I awake in my dark (thank you black-out curtains), cool hotel room, blissfully unaware of the time; thrilled to discover I slept past 11, unheard of in my life back home. I languished in bed surrounded by my travel notes and began to plan my final day in Rome.
I heard Trastevere was a great foodie destination and since I had never been, I decided to make a day of it. I noticed on the map that just across the river from Trastevere was Volpetti, Rome’s oldest delicatessen. As a deli-loving Jewish woman, how could I pass that up? I took a taxi there and began my delicious day at the deli.
Volpetti is filled with every deli delicacy you could imagine and many things beyond typical deli fare. A HUGE bowl of earthy, fragrant truffles were placed in one corner where assorted salami and cheeses were stacked. Glass cases were filled with trays brimming with colorful antipasto salads and the fragrant, fresh-out-of-the oven bread display made me swoon. Dozens of long baguettes are leaning next to crispy, seeded flatbreads, breads shaped and studded with dried fruits and nuts and the pizza breads, unrolled like tomato red carpets on the counter. I knew a big lunch was scheduled so I sampled just one perfect bite of slivered almonds and candied orange peel, rolled into a circular sticky, chewy ping pong balled-sized confection that I nibbled on for several blocks as I headed over the Tiber River into Trastevere.
I tried to use Google Maps to locate the top spots I read about that morning but I quickly realized how silly that was. I was passing one beautiful restaurant after another in search of what? The ‘perfect’ bite of pasta? The ‘perfect’ pizza crust? Here were crowds of happy diners spilling out of outdoor cafes enjoying spectacular meals. This is ROME after all and the pursuit of the freshest ingredients were evident on every plate.
I snaked through twisty, uneven cobbled streets where the sun shone though climbing vines and off old stone buildings. I came upon the church of Santa Maria where the very first Mass was held and entered to find magnificent gold tile mosaics and spectacular frescoes. Armed soldiers were posted out front here and looked both menacing and a bit comical in their jaunty caps. Pairs of soldiers can be found in every Piazza and even around the corner from my hotel- a reminder that all is not well in our world.
Where to eat? The choices were vast. Once I abandoned my Google navigation, worthless because few streets had signs and the comical, robotic pronunciation of the Italian street names bore no resemblance to anything I could find anyway, I just just wandered and watched where people were having fun.
I came upon Grazia and Graziella, a corner trattoria teeming with beautiful people, laughing with the gregarious waiters and ordering extravagant salads, antipasto plates and pizzas. I was seated in the center of the patio where I had the best view of everyone and everything they were eating and I took it all in with such a rush of gratitude that I was sitting right here, right now in the beautiful city. Look, there in the corner is the quintessential Italian couple, kissing, smoking skinny cigarettes and sipping wine all at at once, arms and legs intertwined, oblivious to me and the dozens of other diners. Two tables away from me are an American couple who ordered cheeseburgers and fries (Really? You are in Italy for God’s sake!) and next to me is a long table of gorgeous older Italian couples, eating and drinking whatever the hell they want and having a ball.
The waiters are audacious and charming so they get away with asking a young middle-eastern man if he is a terrorist and playfully patting him down as he laughed and entered the patio. One waiter spotted a group of young women reading the menu posted out front and he grabbed a bottle of Prosecco and glasses and sauntered out to greet/seduce them. After a few sips of Proscecco he had them cooing and giggling and entering for lunch. This is how it works here. The food AND the wait staff draw you in and create a meal to remember.
It was here that I created my new favorite single traveller experience; photo bombing unsuspecting diners as I silently co-conspired with the waiters as they were handed cameras and asked to take group photos. We’d make eye contact, I’d lean in from behind with my goofy grin and he’d snap the picture, winking conspiratorially.
My salad arrived. It was crunchy and super fresh with rosy tomatoes and a knob of fresh buffalo mozzarella artfully placed as the centerpiece. Ribbons of basil laced through the mixed greens reminding me with each bite that I was in Roman paradise. My pizza was perfection, with the freshest tomato sauce covered with assorted wild mushrooms and a splatter of bright pink crumbles of homemade sausage. The crust was blistered and slightly charred so each slice had a crunchy, chewy finish. I savored every bite.
I decided to walk off lunch by strolling in no particular direction with no particular destination in mind. Impetuous and exciting, until I found myself completely lost with no idea how to return to familiar surroundings. I kept trudging on, though neighborhoods, up stone carved staircases, looking for a cab and listening for a loud crowded street where my chances of nabbing a ride might increase. Sure enough, a sympathetic taxi driver pulled over and took me back to my hotel, up a high, curvy road with a breathtaking view of Rome.
Happy to be back to my room, I peeled off my sweaty clothes and slipped on my swimsuit and headed out for a swim and a sunny poolside nap.
A bistecca (steak) dinner in the hotel at the unfashionably early hour of 7pm gave me the entire restaurant to myself. I faced out to the gardens and again felt the rush of gratitude, which is now becoming my mealtime prayer.
Thank you. Thank you for this beautiful day and the days to come.