A 21st Century Visit to Ancient Rome

 I mentioned yesterday that I would tell more about the self-portrait found in the “About” section – the photo is terrible but the memories are incredible!

 This time last year I had just finished my master’s dissertation on the foodways of the Italian immigrants in NYC and rewarded myself with a 12-day trip to Italy. I spent four days and three nights in Rome followed by a few days with my father and family in the countryside just south of Rome, then off to Florence for two nights. I finished the journey by spending the last couple days with family before heading home.

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 It was a dream vacation for me – plenty of time for solo exploration and enough family time to banish loneliness AND feel like I actually spent quality time with my loved ones. If you are the adventurous type but have never traveled solo, I highly recommend it – this was my second major solo trip (certainly not the last); though I love having a willing partner in crime, sometimes it’s just nice to go at your own pace.

 I arrived in Rome just after dawn on a crystal blue spring day. I intentionally left home without an itinerary, only hotel reservations and plans to eat gelato at least once every day! I stayed in a beautifully restored 15th century palazzo in the Subura, the oldest quarter of Rome (this neighborhood was ancient and rather notorious in the time of Julius Caesar!). One of my family members lived in this neighborhood for many years (in the 20th century), so I had visited before and had good information on the best off-the-beaten-track places to eat.

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 First stop, a quick walk to the Forum and the Coliseum to appease my inner history geek, and to do some major people watching while catching up on my reading and writing. Wandering through this beautiful ancient gathering place is a reminder of how far I could get from my daily grind while getting closer to those who walked the same stones thousands of years before me – all the while wondering at the silliness of modern-day Roman gods scantily dressed as gladiators for the tourists’ eager cameras!

 When in Rome, there are a few local specialties you shouldn’t miss. Although Rome is the original cosmopolitan, international city, there remain many local delicacies that represent the region and its unique history. For you adventurous eaters, Roman cuisine is known for its creative use of offal – “il quinto quarto” (the fifth quarter), once considered the most desirable cuts due to their rarity (usually only one or two of something per animal). My father loves a dish called pagliata (baby veal intestines served like pasta in tomato sauce).

 For the not so adventurous, bucatini alla carbonara is the pasta specialty of the region, rich with pancetta, eggs and sheep’s milk cheese. Also, carciofi alla giudia (fried baby artichokes) and puntarelle (a lovely local, and very seasonal, green commonly found in salad with anchovies).

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 For a great taste of classic Roman cuisine (minus the more intimidating items), Angeletti in the Subura is a wonderful little neighborhood restaurant that shouldn’t be missed. The food is comforting and made with love. The service is genuinely warm. I eat there every time I visit Rome. It’s worth getting off the beaten path!

 As for the self-portrait, it was taken on the lovely but very tiny terrace of my lovely but very tiny room as I enjoyed an array of treats from the market and a bottle of effervescent, refreshing local white wine. More on the markets of Rome in future posts.

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