HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Matt, Erin, Sabrina & Sally

Small world moments.  A mother & daughter run into a brother & sister at our reception and realize they had all met a few weeks ago on the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Emma & Bianca

Bianca is a Puerto Rican sociologist who converted to Judaism when she married Emma, who is also a sociologist and happens to be an identical twin.  They were married a year ago and are here on their anniversary.  Here we talk about their experience as a gay couple traveling in Europe and they take a moment to give each other a special message.

 

19 May 2017

Solo Female Travel Tips

Guest post & photos by Ishita Sood 

It is not easy being a solo female traveler in India. There are two reasons for this:  1) there are women who want to travel alone, but can’t find the courage to actually do it and 2) there are people who do not get approval from their families. Not falling into either of these two categories (thankfully coming from a very supportive family), I faced the concern of safety more than the concern of approval.  When I traveled alone for the first time, it was a question more of “how” will I travel alone rather than “why” will I want to travel alone.

Traveling solo for the past 3 years and most of that time to Italy, I am always asked questions such​ as:  “What do you do when you travel solo?” “How do you pass the time?” “Don’t you ever get bored?” “How do you eat alone in a restaurant?” “Don’t you feel lonely?” and the list goes on…

And for all those questions my only answer is “If you don’t try, how will you ever know??”

For me, traveling solo is about first finding the courage and inner strength to do it. If you are not convinced, you can never convince your family. Being decisive about it is important so stop listening to that voice in your head that tells you not to do it. Just take the plunge!

Traveling to Italy several times has helped me learn to be vigilant and aware of my surroundings. Once during a train ride from Orvieto to Perugia I felt two men staring at my bag. I immediately knew that they were aiming to take it and slowly went to the waiting room where I found a group of Italian women sitting together. I explained in my broken Italian what I felt and they helped me. One of them stayed with me on the train to Perugia and made sure I arrived at the station without trouble. Bless her and her husband! Incidents like these always make me appreciate the kindness of strangers.

Here are some tips for staying safe and hope these are useful to anyone who is questioning being alone on the road.

  • Try to take a flight that lands either in the morning or afternoon. Since you are in a foreign land where you possibly don’t speak the language it is best to reach your accommodation before nightfall.
  • Stay vigilant around train stations and always keep your belongings together. Never ever have all cash and cards in one place.
  • Keep in touch with family or friends to let them know where you are. It also helps drive loneliness away.
  • Save numbers of the Embassy of your country in your phone and make sure you have copies of your Passport and Visa with you.
  • Strike conversations with locals – the gelato shop owner or someone sitting right across from you at a restaurant. It always leads to interesting times.
  • Look confident and try not to panic. Stay friendly, but be aware of your overall surroundings.
  • Don’t judge people before you even talk to them. There are all kinds of people that make the world and most of them are usually nice. 🙂

It is a bit strange to be on your own the very first time, but after a few days you start to enjoy it.  Happy Traveling!

Ishita is an Indian Travel Blogger who is very passionate about Italy and feels deeply connected to its language, culture and history. She writes about her Italian travels on her blog Italophilia and plans to start trips to Sicily this fall. She can be reached at ishitatravel@gmail.com and can be found on Facebook and Instagram as @Italophilia

9 May 2017

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Thijs & Susan

More love – this time from this brother and sister team from Holland.  It’s not very common to find brothers and sisters traveling together, and even rarer to see them enjoying each other’s company so much.  There’s something special about siblings who would be friends even if they weren’t family!

Rome Blogger Meet Ups

 

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 rome@thebloggerunion.com.

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

 

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Jamie & Caitlin

There are cute couples, and there are Cute Couples.  Prepare to rethink how you measure up compared to these two!

Bonus video:

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Matt & Robin

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.

3 February 2017

Gatsby Cafe at Pizza Vittorio

Gatsby-cafe-Rome

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.  

Great new deli near Piazza Vittorio

radici-deli-piazza-vittorio

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.

Changes at Rome’s Termini Train Station

 

FullSizeRender-7

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.

Security

FullSizeRender-6

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.

Food & Shops

FullSizeRender-4

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.

 

14733179_319908781720900_3663444440191598592_n

A trapizzino at Trapizzino at the Mercato Centrale. This is the parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant/aubergine).

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.

14624757_1126499764101083_5354730195452428288_n

The newly opened Mercato Centrale food court at Termini station.

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.

 

16 January 2017

5 Great Reasons to Visit Rome in the Winter

12446209_947009638685955_1751425666_n

View of the Tiber River and the dome of St. Peter’s in January.

 

Rome.  A thousand images come to mind with this one word.  Those images often include sunshine, blue skies or people sitting out in a piazza.  The spring, summer and fall months of April through October are indeed a beautiful time of year to be in Rome, but I’m here to let you know about some very compelling reasons to consider coming to Rome in the winter months from November through March.

 

2.  Fewer visitors

450px-Via_Borgogona_in_Rome

Street near Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps), Rome in high season.
Photo by: Per Palmkvist Knudsen

 

High season in Rome runs at least 7-8 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 there’s a less frenetic pace.  Not that Rome is ever a ghost town, but there’s just more breathing room in the winter.

Piazza in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome in February.

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 the weather.  Most people want blue skies and dazzling sunshine when visiting Italy.  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.  Many popular sights and museums are taken over by hordes of school groups during the spring months.

 

2.  Lower airfares and accommodation prices

View from the Vittoriano in Piazza Venezia in February.

Rates are less in the winter 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.  Norwegian is moving into the low cost market and has begun to offer lower fares both for transatlantic and inter European travel.  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.

 

3.  Sightseeing – as in actually being able to see the sights

What you have to do when you don’t buy your ticket in advance for the Vatican Museums in high 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.

 

4.  Food (you can’t get Roman artichokes in the summer!)

12543341_1674176279531585_739923864_n

Roman artichokes prepared and served “alla giudia” – stripped, pressed and double-fried.

 

My favorite time of year for food here is the winter. Roman artichokes, greens galore, chestnuts, cavolo nero (kale) 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 or pasta dish 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!

 

hotchocolatedolceamaro

Italian hot chocolate is thick and to be savored with a spoon – make sure to ask for panna (whipped cream).

 

5.  Slowing down – a true holiday experience

15306571_101266187033612_893259507151405056_n

Plenty of park benches for a quiet respite on a mild winter day at the Acquario Romano near Termini train station.

 

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.

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Ambreen

Ambreen, a Pakistani -American physics teacher currently living in Barcelona talks to Steve about the dangerous world of teaching in the USA.

Pizzeria Da Michele, one of the most famous pizzerie of Naples, is now in Rome

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!

Before and After

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

24 November 2016

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Natalie

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.

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Sean

Sean makes Steve laugh as they talk about Airbnb hosts who have no clue what they’re doing – him included!

Cooking classes in Rome at The Beehive

10363639_10153801613007565_2517847832077451114_n
“You offer cooking classes??”  Several friends I’ve talked to recently have been surprised by this which made me realize that we don’t do a very good job sometimes marketing the things we offer at The Beehive.  Besides having guest chefs who come and do pop-up lunches and dinners, we also offer cooking classes either by those same guest chefs or more often than not, by Beehive owner – my husband,  Steve Brenner.  Steve is not your typical chef – he wasn’t professionally trained and the classes he gives are based on pragmatism and utilitarianism.  He is often accompanied by our youngest daughter Viola who has aspirations of owning her own restaurant some day and who acts as his assistant and also makes a mean tiramisu! (see photo at the end of this post)  
13319852_10154735085447565_2807076974994249118_n
2016-06-23-16-15-49-copy
Recently journalist Barbara Woolsey interviewed Steve for an article she wrote about taking cooking classes while on holiday for the on-line publication Thrillist.  Only a small part of the interview was used so I wanted to share with you all the rest of it and Barbara kindly allowed me to use her interview.  
2016-06-14-20-24-19-copy
What are your favourite “pragmatic” dishes to cook?
I like to teach a few pasta dishes that focus on basic techniques so in teaching those 3 dishes, people can turn them into 9 or 10 as they teach skills to make other dishes.  The top three that go over well, that are impressive, yet easy to do are:
 
1. Pasta alla norma – a basic tomato sauce with eggplant, topped with an aged ricotta cheese  2. Walnut pesto  3. Zucchine, basil and almond pesto, which we first make by cooking the zucchine in “aglio, olio, peperoncino” which is a great way to cook pretty much any vegetable as a side dish, antipasto, or to dress pasta with.
12991113_10154735085147565_3849885309772816389_n
Why do you prefer to teach dishes that people can cook at home, as opposed to making fresh pasta?
Because I like to teach things that people will actually go home and do, and most people won’t really bother making fresh pasta at home.  I do like teaching how to make fresh pasta though, as it’s easy to do, and very forgiving, and with a few attempts you can get good at it fast so I’m not opposed to teaching people how to do it if that’s what they want to learn how to do. Plus, working with dough, any kind of dough, is a great cooking skill.  You can apply it to bread making, crusts, anything.  Once you understand how to form a dough properly with the right amount of liquid to flour, it applies to all sorts of things.
2016-06-03-19-08-46-copy
How did you start doing these cooking classes? Did you ever work as a chef, or was it always the plan to incorporate cooking into The Beehive from the beginning (or did it just start up organically somehow)?
I’m not really a professional chef.  I’ve cooked for loads of people though, and in large numbers (110 being the most, in Bali, with chefs using a wood-fired stove!).  I worked in/ran our own cafe for a while too when we used to provide lunch and dinner.  I just seem to have a knack for it and I enjoy it.  I got started doing cooking classes myself because we had guests who wanted to learn and there wasn’t anyone available or any classes accessible within their budget so I figured, what the hell, I’ll just do it!
2016-06-14-20-20-54-copy
2016-06-07-20-12-58-copy
2016-06-03-19-08-56-copy
What’s the feedback you’ve gotten from guests (anybody still keeping in touch and making those dishes at home)?
We had a group of young university students who did two classes of 6 people each and they wrote me afterwards with some questions.  I’ve had others say they can’t wait to get home and show off what they know to their friends and family.  So yes, I think people come away with practical skills that they are then eager to use.
2016-08-26-20-14-34-copy
Do you ever take cooking classes yourself? If so, why is it a great idea for people to do this?
Yes.  I took a class here years ago in Rome through the Gambero Rosso school based on vegetarian cooking, and in Bali I took a class or two on dishes I was interested in, but for the most part I am completely self-taught with the help early on of older ladies at the market and fruttivendoli who are always happy to tell you how to prepare the produce you are buying from them.  
 
Italy’s a particular place because the classic dishes aren’t secret.  If you ask at a restaurant how they make it, or what’s in it, they’ll just tell you.  Many people wonder why food doesn’t taste the same here, i.e. why it tastes better than at home, and I set out to show them exactly why, so they can reproduce what they experience here.  The best meals I’ve had in Italy have been home cooked.  It’s a cuisine that’s based on poverty, simplicity and seasonality, so it’s very much something anyone can do themselves.  It’s also a mentality – it’s about using what’s abundant and available and fresh and knowing what to do with it and what basic combinations work and don’t work.  By learning how to cook like an Italian, I think you can go anywhere in the world and take inexpensive, seasonal ingredients and make great food without needing a huge budget or a lot of equipment.
Steve is available for cooking classes by advance reservation – maximum 6 people.  Prices start at €50 per person for 2 people and €40 per person for groups of 3 or more people.  

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Federico

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.

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Dana

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…..)

Beating the heat in Rome

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.

13735906_515512995300947_1030643559_n

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.

 

16 August 2016

Tips for navigating Rome like a local

10358939_10202149447206174_7610330305910069578_o

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: 

12353313_456458947898591_1760385837_n

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.

10831886_312837242237909_247288478_n

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.

12822374_182940252084146_95188661_n

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!

12530917_1775793602652574_692536679_n

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.

11353024_389495397909318_1576257878_n

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.

PUBLIC SERVICES:

12976227_496131100583586_318325646_n

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.

IMG_5883

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.

12825810_964553160287352_2141390863_n

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.

SAFETY:

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).

IMG_0771

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.

4 July 2016

Incredible Tuscia!

11258065_1462738590708771_812576218_n

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.

11380080_1022153557808252_2080178906_n

10693395_526560904160644_1228902877_n

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)

11375869_1605595866384856_58906666_n

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.

11417307_899510316754975_1660153477_n

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.

11377824_799135766868931_1379244485_n

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.

11381428_375163162688342_1484257444_n

Lago Bolsena

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.

11376375_104170363261842_656170640_n

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.

11374726_672777259533437_276879652_n

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.

11385525_1031632796849485_1981511231_n

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.

11383308_1595859350674021_1656307571_n

After our aperitivo we headed down to the lake for a pizza night at Parco Airone.

11249130_135269840141929_750935441_n

 

11358259_903049929768113_1115049939_n

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.

11427315_743524935769377_294066707_n

The following morning started with a day floating our troubles away at Hotel Salus Terme in Viterbo.

11376637_447795118735942_1067733141_n

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.  

10632499_1663781237186880_528344252_n

2 July 2016

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Soo Lim

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.

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Yanni, Lola & Alina

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.

Rome’s Parks – Parco degli Acquedotti (Aqueduct Park)

13166650_1552014401761198_318685946_n

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.

13181442_233570773681139_473558892_n

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.

13151335_713521868787510_533375902_n

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.

13102335_1583323295052825_1850664504_n

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.

 

 

Discovering Montalcino wines with Curious Appetite & We Like Tuscany

12750326_204201699942013_1868172696_n

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.

12345865_883048271810084_1173523882_n

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.

12716990_237446549929768_573315760_n

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.

12822437_821853571294843_2017822432_n

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.

12826290_231249480555183_374310126_n

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.

12826116_871903602932293_441293499_n

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.

12798089_852301778214273_649121612_n

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.

11363856_475417235988721_1276515483_n

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!

12798169_1054098524655529_117805059_n

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.

1 2 3