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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Saturday in Tivoli

 If you remember we rented a car last weekend. On the Saturday we drove out to Tivoli to visit Hadrian's Villa under gray, rainy skies. Above is a photo of the scale model of the complex. This really must have been an amazing place in its day.

Heather's goal is always to check out the ancient buildings and sculpture while Larry wants to combine this with some eating and drinking of the same exquisite quality. Here in Italy, that's not too difficult. Above you can view a fantastic combination of the two, Ristorante Sibilla .

This was one of those places that (with their stunning location) could probably do very well even with mediocre food. Instead, they create some very nice dishes, some claim it's worth the trip from Rome just to dine here. The special antipasto was a treat, you can see it above. A fantastic artichoke on the second level while below are polenta with a delicious ragu and a little fried dough thing stuffed with ricotta and topped with some heavenly tomato sauce.

The first plate, a pasta with fresh tomato, was lacking something, perhaps just a bit of salt? Not being expert cooks we couldn't say for sure, but after the wonderful antipasto this was a bit of a letdown, though still pretty good.

Our second plates were this tasty salsiccia with what tasted like cicoria and shoestring potatoes. All very good, expertly prepared and presented. We'd ordered their prezzo fisso menu and added the antipasti, so there were plenty of other ala carte menu choices...the ones we saw going past looked very good.

We finished with this tasty and beautiful dessert, a kind of thick, sweet cream, almost a custard, between two layers of heavenly sliced almonds and what might have been corn flakes, drizzled in chocolate sauce and dusted with powdered sugar. Very tasty!!

On our way back to Rome, we stopped by Villa d'Este for a taste of the Renaissance after enjoying the Roman ruins before our pranzo.

We were back "home" at the Academy just after dark, planning Sunday's adventure.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday in Tuscany

We needed to get out of Rome this weekend so we rented a brand-new Fiat Punto with 4 doors so we could jam our bikes in the back seat and blast off for warmer and sunnier climes (and climbs!). Sunday morning we loaded up and headed along the coast to Orbetello and specifically Monte Argentario.

Two hours after leaving Rome we were in Orbetello, unloading the bikes and throwing on our helmets with the idea of circumnavigating the island from Porto Santo Stefano in an anti-clockwise direction and a plan for a nice lunch either along the way or post-ride. The weather was damp and drizzly in Rome but the forecasters predicted sunny, warm (for January) skies  up here so we figured it was worth the trip.

You can see from the photos it WAS! It was good to get out on the road bikes again after so many rides on the MTB's over the cobbles and tram lines of Rome. The views were spectacular, one of those roads you have to be careful on, so you don't get so distracted by the view that you miss a could be a LONG way down!

Very little of this road is flat, we measured grades of almost 20% in places! And then...there were the unpaved bits as you can see above. 4 kms of strade sterrate...real l'Eroica stuff, but we didn't have our bici d'epoca, just our regular road bikes with 25 mm tires. One short downhill stretch was so steep and rocky we both walked a bit - which wasn't really all that much easier than riding. Riding the rest was a classic battle, if you let the bike run on the downhill, you ran a huge risk of a pinch flat on the sharp rocks, but on the very loose surface keeping your speed in check risked locking up the front wheel and going over the bars. The 4 kilometer stretch took awhile! Just when we hit pavement again, we sluiced down a SERIOUS descent (probably 20% though nobody was looking at the computer screen) followed by a climb of the same grade! Mamma Mia...this is January!

Once the big challenges were over it was generally downhill with sweeping views all the way to Porte Ercole. By this time we were more than ready for pranzo! As you can see we found a nice little spot with a great view and sunny tables. We started with carpaccio of smoked swordfish and a salad with tiny shrimp, followed by ravioli in a pumpkin/mushroom sauce and a Tuscan bean and cereal zuppa. The soup was especially good with plenty of crusty bread, fresh extra-virgin Tuscan olive oil and freshly ground salt. We washed everything down with a bottle of Ansonica Argentario, made just a few kilometers away. Espresso powered us back to Orbetello so we could pack up the bikes and zoom back to Rome, getting back even before dark!

Another Sunday in paradise...we hope yours was good too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Man + Machine

A gearhead's dream? We visited Centrale Montemartini years ago when they moved some of the contents of the Capitoline Museum down there while the more centralized digs were remodeled. We made a return visit recently.

Some don't "get it" and we heard from a few of the Academy folks who said so, while most thought it's a wonderful idea to combine these ancient sculpted images of man with massive machines created by men.

Larry had sort of forgotten how much he enjoys this combination. While the machines don't really qualify as ancient, in technological terms they probably are, though there might still be some massive, 10 cylinder diesel engines like these in use somewhere? Just like the sculptures, the pride of the artisans who created these machines is evident. The names of the company who made them are proudly cast into the massive iron covers, printed on the gauges on the control panels and highlighted here in the museum. Truly a gearhead's dream

Mille grazie to Lindsay Harris, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor-in-Charge here at the Academy for organizing the visit.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A ride-through archaeological park

Tuesday was the "Befana" holiday winding up the xmas season in Italy. We took advantage on a sunny day to enjoy a ride around the famous Acqueduct Park near the ancient Appian Way.

Above is an artist rendering of what it may have looked like back-in-the-day.

While today you can ride your bike all over out here. Plenty were doing just that along with strolling in the warm sunshine. Hard to believe it's January!! These MTB's have really come in handy here. What Rome lacks in great roads for bici di corsa it gives back in opportunities to ride in the dirt at places like this. We've now found a way to get over here without too much bother with traffic once we get to the Circus Maximus, which is about 10 minutes from the Academy, most of it downhill.

We'd been out here before as part of the Appia Antica bike ride and noticed a nice-looking ristoro on the edge of the park. We thought it might be perfect for a relaxing lunch one day. Today was that day! But first we had to ride around a bit more since they weren't open yet. Turned out to be a smart move as they took our name for what turned out to be the last table available for pranzo. 

We like fixed-price menus. Not only do they often turn out to be very good values, more importantly for us the portions are reasonably sized, so we can enjoy a variety of plates rather than gorge solely on a primo or secondo as is too often the case these days unless you split plates, but then you still don't enjoy much variety. We started with this antipasto. The house vino rosso wasn't bad either so we ordered plenty!

Amateur food photos don't do these plates justice but the pasta with chickpea and guanciale sauce was very tasty as was the lasagne with radicchio and cheese.

A spiedo with various meaty bits and peppers was served with roasted potatoes and salad for a second plate. We gobbled the dessert (two types of fresh, moist cake) before we could take a photo, sorry! Espresso topped things off nicely and we were back on the bikes finding our way home soon after, though "Mr. Garmin" was by this time useless as his battery had croaked despite being turned off during pranzo. He did help us at one point find the crossover from the Appia Antica so we can't complain too much, but we're still amazed at the poor battery life of these reason we don't depend on them to help our clients navigate the CycleItalia routes.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Another museum Sunday?

A bright and beautiful (and rather warm, for a nice change) Sunday greeted us in Rome today. Original plans were to visit the Etruscan Museum and meet friends for pranzo but they called things off due to illness, so Plan B was put in place.

The Museo Capitoline instead, followed by lunch at an eatery of our own choice. Perche no?

Just a couple of photos since you can see much better ones on the web. One of Larry's favorite pieces is the original bronze of Marcus Aurelius astride his horse. This used to be outside before a replica replaced it in the elements but it was then behind glass inside. Recently it's been moved to a newly-built space where it can be admired from many angles, as you can see above.

Next? Pranzo! No amateur food photos, but you can see some on the Hostaria Grappolo d'Oro website. We'd dined here many years ago and wondered if it was still good, plus it was sort of on the way back home. We enjoyed their fixed-price menu, an outstanding and very tasty value, quite likely the best spaghetti carbonara Larry's enjoyed in quite awhile!

Topping things off, their wine list included a Trappolini Cenereto, another tasty value, so our Sunday pranzo was just right. Buona Domenica to everyone!

Monday, December 29, 2014

La vera pizza (the real thing)

To celebrate the holidays we escaped Rome and headed down via the high-speed ITALO (300 km per hour!) train to Napoli. Heather wanted to revisit the museum there, so like most of our trips, it was work combined with passion.

And part of that passion relates to FOOD of course! We've enjoyed real, Napolitano-style pizza a time or two, the first being a visit to Massa Lubrense many years ago. We've eaten plenty of pizza in Italy and thought almost all of it far superior to anything available in the USA. But it seems the real thing starts to lose the magic once you get about 50 kms away from it's ancestral home of Napoli. The farther away you go, the more the magic wanes.

On this tour we wanted our magic undiluted, so we did some research and talked to some trusted Italian friends and ended up at Gino Sorbillo, one of the two arguably best places to enjoy this simple, but oh so complex dish. Right now you're probably (assuming you've not been here to sample the real thing yourself) wondering what is so special about pizza here? It's rather like can read all about it but until you actually experience it yourself, you don't really get it. Larry can still remember his first time (with the pizza!) and the sudden realization of why this is so popular all around the world. We tried the classics, a marinara and a margherita washed down with cold birra. The place was packed on a Saturday night.

But NOT as crowded as Michele as you can see above. This is the rival for the title of best pizza in Napoli, which of course means best pizza in Italy, which obviously translates into best pizza in the world. We saw this mob in the afternoon shortly after they opened and realized we weren't the only ones who thought pizza a great idea the day after xmas. Mamma Mia!!!

Note: We've found pretty close replicas of this pizza at the Rossopomodoro chain which began in Napoli. We've tried them in Rome, Piedmont and Val d'Aosta and found them pretty darn good and they seem to thrive as well right here in pizza's birthplace.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Cast, writers and directors of the American Academy Christmas play 2014

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you a great 2015!

Heather & Larry