Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Four Night Trip to Rome Italy!

Notes, post trip:

I realized a few weeks before taking this trip that I had a 4-day weekend coming up. I have every other Monday off and when a holiday (such as President’s Day) falls on my day off, the holiday gets moved to the previous Friday. Hmmm, if I take a few days of annual leave and tack it onto my 4 days, I can have a nice mini vacation – and a cheap one too if I fly standby (Tony is a pilot for USAirways).

I checked for flights out of Philadelphia to Europe on certain days and found out that most flights were booked. I checked for Rome, Madrid, and Lisbon. I can check the flight ‘loads’ to see how many empty seats there are, as well as how many non-revs are listed, and the priority of each non-rev.

On February 10th, I decided to check for flights to Rome on the 14th and home on the 19th. Wide open! There were at least 140 empty seats in coach and 11 in envoy class to Rome (USAirways first class) and about the same coming home. I requested three days of annual leave from my supervisor. “Approved!”

I spent the weekend emailing a bunch of hotels to check for winter specials, including two hotels I had stayed in previously. I ended up choosing Hotel Parlamento, not just for their price (67€/night) but for their great location. Plus I wanted to be near bus transportation and the metro, as I was planning to do a day trip to Orvieto. Hotel Parlamento is close to the Spanish steps and metro. The smaller electric buses (#116) stops two doors from the hotel in one direction and two blocks from the other direction at Largo Chigi. I’ll be returning to Hotel Parlamento in the fall. Being a repeat customer has it’s perks. Having staff remembering you is always a good feeling. It’s like coming home.

I packed very lightly for this 4-night trip: Just a carry on bag with a couple pairs of pants, two pairs of walking shoes, two light tops (long sleeve) and three sweaters so I could layer. I didn’t want to bring my warmest jacket. Weather report called for low to mid 50s for Rome. I also decided to go light with my photo equipment and brought just a pocket camera. No big DSLR and extra lenses on this trip. This would be my sixth trip to Rome and I would be heading back again in the fall.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012:

Yesterday I drove to Philadelphia and parked my car at Smart Park on 2nd Avenue near the airport. I’ve parked my car here previously. Complimentary shuttle service to the airport. I paid about $7 per day.

I wasn’t able to upgrade to envoy class on the flight. Paying passengers upgraded and took the remaining empty seats. But for $20 (each way) I certain can’t complain. I had my upgrade tickets ($100 per flight) and hoped to use one for the flight home. I asked for a row of four seats (seat 34C) so I could stretch out and try to sleep. Two of the flight attendants that worked with Tony in the past (when they were Trump Shuttle) took care of me with wine, baileys after dinner, and headsets (the ones I brought didn’t work well).
There was a large group of nuns and priests on board the flight. Apparently there was some big event to be held at the Vatican on Saturday.

A non-eventful flight and the flight landed around 8:15am. I intended to take the Leonardo express train but ended up taking a shuttle van to the Termini (15€). From there it was a short ride on the metro (1€) to the Spanish steps. While walking to my hotel, I was already snapping pictures of the Spanish steps and street scenes. It was a beautiful blue sky day with tourists all around. I was so happy to be in Rome! I can never tire of this incredible city.

I was greeted warmly by Mr. Chini (and Tiziano), who offered coffee or cappuccino, which I don’t drink, so I opted for some orange juice. My room (#90) was ready, which I was glad. Most times I have to store my luggage till around 1pm. My room is small and basic, but perfectly fine for me. Queen bed, tv on the wall, very small table next to the bed that serves as a desk and night stand, and chair. There was no view to speak of and was quiet at night. The exception were the seagulls squawking in the early morning hours.
The day was probably 45 degrees. Many people were bundled up and I saw several dogs in various styles of coats. There was still some snow on the ground and in shaded grassy areas.

I walked to the Campo de Fiori, which was still in full swing. The market is held daily and closes around 1:30pm. It’s always a lively Campo with various products and produce on sale. At one of the fruit/vegetable stands, I saw a small dog sitting on a chair all bundled up in a blanket. So cute!

After checking out the market, I was ready for lunch. I thought of walking over to Trastevere but my stomach growled at me so I found the nearest restaurant, Ostaria ar Galletto (Piazza Farnese, 102). Tony and I had dined here in 1998. I walked in and was the first customer of the day. Lunch consisted of spaghetti carbonara and a glass of red wine (total 17€). The pasta filled me up and it was good but I’ve had much better tasting carbonara. This was quite thick in texture. I did like the pancetta that was in the pasta, thick and crunchy. A few other diners showed up while I was eating. I would imagine they have larger crowds at dinner due to the location of the place. The interior was quite typical of a Roman restaurant, simple, inviting and warm. The service was good. This is a place I would return to but would definitely try something different to eat.

Walking up via di Monserrato, it turns into via dei Banchi Vecchi. From there I work my way to the main road that skirts the Tiber river. I took several photos of the area, including snow on the ground, and then crossed over to visit the Castel Sant’ Angelo. It cost 8€ to get in. There was an exhibit of Russian icon paintings (on wood panels), which was quite interesting. Up top are lovely city views all round.

I slowly made my way back Hotel Parlamento but stopped at the nearby grocery store for a bottle of wine and water. I relaxed in my room in the late day and before dinner. There’s no BBC on the tv so I flipped channels and watched Hawaii 5-0 in Italian for a few minutes. My room was pretty cold and I found out later the hotel turns on the heat two times per day. I walked out the door at 6:30pm just as the heat came on. My room would be warm when I returned.

Down 2 or 3 blocks on via del Corso, I turn left and stop to take photos of the Trevi fountain. This area is always filled with tourists tossing coins in the fountain and taking pictures. Lots of police too, as this area can be a prime target for pickpockets.

I enjoyed the Rome night life as I made my way to Hostaria Romana (via del Boccaccio, 1) for dinner. It’s located NE of the Trevi fountain and towards the Barberini metro. I dined here with friends in 2009. It’s a mixture of tourists and locals. I sat next to a young couple. I found out later that Filipo and Roberta were siblings and she was visiting for the day. He suggested a restaurant, which I jotted down. Maybe I’ll go one night.

Excellent dinner! I started with the antipasti platter after checking out the display of foods in the center of the restaurant. My antipasti included fresh mozzarella, grilled zucchini and eggplant, a delicious frittata with asparagus, beans with onions, garlic, and olive oil; a salad of mushrooms and sliced artichokes, etc. This was a large serving and I could easily have had this as my meal. I didn’t eat all of it, as I had also ordered the roast lamb with potatoes. With my dinner, I had a 1/2 bottle of Montepulciano (9€). I received a small plate of biscotti for dessert, so I ordered a glass of vin Santo (a sweet dessert wine) to dip my biscotti. Filipo had also ordered an after dinner drink but changed to a vin Santo when he saw our waiter pour my glass. Later I received a complimentary glass of limoncello. (Total 38.80€).

I said this restaurant had a good mixture of tourists and locals. I watched an older gentleman, dressed in a nice jacket and scarf, walk in, greet his waiter, and while taking off his jacket and scarf, dictated his entire dinner to the waiter. No menu, as obviously he was a regular. He sits quietly eating his pasta and drinking his house red wine despite the noisy atmosphere. That made me smile. Hostaria Romana is a place that locals frequent.

I had a nice walk back to the hotel via the Trevi fountain, which was beautiful at night. I walked up via del Corso taking pictures of the red, white, green lights, which ran all the way down to Vittorio Emanuele monument. Rome was celebrating their 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy.

Near my hotel, I saw a young couple that had been on my flight, so we talked for several minutes. Small town. In my room it was nice and warm. I finished my evening with a shower and a small glass of wine. It rained lightly in the evening.

Thursday, 16 February 2012:

Before flying to Rome, I emailed the hotel staff and asked if they could make reservations for me for the Borghese gallery for 11am. I took bus #53 as suggested by Mr. Chini. He also recommended #52. I had planned to take the little mini bus 116, but he told me the other two would get me much closer to the gallery. Of course, he was right.

There were lots of people and it took some time to pay for my ticket (13€) and rent an audio guide (5€). All bags, purses, etc, (but not jackets or coats) had to be checked at the desk. My purse had no valuables and in fact, I left my camera at the hotel. I read a couple of reviews of things gone missing in purses. When I later left the museum, I realized that there was no x-ray machine to walk through and I probably could have kept my camera in my jacket pocket.

What an incredible and beautiful museum! I started upstairs with the paintings (as recommended by a friend who said start at the top while the majority of the visitors start on the first level). Some of the paintings were not clearly tagged for the audio guide, so sometimes it took me a few extra seconds to get to the correct painting. Having only two hours in the gallery, I felt some of the audio information was a little too lengthy.

Down on the first floor, I was mesmerized with Bernini’s sculptures. My two top favorites were Apollo and Daphne, and Pluto and Proserpina. As I continued on to the other sculptures, I kept walking back to these two. Be sure to study the delicate looking leaves between Apollo and Daphne. It’s almost hard to believe they are made out of marble. Bernini was 24 when he began this sculpture. Bernini was gifted to say the least. And take a look at Pluto’s fingers and how they push against Proserpina’s thigh. Just incredible.

The villa itself is a museum with elaborate walls, paintings on the ceilings, chandeliers, ornate furniture, inlaid wood flooring, etc. Two hours is simply not enough time to spend at the Borghese Gallery.

I took the 116 bus back to the hotel and gathered up my camera and a couple of things. I wanted pizza for lunch, so I started walking up Via di Ripetta and ended at Pizza Re (#14). I had read to either arrive early or late due to long lines for this pizzeria. I got there around 2pm and there were a few empty tables so I got one right away. There’s a long list of pizzas to choose from, as well as other dishes. I ordered a pizza with ham and mushrooms (9.50€) and a glass of red wine (3.50€). The wine was a much better quality than the typical house reds you get in a Roman restaurant, and it was a good pour. The pizza was very good and as always for me, too much - times like this is when I’d like to have a travel partner to split a pizza. The dough had a nice crust on the edges. The tomato sauce was light and delicious

Afterwards, I walked around Piazza del Popolo. There was some sort of horse show in the center of the piazza with a large viewing stand. Also, there were children in costumes and carnival performers entertaining the crowds. I even saw two ‘gladiators’ in the Roman attire riding on segways! Too funny!! A little further north was Piazza Flamingo with an outdoor clothing market in progress. I had read about these markets selling all sorts of items to the locals. I saw sweaters, jackets, underwear, belts, cosmetics, etc., all at bargain prices.

One street I’ve always wanted to walk along was via Margutta. It’s quite small, peaceful, and hardly anyone in the area. There are art galleries, antique shops, and a restaurant or two. I’ll have to return again but in the evening.

I walked to the Pantheon before dinner and took some night shots. I ran into the same couple from my flight who were eating pizza on the steps of the fountain. They were in town for just two nights.

I ate at Armando al Pantheon. I was here in 2009. I read recent reviews and Armando al Pantheon was still high on the recommended listings. It’s located just steps from the Pantheon. What’s great about this place is that despite being in the heart of tourist Rome, the food is very good and prices are reasonable. I started with the Bresola alla Ghiottana, thinly sliced cured meat on a bed of arugula and topped with cheese and olive oil (10€). For my entree I had the gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce (9.50€). The gorgonzola sauce was just right, not too overly rich or thick in cheese flavor, but it looked boring. Maybe a sprinkle of color (parsley?) would have made it more appetizing looking, but it was delicious. With my meal I had a 1/2 bottle of wine and bottled water. Total 33€.

After dinner, I walked around for about an hour, went into a shop in the Campo de Fiori and bought a small bottle of limoncello (4.90€), and took photos of fountains and streets. Rome is so bellissimo when lit up at night. In bed at midnight.

Friday, 17 February 2012:

I slept in till 9am. My original plans were to take the train to Orvieto, but I had decided the day before that I didn’t want to have to get up at some crazy early hour to get to the Termini station to catch the 8:25am train. It would have been a very nice day in Orvieto, as I had good notes on the town and even knew where I wanted to eat for lunch, but I decided to save Orvieto for another trip where I could spend the night there.

Breakfast (included in the nightly room rate) is pretty basic but enough to get me going for the day: Cereal, toast, bread, fruit, yogurt, cheese, nutella, coffee, tea, juice, etc. Before going out for the day, I emailed a shuttle service company and booked my trip back to the airport (door to door service) for 20€. I was told to be ready at 8:10am.

The day was beautiful and in the low 50’s. I went to the Santa Maria della Pace. I was disappointed to see that it was closed. My guidebook (obviously outdated) said it was open Mon-Sat. There was a sign at the gate that stated it was only open three days/week (Mon, Wed, and Sat). I didn’t know if this was yearly or a winter schedule. I would have to return the next day.

I made my way to Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (passing through Piazza Navona), walked to the nearest bus stop, and picked up the #64 bus to the Vatican. Knowing #64 is famous for pickpockets, I had my camera deep in my purse, zipped and buttoned closed, my wallet inside my jacket pocket (also zipped closed) and my jacked zipped up with scarf around my neck. I was fully zipped! I was secure. No hands were going to get anywhere near my valuables. The bus was only 2/3rds full and I didn’t see anyone that looked like gypsies or pickpockets, although I read some pickpockets dress very well to disguise themselves.

I decided to go to the top of St. Peters dome. I chose to do the combination elevator and stairs to the top (7€), saving 231 steps. All steps (551) 5€. What great views! It was difficult to walk around the outside area with everyone at the edge taking pictures and because there’s just no a lot of walking space. I just can't imagine going up the steps with the crowds in the heat of summer.

After a visit inside the Basilica, I walked a few blocks to Borgo Pio, a pedestrian street filled with restaurants. Several had a person standing outside trying to lure hungry diners inside with large printed menus written in a few different languages. I kept walking until I reached Tre Pupazzi (#183), a restaurant I had been to back in 2007 with friends Deb and Robert. I ordered the tomato bruschetta (two larges slices of toasted bread topped with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt) and the fettuccini con tartufo (11€). I wish I had a gadget to record the incredible smell of the truffle sauce (is there such a kitchen spray or eau de toilette with truffle scent on the market?) - it’s one of the best smells in the world. (I still remember the shop in Provence that sold only truffle products. You walk in and the smell hits you like a brick!) The pasta was so delectable! With a 1/4 liter of house white wine (3€) and water (2€), my bill came to 16€. This place is popular with the Vatican clergy. Three were sitting behind me and two more towards the back, all looking like they were enjoying their lunch. Courteous service, a comfy interior, this is a place that I recommend for anyone that wants a good lunch (or dinner) after a day of sightseeing at Vatican City.

I took the bus back to Largo Chigi and to my hotel but turned around after a few minutes, as I decided to see if I could catch the 4pm free Rome walking tour that starts near the Spanish Steps. ( I waited at the column of the Immaculate, located to the left of the Steps. Two young women showed up with signs. I was the only one waiting. At 4:15pm, one of the women said, “Okay, it’s just you and me.” Cool! - a private tour! But then four people showed up. Still it was a nice small group.

The 4pm tour is called “Unforgettable Rome.” There are three or four tours daily to different parts of Rome. We walked to the Trevi fountain while the guide talked about the aqueducts and how water was brought to the city center of Rome. I didn’t realize that there was part of an ancient aqueduct very close to my hotel. Between the Trevi fountain and our next stop (the Pantheon), we stopped to look at the remains of the Temple of Hadrian in the Piazza di Pietra, which a bank incorporated pillars and part of a wall for its building. We visited inside the Pantheon, and later ended up at Piazza Navona to learn about Bernini’s fountain.

While listening to the guide, we were distracted by two policemen only a few feet away from us who tried to grab a man selling cheap watches. Apparently he didn’t have a license to sell watches. I turned in time to see the seller grab as many watches as he could from his cardboard table before he scurried into the crowds and disappeared. The police gathered up the remaining watches off the ground.

Then we saw the carnival group that I had seen two other times. They were advertising their performance schedule and did a round of song and dance, which I caught on video. Each person was dressed in a costume from different areas of Italy: Rome, Naples, Venice, etc. Two women were on tall stilts and they made it look very easy to walk on the Roman streets.

After tipping the guide and thanking her (one man didn’t say a word, not even a Grazie, turned around and walked away without tipping – what a shame. Yes, It’s a free walking tour but the guides do work for tips), I walked to Largo Argentina (saw some kitties eating their dinner) hoping to take some “blue hour” shots but I didn’t like the setting. I continued walking until I got to the Vittorio Emanuele monument. There I was able to capture the building against the cobalt blue sky of the evening.

I walked back to my room to relax, as I did a lot of walking today. I charged up my camera battery and had a glass of wine with my feet propped up on the bed.

I had dinner reservations for il Fico at 8pm. I read a few good reviews of the restaurant and what sparked my taste buds were the words, “Octopus salad.” It was a good 20 minute walk from my hotel, so I headed out a little early to enjoy the street scenes. I got to the restaurant a little before 8pm and saw just a few people sitting inside. My heart sank a little as I wondered if I made a good choice. I was expecting to see the place full with diners, but maybe it was still early for the regulars to show up. I walked around the area and then went inside the restaurant. I was greeted with a warm smile from Giovanna, the waitress who took care of me throughout the night. I was given a glass of prosecco, which I thought was a nice touch. The place slowly filled, although only to about 80% capacity. There were lots of Italians, which I think is always a good sign.

I had a very good dinner: Fried stuffed zucchini flowers with anchovies and cheese (really good! 3€), octopus salad, which I thoroughly enjoyed, 6€; saltimbocca - two pieces, cut very thin, topped with proscuitto, and served with a nice light lemon flavored sauce. It was a small portion but quite flavorsome. With wine (and complimentary limoncello and biscotti for dessert) my bill came to 25€. I thought this to be an excellent value along with very friendly service. I think this was the only restaurant that had music in the background.

After dinner, I did my usual evening stroll around the area. I ended at the Trevi fountain and then continued on and ended up near Hostaria Romana so I went inside and made dinner reservations for the next night.

Saturday 18 February 2012:

I slept in again. It was nice that I didn’t have to get up early and rush to go out for the day. My last day in Rome started with a visit to the Santa Maria della Pace and the cloister, which was built by Bramante. I've seen prettier cloisters. Upstairs is a café and a small museum with art that was too contemporary for my tastes. I walked all the way to the Vittorio Emanuele monument. On the right side of the monument at its base is the fairly new Museo Nazionale della Emigrazione Italiana (National Museum of Italian Emigration). None of the information was in English (although I understood many of the posted information); however, the photographs, booklets, artifacts, etc., summed things up. There were also a few rooms that all sorts of Italian maps, some depicting the country, some the provinces, and others political. Very interesting museum and no entry fee.

Next to the stairs was a sign to the terrace, so I started up, and up, and up. Lots of stairs! I reached the outside. More wonderful views. Across the street was the Traiano forum, the Forum towards the right and the colosseum in the distance. There’s also a glass elevator that goes even higher (5€?).

Before heading down again, I went inside the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, with its beautiful interior (although the façade is quite plain).

Sometimes when watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations show, I jot down notes on places or restaurants. Not too long ago I saw a show which included Nonna Betta, located in the Jewish quarter of Rome. I was in the area so I popped in for lunch. It was about 2:30pm and the place was completely full. It took a good 20 minutes before I could get a table, which was fine. I didn't mind waiting, as the dishes I saw looked great, even the pizza.

I was seated in the center of the restaurant, which has a sky light, four pillars in the center of the room, and several small, closely positioned tables. Further back was another room, which I believed was the garden area.

I posted my review on Nonna e Betta on Trip Advisor and received a private message from the owner of … Il Giardino Romano, who asked me to correct my review, which I said I would. When I first arrived to the restaurant I saw the sign for Nonna Betta and several postings on the window, including a photograph of Anthony Bourdain. I walked into the restaurant door assuming I was walking into Nonna Betta. I was wrong. Looking back at my photos, I thought the two doorways were for the one restaurant. What’s interesting is that where I sat for lunch is where Anthony Bourdain filmed his show for Nonna Betta. Why didn’t he film his show in the correct restaurant? Are these two restaurants owned by the same owner? I’m not sure, as I have not received a response back from the owner of Il Giardino Romano.

In any case, I had a very good lunch at il Giardino Romano. I didn't want a big meal so I ordered the Antipasti di Ghetto, which was a good mixture of fried artichoke (trimmed, flattened and deep fried), mozzarella, zucchini flower, and battered cod. All for 10€ (I wasn’t charged for the bottled water). It was the perfect amount for my lunch without being stuffed. Everything was full of flavor, the batter light, and not greasy. I think the bread they served was the best bread in town!

The place was busy the entire time I was there. As people left, tables were quickly cleaned and new guests were seated. I was lucky to get a table. I’ll be sure if I return again to make reservations (especially for dinner).

More walking after lunch. I wanted to walk to the colosseum. Instead of retracing my steps, I went the looooong way around thinking there was a street I could cut through. I ended up on the back side of the Forum. Down one small street I discovered a great indoor market, the Circo Massimo market, which is held only on the weekends (via San Teodoro). I saw a variety of olive oil, cheese, wine, cured meats, bags of biscotti, honey, vegetables, and other products – all made in Rome or Lazio (the region of Rome) and all in-season products. Too bad I was flying standby for my flight home, otherwise I would have picked up a bottle of olive oil.

In one corner of the building a young man was pouring wine samples. We talked for several minutes. He was a little surprised I was traveling alone. I told him I flew standby and this was a last minute trip. He said his father has a friend that’s a pilot and that the pilot and his family fly for free everywhere; saying he was jealous of his father’s friend. I didn’t dare tell him what I paid for my flights.

I walked along the Circus Maximus and then finally up to the Colosseum. It’s always an amazing site to see. Not quite crowded as during the summer, there were still lots of people, as well as gladiators trying to get tourists to pose with them. I sat for a bit and people watched.The sun was going down and I could tell it was not going to be a pretty sunset, so I started to walk back to the hotel. I didn’t get that far when I decided to look at the bus schedules at a nearby bus stop. The right bus pulled up so I climbed on board and saved my feet, about a mile walk back to the hotel. For my return trip to Rome, I’m going to bring my pedometer just to see how many miles I’m walking. I’m sure I’m walking several miles every day. A quick stop at the grocery store near the hotel for a small bottle of wine, I was glad to be in my room for a couple of hours. Plus as the sun went down, the air became much cooler.

I packed my carry on bag with most of my things and then headed out for the evening. On the way to Hostaria Romana, I walked past the Trevi fountain. I found a grocery store and picked up a bottle of limoncello for 4.99€ for a nightcap. Obviously I wouldn’t drink all of it and I couldn’t bring it home, but hell, it was the same price as the tiny 2-oz? cute bottle I bought at the Campo de Fiori.

I arrived at Hostaria Romana and the place was pretty full. The tables are set close together (typical of many small restaurants in Rome), only a few inches apart, and I sat next to a French couple. We talked a little. Very good evening, although it started out bad. There was a large group of loud and obnoxious American tourists sitting behind me, about a dozen of them. It sounded liked their first time traveling, as I heard, “This looks strange.” “What’s this I’m eating?” “This spaghetti doesn’t taste the same like at home.” What do they eat at home? Chef Boyardee pasta? The French woman and I rolled our eyes, “Ugh!” The group left soon after and the place quieted down and I was able to enjoy the rest of the evening.

I ordered the Osso bucco, which was fork-tender and delicious, and a side of sautéed spinach; ½ liter house red wine; total 25.50€. It pays to return to a restaurant, as I received a larger portion of the osso bucco compared to the French man next to me. And one of the waiters gave me a small plate of antipasti when he saw I wasn’t eating anything. I told him I didn’t order an appetizer and was just waiting for my entrée.

Another solo traveler came into the restaurant and sat at the other table next to me. He arrived when the obnoxious tourists were still in the restaurant. After they left, I commented to him that I was glad the group left. He told me that this restaurant is listed in the Rick Steves guidebook. No wonder! I typically steer clear of restaurants Steves recommends, although I like his books for his other information. At least I discovered this place a few years ago when it wasn’t in any guidebook.

One last look at the Trevi fountain, I was back at the hotel, paid my bill, and called it a night with some limoncello.

Sunday, 19 February 2012:

I got up at 7am and after some yogurt and juice, I said my goodbyes to Tiziano, who joked asking me if he should just store my carry on bag (and the bottle of limoncello I gave him) since I would be returning in the fall (Mr. Chini was not in yet), and then waited outside for my shuttle service to the airport. I was told my pick up time was 8:10am, so I was outside by 8am.

The van arrived at 8:20am. There were only two others in the van. I do need to contact the company about the driver. Talk about fast driving! I’ve been in a car or van in Italy before with Italian drivers (including Tony’s cousin Pepino while driving along the Amalfi coast!), but this one was almost reckless. We did get to the airport rather quickly, not just because of his speeding but being a Sunday, traffic was light.

The woman at the check in counter told me the envoy class “looked good” so I kept my fingers crossed for the upgrade.

Going through security was fast and easy. Everyone received a clear plastic bag to place their electronics inside. Once on the other side, I checked in at the gate just to make sure I was listed for envoy class. Tony had emailed me the night before telling me I was number 8 (out of 11) on the listing. One employee was traveling with his mother and he paid for upgraded seats. Now I wasn’t sure if I would be one of the lucky ones.

I bought a bottle of water and a bite to eat, a Bufalino sandwich (mozzarella, spinach and proscuitto – really good, all for 6.60€) and waited to be called for my seat assignment.

I ended up in seat 4F, envoy class! I was so happy. All of the people that were wait-listed also got upgraded. What a great flight home. Comfortable seats, great service by the flight attendants (especially Susan), good food and drink. I think I slept a little, which was good, as I had a long drive back home.

I was home by 7:20pm and didn’t feel very tired. Usually by this time I’m ready for bed but I actually stayed up till about 10:30pm. I had the next day off (holiday) and then back to work the following day.


That’s it. A quick trip to Rome flying standby (a rarity for me), I had a really great time. My four days felt like seven days. I filled them with lots of walking, a couple of museums (love, love, love the Borghese gallery), good food and decent house wine. The staff at Hotel Parlamento, as always, was friendly and helpful, especially when making my dinner reservations. I’ll be back in Rome in the fall and I’m looking forward to discovering new (okay, old) things in Rome.

My Photos:

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sabor de Cuba, Frederick Maryland

6 February 2012: I was so excited to read in the Frederick Maryland Online web site (which I subscribe to and sometimes post comments) that a new Cuban restaurant was opening in town. It's called Sabor de Cuba and it's located on Patrick Street in downtown Frederick Maryland.

This past Saturday was First Saturday, a monthly event held in Frederick. We decided to try Sabor for dinner. We arrived at 6:30pm (no reservations) and were seated immediately. We went in expecting slow service, as Sabor only opened on 1 February. We know that restaurants take some time to work out any kinks and we were not in a rush to leave.

The restaurant was full, a good sign I think. There is a small bar with about 5 bar stools and the dining room for about 50 people.

The menu looked great with lots of typical Cuban dishes, although I did review it on their web site.

Appetizers range from $2 to $10 and include items such as empanadas (beef or chicken), tostones (green plantains stuffed with either beef or shrimp), croquetas de jamon, etc. Two items of note were the bread and butter or bread with garlic butter appetizers at $2. Unlike many Cuban restaurants we’ve been to (and even most other restaurants) you pay for your bread if you want any.

There’s a soup and two salads ($4 to $8), and four choices of sandwiches ($8 and $9) including the Cubano (one of my favorites).

Entrées include a nice selection from Bistec de Palomilla, Picadillo (another favorite), Ropa Vieja, Arroz con Pollo, etc. Price for dinner range from $14 to $18.

We ordered the Empanadas de carne ($5), the Pollo a la Plancha for myself ($14) and the Bistec de Palomilla ($16) for Tony. I also ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio ($5.50) and Tony had a soda.

As I said, we know service can be slow with a new restaurant but I felt 40 minutes was a little on the long side to receive our empanadas. It even took some time to get our drinks, although I saw them sitting on the bar.

The empanadas were wonderful! Nice and meaty inside and very flavorful. The dough was golden brown and not greasy at all.

Our dinners arrived 15 minutes later. Tony's dish included black beans and rice, as well as sweet plantains. The bistec, which is pounded thin and grilled, was hidden under the plantains. It was a small 2.5 to 2.75-ounce piece of overcooked, dry meat.

My chicken (citrus marinated and grilled) came with sweet plantains, not green plantains I was expecting, as stated on the menu. It was also supposed to come with black beans and rice. My chicken looked to be about 3 ounces total. It took at 15 minutes to get my rice and beans after the young waitress told me my dish did not include rice and beans, and after I asked to see a menu and pointed it out to her. Most typical Cuban meals include rice and beans. It shouldn’t have taken 15 minutes for her to bring out my food when the mistake was discovered. In fact, I had to ask the hostess, who saw what was going on to bring me the food, which she did.

Tony and I were very disappointed in our food. To be charged $16 and $18 for our entrées with meat portions no larger than 3 ounces was unacceptable. This is a Cuban restaurant – foods that are simply made with wonderful flavors, and with inexpensive ingredients. I noticed other dishes that came out of the kitchen and the portions looked much bigger (i.e., the Picadillo, Camarones Enchilados (sautéed shrimp, and Ropa Vieja). Our bill arrived and I was charged $23 for my glass of wine, the price of a bottle. The bill was corrected. After dinner, we sat at the bar and hand a round of drinks and chatted with two bartenders (mother, daughter). At one point Tony made the comment about how small the meat portion was but was shrugged off by the employees.

We will return to Sabor after the dust settles and to give it a second chance. We have to believe our dishes were just not properly prepared with the correct size portion of the beef and chicken. And I want my green plantains! After all, their web site states, “Simple food, complex flavors.” That usually means good food and reasonable prices to us.

After dinner, we walked around town checking out the various ice sculptures. Fire and Ice was the them for February's First Saturday.

Sabor de Cuba9 East Patrick Street, Frederick, MD 21701

26 JULY 2012: A much happier note. I returned to Sabor with a friend for dinner wanting to give Sabor a second try. I was not disappointed.

We arrived at 6:30pm with only six other diners in the room. Two more tables eventually filled; one couple at the bar.

We were warmly greeted with smiles by Mike, our waiter, who is also the chef and co-owner.  Asking if we had been here before, I said yes, to which he thanked me for returning. Mike told us about his popular dishes, which all sounded delicious. The description of the roast pork caught my attention, while my friend zeroed in on the ropa vieja.

We ordered the chicken empanadas as our starter, but after five minutes our entrees arrived.  Mike apologized when I asked him if he had placed our order for the empanadas. He seemed embarrassed, but it certainly wasn’t a problem: the plates were full of food. In fact we took half our entrees home.

My pork (with sliced onions) was very flavorful and tender, having been marinated for hours, although some pan juices would be an added nice touch. There was plenty of rice and the black beans were tasty.  On top of the rice were four plump fried sweet plantains. Yum!

My friend enjoyed her ropa vieja, which also came with sweet plantains; her rice and beans were mixed together.

Mike offered us empanadas to take home or dessert. We chose the tres leches, a light yellow-type cake that’s soaked with a sweet milky liquid. It was excellent!  The cake was so moist from the liquid. It was topped with whipped cream and drizzled with a strawberry pureé.

Our bill came to $30, which was reasonable for the amount of food we had.

I was so happy to have had a much better meal and much better service. I even met the owner and chatted with her for a few minutes. I’m looking forward to returning to Sabor soon.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cellar Door, Frederick Maryland

Tony and I recently dined at the Cellar Door. It's a cozy and warm restaurant located in the basement of the building. It used to be the Brown Pelican, our all time favorite restaurant in Frederick, but it closed a few years ago.

There are two sitting areas plus the bar area with a few tables. Tony and I decided to sit in the bar area for our meal. Next time we'll sit in the restaurant area, as the bar chairs were uncomfortable.

We started with the fried mozzarella appetizer, which came with roasted peppers, tomatoes and a balsamic sauce. It was very good. The breading was very light, maybe panko?

Tony had the Eastern Shore - a medley of seafood (fish, scallops, mussels, shrimp) with rice in a tomato and wine broth and served with garlic toast.

I had the crab-stuffed shrimp that was served with asparagus, polenta and tomato butter. (no photo).

Everything was excellent, including the service! However, be warned, the portions are not huge but for us they were perfectly fine. No doggie bag from this place. It's definitely a place for a splurge dinner. Pricing is along the lines of the Tasting Room and Volt, also very good restaurants in Frederick.

10 March 2012: Tony and I have returned here a few more times. The food is excellent! Tony keeps ordering the Eastern Shore, which I had for the first time last night. The flavors are incredible - no wonder he keeps ordering it. We had two appetizers too - the ahi tuna and seared scallops. The tuna was prepared perfectly: lightly seared and raw on the inside. It was served with a nice asian slaw. The scallops (2) were large, plump, and tender. The were served on a bed of onion and bacon risotto, which was creamy and perfectly al dente.
Ahi Tuna
Seared Scallops

On a previous visit, I had the chicken Chesapeake that came with asparagus, lump crab, mashed potatoes and béarnaise sauce. It was a large portion so I had leftovers for lunch.
Chicken Chesapeake

Another good appetizer: the hot crab dip! It's served with toast and crackers. It's rich and creamy, so make sure you share with others.

Eastern Shore

Cellar Door
5 East Church & Market St Frederick, MD 21701