to do… Sorry!  In happier news, I’m done with my first course of the quarter, which covered the history of Ancient Rome.  I literally turned in the final paper a few hours ago (yay!).  The second course started yesterday, and it will cover Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, aka the Christianization of Rome.  Should be interesting!

I’ll try to blog more often, and will be back-dating posts about the past three weeks once I get around to writing them…  Keep an eye out for the one about my trip to Croatia!

So, back to food…

My roommate and I have been cooking a lot since we arrived because it’s a pain (and expensive) to go out to eat all the time, and more importantly because we love to cook.  We’ve made some really great dinners so far, and we’re making an effort to learn how to make some authentic Italian dishes.  We live with our program’s Italian Student Companion (ISC), who is awesome and has taught us some of her tricks and favorite recipes!  She made the entire apartment an authentic carbonara a couple of weeks ago and prepared a tomato sauce from scratch the other night…both were delicious!  I’m starting to catch on, and I think I’ve mastered pasta al dente.  (According to our ISC, the trick is to make the pasta at the same time as the sauce/veggies, rather than cooking the pasta first and letting it sit in the strainer, where it cooks more, hardens, and gets cold.  Using the pasta right after it’s done cooking is the best way to preserve the al dente consistency!)

Pasta with sautéed peppers, onions, and zucchini

Farfalle with sausage, peppers, and onions and a side of sweet lemon carrots

Broccoflower! saw it at the supermarket, had to try it

An Italian version of ratatouille, which our ISC taught us how to make (potatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions, and eggplant topped with a few pine nuts)

Braised lemon chicken, made by my roommate! (And served with a side of rosemary potatoes)

My favorite of our cooked meals so far is the braised chicken – I think my roommate was a chef in her past life (no recipe, just instinct!).  Anyway, moving on… out of the kitchen, that is.

We obviously eat lots of pizza here, and it’s SO GOOD.  I’m not even going to try to put it into words…

My first pizza in Rome (and my favorite so far!) – an amazing white pizza in Trastevere (just off of Piazza Trilussa), topped with pesto, potatoes, and sausage.

Me and my roommate in Naples with our Neopolitan pizzas! Mine had mushrooms, artichokes, basil, and mozzarella, and hers was folded over, filled with ricotta, and topped with mozzarella. Cheesy goodness.

My roommate’s rosemary and olive oil “pizza” in Ancona, Italy – sauceless and kind of like a really crunchy flatbread. Not exactly filling, but delicious nonetheless!

Ancona’s version of the “Hawaiian” pizza (no meat, just pineapple) – another one of my favorites

Which brings us to gelato.  The only thing I can say is that it’s so much better than ice cream!  There are some good gelaterias in LA, but it’s nothing like getting gelato in Italy.  They’re on every corner, which is all too tempting.  I’m on a search to find the best pistachio…

Pistachio and bacio (chocolate and hazelnut combined)

A gelateria in Cumae with flavors I’d never seen before! Apparently the rule is, if there’s a gelato flavor you’ve never seen before, it has no calories the first time you try it ;) It’s a dangerous concept, I know.

Limoncello gelato – “no calories”

Italian McDonalds has gelato McFlurries… (awfully tempting, but I don’t eat McDonalds)

More desserts…

A chocolate bar in Trastevere..!

“Mozart cake” – a pistachio flavored cake that’s common across Europe. This was came from a little dessert shop in Split, Croatia (more on that trip coming soon!)

Indulging in a cannoli before hopping on a train to Ancona

Ciobar. Italy does hot chocolate best. (Although it’s really more like pudding)

And coffee!  A morning cappuccino is my new best friend.

A cappuccino from the cafe just down the street from IES, where I have class.

Stay tuned for more about my adventures in Italy and beyond!

Bilbao Pizza

There’s a coffee & pizza place just steps away from the dorms, and I went for lunch with a friend last week.  That was the first time I ate at this little joint, despite walking by it at least twice a day.  The storefront looks like a tiny take-out stand that’s attached to a larger building — the seating area is downstairs on the basement level, so you can’t see it from the street.  It doesn’t feel like a basement at all though; large windows/skylights fill the space with natural light.  The decor is cutesy and vintage, similar to many of the cafes I’ve frequented here in Seoul.

As I suspected, it was on the pricier side – my pizza was 13,500.  But, it had gorgonzola, mozzarella, almonds, and honey on it (I decided to be adventurous).  Worth every cent…or 십원, rather (the Korean equivalent of a penny).  My friend got the mushroom pizza, which was equally delicious.  We traded pieces, of course; that’s the joy of eating with others!

The wonderful thing about our pizzas was how fresh they tasted (as my friend described them).  These weren’t your standard artery-clogging, heavy slices of pizza.  The crust was light and bread-y (though I would’ve preferred mine a little crispier), the sauce was tasteful, and the cheese was cheesy, not overwhelmingly greasy.  In one word, delicious.

Next time I’m craving some oven-baked, cheese-covered, dough-y goodness, I’m definitely passing up Pizza Hut and Mr. Pizza for some Bilbao Pizza.  No question about it.