Archive for ‘Europe’

Cooking Thanksgiving in Rome turns out to be a real turkey

Our Thanksgiving meal, our first venture into full-scale American hospitality, was just short of an apocalypse. I used the word “short” because I heard no documented reports of botulism. We learned that life as an ex-pat isn’t always like “Under a Tuscan Sun.” Frances Mayes never mentioned anything about cleaning up day-old chicory off a floor.
First, putting on a Thanksgiving affair in Rome is an ordeal nothing short of packing for relocation to Mercury.
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My five favorite restaurants in Rome

Cutting down to five required some ground rules. I ruled out pizzerias. I wrote about those in May. I also included nothing that’s listed in Lonely Planet. I trust Lonely Planet’s restaurant recommendations but I’ve walked on every path in Rome. The best restaurants are on the paths less beaten, even by LP. Making it easier is including a disclaimer that these may not be the five best in Rome. They may not even be my five favorite if I went back to all of them with a more critical eye. I have a whole new list by Jan. 1. The depth of restaurants in Rome is that good.
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A weekend in Spain: Confessions of a Marriott whore

We settled on Denia, a town in Spain I’d never heard of which, if you’re seeking a path less beaten, is always a good sign. A map showed it’s on Spain’s famed Costa Bianca, on the point of a peninsula just across the Gulf of Valencia from hip Ibiza. On its website, the Marriott’s swimming pool looked like something out of a Las Vegas architect’s sexual fantasy. We were sold. I bought two more nights for a Wednesday through Saturday stay. It was the perfect extended weekend in a sexy part of the world.
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Nice another in a long list of great weekend getaways from Rome

EasyJet is the greatest boon to European travel since the sidewalk crepe stand.
Which is why celebrating birthdays in Europe is so special. In March I spent my birthday in Sicily. This past weekend I took my girlfriend to Nice for her birthday. I’d pat myself on the back and say I’m not a cheap boyfriend but, in fact, the round trip tickets for two of us was all of 138 euros. That’s 69 each. Sixty-nine euros on a U.S. airline sometimes won’t even pay for your stored luggage.
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My five best pizzerias in Rome: 72 Ore tops the list

In Rome, all the ingredients are fresh. The tomatoes taste like apples. The mozzarella has bite. The prosciutto is lean. Finish a pizza and the tin plate does not have a spot of grease. You could wash a doily on it. In Rome, pizza is almost like health food. So here are the five pizzerias I go when I get a craving, which hits only slightly less often than a heroin addict itches the inside of his arm. Keep in mind, some places are based on just one favorite pizza. I have gone to these many times and some dropped off the list and others were added. It’s kind of like a college football poll. Except my pizza poll is more important.
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Fritto Misto is Le Marche’s “healthy” celebration of Italian fried food

So what am I doing in a gorgeous Italian town near the Adriatic surrounded by fried food, the antithesis of what made Italian cuisine famous and Italian bodies prized?
I’m covering the 12th annual Fritto Misto, a celebration of all things fried in Italian cuisine. For 10 days every April, the charming town of Ascoli Piceno becomes the capital of Italian fried food. From ascolane to arancino, from cannoli to, yes, fried pizza, Fritto Misto (Mixed Fry) covers the landscape of all things fried in Italy.
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Roman waiters’ service puts their American counterparts to shame

Let me tell you how to wait a table. It is courtesy of one Marco Uras, a terrific veteran waiter at Mamma Venerina, one of my favorite restaurants in my old neighborhood, Prati, near the Vatican. Uras has been a waiter for 30 years dating back to his childhood home in Sardinia. Uras represents what restaurant wait service in Rome is all about. Respect. Professionalism. Efficiency. Kindness. Patience.

This is what restaurant wait service in the U.S. is all about: tips, overbearingness, tips, questions, impatience and more tips.
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Friends With No Benefits Tour to Umbria goes to the heart of rural and religious Italy

No region in Italy is less influenced by outside sources. This is what I love about Umbria. In a country that gets nearly 50 million tourists a year, Umbria may be the most authentic region of them all. Walled hill towns void of tourist buses. Remnants of the most beloved saint in Italian history. Ancient local delicacies ranging from piccione (pigeon) to cinghiale, the wild boar that has so overrun Umbria one might check you into your hotel room.

I recently made my second annual fall trip to Umbria, thanks to my partner in crime, sportswriter Alessandro Castellani, whose good friend, Umbrian innkeeper Leonardo De Mai, seemingly knows everyone in the region. Seven of us piled into cars and trains and headed north from Rome about two hours.
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Coffee in Italy is a culture you must taste to understand

To live in Italy, one must do more than drink coffee. One must understand coffee. When you visit Italy, order a coffee in one of the following ways:
Caffe. This is the most common yet the most shocking to Americans. It is a simple shot of espresso that fills about a third of a small cup just a bit bigger than a thimble. I still enjoy watching Americans’ jaws drop when they see it and ask, “Where’s the rest of it?” This isn’t Starbucks, Bubba. Thank God.
Caffe macchiato. This is halfway between a caffe and a cappuccino. It’s a caffe stained with a little spot of milk. Pronounce it correctly, mock-ee-OTTO, and you’ll be treated like a local.
Cappuccino. The classic Italian coffee. Espresso coffee covered in warm milk then topped with creamy foam, it is the perfect way to start the Italian day. Please note the word “start.” Do NOT, even if the craving eats at you like a heroin withdrawal, order a cappuccino after noon. Only tourists do that. Yes, you’re a tourist. Just don’t act like a stupid one.
Cappuccino ben caldo. “Ben caldo” means “extra hot.” This is my favorite. Italians like to drink their coffee fast and don’t like it so hot it singes their tongues like American coffee. I like mine with a newspaper.
Marochino. A small cappuccino sprinkled with chocolate, popular with Italian teen-agers and wimpy American expats.
Ristretto. A shorter shot of espresso and isn’t much more than a sip. It should not be confused with ristretto’s other meaning: What happens to a man’s penis when he comes out of the cold Adriatic Sea.
Americano. A long black coffee that, in more than three years in Rome over two stints, I have never seen an Italian order unless he lost a bet.

Travel guide to Castelli Romani: Hidden gems in the hills southeast of Rome

don’t want to turn this blog into a travel guide. This blog is about experiences, not information. But I have to switch gears this once. I have recently been touring an area outside Rome that I just can’t keep to myself any longer. It has been around for 2,000 years, inhabited by emperors and popes, ogled at by Romans and savvy Europeans. But very few Americans ever get out of Rome to marvel at this extraordinary area.

It’s called Castelli Romani. It’s a series of 14 small towns, most sporting castles (thus, the “castelli” in the title) and perched on hillsides or cliffs among the picturesque Alban Hills southeast of Rome. Less than an hour from the city, they were once used as defenses against a Pac-12 lineup of foreign invaders but now offer some of the best views in Italy.
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