Sunday, July 27, 2014

My Fatty Fortieth - The Roma Edition

"Let's take a walk, see what we see."

That's basically how every day started on our vacation in Italy last week.  It was a phenomenal trip to celebrate my 40th birthday, and I won't soon forget all the amazing meals, wines, architecture, history, art, and Italian nonsense we experienced!

We didn't do a whole lot of scheduling, we kind of wandered around and discovered each locale on our own terms.  Except for a few structured tours, we pretty much flowed the whole time.  Oh, and we ate.  And drank wine.  And ate.  And drank some more wine.  And ate some more.  Hence the "Fatty Fortieth."  My kind of vacation.

Fontana del Tritone (Triton Fountain) in Rome

First of all, everyone in Italy smokes.  Okay, not everyone, but it certainly seemed that way.  Apparently the smoking causes cancer lesson hasn't had much of an impact over there!  Italian Surgeon General, anyone?

And the men are huge fans of the skinny jean.  And loafers.  We joked and said:  "Hipster, gay, or Italian?  You decide."  Obviously, we're joking around, for any sensitive Nellies out there.  It's also the land of the tiny car.  Mostly Fiats.

I guess I should move on from my social commentary and get to the fun stuff.  Italy is amazing.  We started off in Rome and stayed there for 3 days, and then took the train up to Florence.  Rome was all hustle and bustle, with the most stunning old world architecture to gawk at around every corner.  Rome?  One word:  classy.

Moses Fountain in the Piazza San Bernardo was across the street from the hotel where we stayed

Fountain near the Coliseum
One thing that struck me was the sheer size of all the historical buildings, statues, basilicas, etc.  Everything is freaking enormous.  So larger than life that it starts to mess with your sense of perspective.  Especially at the Vatican!

We hit all the usual suspects while we were in Rome:  the Coliseum, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, The Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, and a big chunk of all the piazzas and fountains that dominate them. And that's not even scratching the surface of all there is to see there.  You'd have to live there for a while to really get it.

One of my favorite parts of both Rome & Florence was the piazzas and fountains.  Piazza is essentially Italian for square, and most traditional Italian cities and towns are laid out with them all over, usually with a big fountain or statue of some kind in the center.  They're like little mini-town centers, dotted all over the city.  And they were the place to be after the sun went down!

Our nightly routine didn't take long to establish itself.  Dinner at the late (for us) hour of around 10PM - way out of the normal five-thirty, six-ish dinner time of non-vacation world - and then getting gelato and strolling around the piazzas at night.  One of my favorite piazzas in Rome was Piazza Navona.  I just loved the fountains, and it was such a large open space.  This picture below is a collage of the fountains in Piazza Navona:  Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune), Fontana del Moro (Moor Fountain), and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers).  They were all so grandiose, and stood in front of a huge, ritzy looking former palace, but the palace now houses the Brazilian embassy:

The nightly gelato-piazza wandering routine begins!

The Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica and square were pretty memorable too.  Talk about impressive.  I can't even begin to share the amount of pictures I took (way too many) - especially at the Vatican, but here are a few good ones:

The picture above is the ceiling that ran the entire length of the hallway in the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican Museum.  It was so ornate & detailed, you couldn't even fathom all of the scenes depicted.  All you could do was stare up in awe.  Which is pretty much what you're doing the entire time in Rome anyway.  It's spectacular on all levels.

Vatican Church, inside and outside

Just to give you some perspective, check out the photo above on the left side.  It's the tall archway near the altar inside the Vatican Church.  That archway is 10 stories tall.  And it's inside.  Crazy.  St. Peter's Basilica and Square conformed to the whole "everything is enormous" theme Rome's got going on:

St. Peter's Basilica.  How 'bout that zoom on my new camera?  I was in love!

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City
The fun little Osteria we found to wait out the rain.
See?  Everyone smokes!

After we toured the Vatican, we unexpectedly got caught in a torrential downpour with no umbrella, and ended up trying to seek shelter in a little archway down one of the streets around Vatican City.  Didn't really work out very well!

Eventually, all soaking wet and squeaky shoes, we found our way to a little Osteria (Italian for tavern, I learned) and ordered a few beers and some snacks.  It was a perfect way to (sort of) dry out and wait out the storm. 

During our few days in Rome, we also spent some time checking out the Coliseum, the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon.  All impressive! 

Hubby & the Coliseum and the Arch of Constantine

The Pantheon was one of the highlights of all the historical buildings we saw in Rome.  I mean hell, everything was a highlight!  There isn't anything we did that I wouldn't recommend or didn't like.  Except for the Trevi Fountain.  I was looking forward to seeing it because it's the largest & grandest of all the fountains in Rome, but unfortunately, it was under construction.

The sad, under construction Trevi Fountain
It was covered in scaffolding and didn't have any water in it - basically a construction site.  I was a little bummed, but what can ya do?

According to one of our tour guides, Rome is in a constant state of refurbishing and restoration of the ancient ruins.  So I guess it's inevitable that some of the sites will be in the middle of restorations during a visit.  Oh well.

Here are a few shots from the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon:

The Pantheon was yet another enormous structure, and my first thought was that the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. was obviously inspired by it.  Probably obvious to some, but it only occurred to me once we were standing in front of the Pantheon!

Another memorable experience in Rome was wandering across the bridge over the Tiber River to explore an area of town called Trastevere.  It was a winding, cozy little section of the city that had all sorts of hidden alleyways and streets.  Now's about time for a few Trastevere photo collages:

I LOVED the bookshop in the main picture of the above collage.  Of course, all the books were in Italian, so we didn't go browsing, but I just loved the whole feel of it.  It just screams Italy to me.  The other pics are of the hubby crossing the bridge over the Tiber River into Trastevere, some very Italy-ish street scenes, and lunch at Papa Re Trattoria Pizzeria.  Giant Peronis & the best bruschetta I had the whole trip!

We also wandered around Piazza Di San Maria in Trastevere:

This is the oldest fountain in Rome

Rome's oldest bar
I'm teetering into the realm of way too long of a post, but hey - we saw a lot!  Alright fine, it's already way too long of a post.  I'll try to wrap it up!

One last fun experience to share. - We went to Rome's oldest bar, but it looked more like a parlor than a bar.  It was called Antico Caffe Greco.  We had a little pre-dinner glass of Chianti and checked out some of the decor before we headed out for yet another off the charts meal.

There wasn't a single bad meal the entire trip.  Italians know what's up in the kitchen!  I haven't even shared the extent of all the scrumptious food we ate.  I could go on and on about all the deliciousness, but I really need to wrap up this monster post.  Here's a little sum up some of the delicious food we had in Rome:

Pasta and tomato theme, perhaps?  Hubby was so happy with his
Proscuitto & melon dish.  Sounds wacky, but it was fantastic.

I'll try to be less long-winded in my next post about the Florence part of our trip.  More food, more wine, more wandering...and more wine.  Stay tuned for the Fatty Fortieth Part Due!  See how I did that there? 

Ta-ta for now.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

PSP Be Damned!

I learned a very sad fact not long after we first moved up here.  It's called PSP, and it stands for Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning.  It's basically a toxic contamination from algae that affects Alaskan shellfish.  PSP more than likely will kill you if you eat a clam, muscle, oyster, etc. that has it.  Starts with a tingling around the lips and then you're toast.  If you know me, you know that clams are one of my all time favorite things to eat - hence the sadness after learning about PSP.
Come to me, clammies!

So, I've been in a clam wasteland for the last year because I nurtured a somewhat overkill paranoia of it.  It wasn't even a realistic fear because the commercial fishing industry is held to some pretty strict regulations and testing for PSP.  It's the going digging on the beach for shellfish on your own where the threat is real.

But the good news is, I've finally gotten over my paranoia! I crossed my fingers & pulled the trigger and picked up a dozen and a half clams one weekend not too long ago.  And damn, were they good!  They were either butter clams or Pacific little necks.  I'm not sure which ones they were, but they were fantastic.  My go to steaming recipe is with white wine, but I had to go beer style because it's all I had.  Turned out great.

We finally started going to the local fish market in town, which is where I picked up the clams.  It took us a while to check it out, and I have no idea why.  It's funny though - there's a little bit of a stigma since this is such a hard-core fishing town.

The unspoken (and even sometimes directly asked) question is, "Oh, are you from out of town?"  The subtext being, "Why didn't you catch the halibut, salmon, cod, etc. yourself?"  That's alright, I'll take the heat from the die hard fishermen.  Not everyone is on the damn river every weekend.  Some of us hike mountains, dammit.  Just kidding.  I'm looking forward to doing some fishing this summer.  Just haven't made it happen yet.  It's at the top of the must-do this summer list.  Cause ya know there's a list.

So our local joint is called Pacific Seafood, and it has a good selection of what you would expect. - Halibut, salmon, cod, crab, shrimp, scallops, and others. It's pricey, but so worth it.  And really not any pricier than the fish we used to buy in Key West.  Goes with the territory of living on an island, I guess.

Great little place to get some fish - if you don't catch it yourself!

I had my little clam appetizer, and we got some Halibut for the main course.  We grilled it in a cast iron skillet with blackened seasoning.  I say we as if I had something to do with the process.  My role started and ended with procuring the fish. - The rest was all the hubby, and holy Lord was it tasty.  I've said it before, but I'll say it again.  I highly recommend marrying a cook!

We kept it simple with the side dishes.  Just some green beans and macaroni and cheese.  Perfect summer meal!

On another note - I'll be taking a little break from blogging for a few weeks, so you won't see any new posts from me for most of July.

I have a pretty good reason for the hiatus, though.  I turn the big 40 in about a week and a half & we're heading over to Italy to celebrate.

I'm really looking forward to the trip!  Wine, pizza, pasta, mouth waters just thinking about it.  And then all that old world architecture, art, and scenery we'll get to experience...I can't wait!  So, I'll be back to my ramblings sometime at the end of July after our Italian escapade - with lots to share, I'm sure.  Try not to miss me too much. 

Ta-ta for now.  Or, I guess I should say arrivederci.  No wait, I got it:

Ciao-ciao for now!!