Senatus Populusque Romanus.

Anyone who knows me knows that I adore Rome. I romanticize it. I constantly talk about it. Constantly. When Shaun found a way to work it into our honeymoon travel itinerary I practically married him on the spot. But then I fantasized about how awesome a Roman wedding would be and decided it would be best to postpone the festivities.

Our arrival in Rome was bittersweet. I was still pretty sad to leave Nice so early. Then, the air conditioning broke in our train car and they moved us to another train car that never had air conditioning in the first place. Then these people that were drinking themselves silly presumably to avoid the heat started driving me bat shit crazy. I truly hope you all followed through on your plans to visit one another in Sydney/New York/London, because you sure talked about it LOUD ENOUGH. Then, we had to wait in the longest line in the world to secure our tickets from Rome to our next stop. Actually, it wasn’t even a line, it was a huge blob of people. Lines are so 2011.

But a quick walk from Termini to our hotel [booked via American Express Travel, highly recommend their services] and a light dinner changed my mood rather quickly. We shared* a smoked swordfish appetizer and a dish of cacio e pepe, a traditional Roman pasta [translates to cheese and pepper] that was so perfectly al dente I died on the table. It put our airplane pasta to shame. We had cacio e pepe three times over the course of our Italian stay [research, obviously], and the first night’s was the winner.

This trip to Rome was remarkably different for us than each of our first times. We opted to skip out on all of the tourist attractions and instead focused on basically two tasks: an “espresso-off” and a “gelato-off.” Everyone drinks coffee and eats gelato in Rome, but we wanted to find the best of the best, and we certainly did. That’s not to say we didn’t pass by the cool stuff on our walks…


Il Foro Romano.

La Piazza Navona.

Trevi. Right before some kid started pointing a laser pointer at Oceanus’ junk.

But before the contest results, let me re-cap three places that blew my freaking mind. Walking home one night, we passed this adorable ivy-covered bar. It caught Shaun’s eye so we returned the next night to Ai Tre Scalini and had arguably the best bar experience. The bartenders were totally cool with my broken Italian, and helped us order their favorite wines and beers. I was hooked on a white wine called Capolemole – a local, organic varietal; and Shaun had Menabrea Amber beer. We snacked on tarallini – crackers made with anise that I will be recreating because I can’t stop thinking about them. We sat there for hours and almost nixed our gelato plans…but in the end, gelato won. Could have been the Capolemole.

Il Fornaio was a tiny bakery where Shaun got Roman-style pizza for lunch [cut with scissors and folded together like a sandwich] and these tiny pistachio cookies. How do I describe these cookies? I can’t. They aren’t real. Soft, creamy, with a crunchy pistachio exterior. We broke them into tiny bites to savor them. I got pistachio all over myself. We stumbled upon this place on our way to the Campo dei Fiori, a – wait for it – market, where I got a lunch of fresh fruit and veggies. Damn, Europeans do markets right.

But our true task in Rome was a gelato-off and espresso-off. Here’s what we found:

Espresso: Il Caffe Sant’Eustachio versus Tazza d’Oro

There is no espresso like an Italian espresso, and there is no Italian espresso like the ones served at Caffe Sant’Eustachio in Rome. The key to a good espresso, as every article raving about this place will tell you is machinery and consistency. You have to have a good machine, and it has to be constantly pulling espressos [for a fantastic article, check out this 2002 NY Times piece on the Caffe and why American espresso is sub-par, generally]. Then, you get a smooth espresso with a thick khaki-colored foam on top. By thick, I mean like, inches. You can spoon it into your mouth like a dessert. It’s the most unbelievable sight, and the most unbelievable espresso that no other coffee shop came close to replicating. Unfortunately, if you sit down at a table to people-watch here, the price of your espresso triples from 1.20 to 3.60, and the waiter is more concerned with putting on a show for tourists than your coffee. To get the true people-watching experience, Tazza d’Oro [also near the Pantheon] is perfect. While their espresso is only second-best, the people watching is first-rate and it’s definitely worth the [minor] cut in quality to get the best seats in the city. In any event, espresso will never be the same for us.

Winner: Caffe Sant’Eustachio.

Gelato: Il Gelato di San Crispino versus Giolitti’s

Who knew there was nuance in gelato? To me, it always just tasted delicious. That’s probably because I subscribed to the Giolitti’s camp my first trip to Rome. When Shaun suggested this other place, I was like WHAT? “But…Giolitti’s exists,” I whined as Shaun dragged me to San Crispino. Okay, he didn’t drag me. There was gelato at the end of the walk. I went willingly. I’m sort of like Grady in that way: WILL WALK FOR SNACKS.

It’s a little more difficult to crown the winner of this battle, but I made a cute little “pros” and “cons” chart in my notebook to help break down the two. San Crispino is more of a pretentious experience. The gelato is kept in sealed metal containers: you are not allowed to see or sample the gelato until you make your choice. It’s much smaller and quieter than Giolitti’s – but that could be because it is stupidly expensive. I mean stupidly. We paid nine Euros [Roughly 12 American dollars] for two small cups of gelato. But… that gelato is stunning. It’s very dense, so it doesn’t melt quickly. They’re famous for adding meringue bits to the gelato, and it’s certainly a nice touch. I enjoyed hazelnut meringue and banana flavors, but felt terribly guilty about the price.

Where San Crispino loses in price and quantity and flair, Giolitti’s picks up the slack. Two larges at Giolitti’s was cheaper than San Crispino’s two smalls, and they give you a little bit of fresh whipped-cream on top, too. The flavors were delicious: I tried gnutella and crema; however, the gelato is much less dense and melts nearly immediately [especially because did I mention it was insanely hot the entire first half of our trip?]. We weren’t able to savor the flavors and by the time we found a space to sit and eat my pants were covered in chocolate goo. I was pretty angry.

Winner: It’s a toss-up. I can’t advocate for stupidly expensive gelato, so I still vote Giolitti’s because it is basically awesome, but I’d say give both a try and see for yourself if you have a couple bucks to spare.

All in all, our trip to Rome was relaxing and unique. I love that city, and I loved experiencing its culture in a way divorced from the “big stuff.” I don’t regret not wasting four hours of my day waiting in line at the Vatican; in fact, I think I liked this Roman experience much better [except for the actor posing as a gladiator that hit my neck with his sword. I hated that moment]. Could have been the company, though. But that said, I think I’ll save my next visit for the spring or fall.

* In other news, I cannot tell you how many times Shaun and I got the response, “That’s it?” from our servers after ordering our meal. I guess cities are used to tourists gnar-ing out at dinner [which we CERTAINLY would have done had we only been traveling for a week], but it was so odd to hear “That’s all?” after ordering an appetizer and two small entrees. If I had the patience, I would have kindly explained that I was eating out thirty five days in a row, but I have no patience, nor can I speak Hungarian. Or German. Or French. Or Dutch.





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Categories: Travel, Wedding


Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: Tumblr:


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