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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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To Rome with Love

Uploaded: May 14, 2016

I returned to Rome to find out if there was something more to this relationship, or if it was all just a passing fancy.

"What relationship?" friends asked.

"Why, my relationship with Rome of course. My Rome-mance!"

Ahhh Roma, artists and poets have drawn to you for millennia. Si, you are crowded. Si, you are dirty. You look your age. But with age comes depth and inner beauty. And I have more patience now with imperfection. I too have put on some years.

Alora, I've tasted Rome before, but had to see her again. Like an unexpected love that gets under your skin, I couldn’t stop thinking about her, and had to know why. Nestled among the congestion, litter, selfie sticks, and plastic face blobs that flatten and squeak, was a real love there for me to embrace?

Day One
We reunited at the Vatican for the Wednesday, 10 AM general audience with the Pope. Get there early (8AM) for the best seats, and try to grab one near the barriers because the Pope still runs around St. Peter’s Square in that fun, little Pope mobile. The website says something about free tickets, but I forgot to get one. Didn't need it - just wait in line and walk in with the other 100,000 people in attendance. Fabulous!

Then off to Centro Storico (old town) with The Red Bicycle, to pedal an easy, three hour route along cobble stone streets past Spanish Steps, the Colosseo, Parthenon, Jewish Ghetto, and secret alleyways with Glenn, our guide ($35 E). Bicycling is a perfect way to explore Rome; I'm surprised more visitors don't take to two wheels. If more bikes were about though, gotta do something about traffic flow. Glenn had guts, let's just put it that way, and we were just a party of three. Imagine the posse of twelve that biked past us and hundreds of pedestrians? Too many wheels, legs, and ruins on medieval streets without some guidance.

"Rome is a story of water," Glenn shared, speaking with the confidence of elder and sage. “From the aqueducts of ancient Rome to today’s drinking fountains, the need for fresh water has always been met. Well, almost. After the fall of the western Roman empire and degrade of the city (4th century) the aqueducts fell into disrepair. By the end of the 1st millennium only a few thousand inhabitants were left along the riverbanks. It was the Renaissance (14th century) that brought new life and a new aqueduct to Rome, the Aqueduct Felice or ‘happy waters,’ (1586). Combined with the Virgin aqueduct (the only one to survive centuries of decay) they brought life back to Rome and her piazzas. Then, the Trevi fountain was built in the same place (1762), where the Virgin Aqueduct gave water for over 17 centuries. Commissioned by Pope Clement XII, it was sculpted by Nicola Salvi, from an existing design by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 100 years before. Finally Rome had her fountain praising water for bringing life back!”

- photo by Glenn-john Newland, The Red Bicycle

On Day Two, we doubled-dated with Food Tours of Rome, and walked hand-in-hand through the Jewish Ghetto, feasting for three and a half hours with host and cute Italian guy, Cosimo. I didn't spent much time in the area last time, and glad I did this time. A lot of locals never left, so it seems more authentic Rome, right in the middle of the action. We enjoyed seven classic eateries including:

Da Pancrazio for Crostino with Artichoke Cream

New York Times reviewed Nonna Betta for Carciofo Romanesco (raw artichokes, deep fried).

Roma Sparita for Pasta Paglia e Fieno

Nonna Vincenza for Cassatine

and Sant’ Eustachio for a caffé selection I had never seen before.

Plus a stop where Julius Caesar was killed, now a home for stray cats.

This tour was well worth $45 E.

Day Three
San Lorenzo was the destination, an edgy, seedy part of Rome. I love Rome’s wild, creative side, and went in search of a favorite leather shop which was gone. But tattooed streets and the smell of marijuana,? Still there - on the walls, in the air. La Terverna di S. Lorenzo bartender sang St. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band while we reminisced old times over a vino bianco de la casa. It's an interesting area to visit because few tourists do. More places are open at night, but if you go then, remember it's San Lorenzo. Walk with purpose.

In the evening, we shared happy hour at the Vatican (yes, they served wine, but only one glass because "it is a holy place"), followed by a night tour of the museum. If you visit from May-September when Friday evening tours are offered, check it out. The courtyard venue perfetto, buffet well worth $15 E, crowds smaller, and viewing the collection in the light of night is magico.

On Day Four, I best kept the words of Venetian novelist, Tiiziano Scarpa, in my back pocket, along with my cell phone. Getting lost is the only place worth going. This trip, like last year in China, really depended on, and was enhanced by, the map app (and Google Translate). I hate giving more money to Verizon, so limit data by downloading directions over free wifi, and follow the highlighted route in free airplane mode with GPS. Another option is buy a SIM card from a local phone store, but I heard this only be done with a "broken phone," so Apple products don't work? Can anyone clarify this?

Getting back to lost, frustrated by my competition...Roma has many suitors....and also my inability to find any Made in Italy special things, I traveled as far away as I could to the last Metro stop and Europa2, where the "Italians shop." Feeling all confident and local because I'd been there a couple days, I hop the 705 off the Metro, instead of recommended 709, because a sign said 705 stopped at Europa2 too. HAH! Traveler Rule #1 - listen to ticket seller.

Hey, Mr Bus Driver, there's Europa2, coming up on the right, and, and, hey there it is, and, no no, wait, there it goessss. And oh god, you're getting on the freeway out of town? Dios mio!

Lucky me, a couple exits later we get stopped by an accident, Dios vi benedica, and I jump bus to start the three-mile walk back through, well, I didn't really know. Hungry, tired and frustrated because I'd rather be buying all those special Italian things than walking along roads with no sidewalk, I take refuge part way in the only Osteria around, McDonald's. I order a Caesar Salad that comes with what I thought was a digestive, but was actually an itsy-bitsy bottle of olive oil as the only dressing.

I eek out a couple tablespoons at most, and think to myself, now this is one of your imperfections Roma - your salads, and actually, now that I'm being honest, your vegetables in general are not what I expect out of a relationship as intimate as ours. I need more from you than eggplant, zucchini, roasted peppers and plain romaine. Interesting stop though, just to see the recycling system - better than ours.

While leaving my love that afternoon, I also realized language skills might keep our tête-à-tête from progressing. Italians not only want you to try and speak Italian, they want you to be good at it. The order-taker at McDonald's kept asking me something and getting increasingly frustrated when my response remained "Caesar solamente, gratzie, Caesar." It was probably only "Fries or a drink?," but too noisy to ask her to speak into Google Translate, so I never understood exactly. With a huff, she tosses me the Caesar. I sit quietly chewing naked lettuce, feeling alone, and wondering, maybe it is time to break up?

But wanderlust taught me on Day Five to not give up so easily on love. I returned to Centro Storico to bask in angels, gods, marble and domes that tower above and fill me with awe and inspiration. I realized that last day that I, too, still had a lot of Eternal City left inside. Hanging around the Colosseo for hours doesn’t make me just a tourist. Everyone parties in the center of Rome, even the Romans, and the international festival that happens day and night around some of the oldest remnants of humankind is not easily forgotten.

Yes Rome, I still love you - cracks, crowds, and all.

Parting is such sweet sorrow, so mi amore, might we stay in touch? I tossed a coin in Trevi. Maybe we will meet again?

Until then, I dream of you.

La candela del mio amore brucia per sempre luminoso.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: other,
on May 14, 2016 at 5:18 pm

REaders, anyone have a good pix at the Trevi? I didn't take one :( Send yours in and get a Food Party! coffee mug!

Posted by Reader, a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley,
on May 14, 2016 at 7:54 pm

Solamente is Spanish.

Posted by Mary, a resident of Slater,
on May 15, 2016 at 1:02 am

So is "Dios mio".

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on May 15, 2016 at 6:50 am

Ah, you guys got me, I realized I speak Italianish. But "dios mio" too, Mary? Ay caramba!

Posted by Massimo, a resident of another community,
on May 15, 2016 at 7:11 am

What happened to talk about Italian men?

Posted by glenn, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on May 15, 2016 at 8:32 am

mi gusta, gracies

Posted by MV Reader, a resident of another community,
on May 15, 2016 at 8:35 am

@Reader (a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley):

Actually solamente is a real Italian adjective and was correctly used in the McDonald's episode.

Posted by Marco, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 16, 2016 at 8:21 am


Great story, thanks for sharing. Next time consider leaving a contribution to the refuge for stray cats in Largo Argentina 😀 Last I checked it was managed by an American lady.

@MV Reader:

To be pedantic, I believe "solamente" is an adverb in the Italian grammar.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of another community,
on May 16, 2016 at 9:12 am

@ Marco, I should have been clearer about the cats - thanks for bringing it back up. It's not a bad thing they are there - they are taken care of and beloved. Seems like a neighborhood sanctuary - or at least that was how I heard it described.

Solemente is correct eh? OK that helps. In my limited understanding of languages, I think Spanish is easier for the English speaker. When I attempt to speak either - native Spanish speakers seem to understand me and Italians not so much. Maybe this is because the Spanish inflections are more common to English than the Italian? Example - "menu." I know I had the correct word in Italian, but I kept saying it as we do in English, and in Italian, the emphasis on on the "u." Italians pronounce it "me-noo." I often emphasize the wrong syllable. I wonder if there is a rule to follow to get better at this?

And @ Massimo, another good catch! I decided to save the best for last! :)

Posted by GH (via email), a resident of another community,
on May 17, 2016 at 8:16 am

If you plug a SIM card from a local phone store into an "unlocked" phone, removing your old SIM card, your phone is now "native" to the phone company whose SIM card it is. However:

1) at least in the US, a lot of phones are "locked", so that they will work only with a SIM card from the phone company you signed up with, and they won't work as a phone with a "foreign" SIM card;

2) some mobile phone systems don't actually *have* replaceable SIM cards - and Verizon, until they went with LTE, were using a system that doesn't require that the phone support SIM cards.

A "broken phone" is probably referring to a phone that's unlocked, but not by asking your phone company to unlock it (which they might not do even if you ask). Doing that requires "breaking into" the software on your phone to force it to unlock the phone; this may be easier for Android phones than for Apple phones, but I think it requires some software hacking in either case. (There's also "jailbreaking", which, for an Apple phone, lets it run applications Apple didn't approve. Android phones usually can get apps from stores other than the Google Play store; they don't need to be "jailbroken" for this. Unlocking is different from jailbreaking, however.)

However, this site:

Web Link

claims that

Surprisingly, phones bought from Sprint or Verizon are also usually network unlocked. These companies use a network configuration without a user-accessable SIM card for voice and 3G data (CDMA) but for the 4G LTE connection they use a standard SIM card. Because of the agreement with the U.S. government when Verizon purchased the spectrum they use for LTE, they are required to have that side of all their phones unlocked. Sprint isn't covered by these regulations, but they do the same. Thanks, Sprint.

That's a site for Android phones, but if the agreement with the U.S. government actually exists, it probably applies to all phones from Verizon, not just Android phones. (The bit about "These companies use a network configuration without a user-accessable SIM card for voice and 3G data (CDMA)" is the "some mobile phone systems don't actually *have* replaceable SIM cards" stuff I mentioned above; it is possible for "CDMA" networks to support something like a SIM card, but, at least in the US, few of them do.)

Posted by MV Reader, a resident of another community,
on May 17, 2016 at 10:50 am


Good catch, "solamente" is indeed an Italian adverb, not adjective. That said, if I recall correctly the Italians use the word "soltanto" more frequently than "solamente" in everyday conversation.

Locking phones is a policy by the individual carrier, not by phone manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, HTC. In fact, in some jurisdictions, carrier locking is ILLEGAL (I think Belgium might be one of these places).

All Verizon 4G LTE devices (like recent iPhones or comparable Android smartphones) are network unlocked out of the box and can take a different carrier's SIM card. Some more explanation here:

Web Link

Other US carriers will unlock your phone if you meet certain conditions: account in good standing, device completely paid off (or if purchased under contract, that contract is concluded), device not reported missing/stolen, etc.

Since the iPhone4S (late 2011), it has been easy to purchase a factory-unlocked (never locked by any carrier) iPhone directly from Apple. Carrier subsidies are less frequent these days, so this is a consideration to take when planning a new device purchase.

Anyhow, I have enjoyed reading about your trip.

Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Mountain View,
on May 18, 2016 at 10:09 am

Max Hauser is a registered user.

What a great report, Laura. All sorts of details.

A food detail that intrigued me was your casual mention of a "Caesar salad" -- in Europe! The one we Americans know is a totally North-American invention, by restaurateur Caesar Cardini during Prohibition.* Of course, the word Caesar is not exactly unfamiliar to Rome -- you cited it on one photo. But would the salad you got be an independent Roman or Italian invention? Or have some connection with the US-Mexican specialty? Did you happen to ask?

* In Tijuana, as an improvise during July-4 weekend 1924. It stayed on the menus of Cardini's Tijuana restaurants, became popularized by Hollywood movie people, and soon was featured at Los Angeles restaurants. Cardini himself was an immigrant from Italy. (Details from Mariani, "Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink," 2013 ed.)

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on May 18, 2016 at 2:31 pm

Max, she bought her Caesar salad at McDonald's. She didn't have to ask about the provenance of the concept. It came from a corporate kitchen of a Fortune 500 fast food chain.

Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Mountain View,
on May 18, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Still curious to hear from you, Laura, particularly because you made clear above that you got it at a MacDonald's. I've seen MacDonald's in various countries, they routinely rename their familiar offerings, and offer different local specialties, all to serve local taste and custom. Italian customers of MacDonald's are well acquainted with the word "Caesar," but not as a Mexican-American romaine salad. So the name creates an ambiguity and a mystery -- that's why I asked.

Posted by Twisted Up, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on May 18, 2016 at 3:07 pm

When I was in New Zealand in the 90's they put sliced beets on the the burgers instead of tomatoes. Japan added a fried egg. Local twists

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: other,
on May 19, 2016 at 2:32 pm

The Caesar was pretty much what we expect here - romaine, parm, bread (though bread stix, not croutons) and chicken. It had tomatoes too. What it didn't have is dressing - just that tiny bottle of olive oil. Last time I was in Italy it was hard to find any salad. This time, 8 years later - salads were more common, but no where near as exciting as in the US. Pretty much plain greens, with maybe a few other veggies. The dressing was ALWAYS balsamic and oil. But this at at McD's was just olive oil, and hardly enough of that. I thought for sure a McD's salad would have a dressing, but it was assembled like the other local fare.

Posted by Ravi singh, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks,
on Aug 3, 2016 at 5:06 am

Looking your post really so important and useful for us.

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