A few weeks ago the 7PM project ran a competition to win a Rhianna CD, and all you had to do to enter was leave a message on their forum describing what your favourite thing is that starts with R, and why? I ended up writing a mini-essay as my competition entry so I thought I might as well post it here and tell the world why my favourite thing that starts with R is Rome!
I went to Italy in July of 2009 for a weeklong holiday, incorporating a few days in Rome, a daytrip south to Naples and Pompeii, then up north through Pisa, Florence, Venice and finally to my mum’s birthplace of Trieste.
I have many fond travel memories of my European adventures, but one of the fondest of them all was the evening I went to a small and quite hard-to-find pizzeria in central Rome called da Baffetto. It was just around the corner from Piazza Navona, and it was suggested by my trusty guidebook to be the best pizzeria in the city. It actually looked quite dodgy and run-down from the outside – you couldn’t see inside the windows because they were blocked out with newspaper – but the smell was heavenly, and there was a substantial lineup of people waiting outside the front door, so I decided to give it a go.
It took about 10 minutes and an encounter with a cranky Italian waiter to reach the front of the queue, and when I finally stepped through the doors I found the place was so packed that they had to sit me at the same table as someone else – a happy & smiling girl who looked to be in her late 20’s and was still perusing the menu. We got chatting and established that English was our common language. She was an actress from Spain and had a few days in Rome for business, and I soon found out the reason she was at this restaurant was because she had the same guidebook as me (albeit in Spanish of course). She too wanted to experience the best pizza in the city!
Our hungry tummies were not at all disappointed when our pizzas arrived. To the eye, I will admit that it looked pretty average, but it actually turned out to be the most delicious, crispy, cheesy, flavoursome, amazing wood-fired pizza I have ever eaten. The base was just the right consistency, and even though I initially thought the toppings were lacking, I soon discovered it was composed of the perfect amount. Every portion of the delicious, meaty salami was savoured, every string of mozzarella was devoured with fevorous intent, every sprinkle of oregano adding to the flavour sensation that made up this true Roman pizza:
My newfound Spanish friend and I ended up having a brilliant night. Thanks to her ability to speak Italian, we made our way afterwards to a bar in the inner-southern suburbs called Big Mama (also listed in our guidebooks as one of the top nightspots to hit) where we were lucky enough to see a genuine Sicilian folk band, performing a unique style of folk music my ears had never before been graced with – and something I never would have done had it not been for meeting Carmen. I still to this day haven’t quite figured out exactly what the bladder-like instrument was that the band were using (it was very similar to a bagpipe yet at the same time, completely different), but it sure sounded amazing:
Two nights later, Carmen and I again met at the same pizzeria for an encore meal. This time I ordered a rocket and prosciutto pizza; it was just as incredible as the first. We sat outside and were grouped with four Italian guys who were in town to watch some football, and I somehow managed to make polite conversation with them using the few Italian words I knew and the small amount of English they knew, along with a bit of translational help from Carmen. We then decided to share another pizza between the two of us, and after a delicious tiramisu and a shot of Limoncello to wash it all down, we bade our football fans goodnight and headed towards a proper Roman coffee shop for an espresso. It was pretty disgusting but I’m glad that I tried it, and before heading home we stopped by the Trevi fountain to bask in its glory and take a few happy snaps.
Walking back to my hostel with a smile, I realised I finally fulfilled an experience I’d been waiting for since I arrived in Europe a year beforehand: that kind of travel experience I’d read about all too often where you meet a random person in a random city who you were clearly “meant” to encounter. And what better thing to bring us together than the best pizza in the city? I left the Italian capital the next day a much richer person – and that, my friends, is why my favourite thing that starts with R is Rome.
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I ended up winning the Rhianna CD but unfortunately I don’t at all dig her style of music. Does anybody want it?!