Volstead’s Emporium: A Hidden Speakeasy in Uptown, MN

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Plan your visit (and reservation requests) accordingly!

The given address goes to a Steampunk cafe specializing in games and coffee–another novelty era ripe for nostalgic yearning but not the one we were looking for. Where the hell is this place? The first time I had visited Volstead’s Emporium in Uptown, Minnesota I was accompanied by a friend who was already privy to the location. Half the appeal of a secret speakeasy hidden away in a niche part of town already known for it’s fanciful coffee-shops, coin operated video game arcade clubs, and ‘hot yoga’–is that it’s a destination prided on the fact that you kind of already need to know where you’re going. Like being a member of an Eyes Wide Shut sexy, Eleusinian Mysteries kind of cult meeting or a pirate marauding around the Caribbean looking for the Isla De Muerta–an island that cannot be found except by those who already know where it is. Being ‘in the know’ about Volstead’s Emporium adds a lot to its notoriety. Going to their website offers no assistance–there is no address, no online menu, no pictures or an extensive proselytizing ‘About’ page. It’s tough to know this place even exists, or what it is, unless you become one of the initiated via word of mouth.

We were driving around Uptown one evening where, during a traffic stop, I recognized the location we were at–and that down that seedy, familiar-looking alleyway nestled behind the Steampunk cafe was the secret speakeasy I had wanted to take my boyfriend to for ages. It felt like a re-discovery and I hastily tried to remember where it was for next time, when we would plan our visit and get to transport ourselves to a faux, 1920’s era den of libations.

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For those who need a quick History lesson to refresh–the Temperance movement in the United States won a political victory from 1920-1933 when the entire country went “dry”. Meaning, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was drafted and the production, sale, and transportation of alcohol was banned. To enforce this draconian rule, the government passed the Volstead Act (Where our friendly Emporium likely took its name from) which went a step further in defining the intoxicating substances that were banned and the punishments that came with breaking these laws. The rise of bootlegging, gangsters, and speakeasies–secret law-breaking establishments selling banned booze–became a direct consequence and the 1920’s is forever remembered with these associations. 

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Unfortunately, memory is only as good as it is served. Turns out, when the summer construction is hazardous and the Happy Hour besought motorists are honking more persistently than a skein of geese, it can be a bit frustrating to try and remember a scattering of location markers after finally getting lucky finding a parking spot. Had I known that the large, neon gleaming sign for beer and bratwurst king New Bohemia resided across the street from our desired crime scene alleyway, our journey on empty stomachs might have been easier to bear. Once found, walking down said alleyway gives off an appropriate air of sleaziness, and as sweltering as the heat often gets in the summer, I was just thankful it wasn’t garbage from the line of dumpsters that marked our path. Hanging a left midway, there’s a smattering of apartment balconies claustrophobic-ly clustered together and in the small back of the building obstructed by vents, there resides a large bolted metal door with a creepy red serial killer light hanging above it. A most welcoming destination, if I ever saw one.

 “It’s all you, babe.”

I took this initiative with the fervent composure of a Flapper girl, who had likely already spent most of the evening dancing the Charleston to extinction, and rapped the door with my knuckles like I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. The slot in the door opens and a pair of eyes greets you–“Yes?”

“We have a reservation for two!”

“Name?”

The door is unbolted and we entered into a stairwell devoid of any identifying features aside from the bookie wearing a surprisingly dapper get-up. “Enjoy” is all he says as he goes back to manning the door. It’s up to us to take ourselves down the stairs and to the basement where we stand momentarily confused, there are at least three doors to choose from–not one of them marked with a sparkling Go Here to Drink sign to help us out. We could just make out the muffled sound of chatter and glass clinking enough to try Door Number 1–which ended up leading us into a time machine.

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Managed to capture before the place got packed!

An oft overlooked aspect of any dining experience is the ability to transport a patron. This can happen with really good food–it’s much easier to feel like you’re on the coast of Sorrento enjoying a bowl of pasta in a white wine sauce when the spaghetti is al dente and the clams are cooked to perfection and you’re even given a shot of limoncello to chase it all down with. But atmosphere is just as important too and at Volstead’s–you do feel like you just stepped into a 1920’s speakasy which would make even the most classy of bathtub gin stirrers proud.

There are no windows and the establishment is dimly lit, there’s a piano and a jazz player in the back corner strumming soft melodies with the tempered line of the bartender shaking drinks. People are laughing uproariously all around, likely amplified by the low ceiling and general jovialness that comes with a really well mixed cocktail. It’s welcoming–and cuts the tension had while trying to find the place to begin with.

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The Old Fashioneds here are one of my favorites in the state: Bourbon, applewood smoked demerara, and house blend bitters.

We were seated at a booth across from the parlor tables, draped with curtains we could easily pull for more privacy. It felt like we were only missing poker chips and the acrid smoke of cigars hanging in the air to set the mood into one in need of a police raid. For another brief moment, I felt like a femme fatale who was clandestinely meeting with a surly detective across from me, who was cloaked in a make-believe fedora and interrogating me on my whereabouts the night Tommy the Gun was murdered–all under the veneer of a heavy sepia filter. Or that was just the Old Fashioneds talking.

Volstead’s is a novelty experience, a way to feel like you’re in a piece of history for the night–surrounded by good drinks and food to boot. There’s a library room where you could sit and partake in a re-imagined game of Clue wearing monocles and dinner jackets, a large dial safe loitering under the stairs where surely the funds of nefarious mobster money ventures is well hidden, and there is even a telephone booth in the back by the restrooms for even the most ardent Doctor Who fan to enjoy. Voldstead’s is straight up cool so put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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The scene of the crime, where Mrs. Peacock allegedly bludgeoned Colonel Mustard with a copy of Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

No one warned us about the framed mirror on the wall of our booth, that it would swing open and the waiter would grin as we jumped in surprise, serving as a portal in which to take our food and drink orders. I think the waitstaff probably finds most of their amusement in this gimmick–and it’s certainly a fun experience to team up with your waiter on. There is a buzzer under the mirror when you’re ready to order and there was at least one more incident where the frame creaked open like a horror movie prop with no waiter to be found, only for him to pop up into view a second later and ask what we’d like–to more jump scares from us. It’s hilarious.

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Bwaaaahm

Now all of this is fine and dandy, right? But the main attraction of any dining establishment is the food. And oh boy, does it not disappoint. The first time I went to Voldstead’s, I chose a guilt-free zucchini carbonara with added shrimp that was surprisingly complex and topped off the evening with warm, gooey bread pudding. This time, I went with the usual favorites my boy detective and I usually partake in at other restaurants–the first test for us being the charcuterie plate. I finally learned how to properly pronounce “charcuterie” when I embarrassingly ordered it incorrectly and my windowed waiter set me straight–not sure whether he was smirking at my inability to speak French or because I was recovering from another fun jump scare. Not to be a gerkin (no old fashioneds were consumed in the making of this dad joke), but I’m pretty easy to satisfy when it comes to charcuterie plates–the server had me at spicy salami, spec, and capicola. I was so excited I didn’t even pay attention to what the cheeses were.

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Mmmm, gerkins

Next, I ordered the most basic sounding ‘Steak & Potatoes’ which was anything but and I got it cooked a beautiful, medium-rare despite ordering it just medium, but hey–they were just looking out for me and my philistine steak preparation ordering ways. This is one of the better steaks I’ve eaten and I didn’t need to drop a $500 tab at Manny’s to enjoy it–this gorgeous hunk of meat is up there with the bavette I had at 112 Eatery and the steak I had at a (now closed) restaurant outside of New York City I had visited in high school that was apparently one of Elvis’ favorites.

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8oz Bavette, herb potatoes and grilled asparagus with peppercorn cognac sauce. #NeverForget

Though any sane person would be full at this point and I was working on my second cocktail (Like Clockwork–Cognac, Bourbon, Dolin dry, Amaro Nonino, Orange Bitters, Expressed Orange–definitely got me all good and “bezoomny”!), a place can’t be sufficiently done and tried until you order a dessert and a regular, black coffee. Now, it should shock no one to know that I can be a bit of a pedant about certain things–and coffee is one of those things. I’ve worked in and out of the coffee industry for the better part of 8 years as a barista and on the corporate level slinging office work. It’s not particularly hard to find quality, well-sourced beans and it is even easier to brew them right. A restaurant can tell me a lot about how much they care about every aspect of their commitment to quality and food by how good their regular brewed coffee tastes. I’ve been disappointed in establishments that otherwise provide good meals but then serve up bitter, black water mudd that tastes like it had been sitting for more than 2 hours in back. I move from disappointed to irritated when this crime is committed by an authentically-declared French or Italian restaurant where ending your meal with a good coffee is tantamount to the cultural experience. One sip from Volstead’s chosen brew and I knew this place really was every bit as great as I knew it to be.

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Tiramisu because I’m ‘basic Italian’

The tiramisu I ordered for dessert wasn’t bad either–and as your resident swarthy Italian-American, I’ve had plenty of tiramisu in my day. The only thing about it I found particular to note, was how the lady fingers weren’t soggy and absolutely drowning in booze and/or coffee. Unlike me this evening, of course.

So, dear reader, consider yourself well and in the know about Volstead’s Emporium in Uptown, MN. I’ve now passed on the secret to you–and if you’re in the area or visiting the Twin Cities, I hope that you take a moment to stumble around W. Lake St. attempting to find it. But shhhhh–don’t tell your dinner companion(s) about the mirror window.

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Home, Sweet Home: An Ode to Local Tourism

 

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Cathedral of St. Paul, MN

 

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

That’s a question many people ask one another, especially when first getting to know each other. It goes along with other lofty dreams and ‘get to know you’ questions like if you could be anything in the world, what would it be? Having an answer to these kinds of inquiries are automatically idealized, they have to be, because typically one has never actually lived in that place or worked that dream job to know whether or not it’s something worth even placing on a pedestal to begin with. We fall in love with a picture or in what we imagine life with no worries to be like–to be completely absorbed in the local of our choosing and nothing else. How many people answer Paris or Italy, or on a beach somewhere in Florida, or maybe even Japan? Why do those places seem more desirable than the one you’re living in right now? Likely because those other places feel like a perpetual vacation. They’re new, they’re more interesting, and they are filled with culture and history ripe for exploring.

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Old train tracks in Northeast Minneapolis

But while most of us are busy looking across the ocean or horizon for something better, some unknown adventure that supposedly exists somewhere outside of our own per view–all of that could be lying in wait in your own hometown waiting for you to explore and appreciate like any ordinary tourist would.

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When I was younger, I used to abhor living in Minnesota. Half of the year is dedicated to being an icebox and the other half is so grossly humid and hot, we’re all begging for a blizzard again. It never made sense to me, why anyone would willingly choose to live here–those exasperated statements more common in the throes of polar vortexes clocking -40 degrees Fahrenheit. I thought it was nothing more than a flyover state, shameless in its midwestern lifestyle and stalks of corn and farmland everywhere. I wanted to be anywhere but here and dreamed of traveling and living among the world–where surely culture and history ran rampant. 

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Minneapolis lookin’ like a green screen

The first time I left the country, I spent three weeks road tripping through France and Italy. Even though I thought they were lovely countries and have since been back to both, when my flight was about to land and I glimpsed the cityscape of Minneapolis, I started to weep. It was then that I realized, Minnesota all along was actually a wonderful and beautiful place to call home. It had everything I needed right here–It’s a perfectly acceptable place to live with its own plethora of culture and great food, Instagram worthy landscapes–and, of course, history.

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Chess & Coffee at Blue Ox Coffee Company

There’s Glensheen mansion in Duluth, our own little Downton Abbey–or wait, is that the James J. Hill house in St. Paul? There’s the North Shore and the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. Stillwater and the rock caves, Bemidji and the legends of friendly giant Paul Bunyan and his blue Ox Babe, Rochester and the Mayo family. Local legends like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, and Prince–all born and raised here. Their footsteps walkable, their hangs and, in Prince’s case home/studio, all view-able. Our local scene of music, food, coffee, etc. is no joke either. The Twin Cities being an incredibly underrated stomping ground just as worthy of anyone’s attention as Chicago, Houston, Miami, and other major metropolises. Yeah, I said it.

Milwaukee Avenue Historic District

Milwaukee Avenue Historic District

So why am I telling you about how awesome Minnesota is? Because I’d like to show you. Traveling and writing about my experiences abroad is something of a living dream for me–and getting to indulge in history my passion. My next trip won’t be until next Spring, where I’m planning to visit Athens, Greece for the first time–but until then, let me take you on a journey through my home state’s local tourism. If you ever find yourself on this side of the country, I hope I can help show you the very best places to visit when you do!

And, of course, my history posts will still continue as I find time to fit in some good ol’ research on top of it all.

SKOL!

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The gorgeous North Shore

Venice Day 2: So “Doge”alicious

Today is our last full day in Italy before we head back to the frozen tundra we stubbornly call home. As Venice is a beautiful, seaside city we wanted to soak up as much sunshine as we could.

But first, we ducked in to visit The Doge’s Palace not far from our hotel to start our day. The palace was built to house not only the Doge but the entire government–filled with senate and judicial chambers as well as a frighteningly cold prison.

The palace was also hosting a temporary exhibition featuring paintings and artwork from Venetian painter Canaletto as well as others. Canaletto was most famous for his stunning portraiture of Venice, so it was pretty cool to see what the city used to look like back in the 18th century compared to today.

Old Venice from Canaletto

New Venice, still pretty though!

We also got to view the palace’s extensive collection of armory and weaponry–I’ve honestly never seen so many swords, axes, and crossbows in one place before and I am a frequent player of video games.

It was time now to visit the prison. The excited feeling I had of momentarily stepping into a real life Pirates of the Caribbean quickly vanished as I realized how truly miserable these dungeons were. They were dank, cold, and lifeless. No window, no nothing–really. They were stone chambers reminiscent of Edmund Dantes’ vacation in Chateau d’If. Knowing that was to be one’s punishment upon misbehaving, I can’t understand why anyone would even bother.

After touring the palace, we thought we’d go island hopping for a bit. It was a gorgeous day out, despite the chilly breeze, and the piazza was otherwise packed with tourists. Before we caught our boat, we witnessed an irate Gondola driver chewing out two people who had just ridden with him–apparently they talked too much!

My mother was most excited to visit the island of Murano so that she could browse the glass shops. She was also hoping we could find a factory and see how it was made–my mom usually gets what she wants, so the universe answered in kind. Here’s a demonstration from a glass blower making a sculpture in 1-minute!

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Glass blowing demonstration in Murano! ❤️

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After cruising around the islands in the sun for awhile, I wanted to warm back up with my coffee from Caffe’ Florian. Casanova used to hang around there in particular because that’s where all the pretty ladies in Venice used to go–so I thought my mom and I better sit inside this time!

Chicken salad sandwich with Florian sauce!

The rest of our time in Venice was spent walking around and trying to commit the city to our memory forever. It really is a beautiful city and I’ve heard negative things about it from some people who insisted it smelled–honestly, I didn’t get that all. Though I had the impression we were visiting in the off-season and perhaps things don’t get as funk when it’s not summer time! Needless to say, Venice did not disappoint–I’d definitely love to come back again some day and explore!

Closing out the night, we visited a highly rated restaurant called Bistrot de Venice which specializes in showcasing traditional Venetian cuisines. I ordered Pasta & Goose, which includes pinenuts, raisins, goose sauce, rosemary, and sage. It’s a traditional dish born from the Jewish Ghetto in Venice around the 16th century.

They gave us these for desert!

It’s now time for me to head home–Italy will surely be missed. I know I’ll be back again soon someday, however. Thanks for following along with my adventures and I hope you stick around on my blog and continue to follow along with my adventures delving into various history topics–always with a good sense of humor, of course!

Venice Day 1: Heard You Like Canals, So I Put a Canal in Your Canal

Ah, Venezia. Routinely named one of the most beautiful cities in the entire world and, from a historical standpoint, a consistent maritime trouble-maker. This little city filled with canals, gondolas, and a raging Carnivale was the birthplace and stomping ground of a lot of famous figures including explorer Marco Polo, composer Antonio Vivaldi, and Giacomo Casanova–a man not easily summed up in one noun.

Most of what I know of Venice had to do with their dastardly deed’s during the 4th Crusade in the 13th century when Enrico Dandolo was the doge. Crusading was the thing to do in this era, and when another bout of armies appeared in Venice with the intention of once again trying to wrestle for control over the holy site of Jerusalem–the Venetians commandeered The Crusading forces and convinced them to attack Zara, a rival and pirate port. Then, Enrico took a bribe from a grouchy son of a deposed emperor to overthrow his uncle, and the gang thus went ahead and sacked Constantinople too for giggles and moneys –all the while Pope Innocent III was shrieking alone in Rome like OH MY GOD THAT’S NOT WHAT I SAID!

Today, however, Venice appears a lot more calm and is bustling with tourists rather than wanna-be knights.

First thing we did after taking a water taxi through the Grand Canal and navigating our way through narrow streets to our hotel, was visit the Piazza San Marco which we are staying about a 2-minute walk away from. Looming over the plaza is St. Mark’s Basilica, which we were able to go inside to tour. Like with other religious sites we’ve visited in Italy before, photos and cell phones weren’t allowed. There are certainly many people who break these rules and I cringe whenever I see them doing it, even if they don’t get caught. I understand that we are all tourists, but there is something extra gross about running around a church which explicitly discourages photos and then trying to waltz around areas where only those intending to pray are allowed. Either way, I was able to take in the basilica and it’s decidedly Byzantine aesthetic–the inside was covered head to toe with golden mosaics you’ll have to simply dream about (or do a Google Image search in the hopes of one of those rule breakers having posted them, I guess). Also, the basilica houses the relics of St. Mark. I sure do love me some relics and doing a Histastrophe post on them one day is still on my extensive backlog list of ‘to-dos’.

Also to be found in the same area is a place I’ve been excited to visit for year’s as a coffee connoisseur–the world’s oldest coffeehouse, Caffe’ Florian!

Built in 1720, (It’s older than the United States of America, yo!) Caffe’ Florian became the coffee hangout spot of Casanova, Lord Byron, Proust, and even Charles Dickens. I’ve always wanted to sit at these tables and sip a coffee–hoping to catch even a little bit of the inspiration these guys had!

I went with hot chocolate today—coffee tomorrow!

While we were sitting on the patio at Caffe’ Florian, enjoying a violin and piano concerto, a sudden storm cloud blew threw and high winds with rain ended up cascading through the piazza, scattering everyone–including the merchants! We had flirted with the idea of taking a boat ride to Murano island today but had opted to save that for tomorrow and we were glad we did! With the now rainy and chilly night ahead of us, we decided to rough it out as much as we could walking the cobbled streets and grabbing dinner at a nearby pizzeria.

Carbonara pizza

Most of the shops we encountered were tourist traps with the same repeating souvenirs everywhere you looked and redundant leather shops carrying similar stock. I started to understand pretty quickly why local Venetians hate tourists so much. I understand the appeal of souvenirs, but when literally every shop carries them–there is little in the way of the actual history and culture of Venice present. I want to see how the Venetians live, but I’m starting to realize perhaps they don’t even exist in these areas which is even sadder to me.

We did walk by a few residential places, which from what we’ve heard, is extremely expensive on this island–but the only indication of life seemed to be small boats tied up in the Canal with personalized decals like one we saw with the caped crusader, Batman.

Perfectly golden espresso for dessert!

Tomorrow, we have plan’s to visit the Doge’s palace and hop on a boat to explore the islands!

Roma Day 1: Espresso, per favore?!

I have a tendency to weep over beautiful things. If I happen to witness a tender moment between two people who love each other–be it family or partners–I’ll get choked up. The same thing happens to me when that Warner Brother’s logo zooms in among fog and John William’s Hedwig theme starts playing. Crying over things that deserve our appreciation is nothing new to me it would seem, so it should have come at no surprise to anyone that I began tearing up the moment our plane from JFK finally touched down in Rome. Or that when I first got to stand in the open air outside, a beautifully sunny 65+ degrees with the smell of Spring in the air, I wanted to hold my mother and cry tears of joy. And, of course, the moment our taxi driver took us through and under the first walls of Rome my eyes started brimming–because I knew I was back again.

Everything here is Art

Two years ago, I barely got to see Rome and it broke my heart ever since. I remedied a similar circumstance with Paris just this last year with my mother in tow and wanted to do the same this time around as well. My father overheard our plans to visit Rome, Florence, and Venice, however, and decided that he wanted to be apart of it as well–to see the things of the Roman Empire and to stand at the Colosseum where gladiators once stood. I’ve been versed in the history of Rome since I was a child thanks to my father’s general interest while growing up, so a part of me thought it only right that he should get to see these things with me too.

Our hotel in Rome is pretty darn swanky

First things first, after finding our way to our hotel courtesy of our lovely taxi driver Luca (my mother made sure to loudly proclaim how cute she thought he was. Don’t worry, we’re sending her to Francis on Friday to atone for her brazenness), we decided to check out a restaurant he recommended to us as having the best pasta in all of Rome–Brazilai Bistrot. Now, we were running on precisely two hours of sleep and had been awake for more than 24+ hours at this point so we were also determined to cram in as much as we could along the way to help stay awake. Before we got ourselves all full and fed, we took a quick stop to say hello to my old friend the Trevi Fountain. I tossed a coin in last time I was in Rome, so I wanted to make sure to let it know that I held up my end of the bargaining fortune.

Afterwards, we started the long walk to our food coma destination. Since our hotel is located in such a prime location here in Rome, I thought we should try to walk everywhere as much as we could. I’m an idiot though and I resented myself pretty quickly into the walk when I was reminded of how exhausted I was from traveling, but we trekked on somehow. Stumbling into the restaurant after a good half hour of shuffling our way around cobbled streets and trying not to pass out, we took a seat and were immediately recognized for the tourists we are! I was determined to practice the Italian I’ve been learning these past few months though and asked if I could try in Italian when our server spoke to us in English. We proceeded to have the rest of our ordering conversation in Italian, so I hope I made my favorite Roman and teacher Ileana proud!

Amatriciana sauce in Rome!

Good and wined, it was hard to miss the lure of the Colosseum poking out and waving at us from down the street after existing our restaurant, so we decided to go pay the Flavian Amphitheater a visit too. We learned from our family in Italy that this whole week is Cultural Week–which means every museum is free except The Vatican. We figured the Colosseum would be insanely busy, especially considering the timing when we decided to stroll up (2 hours before close? Nah maaaan). But even though we weren’t intending on going in for a tour today, we ended up running into a guide who was able to help us skip the line (which was disgustingly long and stuck at over capacity). We figured we had all that pasta to walk off anyway so we went along with his group and decided to do the Colosseum, despite how sleep deprived we were feeling.

I ended up not taking many pictures inside because it was so busy in there with people and I was too distracted listening to our tour guide, but a lot of it was under renovation anyway (which is awesome!). I’ll have to do a proper write-up of the Colosseum some day, but suffice it to say–I thought our guide did a fantastic job bad mouthing the inaccuracies of the movie Gladiator. And I wasn’t about to pick a fight with him when he said the Roman Empire collapsed with the sacking of Rome (though the Eastern half was just fine with Constantinople kicking, k thanks) All in all, it was a good nerdy time.

Lastly, I stuffed my face with pizza and more wine which helped a little bit but now I really need to sleep for like 10 hours so I’ll let you all know how tomorrow goes!

On the Agenda: Lots of Gelato!

A domani!

All Roads Lead to Rome

 

The Appian Way, Rome’s ancient super highway

I’ve wanted to visit The Eternal City since I was old enough to think–when my days were filled with old Hollywood sandal-flicks and my first books consisted of illustrated Biblical scenes with bad guys wearing plume-y galea helmets. Growing up Italian-American, there is a sense of worship-fullness when it comes to Rome–it was the seat of the Roman Empire for centuries and, in generalized terms, my motherland. Rome was where the idea of an Italian was truly born (Quite literally with the Congress of Vienna and in 1871, Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy) and it’s history my own. I wanted to be Roman and feel the experience of thousands of years of living in one place in time all around me. In 2016, due to a sudden change in travel plans, I had only enough time in Rome to stand and marvel in front of The Coliseum and to take a quick walk to the Trevi Fountain before hopping into our rental car and cruising to the airport to fly back home. I’m excited to say that I will soon find myself back in less than a week. For, as they say, all roads lead to Rome–including my own.

”Here was Rome indeed at last; and such a Rome as no one can image in its full and awful grandeur! We wandered out upon the Appian Way, and then went on, through miles of ruined tombs and broken walls, with here and there a desolate uninhabited house: past the Circus of Romulus, where the course of the chariots, the stations of the judges, competitors, and spectators, are yet as plainly to be seen as in old time: past the tomb of Cecilia Metella: past all inclosure, hedge, or stake, wall or fence: away upon the open Campagna, where on that side of Rome, nothing is to be beheld but Ruin. Except where the distant Apennines bound the view upon the left, the whole wide prospect is one field of ruin. Broken aqueducts, left in the most picturesque and beautiful clusters of arches; broken temples; broken tombs. A desert of decay, somber and desolate beyond all expression; and with a history in every stone that strews the ground.”Charles Dickens [1]

So where does the idea that ‘All Roads Lead to Rome‘ come from, anyway? It’s an idiom that’s been passed down from generation to generation essentially meaning–doesn’t really matter how you do it, everything will arrive to the same conclusion. How inspired was this phrase and is there any truth to it?

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Giovanni Paolo Pannini The Roman Forum (1755)

If we go back far enough, we find the idea appearing in Medieval writings from Chaucer to theologians. Appearing nothing more than a stray observation by French theologian/poet Alain deLille in the 12th century: “Mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam” or for those not fluent in dead languages, “A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome.” [2] And, of course, Chaucer being a poet of renown was sure to take inspiration in his work as well to include a mention of the Roman city–

And god wot, that in alle thise langages,

and in many mo, han thise conclusiouns ben suffisantly lerned and

taught, and yit by diverse rewles, right as diverse pathes leden

diverse folk the righte wey to Rome

-Geoffrey Chaucer, Treatise on the Astrolabe [3]

But even here, it seems the idea of roads leading to Rome is similar, in a sense, to my own experience that there is simply a calling to the city–one that many of us–as lovers of History, or food, or vibrant culture, or awe-inspiring art–cannot resist. And even through its long life–from kingdoms to republics, to empires and upheavals, from religious institutions to repeating the order of things all over again in tandem–as history has shown us, there has always been a sense of desire to reclaim the city as one’s own.

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The Milliarium Aureum or Golden Milestone

However, there may be some truth to the phrase as from Cassius Dio [4], Plutarch [5], Seutonius, and Tacitus–we do learn of a column that was commissioned by Augustus Caesar to serve as the convergence point of the Roman Empire. A point where all roads began from and all distances there-in were measured by it, linking the network of the Empire together like a spiderweb. So, in a sense, all roads in the Roman Empire certainly did lead back to Rome.

All roads pointed towards the Imperial City, and started from its Milliarium Aureum. [6]

Either way, I’m pleased to share that my journey once again leads me back to the beating heart of Italy. As with my other travels, I’ll be updating my blog daily with pictures and tidbits so stick around and hit that follow button if you want to keep up with my quick romp through Rome, Florence, and Venice–typically posted at unreasonable hours, of course.

And as the saying goes, I hope that one day, dear reader, your road leads you to Rome as well.

 

Fact Check it, yo!

[1] Cosmo, L. (2017). Rome: Poetic Guide to the Love City of Romulus. Lulu Press.

[2] Alain de Lille, Liber parabolarum (c. 1202AD)

[3] Geoffrey Chaucer: A Treatise on the Astrolabe (c. 1391 AD)

[4] “Now all this was done later in commemoration of the event; but at the time of which we are speaking he was chosen commissioner of all the highways in the neighbourhood of Rome, and in this capacity set up the golden mile-stone, as it was called, and appointed men from the number of the ex-praetors, each with two lictors, to attend to the actual construction of the roads.” – Cassius Dio, Book 54, paragraph 8, line 4

[5] “With the remark, then, that he had bought an old house and wished to show its defects to the vendors, he went away, and passing through what was called the house of Tiberius, went down into the forum, to where a gilded column stood, at which all the roads that intersect Italy terminate.” – Plutarch

[6] Schaff, P. The Ante-nicene fathers / the apostolic fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. (1993). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Paris Day 5-6: Disneyland in Paris

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I’ve been to Disney World in Orlando more times than I can remember. I’m assuming it’s at least in the double digits, so to say I’m familiar with the park is probably an understatement. Disneyland Paris is something else, however, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the park was not a mirror image of its predecessors.

Opening in April of 1992, the park is still celebrating it’s 25th anniversary this year though it’s now officially crossed the 26 year mark. But we’re also celebrating other significant milestones with this park visit. The first time my mother ever got the chance to experience a Disney Park, it was with my grandmother, which was also her first visit too. It was on this trip that my mother became obsessed with Disney and Mickey Mouse, passing along her love to me as well. So, for the first time, we were both visiting a Disney park for the first time together, neither of us having been to Disneyland Paris before.

And the park is certainly unique! Not only does it have exclusive rides, but even the classic staples found at all Disney Parks are different–and we were even able to enjoy experiences that no longer exist at older parks. One of these was Captain Jack’s restaurant (though of different name back then), which is a sit-down restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride which is seen from the boats going through. My mother explained that she went to this restaurant with my grandmother too, so we made sure to check it out as well. The food was amazing but I’m pretty sure I’ve never felt as full in my entire life.

We rode Pirates of the Caribbean 3 times in the course of our visit, it being one of our all time favorites from Disney Parks. Though the dialogue spoken in the ride was French, the Pirate’s Life song was sung in English so it was both familiar and fun. It also wasn’t a copy of the original, there were a few added features like a Barbossa who, under moonlight, dazzled in cursed skeletal glory. Different odds and ends like poor kitties floating on crates, a captain’s quarters, and of course the view of Captain Jack’s Restaurant made it a unique treat despite the many times I’ve been on the ride in Disney World. We also saw the new addition of a Pirate Red-Head, which has since changed over from the original wench auction.

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The park worlds are all different too! There is Frontierland (not set-up the same as Disney World at all), Adventureland which is broken up by an Adventure Isle which contains a pirate ship, Skull Rock, and a maze of dark tunnel caves which is a whole lot of fun put would have probably given my parents a heart-attack if my brother and I played in them as kids. Fantasyland which includes enough exclusive features to set it apart, and Discoveryland which replaces Tomorrowland as the sci-fi otherword but with more of a steampunk flair in aesthetic. There is also a second park called Walt Disney Studios which takes the place of Hollywood Studios at Disney World which includes Tower of Terror and one of my old favorites, Animation Studio which has since been turned into a Star Wars outpost in Disney World.

And, of course, the Disney castle is different–instead of Cinderella, the castle in the middle belongs to Sleeping Beauty and upstairs there is an entire stained glass gallery featuring her story. Also, underneath the castle in a dark cave lives the dragon…

As for the rides that can’t be found at Disney World? We tried them all! Ratatouille being the most well-known, we hit up that one first especially since the lines for it are ridiculously long. And though it was fun, I can’t suggest that an hour wait is worth it. It was certainly a pleasant ride, but we were good with one go. You ride on a mouse mobile chasing around in Gusteau’s restaurant but the ride relies mostly on motion with the action happening on screen and the mouse car moving in place along in response. There are some fun moments where you do move through the kitchen and pleasant smells like citrus are injected into the air. Another exclusive ride that left us a bit wanting was Indiana Jones and The Temple of Peril. It’s a short mine cart roller coaster that hooks and loops around a cool looking temple ruin, but it mostly jostles you around and both my mother and I repeatedly had our heads pinging back and forth against our headrest so we left the ride feeling a bit disoriented and woozy. The ride also lacks the magic of integrating you into the world of Indiana Jones which other Disney rides are pretty good about doing, nothing during the ride had anything to do with the whipped crusader aside from name alone which was a shame. It could have been a roller coaster from anywhere.

One of my favorites was Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain, which was a refurbishment of Space Mountain, a similar thing having happened to the ride at Disneyland California too. Space Mountain, in my experience at Disney World, isn’t a ride that had aged well. Half the time it’s broken down and the other half it’s rickety and rough, throwing you around in an un-enjoyable experience that’s hardly even dark enough anymore, the blackness of space impossible when the roller coaster tracks are visible. So I was excited to see how Hyperspace Mountain improved upon the formula and I was not disappointed. IT WAS COOL! First thing it does is launch you so fast it straps you back and you momentarily loose your breath as your body tries to adjust to the velocity, and once you’re finally able to breathe again, you’re being thrown around in the dark with flashing lasers and dogfights between X-Wings and Tie Fighters, it’s honestly a treat.

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Surprisingly, in a country that prides itself on food, Disneyland Paris didn’t have much variety in options. I remember when I was a kid, the food wasn’t that impressive at Disney World either, but over the years they’ve really strengthened their culinary prowess and now you can’t turn a corner without a stall having its own unique dish to salivate and throw down $20 for (I’m exaggerating but also it’s kinda on the mark) If you’re curious to see what Disney World has going on in the food world, I suggest following Disneyfoodblog but be prepared to pack your bags and book your tickets. At Disneyland Paris, every single stall either had popcorn and ice cream or sugared crepes and a hot dog. Don’t get me wrong, these hot dogs are something else. They’re giant doggies nestled in a baguette and I could probably eat one every day but you just want some options, you know?

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And maybe this is simply because of the culture in Europe. We saw signs telling people that picnicking within the park was not permitted and we were wondering, was that seriously a thing? Evidently. Most of the visitors at Disneyland Paris brought in school sized backpacks full of food that they’d consume in line for a ride. There was one guy chowing down a bowl of noodles before getting on Hyperspace mountain and I have to wonder if he had an iron gut.

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A few other stray observations…

Both parks are small, which is no surprise since the internet is pretty up front about warning visitors of this. Walt Disney Studios takes less than an hour to walk all around with no stops, so if you’re planning a visit, get the multi-pass.

France being France was eager to let us know what they were responsible for inventing which was pretty funny. Declarations were featured in a few of their rides like ‘the French invented animation!’, ‘the French invented special effects!’, ‘the French invented shooting films on location!’. It was honestly endearing.

It’s a Small World WAS sung in French!

There was a severe lack of adult beverages which is the opposite problem at Disney World. Do Europeans not need to be drowning in booze in order to get through a day spent with their kids?

Both days the Aladdin signing autographs was white as hell.

Do Europeans get the same sense of wonder and awe with our history and aesthetic as we do theirs? Frontierland is an ode to the American West, do their minds tick and whirl with imaginings of Cowboys and Native Americans?

Some guy accidentally sneezed on my mother and she reflexively said “Bless you!” to him which cued a fervently concerned discussion in German where the wife was pretty sure my mother meant something along the lines of gesundheit rather than the other probable two worded phrase she might have fired off instead.

Other treats, a pineapple dole whip float. It’s not the same as the swirl featured in Disney World but it did the job. And the beignets are delicious!

All in all, I’m super glad we checked out Disneyland Paris. As lifelong Disney fans, it was really cool to experience Disney in a different way and I’ll always remember it fondly as that crazy time we went to visit Mickey Mouse in Paris. Now I’ll need to visit Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo too!

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