When a friend tells me about their upcoming trip I immediately seethe with jealousy that I find very hard to mask, in fact with my close friends I don’t even bother especially as I think they get a little kick out of making me jealous. I am ten times worse when someone tells me they are going to a place I have already been and loved. Like everyone, I start running a mini life movie in my head of my own experiences there and have to fight down the urge to blurt it all out, boring them for half an hour with my own travel stories. For is there, nothing worse than talking to someone who has been where you are going and they say constantly “you have to do this” or “you have to eat here”? It drives you nuts because: a) you are never going to remember and b) you want to have these amazing moments of discovery yourself and not because someone did it first and told you where to go. I try to somehow swallow down all the words that are bubbling in my mouth while I sift through the video in my brain to pick out a few carefully chosen pieces of advice, things that are absolutely vital that they be passed on.
In particular I have a friend who is about to head off on 6 glorious weeks round Europe – the level of envy that I feel is un-containable – and I have been struggling not to tell her about the best cheap glass shops I found in Venice, or the best pub to sit and watch people in London, or the best order to visit the Cinque Terra’s (there are all in my opinion – of course others may disagree but when you find a place and have a great experience you naturally think it’s the best!)
There is one thing though that I can’t bite my tongue about – Gelato!
Tourists and indeed locals can argue for hours about where the best Gelato is, most people agree it can only be found in Italy, but there are a few who think that Germany has taken the art and perfected it, or that the chocolate Gelato in Denmark is notably richer. They are wrong; the best Gelato is indeed, in Italy.
I had been traveling round Europe for about four months, doing the whole gap-year-from-life thing with a friend from home. We had been so excited before we left, about Gelato, that we decided to that we were going to have a Gelato every day to see which was the best. For four months we had done exactly that – Gelato every day, and my jeans were definitely noticing. We had traveled across the top of Europe, then a little in to Eastern Europe before arriving at the grandfather of Gelato – Italy.
Our first couple of weeks in Italy was spent around Venice where we set ourselves up just outside of the city. Every day we would catch the sweaty bus into the city and walk through the winding streets exploring. We would endeavor to find a different Gelato place every day, and would sit by small fountains that we found, secluded away in unknown Piazzas and lick the Gelato off our fingers as it melted out of the small cup.
Eventually we moved south and inland to the Capital Rome. I fell in love with Rome within five minutes of walking through its white stoned streets; the whole place seemed to be bathed in sunlight (it was the middle of July and they were suffering from the biggest heat wave in 20 years with 40 degree days). That first afternoon we arrived late and by the time we had checked into our backpacker campsite and caught the bus into the city everything was closing up. It was about 7pm and we were had found a Gelateria place that was still open, I had chocolate and my friend had lemon, we took our little cups of Gelato and walked into the Vatican. It was empty, the sun was setting giving the place an eerie glow with dancing shadows, and we sat in silence eating our Gelato in the dying sun feeling the relief of the cool night as it rolled in. That was a good Gelato but I believe it was due to the atmosphere and not due to any special properties of the Gelato.
The next week we slowly explored the city, we lined up three separate times to see Saint Paul’s Cathedral and each time gave up after a couple of hours to go in search of Gelato (if I was a Gelato seller I would walk up and down that line with a little Gelato cart – you would make a fortune). I loved looking at the overpriced shops alongside the ancient wonders, randomly walking around a corner and finding an obelisk, or eating McDonald’s under the Spanish Steps (we only ate there because of the novelty of eating UNDER the Spanish Steps). Due to the soaring heat we were averaging three Gelato’s a day, I would switch between chocolate and choc chip or vanilla, my friend would switch between lemon and strawberry.
We were in no rush to leave and kept extending our stay. On our 6th day in Rome we finally stumbled (I say stumbled because we had been thinking about visiting it for several days but had been side tracked until we walked around a corner…) upon the Trevi Fountain. We fought our way through the crowds until we had a nice spot to sit and people watch. We sat there for over an hour batting away the various flower sellers, watching the tourists desperately trying to get an unimpeded photo in front of the fountain. Eventually the heat got to us so much that I went and drank from one of the fresh water bubblers that are all over Rome – apparently they were built in ancient Roman times as a source of water, as water is a basic human right that every person should have – plus its hot in Rome. As refreshing as this was, it wasn’t enough to cool me down – it was Gelato time. We looked around the Piazza and there were plenty of places lining the walls but one quick look inside showed that they were all over priced. Being the good little backpackers that we were, we thought to go a few streets back where there was sure to be a slightly cheaper place.
We walk down the first lane-way and see a man leaning precariously against his red Ferrari that was parked annoyingly in the way. He was torn between watching girls walk past, in the hope that they will look at him, and between shooing away the dangerous tourists with bulky backpacks that could scratch the paint. We laughed and stepped around the Ferrari only to see another Gelato shop, this close to the fountain we are about to ride it off as too expensive but an Irish tourists walked out spooning some Gelato into her mouth “My god this is the best Gelato I have ever had” her boyfriend tries to agree (we assume) but his mouth was too full to be comprehensible.
The best Gelato… really? If that wasn’t a challenge I don’t know what is!
Inside it was hotter than outside and I marveled at the how the Gelato behind the glass counter could still be frozen. The man behind the counter was exactly what I imagined all Gelato sellers should look like. He was large wearing a white shirt with an apron over the top, he had a giant moustache and floppy hair, his cheeks were red and sweat was funning down his face we he kept mopping away with a tea towel.
Under his glass cabinet there were more Gelato flavours than I had ever seen in my life. I looked for my usual chocolate flavour… there were so many varieties that I became indecisive. Then I spotted a flavour I had never seen before – Meringue! What could be better? I love meringue and I love Gelato – combining them can only be success.
My friend went with her usual Strawberry sorbet flavour, and the gentleman serving us handed over giant cups overflowing with rich tasty goodness. Quickly licking round the side of the up as we hurried back out to the fountain, elbowing our way back to our spot and settled down to eat our Gelato.
It was amazing, the light and fluffy texture combined with the sweetness of the flavour slipped down my throat. My friend was likewise impresses as I realised that she was almost finished – “It tastes like real summer strawberries!”
We were very close to declaring this the best Gelato ever there and then, but thought we might just be caught up in the moment. The next day we went on a wander round the Roman forum and had a Gelato for morning tea… it was nice… but not great. After seeing Caesar’s grave, Nike’s arch and a lunch of tomato and boconccini Panini’s while sitting on another random fountain, we headed back to the Trevi Fountain Gelato Bar, to see if it was indeed as good as we had been talking about for the last 12 hours (several backpackers had rolled their eyes at us where we were staying).
I couldn’t resist the Meringue again so I got a combination of Meringue and Chocolate Chip, my friend combined, strawberry with vanilla… it didn’t meet expectations – It charged them out of Rome, dragging them behind its chariot in a wave of dust.
Yet we were still hesitant about naming it the best Gelato – It’s a big call after all. We went back there every afternoon for the next five days. Not once did it disappoint, didn’t matter what flavour or combination, the level of hunger or how hot it was. Every time it was like licking frosted gold!
Since then I have done my best to tell every person I know about this little Gelato bar near the Trevi Fountain. So next time you head to Rome be sure to visit the little Gelato Bar (pictured below in the screen shot I took off Google Maps) and please be sure to write and tell me if you have been there or indeed if you have had better Gelato – lets put it to the test!