Our European vacation begins…
For several years, Elliott and I have sublet apartments in the US and in Europe, shopped at the local markets and cooked at home (this is not to say that we don’t eat out at some fabulous places—more on this later). It is not as difficult as you would imagine, mostly less expensive than a hotel, more comfortable, and usually a little more real. I figured that I would share some of these experiences with you. We are going to be in an apartment in the historic center of Rome, at villa in the North of Tuscany (about 20 miles north of Florence), with relatives in the Veneto, and an artist’s loft in the center of Paris.
I knew that we had arrived in Italy, when upon landing the cockpit door flew open with a roar of frenzied soccer fans on Italian radio. Both the pilot and the co-pilot high fived one another— with a lot of ‘atta boys– as Rome scored the winning goal against Pescara (you’d have thought that they themselves scored that goal). I have actually been on a Roman bus during the World Cup when Italy was playing Germany and the bus driver had the match cranked up as loud as he could; finally, he pulled over and made us all get off so that he could concentrate better on the game. When someone complained to a cop nearby, he got on the bus, and then closed the door behind him so that both of them could better concentrate on the game. Welcome to Italy.
This time we chose to rent an apartment through Home Away Rome (http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rentals/italy/rome/r2440). If you want to see where we are staying, click on: http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p894905. They have completely renovated the place since the photos were shot—so it is even better than in the photos. The owner informed us that we were the first guests to stay at Crown Orsetto since the remodel. We have found that most places that we have rented are pretty much true to the photos on the rental site. This is a 16th century palazzo right on the Piazza Navonna. The location is incredible, and the apartment is beautiful….more about the details and the Italian penchant for “la bella figura” later.
This is the view from our living room window:
First a couple of rules for traveling in Italy: Do not give nasty looks to smokers (this is not California)—it just annoys them and frustrates you.
When crossing the street (especially in the cities), do not ever lose eye contact with drivers, instead, stare them down, better yet, grab a nun and cross the street with her—there is not an Italian alive who would hit a nun, a priest maybe, but never a nun.
If you are shopping on the street, do not pay the asking price, shake your head, mumble to yourself and walk away—they will come after you with a better deal.
Italy is a pay it forward country, meaning that everything is paid for in advance. You must purchase transit tickets before you get on the bus, subway, train, etc (and these can only be purchased at a tobacco shop—which interestingly are closed on holidays). You pay the cashier in a bar before you order (I know, I know, it is crazy but they have been doing it for 100 years). So, you have to know in advance what you want before you order. In other food shops you tell the person behind the counter what you want, he or she presents you with a receipt, which you then present to a cashier (there is always a cashier, usually the owner’s mother), she tears it, gives the nod of approval and you can go back and pick up your goodies.
Pay attention to opening and closing times, everything is different; stores close in the middle of day when restaurants open for lunch (usually between 12:30 and 1pm), when restaurants are open, there are very few food stores open—except for supermarkets which, although they are becoming more plentiful, are harder to find. When the restaurants close (at about 3pm), the stores open again until about 7or 8pm. Open air markets are only open during the morning until about 1pm. Each store has one closed day a week and it varies.
Location, location, location. The same espresso that you paid .80 Euro for while standing in the neighborhood bar will cost you 3.5 Euro to 5.0 Euro (depending on the view) if you sit down.
You can assume that most older people do not speak English, and most younger people do.
Under most circumstances, do not eat at a restaurant where the menu posted out front is translated into several other languages.
And this one is important: never, and I mean never, pass up a clean public bath room. You will live to regret it.
That said, we begin:
We arrived on the Saturday before Easter. Italians take their religious holidays pretty seriously, so I knew that we had better get out and shop, since a lot of stores (ok, almost all of them) would be closed on Sunday and Monday.
I have some very favorite shopping places, so here we go. We dropped our bags and walked over to the Via Cola di Rienzo. This is a shopping street in the Prati section of Rome, very near the Vatican. On this street you will find a neighborhood produce market that stays open until 7pm, an incredible deli called
“Franchi,” a gourmet shop called “Castroni,” and a supermarket in the basement of the department store Standa,called “Billi.” This photo is the front window at “Franchi” Incredible stuff here:
I bought a whole roasted chicken, cheeses, charcuterie, antipasto, pasta, you name it. I could just move in and live. You buy by the “etto” or “100 grams.” With a trip to the supermarket, the produce market and Franchi, I bought everything that we would need for several breakfasts:
When we came back across the Tevere, we went over to my favorite bakery near the Campo di Fiori, called “il Fornaio.” And bought bread and lots of snacks. I just love the pastries in Italy because they do not use a lot of sugar, you can actually taste the other ingredients. This is their front window:
Ok, I charmed the cashier with my best Italian, including Happy Easter and all that, and she gave me some free cookies and a smile (sometimes hard to come by in Rome…the smile, not the free cookies).
Shopping done, we headed home, cleaned up and went out to dinner at a neighborhood trattoria….more on this later, as well as an incredible way to spend Easter.