The Pope Says Hi

We had another early morning rise today. Why, you ask? Because we had plans to have breakfast with the Pope. Well, not quite, but you get the idea.

We took the bus to the Vatican area, turned around the corner, and were greeted by the stunning image of St Peter’s Basilicia.

It truly is something to see! Because we were there so early, there was hardly anyone in the streets or in the square. We quickly went through the security process and walked to the Vatican museum. Here, a line was already forming, but our fancy tickets allowed us in right away. We were escorted through the main entrance and taken in a garden area where we were served an American style breakfast.

Once 8am hit, we were free to start exploring the museum early. It’s hard for me to really even begin to describe the wealth, detail, and extravagance of this place. It’s stunning in every direction you look and every single artefact there. Each room has ridiculously detailed painted ceilings that were so beautiful! I can’t even imagine what those artists would think of our world today.

Probably my favourite hall in the museum was the Gallery of Maps. It was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII, and it took the artist Danti three years to paint 40 panels in the 120m long hall. It’s said that these maps are 80% accurate. At the end of the hall are two maps labeled ancient Italy and modern Italy.

Another impressive series of rooms were the Raphael Rooms. Pope Julius II commissioned a then young Raphael to decorate four rooms to outdo his predecessor. The first composition was the Disputation of the Holy Sacrament in 1509, where he created an image of the church both on earth and in heaven.

A particularly impressive fresco by Raphael was one called The Deliverance of Peter completed in 1514. Apparently, the fresco itself is a beautiful imagery of light and advanced techniques back in the day, to show reflections, and the natural vs manmade light.

Of course though, the most impressive part of the museum was the Sistine Chapel. It’s famous for Michelangelo’s 4 year project, where he beautifully combined the Renaissance spirit and a new direction of hope. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photographs, so you’ll have to go see it for yourself. Rest assured it’s well worth it!

Here are a few other random and iconic photos from our day in the museum.

It was really both surprising and impressive to see these museums. I’m still trying to understand the amount of wealth there, and how it seemed to be a thing for each pope to do something more extravagant than the previous. I can’t quite wrap my head around it yet.

After we had seen enough church and art for the day, we walked along the Vatican walls for a bit, touring the city.

This eventually led us out of the city and to a castle called Castel Sant’Angelo, Castle of the Holy Angel. It was originally commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian back in A.D 123, as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The Pope later converted the house into a castle at the beginning of the 14th century.

The castle contained a lot of history and the thought that went into building it was quite astonishing. For example, the draw bridges, trap doors, everything to keep enemies out. It also houses the original angel by Raffaello, a bronze statue of Michael the archangel, beautiful paintings, and of course a stunning, panoramic view of both the Vatican and Rome. We both thoroughly enjoyed this place and the history in it.

By this point, it was fairly late and about time for us to start thinking about lunch. We walked back across the river and settled for a place off of Plaza Navona. We began our lunch with some burrata cheese, prosciutto, and olives.

Then, we shared the lamb and carbonara. Both were very satisfying!

It was time for our predinner freshen up, so we headed back to our place to relax and get ready before heading out again.

Tonight we decided upon a place in our Trastevere community. On our food tour, we learned that it’s common to eat pastas for lunch, as the wood burning ovens aren’t started until dinner time. We’ve been adopting this custom to have pasta for lunch, and save the pizza for dinner. We went to a tasty place called Dar Poeta. We began with the classic street foos, supplí.

It doesn’t look nearly as appetizing as it tastes! For our pizza, we stuck to some cheesy classics. Daniel ordered the Cacio e Pepe and I ordered the buffala.

Another delicious meal in the books!

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“Are You Not Entertained?”

This morning we woke up early to start our walk to see the infamous sites of Rome. We strolled across the bridge and led ourselves into the ancient city. After quickly grabbing our Roma pass, our first stop was the Colosseum.

This stunning structure was built in A.D 80, when the Roman Empire was at its peak. The Colosseum’s real name was Flavian Amphitheater, which was used as an arena for gladiator contests. The Colosseum’s size is so impressive! It’s four stories high, 160 ft high, and covers almost six acres. The stadium could hold somewhere between 50-70,000 people.

As we entered the building and looked below us, you could see the underground passages. This was the place where the animals and prisoners were held until battle time. There were stadium like bleachers that surrounded the arches, and slanted upwards from the arena floor.

It was a pretty surreal experience to be in the Colosseum, but as I read about the horrid events that took place there, it really made me think. Here, men and prisoners were put against either animals or one another to their death, and people gathered to watch it. Quite barbaric indeed!

It really is a spectacular building to see though. Just the size of it, is beyond measures. It’s filled with so much history about the ancient civilizations of Rome.

As we continued our tour through the ancient city, we moved next to Palatine Hill. On the way in, you’re greeted by the Arch of Titus. It was constructed in A.D 82 by the emperor to commemorate his brother, Titus, and his many victories.

The Palatine Hill overlooks the forum and is packed with history: from the huts of Romulus to the huge Imperial Palace.

As we continued on, we entered the Roman Forum. This was Rome’s birthplace and civic centre, and where everything important to the civilization occurred. There are numerous churches, arches, half broken columns, and temples throughout the area.

Although we could have stayed there for hours, the sun and heat was really started to get to us, so we continued up to Capitoline Hill to the Piazza del Campidoglio and the Capitoline Museum.

We spent hours in this place admiring the history, statues, art work, and portraits. Of particular interest to me was the Capitoline She-Wolf. According to Roman mythology, the city’s founders, twins Romulus and Remus, were abandoned on the banks of the Tiber River when they were infants. A she-wolf saved their lives by letting them suckle.

Another famous statue is the Capitoline Venus, which is contained in an octagonal room all to herself.

Finally, of particular interest to me was the original but restored statue of Marcus Aurelius on a horse. This is the greatest surviving equestrian statue circa 173 C.E. The bronze statue stands over 4m high.

Throughout the museum there were so many things to look at and admire. It was quite fascinating and we learned a lot to further our interest in ancient Rome.

By the time we left the ancient city, it was close to 2pm and we were both starving. We walked towards the Spanish steps, and stopped at a well known place called Pastifico. Here they cook a few pastas throughout the day and sell them, to-go, for only €4! We ordered one of each that they had available, the gnocchi and something else we weren’t too sure what it was. They were both great, and exactly what we needed.

We took the tram back to our neighborhood to stop for a little drink. We found a local bar where they sell craft beers. They were actually rated #1 in 2010 for best beer bars in the world. We each got a pint to quench our thirst from the heat.

And of course, an afternoon isn’t complete without a gelato. Today, I tried the melon and lemon (you can see I’m really venturing outside of the box), and Daniel had two local favourites: zabione and a hazelnut.

We arrived back at our place for a quick shower and to freshen up before heading out for dinner.

For dinner, we went to L’Antico Moro. They had an set menu available where you could choose either the fish or meat option. I went for the fish and Daniel the latter. To begin with, we both received a bruschetta: Daniel’s was the traditional and mine was a white version, with pepper and pecorino cheese.

Next, Daniel had the tomato sauce pasta with the insanely delish “bacon” and I had the white pasta with mussels.

Our next course was sausage, potatoes, and salad for Daniel, and calamari for me.

We both ended with a light, chocolate cake and an espresso.

The meal was delicious and we were both fully stuffed! As we were walking home, we stumbled across an adorable, craft brew bar which has 12 different, local beers on tap. The neatest part though is that you can choose your beer and they can it on the spot for you.

When in Rome…

Eataly

We had a small snack in our room this morning before walking over to the neighborhood of Testaccio for a walking food tour. Testaccio is primarily a working class neighborhood that has history and artefacts found that date back to 12 BC. It was the main settlement in Rome initially because of its easy accessible port to allow for the trading for food, and the numerous warehouses where they could store the huge ceramic containers of food. In the centre of the piazza where we met, you can see a statue dedicated to the food vessels.

Meeting our guide, we walked to our first stop, Pacifico Passi. This is a family run bakery that has been run by the Passi family since 1975. Here we had pizza for breakfast! The first was a marinara and the second was a potato.

We continued our tour to a place called Masto. This is a small, trendy bar where we had a Veneto wine and tasted some cheese and meats. The tray we received consisted of a cheese that was a young, 20 day aged cheese with walnuts, a bologna meat with pistachio, a bassiano prosciutto, and a bruschetta. We also had some sea salt chocolate.

Next, we walked over to Mastro Donato, local pizzeria that specializes in Roman street food. We had fried potato, eggplant, zucchini, and apple with sugar on top.

From here, we continued on to the Testaccio market. The market was newly built in 2012, and as the site was being constructed, they found a whole, ancient, Roman road system beneath it.

Once we went into the market, we tasted some amazing homemade bruschetta, Rome’s best buffalo mozzarella, the infamous supplí, and some craft beer.

By this time, we were completely stuffed and over half way finished our tour. Our guide took us to the old slaughter house in the area which was fully running from 1890-1975. The men that worked there were paid with cuts of meat. They would go home to their wives with the daily cut, and from here the lovely ladies created amazing and local Roman recipes that still exist today!

Across from the slaughter house is an ancient man-made hill. Back in the day, the food containers that held olive oil would slowly be broken down, and essentially become useless to the workers. They would break them apart and started to create a hill, almost like a landfill. Due to the smell, they covered them with lime, which actually made them cement together. Years later, they discovered that this ceramic hill kept a constant temperature of 17 Celsius, and thus was used as a wine cellar. Restaurants and cellars were formed into the hill.

This led us to our next stop, an award winning restaurant built into the side of Monte Testaccio called Flavio al Velavevodetto. Here, we tasted the infamous carbonara (much different from ours and made with pig’s cheek), cacio e pepe (simply cheese and pepper), and amatriciana (a tomato and pork).

Just when we were thinking that we couldn’t possibly eat anymore, we were taken to Giolitti, a bar serving some of the best gelato in the city in 1914. Here I ordered the fig and lemon, and Daniel got the Zabaione (local special of egg yolk and wine) and pistachio.

Once our tour was finished, and we were beyond satisfied, we headed back to our place to freshen up. From there, we continued on our own site seeing journey. The first stop was the pantheon. This place is so massive! I can’t even describe the size of the columns.

We continued north to the Trevi Fountain. Here we sat along the ledge, threw in some coins, and made our own little wish.

We carried on to see the gorgeous Spanish steps. The view from the top was quite spectacular.

In this plaza, there is a place called Pompi which has been serving the best Tiramisù since 1960. I wouldn’t argue with that!

Finally, we continued back into the Trastevere neighborhood for a pizza dinner. We stopped at a local place called Ivo, and hour later finally received our meal. It was delicious!

Today marked our 1 month of being married and I could not have imagined a better month together! Between the craziness of the wedding and all our guests, and the amazing adventure we’ve been having in Italy, it’s been such a memorable and fun time together. I couldn’t imagine a first month of being married any better than this. Love you babez!

Finally Roma!

Finishing off our final tasty breakfast in Firenze, we sauntered sadly to the train station. Firenze is such a beautiful city, with so much history, art, and romance. It will forever have a place in my heart.

Our train ride to Rome was only 1.5 hours and we decided to walk in the sweltering heat to our new B&B. About 35 minutes later, and clothes soaked in sweat we were here!

Rome already is breathtaking. Along our walk we saw gorgeous buildings, which makes me so excited for what’s to come.

Once we were cleaned up and ready, we headed out to find our bearings in our new setting. We’re staying in a hip little part of Rome on the south side of the river called Trastevere, which literally means behind the river. It’s a medieval neighborhood that has strong working class roots, but is filled with traditional trattorias, artisan shops, and beautiful plazas.

We ventured across the river, admiring Tiber Island from the bridge. It’s the world’s smallest inhabited island, and was apparently home to an ancient temple of Asclepius, the god of healing.

As we crossed over the bridge, we walked through the cobble stoned streets and admired the beauty of the town. Everywhere you look there’s something historically old that takes your breath away. I don’t think I could ever get bored of it!

We stopped for dinner at a little local place called Cul de Sac, and sat outside to enjoy the lively street. We began our dinner with pâté, a sampler actually. We had the hare and truffle, sweet and sour boar, and partridge and juniper. They were all so good, but the hare was the winner in my books.

For our mains, I had a black rice and mussels dish, and Daniel had the Roman ravioli. We washed it all down with a local, tasty red.

As we were finishing up our wine, there was an impressive street performer who stopped by.

We walked through Camp de’ Fiori to check out the busy square, watch the street acts, and check out the place.

Then, we walked back over to our side of town to see what was happening. We stopped to get a peek at the Basilica, before walking down by the river to check out a night market.

Along the Tiber River were shops, artists, bars, carnival type games, and numerous other tents to check out. It’s part of a summer festival called Lungo Il Tevere that happens every year in Rome. We enjoyed strolling along the river checking out a few of the things it showcased.

Foodies in Firenze

Update on the negroni:

After our dinner last night, we walked over to Atrium Bar. They are reviewed to make the best negroni in Florence. For those who don’t know, the negroni cocktail originated in Florence. Legend says that Count Camillo Negroni asked his bartender friend to strengthen his favourite drink, the Americano, which had equal parts red vermouth, Campari, and soda water. His friend replaced the soda water with gin, and thus the negroni was created!

Atrium Bar is a stunning, high end venue with gorgeous velvet couches, a high stocked bar, and servers in suits. We sat down and were instantly greeted with sweet flavored nuts, a man playing the piano, and of course our negroni. I would have to say it was definitely the best negroni I’ve ever had!

Longing for a Florence sleep in, we took it upon ourselves to be alarm free this morning, and a glorious sleep we had! Waking up much past the breakfast hour, we headed straight to the central market to check out the lower level where all the locals buy their groceries. It’s open everyday until 2pm, and literally has everything you could imagine: fruit and veggies, cheese and meats, pasta, fish, olive oil, wine, and much more.

After wandering in awe of all the delicious looking foods, and feeling quite hungry ourselves, we ordered an insane charcuterie board with two glasses of red.

Strolling the streets around the market, we couldn’t help but see and smell all the amazing leather goods. They have everything: purses, shoes, belts, jackets. And they are just gorgeous in their quality. We decided to do a little shopping and I bought Daniel a beautiful leather belt, and he bought me some pretty great leather sandals.

Wandering to the main hub of Florence, we wanted to use our museum ticket purchased yesterday to get in a few more attractions. Our first stop was the Museo della Misericordia, which is dedicated to the worlds oldest voluntary associations. They have been active since 1244 and continuously and anonymously offer charitable help to the poor. The museum showcases their work, the ways in which they would help the less fortunate, and the many gifts and donations to the museum itself. The museum is quite small (but has A/C!), and we were given a free, private tour. The older man described all the details and artefacts in each room.

Leaving the museum, we wandered over to the baptistery to see if there was a line, and luckily we managed to see inside. The ceiling decor, marble columns, and tiled floors were beautiful pieces of work.

We completed our afternoon with a tasty gelato before refreshing prior to dinner.

Prior to dinner, we scoped out a little brew pub which only serves craft beers. Surprisingly, it has been hard to find craft beers anywhere we’ve been. This place even does flights, so we order two flights to try their entire list, except one.

Our dinner reservation for tonight was at a restaurant called Brandolino. We ordered a bottle of Chianti wine, the mushroom fettuccine, and the florence renowned meal, the Florentine Bistecca. It was incredible: so tender, so tasty, and just perfectly seasoned goodness. To end with, our server brought us a complimentary glass of dessert wine. It was the perfect way to end our Firenze trip!

The Beauty of Firenze

Awaking bright eyed and bushy tailed, we quickly walked down to the Galleria dell’Accademia in hopes of seeing the real David. As we turned the corner, a steady line was already being formed. We hopped in and waited just a little over an hour before entering the gallery.

As we walked in, we were completely surrounded by beautiful pieces of art work and statues galore.

Of course, the most anticipated feature was that of David. I can’t even describe the massiveness of the statue and the immense amount of detail that it contains. It’s something else.

We continued further throughout the gallery and I was quite in awe of the sculptures in general. The amount of time and patience to create these beautiful pieces of artwork is impressive. I also learned that through the Middle Ages, art was dedicated solely to representing God.

Once through the majority of the gallery, we continued further to explore the music museum. It has beautiful pieces of instruments dating back to the 1600s.

When our tour was complete, we headed to our local breakfast spot for another tasty morning treat.

We spent the next few hours walking around Florence and seeing all the major sites. We went to the cathedral and duomo and were blown away by the grandeur of the plaza. It’s massive and absolutely stunning. The pictures don’t even do it justice.

Venturing on, we headed to the Ponte Vecchio for a view of the Arno River, passing the Uffizi Gallery on the way. The line was way too crazy to wait.

We crossed the river to the less touristy side and explored the beautiful streets. We also stopped for a little gelato snack!

By 2:30pm we were quite hungry so headed back over to find a place for lunch. We had scoped out a few but all were closed by the time we arrived. Instead, we stopped at a place purely by its name: Da Pinocchio.

To start with, we had the bruschetta.

Next, we shared the scampi linguini and the seafood risotto.

It was recommended to us to check out the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, which was back in the Duomo square. It’s a museum dedicated to describing the steps and process that went on to actually build the Duomo and Cathedral. It also contains several statues by Donatello and Michelangelo, and bronze gilded baptistery panels. It was quite education and we enjoyed our time there.

Deciding on what to do or where to go next, as we were walking around the Duomo plaza, we noticed there was a very short line up for the Bell Tower (Campanile di Giotto). We stood in line for no more than 20 minutes before being able to ascend the 414 steps and get our nice leg workout! When we arrived at the top in record speed and real sweaty, we were surrounded by gorgeous views of Florence and especially the Duomo itself.

Shortly after, we headed back to our B&B to get ready and cleaned up for our dinner tonight. Plus we needed to break open our brunello that we bought yesterday!

We ventured back to the market for dinner. Tonight we tried out the pizza. We ordered the margherita and the magnifico, with a glass of red and a beer.

After dinner, we decided to check out a local negroni bar. I’ll report on that tomorrow!

Touring the Brunello Vineyards

We awoke this morning bright and early, and started our day off with a tasty breakfast to fill our bellies.

Last night, we booked a wine tour with a local company called Di Gusti. We met our guide, Gilberto, at 9am in a little plaza close to our B&B and were off to the town of Montalcino.

On route, Gilberto educated us about all the wines in the area, specifically the Sangiovese grape. We learned that depending on how long it sits with the skin on, determines the type of wine it can make. For example, one day is a white, three days a rosé, and one week a red. He also informed us about the differences between the DOCG, DOC, and IGT labeled wines. The first indicates that the wine producers followed the strictest regulations and had the wine tested by a committee to ensure the geographical authenticity of the wine. The DOC label still indicates strict guidelines, but they tend to be a bit more relaxed than the DOCG. Finally, the IGT label was created to indicate that a wine producer couldn’t follow all of the guidelines but still makes great wine. Gilberto gave us an example of an IGT wine where it’s comes from the Sangiovese grape, but in order to be a Sangiovese wine it has to be made of 80% Sangiovese grapes. A wine producer could instead use 50% Sangiovese grapes and 50% something else and still make an amazing blend, but then would be limited to the IGT label. This allows for many great wine producers to be creative in the blends they can make.

Along on drive to the first winery, we saw beautiful fields of sunflowers, vineyard after vineyard, and rolling hills that went on for miles.

On first visit was at a family run vineyard called Poggio Rubino. This is a 7 hectare vineyard that has been passed down the family since the 1800s. To ensure the soil of the ground is healthy to grow great grapes, they plant a rose, and if the rose grows then they know grapes will too. The vineyard is surrounded by a tallish caged fence, which protects the grapes from the many pests, particularly deer and wild boar!

We had a tour of the grounds, the beautiful view, and of course the cellars where the magic happens. They informed us that the wine spends only 30 days max in the silver tanks.

We then returned to the main room to begin our tasting. To start with, we had their rosé which is 50% Sangiovese grapes and 50% Pinot noir. It was sparkly, fresh, and an easy drinking summer wine.

Next, they brought us two different olive oils to try. The pure one cost €35 a bottle and the blend €25. One olive tree makes about one bottle of olive oil. We also tried two different types of balsamic. One was 15 years aged and cost €70 a bottle and the second was 30 years aged and cost €90 a bottle. For any balsamic lover, you would have been in heaven. These were both absolutely delicious, especially the 30 year aged, as it was less sweet. At this point, they also prepared us a small snack.

Our next wine was called the Rosso, which is a 2 year aged young grape.

After that, we had two types of Brunello, these are 5 year aged grapes. They were similar in style except for the one on the right came from volcanic soil which greatly impacted the minerally taste of the wine (and to me, made it that much more delicious!).

Finally, we had the piece de resistance: the riserva. This Brunello has to be aged for at least 6 years. This baby sells for a whopping €125, and you could taste the difference.

Our tasting ended with a glass of grappa which is made from the grape skin.

After leaving the winery, we made a short stop in the town of Montalcino, which sits 500m above sea level and was an old fortress for the town of Siena.

Continuing on our journey, we headed to our second vineyard, Tornsei. The house has been in the family since 1863 and again has been passed down through the generations. It’s currently being run by a 91 year old grandma, the son who is the winemaker, and his wife and two daughters. We were lucky enough to meet the winemaker himself and his daughter! We received a tour of the cellars and learned about how their wine making process has evolved through the years.

When we returned to the stunning panoramic terrace, they had a beautiful homemade lunch made for us. During lunch, we also tasted their Rosso and Brunello.

We loaded back into the van and began our trip back to Florence. Now, I forgot to mention. We had booked this tour because they specifically stated that they don’t take more than 8 people in their van. However, today it was only Daniel and I. We essentially had our own private tour of these beautiful Brunello vineyards!

On route home, the amazing Gilberto stopped at the Piazzale Michelangelo to allow us to see a gorgeous view of Florence, which included part of the old city wall that was built in 1334. The square also has the “fake David.”

Returning back to our B&B for a quick pit stop, it then began to hail!

We waited for an hour to so for the storm to pass, and ventured to our favourite little market for dinner. We were fairly filled by all our wine and food today, but still managed to have a beautiful cheesey appetizer, a massive arancini, and a little dessert.