The healing powers of the hotel bar

Right. So, we’re in Roma and recovered from the ignominy of dining at 7pm last night (with the tourists!) and ready to get out there. About this time last year, I was probably heaping praise on this hotel’s breakfast spread, so I’ll skip that bit, but suffice to say we were appropriately fortified to face the challenge of peak hour roman traffic to return our little Panda to the hire company.

The GPS had plotted a circuitous route that saw us plunge headfirst into the centre of Roma – so long as we could extract ourselves from the tetris-style park the Panda was now part of. A Smart4Two had parked perpendicular to the curb not 10cm behind us and ahead was about 20cm before the next car. Without the aid of reversing cameras, but with the able waving assistance of Pip, we managed to extract ourselves and escape as the next car was preparing to reverse into the space (how they even thought they could it, I do not know). The drive was surprisingly uneventful, despite the near squashing of a van driver who exited his vehicle while it was triple-parked in a two way street with triple-parked cars on both sides – we even managed to get fuel before we reached the rental car office.

Car dumped, we turned our attention to the eternal search for a wee café and found a jolly barista who even provided directions to the nearest railway station (’cause we were out in the Roman suburbs). In all the times we’ve been to Roma, we’ve never used the trains to get anywhere other than from or to the airport, and we even spoke of the metro, another first for us in Roma. The train was on an elevated line and we weren’t quite sure of our destination, which we subsequently discovered we over-shot by a couple of stations, and had to return to a station where the tannoy announcement boldly asserted that it was possible to change to the metro line A. The signs to metro line A pointed us out the door. That was it. Out in the car park – no metro station in sight. Turned out that it was indeed possible to change to the metro line A if you were prepared to walk about two kms up hill and around several corners. We did and metro line A soon delivered us to Termini, the main station and a short walk from Eataly in Piazza della Repubblica. We discovered Eataly in New York – the co-creation of a number of folk including Iron Chef, Mario Batali – and were keen to see the Italian version. Not as big, or extensive, (there is another larger one across Roma) but a likely luncheon venue and gift-atorium. Lunch was good, but not fantastic and we were successful in the gift buying department, before we headed out to join a large crowd of folk ogling the frozen fountain in the middle of the Piazza – unusual for Roma apparently.

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Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri – all freezed up.

Now fully engaged with the metro thing, we returned to the depths and subway-ed our way to the Spanish Steps, which featured another frozen fountain as well as the usual thronging masses and horse-drawn carriages. We spent the afternoon roaming the expensive shops along the Via Veneto and down around Via Corso, before stumbling into a sneaker shop to spoil our children (who are both sneaker-freakers). We had to take pics and seek approval and correct sizes before we could return to the shops tomorrow for purchasing. (even after the pictures, number young son wanted us to FaceTime him from the store tomorrow and film the rows of shoes …)

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Who approval required

A big day’s walking meant a big taxi home and a couple of hours in the well appointed hotel bar trying a range of remedies. Unwilling to risk being run out of town as early diners, we waited in the bar until 8:30-ish before heading up the road to the restaurant district of Trastevere for to find a restaurant. We found a very lively Tonnarello that provided us with a very lovely dinner and an amount of red wine to further aid our recovery from the big walking day. It was all fried squid, ox tail and meatballs before a dash back to the hotel in the -4C night.

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Tonnarello

There’s a scorpion in my lollipop.

I’ll see how I go with this update post a bottle of Beaujolais and some other red wine… gulping sweet orange soft drink seems to clear my mind.

There was a shop we read about that sold skeletons and bugs and crystals and weird stuff in Spring Street, just off Broadway. We made for that one first up today. Evolution is certainly filled with all manner of bugs in resin (and in lollipops if you’re so inclined), skeletons of humans and of creatures, taxidermy-ed (I know it’s wrong to say,”stuffed”) creatures great and small, crystals, rocks, and cane toad wallets. There are skulls crafted from pool balls, tiny skull beads, big skull beads, skull earrings, skulls, skull t-shirts, and things in goopy blue stuff. There are freeze-dried bats to hang in your room and a moose’s head to hang in your cabin, It’s an Alladin’s cave of ghoulish gifts and Victorian wonder. We lingered a while and left with only a card of paper crafted from elephantine poo, before heading off on a return trip to Eataly.

Pip was intent on acquiring a Chef Mario Batali salt grinder to grind our salt and we both wanted Number Big Son to experience the Eataly Experience. Eataly sits in the narrow shadow of the Flatiron Building on Fifth Ave, where it meets Broadway, a fact that slipped by me the other night when Pip and I landed there for dinner. The location didn’t elude me, just the Flatiron Building. I’ve said before that my usually solid navigational skills are shot in New York – it’s the subway I blame – it’s like when you put a blindfold on and they spin you around and then point you at the donkey with a tail and a pin in your hand, except they don’t point you at the donkey. Eataly also sits beside the Marimekko store, which required intense scrutiny, but which came up short because the Tokyo version was much better priced. Eataly again blew our minds with its sheer size and scale, so much so that we needed to heed Anthony Bourdain’s advice and head to the Shakeshack in Madison Square Park across the road for lunch.

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I’m sure I read somewhere that this was Anthony’s pick for burgers in New York and if that is as true as I think, he was right – excellent burgers and in a chilly outdoor setting beset by squirrels behaving like ibis do at home. The little grey buggers were harassing people and climbing on tables to steal fries. Furry seagulls.

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Critters left behind in the park, we decided to walk five blocks east through Chelsea to the Highline, a park that has been created on a disused elevated rail track starting in the Meatpackers district and heading north for a couple of miles. I was momentarily sidetracked by a barber for an NYC haircut, which was a pleasant and stylish experience, though quite expensive at $40, before we climbed the stairs at 23rd Street and headed south along the Highline.

20131106-234936.jpg It’s an impressive achievement with beautiful gardens and places to sit and a path to traverse with scattered artworks and photo opportunities laid on with spades. We took an hour or so to stroll along and through before heading back down to earth and home on the subway.

Pip and I rested up some, before heading off up Broadway (Williamsburg) to a restaurant called Marlow and Sons. The regular readers among you may recall a butcher shop we loved last week called, Marlow and Daughters, well this is across the road and they also run a well known menu-less establishment called, Diner, between the two. What a great place. Dark and loud and crowded and hip. This was where the Beaujolais I mentioned earlier came from, along with some freshly shucked oysters, tortilla, pork loin chops and beef shanks with radishes – all served beautifully and delicious and only three blocks from home.

Fleaing from Flatbush

First day of winter and it’s t-shirt weather. Pip actually got sunburned. It was a Saturday, which called for a market and we chose one of the many on offer according to it’s proximity to places we have not yet ventured. Fort Green and the Brooklyn Flea became our market du jour. This is in one of the leafier parts of Brooklyn, all brown stones and orange trees at this time of the year. The market is held in a school playground and features a fabulous collection of antiques, collectables, food and drink, and vintage clothing. Pip and I spent about an hour perusing and wishing there was a way to fit some of the larger items into our carry-on luggage.

Number big son had branched out on his own to track down a particularly elusive record shop. He did strike problems though and it’s the same problem we have struck many times – knowing which way to go when you emerge from the subway. It’s shouldn’t be so hard, but the number of times we’ve headed off in the exact opposite direction with great confidence is truly undermining my, and now number big son’s, male sense of navigational ability. I’m about to activate the iCompass on my phone to see if that helps (I’m fairly sure the iLevel won’t) and Google Maps has led me astray more than once – I have another five days to get this right.

After the Brooklyn Flea, we headed off down Lafayette and then Fulton through some beautiful neighbourhoods and very ‘sceney’ cafés and bars populated by some very beautiful people and then one block too far and we hit Flatbush Ave. Flatbush Ave is not populated by beautiful folk in dainty bars – there was a shirtless, shoeless man offering single sheaths of wheat and warm words from the bible; rows of fried shops with filthy windows and tattered lounge chairs outside and more stares than we cared to endure. One block too far required a quick u-turn and stately dive down the nearest subway entrance and onto any train that said Uptown – Manhattan. We stopped our frightened tourist run at 71st and Amsterdam, which as anyone who knows New York realises is a damn long way, but we emerged into the sunlight and book-lined avenues of the upper west side, where the stores have clean windows and the fruit and veggies glisten in the sun. Perhaps I exagerate, but we weren’t in Flatbush Ave anymore Toto.

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We lurched into a restaurant for lunch, keen to try a cuisine we had not experienced and I think we found Le Caridad 78banksy probably provided a cuisine that no one other than those who have been to Le Caridad 78 had ever experienced as Chinese-Cuban fusion is yet to take off outside the corner of 77th and Broadway. I’ll leave it at interesting. Interesting also was the fact that just around the corner in 78th Street was a Banksy, now preserved under perspex and still attracting keen photographic interest. It was the 20th piece in his recent NYC residency and we just had a quick look and a quick pic before heading home to rest up for dinner out tonight.

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Pip and I had been keen to go to Chef Mario Batali’s, Eataly on 5th Avenue at Madison Square. What a place! It’s both foodie and Italiophile heaven with several restaurants in amongst a market that sells meat, cheese, vegetables, fish, bread, cooking utensils and anything else that’s edible and produced in Italy. We put our names down for a table in the fish restaurant, then stood in the meat hall and had beer, prosecco and prosciutto while we waited. We ended up sitting at the bar in the fish restaurant looking in at the open kitchen drooling. Pip took the squid – 3 whole ones grilled in chilli and lemon – while I opted for crunchy whiting and blowfish tails. Talk about amoré! Molto damn yummy. We left the fish restaurant and moved to the gelateria for a quick dessert before the subway home, where we discussed ways to avoid the Marathon tomorrow.

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