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ITALY Fall 1996 (2)

Rome and Florence (Firenze)

The next day we had a fine time checking out some of the usual tourist sights knowing full-well that lunch time would find us checking-out the pizza at Zi Fenizia. We shared fungi/arugula and tomato/anchovy - worth waiting for! We slipped over to Il Boccione for a piece of babka and a slice of chocolate and ricotta pie, one of Linda's favorites. We also ordered a chocolate and ricotta pie to pick up on our way to Laurie's in the evening, as she was kind enough to invite us to dinner.

Laurie lives across the river from Trastevere, on the southeastern side. Testaccio is a super area with shopping streets, a huge market, a big park and lovely apartment buildings - a real neighborhood! While the area is filled with life and energy, the tourists are nowhere in sight.

Laurie and Peter hosted a marvelous meal for us and Cheryl, Martha and Allen; from the fabulous prosciutto and spicy, green olives to the pasta tubes in a rich pistachio cream sauce spiked with nutmeg and pepperoncini along with the wonderful mixed salad, tasty breads and delicious Chianti. We so enjoyed each other's company, the evening passed too quickly and we regretted having to say goodbye.

We awakened the next morning to thunder and rain, but that's why we always pack umbrellas. Around lunch time we ducked into a shopping arcade to look at our city map and bumped into Leanne and Carl! They were headed for Taverna del Duca, Via di Panico 83, for lunch. We happily joined them. Leanne is from Sydney, Australia and Carl is from southern California. The company and food were delightful.

The tomato and buffalo mozzarella to start was as good as it gets. Linda enjoyed her farfalle in a fungi cream sauce and I my spaghetti vongole done with oil, garlic and a touch of pepperoncini to heat it up. The service and ambiance were excellent; we lingered for several hours enjoying the conversation and the food.

Window shopping was the order of the day. The aim - to familiarize ourselves with current trends and color schemes to make shopping an easier task in Florence and Lucca, where we'd do the purchasing. Linda had come armed with the cash our daughters had given her for her birthday and the orders to buy something special. Shopping's not her thing so this really needed finessing.

My cousins George and Alegria from Marblehead, Massachusetts, by coincidence and luck, arrived in Rome this evening and would be available to dine with us tonight and tomorrow. We arranged to meet at La Campana, Vicolo della Campana 18. Entering this restaurant means being assailed by childhood memories of grandmother's kitchen. You feast your eyes on a mouth-watering antipasto and dessert buffet - of the genre where love and care are the most important ingredients. My sights were set on the ricotta cheese pie.

George and Ali were waiting for us, enjoying some wine and the comfortable surroundings. It was a long, leisurely evening of getting caught up on each other's lives. We could not have selected a better place - the food was superb, the service nicely paced to encourage a totally relaxing dining experience. And did we dine! The artichokes were perfectly marinated; the pasta e fagioli was thick and hearty; the tender veal steaks were grilled to perfection; and of course, the ricotta cheese pie - to die!

The next day, our last in Rome, we wanted to escape the hordes of tourists so we crossed over the Ponte Cavour and turned north (straight ahead would have led us to the Vatican) to the Prati area. This was a first for us and extremely worthwhile. It's an elegant residential neighborhood of tree-lined, wide streets. There are large, relatively new condo buildings and many fashionable and upscale shopping and eating places. The main shopping street, Via Cola di Rienzo, leads to Ponte Regina Margherita which eventually empties into Piazza del Popolo.

We paused for a slice of fungi and sausage pizza at Pizza House, on Via E.Q. Visconti 43, which is part of a chain. Although it was good, it turned out to be a major mistake. Within minutes we came to a fabulous food store which sold everything from cheeses to prepared meats, etc. but, most noteworthy was the ready-to-eat food selection with offerings of grilled fishes, smoked salmon, two kinds of risotto, grilled vegetables, roasted meats, etc. for take-out or eating-in at the bar. Don't miss Bendetto Franchi, Via Cola di Rienzo 200-204, at the corner of Via Terenzio.

We crossed back to Piazza Del Popolo and fought our way through the tourists and teenagers down Via del Corso to the Spanish Steps. We wandered around the busy boutique-lined streets and watched the serious shoppers juggling their designer shopping bags.

We met Ali and George near our hotel and strolled north to Via de Ripetta 36, home of Trattoria La Buca Di Ripetta, an old favorite; a small place with a local following. It's popularity results in somewhat hurried service in an effort to turn over the tables for the waiting patrons. In the past we put up with it because the food was so good and so fairly priced. This visit, it fell short of its prior standards.

The first offense was stale bread, followed by Linda's penne arrabiata and liver and onions in red wine sauce - both of which were too oily. My pasta e fagioli was just fair - missing the heartiness I expect. The osso buco which both Ali and I ordered, on the other hand, was very good; and Ali enjoyed her minestrone. George agreed with me about the pasta e fagioli and found his involtini with peas to be very good. Although the prices were the same as at previous visits, the portions were smaller.

We finished the evening at Piazza Navone joining the throngs and enjoying a final visit to Giolitti. Just get any chocolate flavor(s) with their thick panna and you will be hooked for life! We said goodbye to our dear cousins as we were going our separate ways in the morning. Sharing a rare visit with people we love in a great city was very special top of page
Firenze on the 9:40 Pendolino. It is gorgeous with beautifully upholstered, comfortable, roomy seats. As soon as we left the station we were served delicious cookies and coffee along with mineral water. Oops, there's a catch. We had arrived early for the IC train we were intending to take and saw this one had not yet left so we jumped on rather than bothering to wait, not knowing it was the Italian version of the TGE. The conductor collected the supplement of Lit. 14,750 from each of us for this pleasure. For just this once it was worth it and it shaved a half hour off the usual two hour trip.

As in Rome, it had been difficult getting hotel reservations in Firenze. This was truly a peak tourist period in these two cities. We had finally settled on Hotel Pendini which we found and booked via their page on the Internet. The location is fabulous at Via Strozzi 2 - right in Piazza Della Republica - the heart of the city and only a 10-15 minute walk from the train station.

The reception is on the fourth floor, reached via an elevator. The staff is exceptionally pleasant and helpful. The guest lounge is large, comfortable and really conducive to relaxing, reading, chatting with other guests and having a coffee or drink while watching Italian only T.V. (none in rooms).

The breakfast room is bright and cheerful with an efficient staff and the continental style breakfast is decent. What keeps this hotel from being really good is its rooms. They haven't put a cent into the place from day one. There's a huge variety of sizes and locations from small and dingy to large and noisy and all sharing the common disadvantages of ugly furnishings and decor, outdated bathrooms and ancient plumbing. Not to worry about the no T.V., you can entertain yourself by listening to your neighbors' conversations through the paper-thin walls.

Firenze is a great city. We have seen the important sights time and again. This trip we committed ourselves to just wandering around and soaking in the pleasures of the city: its neighborhoods, its restaurants and the shopping! Here's where one can find fashionable, quality merchandise at value prices. From outdoor markets to discount specialty stores to one of the best fashion/value department stores in the world - Coin.

We also came across a chain of modern laundromats - for those of us so inclined - Wash and Dry Lavarapido with five locations: Via dei Servi 105/R, Via della Scala 52/54R, Via dei Serragli 87R, Viale Morgagni 21R and Via Nazionale 129R. Happy washing!

Giolitti in Rome is the best, but second best is Vivolis, Via Isole Della Stinche, here in Firenze. Although the panna is not in the same league as at Giolitti, the gelato certainly is. If you find better gelato in Firenze, we'd like to hear about it!

For our first night's dinner, we wanted to try a spot we'd heard about but hadn't visited, Osteria Del Cinghiale Bianco, Borgo S. Jacopo 43R. It's a smallish place with a front and a rear room with tables tightly-packed eliminating any possibility of private conversation. On the plus side, the set-up is conducive to chatting with your neighbors - but when they're not so inclined, there's no plus side to being so close.

Linda and I ordered the same typical offerings which we always enjoy when traveling in Tuscany. We started with an outstanding rendition of ribollito, Tuscan bread soup, thick with bread, beans and greens which was followed by a veal chop, grilled and seasoned perfectly, accompanied by luscious chunks of pan fried potatoes. We were served an ample portion of perfect bread; the house red wine was okay.

Night two we made a repeat visit to an old favorite, Sostanza, Via del Porcellana 25R. This tiny place has seatings at 19:30 and 21:00 and both seatings are always full, so reservations are a must. All tables are shared. There were eight of us at our table, a couple from Texas, and a party of four from Los Angeles. The three couples were friendly and eager to make new acquaintances and swap travel stories. The service is New York deli style - rushed - you have an hour and a half to be out if you're at the first sitting.

The menu, which changes daily, is a short but excellent selection of home style offerings. Linda started with tortellini with meat sauce and a main of veal stew with fagioli. Between conversations, I had bread soup again, this version without the greens, followed by boiled beef with a green garlic sauce. Once again, the bread was good and the wine was fair. We finished with fresh raspberries and cream. This place used to be good value, but now with the cover charge higher than at most others of this category, in addition to the 10% service charge, we have deleted Sostanza from our repeat list.

We slept poorly due to the noise from the corridor and neighboring rooms. Those paper-thin walls need sound top of page
continue to next pageto Lucca, Cinque Terre and Genoa

Trieste and Rome

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