Sunday Wine Down: Brennivin

SUNDAY WINE DOWN, BRENNIVINAs Ashley and I are slowly gearing up for our trip, I am starting to plan what food and drink I know I can’t miss on the road.  My mind is focused on the land of Ice and fire and all of the wonders of Iceland so for this new Sunday Wine Down (on Monday because we had too much fun on Sunday) I am going to focus on a singular drink that has caught my interest. So sit back, grab a glass of wine and maybe a plate of fermented shark because we are here to talk about a notorious drink with the ominous name of black death.

Brennivin is the actual name of this drink but it’s commonly referred to as black death. Now I have yet to try this mysterious unsweetened schnapps, so I will not be able to give a first hand account of the stuff. It is on top of my list to drink though when we finally land in Iceland. Brennivin translates in english as burning wine and all the rumors I have heard suggest that name suits this drink. Brennivin got the name Black Death during Iceland’s prohibition on alcohol; the bottles had skull and cross bones put on the bottle by the the Icelandic government so people began to refer to it as Black Death when ordering. Note: the Icelandic Prohibition lasted from 1915-1922 but it was far more lenient than the prohibition in the States.


The national drink is made from fermenting grains or potato mash and is typically bottled at 80 proof. The flavoring has strong herbal flavors and the common flavoring used are caraway seeds. There is a long tradition in Scandinavian countries to steep herbs in alcohol to create schnapps.

So how are we supposed to enjoy this unsweetened schnapps? The experts say that you drink it cold in a shot glass or a tumbler. So keeping a bottle of it in your freezer is a common practice. You can serve it over ice or drink it neat. Drinking the Black Death is an acquired taste I have read and most critics say it is not worth trying this strong flavor of the drink. What do you pair with a drink whose flavor scares people away with? Fermented shark, of course.  You read that correctly, rotting shark. The dish goes by the name of Hkarl and has just as big of a reputation in regards to its smell and unique flavor… It is a traditional dish that Anthony Bourdain quotes as the worst thing he ever tried. Nothing like a strong drink and some rotting shark to wake you up in the morning. Now if you are not like me and don’t want to try this paring feel free to pair Brennivin with lamb or strong fish.

I have not stopped talking about this national drink since we decided Iceland will be our first international destination on our trip around the world. I am a traditionalist at heart so why would I not want to try and learn to love this traditional drink of Iceland. I think I am more excited for the pairing of Black Death and fermented shark. Now I know Icelandic cuisine has moved away from this traditional pairing but hey, everybody has a past and what a fun thing to learn about.

I hope you enjoyed this latest Sunday wine down. If you have experienced Brennivin please comment below and share your story. I would love to hear it!

Changing the World

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”  – Margaret MeadCHANGING THE WORLD

Why travel?  Why pick such an uncertain way of living? Why do we want to be vagabonds and go against the social norm of being settled?  My feet keeping moving me forward and forever changing the paths I take in life. Over the last few months I have been pondering why I travel, what do I want to take from it and what I want to give to this world. With technology we have made the world a smaller place to live in, yet our understanding of each other has never seemed further away. We, unfortunately like generations before us, live in a time of turmoil and unrest. Our media has turned into a circus act and seems to only wants to give us cheap thrills rather than actual information we can use. They provide us violence, fear, and hatred twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. According to the media the world has become more dangerous and more corrupt than ever. The media does not want us to travel; they do not want us to visit and learn about the world. They want us to live in fear of the world; we should sit on our couches so they can force feed us negativity and leave us with the feeling of hopelessness about the world we live in.

Villa d'Este

I believe there has been no greater crime in mankind than the propaganda that keeps people hiding in their little boxes afraid of the big bad world. I am sorry, but it’s bullshit and I’m angry about it. To hell with the 24 hour news cycle, to hell with people who do nothing but bring fear and violence into our homes, to hell with them all! The world we live in is great, we should not be forced to fear an idea of impending doom but should be given the idea of hope and for all of us to dream and work for a better tomorrow. Yes, this world isn’t perfect and we can’t fix all it’s problems but that won’t stop us from trying.

This world is no more dangerous now than it was in the past; we just happen to be more aware of it. The world is a dangerous place; there will always be danger and we have to accept that. This danger however, should not stop us from seeing the world.  The amount of information we have access to can help us be aware of the places we are going. We can take preemptive action to help protect ourselves as we go out and travel. The world is too beautiful and too grand not to go out and explore. We should celebrate the world and the differences between us because that is what makes us beautiful and so fascinating.

The Russian River

So what am I going to do? First I am not going to allow the news to influence what I believe about this world.  Ashley and I are going to go out into this world and show people how important it is for us to travel. It is important for all of us to learn and come to understanding with other cultures.  I want to interact with people and learn about their culture and the way they live their life and I hope they will want to, in return, learn about my way of life and culture. I want to give the world hope; I want to fight back against this blanket of negativity that has been brought upon this world. We need to be outside with our hands raised in joyous celebration for being so blessed to live in a world that is so diverse. I want to explore and understand all this diversity. I do not believe that it is enough to connect through just media, it is more important to go out to visit and talk to people in person.  Get up and interact with a new culture in person, make a personal connection.

Travel and the people who travel can change this world for the better.  Instead of spreading hatred and fear, us travelers can spread peace and understanding. We can show people that diversity should not be the cause of conflict but should be the cause celebration.

Endless Arches at Ta Prohm

Every time I step foot into a new place I’m overwhelmed with questions for every person I meet. During our 6 year trip I want to learn and understand the world and then share the stories of other people. I believe most travelers have this same drive.  As travelers we belong to our own culture and I believe it is this culture that it is important to saving this world. What we acquire as we travel are stories of the world and these stories come with a responsibility when you are a travel blogger.  Our responsibility is to nurture these stories and spread them around like a wildfire and bring understanding and acceptance to this world.  Exploration is in our nature as humans; throughout history there were always souls that lust for travel and adventure.  We are the next generation of travelers for the history books and it is our job to bring understanding and that is why we are traveling the world. The need to learn is what drives us and we are willing to go to the end of the world. This world is beautiful and it deserves to be explored and to have stories passed face to face not just through the web.

I can proudly stand up a say that the world is not doomed and I believe that mankind has not come close to show how wonderful our earth and its people can be.  As bloggers, it is our jobs to go out and fight for this world and our right to walk among new cultures without fear but with the yearning for knowledge. We can change this world and we have the power to go out and show people the world is not a bad place but a place that should be loved. This is our world and I’m not ready to give up on us just yet. So go and learn and fight for understanding and peace. Go out and talk to people and show people that there is still good in this world. I sure know that is what I am going to be doing.

Alex and I at the Orange Garden

This may sound crazy but over the next six years this is what we want to prove; the world and its people are good and not only that but they are also welcoming, helpful and curious.  We want to travel the world, meet new people and learn about their culture. No one culture is the same but in the end we believe that everyone wants to live a happy and fulfilled life.  Our six year round the world trip is to share how wonderful the world is.  No one should live in fear because this world is wonderful and has so much to offer.  

Craving Iceland

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

We’re going to Iceland!!!!!!!!! On May 20th we’re hoping on a plane and heading to the northernmost capital in the world, Reykjavik. Ash and I thought we should start our around the world trip with a country that neither of us have been to and what a country and a city to start with! I grew up camping, hiking and just enjoying nature and Iceland’s wilderness has inspired generations of people to explore and write about the world. As lovers of travel and writing, how could we miss such a country that reinvigorates one’s soul?

We will be renting a car for seven days and road tripping around this beautiful landscape. We want to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. Hike volcanoes, camp in the forest, eat hot dogs on the side of the road, and relax in geothermal spas. I personally cannot wait to eat and gorge myself with the hardy food of this land. A huge part of their diet is game and fish and has kept the people fueled to battle the harsh elements.  Preservation techniques like pickling in fermented whey or brine and drying or smoking has allowed the Icelanders to survive over time. The traditional methods have died out over the generations but I know I can still find and enjoy the flavors of fermented fish or meat. The smells and taste are funky but hey, that is part of the fun. I also know lamb is a huge part of their diet and I love lamb. I am sure this will be mostly what I consume.

It is a little difficult to explain why we crave Iceland. A couple episodes of Anthony Bourdain is what sparked our initial interest and then a few searches on google is what really got us hooked. The breathtaking landscape is hard to pass up and if I had to choose the reason we are craving Iceland that landscape has to be it.  Ash and I are determine to experience things that we normally would not and go out there and push our boundaries as people, travelers, photographers and writers. Who knows, we might even make some friends along the way.

We are craving Iceland. We think this northern territory is the perfect jumping off point to push us even further in our upcoming adventures!


Have you been to Iceland?  What was your favorite part of this crazy beautiful country?


Sunday Wine Down: The Greeks and the Romans

Sunday Wine Down Part 3

After a few weeks of being on hiatus we are back with Sunday Wine Down. I have created a new schedule for this feature. Instead of posting every week we are going to start doing one every other week. I have come to realize that the research for these post takes a long time and I do not want have to rush these post. So do not worry these post are not going anywhere. Enough with the update lets us get back down to business. So grab a glass of wine and relax. Let us finish our last installment of Ancient wines with the Greeks and Romans.

Nothing like a big bowl of wine! That is my kind of drinking.
Nothing like a big bowl of wine! That is my kind of drinking.

I am going to start off with the Greeks because they were indeed an earlier civilization and a lot of our modern wine culture does in fact derive from them. Viticulture has been in Greece since the neolithic period however, due to the the Greeks expansive city states they were able to spread the growing of vines and the making of wine to their furthest reaches. We can not forget though that it was the Phoenicians and the Egyptians that helped influence ancient Greece. Especially the Phoenicians who encouraged the Greeks to spread grapes and wine throughout their settlements.  The Greek settlers brought vines with them throughout the Mediterranean. They were also very big in cultivating wild native vines and using them as well. Sicily, one of the earliest colonies, was mostly covered in vines and for this reason they called the island Oenotria (the land of vines). They also had settlements in Massalia which is in the south of France, along the shores of the Black Sea and there are also rumors that they were able to spread vines to Spain and Portugal. This fact is argued but it is thought that the Phoenicians most likely beat them to the punch. Whether or not the Phoenicians beat them to Spain first, wine became a big commodity for the Greeks. They, like the Phoenicians before them, turned it into profit and wine became an important part of everyday life. So much so that even Greek currency starting depicting grape clusters.

The far reaches of ancient Greece.
The far reaches of ancient Greece.

Greeks were proud of their vineyard practices and wine making, so much so that they started sharing their way of making wine with other cultures. Amphorae bearing their design and seal showed the different city states that these wines were coming from. Athens became a lucrative trading place for all the Greek wines and even shipped wines into Gaul through Massalia numbering at least 10 million liters of wine each year. Archaeologists found a sunken ship off the coast of southern France that had 10,000 amphorae filled with wine which comes out to be about 300,000 liters worth of wine. The reach of Greek influence carried throughout the Aegean Islands where archaeologists have found millions of pieces of wine amphora.

Greek Amphorae
Greek Amphorae

Wine was soon ingrained into the culture of the ancient Greeks through religious ceremony, celebration, and medicinal use. The way the Greeks looked at the land where the grapes came from was an important process in their ability to produce quality wine using early viticulture techniques. They studied soils and used a technique of cutting off bunches of grapes early on in the growth cycle  to control the yield which is a widely used practice still today.  Wine regions started becoming popular as ancient writers would write about their favorite wines. Two of the more acclaimed grapes for the time were Bibline and Pramnian. Bibline was thought to originate from an area called Thrace near Thessaloniki and was thought to be made like an old Phoenician wine style from Byblos. Pramnian was well known and grew in several regions and was thought to be an age worthy wine.

Dionysus the Greek God of Wine
Dionysus the Greek God of Wine

The God of wine for the Greeks was Dionysus and many festivals were celebrated in his honor. They had a celebration in February by the name of Anthesteria which celebrated the opening of wine jars from the past harvest.  In Athens they would hold wine drinking contests and had procession of people walking down the streets with open wine jars. Plays were also a big part of these celebrations, which were dedicated to the God of wine. They also played a fun game where they would throw lees (dead yeast cells) from their cups at targets that they called out. I like to think of this as early day beer pong.

The Greeks really helped take wine making, the growing of vines, the culture of drinking and trading to a whole new level. They enjoyed wine and enjoyed sharing their findings and knowledge. We could not be where we are today without the Greeks. Yet we are still missing one important piece to the puzzle and that is the Romans. The Greeks helped to keep the wine movement through ancient time rolling but it was the Romans that made wine immortal throughout their ancient empire and into modern day Europe.

The Roman Empire!
The Roman Empire!

As many of us know, the Roman Empire was the most expansive Empire of Classical Antiquity; their reach was vast and because of this wine was able to grow legs and run. Obviously a lot of practices and knowledge about wine came from the Greeks. The Greeks had used parts of the Italian peninsula to grow wine and this culture passed easily into the Roman culture.  Romans considered wine to be a very important thing of everyday life. It was considered a necessity and even a democratic drink, which everyone was encouraged to enjoy. Wine was available to slaves, peasants, women, and aristocrats alike. Rome used its power and influence to spread wine across it’s empire. As the Roman empire grew so did the production of wine. Wine was a way to romanize the local populations (along with art and religion) as everyone could consume it just like the roman citizens and by bringing vines with them they were able to ensure the comforts of Rome even far away from home.  To ensure that enough wine was being produced they would bring vines with them and plant them as they conquered. Their influence had a large effect in today’s modern wine making regions of France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal.

Baccus the the Roman God of wine.
Baccus the the Roman God of wine.

Through ancient Roman writers we are able to learn about the importance of wine in Roman culture. Roman wine even had a Golden age. In the beginning, roman wine was not even considered to be in the same class of the Greeks until the 2nd century.  This is when the Romans began to place an importance on quality; it may have been a drink for everyone but the emperors demanded the best. Pliny the Elder, a famous naturalist and roman writer,  talked a lot about roman first growths or the roman cru vineyards. These vineyards became highly prized and from them came the famous vintage from 121 BC, which was a year of great yield and high quality grapes that led to fantastic wine that was enjoyed even a century after making it. Roman was on the forefront of making wine and it was all due to the fact that wine was important to them and they cared deeply about making and enjoying great wine.

After harvest they would immediately  stomp on the grapes to extract the juice.
After harvest they would immediately stomp on the grapes to extract the juice.

The Romans did help advance the process of wine making but in my opinion the most important thing that the Roman empire did for wine was the spreading of viticulture. I mentioned above the Romans spread wine through the furthest reaches of their empire which expanded the original reach of the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, and the Greeks.  Through trade, military campaigns, and settlements the Romans were able to grow their wine production. Roman wine merchants would trade with ally and enemy alike and the ancient Romans were able to bring a taste of wine and the ability grow vines where ever they conquered. The spread of the wine making culture throughout Europe was one of their greatest legacies with the foundation of vineyards in some of the most world renowned regions in modern day.  With the dissolution of the Roman Empire in the 5th century CE, one of the lasting ties the burgeoning European nations had to the ancient Romans was the culture of wine making.  Wine took on an incredibly important role in the Christian faith and survived through the Dark Ages through the politics of the time (the Church) just as the Romans had.

Roman Neighborhood Guide: Piazza Navona and The Pantheon

Neighborhood Guide-Piazza Navona, Pantheon

The area around Piazza Navona and the Pantheon is probably one of the most trafficked areas of Rome.  Part of the Centro Storico, or the historical center, this is the heart and soul of Rome bordered by the Tiber on one side and connecting to the Vatican via the Ponte Sant’Angelo, a beautiful pedestrian bridge with angels designed by Bernini and leading to Castel Sant’Angelo.  Piazza Navona and the Pantheon are located in the northern half of the Centro Storico with Campo dei Fiori neighborhood dominating the southern half of the Centro Storico.  There is so much to see, do and EAT in this area that we just had to share our favorite things about this neighborhood.

Archway to the Centro Storico


Osteria del Pegno

Located on Vicolo di Montevechhio

We have literally written an entire article on this restaurant and I do not have much to add except for the fact that you have to eat here.  If you visit Rome and do not eat here you are crazy! I have had some of the best meals of my life here.  Their ravioli in an orange cream sauce with saffron and zucchini blossoms can seriously change your life (it convinced me I like squash blossoms after all) and even their fennel salad with oranges was heavenly.  I cannot stress how amazing this restaurant is enough.  It may not be “traditional” Italian cuisine but damn it is good and made the Italian way with simple good ingredients.


Cul de Sac

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Cul de Sac is another restaurant we have talked about before in our Rome City Guide and it keeps popping up because it is an outstanding enoteca or wine bar.  The wine list is a BOOK and just a few pages but a massive book which covers all regions of Italy.  I wish I knew then what I do about Italian wines now, because I would have definitely taken advantage of the wine list more.  Go out of your comfort zone while you are here and order a wine you have never heard of; I guarantee you have not heard of most of them on the list anyways since Italy has an obscene amount of grape varietals.  This restaurant does not only have stellar wine but they also have amazing food.  This is the restaurant if you want to try the roman specialty tripe, but if you are not feeling that adventurous their lasagna is one of the best in the city.


Bar Amore

Located on Via dei Banchi Nuovi – A continuation of Via del Governo Vecchio

I have a soft spot in my heart for Bar Amore.  I used to visit this bar almost daily for my cafe e panino.  This bar makes one of the best panino in the city because you can customize it.  That’s right people, a build your own panino shop in Rome.  I took full advantage of this by always ordering the same thing, a tomato and mozzarella panino…….  And by advantage I mean not at all but it was/is SOOO good.  They do have a wide range of ingredients you can put on your panino including brie, artichokes, prosciutto and more.  If you are looking for a great panino place and you are near Piazza Navona search this place out.  Just beware it fills with UC Rome students around lunchtime 😉


Pizzeria Baffeto

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Are you looking for authentic pizza in the heart of Rome and like waiting in line?  Then you need to head to Pizzeria Baffeto.  It might be weird that I am mentioning lines but to this day this is the ONLY restaurant in Rome I ever saw with a line before it opened.  I have had to wait for Cul de Sac but nothing compares to waiting in line for Baffeto.  Things have eased up a bit since they opened up Baffeto Due but I prefer the wait.  Baffeto also has the most perfect location for me; across the street from Abbey and next to Frigidarium.  Baffeto specializes in Roman pizza larger than your face.  They only serve pizza and jugs of wine.  The pizzas range from the traditional Margherita to the Diavola with spicy sausage but perhaps my favorite one is the pizza fagioli, which is a basic margherita pizza with cannellini beans added on top.  It may sound strange and I was certainly skeptical when my sister ordered by my god is it good.  There is just something about the creamy cannellini beans and the cheese and sauce that is so simple but so good.  Even if you are indifferent about pizza (which who is?) at least head to Baffeto for the atmosphere.  The tables here are jammed packed into a two story building which during the summer spills out into the streets.  Service is quick and no frills and you can hear all the waiters and cooks yelling at each other across the restaurant.  It is quintessentially a Roman restaurant.


Il Clan

Located on Via Sora

Il Clan is the perfect restaurant when you need to relax from all the chaos of Rome and God forbid eat something other than Italian food.  Il Clan is the only Brazilian restaurant in town, that I know of anyways, although there is an Argentinian restaurant not too far away (never been though).  This is the perfect spot to relax amongst the bright colors that decorate the restaurant and indulge in a caipirinha or two…. They do not have an extensive menu but what they do have is fresh and authentic.


Tapa Loca

Located on Via di Tor Millina

Tapa Loca is, as you may have guessed, a Spanish tapas restaurant.  It is just down the street from Piazza Navona and is a great spot to drink sangria on a hot summer night and eat a ridiculous amount of paella.  Alex and I made the mistake of ordering one between the two of us and had leftovers for days!  It didn’t help that we ordered a bunch of appetizers as well.  This restaurant has a fun vibe and is a great place for a large group of people. Think pitchers of sangria 🙂


Insalta Ricca

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

We have mentioned Insalata Ricca before in our Trastevere Guide but as there is another location near Piazza Navona it seemed worth noting.  I went here a LOT when I was a student at UC Rome as it is just down the street.  My roommate and I would always split a pesto pizza and a greek salad…. and a liter of wine.  It is Italy after all!

Liter of Wine at Insalata Ricca



Mimi & Coco Panini Shop

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

I am not a huge fan of Mimi & Coco’s restaurant, I find it a bit overpriced for what it is, but I do love their panini place just down the street.  Their panini are open-faced sandwiches and are more like pizza then panini.  My favorite is, per usual, the caprese.  The bread is a bit like focaccia and they just pile on the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and then grill it up on a panini press.  I love to grab the sandwich and walk to either Piazza Navona or the Pantheon and just sit and enjoy it.  This is perhaps one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon in the heart of Rome.


Smoothie Place

Located on Via di Tor Millina

Ok we cannot remember the name of this place but it is part gelato shop and also smoothie shop.  It is the only place that we know of in Rome that serves smoothies and after all those carbs sometimes it is nice to have some fruit that is not ice cream.  They have smoothie combinations and you can also build your own as well.  This store is located just off Piazza Navona and looks slightly touristy but is awesome!


Frigidarium and San Crispino

Located on Via Governo Vecchio and Piazza della Maddalena respectively


These are HANDS DOWN my all time favorite gelaterias!  That is a bold statement, I know, but I am not taking it back.  I talked about both of these places in my 5 Reasons Why I Love Gelato post but they deserve a second mention, mainly because I wrote that article almost 2 years ago.  Frigidarium is my go to for traditional Italian gelato.  You get the basic flavors here but they are sooo good.  I am obsessed with their canella (cinnamon) and their raspberry sorbet.  San Crispino is the place to go to hunt down seasonal gelato.  I love their white peach sorbet and the Sicilian honey gelato.  They switch the flavors up a lot and always have something amazing.




Abbey Theater


Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Abbey will always have a special place in our hearts because we met there of course!  Actually that is not it at all (although we did meet there).  Both of us had been going to Abbey before we met each other and it is our favorite expat bar.  This is place where we always felt welcomed.  If it had been a rough day and we were just sick of Rome this was the place we would go to unwind.  Plus they had awesome chicken curry.


Bar del fico

Located on Piazza del Fico

Bar del Fico is a hole in the wall Italian bar.  While I have never eaten here it always gets rave reviews but it is a great spot to pop in for an evening drink.  The atmosphere is lively whether you grab a table outside or inside.  You will always find locals here, playing chess usually and egging each other on, which can be rare in such a heavily touristed area.  This is one of the greatest bars to catch up with friends and spend a relaxing Saturday night.



Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Fruit Cocktails at Fluid

Clearly Governo Vecchio is one of my favorite streets in all of Rome and Fluid is my favorite aperitivo bar.  The cocktails here are top notch especially in a city that doesn’t have a huge cocktail scene, although I hear that is changing.  Plus I am all for a place that charges 7euros for a cocktail and then you get unlimited food.  They will occasionally serve pineapple with drizzled nutella; I never knew how good that could be until Fluid.


Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe

Located on Piazza Sant’Eustachio

Sant’Eustachio is a cafe in the heart of Rome that has been around since 1938.  Today’s incarnation looks almost similar to the original cafe with even the paving and furnishing the same as in 1938.  They are known for the caffe d’elite and the shakerato.  Sitting at one of the 6 tables at Sant’Eustachio is like stepping back into Rome’s past.



Piazza Navona/Ruins of Diocletian’s circus

Alex Strolling Through Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is probably the most popular square to visit in Rome.  Whenever I imagine the square I am filled with romantic notions of artists selling their wares while couples take romantic strolls and academics debate Bernini’s famous fountain.  And in truth you do get this along with hordes of tourists.  I tend to avoid Piazza Navona during the summer during the day but love to spend hours here in the evening.  Rome is so hot during the summer even at night that it is lovely to spend time near the fountain (personally I think the sound of falling water makes it feel cooler, mental air conditioning…).  I love staring at all the different angles of Bernini’s fountain especially the statue which faces Borromini’s church as the two were bitter rivals and this played out in Bernini’s art.

Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain
I love how the figure is shielding his eyes against the horror of Borromini’s church


Another reason I love Piazza Navona is because the history behind the famous piazza is so much more than just the Baroque period of Bernini and Borromini.  If you head around to the north of the piazza on the outside you can see the ruins of the Stadium of Domitian which was built in the first century CE.  Today Piazza Navona still retains the same shape as the original stadium that was used for foot races.



The Pantheon

I have stated time and time again but I will say it again, The Pantheon is my favorite building EVER.  The fact that Hadrian rebuilt it in 126 CE and people still do not know how he built the dome amazes me!  I love all the history of the building and except for the fact that it is now a church it was left relatively untouched from the Roman times.  Also if you have a chance to visit during Pentecost a stop in to the Pantheon is a must as they throw rose petals from the ceiling.  This is one of my favorite memories from our time in Rome.


Bernini’s Elephant

Bernini's Elephant in Rome

Located on Piazza della Minerva

Bernini’s elephant in front of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is just one of the delights this church holds.  I love that Bernini carved this white elephant.  I am not sure why I love this little statue so much but it seem like such a whimsy addition to a city filled with high art.


Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Located on Piazza della Minerva

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is a church with an excessively long name which means the Church of St. Mary above the Temple of Minerva.  Throughout the city of Rome churches were built over pagan sites.  This was mainly to encourage pagans to convert to Christianity, the logic being that people do not like to change their routine so they will continue to go to the same site even when the religion changes.  While you can no longer see the remains of the Temple of Minerva, who also goes by the Greek name of Athena, the church is still worth a visit.


Before you head into the church and after you have spent time admiring Bernini’s elephant take a look at the plaques that are on the right hand side of the building.  The plaques mark the height of the flooding of the Tiber River.  Before the huge embankments were places along the Tiber, the river used to flood annually and covered much of the Centro Storico.  It is amazing to think that the river used to flood all the way to this church.  It is about a ten minute walk to the river from the church.

Christ the Redeemer by Michelangelo
It looks much better in person than through the grainy lens pf my iphone 3 – Yup you read that right. I took this photo about 2.5years ago…. Clearly was not preparing for a life of blogging


The church also has a beautiful statue inside, Christ the Redeemer, which was carved by Michelangelo in 1519.  The statue was carved for a private patron who lived near Santa Maria Sopra Minerva but there were actually two versions of it carved as the first was abandoned when a black vein was discovered in the marble.  The first version was placed by Metello Vari, Michelangelo’s patron, in his garden and the second completed statue was placed inside the church.  The first statue was actually lost from the early 1600s to 2000 when it was discovered in a sacristy in Bassano, just outside of Rome.  This statue was famous during its time and was described by a contemporary as having knees worthy more than the whole of Rome.  Those are some pretty bad ass knees…


Ruins at Lago Argentina

The ruins at Lago Argentina are interesting because they have literally built a traffic hub around them.  Several bus lines, tram lines and a major road all surround these ruins which are below the surface.  I think it is always worth it to brave the traffic to cross the street and view the ruins.  The ruins date back to the Republican period of Rome and include four temples and the ruins of Pompey’s theater.  Julius Caesar was assassinated at the Theater of Pompey in the curia and it is thought that this site is part of the ruins of Largo Argentina.  The ruins also act as a cat shelter for the homeless cats of Rome of which there are many.  So you can hang out with some kitties and check out ruins.  Who needs cat cafes?



Via dei Coronari


Via dei Coronari is a quaint little street with hundreds of little local shops.  This street is where I pick up all of my Christmas gifts as I can always find something unique here for family and friends.  It is also a great place to take photos of quaint Roman streets.  There are cute little cafes, spots to grab gelato and sit on the stairs, and a range of boutiques and vintage stores.


Glass store

Located on Via dei Coronari

We for the life us cannot remember the name of this store but we absolutely LOVE it.  Alex and I discovered this store while we were wandering Via dei Coronari and it is our favorite store in Rome.  The owners actually makes their own glass for all of the jewelry and home decor in the shop.  While it may not be the famous murano glass, it is locally made and each piece is unique.  The store owners are so amazing that when Alex and I went in there with a picture of what Alex’s mom wanted from the store and they didn’t have it, they made it for us there on the spot.  If anyone visits this glass shop or knows the name of it we would love to know!  We love this place and want to give them proper recognition!


Vintage shopping

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

All along Via Governo Vecchio from Abbey to Bar Amore there are adorable vintage shops just filled with treasures.  I loved popping into these stores in between classes to check out what they had.  While it is possible to find some deals at these stores be prepared to shell out a pretty penny if you really want some amazing vintage pieces.  Either way it is always nice to pop in and see some more modern Roman history.

Street Corners of the Centro Storico
This is Rome. Beautiful street corners with bags of trash next to them…. It is a beautiful AND a living city with highs and lows


So there you have it, our tips and recommendations for the northern half of the Centro Storico from Piazza Navona to the Pantheon.  This is such a wonderful area to take in the history and the daily life of Rome.  While it can be touristy there are still many authentic roman places to eat, see and shop.



Sunday Wine Down Holiday Special: Eggnog

Sunday Wine Down, Eggnog

I am sure that you are sitting down right now with a glass of wine thinking you are about to continue on with the history of wine. We left off with the Phoenicians and were about to talk about the Greeks and the Romans. Well set that glass of wine down because we are going to take a detour. We are at the end of the Christmas season so let’s dive into the history of my favorite holiday drink, Eggnog.

Many of you might not know what eggnog is and many of you know exactly what it is. Eggnog is a sweet dairy beverage that is typically enjoyed in the winter months of North America. The ingredients are very simple: milk, raw eggs, sugar, spices (nutmeg is the standard) and if you want a kick you can add bourbon, rum, or brandy. Using this concoction you can create a creamy and frothy alcoholic beverage that’s perfect to cozy up to a winter fire.

Where did this wonderful drink come from? Well we know that it traveled from Europe to the Americas. Most likely from England during the 18th century. The drink could have derived from a thick boozy medieval drink called posset. Posset was hot milk filled with liquor (possibly sherry) and any available spices that royalty had at the time. This is the best guess we have on the origins of eggnog. So how did we get from the name posset to eggnog?  Again, the origins of the name are unclear but there are a few popular Ideas. Egg, of course, came from the use of eggs in the beverage. Nog on the other hand can come from a couple of different stories. Noggin was an small wooden cup that the east anglia would drink a strong beer from. It is very possible that they used to drink posset in a noggin and over time the drink became eggnog. The other belief is that it came from what the colonies called rum, grog. Now rum was what the colonist would put in the drink so it was egg and gogg. Eventually becoming egg n’ grog and finally eggnog. I am sure it is a mixture of the two stories but most of this is just speculation.

This winter drink became popular in the Colonies with the abundance of chickens, cows, and rum from the Caribbean. During the revolution rum was in short supply but the revolutionaries made their own whiskey, which is now known as bourbon, and started to use that as the popular hooch in eggnog. Still to this day Americans and Canadians drink this traditional winter drink during the periods of Thanksgiving and New Years. The drink has had many modifications over time but it has truly become a staple during the holiday season. So much so that one can go to their local grocery story during the winter and buy this wonderful drink. If you are buying Eggnog from the store know the drink is going to be thicker due to the use of cream and some other flavors will be added, the  most common being vanilla. My favorite is made by Alta Dena from Southern California.

Photo courtesy of Alta Dena
Photo courtesy of Alta Dena

A  fun fact before we finish up these last sips. In the states we had an Eggnog Riot in 1826 at an United States American military academy on the 23 and 24 of December when a group of cadets smuggled in whiskey to make eggnog. The incident led to twenty cadets being courtmartialed from the military. So who knows what they did? But drink enough eggnog and you can definitely have some fun.

This is the end of the drink, come back next Sunday for the continuation of the history of wine. These features are meant to be educational for you and I, so feel free to comment and add facts. I hope you enjoy the rest of 2014, see you in 2015.

Sunday Wine Down: Ancient Wine Part 2, The Phoenicians

Sunday Wine Down: The Phoenicians

Welcome again to Sunday Wine Down. It is time to pop that cork, pour yourself a big glass of wine and enjoy life. We are back again for our second weekend of the Sunday Wine Down and we are going to continue with our lesson of Ancient Wines. Last week we covered the basics; we discovered how old wine actually is and talked a little about the Egyptians and their influences on wine. The lesson is not over yet as we have a few more Ancient civilizations to talk about before we get into modern wine. So enjoy that glass as you learn a little bit more about ancient wine!

This week we are going to start with a civilization that was a major player in the migration of wine and viticulture throughout the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians were consider great merchants and they saw the importance of wine as a commodity for them to trade. We can thank the Phoenicians for spreading wine to Greece, Rome, and Spain and then indirectly  to France through the Romans. Phoenicians helped elevate wine into a valued product with their knowledge of growing grapes, wine making,  and transportation of the final product. So lets dig into this fascinating culture.


The Phoenicians 

The Phoenicians were based in the northern reaches of Canaan and the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. To give you all a better picture, they came from modern day Lebanon. Their trading network expanded throughout the Mediterranean and they were the ones who introduced/encouraged the idea of wine through modern day  Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. They also may have have had an indirect effect on wine making up into France.

Around 1000 BC is when business of wine became an extremely important trade and commodity and the demand rose. The Phoenicians took advantage of this and used it to their advantage.  They would travel through the sea with their sailboats that carried large amphoras of wine, different species of vines, wine making equipment and their knowledge of where to plant the vines to produce wine. They did not only trade wine that was produced in Canaan but also set up other markets for wine produced in other colonies and port cities. The Phoenicians were smart when it came to setting up their trading post and developing a network that helped them spread their influence throughout the Mediterranean. Having direct contact with the Greeks, they educated the Greeks on the practices of wine making, viticulture, and shipbuilding which encouraged the Greeks to continue to expand and trade pass the Aegean sea. If it was not for these Ancient adventurers and entrepreneurs wine not be where it is at today.


Carthage was the Phoenicians most successful colony, which is located in North Africa were modern day Tunisia is now. In this hot north African colony the Phoenicians saw the importance of where they planted their grapes. They planted on the side of the hill to help protect the vines from the hot North African sun. They started figuring out the benefits of planting grapes in an ideal area. They took that knowledge and again spread it throughout all the major wine trading posts in the world that was set up by them. The world of wine started to change with this revelation. The world began to see the importance of terroir and the strategic way of planting vines in an area that suited the grapes. This in turn helped to harvest high quality grapes and eventually better wine.

The Phoenicians had the first significant influence on the world of wine. They helped elevate the level of wine that was being made around the Mediterranean, helped build a business and encouraged the practice of wine making to spread like wildfire. The Romans and the Greeks can thank the Phoenicians for sharing their knowledge so that one day the Greeks and Romans could help elevate the art of wine making even further. So as you finish up your glass of wine think about and raise your glass to the greatest merchants of wine in Ancient times. We have a lot to owe them.

Next Sunday Wine Down we will finish up our Ancient wine section with the Romans and the Greeks. We are going to learn how much influence these two empires had in the making of wine. So come back and join us for Ancient Wines Part 3: The Greeks and The Romans.