Do you like to plan your vacations, or would you rather improvise and discover as you go? Me – I’m a planner, and I seldom take a trip without a list and a spreadsheet. But as I carry out my plans it’s usually the adhoc experiences that I talk most about when I get home. During our recent trip to Tuscany and Rome we visited the Villa de Piazzano, Cortona, Montalchino, Sant’Angelo in Colle, Actesino winery, Santa Croce Cathedral, Saint Mary of the Flowers Basilica, Arezzo, Parco il Prato, Fortezza Medicea (more than one of these), lots of piazzas, Assisi, Cathedral of St. Rufino, Basilica of St. Chiara, Chiesa Nuovo, Basilica St. Francis, Chiesa di San Pietro, Spanish Steps, Fontana di Trevi (but it had no water), Titus’ Arch, The Forum, The Imperial Palace, Palantine Hill, The Colosseum, the Vatican art gallery, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and well, lots more.
Writers much better than me have described all the places I mentioned better than I can, so I’m going to write about food. And since I can’t write about all the amazing food we ate, I’m going to write one Friday afternoon in Rome.
Our guide’s name was Anastasia Bizzarri, a Rome native who alternates her time between Italy and Florida. She wanted to take us away from “all the tourist food” in central Rome, so we went to a neighborhood called Testaccio. It was full and lively, and obviously preparing for some sort of weekend festival. We ducked into a small but modern restaurant called Trapizzino, named after their specialty - triangular-shaped “sandwiches” that could be carried around and eaten on the move - Roman street food. They were made from thick Roman pizza crust (more like sourdough bread) stuffed with a variety of “stews.” I had one stuffed with chicken cacciatore and another stuffed with some sort of spicy beef. They were wonderful, and as Cyndi and I stared at each other with our mouths too full to talk, we were both thinking the same thing – how can we make these back home.
Then Anastasia lead us to the Testaccio Market to sample cheese. Most of the shops had closed for the day except for one cheese stall and one meat stall. We skipped the meat since it was mostly internal organs and other parts of the animal kingdom we preferred to avoid, but the cheese was excellent. We ate fresh Ricotta, which Anastasia said was especially good in Cappuccino, and a yogurt-like cheese called Stracchino.
The only reason we didn’t set up our camp in the market and eat cheese the rest of the evening was the promise of gelato. (Actually, Anastasia promised gelato that was so good we’d never be satisfied with any other … a mixed blessing, I’d say.)
She took us across the Tiber River into the neighborhood where she grew up, to her favorite gelato place, La Gourmandise Gelateria, owned by a Jim Croce lookalike. As it turned out, all her bragging was spot on. This was the best gelato ever.
I had Madagascar Vanilla, Italian Pistachio, and Pear Crumble. I also tasted, from Cyndi and Anastasia, Apple & Sage (which was everyone’s favorite), and Saffron & Walnut. It was so unbelievably good, for once I was happy to have only a tiny spoon to eat it with … I wanted the experience to last as long as possible
The truth is I probably fill my life with too many certainties. I need more improvisation. I need to try more new things. If I can only figure how to add them to my spreadsheets.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32