For our last night in Rome, Rob and I decided to doll ourselves up in our new dress up clothes and dine on the finest Italian fare we could afford, with the most fabulous view we could find. After much deliberation and review-reading on the internet, I decided that La Mirabelle was the one that would suit our desires and pocketbooks the best. Most of Italy’s fine dining establishments with views are at the top of hotels, so to the top we went! I was immediately humbled by all the gilded everything inside the restaurant. The color palatte was quite pleasing, a mixture of creams and sage greens with the ubiquitous gold. Our waiter told us we got the best table in the house, a corner window with views of both the Vatican and Sistine Chapel to our left and the hilly side of Rome to our right.
I have to say, I have never been more impressed by service than I was by the Italians. Yes, I know they are trained to make you feel like royalty, but so are the waitstaff at the fine dining restaurants in Beverly Hills, New York, and San Francisco. They’ve never made me feel like royalty, more often like an ignorant child they are being paid to pamper. I was convinced that the Italian waiters at La Mirabelle somehow truly enjoyed serving me. Plush chairs were silently pulled out, my perfectly pressed napkin carefully laid over my lap, my glass always full, and a genuine-looking smile always there whenever I had a question about the menu, or what a particular building might be in the distant view. Every time the waiters came to check on us throughout the night, whisking away one polished-off plate to set down a full one, they would eagerly ask with twinkling eyes, “Did you enjoy?” Why yes, thank you, I did enjoy.
Feeling indulgent, I ordered a bellini, the best I have ever had. I like the fruity stuff, and this sparkling peach nectar I could drink by the litre and not even realize how drunk I am getting until I stand up. I refrained from having a second glass, as I had no desire to make a fool of myself on my classy night out on the town. Rob took a sip of my bellini, the likes of which he had never tasted before, and his taste buds were delighted enough to order one for himself, which was a good thing as I didn’t really care to share this little treat with him, even though we shared everything else. (Lord, we both would be fat if we didn’t. It’s amazing our clothes still fit as it is!)
All the food was divinely prepared, scrupulously displayed, and tasted as though the food gods had blessed it with extra flavor, but since we ate so much, I’ll have to narrow down the descriptions to my favorites. My favorite appetizer was a little fried rice ball stuffed with melted cheese. Elegant-looking and crisp on the outside, it generously gave way to comfort-food ooziness when I flattened it with my tongue inside my mouth.
The Italians’ take on French onion soup was creamy, salty, and chunky, unlike the clear broth I’m accustomed to fishing my spoon in for the melted cheese and onions sunk at the bottom. I love saffron, and the saffron rice patty with parmesean fondue bathed around it was worthy of its own full page feature in Saveur magazine. Our entree of duck l’orange was the tenderest duck I’ve ever had. And the pineapple that accompanied it! The chef must have soaked the golden chunks in brown sugar and then sauteed them until they were just carmelized enough without losing their juices.
Rob and I ate slower and slower as each course made way for the next. I felt so full, I didn’t know how I would possibly have room left for the dessert we’d preordered. We had asked to share one order of the chocolate vanilla souffle, but when the silver lid was lifted off its tray, Rob and I saw not one, but two souffles waiting for our salivating mouths! We groaned half in anticipation, half in dread, as we both didn’t know if we could possibly fit another bite into our achingly pleased stomachs. That special dessert stomach your dad always told you you had when you were a kid must surely exist, as Rob and I somehow finished almost all of our souffles. A firework show was going off in the distance, although the charming waiter didn’t know what for, and I basked in the candlelight as we waited for our check.
Thankfully, Rob and I had split our meals and were splitting the bill, as we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the total. It was a night’s stay at a five star hotel. Had they not split our dishes after all, and given us two full orders of each thing we’d eaten? Then we realized it was the bellinis. It turns out that they were EU 24 each. Who on earth knowingly spends $60.00 for two cocktails? Obviously, we wouldn’t have ordered those if we’d been told the price. Or maybe we would have.
Not quite ready to go back to camp yet, although Rob was a zombie from his allergy meds, we walked down the street to Gilda, the club Rob had looked up that promised to be the best night spot in Rome where the city’s elite and the world’s celebrities lounge and dance after their dinners. We had not so far sampled any of the night life in Europe, and although we’re both not regular partiers, we figured we ought to check out the club scene at least once. The first thing we noticed was the red velvet rope. Some things around the world never change, including Melrose-looking girls lining up outside the door and huge bouncers holding clipboards with The List. We passed the line and went right up to one of the bouncers and said that we just wanted to have a drink, and after a discussion with his colleague, the rope was unclipped for us and we sauntered right in. As as I said, some things around the world never change. However, once we were escorted inside to a booth where an unsmiling woman sat behind a cash register, things turned laughably deflating.
“We’d just like to sit at the bar and have a drink,” I told the unsmiling woman.
“Sixty euro, please,” she said. Our eyebrows raised and our mouths dropped. She pointed to each of us, saying, “Thirty, and thirty.”
“Really?” Rob asked incredulously. She reconsidered. “Okay,” she consented, “thirty, twenty.” She pointed to me when she’d said twenty.
We laughed out loud, and I didn’t even care if we were insulting what might have been a perfectly generous offer. I have not and never will pay a cover charge to get into a nightclub. I’m that snobby, I admit it, and while perhaps I ought to have been humbled by this experience, a genuine twinge of humility I felt not. Only amusement.
Rob and I took that as our excuse to get back to camp and watch a movie in our jammies, which is what we really wanted to do anyway. Going to a club had been more of an obligation than a real urge, and I figured we could postpone our European nightlife experience until we were in France. Maybe admission will be less preposterous there.
The next morning, Sunday, we awoke earlier than usual to check out of our pretty campground resort and start heading north towards Lake Garda. Rob was giddy with excitement as he drooled over the Google images he’d pulled up of the incredible mountain biking in that area, and he couldn’t wait to have the ride he was sure would be the best of his life. Since a lot of people back home had told me that Florence is a must-see, we decided to stop there on our way for lunch and wander for a bit.
It was miserably rainy, though, and I get awfully depressed on rainy days. Nothing is good enough, and I feel fussy and sad. Rain doesn’t inspire me to go out and explore new cities, and the cloud coverage made Florence look dreary, although I’m sure it’s lovely when the sun is shining. Unfortunately I’m not one of those people who can still find beauty in the rain, at least not in a city. I told Rob that the only time I can appreciate rain is when I’m bundled up next to a fire with a good book, with Butters smushed up against me. Then I don’t mind the pitter-patter of raindrops. But we had no cozy apartment to snuggle up with a good book in, and Butters is thousands of miles away with my parents.
Fortunately Rob didn’t seem to want to do much walking around Florence either, so we found an edgy restaurant/pub and WiFi-ed while the World Cup played in the background. Italy was having a good roll while we were there, although I’m not sure who won. The bar area was packed, and periodically we would hear Italian bursts of cheering and bellowing, backed up by the obnoxiously loud hum that for whatever reason is always buzzing during these football matches. That constant, droning humming sound, which is present no matter where we go in Europe, gives me a headache. I will never understand some peoples’ obsession with sports, as I’m sure they can’t understand mine with food. To each their own, but the sports fans win when I’m at a restaurant during the World Cup.
Rob drove us to Verona after we left Florence, where we parked on a sidestreet in the city and spent the night. By the following morning, the rain had stopped. We walked to the Giardino Giusti, a landscape of beautiful miniature labyrinths and stone statues. Mozart himself had climbed the spiral staircase to overlook the view, and while it was beautiful, the air smelled like poo. The gardeners must have spread fertilizer very recently, and it rather took away from the experience. Still, it was a soothing respite from being so long in cities. I love gardens.
We decided to enter one of the labyrinths and soon found ourselves lost in its maze. The hedges had been freshly showered from the rain and beads of water still clung to the little green leaves. Our hips became soaked as we walked through the narrow rows, turning to find dead ends and new aisles that led to more dead ends. It was fun, but I was soon shivering from the raindrop bath we were given, and finally when we were both too impatient to finish the labyrinth properly, we hopped the hedge that was next to the exit gate. Totally cheating, but it was cold!
We walked around fair Verona, learning that one can get married at Juliet’s Balcony, supposedly the one that inspired Shakespere to write his famous lovers scene. Rob and I liked Verona and her streetshow characters, but we were weary of walking around tourist attractions and excited to get to Lake Garda with its majestic mountains and deep blue waters.
The only thing we really saw in Verona besides the gardens was the Arena, which immediately gave me deja vu to a time when I was a child watching a Yanni concert on TV with my dad, who looked eerily like Yanni at the time. I knew from the tall pillars and ancient stone bleachers that this was exactly the amphitheater where I’d fallen in love with the violin at Yanni’s show as I watched it in Rockford, Illinois. I asked for violin lessons for my birthday and for Christmas three years in a row before I finally got them, and all because of that televised concert from Verona.