Travel has a way of awakening the senses, making every moment that much more vivid. The details of the day, even the most mundane, become forever-memorialized in the mind’s eye. Adam, the seasoned traveler in our home, pointed this out many years ago, and I must say it has made our periodic gallivanting even more enjoyable, knowing that the pleasure of travel doesn’t end abruptly when we return home. Quite the opposite is true. We get to revisit every memory, as often as we’d like, for the rest of our days.
It has long been a dream of mine to visit Italy. I know there is nothing really singular or unique about that statement. Nonetheless, these kind of desires still feel very personal. We started our ten day trek in Rome and then ventured on to Florence. It was rainy and chilly most days. No bother. The rain left a picturesque wet sheen on the streets and ruins; the cool air only made the atmosphere more romantic.
Rome was rumbling with excitement over the papal conclave, various colors of smoke, and eventually the selection and celebration of Pope Francis all while we were there. It was tremendously thrilling.
For the duration of our trip the daily routine was much the same. Fortified with the hotel’s breakfast and too many cappuccinos (Adam and I) and plenty of whole milk (Cecil), we would pound the streets of both great cities, cramming in as much as possible. Then we would cram our faces with good food, take a nap, repeat.
I did want to share a few of our favorite meals and restaurants. These were the highlights. We had a few more mediocre experiences than I was anticipating, but mostly when we were dining on the fly in touristy areas. The great news – eating gluten-free was pretty easy. Every establishment I entered was able to accommodate me. Italians are very well educated on Celiac Disease. I did bring one of those handy little gluten-free cards from Celiac Travel that you can find here. However, we ended up learning a few very basic Italian phrases for asking about/ordering senza glutine and never had to resort to the card.
Farmacia – Okay, so this isn’t a restaurant, just the term for Pharmacy in Italian. I swear there must be one if not two pharmacies on every block. This was the best place to find gluten-free snacks: pretzels, cookies, snack cakes, gluten-free mixes, etc. Grocery stores were very hit or miss, but the pharmacies were the mother-load. Italy’s (and Europe’s?) commercially made gluten-free snacks were very, very good. I especially loved this brand’s madeleines. Oh my. I should try making my own sometime.
La Soffitta Renovatio – Just around the corner from Vatican City. This place is a little pricy, but they have a very extensive gluten-free menu. I’m almost certain our waiter told me that they can make anything from the main menu gluten-free. I had a wonderful gluten-free pizza with buffalo mozzarella, the best gluten-free beer of my life, and then a heavenly dessert for which I have no name. My guess is that a handful of meringue cookies are piled into a saran-wrapped domed bowl and then covered with a mix of sweetened mascarpone cheese and whipped cream. Like an icebox cake, once set, the domed dessert is lifted from the bowl via the plastic wrap, which is then discarded, and finally the top of the dessert gets generously drizzled with a thick caramel glaze. This is definitely on my to-do list.
Vecchia Roma – By far our best meal in Rome and the best meal of the trip. The trattoria was full to the brim with tons of loud Italians! A very good sign indeed. Thankfully, we were there with a couple of Roman friends because these people were understandably not catering to the tourist crowd but locals. The restaurant’s specialty is the all’Amatriciana flambe with guanicale (pork jowl), which they apparently toss together in huge cheese wheels. It was divine. I so badly wanted to finish my bowl and then lick it clean, but I simply ran out of room. They even had gluten-free penne for me, cooked perfectly al dente. This was the most delicious and memorable pasta I have ever had. I have already set to work recreating this dish at home.
All’Antico Vinaio – I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this is the #1 rated restaurant in Florence per Trip Advisor. It’s nothing flashy. As a matter of fact, you could easily walk right past it and never know. It is an inexpensive, good and filling little sandwich shop with a great selection of cured meats and cheeses. They only make sandwiches. Antico doesn’t claim to be gluten-free. I just brought my own bread (bought at the Farmacia) and asked a lot of quick questions in bad Italian. All went well, but this place would definitely be a slippery slope for someone with Celiac.
Sadly, this was our only really good meal in Florence. Don’t get me wrong, we still ate relatively well, but nothing exceptional or unique. I was far less prepared for Florence versus Rome.
All-in-all, a wonderful vacation full of inspirational sights, sounds and tastes. I can’t wait to return.
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