Italy, Part 1 – Roma
A delayed start to my trip blogging! We have been having a marvelous time in bella Italia, and it’s been difficult to have time to sit down and write an update. Fortunately, we are off to Florence today, so I’ve got some bus downtime to pen some updates for everyone.
Ah Roma, the Eternal City. A frantic metropolis set against the backdrop of the vastness of time.
The general squad spent a great deal more time touristing than I was game for, so after getting into the city nearly a whole day after the rest of the group, I started planning a few alternative forays so that I could explore more of the city rather than repeating what I did last time. Of course, the first night consisted of evening libations among the younger crowd, which has earned the exasperated but loving moniker “The Bad Boys” by our colleagues. Six bottles of sangiovese among ten folks, set on a pedestrian-only open air café, served by an Italian man with a moustache founded circa 1976. Each bottle only 19 Euro. Fantastico.
The next day we had an opportunity to wander about the center of the city for a few hours, and when it came time for us to feel peckish, we meandered over to Campo de' Fiori for abundant slices of Roman pizza at one of the best pizza spots in town, Forno al Campo de' Fiori. All pizza sold by weight. Countless varieties. Crisp, firm crust with a perfect layer of cheese and mushrooms. Not pictured: the prosciutto pizza that I absolutely inhaled because it was too good to remember that I’d be blogging about it later. Add a crisp Italian lager and you’ve got the perfect Roman street food lunch.
The main event in Roma, besides the singing, of course, was the Bad Boys’ visit to the Jerry Thomas Project, a fantastic speakeasy accessed only through an unmarked door and a secret password (gleaned only with an acceptable score on an online spirits quiz) with the best cocktails in town. We settled in with absinthe fountains and a “welcome” cigarette or two before imbibing with some of the most magnificent craft cocktails in Europe. A particular hit was the “Improved Aviation,” their best seller that replaces the Crème de Violette with rose water and liqueur. Certainly a night to remember!
The culinary highlight of Rome was the conclusion of yesterday’s morning jaunt with Ryan and Dawson (who have been nicknamed “gli bambini” owing to their tender young age of 19) through the streets to the top of Altare della Patria, where we ended up at what is widely considered one of the greatest restaurants, wine bars, shops, and salumerias in Rome, Roscioli. On the docket was mozzarella di bufala marinated in wine, pepper, and olive oil, burrata topped with the best Italian anchovies, a selection of the best charcuterie and cheese money can buy, and THE Roman pasta specialty, CARBONARA. Viscous, creamy, loaded with pepper and crispy pancetta, and a perfect al dente. The best I’ve had, bar none.
And of course, the singing! We performed at a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, an incredible opportunity and moving experience for all involved. We also teamed up with a local community choir to present a full concert in a local church in Rome’s central shopping district. Really magnificent concert, and I was particularly proud of the choir for a beautiful performance of James Erb’s setting of Shenandoah, led by the maestro himself. Bravissimi, amici!
Of course, we concluded our time in Rome at the next installment of “wine on a street patio,” including the Maestra, Suzanne Pence, her husband Rusty (now pronounced “Roo-sty Pen-chay”) and a few other folks brave enough to party with the Bad Boys. A particular highlight was an impromptu performance by the twelve of us of The Eyes of Texas for the street crowd (followed by a request for Drunken Sailor, naturally). The Bad Boys, never satisfied, chanced upon a group of Italians who invited us to a local dive bar where we mingled with locals, danced, and quaffed a few Italian beers. What an experience!
We are Florence-bound now, by way of Assisi, and I’ll update everyone about our travels as they occur! I also owe y’all a couple of posts about my visit to Calgary and Banff, as well as the best transatlantic flight I’ve EVER taken on WestJet’s brand-spanking-new 787.
Until then, ciao bella, grazie mille for reading, and arrivederci!