When In Rome: Where to eat and drink in Italia

Do you ever have instances where a person, place, or thing keeps popping up in your life relentlessly and you’re like “ok universe, I hear you…”. This happened to me back in 2008, about 6 months after I graduated from college. I was working at CBS Outdoor, living in SF, and within a 3 week time frame I literally had 4 or 5 people tell me “you should totally work for this company called Backroads. You get to lead biking trips around the world” Whaaaaat? So, I listened…I applied…and 3 weeks later I was on a plane to France to be trained as an active travel tour guide. Oh yeah, and then 3 weeks after THAT I got kicked out of the country for 2 months. But that’s a story for another time. ūüôā

Well lately, I’ve got Italy on my mind, folks. Why? Well first of all, my brother and his fiance are going there on their honeymoon, so a topic of conversation happening there…and then, I just booked tickets to go to a VERY dear friend’s wedding in Rome in September (WAHOO)…and then randomly I have had 2-3 people ask me for advice on places to go and see and eat and drink within the past week or two. I think perhaps because I used to live there and all…or maybe, I’m just a self-proclaimed know-it-all and when I hear the words “Florence” I go “OH! You just have to try this one restaurant”…whatever the reason, dishing out advice on Italy sends me into a state¬†that is kind of resemblant of Lucy when she sees a tennis ball…too overwhelmed by excitement to function.

When I lived in Italy, I¬†was either in work, work, work mode, or‚ĶI ate, ate, ate & drank, drank, drank‚Ķ& rode my bike‚Ķand then drank some more. SO…maybe think about bookmarking this page for the next time you are headed to the land of La Dolce Vita as a reference, and hit up these spots! It’s just a small collection of favorites in what I like to call “The big 3” – Rome, Florence, and Tuscany because I refuse to send people to Venice. We can start there…but I got tips for DAYS, ya’ll.

+ Here’s one major side tip I would add: when going to Italy (in the high summer or spring months), pack light. Florence is one of the shopping capitals of the world. If you are going there it’s a good idea to save up before and get some good shopping done while you are there, at the San Lorenzo Markets (outdoor markets with more leather and ceramic goods than you can stand). The emptier the suitcase the better!

ROME (Roma)

  • Alexanderplatz – I love this place because it is full of locals and not something you would “typically” do in Italy. It is a super fun jazz bar in the Prati neighborhood (hard to describe, but its off the “Cipro” metro stop. If you are looking at St. Peter’s Basillica from the front, the neighborhood is to the right and back a little bit). My old apartment during my study abroad was around the corner. Ahhhhh, the nostalgia!

alexanderplatz

Jazz? In Roma? Why not!

 

  • Old Bridge Gelato – (their website is super broken¬†and not functional but I had to include it here because that is just SO adorably Italian and I love it). The BEST gelato, in Piazza Risorgiamento, also to the right side of the vatican…a tiny hole in the wall but aren’t those always the best? Gelato + Pope = YES.

  • Bar della Pace – The quintessential¬†aperitivo spot, near Piazza Navona on Via della Pace – we’re talking ivy on the walls, cobblestone streets, men playing the accordion, you want that “typical Italian experience”, well this is it. I used to go here allll the time. There are some super cute restaurants right around there, so I suggest you just wander and pick something. I’ve been to Barone, right across from it, and¬†Osteria del Pegno, right around the corner.

bar della pace

Bar della Pace (to the left – pace means “peace”)

 

  • Ristorante Ambasciata d’Abruzzo – I’m not even sure I have the capacity to describe how incredible this place is in just a few words…but as far as food (both quality and amount of it), location, ambiance, and price goes, it’s a 9.999999.

 

FLORENCE (Firenze)

  • Craving an America Pub after all that wine? Fiddler’s Elbow and Bar “The Friends” (ha!) are both great. On opposite sides of the river, but both pretty cool…I would recommend “The Friends” bar first because it’s on the locals’ side of town, close to Ponte Vecchio. ¬†

    Da Il Latini – GO HERE. DO IT NOW. It’s quite possibly one of the best dining experiences I have had in Italy. They don’t take reservations, it doesn’t open until 7:30, the owner is this adorable white-haired man who comes out to schmooze with the crowd while you wait (sometimes offering cheese and wine samples). At your table, it’s a very “what are you serving tonight” type of ordering, and if you go in the fall, it will likely be chingiale – delicious wild boar! – ¬†or bistecca della fiorentina really good steak likely made from the Chianine cattle. After more schmoozing by the cute owner at the end of your meal, he comes around and writes a price on the butcher paper table cloth, so best to flirt with him…he’ll probably knock a few $$ off. Talk about Italian charm at it’s finest!¬†

    il latini

  • Vivoli Gelato – so amazing. Sort of ‘off the beaten path’ but if you google it, the map can show you where it is! They have very weird, unique flavors to get outside your typical pistachio rut. Or maybe that’s just me. I am obsessed with pistachio gelato.

  • Pop Cafe – in Piazza di Santo Spirito (which is also across the river – you’ll see a lot of my suggestions are not in the “touristy areas”), and a super locals spot! Very fun for either coffee and a panino or an aperitivo drink. Often times they have live music.

  • Cafe Fiorentina in San Giovanni Valdarno ( a 30 minute train ride south of Florence – my old “hometown” as a Backroads leader). So stinkin’ small town it doesn’t even have a website. We went here maybe every single day for aperitivo. They had the best selection of snacks, a killer negroni (for those of you who know me well, you know I lose my marbles over negronis), and excellent “aperol spritz”. Sitting right on the main square, it’s a perfect spot to people watch, rub elbows with the locals, and practice your Italian since literally nobody there speaks English. Over time, this place really did contribute to Italy feeling like “home” for me. It’s worth a trip down there.¬†

    Fiorenza.jpg
    Aperol Spritz on the main piazza of San Giovanni Valdarno

    +My other piece of general advice – embrace the aperitivo, and when in Tuscany, the “Passegiata” – this happens around 6/6:30pm in small towns. All of the residents come out and stroll, socialize, have drinks, let the kids play, etc. before returning home for family meal. It is so much fun, very relaxing, and very much showcases that Italians truly live life to savor everything from food, to family, to community. Life is slow, fully enjoyed, and methodical…except in Rome. Then it’s just “pazza”.

 

TUSCANY (Toscana)

+disclaimer – Tuscany is HUGE. There are a thousand directions you could go with a trip to Tuscany, but the below are just some of my tip top favorites. Want more suggestions on other towns? Feel free to ask!

  • Siena (with a car – this place is virtually impossible to get to without one). Honestly just go here, no special restaurants or bars to recommend because everything is good – and so is the shopping! ūüôā The main Piazza is where “Il Palio” is hosted every year – a fantastic horse race with a very cool history behind it. Read up about that here ’cause we ain’t got all day. This area of Tuscany is also home to Brunello di Montalcino, my absolute favorite red wine ever in the history of ever. Drink it all, bring some home, SAVOR THAT SHIT. If a man ever surprised me with a bottle of 1997 Brunello I’d capture him and make him marry me. Not kidding.

    siena
    Piazza del Campo, Siena

  • Panzano/Gaiole in Chianti & Radda in Chianti (with a car) – all 3 of these are totally doable in one day – they are closest to Florence or anywhere else in Northern Tuscany. In Panzano, definitely, definitely go see “The Singing butcher” at Da Mario¬†andhave lunch there on the terrazza (you seriously gotta love the ghetto-ness of websites in Italy. Am I the only one who thinks everything everyone does in this country is adorable?)¬† This is a FANTASTIC view of the Chianti vineyards. In Radda, go to Bar Dante and ask for Fabrizio –¬†he’s almost as schmoozy as the owner of Il Latini but you’ll find that greasy adorable Italian men are not rare…embrace it and have fun with it. Honestly, the drive from town to town here is the highlight – the views are simply exquisite. And if you don’t indulge in a little Chianti wine as you go…you’re wrong.

    chianti
    Chianti land in Toscana
  • Cortona (with a car). The oldest Etruscan city in Italy, and in my absolute favorite region of Tuscany, the Val di Chiana (artfully named after the Chianina beef cattle – gee, wonder why I resonate with this place). The Etruscans were the species before us – if you get a chance to tour the old cities, now a level of topography below us, do so! You’ll never believe how short these folks were. In the summer, the sunflowers – OH THE SUNFLOWERS – in this place are just to die for. I recommend¬†Villa Marsili to stay, and Osteria del Teatro to eat. This is fun town to just wander and explore, it’s very hilly, and if you want some exercise, hike to the very very top of the town. The views will not disappoint.¬†

    cortona

    Cortona from above

    sunflowers

    This is real…
  • Lucca (by train via Florence, or car) – where the Dal Porto family hails from! This is a walled city, boasting an adorably cute “downtown”, shopping, cafes, and an excellent bike culture. My family’s deli is actually just outside the walls, if you are at the train station facing the town, walk along the wall to the right about .75 miles. It’s called “Pizzicheria” on the main drag, Viale Giussepe Giusti. Shameless self promotion, check! But seriously go to Lucca…and if you are in a car, check out some of the “bagni” (hot springs and baths) around the area. To die for.¬†

lucca.jpg

The walls of Lucca

Have fun! Heading elsewhere? Let me know, I’d be more than happy to expand my list of recommendations. Make sure you adequately flirt with an Italiano, walk like you own the country, don’t EVER order a “coffee to go”, learn the difference between “grazie” and “prego” (please, please do this)…and enjoy the most adorably corrupt, crazy, passionate, full of love and amazing wine, gorgeous country on the planet…buon viaggio!

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PED…or a mead hangover?

Has anyone ever tried the drink mead? Before our GoRuck event this past weekend (more on that in a second), a whole slew of us went to a meadery called The Rabbit’s Foot to kick things off and have a few drinks socially before “the games began.” I had this very grandiose medieval-like vision in my head of drinking mead, like I was going to do so out of a silver goblet and get wicked drunk and loud like a peasant about to go to war in some old barn like structure. Nope…turns out it’s just a really weird sweet wine-like drink that kind of tastes like cough syrup, in a normal wine glass, in a tiny hole in the wall bar in the middle of industrial Sunnyvale. ¬†Good thing the ciders were to die for. And trust me, I know, I drank every flavor they had. It’s a very ‘happy drunk’ type of libation, and perhaps because it was coupled with seeing a ton of awesome folks all at the same time, it all equated to an excellent evening.

Fast forward a few days…there’s this thing I refer to as “PED” (post-event depression). I even googled it, because I know I can’t be the only one who uses this acronym. Well, according to the internets, PED is known as “performance enhancing drugs” (um, hell to the no. I recently watched a few videos of a very well known fitness guru, only to be appalled by the high pitched voice he was rocking, likely from something like steroids. Don’t do em, kids. Au natural). Going home after a weekend of constant stimulation and excitement is never easy. What I’ve taken from these moments is that I am so grateful to have made some of my best friends through my GoRuck community, and missing everyone and our time together only confirms the strength of the bond. Without you all, I wouldn’t be so depressed. So thanks! ūüôā

Anyways, I just returned from a GoRuck event that was, for the most part, chalk full of some of my absolute favorite people in this weirdo community and I am feeling the PED pretty hard. It was a custom event called the ‘NordCal Viking Challenge’ that took place on the shores of Santa Cruz¬†(for you Norse nerds, you get it. I am not one. But I happily went with it). The theme of the event was obviously Vikings, which meant we got to dress up a bit, use Nordic language, and the stages of the event were built around Viking culture while still containing all of the traditional “carry heavy shit, get beat up, work as a team or fail” elements of a normal challenge. It was, in one word, epic. I don’t remember having such a good time at an event in a long time. Maybe it was the espresso martinis we drank at 8am to kill the mead headache (the MEADache? Ha)? I don’t know. What I do know is that this was the perfect weekend to put a few days of Ironman training on hiatus. I had a huge volume week last week, and was starting to feel mentally burnt. I needed a breather. The bonus here was that I got a break from the long, slow miles but a great functional fitness workout from the event.

Sunday, for most of us, was probably 75% spent on Facebook re-living the glory and laughs through Facebook picture postings, comments, ¬†friending the new folks that we met at the event, and rolling out our sore shoulders. Perfection. The funny (and somewhat comforting) thing about this group is that we all commiserate together about how when we’re ‘in the suck’ of any and most events, we all ask ourselves “why in the hell do I do this. This is so stupid.” And of course, we get through it, out to the other side, and say “that was AWESOME.” One of our cadre brought up an excellent point about morale and being a leader that promotes a good morale, and it reminds me of the Victor Frankl philosophy – you have to find meaning (and, joy) in suffering if you want to survive. Be the guy who can crack a joke or sing a song when things are bad or really painful. I try to remember this when I feel my mood going foul. It’s a great lesson we all need reminded of from time to time, but ultimately, I think most of us GRT’s are like this. Why else would we keep coming back to do these things? We just love living outside our comfort zone; sometimes I think I am most comfortable there (be it good or bad). Never stop iterating on you, or the person you aspire to be. I consistently come home from these events inspired by one person or another…perhaps THAT is why I keep coming back.

A few pictures from our Viking adventure…enjoy!

welcome party

Cadre Geoff giving us hell during the “welcome party”

 

water babes

Vikings and water go together like Netflix and chill. This is us doing “rocking chairs” as a group (check out that background, though…)

 

scrum

Scrum soccer session aka tackle the crap out of each other. Tons of fun.

 

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Kristina (fellow Sheepdog) and I carrying our boat made of wood and rope. SLTW

 

endex

Endex – the final chance the cadre get to make us suffer before we get patched

 

crew

The whole crew! Incredible day with incredible people. So thankful for this part of my life

cadre

Our Cadre for the event, Geoff and Danny. These two are the best, I’ll be returning to their events for sure. You also have to love the spirited war pant.

Things I’m Loving 1.0

As I was brainstorming the direction to go with my next blog post, I found myself either getting topic block or completely distracted by something stupid like a FatJewish post on Instagram. It wasn’t until I saw an article titled “How to apply lotion to your back without anyone’s help” that I realized…holy cow, people literally will and can write about ANY and everything (by the way, of course I clicked on this article…did you know that all you need to do this is a bottle of lotion and your arms? That’s it? CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?).

I always loved reading those blogs where people talk about the random things of late that make them happy. ¬†So is this¬†“Things I’m loving” trend still a “thing”? Sure! I thought an Oprah-inspired post could be both fun for me (read: positive reflection) and for you (read: new ideas!). Mutually beneficial. Win-win. Boom. I’ll try this from time to time as my random obsessions change. Which is probably going to be often.

Enjoy!

  • Fitness Inspired Cakes. This is like porn for people who workout who like to bake. I find myself browsing these Pinterest compilations, as well as Instagram, when I am bored or on BART. People make ice skating leotard cakes…cakes in the shape of a buff dude doing a curl…cakes with kettlebells on them…so much cute stuff. I would love to learn how to work with Fondant and create my own fitness cake, for someone’s birthday or heck even my own because #loveyourself

 

  • My new smoothie recipe – inspired by one of Club Sport’s smoothies, I have been making this 3-4 times a week either in the morning or at night as part of dinner, and it’s so tasty. It’s also very low sugar, low calorie, high protein, and delicious AF. In a blender:
    • 1 cup baby spinach
    • 1/2 cup blueberries (frozen or whole)mm.jpg
    • 1 scoop Muscle Milk Light 100, Vanilla flavor
    • 1 cup coconut water
    • 1 heaping tablespoon peanut butter (I have been using this super fake lower calorie peanut butter from Trader Joe’s, it’s super weird by itself but an amazing flavor add in this smoothie)
    • Ice

 

  • This Hip-Hop Yoga playlist on Spotify. Libby Murfey is a relatively well-known ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† yoga instructor in SF, mainly for being super funky and playing gangster rap during ¬† ¬† her classes. I love following her on Spotify (and you should too). She also creates ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† excellent non-gangster rap playlists, with modern slower and Indie/chill stuff. She keeps you engaged with her music, and her classes are great as well. I am listening to this right now, in fact. I love me some rap music sometimes. It’s fine, everyone from the east bay has a lil ghetto in them #fact

 

  • Schofferhoffer Grapefruit beer. Oh…my…gawd. It’s like the most amazing, crisp, ¬† ¬† ¬† refreshing, heavenly thing I have ever put my lips on and I love it more than ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Rombauer Chardonnay right now (and that is saying a lot, people).

grapefruit-beer-12-31-14

I actually drank a whole 6 pack to myself one time. Before you gawk, know that it is like 3% alcohol. My favorite story with this beer is when we were in Scottsdale for my future sister’s Bachelorette party, I ordered one that first day from the hotel bar, and let a few girls try it…well it’s the perfect ‘day drinking on a hot day’ as well as a hangover beer…so by the 3rd day a ton of us were guzzling it. The hotel laughed and said they hadn’t sold that beer in forever and now, they were almost completely out. The beer of choice¬†influencer of the party…dad would be so proud.

 

  • Lucy’s new ‘Double Ombre’ Rope leash. I love my little girl to pieces…but she’s got teeth that’ll chew through the most “non-destructible” well, anything. I had heard from a few people that rope leashes are the solution for little rascals like her, so I found her a SUPER CUTE one. Etsy is great for this kind of stuff, isn’t it? Now for just $30, we are safe from chewing through a leash AND lookin’ fly. Like she needed to get any cuter?

ombre dog leash

  • ‘Modern Love’ podcast on iTunes. A nice zone-out podcast I found recently, it has a great mix of content; from funny episodes like people highlighting their craigslist dating encounters, to the wildly romantic and crazy and random ways people have found and fallen in love, to really deep stories about lovers overcoming hardships like loss, or heartache, or sickness. I’m such a sucker for this kind of stuff, and it mixes up the listening material for my long runs/rides/BART rides/training sessions. Highly recommended!

 

  • ‘It’s a Miracle + Keratin’ leave-in conditioning spray. I’m not a big product girl – my makeup is a pretty generic brand, I use shampoo + conditioner that costs $9.99 a bottle, liquid eye-liner freaks me the eff out, and I hate hairspray. When I started swimming more, my hair stylist suggested I start acting like a girl and at least try throwing a leave-in spray in my hair before I got in the pool to help retain my color. So I listened. I found this stuff at Walgreen’s and now I am in love with it. It leaves my hair super soft and it smells incredibly refreshing. I sleep with it in a few nights a week now, too. Keratin also makes your hair shiny I guess? Awesome. It’s cheap too!

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K that’s all for now. Hope everyone is having a great week! I’m off to a Viking custom GoRuck event this weekend with some of my favorites. Yes we dress as vikings, yes we drink mead, yes we pretend like we are in the Game of Thrones but we also do all the hard things GoRuck has you do too. I’m going to channel my inner Spartan woman for this one. Pics to come!