At the end of January, I went to Italy on a solo trip for three weeks. It was my first time in Europe, and it was such an eye-opening experience. I don’t really speak Italian; I minored in Spanish in college, but it’s been some time since I’ve really had to use it. However, I learned enough Italian-Spanglish to get by — to order dinner out, ask questions about the menu, get around, and just a tiny bit conversationally.
It was so incredible to find myself where I needed to be — arriving at midnight on a Thursday with no cell reception, I somehow managed to correct my strictly Italian-speaking taxi driver during our drive to my AirBnb and find the right address, driving through a tiny dark alley into the piazza where I would be staying. Kind of magical and victorious. I awoke the next morning to a bright, lively day right in the center of it all, stumbling upon the Roman Forum by pure chance.
My good friend Emer came to visit from London, and we spent my first weekend there eating way too much (seriously, too much at times) and walking, walking, walking.
- Roscioli Caffe e Pasticceria: the best coffee each morning. I also went to their restaurant and gourmet food shop for dinner a few nights later, and had the most incredible carbonara.
- Armando al Pantheon: it’s safe to say I will never forget this meal, for reasons I will not go into here (hehe.) We had cacio e pepe and amatriciana, which I might be a little obsessed with. Old school, charming trattoria, forever ingrained into my memory.
- Pizzarium Bonci: I had one of my favorite pizzas ever here. Hearty little squares sold by the weight, I devoured the mozzarella, tomato, and anchovy. It was perfect, and in a great working class neighborhood close to a top-notch salumeria, just a short walk from the Vatican.
- The Jerry Thomas Speakeasy: a password, an unmarked door, reservations (almost) required, membership mandatory. An interesting craft cocktail experience in the heart of Rome, definitely worth checking out. They also recently opened a shop a couple doors down that has some great bar tools and books.
In between all of these meals, we went to the Vatican just as the pope was arriving. I kid you not. While I’m not religious at all, I was pretty excited to see the most progressive, outspoken pope greeting the crowd. I snapped a photo before being told that was strictly not allowed. We saw the most incredible frescoes throughout the Vatican, and stared in awe within the Sistine Chapel.
Other meals worth noting:
- Pizza ai Marmi — absolutely loved this place. I was bummed to have only made it there once. I went just before midnight on a Thursday, expecting to see lots of drunk students, but was immediately taken by how busy it was with couples, old men, and groups of friends of all ages. I’m a little obsessed with the mushroom and sausage pizza I had here.
- La Tavernaccia: on my last night in Rome before heading back to Boston, I had the best meal of my three weeks in Italy. Bruschetta with chicory, spaghettoni alla grecia (pecorino, guanciale, and black pepper), and the juiciest, most flavorful veal I’ve ever had. Even the potatoes were the sweetest, creamiest roasted potatoes. Salivating.
A few days later, Emer headed back to London, and I was on my own. I moved from our charming little AirBnb in Piazza Margana to another in the Trastevere neighborhood, to be closer to the American Academy in Rome. I was fortunate enough to have had four days volunteering in the kitchen at the Rome Sustainable Food Project. The Academy partnered with Alice Waters in 2007 to link the kitchen with local farms and producers, to create an program where kitchen staff and interns would cook daily meals from scratch, based on Roman traditions, for the Academy’s fellows and staff. This was so great — to be in a kitchen again, see how a program like this works, and to just soak up the inspiration. The chefs roasted baby lamb one day with an aromatic oil of coriander, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, and rosemary atop lentils with a parsley and mint salsa verde. I’m starving as I’m writing this.
It was such a treat to be learning about cooking in another country, and with such welcoming people, that I felt right at home. If only I was still there to watch the seasons change.
On one of my free mornings, I went on an underground and third-ring tour at the Colosseum. This was definitely the way to do it. It was only about 20 Euro, and you get an in-depth history of the Colosseum, and access to parts of the arena that are only available with a tour guide. No need to elbow your way around the throngs of the selfie-stick happy on the second ring. Although, a couple were irrationally only on my tour to take better selfies. Look this way, flip your hair that way, don’t bother trying to take in the historical experience. But I digress. This view! A truly incredible day.
If you’re planning a trip to Rome, you must check out Katie Parla’s website and app. This was indispensable in finding good food and drink around the city. Elizabeth Minchilli also has a great app on where to eat in Rome, Florence, Venice, Umbria, and Milan. These two were my secret weapons.