Viva La Italia – Part 1 – Roma

In July, I spent 2 glorious weeks and went on tour in Italy with a high school choir that I work with. It was exhausting but nevertheless an wonderful and amazing trip, I got to experience so much more compare to my Europe trip last year. This time I really immersed myself in the culture and learned basic survival phrases thanks to Rick’s Steve. By the end of the two weeks, I could order espresso and meals without having to speak English. And yes, I also learned to ask for my shoe size in the Italian language, did quite a bit (ok a LOT) of shopping there….the leather goods, the jewelry, the beautiful ceramics…When can I go back next?

So where to start? I guess I’ll stick to the itinerary and make separate posts on different cities in Italy. First up, the eternal city – Roma!

After an almost 24 hour journey (San Francisco -> Frankfurt -> Rome), we have finally at our hotel in Rome. Oh, that tiny tiny room I spent 4 nights in. But hey, as long as the hotel has air-conditioned room, I ain’t complaining. We arrived in the middle of a heat wave, it was tough for the students to sight-see and perform in the 90+ degree weather high humidity daily, but we handled it like champs.

here are some snapshots:

At the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Just breath-taking!

So GRAND!

Trevi Fountain. Toss a coin in and you will return to Rome someday.

Quick lunch by the Trevi Fountain, at That’s Amore. Got a couple pizzas for the table but didn’t have time to have dessert. This is the marinara pizza.

The Carbonara pizza at That’s Amore. Pancetta, onion, cheese, and an egg. YUMMMMM. It’s so simple but I couldn’t stop eating it. The pizza was quite big, I was starving but still could not eat the whole thing. Would recommend sharing the pizza along with an entree or something.

Look at that super thin crust!

That’a Amore has a nice ambiance. We sat inside to hide from the heat, but sat next to the open patio. Nice breeze and had a view of an alley way, a good change from the hustle and bustle streets leading to the Trevi fountain. The menu offered a lot of typical selections and isn’t overpriced compare to the restaurants right next to the fountain.

Then we stopped by one of the gazillion gelateria next to the Trevi fountain. Straciatella with fragola (strawberry). One of the best on the trip! Sorry can’t remember the name, but it wasn’t San Crispino, the supposed “best gelato” near the fountain.

Il Sorriso – In the Termini neighborhood. (Via Flavia 63, 00187 Roma)
Delicious homemade pasta and yummy homemade desserts. Super friendly waitress who spoke great English. They also offered gluten-free pasta and pizzas. This dish had pancetta and clams, and with a very light non-creamy reduced wine/broth sauce. That’s it! So simple and comforting. I am constantly stunned by how simple Italian cuisine can be, none of that over-sauced with heavy butter and garlic stuff offered in the States here.

A quick note regarding eating gluten-free in Italy. In Italy, everyone is well educated with Celiac disease, which is an extreme allergy to gluten. One of the staff I traveled with has to be on a gluten-free diet and we didn’t have any trouble finding options for her. Simply ask the waiter for “senza glutine” which means without gluten. Or tell them “Celiac” (pronounced chee-liac). We didn’t come across gluten-free pizzas, but they exist for sure. But we did have quite a bit to choose from risotto, gluten-free pasta and gnocchis, and meat entrees. But in terms of dessert, you are out of luck. Most places only offer fresh fruit and some will have some type of fruity sorbetto, but even that is questionable if you are seriously allergic to gluten.

Gelato pops!! The flavors are printed on the fridge. This was from a mom & pop shop right next to our hotel. It’s called Il Gelato Icarus, (Via Collina 13/15 Roma) right between Piazza Sallustio and Via Flavia. If you go at the right time, you can see the staff making the gelato!

This gelateria has the basic flavors. I got ciocolato and pistachio. It was HOT that day so the gelato melted fast. This was taken after I took quite a few spoonful to prevent the dripping down the side and down my hands. And sorry they didn’t give out TWO wafers because I was special or something. I took one from my friend who’s on the gluten-free diet.

Some Italian lesson!

A small/medium cone = un cono piccolo/medio

A small/medium cup = una coppetta piccola/media

You can usually get two flavors in the small cone or cup.

Awesome mushroom risotto at Caffe Piave. (Via Piave, 2E, 00187 Roma). We finished our concert and got back to the hotel at 11:30pm, and this place was open until midnight so we rushed there for a very late dinner. It is typical for concerts to start around 9pm, Italians like to eat late dinner and then attend night events afterwards. It’s especially appropriate in the summer since it cools down significantly at night, perfect temperature for a night stroll. However, finding a sit-down restaurant that opened late was a constant challenge for us, most places closed by 10pm and we generally finished performing around 10 or 10:30pm. Only gelaterias and pizzerias open late. This dish hits the spot, and washed it down with the biggest glass of Peroni. (to ask for a big beer = una birra grande)

Every morning I walked to a different Cafe Bar and tried plain cafe (espresso) or cafe latte. At most cafe bars you order the drinks first at the cashier, then take your check to the barista to get your order. We obviously looked like tourists so the baristas usually asked us directly what we would like. Remember, latte means milk so be sure to say “cafe latte”, otherwise you will end up with plain milk. And forget about asking for non-fat milk because most places don’t offer that option. (“with non-fat milk” in Italian = con latte magro) Another important thing to remember is that costumers usually stand at the bar to drink their coffee and eat their pastries. The coffee is usually not super hot because most costumers are on-the-go and super hot coffee takes too long to finish. Make sure to ask first if you would like to sit down at a table, because some bars will charge more for table service versus standing at the bar. (ask: possiamo sedere qui? – Can we sit here?)

Here is a typical antipasti platter of grilled vegetables. Or this is what some restaurants would whip up for vegetarians besides salads. Eat this with a few drizzle of balsamic vinegar on bread, a glass of vino and I’m set!

This was our very first performance was in the town of Nettuno (Neptune). It was an exchange concert with Coro Polifonico del duomo della citta di Avellino at the Basilica Pontifical of the Madonna of Graces as part of the Festival to celebrate the feast day of Santa Maria Gorretti. The basilica is located right next to the ocean and we had a lovely dinner on the beach after the performance.

We had a tour of the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and the St. Peter’s Basilica. We later sang for the 5pm mass inside the St. Peter’s Basilica. On the left you can see the giant organ and the choir sat right in front of it. It was a bit nerve-wrecking to watch the kids perform in the Vatican. There were securities in suits everywhere and we were probably being watched closely the whole time. There were also two Tenors and a Maestro that led and helped us during the mass. There was a slight language issue considering the mass was done in Italian and we weren’t sure when to sing and when to stop but all went well without a hitch.

I also sneaked in a few hours to go to Galleria Borghese, home to an amazing collections of antiquities, art, and sculptures, mostly from 17th-18th century. Twenty rooms of art, my brain didn’t know how to process all the beautiful things I was staring at, and my mouth was probably open the whole time.

Next up, Orvieto, Assisi, and Siena!

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