Archives for posts with tag: Ostia

8 July, 2012

It’s the second to last week of school for the kids, and I’m feeling some pressure to get as much work done as possible before they are home and work essentially ceases until we get back to Madison. But the weather is spectacular; hot and breezy and the seagulls circling all around our terrace are crying out just one thing: beach, beach, beach. And our friend Reka is calling too, offering to drive us 45 minutes out of town to the coast near Ostia for some oceanside sunning and lunching.

I know I should work. But then again, how often can we play hooky and go to the beach? In Madison, that would take a plane flight (or two). So we metro out to Reka’s house and we drive down a road lined with umbrella pine trees and fragrant bushes to the coast.

Reka, Seth, seafood, sand, and sea.

Romans we know like to denigrate the local beaches. They prefer the more sightly sands north of here, in Tuscany, or south toward Sperlonga. So we were pleasantly surprised by how nice the beach here is! As we’ve found elsewhere in Europe, there are restaurants and clubs lining the sands where one can rent an umbrella and deck chairs. And the restaurants are real restaurants! In tempting us to join her today, Reka told us that the spaghetti a la vongole (with clams) was particularly good at this beach restaurant. And I don’t know if it was the sea air or the bracing wind or the dip in the sea, but it really was. How fun to walk from one’s beach umbrella to sit in a real restaurant with wine and fresh seafood, all without getting the sand off one’s feet?

Afterwards, we drove back with Reka to the kids’ school. But instead of heading right home, we decided to try to find a gelateria that was rumored to be excellent, about 20 minutes walk away in an interesting neighborhood called Monteverde Nuovo (to be constrasted with Monteverde Vecchio, or old Monteverde).

Gelateria Tony

Gelateria Tony was teeming with locals on the hot afternoon, and Seth and the kids gave the gelato rave reviews. I was actually too hot for gelato, and chose my favorite summery sweet: granita (which is sort of like a slurpy but with real fruit and juice – incredibly refreshing). The cantaloupe granita really tasted like the fruit, but the winner was the lemon, tart and cooling.

The granita came with a cookie straw; now that’s a first!

We then walked another 20 minutes to the tram, which took us to Largo Argentina. Nearby is a famous Roman restaurant, Trattoria Filetti di Baccalà, that serves only one thing, fried cod. There is of course also salad (excellent, with anchovy dressing) to cut the fat and salt. But the cod is the thing. Still salty from the ocean hours earlier, we filled up on fried fish, always appropriate on Friday. When searching for the restaurant’s actual name, I came across a youtube video that captures the experience of dining there; here is the link.

And to cool off, one last granita, this time at Corona in Largo Argentina (hat tip to our friends Monica, Patrik, Michael, and Daniel for this find). But since I had enjoyed a granita earlier, I opted for their lemon basil flavored gelato. Possibly my favorite flavor in Rome. And a perfect way to end a day of playing hooky!

– Jenny

They all have a fantastic time!

Our final visitors for the year were our Madison friends and colleagues Trish and Melanie. We credit them with introducing us (especially the kids) to the joys of cheesehead-dom. So we were especially happy to host them on their first trip to Italy.

At Ponte Milvio

One event that we missed during our year away was Trish and Melanie’s wedding. Last August, on the weekend of their wedding, we happened to be exploring a part of Rome dominated by a bridge, Ponte Milvio. There is a tradition that newlywed and otherwise hardily coupled pairs bring locks to Ponte Milvio, sign or carve their names on the locks, and attach them to the bridge to symbolize permanent love. They can then toss the keys into the river if they really feel committed!

With their very own lock.

So on Trish and Melanie’s first day in Rome, we gave them our (belated) wedding present – a walk to Ponte Milvio and a lock to attach to the bridge. They are brave souls, and threw away the key. As I wouldn’t recommend diving into the Tiber river (yuck), I guess their marriage has to last.

Siena and the Tuscan vista.

Another highlight of their visit was a trip to Siena. This city was one that I particularly wanted to visit, and we thought it would be fun for our visitors to get to see a very different side of Italy: from the bustling ancient city of Rome to the picture-perfect medieval city of Siena. And picture-perfect it was! My kids tease me for my obsession with beautiful views, and Tuscany really does take the cake; Seth calls it Disneyland for grownups. Accurate, given the incredible wine paired with the views.

Breakfast room and terrace at our lovely hotel.

We stayed in a fabulous little hotel – just 6 rooms – called the Campo Regio Relais; I think it might have been my favorite hotel of the year, in large part because of, yes, the view. It has a little terrace overlooking the city where breakfast is served, and our bedroom had the same view. It was so pretty that it was hard to believe it was real.

Now that’s a breakfast nook!

Our time in Siena was largely spent wandering the little streets and exploring back alleys, and, of course, climbing towers. And we ate surprisingly well. We’d heard that the food in Siena was generally not so great by Italian standards (especially compared to other cities we’ve visited recently such as Bologna …mmm…), so we really did our homework.

Both kids sporting the local team jersey.

Our two favorite meals were our Friday dinner and Saturday lunch. Friday dinner was at a little place called, simply, Osteria (which means wine bar; Via dei Rossi 79/81). No web site, no frills. But the food was excellent, the local wine among the best we’ve had, and we loved the relaxed atmosphere. And unlike other places we saw in Siena, no tourists.

Lunch the next day was at Ristorante Castelvecchio (Via Castelvecchio 65), outside the center, which I chose because it was one of the few restaurants I read about that specialized in non-meat dishes. We loved it! The room was fancier than the other restaurants we tried (cloth tablecloths), and we were the only table eating, but the food was perfect and a bit creative.

Seafood feast in Ostia.

On Trish and Melanie’s last day, we joined a tour of Ostia Antica that was organized by a local guide/ historian/ artist/ archeologist/ architect/ you name it. Nancy de Conciliius is legendary amongst local Anglophones for her biweekly tours of Rome neighborhoods and landmarks – and if you’re ever visiting Rome in the spring or fall on a Monday or Tuesday, join her tour regardless of her destination; it’s always fascinating. We felt privileged to be able to explore this ancient town just outside Rome with her. Afterwards, the four of us lunched on piles of local seafood (Ostia is by the ocean) at Il Monumento, and reflected on how glad we were to have shared time in Italy together.

It was strange saying goodbye to our last set of guests. We’ve had more visitors in Rome this year than in 15 years living in Madison. Now, we are hoping that some of our friends from Rome will make their way to visit us in the land of the cheeseheads.

– Jenny

With Sue and Lou at the Colosseum.

On January 2, our first visitors of 2012 arrived. When our Madison friends Sue and Lou bought their tickets last summer, we were worried that January would not show Rome in its best light. We were wrong! Sue and Lou brought the unusually balmy winter with them from Wisconsin, and other than a rain shower their first day, they had sunshine for their 10 days in Italy.

Part of why we hoped to show Rome off was that while Lou is a professor of European history, she’d never been to Italy before; her work is focused on WWII France. So we knew comparisons between Paris and Rome would be forthcoming  – not least because Lou loves fashion and makes many of her own (gorgeous) clothes, and she and Sue are both gourmands. We started them off right with Nell’s birthday dinner (see previous post) at Da Gino; Lou loved her house-special pasta there so much that they returned to Da Gino for their last night in Roma.

And with a few gladiators.

We took in both well-known tourist sites (Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, best coffee in Rome, etc.) and more off-the-beaten-track tourist sites. The kids have now learned enough about Rome that they are great tour guides.

One of our days was spent at Ostia Antica, a well-preserved ancient town just outside of Rome, by the ocean. Ostia used to be a major port in ancient times. But when the Tiber river moved away from it, the town fell into disrepair and was buried in mud, which helped to preserve it over the subsequent millenia. It’s particularly interesting because it was a working class town; amongst the ruins we visited were tenement apartment buildings 5 stories high.

Lounging at the Forum, near the ashes of Julius Caesar.

Another highlight of their visit was shopping. Every store in Rome has a 2 week sale starting after Epiphany, around January 6, with prices slashed in half or even more. During a trip to Florence in the middle of their visit, Sue bought fabulous boots that we immediately christened her ‘Dean’ boots (since she’s just begun a term as a dean at our university). Lou bought stunning Italian wool that she will sew into a coat. We all agreed, though, that clothing in Italy simply isn’t cut for we women who are above a Size 2.

In the ruins of Ostia Antica. This street once held a bakery and a pub; the structures are remarkably intact.

In sum, Lou and Sue decided that the pastry and bread in Paris outranks Italy. We have to agree, with a few exceptions (pizza bianca among them). Cuisine overall – well, it’s a tossup, and rests on personal preferences. But in terms of warmth and friendliness even among strangers, Italy wins hands-down. We were very sad to see them go, and indeed the weather turned chilly again just after they left!

– Jenny