The verdict is in. Rome wins with the pig. They know how to cure pork. From pancetta, to porchetta, to bacon, and prosciutto. I could have cured meats on everything, all day. The bacon was unlike anything I've ever had in the US. The best bacon was in a carbonara dish we had on the first day in a tiny place called Cacio e Pepe. I wanted pork on everything: bacon on my eggplant pie, prosciutto on a sandwich, on pizza, over veal.
Paris knows all things cow. The milk is fresh, dense, and rich. The cheese is creamy. The beef carpaccio is refreshing and tender. I've had lovely meals in both countries but I believe my favorite food was in Rome. I'm a salty and savory gal so Rome's food was perfect for me. However, I really need to return to Paris so I can still eat cassoulet, escargot, duck l'orange, and somewhere on this continent I will eventually have horse meat. I haven't found it yet and was looking forward to tasting it. The rumors are true about Paris: the croissants are out of this world. Since this is just about the only pastry I like, this is a happy fit.
After downing some croissants, cheese, and salami for breakfast, we visited the Musee d'Orsay mid-morning. For a Saturday the crowd wasn't bad at all. We may have only spent an hour in the museum, but I was pleased to see the famed works of Cezanne, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Toulousse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, and Degas. The museum itself is a beautiful piece of architecture occupying a former train station, and from the top floor we could see across the Siene to Montmarte and Sacre Couer. We didn't have enough time visit this area, it's on the list for next time. There is a lot we missed (and that I didn't eat) so coming back in the beautiful springtime would be a proper forgiveness for this cold weather. The last stop before returning to the hotel was at the Arc de Triumph. It is a massive monument, including the tomb of the unknown soldier which was installed at the end of WWI.
For dinner I opted for the special, the Dover sole with butter and parsley, and a side of the world-famous mashed potatoes. Honestly, I chose the sole "solely" because they came with the potatoes. I heard about these and couldn't leave without tasting them. Carrie wanted the spaghetti with black truffles, but when they told her it was €100 she asked them for another suggestion, which was the ribeye, rare. I had a piece of this and it was beyond perfect. As for my Dover sole, it was a full large fish which they filleted at the bar for me, served with a half of a lemon that had to the brightest yellow and juiciest lemon I have ever set eyes on. The fish lay in a lovely light butter with a mildly crispy topping and melted in my mouth. It was a lot of fish, but I ate is slowly just to savor it. Carrie also ordered the fois gras, which was good, but I far more enjoyed my Iberico ham.
About the mashed potatoes... It was as if they were filled with as much butter and cream as one could squeeze from one cow, then whipped into submission. Dense yet soft, rich, succulent. There has been no equal. After I cleaned my plate completely, and finished the potatoes, the waiter asked if I wanted more potatoes. Well, my fish was gone, but okay, sure! He brought 2 more bowls. Now Carrie isn't into potatoes. I ate my second bowl. Then I ate hers. Forget dessert, I didn't need it. Remember what I said about not having a sweet tooth? I considered the THIRD bowl of mashed potatoes my dessert. Don't judge, just be jealous.
A few other Americans, a Spaniard, and another French tourist were in there and at least half the crowd was taking pictures of each dish, including Carrie. I've never been into photographing my meals. I feel cheesy whipping out a camera in restaurant. I topped off dinner with a small espresso-like coffee. I was full, satisfied, pleased, yet not overstuffed.
I am ready to go home now. I am ready to BE home. A much as we did, it was still a very hard week between my illness and the frigid weather. I am tired of juggling bags, cameras, coats, gloves, hats, scarves, and maps. I am tired of being outside. I am tired of walking. I want to come back and relax and eat, maybe stroll, when it's warmer. But right now, I miss friends back home and I miss my cat Jude. Can't wait to just be home, order a pizza, some Coke, and watch Sunday night TV with the cat curled up next to me then my very large, warm, comfortable bed and Ambien for the jet lag. Realizing I have to work immediately the next day might be a little rough, but I miss my home and my life across the pond.
Friday, February 10, 2012
We had a lovely lunch in the village of Versailles, in which I had sausage wrapped in puff pastry, and beef carpaccio with olive oil, Parmesan, and red onions. Once again I ordered in French, and the waiter complimented me on my pronunciation and asked if I was also French. Mon dieu, non! But it certainly made my day, especially since build-up to this trip I was obsessed with learning as much as possible since I am intimidated by the language and heard that they're picky about pronouncing things properly. But I find people are very friendly and accepting if you try.
We left Versailles early enough to make a visit to Notre Dame. Now I feel like I've seen the three grand cathedrals of Europe: Canterbury, St Peter's, and Notre Dame. It's gorgeous, and 850 years old next year. A no idea it was so old. Yet so beautiful in its gothic architecture. I was happy to see the flying buttresses, which was - I believe - the first use of buttresses on a gothic building. We also heard the famous bells ringing.
Across the river we found the bookshop Shakespeare & Company. It's a tiny shop filled with new and old books in a cramped space, with reading rooms on the higher floors and an unofficial home away from home for many famous writers. On the second floor in a small room was a piano where a girl sat playing, and I leaned against a bookshelf full of delightfully smelly old books and listened to her play for a bit. I also found Bebelman's "Madeleine" book and flipped through it for nostalgia's sake. Afterward we walked through the Latin Quarter which was cute with its small winding streets and ethnic foods, but I found it a bit more of a tourist trap with high-pressure sales pitches to try to beckon us into restaurants. I longed for being back in our residential neighborhood where our hotel is.
Soon it was dusk so we hopped back on the Metro to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up and night, and found a perfect vantage point on some steps at the opposite end of the park where we could get full shots of the tower. Within minutes of sitting, the tower began to sparkle with light. Breathtaking. Spectacular. Quintessential Paris. And this also meant we didn't have to wait in the cold very long, so we went back to the hotel, dropped our bags, and headed out for a light dinner of mussels, fries, wine, and creme brûlée. My theory is that fries are merely a delivery mechanism for mayonnaise. Ketchup is old news.
I don't know where the stereotype of rude French comes from as we've encountered nothing but friendly and helpful people, including wait staff. When we were looking momentarily confused on the Metro, an old lady stopped to offer her help and made sure we headed the right direction. I also discovered a lovely Parisian fashion that is also wildly practical in the winter. Wearing a shawl OVER and around a winter coat. This didn't make sense to me at first until I tried it. Viola! It cuts the wind from blowing into our coat, and is equally adorable. And I love accessories, so now I'm hooked. So practical. I used to say that there's no such thing as fashion in Chicago during the winter, but Parisians can pull it off, so there's no excuse anymore not to look put together and warm.
I haven't yet eaten cassoulet. I found it at one restaurant, but we had just eaten lunch and were still full. It's more difficult to locate than I had thought. Tomorrow night our final meal is at Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier so there will plenty to be written about that, as well as an overdue reason to dress up.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
|Pont de l'Alma|
We hopped the Metro again to the Rue Cambon, I had to make a pilgrimage to the atelier of Chanel and fortunately was able to see through a set of glass doors and take a picture of her famed white and mirrored staircase on which she used to sit to watch her models promenade on the runway below. We're getting really good with the Metro and Chicago could take some tips from Paris. We never wait more than 2 minutes for a train, it's quiet, gentle, and goes EVERYWHERE. The cars seem wider and longer, have more doors, and seem to hold a lot more people.
Walking down Rue Saint-Honore was like a mix between Michigan Ave and Oak Street. We also stumbled upon Place Vendome, home of the Ritz Hotel, Hemingway Bar, and the kitchen of Auguste Escoffier. We found ourselves back near the Louvre where there was some interesting architecture of Metro entrances. Another loop back along the Jardin des Tuileries and we rested in Angelina, which is a fancy tea room, complete with pastries, sweets, and drinks. I hit my wall at this point and quickly tired of the walking, lugging a bag, and dressing and undressing coats, gloves, hats, and scarves. Still full from lunch, I settled for just a hot cocoa while Carrie indulged in a vanilla eclair and white hot cocoa.
One thing we will never have a problem with: when Carrie orders pastries or sweets, she is guaranteed to have them all to herself with no question if my fork will be probing her plate for a taste. There is absolutely nothing that piques my interest in a patisserie. I already had a croissant for breakfast and that's where my sweet tooth ends. The tea room Angelina has allegedly the best hot cocoa on record, so I was pleased with this. That was my dinner. I am loving this idea of gentle breakfasts, large lunches, and a nosh for dinner.
I am also getting the hang of some basic French and am not shy about trying it out. I used to be very shy about using my Spanish. But now that I've been thrust into a language, I find it fun and a challenge to see if I'm understood. Although we found that our accent easily gives us away as Americans. C'est la vie.
Tonight we rest at the hotel, watch CNN, and plan for tomorrow. We're heading to Versailles, which I'm quite excited about. I keep forgetting to carry my other camera lens, so I may shoot with the fixed lens tomorrow for more creativity. We may try to revisit the Eiffel Tower at sunset and see it sparkle when it's dark. And to find some cassoulet.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
|St Peter's Dome|
The Rough Guide Rome had an incredibly detailed map and description of every panel painting in the Sistine Chapel so we spent some quality time in there as well, practically laying on the floor to look up. I had to make my share of "Life of Brian" and Mel Brooks references. The rest of the Vatican was impressive as you may imagine, but I still felt uncomfortable with the degree of opulence and pomp devoted to worship.
|Stairs at Vatican Museum exit|
It took us a few to get our bearings on the Metro, but once we figured out the system we were moving quickly. On the train, an older gentleman boarded with an accordion and started playing. Classic. We checked into our hotel, changed clothes, headed back out, and found a small tea cafe outside the Louvre. where I finally caught my second wind and was more myself today than I have been in days. It's as though I finally "woke up" after hibernating for a long winter. We decided to see the museum at night (open until 10pm) when the crowds were thinner. Immediately we headed to the Mona Lisa and there was a small crowd but no line, and we got perfect pictures. We decided to hit some basic hot spots: Venus di Milo, Liberty Leading the People, Winged Victory, the Wedding Feast at Canaa, Consecretion of Napoleon, and a few others. To know we were in the world's most famous museum, I admit I almost choked up a bit to see all this famous art in person. Next, we decided to head to the Egyptian wing. Aaaaand... Evacuate.
|Inside the Louvre|
As we followed the crowd out, we ducked down a side stairwell and found ourselves eventually in the Medieval basement where there used to be a moat. We started passing through galleries with no one in them. We made it discreetly into another wing and there was silence. No announcements. No people. But nothing stopping us. So we stayed. We found our way to the Mesopotamian galleries and spotted Hammurabi's Code. Mission accomplished. While we were on that side, and it was still quiet with just a few lingering people, we made our way into Napoleon's Apartments. This is when Carrie best described it as "it's good to be the king."
Monday, February 6, 2012
|Pompeii and Vesuvius|
We boarded for the two hour journey but by time I got off the train, I was miserable. These sneezes just might turn into something. This was no allergy. We transferred to another train 30 minutes south to Pompeii and began to walk the site.
|Alone in Pompeii|
Misery had befallen me. I wasn't going to buy any medicine in a foreign country and try to wait until we were back at the hotel for more Benadryl, but I was in the throes of this cold. On the subway ride back to Naples, our train broke down for a half hour. We stood in the cold waiting for another train. At this point on the platform I nearly lost it. No medicine, no remedy, shivering, exhausted, and sneezing. When we FINALLY arrived in Naples, there was no room on the next train so we decided to take the one that departed the next hour. I ran to a pharmacy and explained my ailments. After reading the ingredients as best I could in Italian on the box the pharmacist recommended ("okay for ah-choo??") and seeing that it contained paracetamol (which meant it wasn't ibuprofen, yay!) I washed it down and waited for our train. And waited. And waited. It was delayed for an undetermined time.
Carrie was kind enough to not tell me that she noticed other trains were also delayed, which helped keep me calm. Mostly because I was in no mood for funny business. Although I wanted to throw an epic tantrum at feeling so miserable and consistently cold it wouldn't be fair to her, nor should I create my own drama in the train station. Luckily, there was other drama that pleasantly distracted me for a bit. A customer and train service person in a shouting match, red faces and hand gestures included. It was spectacular. So Italian. I would be nice if I could express myself that way at work and it be perfectly acceptable.
What seems like a millennia later we have found our way back to the hotel. I picked up a couple face masks at a pharmacy and will sleep with one on. Oy. We popped into a pizzeria for dinner and devoured a few slices with the ferocity of a Roman orgy. I don't know what they do to the pork in this city, but the cured ham is out of this world. Last night I had the best damn hot cocoa ever, thick and chocolaty with extra sugar and whipped cream. Tonight we're finishing with a cheese platter and hot tea. Tomorrow, the Vatican. I hope to spend most of it indoors.
Sunday, February 5, 2012
The daytime sun seemed to have melted a good portion of snow on the sidewalks for walking was much easier today. More traffic was on the streets and there was far less slush to navigate. We returned to the hotel before the sidewalks iced up. On the way back from dinner, we crossed a bridge by our hotel and saw the dome of a magnificent basilica in the distance. Could it be? Maybe? Possibly? For certain, it was St. Peter's in the Vatican, with the sun setting behind it, and from where we were standing on the bridge, was reflecting on the Tiber River. It was too picturesque not to stop for pictures, which other people had the same idea.
As we rounded Piazza Cavour near our hotel, we scouted a couple cafes to ensure we could stop for some cappuccino and cornetto on Tuesday morning on the way to the Vatican. Right now, we're sitting in the lounge of our hotel about to order some cheese and maybe tea and cocoa to finish the evening, as tomorrow we have to catch a 6:38am train to Naples for Pompeii. I'm miserably allergic to something in our hotel room, and despite talking to the desk about a hypoallergenic room, I don't think that came to fruition. Someone should put me in a lab experiment because I sneeze entire time we're in there. Luckily Carrie is being a champ and camping out in the lobby with me. I already hit the Benadryl and will crash fairly soon.
We heard it snowed in Tuscany, and the area around the airport was dusted with snow. Little did we realize that by the time we got into central Rome, there were a few inches on the ground. It must have just fallen the night before because the locals were in the parks building snowmen and having snowball fights. We heard this was the first snow Rome has seen in 15 years, and the most in 26 years. We passed the Forum and Coliseum, with it's arches and surrounding cypress trees dusted in snow. I've never seen this in pictures and thought that we were really lucky to be here to see something that is so very rare. Our pictures will be fabulous. So despite the weather, when given lemons, make limoncello.
Given that, nothing was plowed or shoveled. Unfortunately our express bus from the airport wasn't making the stop by our hotel so we were dumped at frantic Termini station. With suitcases in hand, we hopped on the Metro across town. At street level no sidewalks were shoveled, so we dragged our luggage through snow and slush. At this point we just laughed. It was the day of an historic snowfall in Rome and we arrived just in time. We were famished and exhausted so after dropping our luggage off and freshening up, we headed north in search of a little restaurant called Cacio e Pepe. We found it easily enough and were seated. When the waiter came to take our order I asked if he spoke English. "No. Espanol?" Yes! So he recited the menu in Spanish, I ordered for the both of us, and the food was fabulous. Who knew I'd be using Spanish as a backup here. Carrie had the carbonara and I the cacio e pepe. The bacon was out of this world. Can I bring home and entire cured baby pig in my suitcase??
|Roman Forum in the snow|
For not really sleeping in the plane, for the exhaustion, for the non-stop headaches, we have fared quite well our first day. We went into this knowing we would be pushing ourselves, but with some rest, food, and wine, we'll be fine. Just make sure there's limoncello at the end of each day.