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…..)

8 September 2016

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.

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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

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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: 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.  

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2 July 2016

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Soo Lim

People frequently surprise me, but when Soo Lim told me that she “has a birthday every year, but doesn’t always get older”, it kind of blew my mind.

1 July 2016
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