5 Great Reasons to Visit Rome in Low Season

Most people have snapshot images in their mind of Rome:  long, lethargic summer evenings, walking about town with a gelato in hand, eating out late in a piazza with the sun just starting to set at 9pm, girls in flowing sleeveless dresses riding on scooters, and the general beauty of Mediterranean Europe bathed in that sunny and deliciously warm glow.  All of this certainly can be had in Rome in the summer months, but you definitely pay a price for it.

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Via Borgognona near Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps), Rome in high season.
Photographed by: Per Palmkvist Knudsen

High season in Rome runs at least 8 months – from March through October.  It starts off a bit slow, but ends with a bang in October which is now a very popular month to be in Italy.  The season starts around Easter weekend which depending on the year can be in March or April and then Rome gradually starts bursting at the seams at all the popular spots from the crush of visitors.  Yet come low season and in particular January and February, and sometimes you expect to see tumbleweeds blowing down the street.  Not that Rome is ever empty, but there’s just more breathing room in the low season for residents and visitors alike – walking about town, on public transportation, and definitely at museums and other guidebook destinations.  While anytime of year is a great time to visit Rome, there are some very compelling reasons to consider coming here during low season:

1.  Lower airfares and accommodation prices

It’s difficult anymore to predict airline fares, but rates in January and February are on average $300-$500US less during these months than at other times of the year and even lower if you are internet savvy or have a great travel agent.  Within Europe, low cost airlines such as RyanAir, EasyJet, AirOne, Transavia and many more are always a bargain, but even more so during low season.  Many accommodations such as The Beehive have lower prices during this time of year and during particularly slow periods additional discounts are sometimes available.  In the summer it can be hard to even 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 low season, however, there’s a lot more choice, but also – places like our Beehive which are difficult to find a spot in high season – often have space available in low season.

2.  No crowds
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Venice in winter without the masses.

The Big 3 – Rome, Florence and Venice – become different cities in low season especially January and February.  In a way you can even say that they seem to be returned to their residents when the insanely large crowds of visitors have all but disappeared.  One of the main reasons is because of the weather.  Most people equate blue skies and dazzling sunshine with Italy and they would be correct.  However, while colder temperatures, rain and grey clouds don’t coincide with most people’s idea of what Italy is like – they also make for an experience of Italy that is very different and yet doesn’t lessen the experience of being here.  In fact, even in winter – you can still find clear blue skies and sunny days, just colder.  There is nothing quite like strolling through Venice’s narrow walkways by lamplight in the fog with only the sound of your footsteps.  Walking in Rome’s center bathed in the golden glow of its street lights without being elbow to elbow with flag waving tour leaders, the smell of wood burning from fireplaces on a crispy cold night will be imprinted on your memory along with all the wonderfully moody photos you’ll take.  With the lack of crowds, the sights, the smells are much easier to take in and that’s when you can truly experience the magic here.

3.  Sightseeing – as in actually being able to see the sights
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Blue skies and sunny – a beautiful February day from the cuppola of the Duomo in Florence. No queues getting in and no crowds.

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.  Want to visit the Borghese gallery in the summer and didn’t reserve weeks in advance?  It’s not likely you’ll get a reservation at the last minute.  Yet visiting when it’s less busy, you’ll not only cruise right into these places, often without reservations needed at all, but you’ll also be sharing the art and space with a lot less people.  Walking straight into the Accademia, purchasing a ticket without any queues and having an unobstructed view of Michelangelos’s David will never happen in high season, but go to Florence in February and that’s what you can experience.

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

Our favorite time of year for food here is the winter. Artichokes, greens galore, chestnuts, cavolo nero (kale, used for ribollita soup), and don’t even get me started on the citrus – clementines, mandarins and Sicilian blood oranges called tarocchi.  There’s nothing like a glass of red wine and a hearty Tuscan soup on a cold, dreary day or 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!

5.  Slowing down – a true holiday experience

When you take all of the above together – it forces you to slow down.  You don’t feel the frenetic energy of the crowds, some rain may make it so that you find yourself with a good book in a cozy cafe or with your partner or friend sharing a drink and good conversation.  The shorter daylight hours make it so that you can’t help, but get a bit more sleep.  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 away, to disconnect, rejuvenate and truly enjoy yourself!

23 October 2013

Is Rome safe?

If I had to choose one of the most frequently asked questions we receive at The Beehive, at the top of the list would be those regarding safety.  Is Rome safe? Is our neighborhood safe?

Guidebooks can paint a grim picture of Rome as a city ruled by pickpockets and lawlessness.  However, as a long time resident of Rome, I have always felt secure here.  Since guns are illegal the thought has never crossed my mind that I would be the victim of an armed hold-up or on the wrong end of someone’s mental instability or bad day.  As a woman and a mother of three daughters, I don’t take matters of safety lightly.

Rome is still a big city though with big city problems and there are some crimes & scams that you should be aware of and look out for:

1.  Petty theft and pickpockets

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Here a couple of girls near Termini were inspecting the crowds while holding a piece of cardboard.  On their way to work on a crafts project or checking out who might be a target? What do you think?

Keep an eye out for men & women and groups of young children (who should be in school), called baby gangs because of their youth, loitering near any area where there is a large concentration of tourists:  the train station, on crowded metros and buses, popular tourist attractions and/or holding pieces of cardboard – many of these people are indeed gypsies, but I will stress here that not all gypsies are thieves.  However, if you want to try to get tourist information from the two girls holding the piece of cardboard in the picture above – be my guest.

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At train station self-service kiosks, more than likely you’ll have someone come up and offer to “help” or ask for money.

The reality is that you may encounter people throughout the city who come up to you offering to help you with your luggage or buying a train ticket or asking for money and they need to be kept at a distance.  The general rule is that when you’re somewhere that’s very crowded and you could be easily distracted, you need to be hyper aware of your belongings and the people around you.  Don’t get so immersed in what’s on your iPhone that you become oblivious.  Don’t put your handbag on the back of your chair or resting beside you on a bench.  These are just a few of many common sense approaches to take when being in a city anywhere in the world.

2.  The outsiders

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Woman begging on the street – a common scene in Rome.

 

This unfortunate person either had too much drink or too many drugs and no place to sleep it off other than on the street.

Around Termini train station and throughout the city, you will often see scenes like those above.  I have never had nor heard of anyone who has had a negative encounter with these people.  They either simply just sit there and ask for money as you walk by like the begging woman in the top photo or are too wrapped up in a cloud of drink or drugs and their own suffering to do much of anything else like the person in the bottom photo.  Many people visiting Rome are shocked by these scenes as their fantasy images of what Rome is like clash with what the reality is actually like for any large urban center, and Rome is no exception.

3.  Cars & scooters

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As you can see here, cars and scooters couldn’t care less about pedestrians on the crosswalk.

I can’t stress enough – BE CAREFUL when crossing the street!  The statistic is that an average of 7 pedestrians a day are hit while crossing streets in Rome and personally, I have been witness to tourists getting hit by a car while they were on the crosswalk.  The problem is exacerbated by crosswalks and corners being used as parking spaces making it difficult for cars to see you.  Please don’t assume that if you are on the crosswalk cars will stop for you.  Be vigilant and be fast when crossing the street!

4.  Con-artists

There’s a good rule of thumb that I know you’ve heard before:  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are some scams that play out in Rome everyday many of them preying on people’s sense of an almost childlike gullibility when traveling to a foreign place.  Here are some scams you may encounter:

Scam #1:  Someone approaches and motions to you to extend your finger or who says they have a “regalo” (gift) for you.  They will make a “friendship” bracelet or offer some sort of cheap trinket and then you will be expected to pay for it.  Best not to extend your finger or shake hands with anyone.  They will and can get nasty if you refuse to pay.

Scam #2:  You’re walking down the street and a man in a car with a map on the front seat pulls up next to you and says he is lost.  He will say he works for Valentino, Armani, Gucci or any known designer.  He will ask if you can help him with gas money and will trade you one of the “expensive” sample leather or suede jackets he has in his backseat for the low price of between €20-€50.  The “leather” or “suede” jacket turns out to be an extremely cheap, smelly, PVC jacket not worth €5.  It’s an elaborate scheme, but the guy is persistent.  Just walk away.

Scam #3:  Guys beware!  This one also is a bit of an elaborate scheme and I don’t know how common it is, but I’ve heard about it more than a few times over the years and there are different variations, but the gist of it is like this:  A man walks up to you “looking lost” who says he is an Italian-American from New York.  He says he is looking for a particular pub and cannot find the street on the map he is carrying and could you help him.  Once you have found the street for him he asks if he can buy you a beer at that bar.  Apparently when you arrive there is a big bouncer guy at the door and upon entering you notice it’s a pub/strip club type place.  Girls are issued to your table to sit with you, than the waiter brings a bottle of sparkling wine and asks if you would like to buy the girls drinks.  When you get the bill, you’ve been charged an exorbitant amount of money with big bouncer guy making sure you don’t skip out on the bill.  Beware of girls in g-strings “baring” gifts.

 5.  Bill padding at restaurants

Excessive and outrageous bill padding by bars and restaurants has recently made the news on several different occasions including a recent event where a bar/gelateria charged around €64 (about US$84) for 4 ice creams.  Many bars in the center charge triple for sitting at a table outside (go to a coffee bar outside the historic center and this isn’t the case) and always check prices before ordering.  At restaurants, there’s a thing called “coperto” that actually by law you are not obligated to pay that restaurants say is to cover the costs of the bread basket they bring out.  To be honest, I can’t bother to squabble over the coperto, but then I also don’t tip especially when the coperto is added.  Paying the coperto is a hell of a lot cheaper than paying a tip of 15-20% of the bill.  I only add on a bit more if I liked the food & service, but tipping is not mandatory here (that’s another blog post!)  That said, note prices when you order and before they take away the menu and don’t accept a bill with just one price scrawled onto a piece of paper.  It’s not quaint or charming.  Ask for an itemized bill.

 6.  Taxi drivers 

There are official taxis in Rome – usually marked on the side with their cooperatives phone number and/or “SPQR Comune di Roma” and then there are private car companies that do airport transfers, called NCC (usually these are black-car sedans and vans).   The white city taxis have the rates posted to the airport on the side and a card inside the taxi that explains the fare and any additional charges.  Taxis start the meter at €2.80, Mon-Sat, 7am-10pm and at €5.80 from 10pm to 7am.  Sundays and holidays from 7am-10pm the meter starts at €4.00.  NB:  If you call a taxi rather than picking it up from a taxi stand, the meter starts from when the call was made and not from when it actually arrived and picked you up. NCC drivers are hired for a flat fee and don’t go by meter.

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Rome city taxis on the via Marsala (Beehive) side of Termini train station.

My warning to you when taking a white city taxi is to make sure the meter is set to “Tariffa 1” and not “Tariffa 2” – many taxi drivers are notorious for putting it on “2” or switching it to “2” sometime during the journey.  I’m sure there are plenty of honest taxi drivers, but unfortunately, we have had this happen one too many times and feel compelled to warn others.  In every taxi there should be a price list in several languages.  Taxi drivers at the train station and the airports are notorious for overcharging (despite set rates from the airport) so keep an eye out in any taxi you get into.

Please note that if you happen to leave a camera, phone or other items in a city taxi – unless you remember the name of the taxi driver and his driver number (listed on a panel attached to the doors in the back) as well as the taxi cooperative that he/she belongs to (this number is on the outside of the taxi), it truly is impossible for us to help you recover your lost item.  There are many drivers and many taxi cooperatives out there and not one central line.

Sometimes, despite precautions, bad things can happen.  We’ve known people who have had their iPhone snatched out of their hand in the middle of the day, and when we first moved to Rome, I had my purse stolen right out from under my feet in a restaurant.  Be cautious, but there is only so much you can do if you don’t want to walk around in a constant state of fear and paranoia.  That’s no fun either and will prevent you from experiencing fully the place you are visiting or being open to new experiences.

When traveling, for maximum peace of mind – purchase travel insurance.  Not only will it cover the cost of theft (if you have proof of purchase of your items), but it’ll cover your tickets if you miss a flight, cover medical expenses and much more.  You may or may not end up needing it, but the cost is low compared to what you could potentially lose.

We are proud to have recently started a partnership with World Nomads  since we have always encouraged our guests to consider travel insurance.   We use this insurance ourselves when we travel and as a family of 5, we think it’s well worth it.  Having a back-up plan and something that can help take the sting out of a bad experience will be worth every penny.

5 October 2013

From the kitchen of The Beehive’s Clumsy Cook

Okay, I’m REALLY bad at this blogging business.  Back on January 1st, I made a resolution (as we all do) that I would post on the blog more often.  Well, my last blog entry was in February and it was a recipe for Steve’s walnut pesto.  Well, here we are 6 months later and I’m finally posting again and this time it’s about – you got it!  – another pesto recipe!  This time it’s basil pesto and rather than Steve – the cook in this post is me – Linda, The Beehive’s self-titled Clumsy Cook.

Now I am NOT the cook in our family and I am filled with gratitude that I married someone who not only loves to cook, but is really good at it.  Not only in terms of the deliciousness factor, but also in terms of economics and speed.  I have seen Steve whip up a tasty lunch from scratch for 10 people in an hour.  He’s THAT good.

Despite having a mother who was an awesome cook – that particular trait decided to bypass me.  I really don’t like cooking. I find it boring and a drag. I much prefer to eat and clean up – those are my skills.  However, having 3 children – it does call upon me sometimes to take over the reigns in the kitchen.  If Steve is bed-ridden (thank goodness that rarely happens) or in Rome at The Beehive, someone has to feed our children and that someone has to be me!

I’m not a total loser in the kitchen, but it’s not my thing and I am constantly having kitchen disasters of one kind or another.  It’s rare that I don’t draw blood or burn something in the kitchen.  Thankfully, I still have all 10 digits and the fire department has not had to come to our home, but it’s been a fine line.

Despite my ineptness, the other day, I did manage to make a basil pesto and pasta alla genovese.  This is one of my favorite dishes because not only is freshly made basil pesto mindblowingly delicious, but even for someone as unskilled as myself – it is very easy to make.  Summer is normally the best time to make pesto when fresh basil is plentiful.

You’ll need the following ingredients:

pesto ingredients

FOR THE PESTO:

Fresh basil – a heaping bowlful about 100 grams

Grated parmigiano cheese – about 30-40 grams

Grated pecorino romano cheese – about 15-20 grams

Pine nuts – a handful

Garlic – 1-2 cloves depending on your garlic preference

Salt – a pinch or two

Olive oil – as much as it takes, but don’t overdo it

Put all this in the blender or use an immersion blender.  The purists use a mortar and pestle, but I don’t have that kind of time so it’s the blender for me.  Add the oil slowly so that you don’t overdo it on the oil.  You want the pesto to be be smooth enough, but still have a bit of chunky factor to it.

finished pesto

 

FOR THE PASTA ALLA GENEVOSE

3 medium sized potatoes

a small bowl of green beans

500 grams Pasta – trofie pasta if possible, if not, any other short sturdy pasta such as – penne, maccheroni, sedanini

Before you start the pesto – since it really doesn’t take too much time to make – cut up into small pieces 3 decent sized potatoes and cut in halves a small bowl of green beans.  Make sure to snip off the ends of the green beans.   Put the potatoes and green beans in a pot of water and boil for about 20-30 minutes or until you can stick a fork through one of the potatoes and it’s nice and soft, but not that it disintegrates.

Once the potatoes and beans are done, drain the water.

potatoes and green beans

Now boil water for the pasta.  Once the water is boiling, add a good big pinch of salt.  Put the pasta in and follow directions for cooking time.

Drain the pasta water and then add the potatoes and beans and the pesto to the pasta.  Mix until all the pasta, potatoes and green beans are well-coated with the pesto.

Put in a pretty bowl, serve and enjoy!

pasta alla genovese

 

25 August 2013

Simple and tasty – walnut pesto

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We love to eat here at Casa MB and since I got such a great response to our recent ribollita recipe, I thought that from time to time – I would post some of my personal favorites that Steve whips up in our kitchen.

Walnut pesto is simple, quick and easy to make – so simple that even I, the incompetent chef, have made it successfully for our daughters.  It’s a crowd-pleaser for the whole family.

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You’ll need the following ingredients:

a large handful of shelled walnuts

half or 1 clove of garlic (depending on how garlicky or not you like things)

a piece or two of stale bread

about 1/4 cup or 50ml of milk (you can substitute this with rice or soy milk)

a handful of parmigiano cheese

olive oil

Put all of these ingredients into a blender.  Not sure exactly how much oil to put in – probably about 1/4 cup / 50ml.   Blend.

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Boil the pasta.  You can use a variety of pasta – in this version we used fresh sedanini pasta.  We have also used whole wheat spaghetti or farro (spelt) spaghetti.  It works well with a thinner variety of pasta and not a thicker one.

This photo has nothing to do with walnut pesto other than the fact that our dog, Goji, was keeping Steve company in the kitchen.

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Once the pasta is cooked, check the pesto.  If it’s thickened up a bit, add a smidge of the pasta water and blend again.

Mix in with the pasta.  If it doesn’t seem to be mixing in very easily, add a bit more oil to help it blend better.

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And voila!  Accompanied by a salad, this makes an easy and delicious lunch or dinner when you are low on time or energy.

If you have any leftover, but not enough to make another batch of pasta – it also works very nicely as a bruschetta  – just toast some crusty style bread and spread on.

 

26 February 2013

A hearty, yummy soup from Casa MB

Steve's ribollita

Steve is the cook in our household (dubbed Casa MB).  He’s got an annoying gift of not following recipes and just throwing stuff together with whatever he finds in our refrigerator.  If you’re familiar with this American television show from the ’80s you’ll understand my reference when I say that I call him the “MacGyver” of the kitchen.  His gift is annoying to me because I’m the pathetic cook who is a mess in the kitchen, has to follow a recipe and if I’m missing one ingredient – it’s freak out time!  Well, perhaps I exaggerate – I have my golden moments in the kitchen too, but not very often.  I guess I would have more of those moments with experience, but when you have such a great cook in the house who actually enjoys doing it – why bother?

Steve is a big fan of “cucina povera” – the style of Italian cooking that uses very simple, very few, in season ingredients to create delicious dishes.  It’s been a bit chilly around here lately and we had lots of cavolo nero (kale) and stale bread so he decided to make a ribollita – a typical Tuscan soup. I was completely blown away by this insanely delicious soup and despite our abstinence recently from wine – we decided the soup and the day deserved a glass of red wine to go with it.  Here’s his version of a recipe – give it a try and let us know how it works for you.

STEVE’S RIBOLLITA
Soak about 200 g of cannellini beans overnight.
Cut up:
1 onion
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
2 cloves garlic
Sauté these ingredients in a good amount of olive oil with a small pinch of chili pepper flakes.
Add in a bunch of cavolo nero/kale (I rip off and dispose of the tough rib and just chop the leaves up) and you can use a good bunch because it cooks down a lot.
Rinse the beans.  Put the beans in a pot and add water (about twice as much to cover what you have, or more).  I put in 1 big tablespoon of good bouillon broth (we are vegetarian so use a vegetable broth – our favorite is Rapunzel) and about 1/4 cup of passata di pomodoro.  If you have some fresh rosemary, throw a good size sprig in too.
Let it boil gently for at least 2 hours, regulating the heat so that
a – it doesn’t stick
b – it doesn’t dry out (if it does, add water or cover)
c – it doesn’t stay all watery (if it does, turn up the heat and cook longer)
Cut up about 4 big pieces of stale, ideally Tuscan/Umbrian style salt-less bread and put it in.  Let this cook too for at least 30 minutes so it breaks down and really thickens the soup.
I like to let it sit a while before eating.  This soup is really great the next day as leftovers as well.
Season with salt if needed and add some olive oil as well.

15 February 2013
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