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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Roma, Roma

Well, we hit the ground running in Rome. The group landed at 6.30 in the morning, and we were leaving at lunchtime the next day for our first concert, so had only 1.5 days to 'do' Rome. I had arrived in the evening before, so had the advantage of a few hours sleep in a real bed, but after getting to our convent hostel too early for rooms to be ready, everybody made a quick change and set out for the day. I don't think I could have done it. I know how I feel after a 30 hour flight, and tackling a big city in the late summer heat is not desirable!

Incidentally, accommodation in Rome is hideously overpriced and most often booked out, especially if you're travelling with a group in September, so I highly recommend staying at a
convent-run guesthouse. Our hotel was run by Latino nuns, and was a 10 minute walk from the Colosseum. Yes, you'll have a curfew, but the rooms will be spotless! Our midnight curfew didn't pose any problems for this exhausted group on their first day.
So, straight off the plane, we hit the town. We checked out the Colosseum and the Roman Forum ruins. It was very hot. I loved this combination of low-rent snacks and high-rent architecture:

With admirable forebearance, our little group agreed to search out a highly recommended pizza place not far from Piazza Navona.
Belinda and I led out group all over the city, in the sun, into alleys, out of alleys, into small piazzas, into big piazzas, all the while ignoring pleas to 'just stop at this pizza place. It looks fine'.
"NO!! This one's supposed to the best best!"
We had a lot riding on this amazing pizza place. But when we very eventually found the little street (and remember, everyone's straight off a 30 hour flight, unshowered, unslept and been traipsing through the 30 degree heat for 3 hours) it....umm.....wasn't there!!!!!! Yeah, we were SO popular.
However, it appears that the area around Piazza Navona is good for quality pizzas and we found some random place that didn't look full of tourists. In fact, it was full of workmen on their lunchbreak, which is a good sign. I know Belinda took a photo of the business card, but I think my card is in the enormous package of paperwork I posted home from London at the end of the tour and might eventually turn up by Christmas...

This was my choice, with tomato, mozarella, rocket, marinated capsicum, prosciuto and mushrooms. The tinned mushrooms on top were a bit random, but was otherwise excellent. I had forgotten about the really thin bases of Roman-style pizzas. They're so thin they're like toasted pita bread! I liked the way you didn't feel too bloated with dough after finishing a good-size pizza. Much easier on the digestion than eating a whole pizza for lunch in Australia!

Belinda's pizza was a bit richer, but very difficult to pass up. 4 cheeses, including a hefty chunk of gorgonzola, topped with zucchini flowers. Very tasty, and way-cheesy (in training for Switzerland?) but I think she may have left some unfinished; it was very full-on. Taste-wise, more interesting than mine, but not as kind to the system!
Keep reading for more Rome food...

The only recommendation we managed to find that first day in Rome was Caffe Sant'Eustachio; a caffe apparently making the best coffee in Rome. It was on our way from Piazza Navona to the Trevi Fountain, in the Piazza Sant'Eustachio. We walked past it a few times, and very nearly went into the wrong cafe before we realised which one it is. There's not much to set it apart, but when inside, their ordering system is interesting. There's a 3-step process involving placing an order, getting a ticket, collecting the coffee and going to pay. Not very Italian! But in true Italian fashion there's just organised chaos with people wandering around all over the place doing whatever they will.
We all went for espressos and were surprised to discover that sugar is automatically added to all the coffees. If you don't want sugar you have to make a special request when you place your order. In good Italian fashion we only noticed these signs at the cash register! A couple of the cofee-nazis in the group had already put me down for having sugar in my espresso, to which I would point out that Italians always have sugar in their espresso, and going without didn't mean they were doing anything manly, they were just being wankers! This just proves my point!
Yes, the coffee was good, but I'm not at the point were I can tell the difference between good coffee and excellent coffee, in Italy. Over there, all the coffee I had was excellent. Even the espresso I had at the bus terminal in the crapola town of Poggibonsi was fantastic! The dark little bar near our hotel, on Via Merulana, filled with suspicious, smoking locals and staffed by the requisite insouciant barista in tight pants made what I considered to be the best coffee, but that could be because I ingested about 8 of them in 36 hours!

We ended up at the totally overcrowded Trevi fountain and after a photo stop, started to look for San Crispino, the recommended-by-everyone gelati place. And whaddya know, in keeping with the theme of the day....we couldn't find it! I think a combination of the crowds and general exhaustion may have added to it, but we searched up and down and asked a combination of passers-by, shop-keepers and African immigrants selling fake Gucci bags, but nobody could tell us! So, we just grabbed something at a random place on the way to the Spanish steps.
However, that evening as we were coming home from dinner near our hotel and were sleepwalking down Via Merulana, we woke up enough to notice a gelati place; Gelateria Ornelli. This place was gooood! Their chocolate combinations included chocolate & pear, chocolate chilli and chocolate & mandarin and in the 3 times I visited in my 36 hours I tried them all. Their cinnamon gelati was also outstanding. Highly recommended!
Naturally, as I was walking down the street the next morning, after deciding that 11am wasn't too early to be eating chocolate chili gelati, feeling very sophisticated and Italian in my dark glasses walking the streets of Rome, I look down to discover I've dropped a blob of gelati right down the middle of my skirt. My pale beige skirt. My chocolate gelati. Yep, nothing to bring you back to reality like that! This girl's never going to be a sophisticated Roman...so with that, I went to Chieti.



  • Hi Niki

    What a great post!! I always take sugar in my espresso (in fact I take all my coffe black & sweet, unless I lose all self-control and indulge in a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte with whipped cream ;-)) - so yes, all the best people take sugared espressos!!

    I can also relate to trying to find the One And Only coffe shop/pizzeria/whatever in a foreign city - Nick was dragged around various bits of New York looking for The Place, often to find they had shut up shop. weren't open on Tuesdays in October or had moved. Yes, I was very popular! And how do you explain to a non-foodie-obsessive that no, one pizza is not just as good as another??

    Re. ultra-thin pizzas - there are a couple of places in South Africa that serve them and aren't they just the best?? The quattro formaggi that your friend had looks like my idea of heaven. I think Rome is going to have to be bumped up the "must visit" list a bit ;-)

    By Blogger Jeanne, at 11/23/2006 09:28:00 pm  

  • Did you use some of my photos? ;-) Now I can't blog about Rome... I'll just have to refer to you!

    By Blogger Belinda, at 11/24/2006 09:27:00 am  

  • Belinda - no, my photos. Oh, except the one of your pizza - mine didn't come out!

    By Blogger Niki, at 11/24/2006 10:31:00 am  

  • Hi Niki - I've been bookmarking all your Italy posts so I could come back and read them at a nice leisurely pace. Actually, I think I've read this one a couple of times now! Anyway, I enjoyed it needless to say. I was fortunate enough to visit Rome about five years ago and hope I have a chance to visit it again. Thanks for stirring up the memories (and the appetite!)

    By Blogger Cathy, at 12/10/2006 08:22:00 am  

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