Monday, June 24, 2013

Rome


Roma!!! Pasta, vino, sun, and all that color!

I liked it very much as you can see...


Oh my god. The carbonara at Ai Balestrari was simple, rich, and sooooo good. It doesn't look like much but I could barely finish it on a empty stomach. This is the kind of pasta that I couldn't make at home because it wouldn't be the same. Italian food in Italy just tastes better than anything else.

M was busy with finals so I gorged and saw the sights by myself. I had lunch alone at Ai Balestrari twice in a row. I was self conscious at first but no one cared. They were busy living their own lives. A lot of my time in Rome was enjoyable alone but I would have loved to have a friend or lovah for company. It struck me how much I appreciate a traveling companion - someone with you to wow over the Pantheon, share gelato, and take dorky tourist pictures with to show your family.

It was the first time I've been all by myself in a foreign city (not counting the UK). To be honest, being alone and lost in a scorchingly hot city where you don't know the language made me really anxious. I'm not a zen, go with the flow person at all... but however nervewracking and lonely it was sometimes, it was probably a good experience to have. 






Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta), a Roman specialty at Ai Balestrari. I preferred the carbonara.






Notes:

Ai Balestrari
Via dei Balestrari, 41, 00100 Rome, Italy
- Once again, I really recommend Ai Balestrari for a good, affordable lunch. I spent €25 on a starter, pasta, and a fourth of a liter of wine. I skimped the next day and spent about €12 on just pasta and water.

Fatamorgana Gelato
Via Laurenia 10 near the Spanish steps
- Amazing, creative gelato. Noci e miele (basil, walnuts, and honey) was beautiful (can you use that to describe food?) although I usually stick to the plain stuff like pistachio and chocolate. It was really affordable especially for an artisanal gelato place near a touristy site. I got three flavors in a cone for €3. I'm definitely going back next time I'm in Rome.

- I hit up all the tourist sites (the Colosseum/Forum/Palantine Hill, Pantheon, Trevi fountain, Spanish steps, etc). I really recommend getting the Colosseum/Forum/Palantine Hill ticket online so you don't wait in line like I did. It took ages to get in and I honestly could have spent that time doing better things like eating and drinking. I thought the Colosseum looked more impressive from the outside actually.

- I used Parla Food as my main source of food and drink recommendations. You should too!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Florence


Third year at St Andrews ended with spontaneous walks on the beach, picnics, and BBQ under that Scottish summer sun that never fades. I almost always wear a waterproof layer when I'm out so when I finally get the chance to let my skin breathe, it's joyous. Its like everyone is buzzing on that shared relief - to be outside, in the sun, exams behind us. Everything comes alive and it's hard not to be happy.


I was sad and reluctant to leave, but I had important business - visiting my best friend in Italy. Oh, my life!!

First off, Florence. I touched down in Rome just long enough to eat M's food and drink her wine. We left really early in the morning for our journey to Florence. With my 2 euro water bottle and an overnight bag, we boarded this sleek, modern train.


After a peaceful hour and a half we made a quick stop for a breakfast of espresso and cornetto taken standing at the bar like proper Italianos. I was so excited for some blazing summer sun that I only packed shorts and sandals. It didn't take long for me to get cold and develop blisters all over my feet. Bad idea!! 

I apparently brought Scotland's dreary weather with me on our first day. But Florence didn't look so bad did it?


We wandered round and round the center of town. I was surprised by how small it seemed. Even after a day and a half I felt like we had walked around the same streets repeatedly.



We climbed the tower next to the Duomo. The climb was steep, narrow, and kind of scary. The passage really only allows a single file line so passing others going in the opposite direction on the twisty stairs freaked me out.



I admired Florence's faded yellow buildings and orange rooftops. Such a change from St Andrews.

The other part of the adventure is discovering unpleasant things you're not used to, like the constant smell of sewage. With the cold and my very blistered feet along with the constant wafts of sewage in my face, I definitely was out of my comfort zone. I blame not liking Florence mostly to extraneous circumstances, cause I'd visit it again. Although I don't like cities, I feel guilty ruling out a place entirely after only two days in it.




I had the best meal of the trip at Trattoria Mario. One of M's friends raved about his last time here many years ago... and now I totally understand. 

The trattoria was small, humble (backless stools, bathroom-like tiled walls), and crowded full of Italians. I hadn't done much research about where to go in Florence so I didn't know what to expect. And wow. This is the kind of extraordinary meal that you travel to Italy for. Juicy, succulent, perfectly cooked veal chop followed by strawberries in white wine. 





M took this picture of me as I tucked into the veal chop. I had no idea until she showed me later. It says everything.


Note:
My phone died on the second day so I don't have any pictures of Ponte Vecchio or the pretty streets we wandered.

Food:
Via Rosina, 2, 50123 Florence, Italy
- Far and AWAY the BEST meal I had on this trip. Out of my taste test of everyone else's lunch, which included roast chicken (best chicken skin I've ever had), steak, risotto and pork chop), M and I declared the veal chop as the best.

Via Porta Rossa, 58, 50123 Florence, Italy
- I had pizza margherita - pretty good, not great in comparison to Trattoria Mario. Kind of disappointing based off the things I'd read. Someone else got the wild boar salami pizza and that was AMAZING. SO GOOD!! Order that instead.

Piazza Danti, 19, 06123 Perugia, Italy
- I got the mushroom truffle ravioli. Pretty good, not great. It was beautiful the second day. I recommend sitting outside and people watching with vino della casa and proscuitto and buffalo mozzarella.

Accommodation:
We stayed at Plus Florence Hostel in a private twin room. The main areas looked pretty nice for a hostel, so I was underwhelmed by the room's spartan, utilitarian feel. Not sure if I'd recommend it unless you're just looking for a place to crash. It was €34 euro each.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Country bumpkin, realized


I'm back home in America, finally. This last month has been crazy.

In May I was busy with revision and exams - a pretty uninteresting and cooking-free time of my life. It's been my best semester academically which has honestly been a relief on my ego. After three middling years in the English department (with yo-yoing dedication), it's pretty true that you just have to know what your tutors (professors) want to hear.

I spent a week in Italy after exams. It's weird what you expect to take away from traveling and what you actually do. I expected to frolic over the cobbled streets of Rome and Florence drunk on excitement and house wine, which I did, but more importantly I fully realized that I kinda hate cities.

my dream home

When I was 13 I visited my sister who was living in NYC at the time. It was right before high school. I had bangs and aggressive acne. It was the best five days of my life. My super cool city slicker sister was my biggest hero (and still is). I was gonna be a kick ass, globe trotting, successful independent woman living it up in the big city when I grew up. Totally glamorous. Totally cool.

Now I'm 21 and I cringe at the smelliness, dirtiness, crowdedness, and expensiveness of big cities. I get overwhelmed and tired at parties. I didn't like Paris that much. I'd rather stay in and cuddle on Friday night. In a sense I was more cool when I was 18 and that was only three years ago. How did I get so lame??

On the shuttle from Edinburgh airport to St Andrews, my heart squeezed at the sight of rolling emerald fields, their huge swaths of electric yellow wildflowers, and the rugged stone squat hobbit houses of Fife. I breathed in the clean, coastal air of St Andrews. My huge relief to be back was powerful and unshakable. It struck me again that I've become someone more introverted and domestic than I could have predicted. And I've really come to love and prefer a slower paced, small town life. I feel more at home out there than anywhere... and it genuinely makes me happy.