Monday, November 30, 2015

NYC via Virgin Atlantic / Hilton Midtown / Katz's Deli

London is famous for its fog, and it would be a charming setting if you are not trying to travel into or out of it on a plane. The fog decided to blanket both London and Paris the night before I left for NYC and it wrecked havoc with all flights scheduled to go in or out of airports for days. After hours of delays, misinformation, and redirection by the British Airways staff, I finally got on the last Virgin Atlantic flight of the night to JFK thanks to the splendid LHR agent Louise G. This was my "virgin" flight with Virgin Atlantic and they are now my favorite airline. My seat had goodies waiting for me as I boarded, including an eye mask, toothbrush with toothpaste, pen, earplugs, and slippers in a "feel good kit", headphones, and a clever blanket which had a cutout so you could slip it over your shoulders without excess material at your neck! This was standard issue in ALL seats, with extras like pj's in upper class (yes, you get to take the comfy pj's with you)!
The plane also had an ingenious remote/phone combo which accessed the broad range of inflight entertainment which took six pages to describe in the in flight magazine.
The staff was as cheery and professional as I've ever encountered, including one steward who literally climbed up on an armrest to help me get my coat from the overhead compartment because she was as tall (or short) as I am!
I even enjoyed (and watched) the entire safety demonstration because it was so much fun; this scene is about how to properly fasten your seat beat ;)
For an 8 hour flight, there were two meals and two snacks and yes, the flavors were as good as they sounded. The only time I've eaten this well on a flight was on Air France's Business Class, of course Air France had better wine, but then that is a given, non?
Not only was the food fresh and healthy, it actually had flavor!
Arriving at JFK airport, the Airtrain got me from the airport to Jamaica station (where you buy your $5 ticket before exiting), and then I connected to the subway (on the same Metro card, just add a dollar amount of $3 for each ride) which not only runs 24 hours a day, but has technology which updates where you are on the route, as well as the connections and stops along the way! After Rome, this was like being in an altered futuristic universe! 
American hotels like the Hilton Midtown may seem small compared to other cities in the US, but by European standards it is huge and full of deluxe features for the price,
like a big TV,
huge shower, and plentiful FLUFFY towels!
The view from the 22nd floor wasn't bad either!

Coming back in the US after more than 2 years in France, and being back in NYC after more than 20 years, I had certain cravings. Katz's Deli was made famous in the movie "When Harry Met Sally", but they are famous to me for their pastrami. There is of course a sign showing you exactly where Sally had what everyone else wanted ;)
Pickles come with every order,
and I urge you to get a knish, which in NYC, is basically a fried bit of delicious mashed potato, either filled with something or plain. This knish was bigger than both my hands:)
Classic fries always go well with a sandwich.
A sandwich is about $20 and sides all cost about $5; this is HALF of a pastrami sandwich, and if you can finish a whole sandwich in one sitting, I bow to your appetite!
The best part of any trip is seeing friends :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Santa Maria in Trastevere

 Put a few coins in a box at the left of the altar and the mosaic lights up for a few minutes:)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Roman Movie

If you haven't seen "Roman Holiday" with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, please rent it, buy it, or borrow it, and watch it. Audrey Hepburn may have won an Oscar for her performance, but Rome also had a starring role and many of the iconic sites are featured in the movie. 

The Trevi Fountain has starred in more movies than any other fountain I can think of, but it was closed for renovations. People were still tossing coins into the construction site, water or no water.
 Not all fountains are famous, and not all of them work in Rome :(
Thankfully some fountains in Rome worked beautifully:)
 The Spanish Steps were also closed for renovations.
The Bocca della Verità, made famous in the US by the movie "Roman Holiday" was open, but the lines were so long for a photo op with a hand in its mouth, that I simply snapped this one through the gate.
 This cute little red Fiat was parked nearby as if it was waiting for a close up, so I played paparazzi :)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Small Sips and Bites in Rome

A cappuccino is the best way to start a day in Rome, especially since nearly every bakery, bar, and caffe makes an excellent cup. The bakery near where I was staying, Desideri Caffe, opens at the crack of dawn and serves locals heading off to work (I got my last cappuccino in Rome before my flight at 6am). The price of coffee is controlled at a certain amount if you drink it at the counter, and it was only 1.10 Euros. Yes, this wonderful cappuccino was only $1.20 US! Being a bakery, they had plenty of sweet temptations, but the best reason for me to go back was after one visit, the man behind the counter knew me and asked if I wanted my "usual":) The residential parts of Rome, like Monte Verde, are big extended families, and once you arrive, you are welcomed, usually with a smile.
As lunch time approaches, the sweets in the case become sandwiches, to go or to eat at the tables inside or on the patio of the bakery, which also has a full bar if you want a shot of alcohol in your coffee.
Isola Tiburina, or Tiber Island had more tourists, as you can see by the signs in English,
and the cappuccino at Tiberino was more expensive at a whopping 1.50 Euros, or $1.70 US at the counter. It was hands down the best cappuccino I've ever tasted. Yes, thank-you, more please...except I would have been a jittery wreck all day. It was a good thing they were out of cornetti, the breakfast pastry that is not a croissant, or I would have added a sugar high to my caffeine high:)
 Their sandwiches for around 5 Euros or $6 US, looked amazing, but I had other plans for lunch.
Enoteca Spiriti is a wine bar opposite the Temple of Hadrian, not far from the Pantheon. It was the least touristy place I found in the area, so I took a chance and had lunch there.
Every one of the men wore a blue suit with a red tie, and all the women carried expensive handbags. They all seemed to know each other, greeting each arrival with kisses and or handshakes. I wondered if I had walked into a secret club, but then I learned Temple of Hadrian now houses a bank. Ah no wonder so many people were drinking water in a wine bar!
 The decor and artwork were very original and low key.
My small tuna salad for 12 Euros or $13 US was as simple as it looked without any flavor to the dressing but very fresh ingredients, and well presented. My glass of sauvignon blanc at 6 Euros or $7 US was equally fresh and pure,
 which seemed to be the theme of the place, extending to the breadbasket.
Even their toilet had an attachment if you wanted to rinse yourself after your meal, which I nearly wanted to do when I went to pay my bill and the waitress tried to add an additional service fee of 3 Euros, but since I had gotten the bill at my table, she couldn't ask me for more since I had the itemized total tally in writing in my hand. Bankers aren't the only ones trying to add fees!
I had a much better experience, and much better food at Litro, which was very conveniently located directly in front of a bus stop on a line I took into the touristy parts of town :) The wonderful thing about Litro is that they are open all day, serve everything from snacks to full meals, and they have a good selection of wines and desserts. It's a casual place with a small patio. It's so warm and friendly, one day one of the owners was there playing with his son and feeding him as he was serving the customers.
There are daily specials on the chalkboard outside, and one day it was a bruschetta with guanciale for 5 Euros or $6. This was a perfectly grilled toast topped with pork "jowl bacon" dressed with excellent olive oil, the tender thin slices of smoked cured meat nearly melted onto the hot bread, and was so redolent with thyme and pepper, that my mouth had a little dance party! I had a nice glass of Mescita for 4 Euros or $5 with the bruschetta and that kept my hunger at bay until restaurants opened for dinner three hours later.
On another day between Roman lunch and dinner restaurant hours, I was so hungry, I needed a meal, so I ordered their tuna salad for 12 Euros or $13. This salad was easily the biggest one I've seen since leaving Los Angeles! The bottom of the bowl was filled with even more goodies, from tomatoes to cucumbers and olives, besides the eggs and uniquely fabulous Italian tuna in olive oil with bits of crunchy croutons. This salad was so delicious that I actually wanted to go eat it again but I was so full from my other meals, that I never got a chance to go back for another. This picture really doesn't do the salad justice, but I was too hungry to even toss the salad before digging in, and once I did, I couldn't stop eating until I had finished the entire bowl!
They had fabulous bread which arrived in a bag! I should have taken the bag with me, which is why I think they served it in a bag, especially since it was 2 Euros or $2.30 US for the bread.
The Trastevere neighborhood has become touristy, but it's still got some charming corners tucked away on the little streets leading into the central piazza, like this one with Vin Allegro.
 They are a very well stocked wine bar with a virtual store room in plain view.
They have a generous happy hour where for the price of a drink, you get to choose as much as you wish, as many times as you wish from the two tiered buffet. The buffet has everything from sandwiches to salads, vegetables, to meat, and everything in between.

I sampled a bit and enjoyed everything on my plate. You could easily make a light meal from the buffet happy hour if you didn't want a full dinner. They also have a menu if you prefer something hot to go with your wine. Most glasses are about 5 Euros or $6, so when you consider you can eat as much as you want with a drink for this price, it's an amazing value. Add the charming ambience and indoor /outdoor seating, and you have a very good address to go to before or after dinner.
The Piazza Navona is a huge draw (you'll see why in a later post), and sometimes finding a place in the heart of tourist central is a challenge, but I found a place to sit and people watch nearby, without all the crowds. Mimi & Coco is a wine bar, but like all the wine bars I saw in Rome, they offer food and coffee as well. My glass of organic red wine was 5 Euros or $6 US (5 Euros seems to be the standard price in Rome for a nice glass of wine). Chips and pretzels were offered with my drink, and the tables of tourists next to me were eating California sized pizzas and salads. A great plus at this place is free wifi, so I got to catch up on my social media as I rested my legs and watched other people navigate all the cobblestone streets:)