Europe diary, day 9: food shopping, walking tour of Monti

Sunday 12 November

I woke up a bit early but M. slept in until after 08:00. We had leisurely breakfast (the muesli we bought yesterday on the way to the apartment) and showers. The shower stall is so narrow that I couldn’t raise my leg to wash my foot like I normally do, and had to kneel down on the floor instead.

First up this morning we went to the market in Campo de’ Fiori to buy some fresh vegetables for cooking our own dinners. I searched for other farmers’ markets or fresh produce markets, but all of the ones near here were closed on Sunday. We walked down to the Campo via Piazza Navona, which wasn’t too busy that early in the morning. At Campo de’ Fiori we found a vegetable stall and selected a romanesco broccoli, an eggplant, an onion, a couple of tomatoes, and a couple of apples. The woman looked askance at the tomatoes and pinched off some stalks of fresh basil to add to the bag, free of charge. Clearly you can’t buy tomatoes in Rome without getting basil as well! We looked for fresh chilis, but none of the stalls seemed to have any. I also bought a small chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese from a cheese vendor. I tried asking if he could cut a small piece, explaining that we’re only in Rome for a week and will only be cooking two or three times, but it seemed all the cheese was pre cut and wrapped and they wouldn’t cut chunks to demand. But the second cheese seller I approached had one smaller chunk wrapped in cling wrap in the display and I asked if I could have that, so he sold it to me.

M. stopped to have a coffee at a cafe-bar and said it was really good. We walked back past the Pantheon, and I tried again to duplicate the photo of M. standing in front of it that we took in 2001:


and again in 2012, eleven years to the day later:

Pantheon, 11 years exactly

We’re here again eleven years later again, but not to the day, alas, as those photos were both taken in April. I used the old 2001 photo on my phone as a reference and think I was standing in pretty much exactly the same spot. It was difficult in 2012 because they’d put giant concrete flower boxes in the spot to act as traffic barriers, but this time they were gone again, so that was good.

I popped into a supermarket near the Pantheon to get some eggs and also some shower gel/shampoo for use in the shower. I looked again for chilis, but they didn’t have any either. Very weird. That was all we needed because I’d checked the kitchen cupboards before we left and found some essentials: olive oil, salt, pepper, white wine vinegar, Nestl√© Quik chocolate powder, and… a can of tuna for some reason. I dropped the food at the apartment while M. went back to a clothing shop to buy the vest that she had her eye on before we went to Finland. Then she brought that back to the apartment as well and we decided what to do for the day. We wanted to take it a bit easy, and I found a walking tour of Monti in the Lonely Planet guidebook of Rome, which we thought would be good.

We set out walking over that way to the south-east, taking streets we hadn’t explored before and enjoying the sights along the way as we meandered across the city. On the way we stopped at Antica Trattoria Due Colonne for lunch, getting panini. M. had a caprese filling while I tried a sausage and chicory. The caprese had heaps of mozzarella and she removed a bit to share with me, and I added it to my sandwich. The sausage meat was a flat patty, served hot with wilted chicory leaves. They were pretty good.

We continued on to Monti, passing behind the back side of Trajan’s Forum on the way. The walking tour took us along streets in the blocks east of Via dei Serpenti (the Street of Snakes!), where there were many shops and food places and interesting things to look at. Some of them were closed for Sunday, but enough were open that it was interesting to stop and check them out. I grabbed some gelato from Gelateria dell’Angeletto. I picked a cup size that I thought would be good for two flavours, and chose the cheesecake with raspberry and the ricotta and chocolate. But the guy insisted I choose a third flavour, even when I told him two flavours would be fine. So I quickly picked banana and he added a third spatula-load on top. They were all very good.

We stopped in at Antico Forno ai Serpenti (Ancient Oven of the Snakes!) and grabbed some sweet bites. M. had a biscotto with chocolate chips, while I had a sfogliatella, with crispy layers of pastry around a custardy filling. We ended up finishing the walking tour at Bookàbar, a book store hidden inside the lower level of a huge building, the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. This is a strange place, with exits from the book store leading into a basement warren of square tunnels that house a cafeteria and toilets and exhibition spaces. M. felt like another coffee so we explored around a block to find a likely place and stopped at a small cafe-bar that we stumbled across. M. said it was fine, but not as good as the morning coffee.

We were near the Quirinale Gardens, and decided to see if we could go have a look at those. We’ve never seen them on previous visits, and it’s never been clear to me how to get access to them, as they are on a hilltop and all of the surrounding streets seem to be many metres below the garden, facing impenetrable walls that give no access to the garden above. We walked around about 75% of the perimeter, but found no way to get in. Looking it up after we returned to the apartment I found that the only way in is through the Palazzo Quirinale, which we didn’t go past. But it’s not open on Sundays or Mondays, so we wouldn’t have been able to go in today anyway.

We wended our way back to the apartment slowly, taking different streets to explore more. On the way past the Antico Forno bakery I stopped in to get a loaf of bread to have with out dinner. They were big loaves but the price was listed per kilo and I saw one cut in half, so I asked for a half loaf, which the man was happy to give me. We arrived back a bit before 17:00.

M. suggested we could find a wine bar or something to have a drink before cooking dinner for ourselves tonight. I searched and found Vinoteca 900 just a few blocks away, which opened at 17:00. We actually went about half an hour after that, and found the place empty. Clearly that’s too early for pre-dinner drinks when most of the restaurants don’t even open until 19:30 or 20:00. We had a glass of red wine each. M. requested something light and dry, and the server suggested a wine and had me taste it. I asked M. if she wanted to taste it, but she said she trusted me. I thought it was good and the sort of wine she’d like, so had the server pour her a glass. I chose a Nebbiolo for myself, which was also pretty good. The wines came with a complimentary plate of nibbles: taralli, olives with small pieces of preserved lemon, and salted peanuts, all in tiny bowls on a long oval plate, with another empty bowl for the olive pits.

As we nibbled and drank, one of the staff put on a live soccer match, Lazio versus Roma. All the staff plus some men who just seemed to hang around outside the bar watching the TV screen were transfixed by it, and cheered when Roma apparently scored a goal, but the referee disallowed it for some reason that was entirely unclear to me. Three ladies sat at a table outside and ordered wine as well, the only other customers to arrive before we left to head home. On the way we stopped in at Antico Forno once again to get some dessert for me. We got a slice of the crostata, which the sign said had frutta secca (dried fruit).

At the apartment, I chopped up the vegetables we’d bought this morning and cooked a frittata, with fresh basil leaves and shavings of Parmigiano on top. It took some preparation and was tricky juggling the minuscule amount of kitchen space to organise. When it was ready I had to call M. to come grab her plate to make space, while I had my hands full serving my own plate with no flat surface left to put it down on. The result was pretty good though, with lovely fresh bread sliced and drizzled with olive oil.

Later as I typed up this diary entry I tried the crostata. I’m not sure about dried fruit as such, but it was rich with walnuts and had a layer of raspberry jam on the bottom and apricot on top of the nuts. Very sweet, but delicious. I only ate half and will save the other half for another night.

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