Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Tourists for day: Oakland + Berkeley

January 20, 2016
Instead of skiing this weekend, we posed as tourists for a day and explored the East Bay. With our brightly colored rain jackets, hiking boots and DSLR, we were so convincing that a vendor at the farmer's market asked us, "Where are you visiting from?"

We started in downtown Oakland, but everything was closed, so we proceeded to the Oakland waterfront, where we enjoyed a delicious pizza at Forge. From there, we walked to a hole-in-the-wall bookstore in uptown Oakland, where Ben bought a book on naval tactics. We hopped on the BART to the Rockridge neighborhood and after tasting some olive oil at Market Hall, on our way to another bookstore, we stumbled upon a restaurant called Bourbon and Beef (we didn't make it to the bookstore). We ate dinner at Ramen Shop, where everything was amazing, and finished the night with a concert by the Ruth Moody Band at Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley.

Eating lunch at Forge

Downtown Oakland

Swan's Market, unfortunately closed for the day

Ramen Shop for dinner

Bourbon and Beef for pre-dinner drinks
Forge in Jack London Square

- Steph

Holiday weekend

Hanging at our neighborhood brewery.

- Steph

Pear soup

January 18, 2016
I made pear soup and it was delicious. (Who even knew pear soup was a thing?)

Recipe here.

- Steph

Christmas festivities

January 17, 2016
We went back to Massachusetts for Christmas. I mostly forgot to take photos of the decorations and festivities, though I took lots of photos of the dogs.

We also make gingerbread. I made a house.

And Ben made...

Europe 2015: Rome

January 1, 2016
View from the Roman Forum
When we planned our trip, there was no question that we wanted to go to Rome. I loved Rome on my prior trip to Italy and I still dream about the food. Ben had been reading and learning about Julius Caesar and wanted to see where everything went down. With three days in Rome, we had just enough time to see most of the major attractions.

Ben at the Colosseum

We started by exploring ancient Rome. We saw:
  • Colosseum: Opened in A.D. 80 as a gift to the Roman people, the Colosseum hosted gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights for four centuries. The building seated more than 50,000 spectators, all of whom could exit the building in under 10 minutes. Unfortunately, those crowd control skills didn't carry over to modern Rome, and it took a lot of pushing and shoving to enter the building (even though we had reserved tickets ahead of time). 
  • Imperial Forums: Public squares built by a succession of emperors starting with Julius Caesar. The forums were the center of city life during the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. 
  • Roman Forums: Originally an Etruscan burial ground, the Roman Forums served as the center for trade, religion and politics in ancient Rome. Many important buildings were located nearby, including the former royal residence, the Temple of Vesta and the complex of the Vestal Virgins.
  • Arch of Constantine: A triumphal arch erected in honor of Constantine's defeat of Maxentius in A.D. 312. 
  • Palatine Hill: One of the seven hills of Rome and home to patrician families and early emperors. According to Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf Lupa in a cave on Palatine Hill.

See more photos of ancient Rome

Approaching the Vatican
Castel Sant'Angelo

We followed up our tour of ancient Rome with an evening stroll through the Historic Center. Sadly the Trevi Fountain was closed for renovations. The Spanish Steps were overcrowded with tourists (a common theme in Rome) and we watched a couple get engaged while everyone cheered them on. After dinner, we walked along the Tiber, admiring the Castel Sant'Angelo and the Vatican from afar.

Pantheon, meaning "every god"
We wanted to see the Pantheon on Sunday, but it was closed for morning mass. We almost gave up because it seemed like it was never going to open, but we followed the lead of the tour groups and eventually made it inside.

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi on the Piazza Navona

Next we admired the sculptures at Piazza Navona, then continued on to the Capitoline Museum, opened in 1734 and considered the first museum in the world. I was a bit tired of museums at this point, but Ben enjoyed the sculptures and the busts of emperors and philosophers. I enjoyed taking photos.

Capitoline Museum

See more photos of art and architecture in Rome

Despite my normal good planning, I had neglected to reserve tickets at the Vatican, leaving us to stand in line early the next day. We spent an hour and a half standing outside, hoping our tiny slice of shade wouldn't disappear before we made it inside. Tour operators harassed us the whole time, trying to get us to buy a tour and skip the line. They were aggressive, annoying, expensive and often dishonest and it bothered us that Italy allows/encourages this sort of thing. We eventually got in without their help and spent most of our time in the Egypt exhibit, the Raphael rooms and the Sistine Chapel. We skipped St. Peter's Basilica because it would have required waiting in line yet again.

Of course, one of the highlights of our time in Rome was the food. We had been disappointed by the food in Tuscany, where many of the little towns seemed mostly to exist for tourists. Even restaurants with 4+ stars on TripAdvisor served mediocre tourist trap food. I have a theory that a lot of the tourists in Italy aren't that discerning when it comes to Italian food. We knew there would be amazing food in Rome, we just had to find it. We asked some trusted friends for advice, and they didn't lead us astray. We ate at:
  • The tiny neighborhood restaurant below our hotel: The food was incredible. I ordered linguine alle vongole (linguine with clams). On Cape Cod, my family picks our own clams and then makes linguine alle vongole according to my Italian grandmother's recipe. I have high standards for this dish and I mean it when I say it was amazing. The clams were small and tasty, the sauce was flavorful and coated each string of linguine. I wanted to go back a second time, and was willing to forego trying every other restaurant in Rome it was so good, but unfortunately they were out of linguine alle vongole on our second try.
  • A restaurant a few blocks from the Colosseum: I was worried about eating so close to a tourist attraction and insisted that we wander a few blocks away, even though we were starving. This turned out to be a good decisions because our spaghetti alla carbonara and penne al salmone (penne with salmon) were delicious and reasonably priced.
  • Tavernaccia: We had a really enjoyable dinner at this out-of-the-way restaurant in Trastevere. The house wine was excellent (and wine in Italy was cheap, which made dining out comparatively affordable). Ben ate maialino arrosto cotto a legna (suckling pig), I ate pasta with eggplant and artichoke and we had cassata siciliana, a very sweet Sicilian dessert to finish off the meal.
  • Da Enzo: After the Vatican, we didn't have much planned other than eating at Da Enzo, a small pasta shop in Trastavere. It was definitely worth planning our day around. I ate cacio e pepe ("cheese and pepper," which was basically fettuccine alfredo) and Ben ate amatriciana. I preferred his, and he kindly switched with me.
  • Cacio e Pepe: We grabbed Negronis at a bar in Trastevere before enjoying our final dinner at Cacio e Pepe. The linguine alle vongole wasn't quite as good as the other place, but it was a nice festive atmosphere for the last night of our trip.

And that was it. Rome definitely had its drawbacks. We were frustrated at being surrounded by so many tour groups. We were disappointed that the city doesn't do a better job exhibiting its amazing cultural heritage. It seems like a lot of the museum signs were written in the 1980s and never updated. The forums in particular left too much to the imagination; they could do a lot more to bring the ruins to life. There was a lot of crazy bureaucracy and disfunction trying to reach different sites. But all that aside, Rome is a city that feels very much alive and we like that. We stayed at a cute little B&B near Trastevere, we enjoyed learning about all the history, despite the crowds, and we loved the food.

Funny story about this photo: Months before our trip, we were looking for a place to eat dinner in San Francisco when we passed a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant called SPQR. As we sat down, Ben asked, "What is SPQR?" Putting my years of Latin to use, I responded, "It means the Senate and the Roman people. It was the motto of the Roman Republic and stamped on everything across Rome." The bartender overheard me and replied, "Wow you're the first person who has ever known that. Most people call it Spork."

- Steph

Photos: Ancient Rome

- Steph

Photos: Art and architecture in Rome

- Steph