A while back we stayed in an apartment inside an artist’s colony in Rome’s Monteverde neighborhood. The expat owner told us that the only place she would eat in Trastevere was Le Mani in Pasta. So that’s how we ended up eating at the place with the imposing doorway and otherwise unnotable entrance.

le mani in pasta pictureOsteria Le Mani in Pasta, Rome Trastevere

We are certainly glad we arrived at this doorway and went in. We were also glad we went early. The food was mighty tasty. But that’s not the end of it. Not by a long shot.

Lots of places have good food. But lots of places have loud and distracting music, such that folks around a table must message each other via cell phone to get thoughts transferred from one mind to the next; conversation is out of the question. Lots of places are also pretentious. Le mani in pasta is not that.

“I don’t give a damn about the wine list” the waiter shot at us as Wendy pointed out that the wine would be better ranked by region rather than price. “You want wine, good wine, you ask me. I know what we have and what fits your meal!”

Then he placed on the table a very fine local white, an Antinoo Lazio Bianco 2013. Good on him. Fantastic with the seafood and even good with the Gricia.

If you are unfamiliar with the Italian way, you might be surprised that you’d just let a waiter plunk down a bottle and walk off. There is an element of trust you need to have in Italy, once you’ve figured out that you don’t want to eat in the tourist strongholds and have learned to recognize them. If the wine you have before you is going to cost you 100 euros, a real Italian waiter would have warned you.

The wine was, as it turned out, a 13 euro investment in pleasure. A bargain.

I started with the sauteed shellfish. It was so good I couldn’t stop “making the little shoe” with Rome’s amazingly fine bread. Finally, full of bread, I thought I should just tip the platter and wolf down the sauce. I mean, waste is morally wrong, isn’t it? Those critters gave their lives for my pleasure, why should I treat their juices as I would cigar ashes?

When my wish was conveyed to the waiter, he offered, “…or I could bring a straw” before walking off with all the silverware and plates—everything except that of the remnants of my clams and mussels.

An invitation if I’ve ever heard one. So I looked around at a group of Italian businessmen who’d removed their suit jackets, loosened their ties, and had begun to dig into their pasta with orgiastic vigor.

This was Rome. Food was pleasure. You don’t hide it, you celebrate it. Tip went the plate. Oh, man, what a trip down the gullet that was!

The Tagliolini alla Gricia was incredible, too.

The women, Martha and Wendy from Flavor of Italy, seemed to enjoy their plates as well. Heck, they can write their own reviews. I was in my own little world of hog jowls and mussel juice. This was the real deal. You should go.

The price for this memorable Roman eating extravaganza? Hardly worth mentioning. Not expensive at all. Just go. Go, I’m telling you.

And we were just three of maybe five tourists in the place when it filled up at about 1:15. How do they do it, when all the other restaurants along the street were teeming with tourists?

Osteria Le Mani in Pasta
Via Dei Genovesi, 37, 00153 Roma

Osteria Le Mani in Pasta Review originally appeared on May 29, 2015, © James Martin.

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On many occasions, I like solitude. I even like to cook and eat alone sometimes. A oneness with a favorite knife allows a guy to venture into unknown culinary territory without offending others. You can fail without consequence except for perhaps a temporary hunger and on rare occasions the loss of a fingertip or two; failure is how you learn.

My mother is traumatized by this shocking revelation. “How did we go wrong raising you!” she exclaimed one day with a great deal of fear in her eyes. She finds solitude offensive when it is pursued, on the level of seeking out sex with barnyard animals. I can’t figure it out either, but it’s wrong.

In any case, I figure there are other people just like me, only prettier. We like a bit of solitude but we aren’t hermits. There are times we need to meet, drink, and laugh together with other humans.

So how does the “solo but social” introvert traveller survive in a foreign environment? This is the question I hope to answer.

So let’s say you are in Italy, alone. You are here to meet the culture head on. You are curious. As you pass along the narrow and winding medieval streets and inhale the perfume of simmering sauces and see the old women chattering away in the little chairs they’ve dragged onto the paving stones you have a hankering to eat with them, to see what they fix and consume day to day. Restaurants slowly become submerged in memory. You’ve stumbled upon what’s in the daily pot of Italians; real people, fingertips intact, stir it.

You’re not the first one to have these feelings. There is a market to satisfy them. The market is ramping up.

Recently Martha and I took a cab to a new neighborhood in Rome. We found an address given us, rang the bell and soon found ourselves zipping up the backbone of the building in a tiny elevator, ending up in a modest apartment.

A typical Italian family lived there. Simona cooks. Her daughter is shy but curious, an excellent dinner companion. We had a fabulous dinner there with Lorna of The Roman Guy (shown to the left of Simona and her daughter in the picture below).

rome dinner pictureDinner with a Family in Rome

Yes, you solo travellers can get temporary relief from bouts of loneliness and learn about culture and food for about the price of a mediocre restaurant meal. Here’s the program: Private Dining with Local Roman Chef

You don’t have to be in Rome to partake of great food while getting the opportunity to grill the chef about the best things to do in a city. A new venture called BonAppetour offers a similar experience in many corners of the world. This Friday we’ll take off for Pisa for a meal at Rosario’s Home Restaurant in Pisa, PI, Italy. Stay tuned.

A full, sit-down meal with wine is a fun thing, but what if you want to just have a Spritz or Negroni and nibble on tasty little somethings while you cuss and discuss the Italian health care system with a local? Let’s say you’re a spritz kinda person. Maybe here:

salotto 42 pictureFor the alternative Spritz with a view: Salotto 42

Where you can drink one of these (yes, even the flower is edible):

spritz pictureThe Roman Aperitivo Tour: Spritz and Snacks @ Salotto 42

While looking at this:

salotto 42 pictureThe View from the Entrance of Salotto 42

Or, maybe you’d rather spend lots for your medical insurance and you don’t care about talking to anyone else. You’re the intellectual type who’d rather wrap your hand around a Negroni and watch the guys under a fig tree playing chess:

bar del fico rome pictureChess with Roman Intellectuals: Bar del Fico

Here the bar and the piazza it is found in are all named after the tree. Yes, a fig tree in Rome is that important.

But how do you find a safe and welcoming place to drink? Why not sample a whole bunch of places with someone who does this for a living—of course I meant “shows people around” rather than “get outrageously drunk” for a living…

In its infancy is the Rome Cocktail Tour offered by The Roman Guy. Be the first in your neighborhood to try a variety of bars so you can pick the bar and libation that suits you.

They tell me that alcohol is the best truth serum known to man. Well, here’s to the truth then!

Solo Travellers: Temporary Remedies for Bouts of Loneliness originally appeared on May 27, 2015, © James Martin.

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It’s a short walk from our humble casa to Serricciolo, where we get our coffee most mornings. The Giro d’Italia passed by today, so we came down and took up a place by the road and waited until the time the website predicted riders would round the bend in front of the bar.

They were right on time.

But let’s stop the action for a moment. Let’s talk pink. Pink is not considered in the same light here in Italy as it is in the US. People actually paint their houses pink and think nothing of it. Pink, as you surely know, is the color of the winner’s jersey, the maglia rosa, in the Giro d’Italia. It started with the sponsoring sports paper, which was printed on pink paper and steamrolled until now there is a museum of pink jerseys.

So people dress their kids in pink and buy them pink popsicles and show up on the verge of the road for the manly cyclists who dream of wearing pink some day. Here’s some evidence because I know you think I’m pulling your collective leg:

giro spectator picturePretty in Pink

And it’s not just the human kids, either:

pink dog picturePink is not only for kids...

So let’s star the clock and see the first group of chasers:

Chasers pedal past the bar in Serricciolo

These guys are seriously thinking pink.

But the scenic direction is toward the Apuan Alps, the marble quarries of famous sculptors and kitchen sink producers. The boys pedal off into the sunset…

giro d'italia pictureThe Peloton heads towards the Alpe Apuane

The Giro in Lunigiana: Pretty in Pink originally appeared on May 13, 2015, © James Martin.

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Ok, here’s the question. Would you be attracted to a bar with an entrance like this?

la farmacia bar pictureLa Farmacia Bar

La Farmacia dei Sani, as this wine bar is called, is a clever play on the Italian idea of pharmacy. In fact, their mission translates as something like “born with good idea to interpret everything like a pharmacy, to cure every symptom of appetite.”

The Maratea coast is quite beautiful, especially at sunset. It’s in Basilicata, a little slice of it that peeks into the Tyrrhenian sea. Americans don’t go there much, despite the tag line “the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian”. They prefer to cram into the Cinque Terre. Maratea is just another beautiful place in Italy.

maratea sunset pictureMaratea Sunset

This picture above was taken from the grounds of the Santavenere Hotel, right on the Maratea coast with, as you can see, great views. It’s the off season, so rooms are affordable, despite the luxury, and the folks running it are family, rather than a corporate conglomerate.

Just up the hill from the hotel and coastline are villages where everyone makes something good from the earth, the kinds of villages Italians like to visit because they can knock on random doors looking for the best regional salami or cheese—and they know they will find it.

Nearby, just above the little villages, is the small town of Maratea. Main street looks like this, all pretty in pastel:

maratea pictureMain Street, Maratea, Basilicata, Italy

Above that is the tip of the hill with, as anthropologists say frequently, “has religious significance.” And great views by the way.

So you can take this vertical itinerary and have it all. Just set your GPS to “UP”.

In any case, I am extremely attracted to that little bar. You can get all the regional wines and things to eat that involve artisan cured meats (cold cuts to you) and cheeses. Don’t be intimidated. Belly up to the bar and ask the pharmacist what’s good for you—to eat and drink.

A Bar in Maratea originally appeared on Apr 20, 2015, © James Martin.

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