La Finestra sul Lago

I spend two nights at this countryside home, and my bedroom window overlooks a beautiful lake, Lago di Vico, with the many walnut trees that surround it.  When I arrive, the whole family (including the three sizeable dogs) welcomes me.  Soon after, we turn on the soccer match on the television and enjoy a family meal together. Giuseppe, who is just about to start college, is a great translator and we bond over several cups of coffee, a digestive or two, and many games of pool and backgammon.


The next day, I explore the nearby town of Ronciglione, where I run into a few driving challenges based on the tight and steep roads of the area.  I also make my way around the small lake, stop a couple times for snacks and coffee, and enjoy watching people pick the walnuts.  At first glance, I cannot figure out what everyone is doing, but it soon becomes obvious that people are picking the walnuts off the trees that extend over the fence onto the road.


The second night, I again enjoy a family meal, this time with a couple of their friends.  The energy in the room is high and the mood is very jovial.  The family guests only speak Italian and so I pick up pieces of the conversation here and there, and occasionally Giuseppe brings me back in.  The food is very traditional Italian cuisine, and as I wrap up my second and last night at this wonderful host, I thank Airbnb for providing the opportunity for me to find such an experience about an hour north of Rome.

Roman Reservations

Roman meal with the fam

While in Rome, I am put in charge of making the dinner reservations for the family. Having had some practice navigating foreign cities and finding places to eat over the last many months, I feel ready for the task. In addition, in my previous visits to Rome, staying with two friends very involved in the Roman cooking scene (both having had worked at restaurants), I am prepared to accept all of their food recommendations.

Here is how the dinners played out in chronological order for our week in Rome.

Ristorante Nino
Via Borgognona 11 (by the Spanish Steps)
+39 06 679 5676

Casa Coppelle
Piazza dell Coppelle, 49 (near the Pantheon)
+39 06 6889 1707

Via dei Giubbonari, 21
+39 06 686 4045
(Only went for appetizers and pasta as we are still full from our cooking lesson at lunch.)

Taverna Trilussa
Via del Politeama 23 (in Trastevere)
+39 06 581 8918

La Pratolina
Via degli Scipioni 248 (semi-near the Vatican)
+39 06 3600 4409

Via dei Giubbonari, 21
+39 06 686 4045
(Returned with everyone to taste more of the menu)

Piazza Dè Ricci, 144
+39 06 686 8717
(Delicious Roman pizza)

Galleria Borghese

Our last day in Rome starts at the Galleria Borghese, a private collection of paintings, sculptures, and antiquities.  Although in these last five months, I have been to many a museum, I still do not consider myself a museum person.  That said, the Galleria Borghese is only two floors with about ten manageably sized rooms on both.  We make a reservation for a two hour slot to view the museum, we are allowed in right on time, and then shewed out after the two hours.  And although the museum may not be enormous, the quality of the art and the artists that are featured in the collection rival or exceed any of the larger exhibitions that I’ve visited.  With its entire room full of Caravaggios to Raphael’s “Entombment of Christ” to its many Bernini sculptures, every room provides an intimate experience with some of the world’s best works, and because the museum is entered on a reservation basis, no single room is ever over-crowded.  Picking a favorite work is a challenge, but I would probably choose Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne”.  This along with so many of the other statues were brought to life by the very well narrated audio tour, which clearly articulates how to appreciate each work.  The gallery’s manageable size, incredible art, and overall intimate feel makes for one of my favorite museum experiences of my trip.

The Meta Church

Rome is old
Rome is new
It’s tale’s fold
As times flew

By this time of the family vacation in Rome, there is a clear morning routine of showering, breakfast, commenting on how lucky we are about the perfectly cool weather, and so on.  For breakfast, Julie, I, sometimes George, and sometimes Mom would go to a nearby cafe for dopios and pastries.  The dopios we drink immediately and then we return to the apartment with the pastries soon after.

Roman Forum

After we figure out a way for all of us to get out of the apartment close to on time, we again meet up with Alessio to tour around ancient Rome.  The idea that these monuments are more than two millennia old takes a little time to register.  In California, if there is a building that is more than two centuries old, it is considered ancient; however that designation requires another order of magnitude of years in Rome.  The coliseum, the pantheon, and the forum are in such good condition despite their age, many still stand tall.  Because the factor of safety in those buildings’ columns is high, the main thing missing from them are materials that have now been “recycled” around Rome in palaces, homes, and the Vatican just to name a couple.

Ancient Rome

After a morning filled with Rome’s antiquities, we explore the Basilica of Saint Clement, which I have renamed Rome’s meta church because it is a church made of churches.  The structure is three-tiered with each tier serving as a religious building in its time.  The bottom tier was home to Roman nobleman with rooms set aside for worship.  The middle tier was a 4th century basilica.  And the top tier, built around the year 1100 is St. Clement’s Basilica.  This is the clearest demonstration that we see during our time of Rome that Rome is a city of layers that have been built on top of each other over the ages.

Palazzo Colonna and the Villa Medici

I have spent a fair amount of time in Rome over the last month, but it is not until today that I realize what I may have been passing on the street.  Behind closed windows and plain facades, some of these buildings house ornate rooms with invaluable art collections.

walking through Rome

Today, we tour the Palazzo Colonna and Villa Medici with Filippo, a fabulous guide introduced to me by Gabe.  The Palazzo Colonna is in central Rome and has belonged to the Colonna family for about 900 years.  In that long history, the Colonna family had a Pope (Martin V) as well as many distinguished family members.  Every generation, the family picks four individuals to reside in the house and monitor its upkeep, and to their credit, the current condition of the palace is immaculate.

We walk through the Colonna Art Gallery, which is a series of rooms that grow in grandness as the tour progresses.  The last room can only be described as overwhelming.  The art, the furniture, the marble statues, the frescoed ceilings, and the chandeliers all create this masterpiece that is the final room of the art gallery.  This gallery is considered one of the largest private art collections in Rome.

After a short walk through the streets of Rome, we arrive at Villa Medici.  The Villa Medici is now property of the French State and houses the French Academy in Rome, which is used as a home for winners of a prestigious art prize.  The villa’s gardens and especially the view they provide of Rome will be my lasting memory from this visit.  Standing literally on the edge of the city, all of Rome is presented before us and we start to piece together all the different sites we had thus far seen.  Not only is today’s tour beautiful in its own right, Filippo and the sites we walk through help provide a context for the rest of our adventures in this historied city.

I also cannot forget to at least quickly mention that Charlotte decided to join us for today’s adventures.  At the young age of only 10 months, she also seemed to enjoy herself when she wasn’t hungry or tired.  Italians love their bambinos (babies), and this was made obvious on several occasions by how the rest of us were treated when accompanied by our newest family member.  Navigating through the supermarket was easier, finding places to sit was easier, getting attention in almost every endeavor was easier.  Charlotte, after all, is pretty cute with all her waving, clapping, humming along cobblestones, and giggling.

Villa Medici

The Vatican

The Vatican

Although in my previous visits to Rome I had been staying just outside the walls of the Vatican, I did not previously venture inside knowing that I would be doing so with my family.  As per usual, I navigate the family to the meeting point with our guide, Alessio.  One big advantage of having a guide is that we get to hop into a much smaller and a much faster queue to enter the Vatican Museum.  Because it is the last week of July and therefore the peak of the tourist season, the regular museum queue stretches around the block, past the corner, and then through a piazza.

The Vatican Museum can easily be overwhelming as there are so many “important works” to see.  Even if one just wanted to see the highlights, there are so many pieces that can be considered highlights to make that an almost insurmountable task.  Initially, our guide indicates that we should skip the painting gallery and go straight to the sculptures.  However, my dad convinces Alessio to quickly run us through it and they compromise that Alessio will point out one, maybe two very beautiful, very influential paintings.  We enter the gallery, and only describing two paintings is impossible because part of the beauty of the paintings is understanding it in context and seeing what came before and what has come after.  Because it seems that many visitors skip the paintings, the family has quality one-on-one time with Raphael’s “Transfiguration”, possibly his last painting.  We will later see this same image in St. Peter’s Basilica except that there it is done as an intricately designed mosaic.  In fact, the mosaic is so intricate that it is only obvious it is not a painting from a foot away.

One unexpected highlight of the day for many of us is the Gallery of Maps.  The gallery includes topographical maps of all of Italy, and they were painted directly on the walls back in the 16th century.  The hall is still one of the world’s largest pictorial map collections.  We all are map people, a trait that is either genetically or environmentally acquired from our dad; therefore, this hall, which receives less recognition than the other exhibits, is a wonderful surprise.  In addition, I have to at least mention that the Sistine Chapel was breathtaking, the frescoes brilliant, and the marble and art exquisite throughout.

As with any guided tour, a big component to the success of the activity depends on the quality and character of the guide.  Alessio does a very good job, and we enjoy that he is also a real life caricature of a “suave” Italian.  He knows all the guards at the Vatican, which we later learn is because he was once a guard there himself.  He wears a nice yet very casual button down shirt with its sleeves rolled up and the two top buttons left undone.  He carries a brown leather messenger bag, rolls his own cigarettes on the go, and has a witty response to most questions.  In addition, he is knowledgeable about the art, the artists, and the sites and all of their significance.  His friendliness with the guards also pays dividends as he is able to give us a little extra time in areas to grab a group photo and he is able to convince a guard to keep a Sistine Chapel side door open long enough so that we can appreciate the private rooms located behind them.  By the end of the long morning, we all feel very satisfied about our Vatican Museum experience.

St. Peter's

The Map Room

The New Modern Italian Style of Cooking

Filangee of Carrots in white balsamic vinegar with black sesame seeds
Pancetta stuffed with prunes in Negroamaro wine sauce

First course:
Tagliolini with Guanciale and filangee of Roman zucchini on yellow pumpkin sauce

Second course:
Veal and pork “Straccetti” in the Pizzaiola style
Eggplant a la “Parmigiana”

Ricotta cheese mousse with Amaretta in “Nectarina” Peach sauce

Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOCG (Veneto)
Primitivo del Salento, Manduria IGT (Puglia)
Muscat de Samos AOC (Greece)

Working the prunes

After a relaxing first day in Rome allowing us all to adjust to the time difference and catch up on sleep where our main activities are eating and visiting the Trevi Fountain not far from the apartment, we were ready for a little more adventure on day two.

Eggplant a la Parmigiana

The most repeated phrase of the day is that we are practicing “the new modern Italian style of cooking.” The theme of this style is to make a healthier version of traditional Italian dishes without sacrificing taste. My brother-in-law, George is most skeptical that such a feat is possible. He cringes as he watches our teacher, Chef Stefano, pour the extra grease from the guanciale down the drain.

Dad chopping away

Although we only sign up for a half day of cooking, our lesson lasts until after 3:00pm. We alternate all day between cooking, eating, cooking, and eating. And when we eat, each course is substantial enough to be its own meal. The filangee of carrots (a.k.a. bed of carrots) in the appetizer would be enough to fill anyone of us up. But this does not stop Shana’s sweet tooth from downing three portions of dessert. The combination of eating and jet lag make some of us quite tired. We all start off really strong as active participants and asking a lot of questions, but by the end, all we can do is eat and laugh. I feel the more tired we got, the more we laughed. The meal was delicious and as a family activity, cooking was a great choice.

Taking good notes

The Reunion

Many moons have passed
With much happening anew
Since we had all amassed
But now to Rome we flew.

Early in the morn we start
We’re on the road by six
So that for Rome we can depart
Where we’ll meet the other kids

Tourists and cobble stones
In a city hard to navigate
Leave us with a few unknowns
But to our place we go straight.

Roman Roads

The rest have all arrived
With smiles and spirits high,
The journey they survived
Though not yet looking spry.

A nap is needed first
Followed by some food
And in Rome we’re immersed
All in a good mood.

Then gelato is activity one
So we venture from our home
Because the cold treat is so fun
And we’re finally all in Rome.

Gelato time in Rome

Back to Italy ’til The End

We get back to Rome, again. Our plane arrives late enough so that we miss the bus back to the center of town. Cheaper than taking the train is sharing a cab among four people, which means that I try to find another lucky two to join Gabe and me in a taxi. The first two I find probably assume that I’m trying to hit on them although I’m not, and in retrospect, I can see how that might happen. However, I feel like “would you like to share a cab with us into Rome’s center” is a weak pick up line. That said, by starting with this awkward question, we eventually get to talking while waiting a very long time for our luggage, and once the bags finally come, we split ways and I gear up to try again. Gabe and I walk outside and I find a couple sitting with their stuff and enjoying a cigarette. I approach them, and in my broken Italian, I ask if they want to share a taxi. We have success, and are on our way into Rome.

Rome at night

The taxi drops us all off somewhere between our two apartments and because of the nice heat and humidity of Rome, Gabe and I work up a shvitz on our way back to Sam’s apartment. We are greeted by some delicious dishes that Sam has been working on for his culinary school final. Dinner is served with some of Sam’s “house wine”, which may or may not come in a bag, but nonetheless is perfect for the occasion (and much better than bags o’ wine I might find stateside). Post dinner, we head out for some gelato (of course!), and to a mojito bar that Gabe and Sam frequent regularly. With strong mojitos in hand, we venture down to the Tiber River.

Now in its tenth year, the commotion near the river known as Lungo Il Tevere Roma offers bars, clubs, snack stations, and of course souvenir shops. There is live music everywhere and access is easy and free. In short, we end up spending a bit too much time here and enjoy a fun welcome back into Italy.

La Pizza

I sit down and am immediately overwhelmed by the selection of pizzas at La Pratolina, a beautiful hole-in-the-wall restaurant located at Via degli Scipioni, 248, Roma. To intensify matters more, the menu is written in Italian, but luckily I have Gabe and Sam nearby to translate. The rule of the game, however, is once I find something that looks delicious, I need to close my menu because otherwise I could be indecisive all night. Eventually my gaze falls on the Pizza Emiliana with its pesto di pistacchi, mozzarella, silano, mortadella di cinghiale. I am not entirely sure what it all means, but as I work my way through the ingredients asking Gabe and Sam about each, I think this might be the one for me. Sam then grabs my menu and declares that my dinner has been decided. The two of them then proceed to pick out the fried appetizers that we will sample before the pizzas arrive. I forget what appetizer is what, but I enjoy them all and try to save room for pizza. Also joining us for this Italian feast is Benny and Diego, friends of Gabe from work. The meal does not disappoint, I enjoy an incredible pizza with fresh Italian ingredients, and all this in a small homey Italian restaurant. The waiter recognizes Gabe and as a result we get a couple extras along with better service. Although all of this in itself would make for a great evening, the night continues back at Sam’s apartment for drinks and story telling followed by an adventure to outdoor bars by the river until some hour that is much too late given that Gabe and I have a flight to catch early the next morning.

On the subject of things that taste good, during the day, Gabe and I went to Sant Eustachio Il Caffe ( and try a true Italian espresso. Even on a day as hot as today, this coffee shop was a great stop.