Tips for navigating Rome like a local


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:



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,, with both Italian and American recipes. Alexandra meanwhile serves as the taste tester.

4 July 2016

Incredible Tuscia!


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

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.  


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

HostelLife: Conversations with guests – Yanni, Lola & Alina

This past Easter, I chatted with these three warm and friendly Indonesian guests about the Pope, pasta and the fact that they are 3 strangers traveling together.

19 May 2016

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


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.



1 2 3 4 12