Updated: Jul 29
I often get asked about Italian travel recommendations and hey, maybe even by you. I'm happy to help however I can, even though my brand of Italian travel might not be yours. One of my biggest recommendations is to try to avoid Italy in the summer and especially Rome. When I found out my daughter applied and was accepted to the European Ballet School in Rome for the a month that spanned July and August, sure I was proud, but I was also scared.
Even though I've told people not to visit Rome in the summer, I've never done it. Maybe it won't be so bad, nice breezy warm evenings to enjoy a cool beverage al fresco. Then I started hearing about "Caronte", the name of the ferryman in Dante's poem Inferno who took folks to hell, and the also the name given to the historic heatwave on the brink of our travels. Sure, Paso gets hot, but an ancient city filled with stone, a big river, mobs of tourists and zero breeze is a different kind of heat. When we broke the record yesterday from all time in recorded history I wondered just how long recorded history is in a place called the eternal city.
Our first couple days didn't go as planned, as a mechanical issue on our United flight from SLO caused us to miss our connection to Rome. We were rerouted through Frankfort to Milan adding an extra 24 hours of travel to our trip and to add insult to injury, our bags didn't show up. I could spent hours describing the unfortunate series of events that ensued over the next several days to get our bags back (it took six days), but I'll save that for a letter I'm drafting to United's CEO and executive team. Please let me know if you'd like to see it, but I know you'd rather hear about food. At least Kate got to see the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, which is probably the world's most beautiful shopping mall. She says it's a big deal on the social media too.
Speaking of social media, our first stop after a train ride to Rome with a pit stop for underwear, socks and toiletries was a town that Kate learned about on Tic Tok called Nemi. I know very little about TikTok, but I do admit it really came through for us on this one. Nemi is a town that is famous in Italy for strawberries. So famous in fact that nearly every shop, restaurant and bar has a strawberry theme or at least incorporates strawberries into their menus. There are strawberry crepes for breakfast, salads with strawberries for lunch, strawberry cocktails and of course every type of strawberry dessert you could imagine. (Kate's loved strawberries since she was a girl and was in heaven) In addition, there is also a ton of great meat like the shot above of me in a meat forest and plenty of pasta too. The dish pictured is a tortelloni with a cacio e pepi sauce inside and gaunciale on top, a brilliant spin on pasta alla gricia. We also had a black summer truffle pasta.
We might be among the first American tourists to ever step foot in Nemi. The town is built on a cliff over a beautiful lake that Como has nothing on, and the place was just beautiful. The restaurants and cafes were charming and since it's only 45 minutes from Rome's main airport FCO, it's really easy to get to. I will return for sure and I give it a high recommendation. We stayed at a little B&B called Vistalago Guesthouse that had a huge terrace over the lake. Our dinner with the great pasta was at L'Acqua Bulle. A fancy restaurant with great value and very kind service. If you make it to Nemi give it a try.
The next day we meandered back to Rome, and I grabbed a big plate of buccatini all' amatriciana along the way. Kate checked into her dorm and I wandered to my Airbnb that was just a few blocks away. The dance program is located in a part of town that might be referred to as transitional. I imagine it's what some rougher parts of New York City looked like in the 70's before it turned into a giant shopping mall. I'm not sure if the neighborhood even has a name, but the metro stop is Cornelia and it's second to last on the far western side of town about 10 minutes past the Vatican. At first I was a little nervous with my new surroundings, but after snagging a large beer, four squares
of Roman pinsa and 2 suppli (Roman arancini - rice balls) for less than 10 euros life seemed pretty sweet. I ate this in the AirBNB and crashed.
My favorite places to visit and eat in Italy and in Rome are the local food markets. Every town has at least one, it's the place to get fresh produce, meat, fish, fresh pasta and even pants and shoes. Rome has a ton of them and on the my first full day in Rome I visited a new one to me called Testaccio that was a 45 minute train ride. With the heat of "Caronte" looming my strategy would be to wake up every morning at sun up and get out and try to eat as much as possible before the heat really started kicking in. I spent the morning walking around the Circus Maximus that was putting up scaffolding for some type of giant spectacle music and arts festival. Some things never change - "bread and circuses", and then headed to the market by about 9AM. Testaccio is a lovely market that's light, bright with light colors filtered sunshine streams in, tons of produce and food stalls. It's not close to any of the main tourist zones, and seemed to be mostly frequented by locals.
When I visit a market for the first time I like to go up and down every single row first to kind of get a lay of the land. I noticed a couple pretty nice looking pasta booths and a couple other pizza spots. I asked at one of the pasta spots how early could I get pasta in my broken Italian, "A que hora, mangia la pasta". When I speak Italian I usually get some strange looks. I'm not sure if it's that they are trying to process what I just asked, or trying to figure out why I'm even trying to speak Italian in the first place. The older folks usually answer me back after the pause, while younger Italians answer back in English giving me the scowl that a father of a couple teenage daughters knows so well. So, I had pasta for breakfast at around 9:30 PM - I'm guessing it's the earliest the place had ever served a plate of pasta. I then said something like,"Io mangia prima la calda" - hopefully meaning, "I need to eat before it's hot" since I got an approving nod, I then proceeded to say, "Dopo pronzo dormo tutto giorno poi mangia la cena" - Something like, "After lunch, I sleep all day and then eat dinner". Since this was not as well received, thus from there, I decided to just stick to the "ciao" and "grazie mille" for a while.
The breakfast pasta (classic alla gricia) was amazing, and since I knew lunch would be right after, I opted for the 4.90 euro option. Not sure why it wasn't just 5, but hey I'm not complaining. The pork was crispy, the sauce creamy and the cheese generous as you can see. I didn't even mind the paper plate and compostable fork. After that ,I wandered a little bit and then decided to grab a little pizza. This looked like Roman style pinsa, but the gregarious owner said that no that it was just normal Roman pizza and then tossed in that it was the best pizza in all of Rome. I tried 2 different types, the first with fresh cherry tomato and buffalo mozzarella and the second with squash blossom, anchovy and burrata. As far as the best in Rome? "No lo so" - "I don't know" but with 4.9 stars on Google and 500 reviews he may have a case. I would recommend visiting Casa Manco and Altro Pasta e Vino in the Testaccio market. I made the long journey home and was drenched an sweat by the time I got inside and thanked the heavens above that my apartment had excellent air conditioning.
Once the sun drops behind the buildings in the late afternoon the heat is somewhat bareable and I was off again to try more pasta. This time I ventured to a spot right around the corner called Tagliatella. This little spot was like a mini stripped down Etto Pasta Bar with all pasta made on sight, simple ingredients, classic roman pastas and a couple seasonal ones. Good local beer and wine is featured with friendly service. If we ever expand Etto Pasta Bar to new locations this is how I'd do it. I walked past the next night and a couple of the same people were eating there from the previous night - if that's not a good sign. The tagliatelle with pork ragu was simple, balanced and perfect. I would eat there every week if I lived here
To Be Continued