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HEALTHY Travels: When In Rome

by on July 26, 2016
 

“A piazza is a public square surrounded by three to five-story residential buildings that house small businesses, mostly bars and restaurants, at the street level. In an ancient town like Rome, you may see a classic structure like the Pantheon. But what makes the piazza fun and most needed is the hundreds of people that gather there to walk, eat, shop and enjoy themselves.”—Sandra Alex

Rome is Beautiful from the Air

From Heathrow, England, our flight to Rome took two hours and twenty minutes. For half of the time, we flew over Italy, and I immediately fell in love with the gorgeous greenery coupled with the feeling that I was going home.

As a Rio de Janeiro native, growing up in a predominant Catholic country under the embracing arms of the famous Redeemer statue, Rome has always been a part of my culture.

It was the month of June. Approaching Fiumicino international airport, another surprise: the Mediterranean Sea. Rome is beautiful from the air. A few minutes later my husband and I would discover its beauty from a much closer perspective.

Rome is Beautiful from the Moment You Land

Our taxi driver, Guido, took the backside streets, via Vatican city, where the fortified walls of the Vatican and the Basilica di San Pietro can be seen. What a treat. Guido did not know exactly how to find our destination. He looked in the map and said in Italian, “Piaza Trilussa es en Trastevere,” as if he had just discovered gunpowder.

It was an out of the ordinary experience to drive by some of the most famous shopping streets in Rome, by the banks of the Tiberi river, and finally turn into a tiny piazza surrounded by very narrow streets that cars cannot possibly drive on. Our taxi did it anyways.

In less then a minute, we were parked in front of our apartment building, at Via de la Peliccia — the tiniest of streets! It was a surreal environment, eerily quiet, with very few people walking on a very hot Sunday noon.

The Rome Sweet Home Apartment

We had no means to communicate with “Rome Sweet Home,” the website through which we booked the apartment. Walking up to a small restaurant that happens to be open, we asked if they had a phone; the answer was no. Here we are, standing in front of our new abode, not knowing how to get in. Suddenly an older man in his 50’s, approaches us on a Vespa and asks in broken English, “Are you here for apartment?” “Yes!!!” He had the keys. I asked if he worked for Rome Sweet Home. “No,” he answered. “I am the owner of this apartment.” I must admit that I was a little shocked by the informality of this interaction. We were definitely in a foreign country.

The man, I never quite caught his name, took my husband and I up two flights of stairs through a squished corridor to what would become our home for the next three weeks. He showed us how to run the air conditioning, gave us the keys, and left. It was the only and last time we ever saw him.

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Our Adventures in Rome Begin

Unpacked and dressed in something light, we headed off to see the streets of Roma! Too much excitement to just go to sleep and recover from the jetlag. “Jetlag from a three-and-a-half hour flight?” you ask. Well, prior to Heathrow, we had flown in from Los Angeles, California. We were exhausted and the heat was intense. But this is Rome! The marvelous city with a history span of two and a half thousand years. The land that houses the Vatican, with Michelangelo’s Pietá and the Pope. The capital of fashion, where beautiful people dressed in beautiful clothes can be seen all over. Even the street cleaners looked and dressed like male models for the most sophisticated fashion magazines!

We had heard that Rome is also the center for some of the most flavorful food and wine in Europe, and could not wait to confirm this true. Walking through Piazza Trilussa, we crossed the nearby Tiberi river bridge called Ponte Sisto, proceeded to Campo Di Fiori and ended up at Piazza Navona. It seemed like a short walk for such a very hot day.

These piazzas were more touristy than Trilussa. People were selling things on the street, men covered in gold or silver from head to toe pretended to be statues, while others serenaded those seating at outside tables of side-by-side restaurants

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That is the secret of the piazzas; portable folding tables and chairs that are placed in front of the restaurants during the day and part of the night. We found ourselves in the heart of the Rome well known by most tourists. Because the heat was intolerable, we decided to walk back by the river, under sycamore-type trees that bordered Tiberi, and head back to our Trastevere neighborhood. There we saw Horta di Mare, a seafood restaurant that happened to be open on a Sunday afternoon.

The First Restaurant Experience

In addition to fish, muscles, and scallops, the “ristoranti” offered green salads, caprese, gnocchi and pasta. Not the healthiest dishes, so we thought, until we decided to stay with the traditional — rather than venturing into their “frutti di mare” specialty — and order their salad. It was to die for! Fresh, luscious, with wonderful greens.

I got the recipe from them and decided to share the experience here. After eating, our waiter, Mimo, offered us dessert. We saw on the menu that they had profiteroles. Profiteroles are a French decadence — puff-cream balls filled with ice-cream, lathered in expensive dark chocolate topped with clouds of Chantilly. Obviously profiteroles do not belong in this website unless you can invent the healthy version and I sure hope to try some day. In my case, I simply made the decision to indulge. “After all, nutrition is not a religion,” I thought.

“How late are you open?” Our plan was to come back in the evening for dessert, given that by this time we were completely full, not to mention exhausted. Mimo said that the restaurant would close at 1:00 a.m. “Great!” We returned to the apartment and collapsed.

The “Rome at Night” Shock

My husband got up around seven p.m. and I slept until eleven! Our internal clocks were inverted, and our work week was about to start the next morning. We momentarily discussed whether we should go out for profiteroles or not. Outside, there were all sorts of noise coming from the street. We took a peak out the window and saw a few people. “How fun! Let’s go down there.”

Upon descending the marble steps and walking out onto the streets we were shocked! The little villa doors that were closed now had portable tables and chairs with open umbrellas out on the streets. Restaurants everywhere! Shops were open (clothing stores, shoe stores, sunglasses stores) and people were selling knick-knacks.

A Little Bit About Piazza Trelussa

Now this is a little tiny villa where the streets are narrow—remember, the taxi barely fit—at night, had been fully transformed. The place comes alive at night! Thousands of people walk the streets while thousands sit outside and inside on restaurants, pubs, and bars.

Further out on Piazza Trilussa, hundreds of people sat on the steps of the Trilussa fountain monument. What an amazing transformation! We had profiteroles. Mimo was still working and helped us again.

My husband tried to order a turkey sandwich mixing the Portuguese, Italian and English languages. They served him ham with honeydew melons instead. We laughed so hard! At least he got the protein. When one a.m. arrived, the stores began to close and people started to leave. Trastevere is like a giant party on Sunday nights. We later discovered that the party continued from Tuesday to Saturday nights. On Mondays, there were signs on every door with the word “Ciuso.” It means closed.

Here and There for the Next Three Weeks

In the following three weeks my husband and I worked, but we also took the time to explore the city at night. We would go to the best gelataria in Rome, which happened to be on Via Benedeta, a tiny street behind Piazza Trilussa.

Best Gelataria in Rome

We would walk the streets of Rome and find little restaurants and bars that served dessert and limoncello. If you have never tried limoncello, it is definitely worth it as a palate cleanser at the end of a meal.

One one weekend we went to Ostio Lido beach, granted not the most beautiful beach in the world, but certainly worth it because of the heat.

ostio-lido-beach near Rome

On another weekend we walked and walked and walked the streets of Rome during the day, visiting every possible tourist site: Campo di Fiori, Piazza Navona, Fontana di Trevi, Piazza di Spagna. The adventures were tiresome but delightful. We even visited to a Flea Market in the outskirts of the city.

The memories are so many, it would take a book  to describe all of the experiences and the feelings we encountered in this magical city. I would love to go back some day and enjoy it all over again. And now the salad recipe I promised.

Salada Caprese Romana

INGREDIENTS

Salad

1 box of spinach

1 bunch wild arugula

a small stem of chives

a few leaves of fresh basil

2 large heirloom tomatoes

6 slices of mozzarella di bufala or burrata

Pistachios

6 oz. of pistachios (unsalted and unshelled)

1 pinch of organic cayenne

1/2 tsp. of Celtic salt

1/2 tsp. of onion powder

Dressing

1 cup of organic olive oil

4 table spoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 table spoon of graded fresh onion

1/2 tsp. of Celtic salt

DIRECTIONS

Salad

Chill a large salad bowl for 30 minutes or when serving, put the bowl in cooking pan with ice.

Wash spinach, wild arugula, chives, and basil.

Put each of these greens through the spinner.

Dice the basil and the chives into small pieces, and then toss them inside the chilled salad bowl with the spinach and the arugula.

Slice the mozzarella di bufala about 1/2″ thick and lay them separately on a serving plate.

Wash heirloom tomatoes, slice them longitudinally, and place the slices on top of the mozzarella.

Pistachios

Heat oven to 360º

Open and pull the pistachios from their shells, place them in a flat rectangular baking pan.

Mix one table spoon of olive oil with the cayenne, Celtic salt and onion powder. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the pistachios on the baking pan. Place the pan in the oven for 7 to 10 minutes.

Once slightly toasted, pull the pistachios out of the oven and let them cool. Once cool, mix them with the greens in the chilled bowl.

Dressing

Pour olive oil in a bowl, add the lemon juice, and the Celtic salt. Grade over the bowl half of an onion, enough to fill one table spoon, or do it to taste. Mix it and place this healthy dressing in a small serving jar.

WHENEVER POSSIBLE BUY ORGANIC

AVOID THE FOLLOWING NON-ORGANIC: cherry tomatoes, green onions, spinach and arugula

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