My mom and I just got back from a 12-day trip to Italy. It was spurred by her reading this article in the New York Times and getting super excited about trying all the different kinds of pasta and exploring the concept of "sprezzatura." She couldn't wait to try cacio e pepe.
Shortly after arriving in Rome, we discover 1) she doesn't like Pecorino Romano (the "cacio" of cacio e pepe) 2) She doesn't like meat in her pasta, which limits her classic Roman pasta options to, basically, cacio e pepe.
Our trip was full of these kinds of things: my mom doesn't really give a shit about food, while it is 80% of my joy in life; my mom wants to wander through churches and see art, I want to see historical places and the bottoms of wine glasses; she's drawn to old crumbling walls, I love modern developments. I knew this going in, of course, and we definitely found a happy medium of activities. We started in Rome, then stopped in Milan (for me), Venice (for her), and then back for an extended stay in Rome. Here were the highlights of our trip:
Important things first. Where to eat:
Hands down the best dining experience we had on this trip. Don't be fooled by its location near all the touristy spots, this place serves up some serious pasta. It's not that expensive, either! Call ahead to reserve — we arrived around 2pm for lunch, but they were full...luckily the waiter returned while we were regrouping outside and told us they had a table for us. I had pasta alla grigia (basically bacon pasta) with chewy homemade tonnarelli and perfectly crisp guanciale — it was incredible. My mom even admitted it was "another level" above her beloved Da Tonino (see below).
This tiny restaurant was my mom's happy place. A popular neighborhood spot, there's a decent chance you'll have to wait, but it's worth it for the cheap and delicious dishes. My mom got the ravioli every time, I was partial to their version of carbonara.
When you get tired of pasta all day every day (I guess this is possible for some people?) this is a cute place to come with other options. Mom got one of their crispy potato dishes, I got a salad, both were exactly what we needed.
It was unfortunately closed during our trip, but I have fond memories of this family-run place and the incredible mosaics in the museum next door.
Great Roman-style pizza.
(Side note: Our food tour and Trip Advisor sent me to Da Enzo 29 — there was a huge line to get in but I was NOT impressed with the food. Their tiramisu is bomb though.)
Things to do:
Oh geez, I don't know. It's fucking Rome. We skipped the Colosseum and Roman Forum because we had been before, but you should go if you haven't been. The Capitoline Museums were great if overwhelming — definitely save a lot of time for these, as we saw maybe half. My favorite part of Rome (other than shopping at Abiti e Sogni, which we passed by on our jet-lagged first day there and spent the rest of the trip searching for again —but I found it!) was probably wandering through the Borghese gardens, while my mom savored her favorite church, San Luigi dei Francesi (yes, it's French). We had a lovely walk down Via dei Coronari, which had lots of cute shops along the way. Next time we go, I definitely want to explore Castel Sant'Angelo.
I lived here for two years, so I could write a book about things to do in Milan. I loved exploring the new (to me) construction by Porto Nuova (there was a Christmas market with an ice skating rink when we went, but the fountain area is beautiful all year long). My favorite aperitivo place (you pay about 10 euro for a drink and food buffet) in Milan is La Ringhiera, there are also some good ones in Brera. There's a beautiful walk (full of good shopping, I might add) from Duomo down Via Torino, by the Colonne di San Lorenzo, by the park/church of San Lorenzo, ending at the Navigli. My mom's special place is Castello Sforzesco; she loves imagining life within the old walls. This city is very close to my heart, so there are too many things I love to fit into one post.
I did not have high hopes for Venice, as I had been unimpressed on my previous two visits. We stayed in Hotel Moresco, which immediately changed my mind about the city. Welcome drink upon checkin, bottle of prosecco waiting in the room, a snack buffet in the evening, and gorgeous view of the canals. Speaking of snacks, seafood-heavy Venice is not really my culinary scene, but I tried cicchetti (had never heard of it before — basically Venetian tapas) at Cantine del vino gia' Schiavi, which were great! Of course, St. Mark's cathedral is stunning — pay the extra 5 euro or whatever to go upstairs. But my favorite thing we did in Venice was go see Ca' Rezzonico. Think of it as "MTV's Cribs" for 18th century Venice (PS, if you think rappers go overboard now, just wait until you see the ceiling frescoes). Absolutely beautiful, with a colorful history to match. Can't wait to go back and explore the other palazzi.
Overall it was a wonderful trip. We didn't go anywhere I hadn't been, or visit my favorite Italian city (Sorrento), but I was happy to get to know Rome better. I was lucky to enjoy classic, delicious food, see historic beauty, practice my other language, and of course, spend time with my mother. Happy to provide other recommendations as desired!