A Whirlwind, Rainy Tour of Italy

Rome, Florence and Tuscany in seven days. That was our goal, and we made it through, but not without severe exhaustion and a sense of having been everywhere and nowhere at once.

Given that two of my favorite things in the world are good food and art, it did seem like sacrilege that I had never been to Italy. So for my 30th birthday, I wrangled Taylor into a trip.

The more I travel, the more I realize two things: 1) I am getting old. And 2) I am turning into a real New Yorker. Neither of these things are very good. I experienced such jet lag in Italy that I had to take a nap every day and nearly passed out standing up in the Borghese Gallery in Rome. And while we ate wonderful food, I came away from most of my meals with the thought, Eh. I’ve had better in New York. It’s truly sad.

But there are a few things that did meet and exceed expectations.

The Raphael Rooms at the Vatican Museum.

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Yes, the Sistine Chapel was remarkable but it also, well, smelled like BO in there. It smelled like hundreds of people had been crammed in there for years. Which is true. It’s extremely difficult to commune with Michelangelo’s genius while the Italian guard is yelling at people over the loudspeaker to shut up in five different languages.  The Raphael Rooms were also crowded, but less so, and given their smaller size it was much easier to get up close to the walls to take a closer look. I was unprepared for how beautiful this set of rooms would be — truly, it took one’s breath away. Here I am descending the stairway of the Vatican Museum on our way out:

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Bernini Sculptures at the Borghese Gallery.

I had studied several of the Berninis at this gallery, but oh my how different they are in person. It’s difficult to put into words why. They are so heartbreakingly beautiful, so hypnotic and expressive in person, it’s as though the figures are literally coming alive to speak to you. I was so tired during our visit that I was practically hallucinating, so that could have contributed to the otherworldliness of it all…. It was nightfall when we were there, and there is something creepy and mystical about exploring the palace at night — I recommend it.

Gelato in Rome.

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Despite it being cold and rainy, we ate gelato everyday in Rome. We went to the places recommended by all the guide books, but also happened to be staying just next to a delightful small place called Geletaria Teatro that seems to specialize in interesting flavors and is also off the tourist beaten path. People say you can get delicious gelato no matter where you are in Rome, but that’s just as ridiculous as saying you can get good pizza anywhere in New York. Yes, you probably can, but if you go to the best places, it’ll be that much better. My favorites were pretty much everything at Geletaria Teatro, the rice gelato at Alberto Pica (the white gelato pictured on left) and the sabayon at San Crispino.

Rediscovering Tiramisu

Ever since it became some kind of trend at American restaurants, you can find tiramisu almost everywhere in the states, but never have I had a tiramisu that truly impressed me. It usually tastes too mocha-y, too sweet, and the texture is off — overly hard cakiness mixed with overly bulbous creaminess. But at a restaurant in Florence, we had the tiramisu at the recommendation of the waiter — and it was fantastic. The cake part was drenched in alcoholy goodness, but not soggy, it was of course very sweet — but balanced by other liquor flavors. This does not mean that I will be romping all over New York looking for a tiramisu to match, but it was to discover how well the dish could be done.

Home-Cooked Meal in Greve-in-Chianti

We ate with the family that ran our agritourismo one night, and everything about the meal was so delicious. I wish I could recreate it, but I’m sure it would be impossible. Everything was so simple, yet so punched through with flavor. Everything cooked to perfection, (seemingly) effortlessly.