Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Roamin' in Rome

Rome is the Eternal City whose history spans over two and a half thousand years. And around every corner is evidence of its architectural, artistic, culinary, historical and religious influence. Whew!! After arriving from New York and a quick 2 hours sleep, we started our day with cappucino at an outdoor café. The warm Roman sun and the caffeine started to melt away some of the jetlag before we headed to a specialty store in search of basil olive oil. They were fresh out of the oil, but had plenty of pasta to choose from. I found an interesting pasta, called maltagliati, that is irregularly cut flat pasta that I'll experiment with. I love a challenge! Walking along, we stopped in Santa Maria in Via Church. It has a long and ancient history with a chapel built around a holy well. Some refer to the well water as miracle water. Reverently, we took a sip from cups of the water that are served in the chapel as we thought about its complex history. Continuing through the streets I was able to capture a photo of my friend Debbie as she looked up at Pope John Paul II. OK, no miracle here, she was just standing in front of a poster for his beatification in Rome this month :-) A few blocks away as the contrasting heavens looked down, a band played Hava Nagila (Debbie is Jewish...how did they know?!) as we walked in front of the Pantheon. Directly across from the Pantheon are the remnants of a closed McDonalds. Another Roman relic. Around the corner is Basilica di Sant'Agostino where Madonna di Loreto, a Caravaggio hangs that was painted in 1604. According to Wikipedia, "While beautiful, the Virgin Mary could be any woman emerging from the night shadows......the scene is a moment where everyday common man (or woman) encounters the divine, whose appearance is not unlike that of a common man (or woman). History and art are at every footstep. As well as Gelaterias, and that is a good thing....a very good thing. At Piazza Navona, there are several fountains. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I decided to take a drink, but I think my miracle water wish of world peace went out of door here. I'm pretty sure my miracle was used up by not getting some crazy, water fountain bacteria. We were on the way to our friend Magda's jewelry and art glass store, La Fornace, The cobblestone streets meandered along the way as my appetite built with each step. We weren't the only ones thinking about dinner.We had reservations at Trattoria Moderna and I couldn't wait. Some of Magda's artwork grace the tables of this warm and friendly restaurant. Rose buds rest in her blown glass vases and desserts are presented on her glass platters. The dishes that came from the kitchen were also works of art. After plates of assorted starters, my main course of paccheri pasta with sausage, radicchio and pear arrived from the busy kitchen. It was a masterful combination of tastes. The divine with the common. Just when we thought we didn't have any room left for dessert, Magda somehow had one of her beautiful platters arrive with about a half dozen different desserts. Sorry that I don't have any good photos, my hands were too busy deciding what to try first! We finished everything and could have used a long walk back to the hotel, but Magda gave us a ride through the narrow twisting streets of Rome....the city of miracles.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

From Buda to Pest

I like to look for the magic in places and things. There can be alchemy when you least expect it......around the corner, behind a door, in a taste, with a combination of certain people or just over a bridge. In the airline business we are almost always working with different people and going to different places. Some people and places we know, some we don't. Each trip is anew and open to the magic. Crossing from Pest to Buda over the Chain Bridge during a warm spring day felt like undoing the first ribbon of a bow from a present.A funicular is in sight that takes you up to Castle Hill. The innovative funicular was first opened in 1870 and was sadly destroyed in the second World War. It was rebuilt and opened again in 1986, and still has its original appearance. It almost seems a ride in history as you take the short trip up the hill. Walking around Castle Hill there is beauty everywhere....man made and natural. And the view over to Pest is stunning. Buda has a much different feel from Pest. When the cities combined into one, they became more than the sum of their parts. Another depth was created. Buda has old world charm with its colorful architecture and new world dining. My friends and I decided to stop at Café Pierrot for appetizers, and thought we'd sit outside along the street. Instead we were ushered inside to a courtyard filled with stone walls covered with vines, while the sounds of chirping birds filled the air. After a full day, the the lights of the city appeared in the gloaming of the evening. Not many cities transform as beautifully in the fall of sunset as Budapest. The funicular entry looked like a jewel box in the night. We decided to walk down the steps instead of taking the funicular. Along the precarious descent, the view of the Chain Bridge looking over to Pest takes your breath away.St. Stephen's Basilica is lit with a golden glow just beyond the bridge. You almost don't want the night to end but, of course, it does.

A new day begins, and does a day begin much better than with handmade sour cherry strudel that is warm out of the oven.
I think not. The Elsö Pesti Strudel House makes their own strudel while you watch. I was curious about all of the flavors and asked about the cabbage strudel. I was told it goes well with beer, Hungarian beer. Then we were given one to try...minus the beer! It is a good thing this is so far away from my home in Massachusetts, I think I could easily make their strudel a habit.

Pest has its share of places and grand architecture, too. The Four Seasons Hotel is a palace that was built for the Gresham Insurance Company in 1906. They felt it was a safer place to invest their money than the stock market. Very wise. It is a fine example of Art Nouveau in the Vienna Secessionist manner. At first impression the modern glass chandelier in the lobby looks like a Dale Chihuly work of art, but the artist was Hungarian.
Ironwork with peacocks adorns the windows throughout the hotel. There is a quiet elegance here. Several blocks away is St. Stephen's Basilica which looks very different in the daytime. It was named after Stephen, Hungary's first King (c 975-1038). His mummified fist is housed in the reliquary. Around the corner approaching the square, things become lively. A group of young men had their own choreography as they jumped for joy in front of the basilica. No mummified fists here.I sat with them and they jumped while I snapped a few pics and I was glad they didn't ask me to return the favor. Inside the basilica belied the activity going on outside. The quietness was stilling. At the top of the basilica steps you can see over the river to Buda. A short walk away is Gerbeaud, a coffeehouse located along the Vaci utca pedestrian street. It is hard to decide what you might want among the many pastries and confections. I bought a little surprise for my daughter for when she comes home this summer (yes, it will last.) You can dine inside the grand building or outside on the plaza where there is sometimes a little music being played. Before the weather gets warm, many of the cafés offer coverlets that are draped over the chairs outside. Very civil. Walking further down Vaci utca and over a few blocks from the touristy fray is a restaurant, Bor la Bor Restaurant and Wine Bar. It is downstairs with a wine cellar decor. The chandelier is cleverly made from glass wine making containers. A seltzer bottle sits on the table and the food is purely Hungarian with a home cooked flavor. Naturally, the wine menu is extensive. For dinner I had a veal stew with gnocchi. It was interesting to compare Hungarian gnocchi with the Italian gnocchi my son and I make. It was more like sptäzle, which is smaller and shaped differently. If I had had a Hungarian grandmother, I know she would have made something similar and just as divine. We were with a native Hungarian friend who said he uses a special pan to make his gnocchi. And like the final unwrapping of the present, he ran up to his apartment and gave one of his pans to me to take home. Magic.

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