Rome – Day 4

Rome Florence Day Trip

K and I landed in Florence, the birthplace of Italian Renaissance. We conveniently planned this on a Monday since most museums in Rome are closed on this day. The main purpose of this trip was to see the David at the Academia.

We started the day early at the Termini station where we purchased our fast train tickets. Usually a train to Florence could take about 3 hours, but the fast train (about 88 euros) got us there in about 1.5 hours.

Rome Florence Galleria Accademia

We waited at least 2 hours to get into the Academia. Note –  Book your reservation in advance! This gallery is small. The only main attraction here is the famous sculpture of David by Michaelangelo (which I couldn’t sneak a picture of). There were a few other statues and paintings, but nothing too famous.

Rome Florence Steak

An hour later, we were out… and hungry. We scoured Florence for its famous Bistecca Fiorentina, a t-bone steak seasoned with high-quality olive oil. We found some for 50 euro, some for 30. Alas, a steak for 20 euros. K got the trademark dish, while I had the spaghetti carbonara, pasta with an egg and pancetta sauce. You know, you get what you paid for. The steak was satisfactory. Perfectly medium-rare, but too tough and flavorless. The carbonara was pretty good, but it could’ve use more pancetta. More “bacon” always makes things better.

Rome Florence Ponte Vecchio

We were going to do the Ufizzi Gallery, but we didn’t want to stand in another line AND I figured we’d be sick of museums after this trip. So, we headed for the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge filled with shops. A few snaps here and there and then we were off to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. This church is probably the largest structure in Florence. The domed cathedral in it’s gothic style is Florence’s crowned architectural jewel. The entrance was free, so we took a peek inside. It is massive, but for some reason, they didn’t let us into the dome, so I don’t have any good pictures. For 3 euros, you can also take an elevator up the tower for a city-wide view, but we, unfortunately, didn’t have the cash.

Rome Florence Grom Gelato

I did, however, have enough cash for gelato. While roaming through the streets of Florence, we found a HUGE crowd around this gelato place called Grom. I can never turn down ice cream, so by instinct, I stood in line. They had such interesting flavors, but the one that caught my eye was salted caramel. “Oh yeah, that’s what I’m getting,” I thought. K got coffee. Man this was good. The caramel was very dark and rich, almost bitter, but slightly sweet. The coffee was super strong, as if we were drinking an actual espresso. I can’t say this was better than Giolitti’s, but it’s definitely different.

The one thing I regret not doing in Florence is buying something. Florence is famous for its leather, so I should’ve purchased a pair of boots or a small cross-body bag. Leather is pretty cheap here. K got a small wallet for 10 euros and I could’ve got a pair of real leather boots for 30 euro. Ugh, I’m kicking myself. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

Rome Rupubblica Circle Pan

We headed back for Rome in the early evening and caught a few more sites before we headed for dinner. We checked out Piazza di Popolo and Piazza del Repubblica. Both are large traffic circles that are beautifully lit at night time.

Rome iVascellari Amatriciana

For dinner, I tried to make it to this restaurant in Trastevere that Anthony Bourdain went to, but it was closed! We landed at this other cute restaurant by the Tiber River called iVascellari. We started with a spinach and cured ham salad with some fresh pecorino cheese and really good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Spinach in Rome is nothing like the spinach back home. The leaves here are larger, thicker and heartier. For our main course, we had the cacio e pepe, spaghetti with parmesan and pepper, and the amatriciana, rigatoni with a tomato and dried pork cheek sauce – both are very traditional Roman dishes. I’ve had tons of pasta on this trip and this dinner was the best. The pasta was perfectly al dente and they were both seasoned perfectly. My cacio e pepe was way better than the one I had our first night. It wasn’t drowning in a mysterious cream sauce. It was buttered and topped with tons of shredded parmesan. And the pepper in the dish, which is the main ingredient, was freshly ground and not overpowering. The amatriciana was very flavorful. You could taste the sweet chunks of tomatoes and the hidden pieces of salty pork in each pasta.

And that was the end of day 4…

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A day at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Tomales Bay Oysters on IceEarlier this month, K and I (with 20 of our friends) kicked off our summer with a “daycation” in Tomales Bay consisting of hiking and oyster-eating. What’s great about the Bay Area is that there are a ton of daycation possibilities an hour or two from the city. All you need to do is pack up a picnic basket and drive.

Two hours north of the city lies Tomales Bay in Point Reyes State Park. This area is best known for its oyster farms, one of which is the famous Hog Island Oyster Co. Both have the same business concept – purchase your oysters and enjoy them at a picnic table overlooking a lackluster bay view. The biggest deciding factor in which we chose Tomales Bay Oyster Co. over Hog Island is that tables are free, whereas HIOC charges $10 per person. Another thing to note is that HIOC does provide you with shucking knives, utensils, sauce, and TBOC does not.

Tomales Bay Oysters

We started the daycation off with a failed attempt to hike on the Jepson Trail in the Tomales Bay Park ($8 entrance fee. And yes, the guys went hiking with beer.). About 20 minutes into the hike, we decided the path was way too overgrown to continue and went to grab tables at the oyster farm 30 min away.

Tomales Bay Raw Oyster Hot Sauce

We instantly dug into some fresh oysters. I admit, I am no oyster fan, but I couldn’t put these down! They were juicy, briney, sweet and succulent. A hit of Tobasco and a squeeze of lemon, and you’ll be in oyster heaven. I want to say we had about 120 oysters between 20 people. The prices vary between sizes, but we stuck with the smalls at $10 for a bag of 12 or $40 for a bag of 50. For non-oyster eaters, they also sell clams and mussels. I was planning on making a clam bake, but the clams were sold out by 12 noon.

Tomales Bay Oyster Menu

Scattered around the picnic tables are BBQ pits for customers to use. Our group brought tons of other foods to cook on the grills including hamburgers, sausages and kalbi ribs.

K even got creative and made a mussel bake with butter, beer, corn and sausages.

Tomales Bay Mussels Cooked

Try throwing some oysters on the grill. It’s amazing how different they taste from their raw form. It has less of an oceany flavor with more of a smoky undertone.

Tomales Bay Cooked Oyster

I was way too full to do this, but I’d suggest stopping by Cowgirl Creamery on the way back into the city. They really do make the best cheese in the Bay Area. So next time you have a free weekend this summer, drive up to Tomales Bay with a few of your friends and have a nice picnic out in the sun. Speaking of sun, I got incredibly sunburned that day and now I’m branded with a big “x” on my back from my razorback tank. :(

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A day in the bay: catamaran ride #1

SF Bay Sailing Golden Gate Bridge

Each year, K and I plan the most extravagent birthday parties. Surprise trip to Vegas, surprise trip to Yosemite, beach bbqs in Carmel, etc. Well this year, I topped it off with a catamaran ride in the Bay! I was praying for great weather, and lucked out into get the warmest day in May, though a tad bit windy.

More about the trip after the jump.

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