I did not expect to be so smitten by the food culture in Rome. I know, seriously, how was that possible? How many cookbooks on Italian cooking can be found in an average bookshop? How many cooking shows are out there? Well, I do have an excuse here – I hardly ever watch tv. But the true reason is different, and so prosaic…that is downright silly. Years ago, I worked in an American-Italian cafe as a cook. Menu was very limited, and while the wood oven pizza, which I had nothing to do with, was great, the pasta with alfredo sauce or shrimp scampi must have turned my taste buds off. I could not understand how anyone would gobble down so much pasta with plain cream, and keep coming back for more. If this was Italian cooking, I was not buying into it.
When I found myself in Rome this June for Bay and Orellana food photography and styling retreat, I headed for the familiar ingredients, to taste the waters. Pasta with porcini mushrooms? Bring it on, I have never heard of anyone ever ruining anything by adding porcinis, after all. Follow along for a feast of color, taste, and simple elegance. Rome, as I see it…
Stop 1: Cafe alfresco dining
Stop 2: Dessert hour at the Apartment
Stop 3: Alfresco lunch in the country
Rome has been a complicated destination for me, for years. The complicated kind of love…I remember days when I was in high school and one summer my brother and I tried to convince my parents to drive to Italy from our southern Poland home. We took the map, drew somewhat straight line, taking the Alps thankfully into account, and pleaded with all our might to head south. The car, a Polish Fiat, would probably survive the trip, my parents’ pockets, not so much. It was the old Eastern block days, when no one could travel outside of Eastern block, unless proved a significant amount of funds in dollars (!) available for each day. So… we went to Hungary instead, which I consider just as delightful to this day. But Italy…
Fast forward to my university days in Krakow and the first year exams in law school: the dreaded Roman Law. Widely regarded as the natural thinning process for first year students. I did pass, the second time around, but something wilted in me, I did not want to hear anything vaguely Roman…I mocked the innocent travelers to Italy mercilessly, despite having evidence to the contrary from my own brother and sister-in-law! Let’s just say, the ‘dolce vita’ was not doing it for me. Until this June. Sometime mid spring I saw photos from Sif Orellana’s and Signe Bay’s photography retreat which they held in Rome and I nearly wept. Soooo much beauty. So here I was, wide awake at 4 in the morning, signing up for their second retreat in June called “A Roman summer feast“. Stay tuned for food styling and photography storytelling post, but now let’s explore Trastevere, Rome. Off the beaten path, of course.
I adored Trastevere, from the moment I arrived. The trolleys, just like in Krakow, down to number 8, which goes along Viale di Trastevere. The piazzas, the churches, the flea markets…I chose to arrive early before my retreat and I stayed at the Villa della Fonte, just around the corner from Piazza di Santa Maria. Windows open, I soaked up the sounds of simple life celebrations.
In Trastevere, and later at the end of my trip in Monti, I have visited the most magnificent, spellbinding churches:
- Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere
- Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere – with a gorgeous 12th century Last Judgement fresco by Cavallini (in nuns’ choir, very limited hours!)
- Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi a Ripa – with Beata Ludovica Albertoni sculpture by Bernini above
- Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli – with Michael Angelo “Moses” sculpture below
- Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Monti
My last night in Rome I spent in Monti, sitting on a tiny balcony of The Blue Hostel room and looking over quiet courtyards, rolling clouds and cats playing on a rooftop of a neighboring building. Peroni from a can never tasted better…I watered the potted jasmine on the balcony and went to sleep thinking about the planned morning adventure at Panella. And adventure it was, I recommend you folks brush up on the coffee lingo before you order. Let’s just say ‘cortado’ met with a blank stare. I have desperately replaced my order with macchiato, which got an approving nod. That and a buttery, flaky cornetto ensured that I will return. Promise.
My recent trip to England started with a whirlwind day and a half in London. From the moment I resurfaced from the tube station at Holborn coming from Heathrow Airport, the game was on. I was meeting my brother for a day (him en route to Scotland, me making my way to rural Dorset), the time was short. We bumped into each other outside the station, what are the odds. Our meeting place was carefully pre-arranged at the hotel cafe, with plan B and C of course, knowing me…We dropped the bags and instantly headed down the first street that looked interesting. We meandered through Soho, posed for touristy photos in West End, hid from the rain in the National Gallery (free!) and listened to a recital practice at St. Martin in the Fields church. And then, there was a lot of talk and catching up in the hole-in-a-wall Bradleys Spanish bar, which felt more Tangier than London. Follow along!
Stay: Hoxton hotel. Just to be super thorough, I stayed in both locations, Holborn and Shoreditch. Different vibe neighborhoods, but the same great service and decor!
Eat: Hoxton Grill (above) and Lyles, which I adore for interiors and coffee. I caused some raised eyebrows, walking from the street and insisting on purchasing bag of beans. As a souvenir. Without properly sampling the cuisine, that is. All worth it though, it ended up being one of the best coffees ever, according to Carl. Now I will be forever searching Belleville Brûlerie Paris…
Neighborhood pick: Shoreditch. In a nutshell, Cambridge, MA meets Williamsburg, Brooklyn with a little more edge.
Accessories: This trip was done with carry on luggage only, I brought two bags. My shoulder bag is Jack Wolfskin Camden Town . Mine is gray, purchased 4 years ago and still in perfect shape (machine washed several times). It serves as my camera bag, since it fits perfectly my Nikon DSLR5100 with 24-70mm lens. The other one is Everlane Twill Weekender bag purchased specially for this trip. Works for the city and the country. I really could not picture myself rolling my regular suitcase down the country lane in my wellies…