Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Real Pizza, the Vatican, Cul de Sac for dinner and Rome by Night

What could be more Italian than Pizza?  Well... actually quite a few things, however when in Rome one has pizza.  Not the pizza we have here in America, or at least not what most of us have come to consider pizza, but something much more refined and delicious.

Baked in ultra hot ovens Italian pizza usually comes with a thin crust, many times crunchy on the edges and is topped with any number of combinations.  Usually lighter on the sauce than what we have locally and definitely with a higher quality of cheese than you will find at Dominos, Italian pizzas will indeed spoil you forever.

Eager for my first real Italian pizza in over 20 years I excitedly pointed out my choice as my husband, a fan of true American pizza, skeptically pointed out his.  With a cannoli tossed in for good measure, we made our way to a small table and took our first, wonderfully delicious bites of the thin crusted delight.

Taking me back 25 years, memories of my first and never forgotten Italian pizzas came flooding back.  Checking my husband's impressions I was darn pleased to see that he also was enjoying his pizza, though I think given the choice he still has a preference for the American version of thick crust and extra sauce.  He kindly didn't tell me that though!

Satiated and content, we met up once again with Lindy, from Angel Tours, and our small group made its way right past the lengthy line of guests waiting to enter the Vatican (a wonderful benefit of this tour company).  For the next four hours our group of 8 traveled through the rooms of the Vatican Museum, the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel taking in as many frescoes, statues, maps and tapestries as our minds could hold.

Lindy again provided a running narrative of the history of the Vatican including facts on architecture and artists as well as the residents of the tiny country.  Filling our heads with the lore of the city, the Vatican Museum walls seemed to come to life with stories of the artists who took part in the creation of the many treasures on view.

A fan of the pristine white marble statues, I was shocked to learn that in Roman times the statues would have been considered unfinished.  Finished statues were colorful creations, with paints coloring the clothing, eyes, hair, etc of the statues, only the skin remained the pristine white that we are so used to today.  As I wandered through the many rooms admiring the statues I just could not get past the fact that they used to be colorful.

The Gallery of Tapestries and the Room of Maps were simply awesome.  Exhibiting works hundreds of years old, the tapestries are woven masterpieces with detail that is hard to comprehend.  In addition, the maps frescoed onto the walls of the map gallery represent the Italian regions in the late 1500's, while the ornate ceiling of the gallery is a work of art in and of itself.

Huge tapestries woven hundreds of years ago with amazing detail
Most impressive to my husband and myself were the Raphael Rooms which actually served as the former apartments of Pope Julius II.  Pope Julius gave Raphael complete license to fresco the rooms and even to cover up the works of his former master, Perugino.  The rooms have been cleaned and refurbished bringing the brilliant colors of the walls back to life.

The works of Raphael
Imagining someone actually living in these rooms is somehow beyond belief.  The thought of kicking your feet up and enjoying an evening cocktail while surrounded by such impressive works has me wondering if the Pope actually took notice every day of his incredibly gorgeous and detailed surroundings.  I'm choosing to think that he did.

Probably the most recognizable frescoes of the Vatican are those of Michaelangelo's in the Sistine Chapel.  Simple words can not do justice to the works enclosed in this chapel, and cameras are not allowed.  Let it just be said that one could spend hours in the chapel and still not take it all in.  Simply a must visit sometime in your life.

St. Peter's Basilica
Leaving us outside the Basilica, Lindy provided the history and facts of the structure and the treasures within.  Noting that a Mass was being held, we were told access to some areas may be limited, but we entered anyway and wandered through the treasures taking in Michaelangelo's Pieta in the process.  The Basilica is beyond impressive and brings a feeling of overall peace upon entering.

As I wandered to the front of the Basilica audible gasps were heard all around as the choir from the mass began to sing.  Many people, myself included, stood, tears streaming down our faces, as we took in the sheer beauty of the moment... a moment that will most likely not be repeated in this lifetime and most certainly never forgotten.

Taking our leave of the Vatican just as the sun set we took a few moments to savor the view from the bridge near the Castel Sant' Angelo, just outside of the Vatican.  With the sun setting and the lights beginning to shine, the scene took on a magical quality, setting the Vatican forever in our memory.

Hungry after our long afternoon tour we made our way to Nadia's (our B and B, The Amaranto Romano's, host) dining recommendation of Cul de Sac, an Enoteca (wine bar) rumored to have an extremely extensive wine list.

Extensive wine selection??  Yep!
Just outside of the Piazza Navona, Cul de Sac is a small establishment with an inviting, cozy decor offering seating options either inside or out, and yes they have an extremely extensive wine offering.  Sitting at our table our server provided two English menus and an inch-thick binder... the wine list!  Luckily the knowledgeable young servers didn't disappoint with the wine recommendations they provided as we found the inch-thick binder somewhat overwhelming.

Options ranging from cheese and salami plates to pasta to beef, the menu also did not disappoint.  Choosing the cheese and salami plate as a starter we perused the rest of the menu in search of the perfect meal.  The Ravioli became my favorite pick of the evening... filled with ricotta and topped with additional cheese and a touch of pistachio these little pasta pockets had a delightfully unexpected lemon finish.  Even my non-ravioli loving husband went back for seconds on this dish.  The accompanying Greek salad with a slab of fresh feta was also enjoyed as was the steaming bowl of good 'ole pasta with meat sauce.  Once again, feeling incomplete without tasting the Tiramisu, my husband let me have all but his little taste.  Light and flavorful with a liquor and coffee finish, this tender cake was simply divine.

Cul de Sac provided a wonderfully authentic meal which remains a highlight of our meals in Rome.  Food, wine and enjoyable service along with reasonable prices will keep this meal memorable for a long time to come.

Roman Streets at night
Tired after our long day of walking topped off with a good meal we began to make our way back to the Amaranto Romano.  Wandering the cobblestoned streets at night the golden glow of the street lights transformed the Eternal City into a magical sort of place.  Small side streets glowed in romantic hues and an older couple walking together caught my eye.  Obviously local, the couple made their way up the street with the gentleman holding his wife's arm to steady her.  All the while they whispered together smiling, obviously in love.

After 3 days of nearly nonstop touring, this moment of peacefulness and satiation became the exact moment our minds moved from the fast pace of everyday life to the relaxing speed of vacation.  Grabbing each others hand we gazed at the couple for a moment longer then turned to continue on our own way, smiling with an understanding that one day that couple would be us...  Rome is beautiful.

My husband caught this little bit of the choir singing in the Basilica... the quality is not ideal but it will give a glimpse to the incredible beauty of the moment!


  1. Again, I am SO FREAKIN' JEALOUS you are in Italy. That is my favorite place! Isn't the vatican incredible? I can't get over how gorgeous it is.

  2. I just caught up on reading - I didn't know you are in Italy! I've been dreaming of visiting there for many many years and it was so fun reading your posts. Well Kim, HAVE TONS OF FUN and eat EVERYTHING for me!!!

  3. Wow, what an amazing trip you're having! It sounds like you're savoring every minute!

  4. I love the food in Italy - and the pizza is amazing! Once you've had it - you're spoiled forever! Thanks for taking me back....

  5. What a trip you are having, Kim! Wow. That pizza looks mighty good, I've always preferred mine thin and crispy. And oh, all that lovely wine!

  6. Ciao Kim-Your photos are amazing!I'm so happy about your Italy trip and can't wait to hear more about it. xx

  7. I'm sold on everything this post has to offer. I'm such a sucker for anything and everything Italian - Ben and I are hoping to take our honeymoon to Italy :) ~Megan

  8. You had the trip of a lifetime in terms of history and food, and oh yes, the wine. Your little video clip inside the Basilica was mesmerizing. I can just imagine actually being there.

  9. Your photos of Rome are just breath-taking! (I went about 10 years ago now, and my photos are rubbish!). I do love just about everything about Rome, from food to art to architecture, history, people, etc. And I never made it into St Peter's (queue was too long) so thank you for the peak!

  10. That pizza, those pictures!! Kim I am so impressed. Everything looks so beautiful. Thank you for taking us on a guided tour!

  11. Your trip is wonderful, and I love that you are sharing it with us. I have been several of these places so it is a trip down memory lane.
    The pizza I will give it to you is WAY better in Italy.

  12. Have I mentioned how jealous I am!? Your photos are so beautiful too!

  13. I was in Italy in June and had pizza 7 of 10 days! Pizza is soooo good there. It is such a beautiful place.

  14. oh dear God, what a lovely pizzas..Love seeing your photos, can't wait to see more updates!!!


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