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.
The Beehive wouldn’t be The Beehive without our beloved manager, Yuli Novita. She’s been with us almost since the very beginning and is an integral part of every aspect of our daily operations. No job is too big or small for Yuli and she is an incredibly hard worker. Like everyone at The Beehive, she doesn’t have a perfectly formulated job description, but just does what needs to get done in order for The Beehive to run smoothly and for our guests to be happy. Yuli often goes above and beyond the call of duty for our guests – the stories I could tell! Yuli has a wonderful smile and an easy going personality – she has a memory like a steel trap. Return guests will walk through the door who haven’t been back in years and she not only remembers them and often their names as well, but can also remember personal things about them. I truly envy and admire this about her as it’s a wonderful skill and gift that I sorely and embarrassingly lack. Without Yuli, things would not be the same at The Beehive, she is truly a treasure!
Yuli is the first interview in a series I’m doing about our staff so people can get to know them a bit better.
Where are you from? Indonesia
What brought you to Rome and how long have you been here? I married an Italian. I worked as a nanny for an Italian family who worked at the Italian embassy in Jakarta. They brought me to Rome to take care of their 8 year old son. It was May 1999, I still remember the smell of spring and wondering why Italians had such small cars (in Indonesia it’s all about the big family car).
How long have you worked at The Beehive? 16 years, since the end of 2000
Do you remember how you heard about The Beehive and how you got your job? I heard about The Beehive from a former employer who was also friends with Linda & Steve. Linda & Steve were looking for a housekeeper after just having had their first child and so first I worked as a housekeeper for them at home and then Steve offered me a housekeeping position at The Beehive.
Tell us about your most memorable experience/guest at The Beehive. I have had so many good experiences working at The Beehive! Recently one of our guests asked for directions to Stadio Olimpico where Real Madrid & AS Roma football teams were playing the champions league. I gave her directions and afterward she mentioned that she had three free tickets and if anyone wanted to go with her. Steve and Linda couldn’t come so my daughter & my partner and I ended up going with her. It was like a dream! We were welcomed by a symphony orchestra into a big ballroom full of food and lots of wine (even though I don’t drink), beautiful, fashionably dressed women in high heels showed us where our seats were. It was more like going to a fashion show instead of a football match. I had made a mental note to get us a slice of pizza after we watched the match, but what I found instead was a huge buffet with all kinds of food and drink and we found ourselves with all these famous and beautiful people while I came in just my gym clothes. We had so much fun with Cristiano Ronaldo & Francesco Totti just a few steps away from us. We had no idea that we were going to be in the VIP area! It turns out our Beehive guest works for the owner of AS Roma! My daughter was just in awe of the experience – she’s quiet, but I could tell how was she was feeling from her twinkling eyes.
What is your favorite thing to do in Rome? Rome is so beautiful, it’s almost a sin if you don’t enjoy it! One of my favorite things to do is biking along the Tiber river with my family.
Dave, Denise and Steve talked about quite a lot on their first stay as he joined them for dinner in our cafe. Mostly it was political (sorry for his ranting!). When they returned, the first thing they told me about was a sign in Brooklyn that from Manhattan reads “YO”, and from Brooklyn, reads “OY” (or do I have it mixed up?). The second thing they told Steve was…..
The last few conversations have been examples of people getting along well with their travels – whether related, like Adam & Anna, or complete strangers, like Yani, Lola, & Alina. Today we have the opposite: three ladies who turned up without reservations, and who were having a hard time finding a hostel that would take them (many hostels in the neighborhood won’t take guests over a certain age). After checking them in, Davina came back to reception by herself and told Steve a bit about her crazy aunt, who’s been driving her to the edge.
What Steve loves about this little pet project of his is how it proves that you don’t have to dig too far under the surface to uncover interesting and unique things about people. Sometimes he feels like he barely even has to scratch the surface to uncover something unexpected.
Patrick and his friend Axel came to stay in the dorm last week. Friends for 25 years, and frequent travelers, they had the energy, enthusiasm, and playfulness of teenagers. One morning, Pat brought out a stack of canvases to show some guests (and later Steve) – his photography art.
A New York native, Pat has made photo art for years and makes a living selling it on the streets around Manhattan. He uses various techniques: some images are photocopied and transferred to paper or canvas. Some include collage work, and some have paint added before and/or after the transfer. Sometimes the images are transferred multiple times, creating layers of texture that make his images look like a cross between a painting and a photo. The pictures are haunting, nostalgic and emotional, and best of all, they are unique and one of a kind and require patience and practice. In a time when anyone with an iPhone and a good eye can produce beautiful photographs, it’s nice to see someone using analog techniques to manipulate their images.
Unfortunately, the video I made that explained the process and showed more of the work, was deleted (thanks, Apple), but you can see his work on his website here.
If we’re lucky, he’ll get some good shots of Rome and we’ll have some at The Beehive someday!
a guest post & photos by Annika Blyckertz
My friend Annika is a salon owner in her mid-thirties from Gävle, Sweden – married with a 15 year old son. She’s a casual runner who ran the Rome marathon in 2014. UPDATE: For all the most up to date information about the 2017 Rome Marathon taking place on Sunday, 2 April please go to http://www.maratonadiroma.it The site comes in various languages: English, Spanish, French and German.
I came to Rome on Friday and the marathon is on Sunday. Coming from Sweden, it was quick and easy for me to jump over to Rome for a few days and I had already been to Rome before. However, if you are coming from very far away and/or have never been to Rome and plan on incorporating some sight seeing into your time here, I would highly recommend giving yourself much more time than just a long weekend.
One or two days before the marathon you have to pick up your race packet at The Marathon Village which is at a place called the Palazzo dei Congressi. By public transit you take the blue line metro/Line B to the EUR Fermi stop. It was my first time on the Rome metro and I was traveling alone, but it was very easy and even though you have to walk a few blocks from the station once you arrive it’s easy to find – just follow the crowd!
Saturday the day before the marathon is best spent eating and SLOWLY and MODERATELY strolling around. You will want well rested legs on Marathon Day, and you need to eat more than usual, but still easily digested food. I went to a local restaurant near The Beehive for dinner the night before. I had some amazing pasta alla gricia – a Roman pasta dish, usually rigatoni or spaghetti, made with guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino romano and pepper – which turned out to be perfect fuel. An early night and as much sleep as possible is definitely recommended.
I stayed at The Beehive which was an excellent decision thanks to it being so close to Termini (among all of the other reasons). Marathon start time was at 9:00am, but you have to get there earlier around 8:00am to leave your bag and anything else you don’t want to run with. I left The Beehive at around 7.30am. From there it’s a short walk to Termini to take the metro to the Colosseum – again follow the crowds.
Everyone is obligated to bring their race packet that you must pick up at the Marathon Village. For Rome’s marathon, you’re given a backpack which is the only bag you are allowed to drop off in the start area and of course all the runners wear running clothes and various cover-ups some of which are pretty hilarious. I have never seen so many people dressed in garbage bags before. The metro was free for runners that day, and there are lots of people – literally thousands. It’s a special feeling to be part of an international community consisting of total strangers, but everybody is so friendly and helpful and there is this immediate feeling of belonging. It is difficult to explain until you experience it yourself.
On the metro I was a bit confused about where to get off because I had read something about one of the exits being closed off, but all I had to do was stand there and look confused for some of the other runners to say that no, we were to stay on the train for another two stops. We were all going to the same place, all having the same goal. There’s no competition, only friendliness and community.
Bags are dropped off at several trucks parked in a long row, it’s easy to find once you get into the start area, but depending on your bib number you may have to walk quite far from the drop off truck to the start line, so get there early to give yourself enough time. This is where the garbage bags I thought were so funny come in handy; put one of them on top of your running outfit and it will keep you surprisingly warm – and dry, if it is raining. It is also recommended to wear an old sweater that you can simply discard when you get too warm – it is important to stay warm until you start running!
Drink water, eat a banana, slowly walk towards the starting line. There are toilets close to the start, they were in multiple rows which weren’t easily seen so there were many of us waiting in line for the first row while there were many empty booths in the rows behind!
Once all of that is done you need to get to your corral, then wait to hear The Final Countdown (yay Sweden!) and then the gun goes off and everybody starts clapping. The tears…
After that, you’re in it for the long haul. You really have no choice, but to follow the mass of people as they proceed towards the starting line and before you know it you will have crossed it. Crazy feeling. Tears again. When you have crossed that line there’s no going back, you just have to keep going until you reach the finish line 42,195 meters later. CRAZY. And hilarious. God I laughed. Then I stopped after ten meters because I realized that I had forgotten to start my music. Then after another 100m to take the sweater off. More laughter. I think was laughing for the first 10k.
You’ll find lots and lots of supporters and people watching and cheering at the start, but pretty soon you go into more residential areas and the crowds thin out. You run through areas not often seen by tourists, which is great! For example, on past trips to Rome I had never seen the pyramid of Rome (Pyramid of Cestius). I remember the course as being relatively flat – surprisingly so for a city built on seven hills, but I can’t remember any super steep hills and the roads you run on are generally well maintained (much better than in Florence’s marathon, but that’s another post!).
Quite a large part of the course is on cobblestones, which as you can imagine is tough on the legs, but then again those are the parts where you get to see famous monuments and you will also have a larger audience cheering you on which makes up for it. Running up towards St Peter’s basilica is spectacular – more tears!
There are lots of spectators all the way in the center (here are some tips for spectators here and I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to have people cheering you on and clapping even if you know they’re really there to see somebody else. So if you were one of those spectators in 2014 – thank you! At Piazza Navona I found my good friend, Nicki, who was there to see me, or rather she found me. Tears again. I was so crazy tired at that point (36 km in or so), but having her support really made all the difference.
Keep going, run through the pain, don’t forget to drink at the stations and those wet sponges are fantastic to clear your mind. Look up and see the Spanish Steps when you run by because I didn’t!
Before you know it, you can see the Colosseum in the distance, and the end is near, and you sprint the best you can, there’s no point in saving any energy by then, just run. Run run run, and cross that finish line, raise your hands if you still have any juice in you (I only had enough to get them halfway up), then go ahead and collapse once you have your medal.
After you have collapsed and gotten back up on your feet, hobble on as best you can. It’s amazing how you can run for hours and hours and then once you stop running you can’t even walk. There are refreshments and massage tents (I hid in one when the sky burst open) that you pass on your way back to the truck where you left your bag. Once there, put on some cover-ups and if possible at least change your shirt. Nobody cares if you strip down to your underwear in the middle of the crowd, promise. My friend, Nicki and I went straight to the metro after that. Warning: you have to go down a few stairs to get to the metro and it’s not pretty.
Back to your accommodation, shower (BEST SHOWER IN THE WORLD), get dressed, collapse on the bed for ten minutes until your stomach demands that you get food. Eat, drink, then be asleep like a baby by 9:00pm.
It was my first marathon so I didn’t have much to compare it to, but I have run in the Stockholm and Florence marathons since then and I must say that Rome will always be special. I thought it was very well organized (yes, Stockholm was better but not as much as many might think) and so much fun, definitely one of the best days in my life despite all the pain – lots of blisters, ouch! The course was great; some boring passages but all marathons have those. Extra bonus for being a 1 lap course (Stockholm is 2 laps) with lots and lots to see along the way thanks to beautiful Rome being Rome.
Devin was looking for directions to the Stadio Olimpico for tonight’s football/soccer match between AS Roma and Real Madrid. She asked if our manager Yuli and Steve wanted to join her. “My boss owns the team,” she said. And “conversations with guests” nr. 2 followed….
The other day, while listening to a podcast, Steve thought it might be a good idea to start recording bits and pieces from the people he meets here at The Beehive and the unique conversations that can often take place. He hadn’t really committed to it until the other morning.
To set the scene: guy comes in with a backpack asking if he can eat in the cafe even though he’s not a guest. He’s vegan and just found us online. He heads down for breakfast and when he returns to the reception, he asks if he can leave his bag here for a while. Steve asks how long a while might be and he said he needs it stored for a few days. Steve said he can store it until the evening, but that if he wants to hold it longer, he should check out the checked luggage at Termini.
A bit curious, Steve asked where he’s staying and he responds that he’ll be in a sleeping bag in front of St. Peter’s.
“Pause,” Steve said. “Mind if I record your answer?”
What follows is the first “episode” of Steve’s Conversations with Guests.
If you want to experience small town life in Italy that’s a quick and easy distance from Rome without needing to rent a car – I highly recommend visiting the medieval hill town of Orvieto. Orvieto is easily reachable by train from Rome’s Termini train station and depending on the train takes 50 minutes to an hour & twenty minutes to reach.
Orvieto sits up on a rock which when coming from Rome you can’t really see from the train. As you exit the station at Orvieto, cross the piazza and take the funicular up into town. The original funicular started running in 1888 and used a water powered system. The ride up is a smooth and effortless 2 minute climb up the side of the rock past people’s homes, olive groves and vineyards.
Exiting the funicular station, you can walk up Corso Cavour one of the main streets located directly in front you and be in the town’s center in about 10 minutes. Or you can jump on the A bus that takes you to the front of the Duomo – Orvieto’s cathedral – in less than 5 minutes.
Many Romans come to Orvieto on the weekend to stroll around the town and have a nice lunch. Orvieto is in the region of Umbria and has loads of great restaurants serving local, regional cuisine. Cinghiale (wild boar), truffles, umbrichelli (a thick spaghetti-type pasta made with flour & water) and the Orvieto Classico – a dry white wine, are typical specialties of the area.
There are a lot of very good restaurants in Orvieto. Our family’s favorite is Trattoria del Moro-Aronne. This family owned and run restaurant is very popular in the guidebooks so usually crowded with visitors, but they have not lost their integrity as some places that get popular do – their food is great. When eggplant is in season go for the polpette di melanzane (eggplant patties) and their roasted potatoes. Their nidi di rondine with pecorino and honey is a cheese-lovers delight (warning – sweet & rich, but oh so good) and they make a fantastic porcini mushroom/truffle pasta dish. The owners, Cristian and his mother Rolanda are super nice and friendly. Bistrotters is owned and run by Emiliano & Ilaria who took over a long-standing restaurant that had seen better days and transformed it into this stylish yet casual spot. The staff are super friendly and they have a large outdoor dining area with good pizzas, pastas and great wine. Trattoria del Orso is the two-man operation of Ciro and Gabriele. Ciro will explain the day’s dishes and Gabriele cooks in the kitchen. I particularly like their pasta dish with mushroom and truffles and they have some excellent meat dishes (I’m told. Being vegetarian, I have to trust the meat-eaters I know). After your meal, ask Ciro for his latest digestivo. They make their own liqueurs out of natural ingredients such as bay leaf and other plants. A bit hidden away is Mezzaluna if you are looking for a quick bite to eat with local grumpy ambiance. The owner is a bit gruff, but does serve up what my daughters consider some of the best carbonara they’ve ever eaten and the price is right.
THINGS TO SEE & DO:
Dolceamaro – Corso Cavour, 78 – a chocolate shop with artisan handmade chocolates and cookies and in the winter – their excellent hot chocolate and in the summer, their gelato.
La Loggia – Corso Cavour, 129 – wine shop
Enoteca al Duomo – Corso Cavour 51 near Torre del Moro – wine shop owned by friends of ours who also have a location at the Duomo and owners of the Bistrotters restaurant mentioned previously.
When you’re in the midst of the chaos of an urban city center like Rome, it’s difficult to imagine that just a few kilometers out of town you’ll find a rural idyll with green hills, rolling green pastures, olive trees, grapevines, sheep and horses. Yet just 40 minutes by train north of Rome is a beautiful area called Sabina that easily rivals Tuscany and Umbria for its green and natural beauty.
I used to take horseback riding lessons in the Sabina area, but when I was pregnant with our third child, I was told very sternly by my midwife that horseback riding and pregnancy do not mix. Unfortunately, I never did go back to my lessons, but recently, thanks to our friends at Convivio Rome, I have been spending time in the area again.
Convivio Rome is small tour company run by Sally Ransom and Guido Santi, an Australian-Italian couple who offer cooking tours out of their home in the small medieval town of Toffia as well as wine and olive oil tours of the surrounding Sabine countryside. They were kind enough to invite me first on an olive oil tour last year and then a wine tour a year later this past April.
The only way to see this area is by car and Sally and Guido meet and pick you up in their own vehicle at the Fara Sabina-Montelibretti train station located 40 minutes from Rome’s Tiburtina station. The countryside here like many parts of Italy is agricultural and there are orchards and vineyards a plenty.
The area of Sabina has been cultivating olives and making olive oil for thousands of years. In fact one of the oldest and largest olive trees in Europe, “l’Olivone” is located in this area and has been dated as being over 2,000 years old!
The olive oil from the Sabina are is one of the few olive oils to earn the DOP label (protected designation of origin) and many consider the olive oil here to be some of the finest in Italy.
Wine is equally important to the area and its cultivation started with the Etruscans in the area back in 800BC. We visited the Tenuta of Santa Lucia owned by the Colantuono family who have been wine producers in the Abruzzo region for 50 years and who bought the current vineyard in the Sabina area 10 years ago.
They are small producers, but their wine is exported as far away as the US and Japan. The grapes they grow are Malvasia, Falanghina, Pecorino, Syrah, Merlot, Montepulciano and Sauvignon.
We spent the day following the wine-making process with Massimo, a young oenologist, who explained in depth the scientific and technical aspects of wine production. Then we had a few tastings – a white and a red, along with some bruschetta and local oil.
Sally and Guido then took us to the nearby tiny borgo of Farfa, home of the Abbazia di Farfa (Farfa Abbey) and to Benedictine monks since the 600s. The borgo is small and seemingly perfect with an eclectic mix of people – I’ve seen tai chi practitioners to yogis to teenagers playing football in the local park in town.
There are only a handful of shops and places to eat including a place called i 4 Monaci where Sally & Guido took us for a light snack lunch and more local wine. This eclectic shop specializes in funky artisan products as well as many organic Italian skin care products and they sell an incredible homemade dark chocolate with hazelnut and pistachio.
A 3 hour tour turned into 4, but Sally and Guido were very patient and drove us to the train station afterward. Personally it was very gratifying to see visitors to Italy getting off the tourist path and I had a wonderful time with a diverse group of people who by the end had developed a camaraderie after a fun day together.
If you have some time while in Rome, but don’t have a car, just contact Convivio Rome. Their tours are very reasonably priced and getting out to the Sabina countryside is easy and hassle-free. Wine and olive oil are inherent parts of Italian culture and are revered worldwide – it’s worthwhile taking the time to learn more about them while you’re here.
In the center of Rome alone there are over 100 museums. They range from the most visited (Vatican Museums ) to the oldest (Capitoline Museums ) to another that many people consider has one of the most exceptional collections of art under one roof. ( Galleria Borghese )
While these museums are definitely worthwhile to visit, the last time I visited the Vatican Museums in 1995 I was so overwhelmed by the hot, sticky crush of humanity that all these years later I’m still in shock over it and have never gone back. Granted, I should probably give it another try, but for now, I’ve got other fish to fry.
There’s something I like about those places that are off the radar and that are not so well known and less well known means less people which is a huge plus for me. Context Travel’s tours in the public interest offers the perfect opportunity to explore those unnoticed gems in Rome and they started their season with a “Hidden Museums” series. The series features tours of four museums that are often overlooked and yet full of important and interesting works of art, free of the masses and yet in an easily doable and digestible 1.5 hours.
Their first featured museum was the Centrale Montemartini. “Gods & Machines” was the perfect title of the first exhibit that took place here at this former power plant turned museum space when it was restored back in the 90’s. Many ancient Roman sculptures from the Capitoline Museums found a home here.
The pieces here are beautiful and the contrast between the industrial and the classical in this art nouveau style building is striking. There were only a handful of other visitors when we were there and yet so surprising considering what an exceptional and very unusual space it is.
The second tour was of the Museo di Roma in the Palazzo Braschi (the first photo in this post is of the grand staircase). Palazzo Braschi looks out onto Piazza Navona and was the last papal building in Rome constructed in the late 1700’s and giving it the nickname “the last miracle of St. Peter.” The museum is full of very detailed paintings of a Rome long since gone and it was fun trying to guess which part of Rome we were looking at before reading the title of the painting. An unusual touch is the classical music played in the grand staircase leading up to the different floors.
Context’s next Hidden Museums tours will be of Palazzo Venezia in Piazza Venezia on 27 May and the Museum of the Middle Ages in the EUR neighborhood on 24 June. Tours must be booked on-line and are only €5. Tours start at 5pm and last 90 minutes.
I lived in Panama as a child and I was a bit of a wildish creature. I spent 6 years barefoot and most of my waking hours were spent without walls – the worst punishment I could receive from my mother was being made to stay inside for the day. One of the highlights of our neighborhood was a hill that my friends and I dubbed “Clay Hill”. We played on it a lot and in the rainy season that hill became a slippery, red, muddy mess, but as children do – we were oblivious and we played on despite the mud and the wet.
Unbeknownst to many, Rome has its own “clay hill”. Monte Testaccio is not really a mountain, but a huge hill made up of the shards and fragments of amphorae dating back to the 1st century BC. Amphorae were terracotta pots used to carry a variety of products and the ones to carry olive oil were not reusable so they were discarded after use. These discarded pots are what formed Monte Testaccio. Estimates of how many amphorae were deposited on here range from 20-50 million. I’ve always been curious about this hill and it was great to explore it recently with Katie Parla of Parla Food.
Before the walk up, Katie showed us a bit around the part of the Testaccio neighborhood just surrounding the bottom of the hill. We stopped by Testaccio’s food market which was moved to its present location in 2011 and which is overlooked by a mural of “La Lupa” – a 20 meter tall depiction of the Capitoline She-Wolf by Belgian street artist, ROA, that was commissioned by the residents of the building.
During the walk we observed the beginning stages of the dismantling of the Big Bambù installation by artists Mike & Doug Starn at the MACRO Testaccio which had been a beloved part of the Testaccio landscape for the past 3 years. The MACRO Testaccio is located in what were the former city slaughterhouses.
From the grounds of the MACRO and the Città del Altra Economia – a fair trade complex also located here – Monte Testaccio from the distance looks like an ordinary green hill. However, its uniqueness is more apparent the closer you get as you can see from this path leading up the hill.
At the top of Monte Testaccio is an iron cross. For years, the summit served as the final stage of the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) for the Pope during the Good Friday celebrations which now take place at the Colosseum. Some of the views from Monte Testaccio look out into the area of early industrial Rome in the Ostiense neighborhood and the Gazometro structure that was built in the early 1900’s – now no longer in use.
On another side of the hill Katie pointed out the birthplace of the football team, AS Roma, the pitch where the team had its first games back in 1929, abandoned in the 40’s and turned into an illegal dumping ground. Still standing are 4 lights surrounding the pitch and some stadium seating. You can see the top of the Pyramid of Cestius – Rome’s own pyramid – in the background.
As we walked back down the hill what came to mind was “where the hell else in the world could I do something like this?!?” Rome truly never ceases to amaze me!
Katie’s next visit of Monte Testaccio will be on Rome’s 2,768th birthday on 21 April.
Be sure to visit one of my favorite restaurants in Rome, Flavio al Velavevodetto, built into Monte Testaccio.
I’ll come straight out with it – I hate to cook. I do it when I have to, but I do it begrudgingly. In Italy, where it is very easy to head to the local fresh pasta shop, learning how to make my own pasta has never seemed essential. I’ve also been spoiled by great food made by my husband, Steve, who is an excellent cook. However, in one of those “you can give a man a fish or you can teach a man to fish” moments – I thought it would be a fun evening spent with friends learning how to make this classic Italian food staple.
We often get guests at The Beehive wanting to take a cooking course, but nothing too rigorous. Walks of Italy’s pasta making course is a great option for someone wanting a short, easygoing class while still learning a delicious and handy skill.
The course is located on the beautiful rooftop terrace apartment of Chef David Sgueglia della Marra and his wife Barbara. Chef David welcomed everyone warmly and despite his leg being in a brace from a recent surgical procedure, he still had loads of energy and enthusiasm. Pre-pasta making started with prosecco and delicious appetizers. My kind of cooking class!
Donning our aprons, our stations were already set up – ingredients were laid out and pre-measured. He told us the portions so we would know for the future and showed us how to mix the two main ingredients. While there is pasta made with egg, we made the lightest and easiest kind which consists of only two ingredients. It all starts with a little bit of flour and a little bit of water.
After we mixed and lightly kneaded our dough – it was wrapped in plastic and set aside for about 15 minutes which allowed us to have a second round of prosecco.
When the dough was ready, Chef David showed us how to use the wooden rolling pin to initially roll out the pasta and then using a hand cranked pasta machine – we rolled the pasta out another 3-4 times until it was quite long and thin.
With a knife we cut off pieces and rolled between our hands. Here’s the result – our handmade pici pasta – Marchigiano style.
The sauce he chose was deceptively simple – olive oil, garlic, zucchini flowers, sausage and saffron which the pici pasta was then mixed into. In a smaller pan, Chef David’s wife Barbara made a vegetarian version for me without sausage. It was absolutely delicious!
Afterward, we ate our pasta which was incredibly light and flavorful and enjoyed some glasses of wine and camaraderie with our fellow students. The weather was a bit cold to sit out on the terrace, but I can imagine in the spring and summer what a lovely evening it would be to enjoy the fruits of our labor al fresco.
For more information on this pasta making course with Chef David, contact Walks of Italy.
By Steve Brenner
Visiting the major sights of Rome doesn’t leave loads of spare time – there’s certainly plenty to see to keep your days full, so perhaps taking some time out for a yoga class won’t seem like time particularly well spent. However, Rome is also very hectic and can be stressful, and if you’re traveling around with a big heavy backpack, or just spent 10+ hours on a long flight, a great way to shed all that is with a good yoga session.
I’m not a yoga fanatic at all – sometimes I consider my “practice” to be rolling out my mat, sitting down on it, petting my dog a bit and then rolling it back up. But I do appreciate a good class, and they can be hard to find. That said, I once flew into Paris and took a taxi straight to a yoga class and felt it was an excellent way to start my trip.
So, unless you’re a hardcore yogi and travel with a mat and want to do your asanas in our garden, here’s my recommendation of where to go near The Beehive.
RYoga is 10 minutes away by foot from The Beehive. They have a calendar of classes that run regularly. You can just drop in without any fuss (just make sure you’re not late – in decidedly un-Roman fashion, they are sticklers about that). At the time of writing this, drop in rate for a 1 1/2 hour class is €20.
They have a nice changing room with lockers, mats and all the gear you’ll need. The class I do, a Vinyasa Flow, is conducted downstairs in a small, cozy room. The quality of the instruction is good, and although I haven’t tested whether the teachers speak English, I’ve heard them ask other students if they speak Italian. Since classes are small, I assume it would be easy even with a language barrier for a teacher to give more personal instruction.
Back in 1999 when we started The Beehive, we were strictly a hostel with dormitory rooms and bunk beds. Soon after, because of demand and our own desire to expand, we added private rooms. In 2002 when we moved to our permanent location, we kept the largest room as a dorm in homage to our beginnings and to keep the vibe alive as a hostel in the more traditional sense.
Dorm rooms are not just for the university, 20 something crowd. They are a great option for travelers looking to save money or who want to meet up with other travelers, but do note that not all dorm rooms are created equally. The Beehive’s dorm or “The Hive” as it’s called – is open to all ages except for very young children and is for both men and women. Many different kinds of of people from all over the world and different ages stay in our dorm – from older kids traveling with their parents, to university students, to solo travelers, to our oldest dorm guest who was 80 years old and traveling Europe alone as he did back in his youth.
Different hostels have different atmospheres and offer different facilities and services. We’ve created a dorm room to appeal to people who wouldn’t normally consider staying in a shared room. Many hostels cater to the party-seeker while we offer a dorm room that is a clean and calm respite for those not wanting to spend a lot of money on accommodation, but who also don’t want to be isolated and alone in their room.
While sleeping in a roomful of strangers of different ages and from different cultural backgrounds means practicing tolerance and also having to put up with the occasional snorer, early risers or night owls, here’s what we consider a good code of conduct for staying in The Beehive’s dorm which can probably be applied to other dorm stays on your travels:
1. If you need a towel, let us know. We don’t put them out for all guests since many dorm guests carry their own. But if you need one, we’re happy to provide one. We do require €1 for a towel rental if you want to shower after you’ve already checked out.
2. Many hostels require that you bring your own sheets, or that you strip your own beds. At The Beehive we provide linens and make up your beds for you and don’t expect you to strip the bed when you leave. However, DO stay in the bed you were assigned. Don’t switch beds and if you want to change beds with someone who is leaving – ask at reception first.
3. Many hostels do offer kitchens, but we don’t at our main facility. Our cafe, by law, is not available for guests’ use. If you are wanting to cook your own food or store perishable food items, we have private rooms offsite – Acacia and Clover – that offer self-catering kitchens.
4. Bring an eye mask and ear plugs. This will help you sleep better so that you aren’t disturbed by the person arriving to the room late at night or leaving early in the morning, by someone’s snoring or from whatever other noises you might hear especially if you are a light sleeper.
5. Consider bringing a small satchel with lavender in it. It’s nice to keep in your bag to make your clothes smell fresh, but also nice to have near your head when sleeping at night – not only does it help you relax, but in the summer months when dorm room smells are subject to the hygiene of your fellow travelers – you’ll be happy to have something pleasant to smell.
6. If you have to check-out early, pack your bag the night before and be quiet and mindful of the people who are trying to sleep.
7. If you come back late, again – quiet is key. Is it really necessary to shower and blow dry your hair at 1am? If it is, than please use the bathroom downstairs near the lounge where no one can hear you.
8. Let reception know immediately if there is anyone in the room who is problematic in any way, exhibiting inappropriate behavior or who is making you uncomfortable. Our priority is to people who want to sleep and rest, so if someone is being disruptive, we’ll intervene – just let us know. Thankfully, we have very rarely had to do this over the years as the overwhelming majority of our dorm guests have been respectful and considerate of others in the room.
9. Be social. It doesn’t mean you have to be the life of the party, but say hello. Introduce yourselves to others in the room. One of the great benefits of staying in the dorm is meeting others and sharing information and travel experiences, and if you’re fortunate, making new friends.
Sarah May Grunwald comes from the sunny state of California and now resides in a country house in the Castelli Romani just outside Rome. She is a wine educator, sommelier and tour guide who runs and owns Antiqua Tours with her husband Ettore Bellardini. When she is not leading cultural and culinary tours in Rome, she is at home writing her wine blog, hanging out with Ettore and their 10 dogs and cats, in the kitchen or tending to her olive trees and garden.
Sarah and I are buds and so I felt comfortable sharing my wine ignorance with her and asking her some questions. We know many visitors to Italy want to enjoy the wine, but the majority don’t know where to start or feel intimidated by wine culture which comes off as elitist in other countries. Sarah is very knowledgeable about wine, but is also about as anti-wine snob as they come. We share the same philosophy that knowledge can only enhance an experience and that wine is for everyone.
1. The Beehive: Chianti and chardonnay. Before I moved to Italy, that’s all I knew when it came to a red wine or a white wine. Do you have any suggestions for different kinds of regions and different kind of reds and whites that people should try? Are some regions better known for reds or whites than others?
Sarah: Well, we are certainly advocates of drinking local wine from the region because they pair best with the dishes from the region. As they say in Italy, “If it grows together, it goes together.” So, if you are in Rome, try wines from Lazio if they are available. One of the problems people have with Italian wine is the lack of familiarity, the names are hard to pronounce and many are not available or easy to find outside of Europe. If you want to get beyond Chianti or Chardonnay I suggest Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as a red and Friulano as a white. Both of these wines are easy to drink and food friendly. Regions to look out for for reds in Italy are Piedmont, Umbria, Abruzzo, Campagna and Sicily. For whites you can’t beat the northern regions like Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino Alto Adige and Liguria.
2. House wines. What are they exactly and are they worth it or better to buy a bottle?
In Rome, it is best to avoid house wine. In fact, one of the reasons Lazio’s wine reputation has suffered is because of the terrible house wine served in many places in Rome. Consider that you can drink very well in Italy without breaking the bank so spending a few more euros on a bottle of local wine from smaller producers is worth it. For white, a local Frascati Superiore is both fragrant and fresh and for red go for Cesanese del Piglio or Cesanese di Olevano Romano.
Of course it’s important that we don’t make blanket statements. If the restaurant already has a good reputation for wine chances are they might have a good house wine. I always ask if I can taste the house wine before I order it. But in general spend the extra few euro on a bottle, at least in Rome. This is not the case in all parts of Italy. I was in Friuli Venezia Giula recently and snubbed the house wine at a local trattoria that my friend was drinking. He made me taste it and it was a wonderful wine. Don’t feel shy to ask for a sample of the house wine if you are interested.
3. What types of wine would you suggest to someone who has never really been a wine drinker? Are there wines someone visiting Italy definitely should try that perhaps they wouldn’t be able to find easily anywhere else?
Well, luckily I teach a class called “The Wines of Italy”for this exact type of person, so it is an easy question for me. My suggestion is to focus on wines that are fruity and easy to drink. Avoid highly tannic red wines or wines that have been oaked. A lot of my students like off-dry fruity wines. And of course, everyone loves Sparkling wines, so try lovely sparklers such as Franciacorta, Trentino DOC and simple but refreshing Prosecco DOC.
4. The wine list. This is often very intimidating especially for wine novices so I think most people go for the chianti or the chardonnay as safe bets. Do you have any “sure things” on a wine list that you would suggest people choose instead?
Do try something different! Ask the waiter for something local from a small and high quality producer that is not overly oaked. Ask for something made from local, indigenous grapes instead of international grapes like Merlot or Chardonnay. I tend to think Italian whites are a sure bet if they are well made. Luckily in Italy you can drink well and not spend a lot of money, which also means you can try different wines and not worry you are going to break the bank. I highly suggest going to a wine bar and sampling different wine by the glass and getting to know the type of wine you like.
5. What’s the etiquette if you don’t like the wine you were given?
If you don’t like it that is your responsibility. Wines can be sent back only if they are faulty. If your wine smells like damp cardboard, eggy, boiled cabbage, vinegar or nail polish it is faulty due to a number of reasons. Then you can send the wine back. Tell the waiter the wine is corked or faulty. They shouldn’t argue with you, but sometimes, in Italy, they do. Unfortunately it is quite common for waiters to try to convince foreigners they are wrong, but stand your ground. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel intimidated especially if you are on holiday! Send it back and they will bring another bottle of the same wine. However, if the wine is not faulty and you just don’t like the wine, you can choose not to drink it and order something else.
6. What are signs that the wine has gone bad (rather than you just don’t like it)?
Well, I just wrote above, but to elaborate more there are a number of reasons your wine may be faulty. Cork taint (Trichloroanisole) or TCA is the most common and can be due to a tainted cork or tainted winery equipment. You’ll often see wait staff smelling the cork before they serve the wine. Although that can be indicative, it is not always, so the aromas in the glass are your best indication. Cork taint smells like damp cardboard or even mold. Not a nice aroma. If you don’t detect it, don’t worry. You won’t get sick from it!
Sometimes you’ll hear people say a wine smells barnyardy. This is a taint from an unwanted yeast called Brettanomyces or “Brett” it can give plastic or animal aromas or even sweaty horse. To most this is a fault, but some people enjoy these aromas at low levels. Again, if you don’t detect it you won’t get sick.
Other aromas to look out for are rotten eggs or canned vegetables (a sign of reduction), or toffee and caramel (a sign of oxidation). Vinegar or nail polish aromas or extinguished matches are also signs of a faulty wine.
7. Any major faux pas to avoid when ordering or drinking wine?
Don’t call all sparkling wine in Italy “Prosecco.” Prosecco is a type of wine just like Chianti Classico is. Don’t confuse fruitiness with sweetness. But other than that, unless you are at a trade tasting or a wine tasting, you should just enjoy yourself. Sure you should hold the glass by the stem, but if you don’t the wine police aren’t coming to arrest you. Remember that in Italy when you make a toast and clink glasses you have to look into everyone’s eyes, to not do so is considered rude but also considered bad luck.
8. Is there any basic vocabulary you can suggest to help the wine novice express what they like/dislike?
I would suggest taking the time to attend a wine tour to get to know the basics of Italian wine and learn some wine vocabulary so that you can order wine with confidence. Many of my clients take a wine tour with us on the first day or so after they arrive and when we hear back from them after their trip they tend to say it was the most useful thing they did because for the rest of the trip they were able to order wine with confidence.
9. Are there any wine bars you recommend in particular where someone just could not go wrong no matter what wine they choose? A wine bar that serves a good apertivo?
I have a number of wine bars I love in Rome. Here are some central ones.
Al vino al vino in Monti is great. They have a decent wine by the glass list and the best caponata in Rome. I love to order the caponata with a pink Franciacorta.
Il Goccetto is a short walk from Campo dei Fiori and has an excellent wine by the glass menu that changes weekly. Order a couple of different wines by the glass and try different ones. They have an excellent cheese plate that you can order in small, medium or large.
Bibenda Wineconcept is a short walk from the Colosseum and open at lunch time, except on Sundays. They have a lovely wine by the glass menu that changes regularly. The staff is friendly and best of all in summer, it is air conditioned.
Palatium near the Spanish Steps specializes in Lazio only wines and products. They have a small happy hour and you can sample different local wines.
10. If someone wants to take back a special bottle as a gift to themselves or to someone they know – do you have any suggestions of where they should go and what they should get?
Any of the enoteche I have already mentioned sell bottles. I always suggest taking back wines that you have consumed somewhere special, that way the wine has a story. Certainly some Italian wines are more expensive than others and make great gifts, but if you enjoyed a fresh Frascati Superiore in the Castelli Romani, try to get the same bottle if possible. Wines with a personal story are always the best souvenirs.
Many visitors to Rome are eager to rush to Piazza Navona, but I prefer the spaciousness of Piazza del Popolo. On the north-side of the piazza is Basilica Santa Maria del Popolo and tucked away in a corner chapel are two famous paintings by Caravaggio. The Fountain of Neptune is on the west side – a less famous fountain that can also be seen in Fellini’s film “La Dolce Vita”. To the south are the twin churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli. To the east is the Pincio leading up to one of Rome’s most famous public parks, the Villa Borghese. Smack in the middle is the Fountain of the Obelisk which has one of the tallest obelisks in Rome and four lion fountains. Sitting on one of these lions and having a photo taken seems to be compulsory for every child living in or visiting Rome. Piazza del Popolo is very easy to reach from The Beehive from Termini train station on the Line A/red line metro – getting off at the Flaminio stop.
PLEASE NOTE THAT AS OF 2015 OUR CHEF’S COOPERATIVE NO LONGER EXISTS AND HAYLEY NORTH IS NO LONGER A CHEF IN OUR CAFE. CURRENTLY, ROBERTA & IVO, TWO ITALIAN CHEFS, MAKE VEGETARIAN & VEGAN DINNERS ON MON & WED EVENINGS.
Chef Hayley North joined our chef’s cooperative this past July and serves up delicious and creative vegan and raw in our cafe on Friday evenings from 7:00-9:30pm. Along with raw chef Matteo Morozzo she also puts on special raw food dinners a couple times per month on Tuesday evenings. This interview with Hayley is the second installment in our chef’s cooperative profiles series.
1. Where are you from? What brought you to Rome?
I’m from the UK and have lived quite a nomadic life so far. I came to Rome for love after 5 years of traveling the world as a specialist yoga retreat chef.
2. How did you hear about The Beehive and what made you decide to become a part of the chef’s cooperative?
I was put in contact with Steve and Linda at The Beehive through a mutual contact who runs a retreat centre just outside of Rome. She knew I was looking for ways to bring my work to Rome and travel less and thought The Beehive would suit my personality and the type of food I make. When I heard about what was happening there and how they wanted to expand on the chef’s co-operative idea I wanted to be a part of it straight away.
3. Can you describe the kinds of food you prepare on your evenings at The Beehive?
I call my nights The Holistic Kitchen, which is a name I have been using for many years now to sum up what I do. The food varies in terms of dishes and flavours, but it is the principles, methods, philosophy, and ethos that sum up what really happens in my kitchen.
The Holistic Kitchen is my way of making a stand against the manufactured, processed and convenience food industry, and it is as much about education and increasing awareness as the food itself. This means that all food is sourced from independent, local or artisan producers, it is 100% organic or grown without the use of any pesticides or chemicals. I never use supermarkets and go out of my way to find the most ethical choice possible.
There are NO refined products used at all, and things like salts, oils and sweeteners are chosen carefully. The food celebrates ancient and traditional preparation methods and draws inspiration from the worlds of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, Natural Nutrition, Raw/Living Foods and Macrobiotics, and is suitable for people with all kinds of allergies and intolerances.
My food is deeply influenced by my travels and my studies in yoga and nutrition related subjects. I gain inspiration from so many cultures, so from week to week you can expect a varied alchemy of flavours and dishes from around the world.
4. Are you vegetarian or vegan? If you are, what were your motivations to become vegetarian or vegan? If not, do you find it challenging to create a vegetarian or vegan menu?
I am not personally 100% veggie or vegan, but predominantly so. I rarely eat meat or fish, but I still feel a nutritional benefit from some animal products from time to time. I do not believe that to be healthy means to live on only a plant based diet, I feel this is not right for everybody. However, I do believe that if we choose to eat animal products we must be responsible for how much we consume and make ourselves fully aware of where it comes from and how it is produced and know why we are eating it.
I cook mainly vegan or vegetarian in my work and day to day life, for most people it is a step out of the day to day box and shows how rich and varied the cooking can be. I don’t find it challenging at all to create veggie or vegan menus. In fact there are endless creative and delicious ways to prepare veg, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes.
5. Where are your favorite places to eat in Rome?
I haven’t really found many places that prepare food in this way in Rome to be honest. I really love Bibliothè and have had a lovely vegan meal at il Margutta RistorArte although it was very expensive. I also like the bistro at Villa Pamphili and Felice in Testaccio. I also was quite impressed with Grandma in Quadraro which had a great vibe.
Other than that I rarely eat out as I much prefer to make my own food. After 25 years in the catering industry I know how rare it is to find a good restaurant and to find food prepared by people who actually care about what they are doing!
You will find Hayley and her Holistic Kitchen every Friday evening in our cafe and special 100% raw food dinners on occasional Tuesdays – the raw food events are by reservation only and are posted on our Facebook page.
Dinner is served from 7:00-9:30pm and the cost is €8 for a mixed plate and €10 with dessert. Wine & beer are sold at €2/glass. Menus are posted on the same day on our Facebook page as well as any notifications if there is a cancellation of dinner that evening as has sometimes happened because of illness or time away so it’s always a good idea to check there before heading over. Reservations aren’t necessary, but do note that only a finite amount of food is prepared so it’s best to come earlier than later – we also have to be strict about wrapping things up early in order not to be disruptive to our room guests.
Winter is officially here. Temperatures in Rome are now in the single digits in Celsius – that’s in the 40’s for those of you in Farenheit land. I’m sure I’m not alone in craving warm comforting food when the temperatures drop – much to the chagrin of my waistline.
Even the Clumsy Cook has a simple solution for dinner on these cold winter nights. This lentil soup is easy and requires no slaving over the stove.
1 to 1 1/2 cups of small brown lentils
1 celery stalk
1 clove of garlic
1 long sprig of rosemary
1/4 cup of olive oil
1-2 teaspoons of vegetable broth
sea salt to taste
thyme to taste
tomato sauce to taste
Chop up onion, carrot, celery and garlic into small pieces and sauté in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large soup pot.
After veggies are soft, add 1 to 1 1/2 cups lentils and sauté together for a few seconds.
Add about 2-3 liters of water depending on how many lentils you used.
Add some pinches of sea salt, a pinch of dried thyme, the long sprig of rosemary, a couple of splashes of tomato sauce and about a tablespoon of vegetable broth.
Mix and leave at high heat for a little while until boiling and then lower to medium heat.
In total – you want to leave the soup simmering on the stove for about 1-2 hours. Keep checking from time to time to make sure all the water hasn’t evaporated.
When you see that the soup is thickening – take an immersion blender and blend the lentils until you have a creamy, but chunky texture.
Turn off heat and allow to come down a bit in temperature – warm, but not scalding.
Dish out into bowls, add a drizzle of olive oil and if you are partial to cheese, you can add some grated parmigiano on top.
Serve up with some crusty bread – a simple bruschetta with garlic and olive oil is a good match.
Pour yourself a glass of nice red wine to go with it and enjoy!