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We go somewhat off the beaten path to eat in Rome because we stay in a neighborhood, called Parioli, that’s not so popular with tourists. It’s very near the city center, but it’s not exactly in the mix. We really like it over there. It’s just a fifteen minute walk through the Villa Borghese, and we invariably pass by children playing on a playground or a puppet show. So it’s a fun walk. Plus, we’ve made that walk so many times, I don’t even know what we’d do if we stayed closer to the action.
Parioli is amazing for restaurants because people actually live there. It’s where the embassies are. It’s where the Prime Minister’s residence is. People go out to eat well there. If you happen to venture to any of the following spots, I think you’ll be glad you did.
Al Ceppo exudes an old guard vibe. Around the room, you’re likely to see businessmen pressing the flesh right next to families celebrating the holidays. It’s a well-heeled crowd, definitely not one down with ripped jeans or disheveled appearances. Some people might find the old-school wood paneling and the formality intimidating, but we love it. And the food is anything but stodgy. The soft egg with parmesan cream (pictured) is phenomenal and different, and the puntarelle salad is perfect. Puntarelle shines on Roman menus only in the winter, when the winter chicory blooms; the Puntarelle a la Romana salad consists of thinly sliced, slightly bitter chicory, laced with salty anchovies and pungent olive oil. I cannot recommend it enough. However, at Al Ceppo, Josephine’s vote is for the truffle pasta, smothered tableside in forest fresh, shaved black truffles. Everything on the menu is fantastic. It’s worth the cab ride.
This may be my favorite restaurant in Rome. It’s casual. It’s laid back. It’s open until midnight. I wouldn’t recommend it for New Year’s, which we tried to do in 2016-2017. It wasn’t great because the food there is really suited for sitting around with large portions in the center of the table, not in a prix fixe setting. But otherwise, it’s been amazing.
At Ambasciata d’Abruzzo, you’ll be surrounded by locals of all ages. We see young people coming in at 10:30 for a meal; we see old people sipping Brunellos until all hours. Everyone enjoys it.
What I would recommend the most are the pastas, particularly the Rigatoni alla Gricia (at least I think it’s rigatoni — the gricia sauce is basically good with anything). “Alla Gricia” is a traditional Roman preparation of guanciale (cured pork jowl), pecorino cheese, and black pepper. The sharp saltiness of the pecorino and the crunch of the guanciale make my toes curl. I love it that much. It’s actually good even when it’s bad because it’s so hard to go wrong. However, at Ambasciata d’Abruzzo, it’s at its finest. Josephine loves the Bucatini all’Amatriciana, super fat, long noodles, covered in tomatoes, guanciale, pecorino, and black pepper. It’s just a tomato-laden Gricia sauce. You’d also be missing out if you didn’t get the house-made mozzarella with prosciutto and the carciofi alla Romana (the most tender, delectable artichokes in the world). Jamil would also say to get the Maialino, which is suckling pig, served with crunchy pan potatoes. You really cannot go wrong.
What makes it even better is how reasonable the wine list is. You can get a delicious Ripasso di Valpolicella for probably $30. And I’m sure dessert is outstanding, but to tell the truth, I’ve never made it that far. My stomach taps out!
I’ve now spent two birthdays here, and I’ll probably do it again next year, given the opportunity. Gallura offers absurdly fresh seafood of every variety, from squid and baby octopus to sea urchins and all kinds of fish. When you walk in, there’s a wall of glass to your left, where you can watch the chefs in their spotless kitchen as they prepare the most gorgeous seafood dishes I’ve ever seen outside Japan.
As for the food, it’s really remarkable. The fritto misto of seafood is crisp, airy, and perfectly salty. As Americans accustomed to paltry shellfish offerings of shrimp, scallops, and oysters, with calamari and octopus as daring additions here and there, we gawk at the array of crunchy crustaceans Gallura serves up so unprepossessingly. The crudos bear not a hint of fishiness. The catch of the day shines in black truffles and porcini. We’ve ordered many other things on the menu, and they’ve all been excellent. Plus, the ambience is elegant, and the owner is always there, overseeing each dish. She’s attentive and exuberant. It’s just a good vibe.
I think it’s an ideal place to spend Christmas Eve because Italians are known for celebrating the Feast of the Seven Fishes that evening. No one really knows exactly what those seven fishes are supposed to represent — the number of sacraments, the seven days of creation, the seven virtues, the seven deadly sins and the seven days it took Mary and Joseph to reach Bethlehem before baby Jesus was born — maybe any number of those things. In any case, I love seafood, so I’m into a feast of fishes, especially at Gallura.
The word is really out on this place. It’s so good and so centrally located – literally right next to the Pantheon – that it was destined to explode. Reservations book a month in advance, and I highly recommend that you get on that bandwagon because it is so consistent. I haven’t had too many dishes here because I generally order pasta. You cannot go wrong with Spaghetti alla Gricia or Cacio e Pepe. I will say the menu is somewhat organ-heavy, but remember, Rome was traditionally a very poor city. The people were poor. The food was poor. I just don’t go out of my way to eat lungs, so I won’t order that, but you totally can!
We have only been to Roscioli once, but it was a giant hit. Josephine insisted on ordering the spicy sardine appetizer, and she devoured the entire plate. I’m not even sure I got to try it. However, we did get to share the rigatoni all’Amatriciana and the pan-cooked octopus, while Jamil enjoyed the carbonara pasta. Everything was perfect.
I also loved the setup of the restaurant. There’s an active deli at the front, where you can check out the meats, cheeses, and other cured items the restaurant serves. Then, the restaurant itself is narrow and a little tight, just what I’m looking for in Rome’s city center, somewhere bustling and vibrant, where I can hear Italian in the air.
All told, Roscioli is an excellent option in the city center. It’s popular, though, so make a reservation!
Author: Jessica Givens.
Two years in a row, we’ve spent Christmas day in Rome. I’d be tempted to do it again, but I really do miss our small extended family on those days. In researching what to do on Christmas Day, I came up with pitiful guidance. What restaurants would be open? Any? Last year, we didn’t get to find out because it was pouring rain, and we were just coming out of COVID. The Italian government issued an outdoor mask mandate while we were there. Let’s just say it was strange.
This year, I learned that Italians don’t put much stock in Christmas dinner. The big meal of the day is lunch. Poring over various websites, I found Ristorante All’Oro, which was about a mile from our hotel. It was far different from how we typically eat on vacation. We’re not big on Michelin star restaurants because they’re often extremely expensive prix-fixe menus (of which my dad won’t eat about 50%) with tiny portions. But this was Christmas, and there weren’t many options that made sense. The whole experience was so amazing that I think we’ll always include the restaurant on our itinerary from now on. There were teeny little gourmet things, but they weren’t too pretentious, and the truffle pasta puts everything in the US to shame. I heartily recommend you add it to your Rome list.
So, after that meal, we went back to the hotel, put on our walking shoes, and made our way to the Vatican, thinking we might as well show Josephine the nativity scene, since nothing else would be open. We were wrong. As it turned out, by 6:30 or 7, the streets pulsed with people. St. Peter’s Square streamed with light. There were multiple nativity scenes, not just the big one in the center of the square, which is life-sized and stunning, but also little nativity scenes from all over Europe, set up in a large exhibit.
Walking away from St. Peter’s after seeing countless mangers, we crossed the Tiber and looked back to see the imposing Castell Sant’Angelo, used for centuries by popes and dignitaries but originally the tomb of the Emperor Hadrian. You look at the round fortress and marvel that it’s stood there for almost 2,000 years. The use has changed, some of the aesthetic has changed, but the structure stands strong. Josephine isn’t old enough to appreciate the magnitude of time. We tell her things are thousands of years old, but that might as well be two weeks. However, the rest of us felt awed, and in Rome, a sight like the Castell Sant’Angelo almost goes overlooked because everything there radiates history. I’m sure many visitors don’t even know there was a Hadrian. They came to see gladiators and eat pasta.
As we continued our trek, we made our way to the Piazza Navona, where there’s pretty much always a carnival of activity. In winter, it’s a Christmas market, complete with thick, silky hot chocolate, puppet shows, and a carousel. Overall, our Christmas Day was a glorious, remarkable, and delightful experience, one that we will remember and cherish for years to come.
Author: Jessica Givens.
Jamil and I bond over food. As our friends (and even acquaintances) know, even on nights when work keeps us grinding until long after every rational person has settled down to watch television and zonk out, Jamil and I wait to eat until we can eat together. We don’t do separate dinners unless something truly bizarre occurs. That time together, eating and drinking and watching Jeopardy on an iPad, that’s when we cocoon ourselves away from the stresses on our shoulders. It’s when everything else gets put on hold. It’s that way but to the next level when we go out to dinner, and we want Josephine to share that experience with us. Consequently, we started taking Josephine to high-end restaurants while she still rode in a carrier. While I wouldn’t say she behaves like a perfect princess in a restaurant — she still gets antsy sometimes and occasionally throws a minor tantrum — she’s pretty freaking good.
That’s why I felt okay about taking her to Isabel, the restaurant where we spent our last night in London. Isabel is elegant. The music is on point. The people watching astounds. The bathrooms rank among the coolest I’ve ever seen. The food and cocktails live up to the hype. Everyone in our party was happy. Josephine devoured a plate of Spanish pimientos de Padron, then enjoyed a plate of halibut. Jamil ordered a chicken breast and raved about it. My dad and mom loved their food, too. A happy, beautiful, fun evening.
Start to finish, we loved the experience. And we loved doing it in London, where the restaurant vibe differs substantially from that in the southern Mediterranean, where we spend so much of our time. The last time we did more of northern Europe with Josephine, she was really too young to withstand their behavioral standards in restaurants, and I kind of felt like we should leave her at home. This time, she had her act together. She was a companion to us all, sitting like a big girl in her own chair and ordering from the menu like a champ. We are so lucky.
Author: Jessica Givens.
London is a difficult nut to crack – at least it has been for me. It took a while for me to go beyond the typical tourist activities: a day trip to the British Museum, lunch at an Indian restaurant, shopping at Harrods, dinner at a pub. This last trip, I felt like we had a vastly different experience, more targeted and more elevated. We had some extremely touristy activities on the agenda, but we also did things we felt were a little off the tourist path.
We definitely had some pro-Josephine plans. For example, we went to the science museum to show her a replica of Apollo 11. She now thinks the Brits landed first on the moon. Okay, so we have a little reteaching to do… But she absolutely loved seeing the spacesuits and peering at a moon rock. I think it’s a little funny that the space section took up so much of our time when the giant replica of James Watt’s attic workshop reveals more aptly the impact British scientists had on modern technology. I’m not sure how enthused Josephine was about the clunky ladders and giant screws, but I feel like a person’s love of science grows exponentially greater when you contemplate how far we’ve come, how ingenious and insightful human beings are. The science museum in London is excellent for sparking those conversations and reflections.
In addition, we went to the Victoria & Albert Museum, which I cannot recommend enough. The only problem with the V&A is how massive it is. After multiple visits, I still haven’t visited the majority of the galleries, probably because I always have to return to the ones I’ve seen before. I’m passionate about the 1500-1760 gallery upstairs, which showcases the effect of the Renaissance on Britain. The halls highlight the intricate craftsmanship of that time — the teeny tiny miniature paintings, the ornate weapons, lockets, furniture, instruments, and more. My father and I loved showing Josephine the tapestries and the parquetry, the portraits of Henry VII and Elizabeth I, etc. And she loved the interactive parts of the museum, like the chance to try on a ruff collar or a metal gauntlet. It’s so well done, and people of any generation can find something to marvel at.
Something else we did on this trip, which we’d never done before, was to go see a panto in the West End. I didn’t even know what a panto was when I saw the ad for a production of Jack and the Beanstalk at the Palladium. Marco, my assistant, knew what it was and gave me a little background, telling me we’d get cues for audience participation, which I thought Josephine would enjoy. However, my mom was dreading it. She’s a huge musical theatre snob. My dad was indifferent. Jamil and I thought it would be a kiddie show. Nothing special, but something we could all do to entertain Josephine. None of us could have predicted how outrageous and fabulous the show would be. This was the bawdiest production I’ve ever seen. It was downright dirty, actually, but because of the double entendre, the kids never caught the drift. They were simply mesmerized by the costumes, the sets, and the special effects. I’ve never seen anything like it. I have no idea how much they spent to put this show on, but it was totally an event. You should definitely check out a panto at the Palladium the next time you’re there, and don’t feel weird taking the kids. They’ll have the time of their lives and believe they’re watching a fairy tale. Afterwards, go for dinner at the Ivy in Covent Garden. It’s open late, and the British food had us all reeling. Josephine loved the fish and chips — a solid way to introduce kids to that staple!
Author: Jessica Givens
Our group of five enjoys sitting at the front of the plane, but that comes at a high price. To compensate, I’m always on the hunt for ways to maximize airline points. This time, that quest led me to split our group up, putting my parents on British Airways and Josephine, Jamil, and me on United. These British Airways tickets were reward tickets, so I just couldn’t turn them down. Now, I’m wishing I had.
For our departure, the flights were delayed due to a winter storm. Our flight was supposed to leave at 8:05PM, but it wound up taking off at 9:30PM. I talked to my parents right before we took off, and they were waiting in the BA lounge, preparing to board their modestly delayed 9:35PM flight.
I was concerned because I knew my mom was exhausted, my dad was recovering from a sinus infection, and we’d all been on antibiotics. All of us felt like this trip was a bit ambitious, given how sick everyone has been and how stressful work and bar prep have been for me. As my eyelids grew heavy around 11:15PM, I texted my mom, and their plane had yet to board. Thinking they were practically on their way, I fell fast asleep. But at 3AM, I woke up and checked the status of their flight. It took off at 2:47AM!!! My parents were sitting in an airport lounge until almost 3 in the morning.
As I sit here writing this, I am trying desperately to figure out how to do something to make their arrival somewhat palatable. Airport concierge services are all full… I’m not really sure how they’re going to make it through the airport, and I certainly don’t want them to pick up any bags at baggage claim when they’re too exhausted to think. My plan for now is to get to the hotel and ask for a driver to meet them. They have fast track service through immigration. That should help. We’ll try to get them a bigger, better room at our hotel, and they can just stay in tonight and order room service if they think that opportunity to rest and relax will make a difference. It’s just a mess.
I know it’ll be okay, but one of the real challenges with multigenerational travel is making sure everyone is safe and looked after. This trip begins with a bit more texture than I would have preferred, but I’m doing all I can to smooth out the rough spots.
Ultimately, the solution I landed on to help my parents was first to hire a VIP service. Because it was so last-minute – I was trying to book it as we were ALL in the air, flying – I had to contact a few companies. (Thank God for in-flight Wi-Fi.) Almost every company said they had no availability, but VIP Assist came through for us. A very nice man met my parents at their plane and escorted them through the airport.
I cringed to think of my parents standing in the interminable immigration line, and my weary dad would definitely have strained his back if he’d tried to lift their gargantuan bags. The gentleman from VIP Assist made sure they walked straight through passport control, and he collected all of their bags for them. Then, he called the driver I’d arranged and got them directly to the car. (If you ever need car service on the double, Blacklane never lets us down.)
When we saw them at the hotel, they were in amazingly good spirits. Although the experience in the airport forced them to sit in contorted positions and stay up insanely late, they slept well on the plane, and, unsurprisingly, they made friends with all the other passengers and the crew. They had, on balance, a positive experience. Unbelievable.
On another note, we also managed to have a great day, despite stressing about my parents’ predicament. After checking into our hotel, we took a brisk walk through the winter weather to visit the science museum, which is open until 6PM. Josephine ran around through recreations of James Watt’s lab and looked at antique prosthetic collections — nothing quite as scintillating, really. She also saw her first replica of the Apollo 11. She now thinks the Brits landed first on the moon. I guess a trip to NASA is in order when we get home. On the walk home, we stopped into Harrods and gawked per usual at the luxury. We never really get enough.
That night, back at the hotel, seeing Josephine’s fatigued little face, we decided to give her an evening to remember. We ordered a pile of room service and left her at the hotel with my dad, sitting literally right in front of the television with The Addams Family 2 in full effect. Jamil and I then took my mom to the restaurant Bluebird Chelsea, such a cute place. We went there before the pandemic in January 2020 and loved the vibe, so we always wanted to return. Fortunately, they survived COVID-19 and emerged just as energetic as before. This time, along with great cocktails and wonderful food, the festive ambience reinspired our Christmasy vibe and set us up to enjoy our very few days in London.
Just another abrasion, I guess.
Author: Jessica Givens.
Sending Josephine to school post-COVID was really exciting. All of a sudden, we met a flood of cool new people. Literally, everyone was great. For the first time ever, Jamil was excited about getting to know some of the other dads. When his friend Anthony invited him to join a Fantasy Football league for dads at the Briar Club, Jamil was stoked. He couldn’t wait to meet more of the dads and get to know them outside the traditional parent setting. So, when we planned a trip for Labor Day to Watercolor, Florida, Jamil said point-blank, we cannot miss the flight home on Wednesday afternoon; I have my draft.
Yeah, yeah, no worries.
Some time on Wednesday morning, Jamil asked me what time our flight left, and without even looking, I said, “12:20.” I just knew, no need to verify.
We set out from home for the airport around 10:50 because our house isn’t far from the airport, and the airport is truly tiny. You can basically just roll up, check your bags from the curb, then go park your car. It’s a no-brainer. All was well, until Jamil got a notification on his phone and looked down to see that the flight actually left at 11:50. So, 30 minutes really makes a difference when you’re cutting it that close, right? No time to breathe. Jamil stared straight ahead and muttered, “I asked for ONE thing.” So, I put the pedal to the medal and started zipping off to the airport.
Needless to say, we didn’t make the flight. And there weren’t any other flights to Houston that afternoon – not from Panama City, not from Destin, not even from Pensacola! We wouldn’t be able to get out for two more days. The only option was to drive to Mobile, three hours away, to catch a 4:50 flight. That would get us in at 6:30. The draft started at 7:00. We could do this! But there was one more hitch. As we rolled into the airport, our fuel tank was under the empty line. We couldn’t even leave the airport until Jamil took a taxi to the gas station and returned with a gallon of gas in a plastic tank.
This was a low low.
Finally, we got on the road – Jamil, me, Josephine, and both dogs. Josephine could tell things were rough. As we waited for Jamil to get back with the gas, Josephine had put her arms around my neck and promised that everything would be okay. (God, I love her.) But as we started driving down the small highway that would eventually connect to I-10, I wondered if she might be wrong.
Jamil didn’t utter a word. He stared straight ahead, seemingly mesmerized by the asphalt or the yellow lines of paint on the road. Determined to make the best of things, I rubbed his arm and said, “How long can you really go without talking to me?” To which he replied, “Easily 3 hours.” Yikes.
I won’t bore you with details of the drive – not the fact that a panel flew off our precious Ford Flex, not the difficulty finding a bathroom for Josephine, not the fact that the Mobile airport is at the end of the longest, traffic-light-lined street on Earth. Nope, I’ll just take you to the Mobile Airport, which is NOT the nicest airport. The “i” in the word Terminal on the façade has fallen over; the parking lot has weeds growing through the concrete.
At the Mobile airport, we received more unsettling news: our flight had been delayed by a storm in Houston. They didn’t know when (or if) our plane would take off. Passengers queued at the gate, getting vouchers for future travel. Jamil and I contemplated staying somewhere overnight. We had given up on the idea of his draft. That was dead in the water. Just as I was about to get up and tell the United agents that we, too, were throwing in the towel on this flight, the desk attendant announced, “The storm has passed; we will board in five minutes.” I looked at Jamil and said, “As soon as we land, you book it over to the Uber stand. I’ll get the rest.” This sparked a little hope.
Somehow, it all worked out. The draft started right as we landed in Houston, and Jamil did his picks from his phone. He made it to the club in time to hang out with people and have a few drinks. I managed to get all five bags, both dogs, and Josephine to the car. Josephine went to sleep at a reasonable hour. All was well that ended well. And Jamil and I are still married.
Author: Jessica Givens.
A few days after New Year’s, Chris and Carlos returned to the States, while Jamil, Josephine, and I trekked onwards to Morocco. We were excited about the shopping, the cultural immersion, and the beauty. On the flight, Josephine sat with Jamil, and they giggled as they always do, playing games and reading books. General silliness. But on the way down, I heard Jamil cry, “AH!!” Looking over, I saw him clutching his eye – I think it was his right eye. In her excitement, Josephine had made some wild gesture with the paper she was holding and had hit Jamil squarely in the eye. I knew immediately that he had a scratched cornea. As the wheels touched down and service on my phone resumed, I googled “medical care Morocco.” Yikes. Out of 89 countries evaluated, Morocco came in #89. But I wasn’t worried because, out of an abundance of caution, we’d bought travel insurance through American Express. We were set.
Jamil could barely make it off the plane. I’d hired a VIP service to get our bags and get us through customs, which seemed a little “extra” at the time, but Jamil could not possibly have gotten our bags. He couldn’t have navigated the airport. He couldn’t have done anything.
The entire time we were walking through the airport, I was calling American Express, whose medical assistance fell flat. They had zero suggestions for immediate assistance. They were useless.
In a moment of clarity, I called the Four Seasons Casablanca and explained what had happened to the concierge, who could not have been more accommodating. A doctor would meet us when we arrived at the hotel. Four Seasons for the win, as on so many other occasions. Not only that, but they upgraded us to the most incredible suite overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It was massive and gorgeous. Jamil would have loved it…if he could have opened his eyes. Instead, he gripped his face and groaned.
When the doctor arrived, I knew that 89/89 rating was probably spot on. His shoes gave it away. They were caked in grime and looked to be 20 years old. Not the shoes you want to see on your doctor. In no way did they say, I’m good at what I do, and you can trust me.
Sure enough, he had little to offer. He gave Jamil a shot of cortisone, which my friends in the USA still question. What was he hoping to accomplish? Who knows. But I will always love him, just the same, because he told the bellboy to run to the pharmacy for Tylenol. That bellboy came back with Tylenol 3, with codeine in full effect. The codeine was a lifesaver. It took the searing pain out of Jamil’s eye, allowing him to fall asleep. In fact, I think we all three fell asleep; it had been so stressful.
When we woke up, Jamil felt good enough to go to dinner. A martini or two would really perk us both up, we said.
HA! The joke was on us.
The Four Seasons didn’t do its research when it picked the location of its Casablanca outpost. The hotel was in the vicinity of a mosque, too close to serve alcohol. And that was that. No drinks whatsoever. Just a fancy juice bar. That might have been the most punishing abrasion of that leg of our adventure.
Enjoy pictures below of me, Josephine, and Jamil with his lovely eye patch!!
Author: Jessica Givens.
My mother has a pretty gut-wrenching medical history. She’s had multiple bouts of cancer, as well as run-ins with cardiac issues, diverticulitis, and so on. But when it comes to family vacations, she can generally rally with the best of them. For instance, in 2013, when she’d just finished brutal radiation for anal cancer, she peeled back her bedsheets, packed her bags, and met us in Italy for New Years. So you can imagine my surprise when, on the morning of December 26, 2019, I picked up the phone to hear my dad say, “Jess, your mother really isn’t feeling well. We’re not going to be able to make it to Spain tonight. Go ahead and unwind the trip for us.” Ughhhhh, what??? Unwind? What does that even mean?
I immediately went online and canceled my parents’ flights, but I don’t remember if we got flight credit or partial refunds. What I remember is dialing my friend Carlos’s number and asking what he was doing that night. Him and his husband didn’t have plans, so I said, “Wanna come to Spain?” And, believe it or not, they decided to come! That was one of the most spur-of-the-moment decisions anyone has ever made, I’m sure. Before they could think twice, I was on the British Airways website, checking availability for reward travel. The next thing we knew, they were booked on the same flight we were taking that evening and they had about six hours to find a dogsitter, pack their bags, and get to the airport. Wahoo!
That was one of the most incredible trips to Europe we’ve ever taken. With Carlos and Christopher, we rented a car and drove deep into interior Spain, marveling at the well-preserved walls of Ávila and the Roman aqueduct in Segovia. They were total champs with Josephine, and she absolutely adored having her two “uncles” along for the adventure.
Now, what’s funny is, that wasn’t the only abrasion of that trip. The other happened while Jamil and I slept during our first night in Madrid. Carlos and Christopher couldn’t resist an evening in Chueca, widely known as one of Europe’s most active gay neighborhoods. Chueca is filled with bars and clubs; the streets pulse with people at most hours of the day (except at like 5:30AM, which was when they made their way home from some seedy establishment). I’ll never know exactly what went down, but basically someone ran into Carlos, and while Carlos was getting his bearings and apologizing for getting in the way (he’s the most polite guy ever), that same someone stuck his hand in Carlos’s pocket and took his phone AND his wallet. Poor Christopher was in full tilt mode the next morning, as he attempted to cancel credit cards and deactivate Carlos’s phone. The ruckus didn’t bother Jamil and me so much; it just meant Carlos would have a little more difficulty spending cash (which really shouldn’t have bothered Christopher, either), and no cell phone for Carlos to communicate with. Regardless, we still had a great rest of the trip with amazing memories that we were so grateful to have made.
Author: Jessica Givens
When you think of Tuscany and Umbria, you tend to think of spring and summer, maybe a little fall, if you enjoy nettles and nutmeg, but you never think of snow. Or at least I didn’t until one day, when we were visiting the phenomenal Cathedral in Assisi, where St. Francis tended his flocks. It was more than chilly that day; it was downright COLD. But the skies looked relatively clear, even if the overall feel was undeniably a little gray.
Before I go further, I want to encourage you to visit Assisi. Visit that entire pocket of ancient Umbrian cities. They’re spectacular, so picturesque and historical. You can even visit in the winter. But don’t be surprised if the flurries start to swirl. That’s what happened to us.
We exited the cathedral, which involves a very interesting series of highs and lows via staircases, only to find a sheet of fresh snow on our car and a shower of snowflakes alighting on our heads and shoulders. Turning on the heater, I felt relieved to go downhill and find the snow limited to a certain altitude. Our hotel, the beautiful Relais Todini, was located on the rolling plains of Umbria. I couldn’t imagine the snow following us onto those yellow, cypress-dotted hills. But by the time we made our way back to Todi and sought out dinner in the town’s narrow, narrow streets, the snow was pelting our car. Why do I say car? Ha! It was not just a “car” – it was a straight-up van, and not one of the conversion vans of the 80’s. This was a spartan passenger van that handled like a tractor. I would have struggled to make the unforgiving, right-angled turns of Todi’s city center under any circumstances in that vehicle. In the dark and snow, it was positively terrifying.
So we abandoned that plan and placed a call to the Relais Todini, our hotel. Could they possibly feed our party of five? Their kitchen was supposed to close soon, they explained. I was terrified we’d have no dinner plans anymore. After explaining our situation, while stopped in our car in the snow, the chef agreed to hold it open until we arrived. Grateful, we drove gingerly through the blizzard down the serpentine lane to the Relais Todini. Even today, if I close my eyes, I can still see those fast flurries, blocking our path in Todi. I was so scared that night: scared we wouldn’t find a place for dinner, scared of sliding off that skinny road and having to make my parents walk through slippery mush, scared of Josephine freezing to death if we had an accident.
Funny that all those fears disintegrated and anxieties melted away as soon as we were inside the warmth of that magnificent hotel, where we ultimately had one of the most comforting, delicious dinners any of us could recall. It was marvelous, cozy, and certainly more memorable than whatever meal we’d planned in town. The night really turned around and we were thankful for a fantastic dinner as well as for the safety of our family.
Author: Jessica Givens