The Story of One of the Best Meals I've Ever Eaten

As part of my Rome series this week (make sure you check out my weekend guide to the city here) I'm including this bonus story about one of the best all-around dining experiences I've ever had.

This occurred on our last night in Rome at the restaurant La Pianostrada. My friends heard about this restaurant after meeting some cool kids from USC (California not Carolina) who were studying in Rome for the semester. They insisted we go to this restaurant and that it was absolutely incredible.

When I hear recommendations like this, I'm never one to object. Because I was staying with my friend Ricky and not with the rest of my friends who I traveled to Rome with, we agreed to meet at the restaurant at 9. Ricky and I got there first and guys, I was a little distressed.

You see, this restaurant was the hole-in-the-wall joint of my dreams. There was just one problem. We were dealing with a group of nine loud, hungry, slightly buzzed American dudes and this place had about two tables and a small bar that seated about six or so. And all those seats were filled.

  Nope, there's not more restaurant hiding in the back. What you see it what you get at this place. Photo by Max Siskind.

Nope, there's not more restaurant hiding in the back. What you see it what you get at this place. Photo by Max Siskind.

We waited until the rest of our friends arrived to let the restaurant know that we would be attempting to come in with a large group. One of the four women running the place who we talked to saw our large group and her eyes went wide. In her best English she said "I'm not sure we can do this."

We were understanding and began to walk away, our stomaches empty and heads hung low. But then she said "Wait! You can come back in about 20 minutes and we will figure something out." That was good enough for us.

So we walked around a little bit, had a little bit more to drink and headed back over to the restaurant. Lo and behold, most of the people in the restaurant who were there when we first got there were gone and they had put the tables together and took just about every seat in the place and put them around the table for us.

Talk about service. As I said before, this place is run by four women. I'm not sure if they're family or just friends, but what they are doing in this place is nothing short of miraculous. It's four of them back behind the bar cranking out an entire menu of sandwiches and dishes of the day on a bunch of hot plates and one or two ovens.

And they make their own homemade bread. Need I say more? I don't really need too, but I'm definitely going to. They also change the menu pretty much every day, handwriting each plate on a piece of construction paper and taping it up around the restaurant.

  Three out of four of the lovely ladies behind the bar. You can catch a sneak peek of some of that homemade bread I mentioned behind them. Photo by Max Siskind.

Three out of four of the lovely ladies behind the bar. You can catch a sneak peek of some of that homemade bread I mentioned behind them. Photo by Max Siskind.

What's on that menu basically depends on what they can carry back from the market on that particular day. These ladies aren't messing around. The restaurant is also run out of the bottom of an apartment building. I saw a guy hanging up laundry while we were waiting to go inside.

When I asked to use the restroom, I was shushed and hurried to the back of the restaurant, "You can use it, but don't let anyone see you because it's our personal bathroom." Literally there was a washer/dryer, a shoe rack and makeup on the sink guys. I've never taken the phrase "make yourself at home" so literally before. But I loved every second of it.

  The construction paper menu in all of its glory. Photo by Max Siskind.

The construction paper menu in all of its glory. Photo by Max Siskind.

The dedication and love that these ladies put into their food and the care they show to their customers was something I've never seen before. The woman we were dealing with for the night, the same one from earlier, took her time and patience with us and walked us through the entire menu, which was written in Italian of course.

Once I heard there was homemade bread in the mix, I knew I had to get my hands on some. However, I was faced with a moral dilemma when she mentioned the special of the day, meat slow-cooked in red wine served with potatoes. Luckily my friend Ricky agreed to go halvsies on that with her most highly recommended sandwich, swordfish on black bread. Also, the meat didn't come with bread, so you know we had to order some focaccia bread for the table. Great move.

  The extensive sandwich menu. I didn't even know where to begin. Photo by Max Siskind.

The extensive sandwich menu. I didn't even know where to begin. Photo by Max Siskind.

Onto the dishes though. I've never had swordfish before, but I'm always the first one to try something new, so I gave it a shot. Best recommendation I can make for eating by the way. Be adventurous. Especially if you're abroad. Trust me, you'll regret it if you don't get outside your comfort zone at least a little bit.

That's why when the nice Italian lady says get the swordfish sandwich, you get the damn swordfish sandwich.

If the atmosphere and the service weren't enough for you, take my recommendation that the food is also straight fire at this restaurant. The bread, both black and focaccia (they actually had baked goods for dessert too, but we didn't try any) were warm, fresh and delicious.

All the food also came on plastic plates with plastic silverware, keeping with the restaurant's "street food" theme that has won them some accolades you can see displayed in the window

I also think I like swordfish now. The sandwich came on the black bread with buffalo mozzarella cheese, arugula salad and some sweet glaze/dressing that I couldn't for the life of me pin down. Whatever that glaze was though definitely made this sandwich and the bread took it over the top.

  The sandwich. If only Ricky wasn't so greedy and let me eat the whole thing. Photo by Max Siskind.

The sandwich. If only Ricky wasn't so greedy and let me eat the whole thing. Photo by Max Siskind.

The meat special was also incredible. I personally liked the sandwich better, but again here the bread stole the show. I'm also a sucker for roasted potatoes, so I was happy with those little guys on the side. The sauce on this dish was also the bomb, perfect for mopping up with the focaccia bread or potatoes.

  The slow-cooked meat and the potatoes. Complete with its very own plastic plate. Photo by Max Siskind.

The slow-cooked meat and the potatoes. Complete with its very own plastic plate. Photo by Max Siskind.

  The perfect bite. Potato on top of the meat on top of the homemade focaccia bread. Photo by Max Siskind.

The perfect bite. Potato on top of the meat on top of the homemade focaccia bread. Photo by Max Siskind.

I am not joking or messing around with any of you when I sincerely say that I would travel back to Rome specifically to eat at this restaurant. It was that good. I'm also a firm believer that eating out isn't solely about the food.

Sure, it's obviously important to have a great product that people want to eat. But if you're in the restaurant business, you're selling yourself just as much as you're selling that food. You're also selling your space. 

  Pots, pans and utensils hanging on the walls also contributed to the great atmosphere in this place. Photo by Max Siskind.

Pots, pans and utensils hanging on the walls also contributed to the great atmosphere in this place. Photo by Max Siskind.

So, if it's just four women on some hot plates in an apartment building in the middle of Rome cranking out great food and they can convince you to come back, you've got a winner in my book.

It also didn't hurt that I was enjoying this place in the company of great friends in this great atmosphere.

Great food + Great service + Awesome atmosphere + Good times with good friends = 9/10 or 4.5 stars.

 

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day (But it Can be Walked in One): Your Weekend Guide to Rome

Don't worry everyone, I'm back. Due to copious amounts of photos and a Wi-Fi network on par with the Spanish laundry system, this post and some others I'm working on have taken a little longer than expected to finish. Basically, just treat this post as if I had written it around February 9th after my weekend in Rome. Because that actually is when I wrote it. Enjoy.

What did you do this past weekend? Oh, you sat on your ass and watched Netflix? That sounds nice. What did I do? I was in Rome this weekend (Feb. 6th-8th). Yeah, it was pretty dope.

Just messing with you guys. Trust me, I don't want to take anything away from your Netflix-filled weekend, I've been there myself many a time. Part of me longs for a weekend like that after the marathon I put my body through in Rome.

But, marathon aside, it was completely worth it to see the incredible, awe-inspiring city of Rome, Italy. Even though the weather didn't always cooperate, it was cold and rainy pretty much all weekend except when we were inside visiting the Vatican (of course) or when we were leaving on Sunday (double of course).

Either way though, I still found the city incredibly beautiful. My love for history was definitely fulfilled walking through the ruins of the ancient empire's capital city and my love for food was also fulfilled with the awesome dining experiences I had, but more on that later.

I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling this semester outside of Barcelona on the weekends, and I want to take all of you with me. That's why, after I get back, I'm going to put these guide posts together.

This isn't just to show you what I was doing, even though I know you're all super interested. This is so that if you're anyone from a study abroad student who's also traveling to someone looking to take a trip to a specific city, I can give you a definitive guide to take with you and impress all of your friends.

So let's get down to the nitty gritty. I'm going to show you all what to see, what to eat, clue you in on the nightlife scene and much more, even if you only have a weekend to do it all. If I can do it, you sure as hell can too.

Note: This guide pretty much just covers everything I did and recommend you do. There's obviously a ton more that Rome and other cities I'm going to do guides for have to offer. Pick and choose what you want to see and add other things if you can squeeze them in. Don't let me hold you back, this is just a starting point.

Warning: This guide is long and contains a lot of information. It is not for the faint of heart. But, if you're going to visit Rome, I promise you'll find it extremely helpful, so give it a shot. Also, no matter how far you make it, at the very least check out the slideshow with more photos of my awesome weekend at the bottom of the post.

 

What to see 

 

The coliseum and the forum

  The Coliseum (duh). Photo by Max Siskind.

The Coliseum (duh). Photo by Max Siskind.

This one's a no brainer guys. I mean, come on. Who goes to Rome and doesn't see the Coliseum? If you're not gonna take my first advice on this guide, you might as well skip the rest of it. If you really can't make time in your trip to make it over there, at least lie to all of your friends and tell them you saw it or else face endless humiliation. But the choice is yours.

Anyway, the Coliseum is sick. End of story. Even though it was raining when I was there, seeing the ruins of the incredible amphitheater where it's said that 50,000 people and over one million animals were killed in the inhuman games was simply unbelievable. 

My only issue was that, even though I knew a lot of the history already just because I'm a nerd and I took time to read a lot of the plaques around and stroll through the small museum portion with exhibits and explanations, it was still hard to grasp everything that I was seeing. I wanted more specific details and things pointed out for me.

I was supposed to receive the audio guide for the Coliseum. Unfortunately, it was raining, so they weren't giving them out anymore. It's a real shame because I definitely think I could have gotten more out of my visit there.

In addition to the Coliseum, no one ever talks about the Roman Forum. Which doesn't really make sense to me. I thought the Forum was one of my favorite things about Rome. Walking through the ruins of the ancient city center and seeing some of the views you can get from its higher points was amazing.

This is also right next to the Coliseum and you can get a ticket that covers both the Coliseum and the Forum at a reduced price of about 8 euros with your student ID (if you're an international study abroad student).

My advice: 

  • Book the Coliseum in advance with an actual tour guide. It might cost a bit more, but I think the information they can give you about the structure would be invaluable. 
  • DO NOT stand in line at the Coliseum to get your ticket. The line to get a ticket there is filled with dumb people who don't realize there are three other places to purchase tickets. Don't be one of those dummies. Get your ticket at the Palatine Hill entrance or the Forum entrance. The line at these entrances is much shorter and your ticket covers all three areas.
  • Make sure you get plenty of photos of the Coliseum for your Instagram.

 

Piazza venezia

  The Il Vittoriano. Pretty cool, right? Photo by Max Siskind

The Il Vittoriano. Pretty cool, right? Photo by Max Siskind

This one is more of just a walkthrough on your way from the forum to other sights, but you're not going to be able to miss the Il Vittoriano with its huge chariots on top. According to my friend Ricky, of Ricky Roams Rome fame, who I was staying with this weekend, a lot of Italians hate the structure because it blocks views of the Coliseum.

It also required a lot of restructuring in the center of Rome and I think it was also built on top of some of the ruins of the Forum. While I appreciate and understand the hate, I found the structure interesting and cool to look at. Plus, you're in the exact center of Rome and that's pretty cool.

My advice: 

  • You're going to end up walking through here eventually 
  • Stop for a few a minutes and appreciate the world around you. Even if your friends tell you to open your damn eyes and get out of the middle of the plaza before you get hit by a crazy Italian driver or tram car. (Just a joke, that didn't actually happen to me.)

 

the pantheon

  Not sure why I expected a helicopter tour or something, but you were free Pantheon, so I can't really complain. Photo by Max Siskind.

Not sure why I expected a helicopter tour or something, but you were free Pantheon, so I can't really complain. Photo by Max Siskind.

I have to say, I was a little disappointed with the Pantheon. Only because I think I would rather see it from the top than from the inside, I just wanted a better look at the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. Even so though, it's free, so it's absolutely worth going to. Staring up at the dome and wandering around what is now used as a church is still pretty cool. It's also relatively close to other sites and is in an area with lots of restaurants and interesting shops. It also doesn't take too long, so I still think it is worth your time.

My advice: 

  • Explore the plaza area around the Pantheon too. There's a lot of nice restaurants around there and it's a nice place to chill out and give yourself a foot massage before you hit the cobblestones again.
  • Spend a little while and walk around the inside. Like I said, it's free. You're a poor study abroad student. Do the math. Look up at the dome but stay away from the middle if it's raining. Remember, that middle part is open, ya idiot.

 

Church of San Luigi dei Francesi and other churches

  Outside of Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Photo by Max Siskind.

Outside of Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Photo by Max Siskind.

Right near the Pantheon, you'll find the Church of San Luigi Dei Francesi. This is a neat church that didn't take too long to explore and was on our way. All around Rome, you're going to find a ton of really cool churches, all with their own unique designs and flavors.

My advice: 

  • If you have the time, stop in and check out a few churches. They're almost always free to the public and they'll almost always blow you away with their ornate details.

END DAY ONE

(Yes, this was all one day on my trip)

 

the vatican and st. peter's basilica/square

  St. Peter's Basilica/Square. One of my favorite parts and what I originally thought was the main event at the Vatican. Photo by Max Siskind.

St. Peter's Basilica/Square. One of my favorite parts and what I originally thought was the main event at the Vatican. Photo by Max Siskind.

The church of all churches. I'm not gonna lie on this one though. Going into the Vatican museum, I had no idea what I was getting into. My impression of going to the Vatican was that you go into Vatican City and there's St. Peter's Basilica/Square and then there's a museum about the Vatican and I don't know maybe they have busts of all the pope's or something? Like Pro Football Hall of Fame style? Boy was I wrong. The Vatican is nothing like Canton, Ohio. And I'm happy about that. 

Then I thought the Sistine Chapel was it's whole own thing right next to the museum maybe? Basically I was completely wrong. If you're line of thinking is anywhere close to mine, I can set you straight. I'm probably the dumb one here, but you already knew that.

Anyway, the Vatican is basically like walking through about 10 museums that lead you into the Sistine Chapel. Then, you have to leave the museum and walk all the way around to the other side to get to St. Peter's Basilica and the square. You see, what I didn't realize is that popes like to collect shit. And I mean a ton of shit.

There's the Egyptian collection, the ancient sculpture collection, the tapestry collection, the contemporary art collection, the ceramic collection and a bunch more. There's even an entire section devoted to the evolution of the popemobile for crying out loud. It was insane. Check out all of the sections of the Vatican before you go here.

Like I said though, these aren't really "collections" or "sections," they're pretty much small museums all under one roof. Since they're all they're own (pretty extensive) museums, it takes a while to go through. While I thought all of the artifacts and collections were incredible, it can get pretty tiring and overwhelming. At a certain point, all you really want to do is see the Sistine Chapel, walk around St. Peter's Basilica/Square and be on your way to eating more pizza, pasta and gelato.

When you do get to the Sistine Chapel though, give yourself ample time to appreciate it. The audio guide is key for this part alone just so you know what everything you're looking at is and so that you can understand the relevance of each character in the amazing artistic masterpiece. 

After the museum and the Sistine Chapel, take some time to relax and grab a bite to eat before you see the basilica and the square. You need your energy to take in the plaza and snap all the photos you can over there.

My advice: 

  • Book the Vatican in advance here because time slots do fill up.
  • The audio guide isn't extremely helpful in my opinion because there's so much to see and a lot of intricate details, so it can be hard to pay attention. But it's worth the extra couple euros only for the Sistine Chapel, so pony up.
  • Try to grab an earlier time slot because this one is going to take up a pretty big chunk of your day.
  • Don't be afraid or feel bad if you don't make it to every single section of the museums. See what you want to see, it's your trip. But 100% get to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica/Square. 
  • The pope comes out and does a blessing every Sunday morning, so if that's your thing, check that out also.

 

the spanish steps

  The Spanish Steps (and its accompanying construction and Fiat ad) in all of their glory. Photo by Max Siskind.

The Spanish Steps (and its accompanying construction and Fiat ad) in all of their glory. Photo by Max Siskind.

I agree with a lot of people I've talked to and reviews on travel sites that these actually leave a lot to be desired. Movies and the Internet definitely romanticize them for sure. There's also the fact that the two towers at the top were being restored/worked on like everything else in the city when I visited and were covered with a Fiat ad. 

However, I'm including them on this guide for a couple reasons. First of all, if you're unlike me in every way and love shopping, the streets right around the Spanish Steps have all the high-end Italian retailers that you're looking for. It's actually pretty cool seeing them all right next to each other on one street in my opinion.

Remember, even if you're a poor study abroad student, window shopping is always free. Except in Giorgio Armani. You have to pay to breathe the air in there, or so I'm told.

Additionally, going to the Spanish steps is, in my opinion, essential because it offered me the best view of Rome I saw all weekend. That view came at Villa Borghese. Villa Borghese is basically a park that is situated next to the top of the Spanish Steps. When you climb the Spanish steps, that's right I said when you lazy shit, head to the left up the hill. Keep going until you reach the top and look out at all of Rome sprawled out before your very eyes. It's incredible.

  My favorite photo of the view from Villa Borghese. Photo by Max Siskind.

My favorite photo of the view from Villa Borghese. Photo by Max Siskind.

My advice: 

  • Walk around the shopping areas and look but don't touch.
  • Admire the fountain, climb up the stairs and beat off sellers of roses, knockoff sunglasses and selfie sticks.
  • Stop at the top of the stairs and look down at the fountain and shopping streets.
  • Head up to Villa Borghese for the view and stay there for a little while just taking it all in.

END DAY TWO


The jewish synagogue, museum and quarter

  The synagogue in the Jewish quarter. Photo by Max Siskind.

The synagogue in the Jewish quarter. Photo by Max Siskind.

I'm so glad we were able to squeeze this in on Sunday before our flight home. After all the churches and the Vatican, it's nice to get a little diversity. Plus there's a bangin' bakery over here (shouts to my sister Gabby for the recommendation). It doesn't have a name but walk down the main street of the Jewish quarter away from the synagogue/museum and look for the line of people. Try to get there early because they only make and sell about 4 things and you're going to want to (attempt to) eat them all.

  The chocolate slice of heaven I received from the no-name Jewish bakery. Photo by Max Siskind.

The chocolate slice of heaven I received from the no-name Jewish bakery. Photo by Max Siskind.

The synagogue and the museum are still the main stars here though. Be forewarned though, the area has dealt with attacks in the past, so security can be kind of tight. Especially if you're a study abroad student who has a flight in a few hours so he brought his carry-on with him. No, I do not have a pocket knife on me and my duffel bag does not contain any explosive devices, thank you good sir.

While the main synagogue was immaculate, I didn't think the tour that came with our ticket was anything to write home about. Basically, our tour guide took us to the smaller Spanish synagogue in the basement of the building first, then to the main synagogue upstairs. She basically led us around, said "here's synagogue one, take some photos" and then "here's synagogue two, take some photos. Any questions? None? Ok, cool."

I wish we could have stayed longer because that area had some really neat-looking authentic Roman-Jewish restaurants that I would have loved to try. I also just wanted to explore the museum more because I didn't really get to walk around the whole thing. Ok, maybe I just wanted to go back to the bakery and eat everything they had. 

My advice: 

  • Bakery > everything.
  • Do the museum tour with the audio guide followed by the tour of the two synagogues.
  • If you have time, grab something to eat at one of those restaurants I talked about.

END DAY 3

(Pretty jam-packed, right?)*

*You'll notice that the Trevi Fountain and some other major sites aren't on this guide. Specifically for the fountain, it was under construction this past weekend. I was told I wouldn't even be able to see it and that instead they had a screen up showing what the fountain would look like if it wasn't being worked on. I can see that online. So as much as I wanted to live out my Lizzie McGuire Movie moment, it just didn't happen on this trip.

Getting around

  Couldn't even get a photo of the ever-elusive Roman trams, so a photo of the tracks will have to do. Photo by Max Siskind.

Couldn't even get a photo of the ever-elusive Roman trams, so a photo of the tracks will have to do. Photo by Max Siskind.

Unfortunately for everyone, the public transportation system in Rome sucks. At least in my opinion. As always, I'm sure I'm exaggerating a bit and I was coming from the incredible metro system that exists in Barcelona, so it was definitely an adjustment.

On the plus side, the term "payment" on the Rome tram and bus system doesn't really exist. Sure, there are places to swipe a card or ticket, but if you get on a back entrance, no one is going to hassle you. I didn't pay for a single ride my entire weekend in Rome.

However, I found the system to be pretty unreliable. You essentially have no idea when the next bus or tram is coming and could wait for as long as 20-30 minutes for the next one. Furthermore, late on weekend nights, the trips become more infrequent and the tram stops at 3am (early if you're running on Barcelona time).

Luckily, I didn't have to deal with the system too much because I was only there for a few days and we did so much walking, I didn't really need it. I also never ventured into the actual underground metro system (with all two of its lines). But, my friends tried it and from what I gathered, it's sketch central station. 

My advice: 

  • Avoid it if you can, but you'll probably end up using it at some point. 
  • If you've got time to wait, it won't be too much of a hassle. 
  • In general, trams and buses are supposed to come about every 12-15 minutes.
  • Don't use the actual metro if you don't have to.
  • In general, be extremely careful and watch your stuff. Seriously, I feel more safe in Barcelona's metro system than I did all weekend in Rome.

 

What to eat

 

pizza

  Pizza from La Gatta Mangiona. Za in Italy definitely doesn't mess around. Photo by Max Siskind.

Pizza from La Gatta Mangiona. Za in Italy definitely doesn't mess around. Photo by Max Siskind.

Just like the Coliseum, you aren't going to Rome without eating pizza. I'm not gonna let that fly and neither should you. However, finding good pizza in Rome isn't the easiest thing because everyone and their Italian grandmother is selling it over there.

Luckily, I was staying with my friend Ricky who is studying abroad in Rome this semester. Ricky took a cooking class and his instructor gave him a list of places to eat, including some of the best pizza places. One of them happened to be within walking distance of his apartment and, because I hadn't done enough walking on my first day already (scroll back up to see what my day one consisted of for a refresher), I agreed to join him for a pizza feasta. 

The place was La Gatta Mangiona (The Fat Cat) and it definitely lived up to its namesake. We ordered two pizzas, both margherita, but one was classic/traditional margherita and one was a different take with buffalo mozzarella instead of traditional mozzarella. Both were heavenly. The restaurant also offered a wide variety of wines and beers and we also had some limoncello shots afterwards. (Note: limoncello is meant to be sipped, unless you specifically order a shot at a bar. I'll try to remember that next time.)

I had a couple other slices over the weekend, but none lived up to that first pizza. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it to any other highly recommended pizza places, but I know they're out there and I'll find them one day.

If you have a favorite pizza place in Rome, feel free to leave a shout in the comments or at me on social media.

 

pasta

  Pasta from Ristorante da Massi. Danktown, USA. Photo by Max Siskind.

Pasta from Ristorante da Massi. Danktown, USA. Photo by Max Siskind.

Same deal as pizza here, but a little bit different. In Rome, I got the feeling that every pizza place wasn't doing it incredibly authentic, but I think that is not as likely with pasta.

If you're selling pasta in Rome, that shit better be homemade or no one is going to eat at your restaurant. Much like the U.S., no one really cares if you're another crappy pizza joint, even if you are in Italy. But they do care about their pasta.

My first day in Rome, for lunch, we went to Ristorante da Massi and I got fettuccine with pork cheek in a tomato sauce with pepper flakes. While I'll admit it wasn't the best pasta I've ever had in my life, it was still good and I could tell it was made in house, and that's good enough for me.

 

gelato

  Pistachio and stracciatella (chocolate chip) gelato. From a small place near Ristorante di Massi. Sorry for all the #foodintheair. Photo by Max Siskind.

Pistachio and stracciatella (chocolate chip) gelato. From a small place near Ristorante di Massi. Sorry for all the #foodintheair. Photo by Max Siskind.

I think you're all starting to understand the recurring theme here. Again, tons of gelato all over the place. Don't get too caught up in it. Or do, and have it twice each day you're there. Your call.

Just beware of the numerous places with a thousand flavors that they leave sitting out all day. Go for a smaller joint off the beaten path that looks like it sells gelato with fresh ingredients and you won't go wrong.

My advice on flavors:

  • If you're only in Rome for a weekend, I say get gelato at least twice. That way you try more than one place.
  • Try different flavor combos. My first time I went for pistachio and stracciatella (chocolate chip). My next time, I went peach and pineapple.
  • It's really important to try different gelato places and get one sweet/dessert flavor combo and one fruity combo.

 

sandwiches/bread/pastries

I really wish I had ventured more into this category when I wish in Rome because each time I did, I was never disappointed. Like the rest of Europe, the bread game in Italy is extremely on point. Everyone is making it fresh. Every. Single. Day. Like clockwork.

This baking prowess makes its way into your sandwiches, which Italy also has a lock on because of what I like to call "the mozzarella complex." And you all know I love sandwiches, so I know what I'm talking about here. Get your hands on a capri, caprese or anything with prosciutto and you can't go wrong.

Sorry for the lack of photos of the baked goods and sandwiches. All of them were so good the only thing I could capture them with was my stomach. My camera and phone never stood a chance.

 

restaurants

  Pianostrada. One of my favorite meals of all time. Period. Look how small this place is. LOOK AT IT. Photo by Max Siskind.

Pianostrada. One of my favorite meals of all time. Period. Look how small this place is. LOOK AT IT. Photo by Max Siskind.

You're in a foreign country here people. It's a little different than your abroad HQ destination if you're only there for a weekend. It makes it more special. So eat out as much as you can. More likely than not, you're not going to have a kitchen anyway so it shouldn't matter. Besides the restaurants I already named above, there are two here that deserve honorable mentions:

  1. Hostaria del Moro da Tony: Probably my biggest regret of my trip was not going to this place. But that's only because we couldn't find it. Pro tip: don't go around asking locals where "Tony's" is. They'll have no idea what you're talking about. Use the full restaurant name and you should be good to go. While I've been told this place is extremely Americanized, it's still a great deal. Word on the street is that it's 15 euros for a HUGE portion of chicken parm (which is something you can't really find in Italy by the way) and bottomless, I repeat BOTTOMLESS, wine. Apparently this is some special deal though, so make sure you inquire about it if you go there. I also heard Tony is an excellent host. 
  2. Pianostrada Laboritorio di Cucina: This place has its own post here. It's that good. Seriously one of the best meals I've ever eaten. Great experience, great atmosphere, great staff/owners and great food to back it up. I would legitimately go back to Rome just to eat at this place. I seriously can't recommend it enough.

 

late night

Like any big city, Rome has a plethora of my biggest kryptonite, late-night munchies. My best recommendations follow.

Fries

  There are a few different chains of these places in Rome. This place was just called "FRIES."   Works for me. Photo by Max Siskind.

There are a few different chains of these places in Rome. This place was just called "FRIES." Works for me. Photo by Max Siskind.

I haven't ventured to a similar place in Barcelona quite yet, but these places are popping up all over Europe and even in the U.S. and I am extremely grateful. I have an unhealthy obsession/addiction with french fries and these places unfortunately fuel that addiction by making them the only thing on their menu.

To add more fuel to the fire, they have a trillion sauces and you can put on as many as you want. The place I went to even had avocado. AVOCADO PEOPLE. I didn't get that though. I stuck with some old standbys, and got cheddar and my first love, ketchup.

Donuts/other assorted pastries

  I've really got to stop with the food in the air. It's just embarrassing at this point. It's you all I feel sorry for. Photo by Max Siskind.

I've really got to stop with the food in the air. It's just embarrassing at this point. It's you all I feel sorry for. Photo by Max Siskind.

There are a ton of guys in Rome who I'm sure make a very nice living selling donuts and pastries to unsuspecting drunk study abroad students. And the donuts are good! I had a chocolate-filled one and I think it cost me 1 euro. It was delicious and I would do it again proudly. The donut guys also sell other stuff that you may be interested in, just ask. I'll leave it at that.

Gelato

Also unfortunately, a lot of gelato places are open late night in Rome. Luckily, I avoided temptation, but it certainly was not easy. Again though, as I said in the gelato section earlier, don't go to the places with a thousand flavors sitting out, looking at you "Blue Ice." Do not go there.

Sandwiches

"When is he going to stop with the sandwiches?" The answer is never. Get over it. You know what you signed up for if you've made it this far into the guide. Yes, some sandwich places are open late too. I once again resisted temptation, kind of. I had a bite of one of my friend's late-night sandwiches, and it was everything I could have hoped for.

 

going out

 

trastevere

  Chocolate shots from Rivendita Libri in this district. These little guys may be small, but they pack a punch, trust me. And no, not all six are for me, I have friends I swear. Photo by Max Siskind.

Chocolate shots from Rivendita Libri in this district. These little guys may be small, but they pack a punch, trust me. And no, not all six are for me, I have friends I swear. Photo by Max Siskind.

This district in Rome is filled with restaurants, including most of the ones on this guide and a ton of others. In addition to restaurants, it also has a bunch of small, mostly Italian local bars. Which is awesome if you don't want to get stuck going to all the places American study abroad students are.

Plus, you can take chocolate shots at Rivendita Libri. What more could you ask for?


campo de' fiori

  The Campo area used to be used for sacrifices, executions and public shaming. Now American study abroad students go there to get drunk. Neat-o! Photo by Max Siskind.

The Campo area used to be used for sacrifices, executions and public shaming. Now American study abroad students go there to get drunk. Neat-o! Photo by Max Siskind.

This is where most of the Americanized bars are. Right across the bridge from Trastevere, it's only a short walk. We actually ended up going to some of the same places over here both of my nights out in Rome. A lot of the bars in Campo and other districts in Rome also double as some of the best restaurants in the city during the day, or so I'm told. This area is great because you can jump around from bar to bar with ease.

 

clubs

Ok, so I didn't actually make it to any of the clubs in Rome. Which actually ended up being fine. While the club scene is huge in Barcelona, I actually enjoyed a break from it. I'm more of a bar guy anyway and Rome's bar scene was excellent in my opinion. If clubs are more your scene though, there are some options:

  1. Gilda: Some of my friends went to this club the first night. Despite multiple recommendations that it was one of the best clubs to go to in Rome, they said it was somewhat disappointing. This could have been for a number of reasons though. It could have been the wrong night to go or a bad one, or the club scene just isn't as big as it is in Barcelona where they're used to going out.
  2. Art Café: Another club that we were recommended to go to. I can't say anything else about it other than I heard it's fun, because I've never been there and none of us went this weekend. Sorry, but I guess you'll just have to check it out for yourself.
  3. Promoter Bar Crawls: We didn't do these either, but they definitely piqued my interest. For 20 euros, they start you out at an open bar for an hour and a half, then they take you to a bunch of other bars where you receive one free shot at each. After that, they take you to a club with free entry. Not a bad deal in my opinion. You'll find promoters handing out flyers and passes for these at major sights in Rome, like outside of the Coliseum. If you stay in a hostel, they might also have an arrangement with a promoter for a similar deal.

 

conclusion

Rome is an incredible city. Simple as that. The way the ancient city's presence is still felt in every cobblestone and the way that world is seamlessly integrated with the modern one is a sight to behold. The city's ancient charm is what makes it one of the most beautiful city's I've had the pleasure of staying in.

I highly recommend you check it out for yourself, but make sure you use this guide to do it right. And, for the love of all things good in this world, do not come back from Rome (or any other European city) with a selfie stick. Please, I'm serious.

Check out the slideshow below of some more photos that didn't make it into the guide.



My First Experience with the Spanish Laundry Process

I'm writing this post because one of the goals of this blog is to help you guys learn from my mistakes. I'm your "guinea pig" so to speak. Thinking of going abroad but not sure? Just arrived in a new destination and don't know where to start? I've got you covered.

But that doesn't mean that I'm not going to make a few mistakes along the way. So please, learn from me. It's the only way you're going to survive the crazy lifestyle associated with going abroad.

First thing you need to know now though is that I'm a procrastinator. We're talking big time here guys. That's probably the reason I'm a little behind in my posts and that this story happened about a week and a half ago. My bad. Sorry to keep you on the edge of your (toilet) seats.

But I'm a proud member of #ProcrastiNATION. An ambassador if you will. I work well under pressure. I like the thrill of finishing an assignment right before it's due or getting to the liquor store (supermarket in Spain and Europe) the minute before it closes.

Just kidding. It sucks. But it's the life I've chosen to lead, and if I can get past that, so should you.

The point of all this is that my procrastination pertains to many (if not all) walks of life. Including laundry. Oh, how I despise laundry. Especially when I have to do it myself.

*TO MY MOTHER AND FATHER PLEASE SCROLL PAST THE PHOTO BELOW AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE*

  My current pile. It's actually not that bad, kind of. I even pre-separated the whites and colors! If you have a problem looking at my dirty underwear, kindly leave. Photo by Max Siskind

My current pile. It's actually not that bad, kind of. I even pre-separated the whites and colors! If you have a problem looking at my dirty underwear, kindly leave. Photo by Max Siskind

I'm not trying to sound stuck up or snobby here, but doing your own laundry sucks. If given the opportunity, I know each and every one of you would let someone else do it. That's why, when I'm home, I have people for that. I like to call them Mom and Dad (love you guys!). 

Seriously though, I haven't done my own laundry since freshman year of college. Since that time, I've realized that I could strategically plan my visits home around my laundry schedule, oh the perks of the in-state student. I could pack enough clothes from the get-go or run out and buy a last second pack of underwear to get me through the home stretch.

My system was foolproof. That is, until I went abroad. You should know though that this isn't 100% my lack of laundry prowess. I've done laundry before, it's really not that difficult. I'm just dealing with a combination of laziness, wanting to do other things while I'm here to take advantage of this new and exciting environment and a stupid, f-ed up Spanish/European laundry process that takes countless casualties.

Let me quickly run you through how the process is supposed to go, if it had gone smoothly. Normally, you throw your clothes in the washing machine, with your detergent, press a couple buttons and you're good to go. You take your clothes out, move them to the dryer, throw in a dryer sheet, press another button or two and voila, fresh clean and dry clothes in a couple hours.

Not in Spain though. Oh no. You see, Spain (along with a bunch of other countries around the world) pokes a couple holes in that American-style process that I've become so accustomed to.

For starters, washing machines here can probably fit about one of my sweatshirts. Also, forget the dryer. That's right, just completely erase from your mind half of what you thought you knew about the laundry process. It doesn't exist here.

  See what I'm dealing with? Photo by Max Siskind.

See what I'm dealing with? Photo by Max Siskind.

I thought I could do this, I really did. And in reality, looking back it wasn't that bad. I'm just overreacting as usual, but still. Anyway, I actually had schemed to send out another guinea pig before myself, because I knew I wouldn't be able to figure out the washing machine. Shouts to my roommate Alec for being that guinea pig.

Alec figured out the machine and I set out to do my laundry a couple days after him. Now here's where the problems started rolling in. It was at this point that I came to the cold hard reality that I would have to wash more than what I originally thought would be about two loads. That basically got doubled to 4. But the cycles were only 25 minutes, so no worries, right? If only I could turn the damn thing on. 

Now, it was very nice of my apartment building, who commonly rents to American study abroad students, to include English instructions on the machine. Seriously, I applaud them for this. It would have been better, though if those directions:

a) applied to the laundry machine we actually had and

b) could actually be read by human eyes.

I took the following photo of those directions and no, the photo isn't blurry, but the photos of the washing machine and its various buttons sure as hell are.

  Now this is just getting ridiculous...Photo by Max Siskind.

Now this is just getting ridiculous...Photo by Max Siskind.

This was all solved pretty easily though. A quick Facebook message to my roommate and I was well on my way to desperately needed clean clothes.

Then another harsh reality hit once all the wash cycles were done. It was time to conquer the dreaded clothesline. Even more tragic, I was sitting on 4 loads of clothes with clothesline space for about two t-shirts and only a handful of plastic clothespins. So, it was time to get creative. Look below at the two treacherous clotheslines I was working with. Also, enjoy the beautiful, scenic views from my Barcelona apartment.

I doubled up with some clothespins, squeezed some extra t-shirts on there, experimented with different angles of hangitude (TM), utilized the second, even scarier clothesline off of another window in our apartment and didn't even think about putting my socks out there on either one.

Still, even with all of my hard work and determination, it deeply saddens me to share with you all the loss of four great pairs of underwear. If only I got to say goodbye. Their elastic wasn't even worn out yet! But I'm strong, so I know I'll get through this.

  The black abyss where my underwear probably lies. Photo by Max Siskind.

The black abyss where my underwear probably lies. Photo by Max Siskind.

So, as I said at the beginning of this post, please learn from me. Try some of these tips:

1. Avoid the clothesline at all costs. Invest in a rack you can leave inside. Your underwear will thank you. But beware of the longer time it's going to take to dry your clothes inside vs. outside.

2. Get to know your neighbors below you. They might end up having said underwear and you might get it back if you weren't terrified of human contact.

3. Try not to wait until the last minute to do your laundry. Even if you're a procrastinator like me, try to do it once a week. Otherwise, your clothes will never dry by the time you actually need them, so be prepared.

4. Get some nice clothespins. These are your best defense if you absolutely have to use the clothesline.

5. Just say screw it, ball out and get a dryer. 

  Even after all was said and done, a sock was still left unmatched. I guess some things about doing laundry never change, regardless of what country you're in. Photo by Max Siskind.

Even after all was said and done, a sock was still left unmatched. I guess some things about doing laundry never change, regardless of what country you're in. Photo by Max Siskind.

My Wild Day at La Sagrada Familia (The Church of the Holy Family)

If you're not familiar with La Sagrada Familia, then you're wrong. Just kidding, but you're seriously missing out. La Sagrada Familia is widely regarded as one of the largest (when it's finished) and most beautiful churches in the world. That's right, the world.

Unfortunately, as I just pointed out, it's not finished yet. However, a 60-minute documentary informed me it will be in about 13 years or so, give or take a few more architectural issues in interpreting brilliant architect Antoni Gaudí's designs.

While I'm not trying to give you a complete history lesson here, even though I could because I love history but realize that a lot of my readers give zero shits, allow me to give you some background. You see, Antoni Gaudí was a/the most brilliant architect in Barcelona (also debatably in Spain and the entire world) and was a genius whose style was at least a century before his time.

He was obsessed with nature and had a deep Biblical connection to the world around him. La Sagrada Familia, the famous church you've probably seen in photos when googling Barcelona, is his masterpiece, even though he knew there was no chance it would be finished in his lifetime.

Still more tragic, his life was cut short when he was hit while crossing the street. He was dressed simply because he only cared about the church in the final years of his life. Thus, he was mistaken for a homeless man and the driver that hit him left him on the side of the road to die. He was later found and recognized as the brilliant architect, taken to a hospital for the poor and died there a few days later.

There's a shit-ton more I could tell you about the church and Gaudí but you guys aren't here for that. You're here to find out what inevitably went down when I was visiting said church. Of course something had to happen, it's just my luck that I happened to be in the right place at the right time in this instance. But, let's break things up with our first photo of the iconic outside of the church for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about:

  This is called the "Birthing Facade" and depicts the birth of Jesus. The facade on the other side, which you might think looks similar because of the towers, actually depicts Jesus' crucifixion and death. Gaudí only lived to see part of this facade completed. The other facade is much newer. Photo by Max Siskind.

This is called the "Birthing Facade" and depicts the birth of Jesus. The facade on the other side, which you might think looks similar because of the towers, actually depicts Jesus' crucifixion and death. Gaudí only lived to see part of this facade completed. The other facade is much newer. Photo by Max Siskind.

I had my audio tour headset in and dangling around my neck along with my Nikon D3200 to snap every single angle I could see. I was basically strangling myself because all the straps and cords were completely tangled. But remember, I did this all for you guys, so it's basically your fault. By association, you almost strangled me. Thanks. 

Also, I looked like the biggest dork/tourist ever. None of my newly acquired abroad friends wanted to be seen with me. And that's ok guys, I forgive you. I'm just kidding, they all looked exactly like I did, minus the bulky camera.

As it turns out though, I still took some dope-ass photos that I would love to share with you. The problem is, I took over 300. Sorry, I'm not sorry. Lucky for you, I was able to narrow it down a little bit to give you guys an accurate impression of one of, if not the, most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life so far. Let's break this up with one more photo before I tell you the crazy story of my day:

  One of the first photos I took of the inside of the church. Gaud í wanted the main columns to resemble trees to make worshipers feel like they were praying in a forest. That's where he believed man was closest to God. Photo by Max Siskind.

One of the first photos I took of the inside of the church. Gaudí wanted the main columns to resemble trees to make worshipers feel like they were praying in a forest. That's where he believed man was closest to God. Photo by Max Siskind.

Ok, so now that you've got a little taste of what I saw, let me tell you what really happened that awakened the journalist within me. You see, as I was walking around the interior of the church, completely awestruck and in a daze, something nuts went down.

A man, shirtless, jumped the velvet ropes surrounding the main seating area of the church, where people sit to pray and reflect. The man proceeded to sprint up the aisle and he jumped onto the main alter of the church.

That's right, the same place where Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and declared the church a basilica back in 2010. The man then got into his best "paint-me-like-one-of-your-french-models" pose on top of the alter.

The man was then immediately tackled by security and police, covered up and escorted out. I snapped a few photos of the aftermath that I'll share with you, but they're blurry because they were yelling at people with cameras and I didn't want to end up in a Spanish prison, so enjoy:

  The man being tackled and apprehended. Photo by Max Siskind.

The man being tackled and apprehended. Photo by Max Siskind.

  The man being carried out by police and security. Photo by Max Siskind.

The man being carried out by police and security. Photo by Max Siskind.

  They took the man to this area by the "Death Facade" entrance to the church and roped off the area like so. Photo by Max Siskind.

They took the man to this area by the "Death Facade" entrance to the church and roped off the area like so. Photo by Max Siskind.

  They told everyone to leave that area, so I went back inside the church, went around the side and there was a door with some windows. I looked through and snapped this shot. Shortly after, they placed a bunch of black tarps around that area and added more security around that area and the whole building. Photo by Max Siskind.

They told everyone to leave that area, so I went back inside the church, went around the side and there was a door with some windows. I looked through and snapped this shot. Shortly after, they placed a bunch of black tarps around that area and added more security around that area and the whole building. Photo by Max Siskind.

Shortly after that incident, life in the church returned to normal. I slipped back into my awestruck mode, snapped about 100 more photos and then we proceeded onto our tower tour. If you're coming to Barcelona and want to see La Sagrada Familia, I extremely recommend you go into one of the towers, it is one of the best parts.

 Proof that going up the towers is the bomb.com. You can see all the way to the mountains...

Proof that going up the towers is the bomb.com. You can see all the way to the mountains...

 ...and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Photos by Max Siskind.

...and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Photos by Max Siskind.

While the spiral staircase down is a bitch and a half, the elevator up is nice, you get to see those awesome views I just showed you and it only adds about 2 euros or so to your visit. Which, by the way, is very reasonably priced.

If you say you're a student on the La Sagarada Familia website, it should run you about 20 euros for the audio tour, entrance to the main church and a visit up one of the towers. Not too shabby if you ask me.

I'm glad I could share this with all of you and I hope it inspires you to see this incredible work of art/architecture. While I'm not Christian, I still apprecited how the church tells the story of the Bible in each and every ornamental detail.

Even though a lot of Gaudí's original molds that he left as a guide to future generations were destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, I like to think that the current architects and designers are fulfilling his legacy in the way that he wanted most.

Let's finish things up with a slideshow of more of the good photos that I have from my visit a little over a week ago. If you want to see more, make sure you click the "Contact" tab, send me a shout on Twitter or Instagram, or email me at studyabeard@gmail.com. I'll be sure to get back to you as soon as I can.

My Quest to Find the Greatest Sandwich in the World

I love sandwiches. There, I said it. It feels good to finally get that off of my chest and tell someone. No, but seriously, they're the most perfect food. You can put anything you want in there: meat, cheese, toppings, you name it. If there's something put between two pieces of bread, there's a good chance I'm going to eat it.

Therefore, I'm extremely happy to be writing my first food post about one sandwich in particular. I'm talking about the chicken sandwich at Bo de B

My love of sandwiches has taken me to many places as I continue to search for not only my favorite, but what I consider to be the greatest sandwich in the world. 

Let me back up a bit though. Before my semester abeard in Barcelona, I got tons of recommendations from family and friends. They recommended sights to see, clubs and bars to go to and, of course, I received a ton of dining recommendations.

I first heard about Bo de B from my friend JZ. He said his mother told him it was the best chicken sandwich she had ever had. From that moment, I knew I had to have this sandwich. It became somewhat of an obsession. 

 How I felt about this sandwich.

How I felt about this sandwich.

Also, my friend JZ wasn't the only person to recommend this place and this sandwich to me, which made it even more enticing. It was on every guide a friend or family member gave me.

In my obsessed craze before coming to Barcelona to eat this sandwich, I started doing some research. I went on every restaurant review site. We're talking the always helpful google, yelp and you know I had to hop on TripAdvisor

While most reviews were good, I was still worried. How could one chicken sandwich possibly live up to all the hype? There were still a few scathing reviews of bad service, poor quality and long wait times. Not a lot of reviews, but enough to keep me skeptical.

Then, when I finally arrived in Barcelona, it was time. I was all ready to go, and then, THEN my loyalty to and love of sandwiches (which has been and will continue to always be unwavering) was called into question!

That's right, my sister's friend and roommate, the one and only Flal of Bitches Hoarding Bagels fame, told me I was "trippin." Look at the evidence below:

 "Trippin?" Really? I don't think so. Who even says that anymore?

"Trippin?" Really? I don't think so. Who even says that anymore?

First of all, it was my first week in Barcelona! I was trying to get acclimated to a new, exciting and really large new city. There were sights to see, classes to prepare for (HA) and wine, beer and booze to drink. I of course still made time for food, but I wanted this sandwich to be special.

Second of all, I don't think anyone has told me I was "trippin" since like 4th grade. There was an incident at recess, I don't really want to get into it.

So after being called out and defamed on social media, it was time to sack up and make time for this. Me and my roommate Angad made the metro journey, complete with three transfers, to Bo de B.

This place is small, we're talking 5 tables deep here guys. That's why the takeout window is so popular. However, in my research before going, there was hope. A reviewer casually mentioned to go at an off time, like 4pm. Oh, what a revelation! Why didn't I think of this? No one, not even the schedule-ally challenged people of Spain eat at 4pm. 

 Textbook definition of a "hole-in-the-wall joint" right here.

Textbook definition of a "hole-in-the-wall joint" right here.

I was hopeful this would work and we wouldn't have to deal with the ridiculous line and wait times that other reviewers and recommenders mentioned. We actually left at 4pm, and arrived at our destination closer to 5, but I was confident we would be fine as long as we were there between the hours of 4pm and 5pm.

Luckily, I was right. Not a person in sight. We actually snagged one of the five tables in the joint and ordered our sandwiches. I also ordered the patatas bravas because I heard they were dank as well. Or because I wanted to make my stomach explode. Either one.

I didn't expect this sandwich to live up to the hype. Plain and simple. Too many people recommending it had made me questioning too much. There were just too many variables, and I'm terrible at math. But guys, I'm happy to announce that it did indeed live up to all the hype. And it was glorious.

 THE sandwich in all its glory. Well worth my obsession I'd say.

THE sandwich in all its glory. Well worth my obsession I'd say.

The sandwich was huge. I stuffed mine with chicken, rice, lettuce and tomato and all the sauces (getting all the sauces is absolutely essential here). The chicken and the bread for your sandwich are then grilled behind the counter for your viewing pleasure. They wrap it in foil, Chipotle style, cut it in half and give it to you on a plate.

Make sure you get enough napkins for this one because it's going to get messy. But it's so worth it. The chicken is juicy and flavorful, the veggies are fresh and the bread is toasted to perfection with the perfect combination of a crunchy crust and a soft, warm interior.

The patatas bravas were also probably the best I've had so far in Barcelona, only because they put all the sauces on them too. The sandwich is definitely still the star at this place though.

 Hot little potatoes with five (FIVE) different sauces. What more could you ask for?

Hot little potatoes with five (FIVE) different sauces. What more could you ask for?

I'll definitely be going back to Bo de B in the very near future, probably multiple times in the near future. 

I don't think this is the best sandwich in the world. That's only because I haven't been everywhere in the world. The best sandwich could still be out there somewhere, just waiting for me. This is one of the best sandwiches I've ever had and I highly suggest you try it for yourself if you can. My quest for the greatest sandwich in the world is never-ending, and I'm perfectly fine with that.