Surprise! Jersey City

Across the Hudson River from Manhattan sits Jersey City — hip and relaxed, taking the long view. This astonishing little city is proof of art’s power to renew and restore.

Cultural Revival

The first thing you see when you emerge from the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) train is The Jersey City Wave by Shepard Fairey, 150 ft. mural symbolizing the city’s economic and creative renaissance. “Public art enriches people’s lives,” says Fairey. Yes.Chefs, designers and entrepreneurs are upcycling, revitalizing, and re-imagining this ambitious little city. From what’s on the wall to what’s on your plate, Jersey City is enjoying a creative rebirth fueled by art, affordability and livability. My sparkling and savvy sister Seeky lives here — of course.

We head for the TapHaus, a waterfront gastro-pub with panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, a vast array of brews “on deck,” and world-class truffle fries. Why resist? We savor a flight of Delirium Tremes, La Fin du Monde, Brooklyn Lager, and Lagunita.  As the fragile early moon rises, we’re still sipping local, deep into Jersey Devil IPA.

We chuckle at the names. We savor the fries. Life’s good in Jersey City.

Melting Pot

Since its early days as an Ellis Island hub, this multicultural mecca boasts culinary influences from India, Italy, the Philippines, Cuba, Egypt, Mexico and more. New Jersey noodle queen, Ani Ramen, will soon be joining the colorful lineup. Our fave Hell’s Kitchen go-to, Two Boots Pizza, has an offbeat outpost here — don’t miss the Boss Hague pizza, named for Jersey City’s roaring-twenties mayor. Fresh herbs, briny clams, smoky ham, and provolone combine for a flavorful homage to the melting pot that is Jersey City.


With New York City rents reaching absurd heights, housing remains accessible here thanks in part to a marketing campaign called Across the River, enticing New Yorkers priced out of Park Slope. A 10-minute PATH commute puts Manhattan within easy reach.

Sip. Savor. Repeat.

Jersey City is gentrifying and urban sophistication is on the rise. From landmark Colgate Clock to the Powerhouse Arts District, tempting things are happening here. Dying for a master class in Deep Dark Chocolate?  Try Bucket & Bay, the self-proclaimed “small batch made from scratch” artisanal gelato maker offering tastings, classes, and pairings. For authentic old-school homemade ice-cream deliciousness, my nephew Cody prefers Torico. Jersey City has a decadent, dreamy treat for everyone.

663bba211e626510e592432f293a334a60d6c370Mamma Mia

Whether you’re a red-sauce-and-meatballs traditionalist or churrasco and curry fan, Jersey City has an upscale or down-home restaurant for you. Coffee shops and bakeries like ooh-la-la Chocopain Boulangerie thrive here, balancing the hipster vibe while supporting the local economy. Yum.

Location, Location

Enjoy a promenade through Van Vorst Park, a quiet urban oasis that reminds me of Washington Square Park. Surrounded by stately brownstones, I imagine sharing a park bench with Henry James — literary time-travel. Little Van Vorst is a gem, a historic oasis with meandering gardens, summer concerts, Yoga, Shakespeare in the Park, farmers’ market and film series.

Stop to admire the funkadelic City Hall, a Victorian classic. She’s still a grand dame to me.

Jersey City’s surprising amount of green space includes Liberty State Park, a thousand-acre oasis in the center of town. Skip the winding NYC queues and inhale the fresh air and local history on the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island ferries, nearby.

Blinded Me With Science

My nephew Cody is an awesome tour guide. He directs us to his favorite spot, the Liberty Science Center, super cool, with hands-on activities in several sprawling exhibition spaces. The live animal collection has over 100 species. There’s a giant aquarium with enormous creepy fish. Don’t miss the tornado wind machine and endless gift shop.

We  savor some very scientific Dippin’ Dots, something new to me. Cody explains that they’re tiny beads of cryogenically frozen ice cream — minus-320ºF, to be precise. We learn that this is NOT the ice cream that the astronauts eat; theirs is freeze-dried. Okay. From reclining cushy seats in the IMAX theater, we enjoy A Beautiful Planet — a vertiginous film about space travel that makes babies cry and grownups feel wobbly. But Cody and his kid-cohort are in the groove.

We will return to this surprising little city on the Hudson — count on it.  •

Posted in Art and Culture, East Coast Travel, New York City, Off-the-beaten-track, Travel | 2 Comments

Tuscan Wines Shine

Among my favorite Italian expressions is, “Anni e bicchieri di vino no si contano mai,” or “Years and glasses of wine should never be counted.” Here at Enoteca Athena in Brunswick, I am eager to begin a relaxed, uncounted evening of sipping and savoring the flavors of Tuscany’s Poggio Alloro winery and farm.

Enoteca Athena is bustling and convivial with a flurry of arrivals and warm greetings. I see my old friend, Paul Turina, the Italian wine dealer who arranged this evening. Living in Italy agrees with him.

The county-Italian enoteca is informal and relaxed. A wooden ladder hangs overhead draped in dried herbs and twinkly mason-jar lights. Sliding barn door and bright Italian pottery lend a rustic feel, and the wreath of chili peppers hints at the flavorful evening to come.

Sip and Savor

Sarah Fiorini is here representing Poggio Alloro, her family’s 250-acre winery, farm and agriturismo in San Gimignano. Tonight we will enjoy their lush organic wines, olive oil, and honey.

I visited Poggio Alloro several years ago and it is wonderful to see Sarah again. Her relaxed, friendly manner makes us all feel like family. Our first lesson is toasting — “Salute!” with Italian gusto and vigor, followed by “Buon appetito!”

We begin the evening with a generous pour of light, dry Toscana Bianco, whose flavor evokes citrus, honey, apricots, and Tuscan flowers.

La Prima

Our first course is whipped salt cod or baccalà with olive oil and capers. Maine shrimp are similarly puréed with olive oil and flavored with red saffron threads — unctuous and light. Rustic bread from Standard Baking is perfect for tasting the spreads and sampling the farm’s extra-virgin olive oil. In fact, the whole evening is steeped in in Poggio Alloro’s extra virgin olive oil—which almost steals the show.


Our second wine is a pink-tinged Vernaccia from the Italian vernaculo, or indigenous. This beautiful wine hints at golden apple, almonds and vanilla. An arugula salad with fennel, prosciutto, walnuts and topped with crispy bits of (believe it or not) chicken skin, is a smash with the delicate, minerally wine—definitely a great pairing.

Rosso di Toscano

Our third taste is ruby-colored Rosso di Toscano, an everyday wine that, according to Sarah, improves the heart and circulation. I can feel my heart beating more efficiently already.  People have been drinking this unpretentious red since 1276, “when Dante wrote the La Divina Commedia,” Sarah says. “Wow, you know?”  She winks at us.

If there is a groove, we’re now all in it.

Chef O’Brien

Our third course is my idea of a perfect light supper, una cena leggera, very thin cannelloni pasta stuffed with meat and spicy fennel flavor in a delicate tomato sauce, topped with almost weightless bechamel. Chef O’Brien really knows his way around pasta.

It’s a tough act serving 40 people seated family-style in a small room, and Enoteca Athena is doing the best they can. Since it’s easily the coldest night of the year, some of the courses cool down a bit too quickly, but the staff valiantly runs food and wine from kitchen to guests. Kudos to chef and staff for facing down the icy end of a tough Maine winter. Well done.



The final course is served my favorite Poggio Alloro wine, Convivio. I have loved this wine since I visited the winery all those years ago. The garnet colored red has flavors of cherry, raspberry and hints of cinnamon. The crowd discusses the wine’s “nose,” and somebody yells out, “Tobacco!” Right again. The wine is robust, warm and velvety on this frigid Maine evening.  I have seconds — maybe thirds. But nobody’s counting.

Grilling outdoors in sub-zero weather is daunting, and brave Chef O’Brien is bundled up like Nanook. The last meat course is a challenge. Guests murmur, “At least it will be rare.” It is.  The beef arrives piled high and on-the-bone, served on heavy white platters — Flintstonian and dramatic.

Siamo alla Frutta

Italians express the end of the evening as, “siamo alla frutta,” at the fruit. Traditional vin santo and cantucci arrive, another wow for Poggio Alloro. Made from almost-dry grapes, the amber holy wine is aged six years. With hints of caramel, nuts and honey, vin santo is served with not-so-sweet cantucci biscotti for dipping in the sweet wine. Perfect.

I am starting to feel abbiocco — the lovely drowsiness that follows a satisfying meal. Thank you Poggio Alloro, Paul Turina, Enoteca Athena and Chef O’Brien — sono pieno come un uovo — I am full as an egg.

Posted in East Coast Travel, Farm-to-Table, Food and Wine, Italian Travel, Maine, Maine Travel, New England Travel, Off-the-beaten-track | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rockland: Tidal Treasure

rockland-breakwater-iiiAh, Rockland — gritty tidal treasure on Penobscot Bay with the soul of a working waterfront and salty hipster vibe. This small seafaring gem proves that art has the power to inspire and restore, with a vibrant museum and gallery scene, award-winning restaurants, upscale shops — and enough lobster and lighthouse kitch for the tourist crowd.

Hospitality with a Heart

We’re here for the 2017 Pies on Parade tour, and we’re hungry. Each year local inns, businesses, and cafes mobilize for a tasting and strolling tour to raise funds for the local food pantry. This year’s sale of 650 tickets will ensure funding goals are met — and beyond.

The diversity of pies is impressive, with sweet and savory bites including Montreal-style pork Tourtiere; wood-fired pizza rustica; seafood-chowder pie; classic Maine whoopies; espresso chocolate mousse pie; and a drunken pumpkin bourbon tart. Of course there are traditional berry and fruit pies, and savory lobster and/or crab quiche. Delicious.

lpark_website-eventArt Walk

Part of the magic is Rockland’s art scene, abundant and accessible on the three-hour stroll. The Center for Maine Contemporary Art features artists like Loretta Park, above, a graduate of our own Bowdoin College. CMCA’s soaring new space makes me so proud.

At 250 Main Hotel, referred to by locals as “the new hotel,” there are drawings, paintings and prints on every floor, plus sweeping sea views and a roof deck— wow.

250 Main Hotel

250 Main Hotel

Dowling Walsh Gallery is always a gas, with Maine favorites Bo Bartlett, Greta Van Campen, and my old friend, Neil Welliver. Check out Eric Hopkins‘ iconic works at his downtown studio and gallery on Tillson Avenue (Note: by appointment these days).

Two Islands with Waves, 2012 by Eric Hopkins. Photo by William Thuss

Two Islands with Waves, 2012 by Eric Hopkins. Photo by William Thuss

The Farnsworth Art Museum has enough groove and gravitas to please any proud Mainer or fan “from away.” The Farnsworth complex includes the Wyeth Center, dedicated to three generations of Maine Wyeths — N.C., Andrew and Jamie — housed in an appropriately austere 19th-century church, filled with light.


Andrew Wyeth, Carol on the Beach, 1950 – watercolor on paper

Out and About

Rockland’s brick downtown has an endearing assortment of shops. Stalwarts include the upscale Black Parrot, and Archipelago, the store of the Island Institute. I pop into Fiore for my fix of cranberry-pear white balsamic vinegar, and then on to The Wine Seller whose clever sign reads, “If it tastes good, it is.” I agree. Newbies include Main Street Market with locally sourced foods (and waffle pie bites!), and Periscope, a high-end modern furniture emporium. It just keeps getting better.fiore-ii

Where to Stay

We love the Old Granite Inn, a perfect location for exploring downtown and the working waterfront. The inn blends family antiques, mid-century modern furnishings and lots of contemporary style. Granite’s upscale, uncluttered guest rooms have great views of Rockland Harbor and refreshingly small flat-screen TVs. “The only thing better would be no TV!” said one smiling guest. So there.

The aroma of fresh brewed coffee summons guests for a fresh and locally sourced breakfast. We savor puffy lobster quiche and homemade waffles with berries and real maple syrup. The environmentally certified inn grows greener with every visit. I think owners Ed & Joan Hantz are remarkably savvy preservationists and conservationists.

Sip and Savor 

SunsetThe fact that we’ve been tasting all day does not deter us from our mission to sip, savor and explore this little tidal treasure. After our three-hour tasting and walking tour, we compare notes under a pink sunset. We agree that our favorite bite of the day was the duck confit, sour cherry and goat cheese “pie” at Fog Café. We return to Fog in the evening, settling into a comfy banquette in the glow of a quirky glass cephalopod.

We continue our duck-theme with French fries generously dusted in duck cracklin’, served with bold, smoky tomato aoli. We go local with crispy midcoast haddock bites—a wan pairing with the duck fries, oh well. The Fog’s “real” Caesar salad with wild-caught anchovies was robust and fresh, a lusty palate cleanser. My husband tips his hat to Rockland’s gritty history with a Narragansett or two — no artisanal brew, thanks! — which magically take on a romantic glow.

Rock City


Rockland maintains a gritty authenticity despite its effortless hipster vibe, wealth of contemporary and iconic American art, and an ever-changing music and restaurant scene.  The richness of its craggy coastal ambiance draws us back to Maine’s midcoast often, in all seasons. I can’t wait to return to the North Atlantic Blues Fest this summer.

For a day trip or romantic weekend, Rock City rules. • strand-2017

IF YOU GO: Rockland Events

Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of

Posted in Art and Culture, Blues Festival, East Coast Travel, Farm-to-Table, Festivals, Food and Wine, Lobster, Magic, Maine, Maine Travel, Montreal, New England Travel, Off-the-beaten-track, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Royal Pop-Up at Tempo Dulu

15400356_1281721841885575_473972061319488583_nchef-sLucky me – I’m invited to an eight-course Royal Thai dinner designed and prepared by Chef Goy Siwaporn, left, who hides a prodigious talent in her tiny frame. Best of all, the sparkling eight-course dinner is held at The Danforth Inn’s deeply romantic restaurant, Tempo Dulu. I put on my princess shoes and summon Uber.

Photos: Liz Caron  / Video: Diane Hudson

15337448_1281721855218907_877399195016595719_nThe evening begins with dazzling cocktail reception under the auspices of master-mixologist Trevin Hutchins. We enjoy delicate but potent lychee cocktails, blushing pink and infused with with rhubarb. The inn’s welcome-signature of bubbly Prosecco is also served. Finger food is refined, with trays of sweet melon, salty dried fish flakes and mint. Rich and savory egg-nests with root vegetables are followed by cucumber cups of briny tuna tartare and Thai herbs. Small bites and big flavors rule at Tempo Dulu.15355841_1281721885218904_4096466205741590600_nWe’re seated, family-style, in three dining rooms. The staff is attentive and smiling as each guest is greeted with warm towels and an evening menu. Amuse bouche arrive in contemporary glassware, beautiful, setting the mood. Details are dazzling and as always, the service is almost clairvoyant — magic.

Host and husband of the chef, Florian Gypser

Host and husband of chef, Florian Gypser

The Danforth has been updated and modernized, its elegant rooms jazzed with modern furnishings and contemporary art, much of it with an Asian theme. The atmosphere is intimate and upscale with sophisticated lighting. Oversized chandeliers cast a warm glow. The green dome in the lounge is alive, made of moss that is occasionally misted. Always expect the unexpected at The Danforth.10570396_10156271075830062_3696025961673648359_nOur culinary journey continues with garlic chicken served in a lettuce cup, fresh and lively, topped with green pepper and lemon. A delicate spring roll holds curried pork and tomatoes, piquant and spicy. Salmon and seasonal vegetables with Thai garlic sauce gradually intensify the progression of flavors, which the sommelier tames with a crisp grenache blanc. Perfect.15390957_1281723225218770_174430860957127419_nFull disclosure: I love Tempo Dulu. Here, my imagination is allowed free range. The restaurant’s legendary Indonesian rijsttafel, a medley of dishes from the islands, sends each diner on a world tour enhanced by exotic fragrances and flavors. A reverence for history plus international flair and sophisticated design combine for wonderful ambiance.tugu-tempo-duluService at Tempo Dulu is reliably impeccable and attentive. Cutlery is changed with every course, and napkins are replaced when the diner, or even just his gaze, leaves the table. Service is formal but relaxed, somehow – I don’t know how they do it.An amuse of lettuce with Thai herbs and palm syrup awakens our palates with herbaceous sweetness. Small pieces of steamed flounder in Chinese ginger sauce, a bit disappointing in texture but not in flavor, are served with a Hillinger Secco that balances the dish nicely. The dining rooms hush as we’re served Thai coconut chicken mushroom soup, Tom Kar Gai — unctuous and velvety. I would keep eating it all night; it’s my favorite dish of the evening. Accompanied by surprising wine, Prisoner Blindfold, the combination reminds me that what’s in your glass at Tempo Dulu is often as impressive as what’s on the plate. Next up is another knockout — grilled Maine lobster in Thai seafood sauce, a feast for the senses. Chardonnay Copain Tous Ensembles is crisp and perfect with robust, sweet lobster. A last course of Thai Burmese ginger and fragrant jasmine rice, Gaeng Hang Lae, is smoky and savory, served on a green banana leaf — a perfect last bite. Sadly, I can only manage a few bites of my gorgeous dessert, smoked coconut milk with tapioca and sweet mango. I content myself to sip and savor Gaudet Loupiac, a sweet and warming conclusion to a wine-soaked and soul-satisfying evening.15356481_1281723238552102_3868110953406089196_n

Postscript: Not Quite Done…

9c3acff446af5da8b64524a2032644e2A few days later, my friend Diane and I head back to Tempo Dulu to check a few details. Read: we’re heading back to the bar. If you want a stunning cocktail experience in Portland, Maine, this is it. We belly up and order two Jakarta cocktails, an creative infusion of genius, bourbon and smoke, with boozy alchemy supplied by a gifted mixologist — don’t miss it!  •


Tempo Dulu  | 163 Danforth St., Portland, Maine

Posted in East Coast Travel, Food and Wine, Holiday Travel, Lobster, Magic, Maine, Maine Travel, New England Travel, Off-the-beaten-track, The Other Portland, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


BEST BITE NYC 2016 – The Clam

clams-the-clamSweet clams piled in white bowls, or served stuffed, in chowder, over linguine, or rough-chopped on pizza. Lobster “Louie” style and briny oysters chilled on beds of pebbled ice. new-lobsteroystersMy soul sister Seeky is infatuated with The Clam: “The rolls, they’re salty and sweet with a little shake of sea salt on the top, warm and yummy and they give you real butter, not some stupid bowl of olive oil. BUTTER, baby!” Seeky has supernatural enthusiasm.rollsthe-clamDon’t miss the astonishing white clam pizza with ricotta and parmesan. This pizza is grilled, ladies and gentlemen, different from the legendary white clam of my misspent New Haven youth. And dare I say, it’s better, with the unexpected genius of pickled red peppers. Delicate, yet densely flavorful. Robust and chewy. Black magic, wizardry.clam-pizza-the-clamThat Seeky knows her stuff.  Brunch at The Clam in two weeks is all I’m saying, girl.

Go to theclamtext300pxThe Clam – 420 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

Posted in Italian Travel | 3 Comments

Manhattan Magic 2016

ap-frame-082e-carter-the-great-vintage-magic-posterLovely. Magical. The city-that-never-sleeps is aglow in twinkling lights, draped in mistletoe, holly and pine boughs. We haven’t slept much, and after bumpy flights and confusing arrival, my friend The Magician and I are starving. First things first. header_oiliveoil2We head for Eataly’s Il Pesce where we savor Black Rice with Uni & Crab, unctuous and creamy. (We obsess over this uni all year long.) Our second course of grilled octopus is charred and gorgeous, tossed with yellow potatoes, roasted red peppers and festive green parsley. With a crisp Vermentino, it’s magico nero, black magic.

octopus-and-potatoes-at-eatalyRegrettably, it’s also Santacon, with hordes of red-suited Santas wreaking drunken havoc in midtown. I ask The Magician to levitate us out of Santa-anarchy. “Abracadabra!” he says, hustling us off to the West Village where there’s nary a Santa in sight.

santaconmich-mick-mickWe head to Industria‘s multi-level loft-space for holiday magic with a backbeat: Exhibitionism–The Rolling Stones. The sprawling retrospective includes diaries, engraved guitars, hand-written lyrics, and some very distinguished album and poster art. For the fashion-obsessed, there are Victorian cravats and ruffled shirts, velvet frock coats, lacy cuffs and brocade that evoke swinging London at its best.

mick-by-warholicon-stonesExhibitionism follows the band’s trajectory from moody bad-boys to fashion-forward rock ‘n’ roll icons. The show pulls from private collections and from the lads themselves. An anthropological standout is the meticulously disgusting recreation of the band’s infamous digs in London, complete with olfactory magic of stale-beer and dirty-clothes whiff. Concert footage and audio put viewers in a blissed-out, nostalgic and occasionally hilarious place. Loved it.

photo-exhibit-stonesgowanus-at-joes-pubWe rock on, crashing Gowanus Music Club’s performance at Joe’s Pub where the assembled young rock bands and my niece Matilda put on a fab show — hip, youthful, vibrant, and whatever the opposite of ‘retrospective’ is. The magical multigenerational mojo works: “The kids are alright!” as Pete Townshend roared in the ’60s. Yes, they are.

illusionists_logo_210x274From Aztec Lady to Linking Rings, Severed Ropes, a billion card tricks and Devil’s Torture Chamber, my friend The Magician is a wizard. He twinkles his way into The Illusionists while I enjoy the musical, Waitress. We both have supernatural experiences.

kellar_levitation_posterswing-timeb-zadie-smith-766915It’s Christmas, which to us means books books books. 192 Books is hosting a reading and signing with Zadie Smith, whose Swing Time is on my nightstand. Now that’s holiday magic. Synchronicity.

murray-cheese01As always, shopping makes us hungry.  Grilled “Murray’s Melt” sandwiches at the eponymous Murray’s Cheese Bar on Bleecker St. are a hot drippy gooey mess. Perfect. Even my friend The Magician is stumped by Murray’s secret cheese blend. Me, I think Murray ought to keep an eye on the magician, he’s a pretty canny fellow.

rothko-exhibitionWe head around the corner to the Pace gallery for the Mark Rothko exhibition, Dark Palette. Do see it and get there fast. It runs through January 7 at the PACE on West 25th Street. The exhibition is a small wonder, a dark jewel.

th_statics_1000x387_03216_r2_v2Yes. The Humans is quirky, funny, sad and heartbreaking — beautifully written, a little dark, and thoroughly accessible. As the wonderful actress (Mom!) Jayne Houdyshell said, “Audiences recognize themselves in The Humans.” I saw myself, my daughters and my mother. For more multigenerational holiday magic, see The Humans.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-1-46-44-pm-1024x498The Magician and I are delighted to conclude our holiday adventure in DUMBO with our luminous friend, Justin Townsend. We catch the last show of Longing Lasts Longer at St. Ann’s Warehouse with performance artist Penny Arcade—a feast of wit and snarky one-liners. Penny’s magic is that she is both a total badass and kindred spirit.

show-pages_tablet_2016-2017_pennyarcade_01DUMBO “Down Under Manhattan and Brooklyn Overpass” is a gritty Brooklyn neighborhood that is so cool I suddenly feel completely square. I console myself at adorable Almondine Bakery with several delicate French almond macarons in hip flavors like blood orange and passionfruit. Better.

2ffcb920f0a3b6f607c1a5aba5f47fd8We reserve a last late-night bite at Babbo as is our holiday habit. The place is as welcoming and golden as always, but Mario is definitely having an off night. Tonight, beloved Babbo is uneven at best, disappointing at worst. Oh my. Old habits die hard on this trip. We resolve to tuck some nifty magic tricks up our sleeves in 2017, and perhaps consult Penny for tips on breaking some of our stale sorcerer’s habits in the New Year. Cheers! •

6878805020_fd6a7d1151_zprosecco-wine-pouring-webHappy New Year from








Posted in Art and Culture, Documentary Film, East Coast Travel, Food and Wine, Holiday Travel, Magic, New York City, Off-the-beaten-track, Theater, Travel | Leave a comment

Roman Holiday

We arrive in Rome on Halloween, la festa di zucca. Our Roman reentry is smooth despite a brief frightening blackout on the subway. Three short stops from Termini, we emerge blinking in the bright sun of the Piazza di Spagna — unchanged, full of tourists, window shoppers and fashionistas. Our suitcases click-clack across the black cobbles down a narrow alley to our B&B, My Secret Condotti. We think a B&B with the word “secret” in its name has to be wonderful.  It is.

69064788The rooms are bright, sleek and modern — as blessedly unfussy as any we have had in Rome. Breakfast of fresh orange juice, cappuccino and cornetti is served at nearby Café Marziali. The concierge is funny and kind, remarking that my Italian is good.  It isn’t.  But this B&B is good, a perfect Roman pied-a-terre. Well done me.

Our American Friend meets us just in time for passeggiata, the traditional evening stroll. We stop for a glass of wine and aperitivo, relaxing into the rhythm of the city. We admire the edgy fashions displayed in endless shop windows, and crowds clustered up and down the Spanish Steps. A stop at the Pantheon assures us, yes, we are really here. Once the sun sets, the Bernini fountains in Piazza Navona are as stunning as always, and the street performers are still unabashedly in-your-face. Yes, we have arrived.

fashion-neighborhood-1A walk to the Vatican the next morning puts us squarely in the middle of a road race surrounded by thousands of Italian citizens in spandex. The race feels infinite, anarchic, incomprehensible, and a little claustrophobic — a perfect start to our Roman odyssey.middle-of-road-race-vaticanmadonna-and-iphoneWe cross the Tiber and walk the lively river bank to Trastevere where we have coffee in an outdoor café and admire the graffiti.

exhibit-a-iphoneWe examine the ongoing restoration of Portico d’Ottavia in the Jewish ghetto neighborhood. We wander the ancient and surprisingly crowded alleyways, grateful to see the street signs still in Italian and Hebrew. The historic ghetto continues to grow in popularity, which is about to affect us directly, peccato!  But that’s life.

<< Our American Friend – busted by the Blessed Virgin in Trastevere.neighborhood-1We can’t wait to share a meal at Sora Margherita with Our American Friend. We wait for hours in the pleasant sunshine of the Piazza Cinque Scuole, only to learn that our highly coveted table for three has ruthlessly, cruelly been handed to another family. I briefly lose my temper, which is tricky in another language. Porca miseria!

We manage to recover our good humor over a lovely meal at nearby Trattoria Giggetto — a fine choice although not quite the “insider” experience we imagined. But as our smiling, courtly server brings plate after plate of carciofi Giudia and fiore di zuccha, we are reminded that the world is indeed a wonderful place. The convivial and relaxed dining experience almost makes up for our savage betrayal at Sora Margherita. Almost.

tartarugha-fountainA stroll to beloved Fontana Tartarughe in Piazza Mateotti restores us completely as the dearest, sweetest, happiest fountain in Rome. We meander “home” through favorite piazzas, Campo de Fiori, Farnese and Navona. We push through mad crowds throwing coins over their shoulder into the Trevi Fountain as we work our way back to Spagna. We walk so much this day that we resort to cabs the next — an unprecedented indulgence.more-than-meets-the-eye-romaen-route-to-museo-romaThe next morning we head to the MAXXI Museum of 21st Century Art, above, in the Flaminio neighborhood. Designed by Zaha Hadid, broad swooshes of concrete and glass express the museum’s mission to celebrate innovation and creativity. The permanent collection is magically open and free to all.

Surrounding antiquities and gritty parks add contrast. “It works,” says Our American Friend. With the possible exception of the bumped-up bollards in the exterior courtyard, where we all trip and stumble — watch your step.

img_0224canova-antonio-paolina-borghese-as-venus-victrix-detail-1804-08-white-marble-galleria-borghese-rome-1366009275_bA walk to the Borghese Garden & Galleria is a must, especially on an art-soaked holiday such as this. Lady Paolina and the expansive Borghese collection is always a treat, and the family-friendly park is a perfect place to relax under a canopy of green, in a beautifully landscaped English-style garden. Like Central Park in NYC, I have always felt that the Parco Borghese is Rome’s backyard.

As always, art makes us hungry. We enjoy an unexpected, delicious surprise of ravioli pillows with butter & sage in one of the Borghese’s outdoor cafes. We’re talking picnic table ambiance, here, with fare delivered by a gum-cracking nitwit in pigtails — a delightful reminder that when in Rome, you must expect the unexpected.

ceiling_council_of_the_gods_in_galleria_borghese_romevia-marguttaVia Margutta in Rome is a vine-covered lane of galleries and art studios — quiet, sophisticated, dreamy. Uh-oh. In a tiny gallery, a proprietor is raging at Our American Friend, roaring, “The painting is 300€, decide now! If you come tomorrow, the price is 1,200€.” Louder: “1,200!” He narrows his eyes at me, “Does the American capisce?” Eyes wide, our friend scuttles sideways like a crab out the open door.start-of-long-nightThings seems to be heading downhill rather quickly. Desperate to impress our beloved friend, we commence what is to be a wonderful night of drinking. We begin with several Negronis, very strong, mostly gin, which begin to put the world back on its axis. Outstanding. We follow with a convivio wine-soaked dinner at Edy’s around the corner. Here, details begin to get a little hazy, but I remember a robust and satisfying pranzo; I think one of us has the trippa Romana. The evening ends with more drinks and some very loud 1980s music at a small deserted bar where we recover our collective sense of humor over several Sambuca con mosca.

We say arrivederci to the eternal city and make sure Our American Friend is delivered to Fiumicino airport with a pounding hangover. Mission accomplished. Next stop, Tuscany!


Posted in Art and Culture, Food and Wine, International, Italian Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments