After the annual family reunion, John and I took an extra day to explore the Finger Lakes region of New York State. We started Sunday morning at Watkins Glen, where a 3-mile round trip hike follows cascading waters through a narrow gorge. The paved trail even goes behind two waterfalls!
Driving north along Seneca Lake, we gazed at sloping hills covered with vineyards. We stopped at Rock Stream, where we tried wine produced with grape varietals unfamiliar to us, for example, dry Niagara (white) and DeChaunac (red), two delicious dry wines. The winery also makes grappa, brandy, and port. Next time!
A short drive took us to our lunch destination: the Wienery. Sausages galore and roasted carrot dogs for vegetarians.
Inspired by a recent Food and Wine article, we spent the rest of our time in the small town of Geneva at the top of Seneca Lake. Here is the opera house:
I got a scoop of gelato from a coffee shop and then we sidled up to Lake Drum Brewing for samples of their delicious beers and ciders: sour brett, sour red ale, ginger cider, and brown ale.
At 3pm, we checked into the bed and breakfast, which had originally been the home of William Smith, who founded the eponymous college in Geneva. Thunderstorms passed through and we had a chance to relax for a few hours before walking back to town for dinner.
Lake Drum was still the only thing open, so we went back for another round and listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival on their record player.
Up the street at Wicked Water, we sampled lovely wines produced by a Brazilian couple — well, the husband is an engineer who helps out his wife and we had a great time talking with him.
We ate dinner at Halsey’s, a place focused on well-prepared Italian food in a relaxed setting. We shared the house salad with goat cheese, nuts, and cranberries. Then, I had an awesome vegetable pizza covered in caramelized onions, cooked in Halsey’s wood-burning oven. John had the truffle burger with sweet potato fries and amazing crispy brussels sprouts petals. Stuffed and happy, we needed a walk.
Down by the lake, we sat to watch the lightning flash far off over the water. A view of the lake from earlier in the day:
Having explored most of the open establishments on that quiet Sunday night, we made one last stop before walking back to the B&B. At the Linden, karaoke night was just starting and though we considered each doing a number, the spirit didn’t move us.
The next morning after a tasty breakfast — eggs baked in bell pepper halves with cheese — in the high-ceiled dining room of the B&B, we drove to the Corning Museum of Glass, part art museum, part science center. We skipped the demos and hands-on sections to enjoy the historical glass and contemporary art collections. What an amazing place with so very much to see.
And then the long drive home! The new fan clutch in our 25-year-old car kept the old girl from overheating. Hurrah!
Roma. A delightfully complex and dense city where a lifetime would never be enough to experience every stratum of this unbelievably rich place. We must go back.
In five days we visited 13 churches, petted at least 6 cats, toured 4 Roman sites, saw many more ruins, took the metro once, went to 3 markets, were impeded by 2 of Donald’s motorcades, and saw 1 Pink Floyd cover band in the Campo de’ Fiori.
Food and Drink
We may have been too exhausted to investigate Rome’s after midnight cocktail scene, but we did find plenty of other delights:
Open Baladin – A brewery with amazing food near Campo de’ Fiori. We loved our burgers (mine was eggplant) and the little potato ball appetizers (pictured above).
Ai Tre Scalini – A bar/restaurant in Monti with highly addictive bar snacks and a great selection of wine.
Vinaietto, Enoteca di Goccetto, Il Piccolo – Three fun little wine bars not too far from Campo de’ Fiori.
Pianostrada – Make reservations and prepare for delicious, creative cooking at this hip spot.
Alice – Yummy Roman pizza joint with crispy crusts and fresh toppings.
Roscioli – A foodie empire! We loved the bakery (forno), but next time we should eat at the restaurant too.
Mercato Testaccio – Great place for lunch and trying new foods. Beware the aggressive pan-handlers.
De Bellis – A tiny, exquisite pasticceria.
Giolitti – The grand dame of gelato shops. My black cherry and chocolate gelati were divine.
Punto Gelato – They have at least five kinds of chocolate! Get una pallina and then eat it while walking by the Tiber.
Instead of a recipe, I offer notes on our favorite shopping experiences in the Eternal City.
Comics and illustration– In the shadow of St. Peter’s, one may find excellent fumetti shops filled with classics from Dylan Dog to Milo Manara. Pocket 2000 Libreria on Via Famagosta has everything! For prints, books, and silly gifts featuting modern illustrators and designers, visit Fox Gallery near Torre Argentina.
Books – Italians read! How refreshing to find a robust offering of bookstores, including specialized shops — one dedicated to travel, another to cinema and pop culture, for example. Off Via del Governo Vecchi is where I think we found some unique shops, but even the big, bright Feltrinelli overlooking Torre Argentina didn’t disappoint! So many things we wish had been in English.
Pope clothes – Just south of the Pantheon…for all your religious bling! Giant chalices, swinging crosses, flouncy gowns. We should have taken a picture of the perfectly dressed windows.
Cat sanctuary souvenir – Cat lovers the world over will marvel if you have a bag from Largo di Torre Argentina (pictured above).
Top Five Sites
Impossible to pick just five, but if pressed:
Sometimes when one travels, one’s “system” does not work normally and finding a bathroom, preferably comfortable and private, becomes a serious priority. So it happened on our super intense All-Things-Ancient-Rome-Day. The Capitoline Museums may have an excellent collection of sculpture, including Constantine’s Monty Python-esque feet in the courtyard, but the bathroom — at least the one we found in the labyrinthine bowels of the building — left much to be desired. However, our search for the bathroom did lead us to the other half of the museum, which we would have otherwise missed due to the horrendous signage. Anyway, relief I found at the Ara Pacis Museum, which we visited after the Capitoline (hurrah for buses!). Clean, quiet, spacious — with seats! — one of the best restrooms we found in Rome.
I’m so very lucky that my job connects me to wonderful people all over the world. In Rome, we met up with two friends – Sara and Angela – on separate nights. Sara, a native Roman, took us for a long walk through Trastevere, dinner back near Torre Argentina, and drinks at Open Baladin. At last John could ask someone about Italian curse words! Angela invited us to dinner at her apartment in San Giovanni. We took a crowded bus — nose to armpit — but no matter, it felt good to be in a residential part of the city with shops geared towards the average person. Angela and her husband prepared a lavish Italian meal — appetizers, risotto, eggplant parmesan, tiramisu! We’re so grateful to Sara and Angela for all their hospitality, generosity, and good advice!
Notes for Next Time
The Roma Pass guide opened our eyes to so many other sites of interest that don’t make the cut for a basic guidebook. Plus, there’s a whole contemporary art scene. On a future visit, we’d like to see:
GNAM – Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea – 19th and 20th century art
MACRO – Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma – contemporary art
Palazzo Massimo – Museo Nazionale Romano – ancient sculpture
Botanical Gardens at the foot of the Gianicolo
I also wanted to catch jazz at Alexanderplatz or Casa del Jazz, but that didn’t happen. Next time!
We stayed near the bustling Campo de’ Fiori, but on a future visit we’d prefer an area that feels more like a neighborhood and is accessible by metro — Monti (metro: Cavour) or Prati (metro: Ottaviano, not far from the handy Mercato Trionfale).
So we have to go back, if only to watch the sunset over St. Peter’s again.
We arrived on a bustling Saturday when Florence’s narrow streets were particularly packed with leather hand bags and tour groups. I had forgotten about transportation on wheels. Suddenly surrounded by growling motorcycles and careening bikes, I had to remind myself how to share the streets after Venice’s pedestrian paradise.
We stayed a short walk east of the Duomo on a street where every door and window was shuttered, save for the corner convenience store where John bought a shaving razor. The street may have been unwelcoming, but we loved our AirBnb, a sunny, spacious, top floor apartment.
Food and Drink
We ate very, very well, but there were some awkward moments. At Vivanda (listed below) we had a 7pm reservation, but were told multiple times that we needed to finish by 9pm even before we had ordered. We wanted to say: We’re American; we can eat and be out of here in 30 minutes if necessary! Also, at the Florentine happy hour buffets, it’s either buffet or nothing. At one such place, when we really wanted to rest our legs and have drink, the woman behind the counter politely asked us to leave since we weren’t planning to eat. I’m always fascinated by the protocols of food in other cultures. In the US, everyone wants to make a buck; we’ve never been turned away from a mostly empty restaurant or bar.
A directory of favorites:
Mercato Centrale – Downstairs is a traditional market, where John had a boiled beef sandwich at Il Nerbone — definitely worth the long line. Upstairs is a food hall, very New York. At Marcella Bianchi’s Il Vegetariano e Vegano, we had phenomenal veggie burgers, like one with eggplant and spicy mayo. We ate food from a few of the stalls and everything was excellent. No pressure, no reservations, but there is always a line for the bathroom.
All’ Antico Vinaio – This sandwich spot has opened up three storefronts on the same street to accommodate its steady business. John loved his porchetta sandwich, and while there was no stated vegetarian offering, a man begrudgingly made a sandwich for me with artichoke spread, roasted zucchini and eggplant.
Eby’s – Because sometimes you just want sangria and empanadas.
Archea Brewery – Great selection of house brews and guest beers with friendly bartenders.
Gosh – Visit this bar for the fabulous flamingo themed wallcoverings.
Il Santino – One side is a formal restaurant and the other side is a winebar, which is where we went. We had a delectable Tuscan cheese plate and tried different wines. From our seats at the tiny bar, we watched three women handle the orders coming in; they’d chop herbs, pour wine, use a hand-turned slicer on cured meats. The best of kind of theater!
Vivanda – At this tiny vegetarian-friendly spot, the server might tell you to hurry up at first, but eventually she will relax, smile, and leave you alone. We had an excellent dinner — pea fritters, asparagus ravioli with sausage, farro bowl with pesto.
Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina – Across from the Pitti Palace, this winebar offers exquisite food (scallops; crustless zucchini tart) and wine (an orange pinot grigio). I really only want to return to Florence so that I can eat here again.
Recipe – Farro Salad
Inspired by Vivanda:
Mix warm cooked farro with pesto — any pesto whether made with basil, radish greens, beet greens, etc. Throw in chopped walnuts, olives, and grated Parmesan to taste.
For a more substantial salad, add sauteed zucchini, beans, chopped tomatoes.
Recipe – Olive Caprese Snack
Inspired by Il Santino:
Chop a tomato. Toss with red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Slice a loaf of good bread. Smear olive tapenade, like Divina Kalamata Olive Spread, on a slice. Top with the marinated tomatoes. Pull apart a ball of buffalo mozzarella and arrange the pieces on the tomatoes. Garnish with shredded basil, salt, and pepper.
Top Five Sites
I visited Florence for two days back in March 2006 on a college trip. This time, I had the chance to explore much more of the city. John and I especially enjoyed:
In Florence my misadventures did not concern a toilet, but a different piece of hardware in the bathroom of our AirBnb: the combo washer/dryer. Although our host had given John a thorough orientation and even supplied us with the manual, we still missed an essential step. For the thing to dry, it must be on “1/2 load”. We thought we’d run it over night and wake up to dry clothes. Instead we stayed up half the night wondering where the machine was in its endless 14-step cycle. Fed up, we found a huge drying rack and used that instead. However, for the second load, we used the proper setting. The clothes turned out to be about 40% dry. Better than nothing! It was worth it to have clean clothes!
Another restaurant anecdote: We arrived at the exact same time as another couple. Although all the tables outside were empty, we were seated next to each other. They were mid-20s; he was American, she was South African, which we deduced from her accent and stated dislike of Afrikaans rap. In such close quarters, just a few inches apart, John and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop and, of course, judge. The other couple closely followed the art market, but neither were artists — she was on break from law school; who knows about him. He was trying to remember the name of the artist whose painting recently sold for more than $100 million. I can’t remember what clues he gave, but John said “Basquiat” out loud. He said it again louder. They ignored him.
Notes for Next Time
Take the train in for the day and go all out for the prix fixe lunch at Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina. Stop at Mercato Centrale and buy a bunch of goodies to go. Escape to the Tuscan hills. Continue reading: Rome
Venice has two faces. Walk one way and it’s a floating historical park, corroded by touristic cruft, cruise ship day trippers, aggressive rose peddlers, and well-marked routes that all lead to the McDonald’s on Strada Nova. Walk another way and the city is a man-made miracle, a living example of magical realism, where the sun sets in crystal skies over the lagoon, Maine coon cats lounge on a wooden bridge, pastel laundry hangs out to dry. At night, a labyrinth of empty streets, dark alleys, blind corners — the kind of places you would avoid anywhere else — usher you toward unexpected surprises, like an Italian band playing “Jailhouse Rock”.
Food and Drink
We loved staying in Cannaregio around the corner from Tintoretto’s workshop. We had our breakfast spot, our wine spot, and our gelato spot. Really, we needn’t have gone anywhere else, except that we were born to wander. A directory of favorites:
Vino Vero (Cannaregio) – elegant, fresh cicchetti with many vegetarian options; stellar wine list including an ambrosial Lambrusco and a sparkling pinot nero rose so delightful John had a glass two nights in a row
Il Santo Bevitore (Cannaregio) – beer
Enoteca Al Volto (San Marco) – a classic wine bar; source for the recipe below
Gam Gam (Cannaregio) – delicious Kosher restaurant on the canal near the Jewish ghetto; get the eggplant appetizer called massa’bacha
Paradiso Perduto (Cannaregio) – best cacio e pepe ever!
Suso Gelatoteca (San Marco) – creative, swanky, intensely flavored gelato
Bacaro del Gelato (Cannaregio) – the creamiest gelato; not fancy, just really good
We tried so many varieties of wine we’ve rarely seen at home: soave, arneis, malvasia, franciacorta. Heaven!
Recipe – Artichoke Cicchetti
We loved Venice’s wine bars and cicchetti — little snacks, usually sliced bread with different toppings. We went to Enoteca Al Volto twice to eat their one vegetarian option and I have successfully recreated it at home.
Slice up a baguette. Top each disk with artichoke spread, like DeLallo Artichoke Bruschetta, and a slice of smoked cheese — provolone or mozzarella. Garnish with chopped pistachios.
Top Five Sites
We visited the Doge’s Palace with its militaristic murals, traveled to the fabled islands of lace and glass, gazed upon Carpaccio’s epic paintings in the Accademia, but my favorite things were:
Toilet Troubles – As Promised
Thursday night in Dorsoduro, we walked by the Venice Jazz Club, but it was closed. On our way back north, we came across a cover band playing at San Duich Bar. The band occupied most of the tiny interior, so we joined the audience outside and sang along since we knew every song. A glass of sangria later, I needed the restroom. I locked the door and when I was done I couldn’t get out. I jiggled the handle. Rattled the door. Turned the key this way and that. When my maneuvers became more forceful, a bartender shouted something at the door in Italian, switched to English, and then came to my rescue. “See, it’s easy,” he said while showing how smoothly the key turned in its lock. I had to disagree.
Before I got locked in the bathroom, we had dinner at an unremarkable place on the Campo Santa Margherita. An older American couple — she was Jewish, he was black — sat next us and struck up conversation by first thanking us for not smoking. Later the wife invited us to share a bottle of wine with her since her husband doesn’t drink. We couldn’t say no to such an invitation! It’s the kind of thing I would like to be able to do in the future when we are too old to be mistaken for swingers. Turns out the couple are from California and work in higher education. We had a free-ranging conversation about the Donald, traveling, Jewish ancestry, wine, Italy. They warned us about Florence. “If you think this is crowded…”
Notes for Next Time
Peggy Guggenheim Museum.
Marciana Library. It was closed for some unexplained reason.
John and I last traveled abroad for vacation in 2014. In three years, I forgot how much work it is to be a European tourist. How incompetent I feel mumbling unfamiliar words, re-orienting myself again and again, visiting historic sites and wondering how a person with 19 years of formal education can know so little. How bound by the limitations of my body, always needing something: food, bed, drink, a sit-down, the bathroom. One need met and another supplants it. Forever in a desperate search for a toilet with a seat. Truly, we had a wonderful trip, but it provoked much more self-reflection than I anticipated.
I didn’t come back from Italy refreshed. I came back from 2 weeks of walking about 12 miles a day thoroughly exhausted and as relieved as Frank Capra’s George Bailey to be back in my comfy old life: Hello, graffiti on the metro! Hello, ugly office building! Since returning, I’ve made three vows: to go out more in my own city, to eat my dinners in courses at home whenever I have time to make more than one dish, and to increase my daily level of activity (I thought I was in shape, but the walking and no space for stretching really beat me up). Yet as happy as I am to be home, I’m already scheming for the trip back. The trip where we correct our mistakes, like concluding the journey in the most vibrant, intense place (i.e. Rome) when we had so little left to give. Next time we’ll have a SIM card so we can look up bus schedules instead pounding our feet into numb filets! Next time we’ll make it a habit to buy our breakfast the day before (I’d take cold pizza over a honey-brushed croissant any day)! We’ll make our dinner reservations in advance! We’ll limit ourselves to only two sites per day! We’ll bring mosquito repellent and anti-itch cream! Dress only for comfort — who cares if Italians don’t wear shorts! There was so very much to learn.
In the next three posts, I’ll share our favorite sites and food spots in Venice, Florence, and Rome along with a recipe for each city and tales of restroom misadventures and social encounters. But first, an aside:
The Flight Saga
On the journey over, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. So maybe an Icelandic volcano didn’t erupt, but an endless parade of little problems dogged our trip to Venice. The first flight is delayed due to air traffic control, then mechanical difficulties, then a disabled passenger who requires assistance disembarking. Airport staffers take three wheelchairs down the jet bridge, but the man really only needs one, his own. Finally boarded, our plane misses its spot in the take-off queue; then turbulence forces us to stay below 10,000 feet; then the landing has to be delayed, just because. At last in Newark, we run to the people mover bus. Every time the bus starts to pull out, a straggler appears and the driver lets him board. This goes on until passengers begin yelling they have connecting flights. The driver decides — at last — to roll on toward Terminal C. He stops for every pedestrian crossing the tarmac and dutifully slows to a crawl when a golf cart pulls in front of us and leads the rest of the way. It would be faster to get out and push. Eventually in Terminal C, our gate is the absolute furthest possible gate at the end of a cul-de-sac of gates. We sprint with the other crazed passengers and arrive just in time to board with our group. John gets shin splints and I spend the flight with a squeezing, searing upset stomach that happens whenever I’m really anxious. But we feel so grateful to have made it. And when a faulty jet bridge in Venice impedes our exit from the plane, we laugh.
Deanna, John, and I all sleep in to recover from the dancing and late-night pizza. Around 11am, we make our way to vegetarian hot-spot, Dirt Candy, where we meet up with a friend of Deanna’s. Cyn is a Dirt Candy fanatic and has literally had everything on the menu. I’m not a big brunch person, but that’s the only reservation I could get. And lucky for me, Dirt Candy’s brunch offers the range of options from savory to sweet. I decide to order everything involving beets: beet juice mimosa, beet coffeecake, and a beet reuben. I also try, from everyone else’s plates, the red pepper fritters and some biscuits — all so good! Now more than ever, I want to go there for dinner!
Deanna heads off to do a few errands, while John and I board a bus north on the Bowery from the light bulb district to the Flatiron district. Over the last two days, John and I have seen posters everywhere for Night Fever: New York Disco 1977–1979, The Bill Bernstein Photographs. It’s a free exhibit at the Museum of Sex and we’ve got little else to do, so we brave the crowd of college students and bachelorette partiers. The gallery is outfitted like a disco with lights and pumping music: “It’s Raining Men” incites a rowdy group of 50s-ish women to squeal with delight. The photographs mainly feature nude, intoxicated people on roller skaters, covered in glitter. However, we do leave with an appreciation of the disco scene’s inclusivity and diversity.
Snow is falling, so we quickly devise a plan to see the Nomad Hotel’s famous Library Bar. We don’t have a drink, but merely peek in to confirm that indeed it looks just like the pictures.
We take another short walk to the eternally crowded Eataly, where we marvel at Italian beers and impossible pasta shapes. I buy a few chocolates.
As the snow falls harder, we try to find somewhere to pass some time and keep warm. We walk down Fifth Avenue and stop in a few shops along the way. Dough, a place on my donut list, isn’t far, so we turn down 19th and discover Bottlerocket, a cute wine shop. At Dough, all the seats are taken by people who have long since finished eating, but can’t bring themselves to go out in the snow. John and I share one of the mammoth donuts — so heavy and cakey it’s almost meaty — and shuffle on, a little disappointed.
Directionless, across from a church, we huddle under scaffolding. There’s not enough time to visit the Merchant’s House Museum, so I quickly look to see what jazz clubs in not-too-far-away Greenwich Village have music happening right this instant. Smalls Jazz Club turns out to be the perfect spot to hole up on a cold, windy, snowy day. John opens the door and I follow the carpeted staircase down to the doorman, like a friendly Charon transporting us to a musical underworld. It’s a cheap cover (so was crossing the River Styx) and we’re lucky to get two stools near the back. The trio, led by Jonathan Thomas, enthralls us and we stay for a bit of the jam session that follows. It’s instrumentalists only and just one woman, a small lady dominated by her baritone sax. Around 6pm, as it starts to get crowded, we depart and climb the stairs up to a world where the snow has stopped.
Back in Brooklyn, we relax with Deanna. She introduces us to the wonders of GrubHub, which yields delicious pasta and risotto delivered to the door, while we introduce her to the delights of The IT Crowd, a British comedy that yields much laughter. It may be New York on a Saturday night, but we are all happy to be together and out of the weather.
Day 4: South Street Seaport to Chelsea
I made plans to meet a friend for breakfast at the Bagel Pub, but somehow our texts got crossed and one of us ended up at the wrong location. John and I enjoy our bagels immensely, but I feel badly that the promise of a meet-up fell to naught. We take a short subway ride and end up in the Financial District. Trinity Church is especially beautiful in the snow.
At South Street Seaport, the sun feels so good. I drink my tea until — at last — it’s time for the Audubon Society Eco-Cruise! A friend of Deanna’s leads the 2-hour tour on a NY Water Taxi. We travel through the New York Harbor and out past the Verrazano Narrows. There on a small rocky island, we spot 15 seals! We can only see them through binoculars, but the sight is glorious. Shaped like gray bananas, they lie in the sun and look across at us.
Back on land at 2pm, John and I seek out lunch at the Dead Rabbit, named “The World’s Best Bar 2016” (more on that). Quiet and laid-back, the Dead Rabbit offers delightful cocktails, including the best Irish coffee ever, and excellent food. I love my pisco punch and our meals — mushroom gnocchi and a scotch egg — rank up there as some of the best restaurant food we’ve ever had.
We aim to visit the Whitney Museum of American Art, but subway maintenance confounds us. Walking from Union Square, we realize that the Museum closes in less than 2 hours — not enough time to walk there and enjoy the exhibits. As we pass by the Donut Pub, another on my list, we pause to regroup and elevate our blood sugar. Now these are classic, perfectly executed cake donuts! At the recommendation of two girls eating near the cash register, we buy one yeast donut topped with Fruity Pebbles.
John and I pick up the food hall thread and visit both Gansevoort Market and Chelsea Market, two places where we can be warm and walk around. I like small Gansevoort Market and would like to go back when I’m not stuffed. Chelsea always feels too crowded with churning crowds, but I do like the clothing and craft shops there. John and I stop to examine a quirky scarf with pockets, made from recycled men’s suits. Surprise, surprise, this handmade, unique item is a bit out of our price range.
At last we arrive back in Brooklyn. For dinner, Deanna invites a friend to meet us at a nearby pub. We are content with another low-key evening before having to head home the next morning. John and I share that Fruity Pebbles donut for dessert. Mmm, sugar.
What a splendid four days! Thanks to Deanna for hosting us!
Notes for Next Time
Here’s an outline:
See: The Whitney, a house museum (like Merchant’s House), a show