Guest post by Estrella Gomez
Upon arriving to Rome in July of 2016, I immediately sensed something was missing. Being a blogger myself and having come from the U.S., I left behind a blogger community, otherwise known as The Blogger Union, that I had just became a part of in Florida, only to leave shortly after. I wanted to join a group here in Rome where like-minded people could connect, meet, and talk about all things blogger-related. I decided I ought to do something about that.
So, I contacted the founder of The Blogger Union in Florida, and hopped on a call with her one night while I was on vacation in Paris, and said “I want a blogger union chapter in Rome. How do I do it?”
And then a month later, we had our first meet-up! So what is Rome Bloggers anyway…you might be wondering.
Rome Bloggers is a chapter of The Blogger Union and the first international one at that! The Blogger Union also has chapters in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami Florida, Houston Texas, and Greenville South Carolina. Rome Bloggers hosts monthly meet-ups with speakers on a certain topic related to blogging or in the creative field and/or networking events.
The first meet-up was simply a way to get a feel for who may be interested in this kind of thing to begin with. We only had 5 people present (myself included). It was a general chat about what topics would be of interest to them, questions about the whole concept, ideas, and suggestions.
The second meet-up took place at The Beehive and it was our first meet-up with a guest speaker. The topic of this meet-up was on YouTube. Our guest speaker, Zoey shared with us why she got started on YouTube, some tips for those who want to begin, and her journey to quitting her 9-5 job to live and work overseas as a digital nomad. We had a total attendance of 19 people, which was a great turn-out!
The third meet-up was a networking aperitivo. An aperitivo is when a restaurant gives the option of a drink paired with snacks or side dishes meant to open up the stomach for the “real meal” usually between the hours of 7-9pm. However, Sideways Bistrot in San Giovanni did a great job in providing us with an aperitivo that left us full and happy with plenty of options for wine and drinks.
The most recent meet-up for the month of February was held again at The Beehive. The topic this time around was on Social Media. Our guest speaker, Anastasiya Gorshkova, spoke about her experience in building her brand, Anastasiya Craze through her YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook social channels. She also shared general tips on social media, best practices on different social platforms, and things to know for those who are just getting started in the digital space.
Since Rome Bloggers started in October 2016, we have now reached over 200 followers on Instagram, almost 100 on our Facebook page, and over 50 different members have joined us at one of our 4 meet-ups. To be the first to know about events and happenings in the Rome Bloggers community, be sure to follow us on social and also shoot us an email to be added to our email list at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rome Bloggers is a supportive community of bloggers dedicated to growing and thriving together through kind collaboration. Come join us!
Estrella is a part-time lifestyle/travel blogger who has made Rome her home since summer 2016. Coming here on a whim after taking a once in a lifetime vacation in Italy in 2015, she felt there was no better place to settle her passion for wanderlust than the Eternal City itself. Originally from South Carolina, she was previously living in Miami for the past 4 years before making the temporary move overseas. On her blogs La Casabloga and What If We , you will find topics about living abroad, travels through Europe, and other lifestyle topics in hope to inspire others to ditch the 9-5 and pursue their own unique path…even if it leads them 10,000 miles away from home. You can follow her on Instagram at @lacasabloga and @what.if.we
There are cute couples, and there are Cute Couples. Prepare to rethink how you measure up compared to these two!
Matt & Robin’s last time in Rome was 22 years ago during a trip when he proposed to her. They tell Steve about the unusual circumstances of how they met.
The fabulous folks at Gatsby cafe at Piazza Vittorio have an awesome space and are working with other local businesses to improve the image of the much maligned Esquilino neighborhood near Termini station. They took over a former cap shop which included the stock of vintage Gatsby caps, hence the name. The cafe has 3 levels and is decorated with vintage swoon-worthy 1950s furniture & light fixtures.
They also have live music – check their Facebook page for updates.
For more insider tips on where to eat and hang out in Rome, download our free app here.
The excellent Radici Pizzicheria is a new foodie haven in the Esquilino neighborhood near Piazza Vittorio (metro: Manzoni). A combination deli and market, they’ve got lots of incredibly tasty treats as well as quality food products from the Salento area of Puglia (the region that is the heel of Italy’s boot). Along with Gatsby Cafe, Gelateria Fassi, Panella bakery and the famous pastry shop Regoli – these entrepreneurs young and old are working hard to revitalize the Esquilino neighborhood near Termini one tasty bite at a time.
For more suggestions on where to eat and shop, download our free app here.
Termini train station is the main entry point for the majority of visitors arriving by bus or train into Rome’s center. There have been several changes taking place over the years at the station to help shake off the bad reputation it’s had and while no major urban train station will ever be completely free from some grungier aspects of big city reality, there are a lot of new additions at Termini to make it a more pleasant place to not only transit through, but to actually stop and shop or eat.
Termini is a place where you definitely need to be aware of what is happening around you and to make sure to keep an eye on your luggage, handbag or wallet. You don’t need to be frightened or paranoid about it, but just be aware and cautious. There are more security patrols and police around the station then ever before, security cameras have been set up at the main entrances and now when you board the train, there is a security check-point (as shown above) making sure that people have a valid ticket before gaining access to the platform.
A large retail presence as taken over Termini both on the ground floor and at the basement level with brands such as Desigual, MAC, Victoria’s Secret, Kiko, Moleskine, Benetton, Sisley, Sephora, Geox, Borri Books (which also has an English language section), and the department store COIN to name a very few of the many brands having storefronts here. If you’re feeling poorly, there’s a large pharmacy at the station near Platform 1 with English speaking staff who can also offer limited medical advice. Three of the main telecom companies – Vodafone, Tim and Wind – all have retail points here where visitors can purchase an Italian SIM or an inexpensive mobile phone. They have special data packages for visitors, but do note that you’ll need to bring your passport if you don’t have Italian identification.
Food options have improved drastically if like me, you are not a fan of McDonalds or Roadhouse Grill, both of which you can find at the station if that’s your pleasure. The new Terrazza Termini food court located above the train tracks and accessed by escalator from the main gallery, has improved food choices and is a brighter, cleaner place to wait for your train or have a bite to eat than the main floor. If you have even more time, walk through the station from The Beehive to Via Giolitti, turn left with the station to your left and make your way about a 5-10 minute walk to the excellent Mercato Centrale food court located at via Giolitti 36.
Here you’ll find all kinds of excellent food and beverage options from pizza by Gabriele Bonci to the delicious trapizzini (part pizza, part sandwich) at Trapizzino; pasta, veggie burgers, pizza, desserts and much more. The staff all generally speak some English and so far I have found everyone who works there to be quite friendly and helpful.
Termini is still undergoing renovations and improvements which are definitely a positive change for the station and I’ll update here on the blog with future developments.
***Almost 500,000 people a day transit through Termini train station one of Europe’s largest train stations and inspired by that sea of humanity our friend Francesco Conte created TerminiTV, an independent project by a small group of journalists, photographers and filmmakers who document the stories of these people: not only tourists and commuters, but also migrants and the homeless and give a voice to many of the voiceless.
Rome often invokes images of long summer days, sunshine, blue skies and people sitting out in a piazza with a chilled glass of prosecco in hand. While the months of March through October are indeed a beautiful time of year to be in Rome, here are some very compelling reasons to consider coming to Rome in the winter months from November through February:
High season in Rome runs at least 8 months – from March through October. It starts off slow, but then Rome gradually starts bursting at the seams and the popular spots in particular can be suffocating. Yet come the winter months, and in particular January and February, and you expect to see tumbleweeds blowing down the street. Not that Rome is ever a ghost town, but there’s just more breathing room in the winter.
The Big 3 – Rome, Florence and Venice – become different cities in the winter. In a way you can even say they are returned to their residents when the insanely large crowds have all but disappeared. One of the main reasons is because of the weather. Most people equate blue skies and dazzling sunshine with Rome and they would be correct. However, while colder temperatures, rain and grey clouds don’t coincide with many people’s preconceived ideas of Rome and Italy in general – it also makes for an experience that is unique and yet just as wonderful if not more so. You can still find plenty of cloudless skies and bright days in winter, but walking in Rome’s center on a crispy cold night with the golden glow of its street lights and the city wrapped in fog, mist or rain will also make some great memories and moody photographs. With the lack of crowds, the sights, the smells are much easier to appreciate and that’s when you can truly experience the magic here.
Many people think March and April being the start of high season, will be a good combo of nicer weather and less people, but keep in mind that these months are also the time of year European schools have their class trips and so many popular sights are taken over by hordes of school groups.
Rates in January and February are on average less during these months than at other times of the year and even lower if you are internet savvy or have a great travel agent. Within Europe, low cost airlines such as RyanAir, EasyJet, AirOne, Transavia, and Vueling to name a few are always a bargain, but even more so during low season. Many accommodations (including yours truly) have lower prices during this time of year and during particularly slow periods additional discounts are sometimes available. In the summer it can be difficult to find a place, and if you’re traveling around without firm plans, hoping to book as you go, you’ll waste a lot of time trying to find something decent at the last minute. In the winter, places like our Beehive which are booked up in high season have space available in low season.
Rome can be sensory overload – traffic, people, and so much to see. Going to the Vatican Museums when you’re already fatigued is a recipe for disaster, but fatigued you will feel after waiting in a queue in the heat of summer for over an hour (if you haven’t bought your tickets in advance) and battling the crowds in the too narrow and hot passageways. Want to visit the Borghese gallery in May and didn’t reserve weeks in advance? It’s not likely you’ll get a reservation at the last minute. On the other hand, in Florence, several years ago in February, I was able to walk right into the Accademia, no queue to buy my ticket and had a completely unobstructed view of Michelangelo’s David. The same was true for the hike up to the cupola of the Duomo there – no wait and no crowds at all. In peak season, you’re competing with a much larger pool of people to see all the same sights . Visiting when it’s less busy, you’ll not only cruise right into many of these places, often without reservations, but you’ll also have more breathing room to actually enjoy what you’re looking at.
My favorite time of year for food here is the winter. Roman artichokes, greens galore, chestnuts, cavolo nero (kale, used for ribollita soup), and don’t even get me started on the citrus – clementines, mandarins and Sicilian blood oranges called tarocchi. There’s nothing like a glass of red wine and a hearty soup on a cold, dreary day, a cup of thick hot chocolate with panna (whipped cream) to warm you up or a cozy cocktail near the Colosseum when the rain is coming down. And gelato knows no season!
In the winter, your energy levels aren’t depleted by the heat or the crowds, if you get caught in a rain shower or feeling a bit cold, step into a cozy cafe to read or write or hang out with your travel partner sharing a drink and good conversation instead of non-stop sightseeing. The shorter days are a good motivation for getting up earlier to take advantage of the daylight and to get a bit more sleep at night. While it’s great to see everything – you have to reconcile with the fact that you really won’t see and do everything – so take this time during Rome’s winter season to enjoy the city in a unique and special way.
Ambreen, a Pakistani -American physics teacher currently living in Barcelona talks to Steve about the dangerous world of teaching in the USA.
Appropriately opening on Thanksgiving day near Piazza del Popolo (Flaminio metro stop), is the famous Da Michele pizza from Naples. Considered by many to be the best pizza (or at least among the best pizza) in Naples, they’ve been around since 1870 – that’s 146 years of pizza making!
They make two kinds of pizza – Margherita and Napoletana (with tomato and anchovy). Prices are around 7 euro a pizza, so slightly more than what you pay in Naples, but that’s still cheap.
Fried antipasti and craft beers are also available.
Via Flaminia, 80 just at the Children’s Museum in Rome
Wise-beyond-her-years Natalie and Steve talk about “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, how much they relate to a certain passage about the author’s first time to Paris and how it changed him.
Sean makes Steve laugh as they talk about Airbnb hosts who have no clue what they’re doing – him included!
Federico is the kind of guy that I could talk to for days. He came into The Beehive when Linda and I were at reception and immediately introduced himself and exuded a unique open friendliness that you can feel he extends to everyone. Here we are talking about how food is the new religion.
Dana, a “Syrian Princess”, tells Steve about the nicest, most gentlemanly taxi driver she has ever encountered (whose number is available in private for anyone who wants it…..)
Before we decided on a camper trip through France & Spain this past July, we had considered a home exchange in Tel Aviv – a place we have been wanting to visit for some time. I had a difficult time finding an exchange and in the end after much searching and inquiring, I had three serious possibilities all fall through because they didn’t realize it was going to be hot in Italy in July!
Despite crowds and heat, summertime in Rome is a great time to visit and enjoy the intense blue skies, incredible long days, beautiful sunsets and dining and drinking al fresco that is such an integral part of life in Rome. When the temperatures start climbing, here are some suggestions I have for keeping cool in the Eternal City.
1. Escape into one of Rome’s many churches. Rome has hundreds of them, although many are closed during lunchtime hours. The cool marble, the dim lighting and plenty of seating – the perfect place to just be quiet & still.
2. Nasoni. The translation of this is “big noses”. These fountains found throughout Rome have potable clean cold water – a great way to cool off and there’s also an app now that shows you where they are located. Tap water in general is clean and perfectly drinkable although restaurants may try to convince you otherwise because they want you to purchase their water. Refill a water bottle and reduce plastic waste. To see how the locals drink from the nasoni check out this cute little video with our daughters and a friend we made several years ago.
3. Public parks. Rome has loads of accessible and gorgeous public parks with lots of shady spaces to have a picnic and take an afternoon snooze. There’s the Villa Borghese, Villa Torlonia, Villa Celimontana, Villa Ada and Villa Doria Pamphili to name a few. You can read on this blog about our favorite deli near The Beehive to pick up made to order sandwiches and other picnic items.
4. Avoid sightseeing during the hottest parts of the day. This is me (and my youngest daughter Viola) at the Statue of Liberty in August 2006 not following my own advice. Get an early start when the air is still cool and wrap up around noon and go to lunch. Afterwards head back to your room if you can and have a siesta. Your body will love you for it. If that’s not possible, hit up a museum although keep in mind that many are not air-conditioned. Shops stay open late and many museums don’t close until 7,7:30pm.
5. Gelato! Of course I had to mention this! My preference is for fruit flavors which are refreshing as dairy based flavors can actually make you thirstier. Fragola & limone (strawberry & lemon) are a classic combo. Another refreshing favorite is grattachecca – shaved ice (see photo at the top of the post). Many of these stands can be found along the Tiber river. There’s also granita – a Sicilian treat and which can be found at some Roman gelaterie such as Gelateria dei Gracchi (listed on our app) in the summer months.
6. As a last resort and if you have a good amount of time to spend in Rome, escape to the seaside for the day or to one of Rome’s outdoor swimming pools. The nearest most accessible seaside which isn’t totally toxic is Santa Marinella about an hour north of Rome with the train station right in the middle of town so it’s pretty effortless to reach. The beaches here are rocky though and in the summer you’ll have to pay an entrance fee to the beach and extra for a lounge chair and an umbrella. For sandy beaches, cleaner water and a gorgeous historic center, there’s Sperlonga which is a bit further afield being a train and a bus ride away, but very worthwhile.
Guest post by Francesca & Alexandra Bruzzese
Recently we had a group of students from College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts stay in a couple of apartments that we manage and who were referred to us by local alumni and Beehive friends, Francesca & Alexandra Bruzzese. We had a brief orientation in our garden with the students the day after their arrival and Francesca and Alexandra had put together a fantastic little “cheat-sheet” of local tips and recommendations to help these students during their time in Rome. Below are some of their tips:
RESTAURANTS & FOOD:
Water is not free in Italy, unless you request acqua del rubinetto (tap water) which many restaurants are loathe to provide – so be prepared to be charged for this. You do however have a choice between acqua liscia/acqua naturale (still water) or acqua frizzante (sparkling water). You are also sometimes charged for bread.
Tipping is not expected in Italy to the degree it is in other countries. You do not have to leave a 20% tip at restaurants nor do you have to tip the taxi driver. If you were pleased with your service, feel free to leave something extra, but a few euros is generally enough (waiters make a living wage here without tips).
Though you are not obligated to leave a tip, some Italian restaurants include a coperto, which is a service charge included automatically in your bill.
Waiters at restaurants don’t introduce themselves by first name, or check in on you like they do at restaurants in other countries. Don’t be offended by this. In Italy, it’s considered polite to leave the diners alone as they eat and talk. When you are ready for the bill, call the waiter over.
When ordering gelato, Italians typically order more than one and up to even three gusti (flavors) for their cup or cone. Torn between strawberry and chocolate? Get them both!
Italy’s coffee culture is quite different from the Starbuck-fueled one or the pretentious elite coffee shops in other countries. Coffee comes in one standard size, is devoid of different flavors and syrups, and while can be taken away if you want, is not really provided in typical “to-go” cups. Cappuccino is typically a morning beverage (never pre-lunch/dinner nor post-meal as a dessert).
A typical Italian breakfast consists of a coffee or a cappuccino accompanied by a cornetto, a pastry similar to a croissant but sweeter and less buttery. You will not find bagels, bacon, or eggs for breakfast here – Italians do not do savory breakfast.
In Italy, it is socially acceptable (in fact encouraged) to eat the entire pizza tonda, or round wood oven baked pizza by yourself as they are considered a single serving. You are not expected to share.
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are used for your salad. There are no other types of dressing here for a salad. Also, olive oil and balsamic vinegar are not considered dipping sauces for bread as is done in the U.S. If you want bread with olive oil, ask for a bruschetta which is toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with oil in its simplest form and also with chopped up tomatoes and basil.
You’ll find that restaurants and bars are not the greatest at restocking toilet paper in restrooms. Carry around a packet of tissues which you can purchase a single packet at the same bars that sell bus/metro tickets.
Look for the small fountains dotted around Rome (called nasoni) to fill up your water bottles. The water is fresh, drinkable, and most importantly free. Tap water in Rome is perfectly drinkable so fill your water bottle from the tap as well.
Buses in Rome are notoriously unreliable, so do your best to not get frustrated. Download the Muoversi a Roma smartphone app to figure out how long your wait will be in real time.
The website for Rome’s public transit will help you figure out which bus or metro you need to take to get to wherever you need to be.
Rome has two main subway (metro) lines, the A Line and the B Line. Both lines intersect at Termini, so that will be the station to switch lines at. The subway is generally reliable and a subway train passes every 2-5 minutes. The red and blue ‘M’ signs will lead you to the metro at Termini.
Around the touristy areas (St. Peter’s, the Colosseum, Piazza Navona, etc) you’ll find lots of people trying to hawk knickknacks, sell you roses, or ask for money. Do not feel obligated to buy anything (unless you really need a selfie-stick).
Be mindful of pickpockets and scooter riding bag snatchers. When walking down the sidewalk, make sure your bag is facing the inside away from the street and crossed over your chest. Keep your camera, smartphone or tablet close to you and be mindful of who is around you when you using them. Make sure your wallet and personal belongings are accounted for, especially when taking public transport. Rome is not a dangerous city, but exercise caution as you would in any large urban center.
Francesca and Alexandra are identical twins from the U.S who have been living in Rome since 2011. Alexandra works for Eating Italy Food Tours and Where Magazine, while Francesca works at FAO. In her free time Francesca also writes a food blog, www.pancakesandbiscotti.com, with both Italian and American recipes. Alexandra meanwhile serves as the taste tester.
What is the Tuscia, you ask? Is that a part of Tuscany? No, the Tuscia is an area of northern Lazio – the region where Rome is located – and that was once an area in ancient times that was ruled by the Etruscans, a pre-Roman civilization. The area once spread through the regions of Tuscany and Umbria, but now the Tuscia is considered within the province of Viterbo north of Rome.
This area is chock-full of history with lots of interesting archaeological sites, beautiful towns and great food. In the summer, there are many festivals that take place and in the Tuscia for the past 6 years they have celebrated one of my favorite plants with the Festa della Lavanda (Lavender Festival) in the gorgeous town of Tuscania.
Last July, I had the great privilege of attending a weekend long event with my daughter Paloma exploring the Tuscia with a group of bloggers and Instagrammers who were brought together by Mauro Rotelli of the @igerslazio Instagramming community. We started the day at a lavender festival in Tuscania.
Tuscania is a town north of Rome that was founded in the 7th century BC, but Etruscan settlements date it back even further. An earthquake in the 1970’s caused deaths and heavy damages, but the historic center was carefully restored and the medieval city wall still encircles the center. There are gorgeous views from the Parco Torre di Ravello of the ruins of the Palazzo Comunale Rivellino and the 8th century church of San Pietro (St. Peter)
After exploring the different stalls selling every possible type of lavender product imaginable and strolling through the center, lunch was served at one of Tuscania’s most popular restaurants, the casual and unpretentious Da Alfreda. As a vegetarian who still remembers enjoying meat dishes of my past including past meals at Da Alfreda, I have to say this is definitely a place to go to for a first course AND the second course if you are a meat eater.
After lunch we drove to a nearby lavender field and got a chance to take a stroll through the fields. It wasn’t quite Provence, but it was still a beautiful sight to see.
It was then onwards to Lago (lake) Bolsena one of Lazio’s volcanic lakes which also include Lago Bracciano, Lago di Vico and Lago Martignano.
Lago Bolsena has several towns that circle around it and lots of agriculture – farmland, vineyards and olive groves. Being closer and more accessible than a trip to the seaside, many locals head to the lakes in the summer.
There are cafes and restaurants with gorgeous lakeside views like Pepenero restaurant that has a cute white dock you can walk out on. Their speciality is, unsurprisingly, local lake fish and they are open year round for lunch and dinner – a gorgeous spot for a sunset dinner.
That first evening we stayed at the Balletti Park Hotel in San Martino al Cimino. Heading to our hotel for the evening we passed many gorgeous sunflower fields. Late June and July are prime sunflower season.
After hanging out at the hotel for an afternoon dip in the pool, we headed to Lago di Vico for a sunset aperitivo. The folks at Vini Pacchiarotti provided the delicious Lazio wine and nibbles including this dark pinky and oh so delicious rosato to go with a pastel pinky sunset over the lake. All the green down by the lake are hectares and hectares of hazelnut trees owned by the Ferrero company – think Nutella, Kinder and Ferrero Rocher.
After our aperitivo we headed down to the lake for a pizza night at Parco Airone.
This wood fired pizza came in meter or half meter portions and the word of the evening was “outstanding!” Parco Airone was a fantastic place for a pizza night by the lake.
The following morning started with a day floating our troubles away at Hotel Salus Terme in Viterbo.
There were lots of delicious light lunch options at the hotel followed by the tasting of a delicious dessert wine from the folks of Vini Pacchiarotti who had provided wine the day before.
My daughter Paloma and I had a great couple of days and it was just a drop in the bucket of the many things to see and do in the area. We highly recommend taking the time to visit the Tuscia area during your time in Italy.
Festa della Lavanda in Tuscania takes place this year on 2 and 3 July.
People frequently surprise Steve, but when Soo Lim told him that she “has a birthday every year, but doesn’t always get older”, it kind of blew his mind.
This past Easter, Steve chatted with these three warm and friendly Indonesian guests about the Pope, pasta and the fact that they are 3 strangers traveling together.
This is the first in a series I’ll be posting about Rome’s various green areas.
On Mother’s Day this year and with an entire day to have my
minions children and husband at my disposal, cater to my every whim, all to myself, I decided on lunch at my favorite restaurant and a bicycle ride. We don’t all have our own wheels, so we reserved some bicycles to rent.
I found on-line the kind folks at Fuori di Ruota, a cultural association in a private residence. Reservations are mandatory and it’s possible to just send a text message or email and they speak multiple languages including English, Spanish and French. They responded very quickly to our request.
We picked up our bicycles and directly across the street was the Parco degli Acquedotti, but were informed that the Via Appia was a 25 minute ride away. Since we had very limited time and the Via Appia definitely deserves at the very least 2 hours, we decided to just ride within the park.
The park gets its name from the two aqueducts in the park – the Acqua Claudia and the Acqua Felice. Near the entrance to the park across from Fuori di Ruota one can also see the remains of the Villa delle Vignacce, once a very large private residence that was built in the 2nd century AD. It’s also possible to see a section of the Via Latina – one of the original Roman roads that was built in the 300s BC and once stretched for 200km.
The park is truly spectacular – incredibly green and the dirt paths are well-maintained (by Rome standards). On the weekends you’ll get an eyeful of everyday Rome – folks having a picnic, jogging, strolling, cycling, having a picnic or an amorous cuddle. Since it’s a protected area, there is no development within the park and you’ll even see sheep herders and their flocks grazing in the fields.
Despite some mention of it in various guidebooks such as Rick Steves, most visitors to Rome don’t head this way. The park is easily reachable by public transit and there are two metro stops nearby – Lucio Sesto (15 minute walk) and Giulio Agricola (10 minute walk) both on the red line/Line A metro in the direction of Anagnina.
I didn’t always like wine. My family is Puertorican and ours is a rum culture, not a wine culture. Living in Italy for the past 17 years, I have definitely gained an appreciation and love for wine and I try to learn what I can usually from knowledgeable wine expert friends in Rome like #winelover Sarah May Grunwald of Antiqua Tours or Hande Kutlar Leimer of Vinoroma.
This past March, I was invited by my friend Coral Sisk of Curious Appetite who is based out of Florence to join in on a group wine tour being led by her and We Like Tuscany specifically visiting small, independent producers of Montalcino wine in the Val d’Orcia area of southern Tuscany. The whole area became a designated UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004 and it is a stunningly beautiful part of Italy.
We had an early start and while the day was grey and drizzly, our group was small and in good spirits – we were in a beautiful place in excellent company with lots of great wine in our near future – who wouldn’t be! Our first stop was at the Casato Prime Donne winery. Donatella Cinelli Colombini is an inspiring entrepreneur who started this first all female winery in 1998.
At Casato Prime Donne each part of the winery during tastings is a multi-sensory experience with music specifically and expertly selected in each of the rooms to correspond with the wine being tasted.
A red heart on the barrel signifies the top of the top at Casato Prime Donne winery – wine made from the best grapes grown in the best part of the vineyard and an extremely limited quantity produced. After our visit, I had to buy a couple bottles to remember the experience. The red heart bottles were out of my price range, but they have a wide range of differently priced options to choose from.
I’m not used to drinking wine so early in the morning so I took very small sips at Casato Prime Donne and saved most of my wine drinking for our second stop at Santa Giulia winery which despite the wet weather had gorgeous views.
We toured a bit of the winery, but primarily did our wine tasting with lunch. It was a wonderful spread including a thoughtfully prepared first and second vegetarian course for me as the lone veggie in the group. I don’t ever expect a special meal so this was very much appreciated. Gianluca Terzuoli poured the delicious wines from his family’s vineyard that is run by him, his wife and parents. At mealtime is the traditional way to drink wine in Italy and my preferred way as well so this was perfect.
After a delicious meal which was prepared by Gianluca’s mother, we headed to our third and final stop of our wine tour at La Fornace winery. Founder and patriarch Franco Giannetti passed on the family business to his son Fabio and it was very obvious that he inherited a love for their land and passion for their product. Both father and son were there to pour the wines and tell us about their winery and the history of wine in the area.
As a small independent business ourselves, I feel strongly about supporting other small, family run businesses like the wineries we visited. In the internet age, their product is now available to everyone so if you don’t live in Italy there’s limited quantities you can take back home with you, but they can ship and then thankfully, it’s always possible to order more. Wine tours or a wine tasting are definitely a great idea when in Italy as it’s such an integral part of the culture here. So much wine and so little time!
The wine I brought home didn’t last very long, but I still have a bottle of a 2009 Santa Giulia Brunello di Montalcino that I’m saving for a future special dinner. Thanks so much to Curious Appetite and We Like Tuscany and all the wineries we visited for a very memorable day.
Adam & Anna are brother and sister, on their first trip alone together and first time to Europe. This time Steve has a special guest helping him interview them – Viola (our youngest daughter)!
The last time I had been to the Vatican Museums was on our honeymoon in 1998 and to the Basilica with my mother in 2006. In 1998, my husband Steve and I went to the museums before there was an option to book on-line, but I don’t recall standing in a queue or if we did, the wait not lasting very long. It was September, but so incredibly hot. I remember being overwhelmed as well as underwhelmed inside the museums as I sweated from room to room. Weeping Madonna, weeping Madonna, weeping Madonna. I just didn’t understand the appeal. I missed a lot and understood even less.
Fast forward to 2016 and this time Through Eternity invited us on one of their tours. We work with several long-standing reputable walking tour companies in Rome and Through Eternity was one of the first we worked with as they started the same year we did in 1999. Despite very positive reviews from past guests over the years about their tours, we had never actually been on one so I happily accepted their offer. After looking at their many tour choices, I decided on the Vatican. We have many guests who have the Vatican on their “to see” list and so I thought I would like to experience it again, but this time with a well-informed guide.
Of the two Vatican tours they suggested, one was an extensive 5 hour tour and the other was a 3.5 hours. I wanted the full experience so I opted for the 5 hour tour. Mario was our guide, a Dutch transplant who has been living in Rome for several years and has a background in art history and theatre. He was very knowledgeable and friendly and definitely knew his way around the Vatican.
Tickets are available in advance on-line, but it’s amazing how in 2016 people still queue up to purchase tickets. The queue for this is extremely long and you’ll find yourself standing for at least an hour if not longer before you’ve even entered the museums. Thanks to Mario, we passed all the queues and went straight in. We only had to wait a few minutes while he went to pick up the pre-arranged tickets. After that, we followed the masses up into the museum.
The Vatican Museums are not just one museum, but many museums within a museum. It’s simply impossible to see each and every work of art here. Mario explained that if you were to just spend a few seconds in front of every work of art in the museums, it would take you many years to see everything! I could have easily spent an hour alone just in the The Gallery of Maps seen here:
Mario led us through to the more important artworks and even so, it still took us 4 hours to get through and we even bypassed several areas such as the Egyptian Museum. The Vatican Museums receive an average of 25,000 visitors a day, but its rooms, doorways and corridors were not constructed for this kind of traffic so in peak season when the place is packed, it’s slow-going.
There are several outdoor courtyards throughout including the Cortile della Pigna seen here. These are great spots to get some fresh air and escape the close quarters.
The Sistine Chapel is found within the museums and it took us at least an hour to get there from this courtyard. It’s very difficult if not impossible to make a direct bee-line from the entrance of the museums to the Sistine Chapel, so keep that in mind. I don’t have any photographs here of the chapel because it’s a no-photography zone. I still saw people trying to take photos and who were probably able to get away with it because of the crowds, but don’t be a jerk and respect the few rules they have.
From the museums, you are able to go directly into the Basilica. Despite being the largest Catholic church in the world, it still felt manageable. Mario explained that this effect was due to perspective and that in fact the statues and lettering in the church were all incredibly large.
Our 5 hour tour ended 6 hours later and my husband and I were utterly exhausted, but despite that we immediately were eagerly thinking about a future Vatican tour we would like to take. Once was definitely not enough. Although next time I think we’ll opt for a 3 hour tour so that we can also fit in climbing the dome again – something we didn’t have an opportunity to do this time around.
Some of my tips on touring the Museums & Basilica:
Thanks again to Mario for his insight and knowledge and Through Eternity for their generosity and for allowing us to see the Vatican with new eyes.
Over a cappuccino in the cafe, Mary Ann revealed her secret identity to Steve (she’s a sarcastic, sassy yoga teacher in disguise) and told him a bit about men her age who she meets on-line just wanting to network. She agreed to do a “conversations with guests” and talked to Steve about the last time she was in Italy, 30 years ago.
Hattie is a young and brave Australian girl, living in Rome on her own. She had a long stay at The Beehive (about 2 weeks in total) while waiting to move into an apartment. Steve ran into her at a food event, Easter Pop-up kitchen, at the Latteria Studio in Trastevere, where she works and I got a chance to talk to her about her stay at The Beehive and how it compared to other hostels, as well as her interest in philosophy (which in Melbourne they don’t teach in girl’s schools for some reason). Here she is telling Steve a bit about what she’s doing in Rome.