Our Chef’s Cooperative Profiles: Paola Haas

Please note that as of 2015 our chef’s cooperative no longer exists.  We now host occasional pop-up vegetarian & vegan lunches and dinners and our former guest chefs Roberta & Ivo can prepare Italian vegetarian & vegan dinners by request for small groups as well as cooking courses.  

The most recent chef to join our cooperative is Paola Haas – originally from Mexico and Rome resident for many years.  She serves up traditional and authentic vegetarian Latin American food on Sundays from 7-9:30pm.  She also has vegan and gluten-free versions of her dishes available upon request as well.  This interview with Paola is the first installment as I profile all of our chefs in upcoming posts.

Paola dining

1.  Where are you from?  What brought you to Rome?

I come from Mexico City, and moved to Italy to study art and design more than two decades ago.

2.  How did you hear about The Beehive and what made you decide to become a part of the chef’s cooperative?

I found out about The Beehive from my friend Paolo Casassa, who runs Clover and Acacia guestrooms.  When the idea of a Mexican or Latin-American evening came out, I jumped in immediately, as there are very few places in Rome where you can get this kind of cuisine– and The Beehive, with its international, innovative spirit is the perfect place to offer it.

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3.  Can you describe the kinds of food you prepare on your evenings at The Beehive?

I strive to prepare only authentic food, the kind you would have at a real Latin-American home, the kind your Mamá or your Abuela would cook… in a vegetarian version. Only ingredients that are true to the recipes are used, which can be difficult as we are across the ocean!  I also try to keep a balance between elaborate and simple.

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4.  How did you learn to make this food?  What is your food background?

I have been cooking at home since I was fourteen, as my mother did not cook regularly.  On the other hand, I was constantly surrounded by grandmothers and aunts who cooked divinely and passionately, and encouraged me to learn their recipes and secrets.  Furthermore, in my family, the appreciation of good cuisine has been a trademark ever since I can remember.  I consider myself a self-taught cook although I have taken non-professional courses in Mexico, Italy and France.

Arroz con leche

5.  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?

Personally, I am neither vegetarian nor vegan.  However, my cooking philosophy is definitely vegetable-centered so I am used to adapting dishes to a vegetarian or vegan diet, as well as other diets like wheat-free or gluten-free.

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6.  Where are your favorite places to eat in Rome?  

You mean besides The Beehive?  For traditional Roman food, Da Marcello in San Lorenzo; fun, popular osterie in the Garbatella district like Grottino der Traslocatore, Er Moschino or Tanto pe’ Mangià.  In the Testaccio district always reliable and a bit more trendy: Da Fedele or Osteria degli Amici, or Da Domenico in San Giovanni; at a higher budget and with a creative twist, Primo al Pigneto, or Rivadestra in Trastevere; pizza: anywhere but Dar Poeta.  Also, 99% of the places selling pizza al taglio, supplì and arancini are delicious!

You will find Paola and her delicious, homemade and authentic Latin American food every Sunday evening in our cafe.

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.

The Beehive Cafe – a Chef’s Cooperative

PLEASE NOTE THAT AS OF 2015 OUR CHEF’S COOPERATIVE NO LONGER EXISTS.  CURRENTLY, ROBERTA & IVO, TWO ITALIAN CHEFS, MAKE VEGETARIAN & VEGAN DINNERS ON MON & WED EVENINGS. 


Our cafe at The Beehive has evolved a lot over the years – first from a simple breakfast room and then into a guerrilla style vegetarian restaurant serving lunch and dinner without set prices.  We called it the “Cucina Karmica” and while we had price suggestions, people could pay what they thought the meal was worth.

Cafe Karmica

Despite naysayers who thought it was a crazy idea, it actually worked quite well and we were often packed with nearby office workers during the day and guests and residents at night.

Laura cooking

In 2009, we got a shock from the city of Rome who forced us to stop serving lunch and dinner, without much explanation, but that didn’t deter us from wanting to continue to bring healthy, delicious, vegetarian and vegan food to our guests and Rome residents.

Fast forward to May 2012 when Aimee Jackson Accolla became the first participant in our chef’s cooperative, cooking and serving up delicious vegan meals 3 times a week in our cafe.  Aimee and her family recently moved to Scotland, but we have found several other remarkable people to take her place. We do serve a daily breakfast from 7:30-10:30am, but now 4 evenings a week (and hopefully we can get all 7 evenings filled up), we have outside chefs come in who are participating in our chef’s cooperative.

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As a cooperative, chefs buy and prepare all the food themselves either offsite or in the cafe, and host their themed dinners.  All proceeds go directly to the chef, which is a great way for us to open our space to people with passion, motivation, enthusiasm, and a love of food.  Our cooperative supports fellow entrepreneurs and also provides homey, lovingly made food to our guests and the Rome community at large.

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Our kitchen is by no means a professional kitchen!  The beauty though is that we believe great food can be made by anyone in any kind of environment, no matter how small and simple, and our cafe has proven that.

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Our guest chef evenings are currently as follows:

Wednesday – Vegan Asian fusion with Katrina Tan Conte (NB: Kat is from the Philippines and will heading there for the months of December, January and February.  Her last evening at the cafe will be 11 December 2013, but she’ll be back in our cafe on 5 March 2014.)

Friday – Creative Vegan and Raw with Hayley North

Saturday  – Vegetarian/Vegan Ceylan cooking (Sri Lankan) with Shabeena and Rozana

Sunday  – Vegetarian/Vegan Latin American with Paola Haas

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.

Over the next few months, we’ll be featuring each of our chefs on this blog – stay tuned!

 

21 November 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 €3, Mon-Fri, 6am-10pm and at €6.50 from 10pm to 6am.  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.

walnutpesto

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

“What’s around The Beehive?”

When we opened The Beehive back in 1999, a lot of our first customers were very young backpackers.  We would inevitably get someone who would ask “so I’ve seen the Colosseum, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona – what else is there to do?”  Or “it’s boring here, where can I party?”  Well, thankfully, we don’t have many of those kinds of guests anymore, but I do occasionally read a review where someone states that “there is nothing near The Beehive.”  In a city that is almost 2,766 years old – there is always something nearby.  Just to give you an idea, here are a few gems located just a 10 minute walk from The Beehive.

PALAZZO MASSIMO

One of the four branches of the National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Massimo is conveniently located right near Termini train station – this museum houses an amazing collection from 2nd BCE to 5th CE.  Sculpture, ancient coins as well as frescoes from the walls of Empress Livia’s summer villa incredibly preserved.  One of the more overlooked and yet important museums in Rome just a stone’s throw from The Beehive.

BASILICA SANTA MARIA DEGLI ANGELI

This church was incorporated into the ancient Baths of Diocletian by Michelangelo.  It has a meridian line (see the astrological figures in the floor) commissioned by Pope Clement XI in 1702 that was used to check the time, predict Easter and check the accuracy of what at the time was the new Gregorian calendar.

BASILICA SANTA MARIA MAGGIORE

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Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore is all about Roman Baroque style glory. Come here for the 5th century mosaics including one of the oldest representations of the Virgin Mary. Under the high altar is the Crypt of the Nativity  there in a container are4 pieces of sycamore wood boards said to have been part of the manger of the nativity.

BASILICA SANTA PRASSEDE

Behind this unassuming entrance you’ll find more beautiful mosaics and a relic of the pillar which was supposedly the one on which Jesus was flogged and tortured before his crucifixion.

After all this site-seeing or after your long flight and you’re feeling those hunger pangs – our immediate neighborhood has some good, inexpensive trattorias – the best of which is Meid in Nepols  Ask our reception to call in advance as reservations are necessary.  For a quick bite, 80 Fame, is an excellent pizza by the slice just a block away from us.  Gainn, a Korean restaurant is also a block away near 80 Fame.  A little further afield, but still only about a 10-15 minute walk is Come il Latte – easily in the top 10 of Rome’s best gelato.  In addition, there is Rome’s oldest wine shop which also has a wine bar, Trimani, a place to find a fine bottle of wine or a spot for a tasty, albeit pricey lunch.

Besides the sites I just mentioned and the many hotels you’ll see, The Beehive’s neighborhood is a living and working area. It’s home to many non-profits such as Unicef, Save the Children Italia and Amnesty International Italia (both of whom we have good relationships with), a branch of the nation’s bank, Banca d’Italia, (located across the street from us) as well as several branches of Rome’s university, Roma Tre and one of the branches of the national library.

We’re happy to point you in the direction of any of these sites and if you have a particular interest or need suggestions – just ask!

 

 

 

11 February 2013

Putzing around Piazza Vittorio

I was in the prep phase of a 7 day juice fast and my daughters were still on their winter holidays and feeling a bit bored so we decided a quick trip to Piazza Vittorio in the Esquilino neighborhood was in order.  Many moons ago The Beehive was in this neighborhood and my daughters spent their formative years dodging dog poo and syringes.  Despite that – we have very fond memories of this area.   I guess you could say it was where we “cut our teeth” in Rome.

One of the hearts of Piazza Vittorio was its former market – you can see it in the scene from the 1948 Vittorio De Sica film “The Bicycle Thief” where he looks first for his stolen bicycle – yup, the old Piazza Vittorio market.  In 2001 it moved from its decades long location to a new indoor center and re-named Nuovo Mercato Esquilino. The area has changed a lot since then, but there are lots of gems hidden in the rough and so we decided to spend the afternoon walking around the old neighborhood again without much of a plan.

My girls enjoying their lunch at some of the best pizza by the slice in Rome.

First stop was Forno Roscioli at via Buonarroti, 48.  The cousin of the more famous Antico Forno Roscioli near Campo dei Fiori, we like this place much better for the incredibly kind and congenial staff who talk to strangers as if they have known them for years.  The clerks there are beyond patient despite the hordes that mob their counters especially during the lunch rush.

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Supplì – Roman street food. Only found at pizza places.

We managed to get a table and the girls enjoyed their pizzas while I ate cooked vegetables the whole time cursing my restricted diet before my fast and coveting their crispy slices of piazza bianca and Roscioli’s supplì (arborio rice balls made with tomato sauce and a piece of mozzarella stuffed inside, breaded and then deep friend – delish!)

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Plantains at Mercato Esquilino.

Next we walked through Piazza Vittorio on our way to Mercato Esquilino.  This market is fantastic!  Besides all the wonderful seasonal produce you’ll find here, this is also one of only a couple markets in town where you can find a wide assortment of non-Italian ingredients – vegetables and fruit such as sweet potatoes, avocados, plantains, yucca, cilantro and all kinds of spices, legumes and beans.

We did our shopping and the girls were good sports about going around and around the market.  I always end up buying more than I really can carry, but they helped me with my bags and in turn I thought now was a good idea for a gelato break so we headed over to the Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi, a mouthful of a name for one of Rome’s oldest gelaterias (since 1880).  It’s the only true ice cream parlor type shop left in Rome.  While there is better gelato to be had in Rome, you don’t just come here for the gelato, but also for the experience.  Unfortunately, they happened to be closed for the holidays so there were some unhappy campers in my group, but I tried to stay positive and we continued along.

Paloma and Viola denied at Gelateria Fassi.

We decided to go through Piazza Vittorio again and this time stopped at the little kids playground in the park that has games and some electrical rides.  Giulia and Paloma who are 12 and 10 respectively were physically too big for the rides which are for the 6 and under crowd, but Viola was happy to be able to take their place and her mood switched.

Back to being a happy girl

As I mentioned, the original Beehive was in this neighborhood and now every time I am in the neighborhood, I must make a pilgrimage to Panella, one of my favorite coffee bars.  Despite it being on the pricey side, it’s worth it to me to come here for an excellent cappuccino and freshly made, warm out of the oven pastries in the morning instead of the stale, cardboard tasting poor excuses for pastries that are found at most Italian bars.  This place feels homey to me – despite not having lived in the neighborhood for many years – the older women who have been working for their years still remember me and our daughters are captured in time in their memories as little babies.

panella

Panella’s iconic coffee machine.

I am of the school of “never come over to a friend’s empty handed” when coming over for dinner and these exquisite sweet treats from pasticerria Regoli will have your friends inviting you again and again!  Regoli was founded in 1916 and has a steady stream of loyal customers.   Pick up some of these tortine alle fragoline for a tiny taste of creamy pastry heaven.

regoli

The perfect dessert.

Unfortunately, Piazza Vittorio and the neighborhood of Esquilino get a bad rap from guidebooks and I’ve made it one of my missions to post things here from time to time that will hopefully show the area in a different light.  Many expat residents and Rome experts like Gillian Longworth McGuire of the Rome for Expats guide share my appreciation of the area and look underneath its sometimes gritty surface. Piazza Vittorio has tried to clean up its act over the years and this sign in the park for me spoke volumes.  It’s a great combo of providing information as well as provoking people to think beyond what they can immediately see and open their eyes to the fact that we are indeed sharing the space with others.   These others may not be as visible, but in this often crazy, chaotic city, need the trees and the grass as much as we do no matter which neighborhood it’s in.

Bird watching at Piazza Vittorio

 

5 things to do for a stress-free visit to Rome with young children

All three of our daughters were born in Rome starting with our oldest, Giulia, in 2000.   Some things have come a long way – for example, smoking is no longer allowed in public spaces such as restaurants or coffee bars – a huge coup for those of us who thought our precious babies were going to be suffering from black lung disease before their first birthdays.  The law went into effect in 2005 so the jury is still out with my older two, Giulia and Paloma, who spent many a smokey night in restaurants in their younger years.

Despite small victories, traveling with children around Rome can wear out the best of us – residents and visitors alike.  There are many other bloggers who have posted great suggestions on things to do and practical issues with kids including Ciao Bambino and Maria Dolcini at L’Avventura Romana but here are a handful of suggestions to keep in mind based on my own experience in order to ease the pain and stress of visiting Rome with babies and little children.

1.  Wear your baby!

If you have a baby, leave the stroller at home and start practicing how to use that wrap or carrier.  Trying to get a stroller on and off of buses, carrying one up and down the metro stairs (no elevators) and just trying to cross streets with cars parked on cross-walks and up against each other so tightly that you can barely squeeze yourself through – you’ll encounter all of these and then some and you’ll be very happy that you aren’t dealing with a cumbersome stroller.  Personally, I found Bjorn carriers very limiting and uncomfortable for myself and my kids and used the Didymos wrap which was very versatile and comfy, but it takes some practice. They are a slew of carrier styles out there now though and I’m sure you can find one to meet your needs.

If you have an older child and need that stroller to save your back and shoulders, make it an inexpensive umbrella style stroller so it’s not a huge financial loss if it gets lost or mangled on the airplane.  These kind of strollers can also be easily folded up when traveling on public transit or by train.  The excellent mother and baby shop created by expat New Yorker, Kiersten Miller, The Milk Bar currently has stroller rental in Milan and hopefully soon in Rome, but in the meantime, there are baby equipment rental companies in Rome like Travel Baby and Babyriders that will bring the equipment to your accommodation and then pick it up afterward.

2.  Bring a changing mat with you everywhere

Diapers in Italian are called pannolini.  If your child is still in diapers, please note that you will be more comfortable changing your child on a bench or on a ledge than you will in the public bathrooms.  Bathrooms do not have diaper changing facilities and most of them are in dubious states of cleanliness.  Bring wipes and hand sanitizer with you as well to clean your own hands after the change.  Don’t worry about finding diapers here – there are plenty of different brands, and personally, I highly recommend a biodegradable brand such as Moltex or Naturaè which you can find at various organic shops throughout Rome.  You can find other disposable diaper brands at pharmacies and supermarkets.

3.  Learn the magic words “pasta bianca” for your picky eaters

Despite having children who were born and raised in Italy and who in theory should be able to eat truffles or eggplant with the best of them, I do have two picky eaters.  Thankfully, any restaurant in Rome will be happy to make pasta bianca for your children and even in half portions (mezza porzione).  This is just plain pasta that is mixed with either olive oil (olio) or butter (burro) and topped with generous heaps of parmigiano cheese – a kid-pleaser to be sure.  If you have a child with gluten or wheat intolerance, many more restaurants have rice pasta now (pasta di riso) – just ask as it is not often on the menu.  For something with a little more substance, you can also ask for pasta al pomodoro (with tomato sauce) and a pasta corta, short pasta, such as penne which makes it a lot easier for little hands and mouths.

4.  Consider renting an apartment

Okay, this may sound like a conflict of interest since The Beehive is a hostel/hotel and we do have many families stay with us.   However, the great thing about renting an apartment as a family, especially if you have babies or young children and especially if your children are used to early dinner hours, is that many apartments have kitchens or kitchenettes where you can prepare meals.  In addition, there is usually a common area space, living room or small sitting room, so your kids can have a nap and the whole family can take a break in the middle of the day without being cooped up in one room.  Being able to prepare your own meals is also a money saver when traveling with families and especially if you have picky eaters.  You should definitely eat out while you are in Rome and enjoy a great pizza and some excellent pasta, but being able to eat some meals in is a great option to have.  If you use that time to also shop at some of the local food markets (not supermarkets), you’ll get a truly authentic and unique experience.  Here’s a video featuring our daughters which shows how easy and fun it can be to do the food-shopping. Our other business cross-pollinate has many excellent and affordable private apartment rental options.  Many of these properties have short minimum stays so you don’t have to commit to a weekly rental and there are no security deposits or cleaning fees.

5.  Accept the fact that you won’t be able to do it all and take time to fit in some kid-friendly activities

Rome celebrates its 2,766th birthday on 21 April 2013.  This city is dense with things to see and do and even in your best childless years, you would not have been able to take it all in – even less so now that you have little ones.  Make sure to schedule in child-friendly entertainment – there are several parks in Rome (Villa Borghese, Villa Torlonia, Villa Celimontana, Villa Ada and Villa Doria Pamphili to name a few), a zoo, a little boating lake, a children’s museum and even a gladiator school.  Our friends at Context Travel have excellent family walks that make learning about Rome interesting, informative and engaging for the entire family.

With children it’s all about “slow travel”, and the beauty of doing things with them is that you are forced to slow down and take time to enjoy the quiet moments.  An ice cream in a piazza or in the park, kicking back and watching them play with local kids, exchanging a smile and a few words with shopkeepers or other parents.  Take the opportunity to be able to connect with the people and culture in ways you would never have been able to do in your backpacking days.  Children are great ice-breakers and connectors – enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

6 boring but useful tips for your time in Italy

Okay, perhaps it’s the heat, but I had a hard time coming up with a clever title for this post so instead, I’m just tellin’ it like it is.  These aren’t particularly exciting or the “don’t order a cappuccino in the afternoon” types of advice you may read about for travel in Italy.  While these tips may seem mundane, personally these are the kinds of things I like to know about when traveling somewhere new and so I’m passing on some of these tidbits to you.

1.  Packs of tissue are your new best friend

A very popular brand here is Tempo, but really any brand of portable tissues will be very handy.  Toilets are available for use throughout the city – by law every public coffee bar in Rome must allow use of their toilets.  Because of this, you will find them in various states of uncleanliness and dysfunction and many of them do not provide toilet paper.  Soap to wash your hands afterward seems to be considered a luxury item, paper towels are like finding the Holy Grail, and usually the only drying device is one of those plug-in electrical dryers that doesn’t have enough power to dry the hairs on the back of your hand.  Also, if you see a sign on the bathroom door that says “guasto” or “fuori servizio” it’s probably not – bar owners often put those signs up to avoid public use of their toilets.

2.  On/off switches

In your hotel bathroom or if you rent an apartment, please be wary of flipping these particular switches.  You could very well be turning off the source of your electricity or hot water if you do this in a bathroom (cold showers anyone?).  Light switches do not have these, but power sources to hot water heaters always do.  “0” is off and “1” is on.

3.  You can look, but don’t touch!

Even in 2012, many shopkeepers in Italy still don’t want customers to mess with their merchandise.  I don’t know exactly what it is they’re afraid of – fingers sticky with gelato?  I have no idea, but many absolutely do not want you to touch their stuff – you must ask the sales clerk to help you.  If you don’t see any signs, feel free to touch away, but do try to avoid doing this to any items in a window display which is usually frowned upon.  The most ridiculous use of this sign that I’ve seen was at a toy shop (no touching at a toy shop?!?!)  along with the extremely grumpy owner who should have probably given up the business when her grandchildren got married.

4.  Saying hello and goodbye

Along with not-touching, it’s a very nice gesture to say hello and goodbye when entering and exiting a shop.  Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s good form to say thank you and goodbye when leaving.  A simple “Buongiorno or Buonasera” when entering and “Grazie, arrivaderci” when leaving.  With strangers, refrain from saying “Ciao”, but instead greet them with a “Buongiorno/Buonasera” or use “Salve” (sal-veh) instead – a more formal and polite way of saying “hi” to people you don’t know.  “Salve” only works for hello so use “Arrivaderci” for goodbye.  Rome friend Shelley Ruelle has a funny post about other useful words to know in Rome.

5.  Tipping

Recently, there was a huge blow-out from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s recent honeymoon trip to Rome and the fact that he did not tip while he was here.  Another Rome friend and local food expert, Katie Parla, wrote a great blog post about this very topic and I wholeheartedly agree with what she wrote and don’t really have much else to add.  Please refrain from the compulsion to tip by percentage and according to the total amount.  A euro or two really is plenty to leave if you appreciated the service, and we never leave anything if we are being served by the owner of the establishment.

6.  Receipts

After just a few days in Italy, your wallet will be full of these:

By law, all places where there has been a financial transaction are obligated to give you a receipt.  You, as the customer, are also obligated by law to collect that receipt – whether it be from a €1 bottle of water or €100 for that D&G white cotton t-shirt you just had to have.  The Guardia di Finanza (Italy’s very own tax police) are infamously known to strike fear in the heart of many a business owner and sometimes perform random checks outside of establishments to make sure that both the receipt is given and that the receipt is taken.  Hefty fines can be given to both parties if the transaction is not done properly.  Why such a big fuss about these little pieces of paper?  Well, that’s best summarized with these two words:  tax evasion.

I hope this helps!  Keep an eye out here for more tips in the future or post a comment if there’s anything in particular you want to know about.  I’ll consult my Magic 8 Ball if I don’t know the answer.

 

 

2 July 2012

Hidden gems in Esquilino

The neighborhood of Esquilino, lies south of Termini train station and named for the Esquiline hill – one of the original 7 Roman hills.  The Beehive’s first location was in this neighborhood and our Clover and Acacia guestrooms are in Esquilino.  Officially, the current Beehive is in what’s known as Castro Pretorio – not as interesting and because I have such fond memories and loyalties to Esquilino, I call The Beehive’s neighborhood “Esquilino adjacent”.

Esquilino is a much maligned area, many guidebooks and journalists write it off considering it as only a place of budget hotels and convenient to the train station.  For Roman residents, the last 15 years has seen a huge influx of immigrants from Asia and Africa which has indelibly changed the literal face of the neighborhood in both good and bad ways.  Good in that it’s a joy to walk in that neighborhood and see non-Italian faces, clothes, hear different languages and smell non-Italian food smells.  Bad in that many of the former mom and pop establishments sold out and were replaced by identical cheap trinket shops, chock-full of low quality imports all packaged in kilos and kilos of plastic.

There are many wonderful things about this neighborhood – things that are not very obvious to the casual observer, and my goal is to change that outlook by posting about the hidden gems located in this neighborhood.  A recent post by my husband Steve kicked off that campaign.

On 20 April, Context Travel began its Tours in the Public Interestwith a visit to what’s known as the Auditorum of Maecenas.  These tours will be held once per month with a Context docent who will lead these visits to little known, not-open-to-the-general-public, archaeological sites.

The Auditorium of Maecenas is located behind a wrought iron fence and locked gate on a very busy street in Rome, via Merluna near the basilica Santa Maria Maggiore.  Years ago it was a neglected, downtrodden place surrounded by overgrown weeds, rubbish and the urine of street people masking any kind of treasure that was inside.  Some care and with the rubbish and stench gone, now the auditorium is surrounded by a small and pretty manicured garden, but the gate is still locked.  Context with its magic keys opened the door to a site that I had passed on a daily basis for years and so I was extremely curious to see what lay inside.

On this rainy, but warm day, docent Agnes Crawford, led our small group into the auditorium and as we decended the ramp into the semi-underground room – that’s when with Agnes’ knowledge, insight and guidance it became a walk back in time. Agnes’ detailed ruminations on the history of the area, the politics of the time, and theories on what exactly this site was exactly were interesting and evocative.  Painted frescoes of garden scenes which were still visible and the idea that the auditorium was a bit of a cooling water garden for the elite wanting to escape the heat of Rome while looking out towards the Alban Hills had me imagining all kinds of halycon scenes of ancient Rome.

 

Back to the Basics – Wine 101 with Antiqua Tours

Guest post & photos by Sarah May Grunwald

I am a wine lover, wine snob and wine educator, but in my line of work, I often find the hardest thing to impart to my students and clients are the wine basics.  I suppose I just take wine for granted, just as many Romans take the huge amount of culture in their city for granted.  Wine is like air for me.  I can’t live without it, and not only because I like to drink it.  I am interested in the entire culture of wine.  I have had this passion since the first time I visited a winery, Wirra Wirra, in 1997 in South Australia.

Moving to Italy was an entirely different experience in terms of the world of wine.  Outside of Italy, wine is seen as some otherworldly drink, something for people with money, something to be coveted, there is a lot of money involved in the world of wine and a lot of that money is used for marketing.  But why?  After all, isn’t wine just fermented grape juice?  Yes, it is a fermented beverage, but its connection to human culture, including religion, medicine and art spans millennia.  It is more than an alcoholic drink; it is a culture in its own right.

 

Here in Italy, one can think of wine as its own food group.  It is at every table and almost every meal. Wine brings people together rather than separating them.   Italy is covered in vines and there is a huge variety of wines made.  This is due to the fact that Italy is extremely diverse in terms of topography and natural feature and the fact that the grape vine is a plant that mutates very easily and adjusts to a variety of conditions.  So firstly, you have a landscape that spans from the Alps to near Africa in the south; a landscape with extremely diverse terrain.   Then, in the scope of that landscape, there is huge amount of variety in the types of grapes use.

In Italy, wine is not for the privileged only but for all.   Even if some are not fine wines, almost every Italian knows someone who makes wine, including their own grandparents with their homemade wine.  In the fall, entire families participate in the harvest on a small plot of land to make the family wine.  These are simple and rustic wines, but it is a story that has firm roots in the Italian culture.  Even today, Italian immigrants throughout the world will make this effort.  If they no longer have a small plot of land, they will buy grapes and make wine at home.   Wine is ubiquitous to Italian culture.

When I lead a wine tour, I start with the basics, what is wine and how is it made.  Wine is made by yeasts converting the sugars present in the grape into alcohol.  Alcohol is the byproduct of this biochemical process.   Red wines are red because they are fermented with the skins; the skins give wine its color.  White wines are lighter in color because they are not fermented with the skins, hence you can have a white wine made from a dark skinned grape.  Rosè or pink wines are made by fermented with the skins for a short amount of time, giving them their pink hue.

Once we have these basics, we can talk about the sensory experience of wine, that of sight, smell and taste.   There are five tasting basics:  see, sniff, swirl, sip and savor.  Color can tell us a lot about a wine.   For example, how young or old it is or where it might be from.  When we sniff wine, we are evaluating volatile aromas that should tell us a lot more about the wine, what type of grape(s) is/are used, for example.  There are hundreds of aromas in wine, but they are NOT added.  I have been asked countless times during this phase of a tasting if the winemaker added the aromas to the wine, such as adding essential oil.  The answer is no.  The aromas we perceive are naturally occurring chemical compounds that come from the grape varietal-this means the type of grape, such as Chardonnay or Sangiovese-they can also come from the yeast fermentation.  These are called esters.  Esters are what give fruit their aromas.  Finally we have tertiary aromas and they come from aging.  What you smell in the glass should give you an indication of what you will shortly taste.  For example, if you smell a red wine and it has aromas of leather or coffee, most like the wine will have tannin, or if you are smelling grapefruit in a white wine, you can expect a fresh tasting wine.

When we taste the wine, we do not actually taste flavors.  What we perceive as flavors are actually aromas.  80% of taste is smell.  There are actually 4-some might argue – tasting sensations and they are sweet, salty, sour and the bitter.  The fifth, Umami has been described a savory, tasty or meaty. It is a Japanese word meaning good taste.  It is elusive, but a sensation that cannot be described in any other way.  And strangely enough, it can be applied to wine.  We will first notice if a wine is dry or not.  Dryness in wines should not be confused with the astringency and dry feeling in your gums from a tannic wine.  A dry wine is dry due to absence of sugar.  Wines can be dry, off dry, slightly sweet and sweet.  The sweetness or lack of it is a result of residual sugars.  We then notice the backbone of the wine, its freshness or acidity.  Without the acidity, wines will feel flabby.  It is the acidity in wine that makes wine food friendly and stimulates the appetite.   You feel freshness on the side of your tongue.  Some wines can taste salty or saline to us and bitterness is what you taste on the back of your tongue.   Now there are the flavors we perceive.  Remember, you do not actually taste them.  80% of taste is smell.  Some wines are overtly fruity; some have a very strong minerality on the palate.  This is what we call the wines finish.  Those are the flavors and sensations that linger on your palate after your swallow the wine.  In general, the longer the finish- the length of time you perceive these aromas and flavors- the better the wine.

Wines should be complex and well balanced.  A well balanced wine is a wine that has all of the elements in harmony.  One does not overpower the other.   Elements such as alcohol, acidity and tannin are evaluated when we taste wine.  Tannin is often the most confusing element in the wine tasting for new tasters.  Tannin refers to a tactile sensation in the palate which leaves a sense of dryness, especially in the gums.  It is an astringent and sometimes bitter taste that is perceived in red wines and absent in white wines.  This is not to be confused with the sensation of dryness in a wine.  Dryness is the absence of sugar and you feel that on your tongue.

So with the fundamentals now covered you may be wondering why people are so obsessed with wine. People, like myself, make a career out of it and devote hours of their day to the study and tasting of this beverage.  Why is this drink so coveted and adored?  Many former normal people have thought the same thing until they had their “A-HA” moment.  This is the moment that makes you see in tunnel vision, when you drink a glass of wine or have an experience with wine and food that leaves you breathless, makes your heart beat a little faster and makes you feel like you’ve fallen in love.  This could be drinking a Lagrein on top of a mountain in the dolomites, smelling an aroma that brings you back to your childhood, sharing wine with a friend in a medieval town in Umbria while feasting on truffles.  For many it is tactile and others it is cultural.  If you feel intimidated because someone perceives balsamic aromas with hints of rosemary in the glass of wine, don’t fret.  People actually train their nose to perceive.  It takes most people a long time to develop a “vocabulary.”  There are very few people in the world who are natural super tasters.

In my travelling experiences, the best way to get to know a culture is to eat and drink with people in the culture.  If you are in Tuscany drink Tuscan wines like Chianti Classico, but to understand the complexity of the Italian world of wine you need to step out of the Pinot Grigio-Chianti comfort zone.  There is more to Italian wine than Tuscany!  Just in the region of Lazio-the region Rome is in-there are wonderful wines to be had at great prices that evoke warm summer days by the sea, tasting local delicacies in Rome.  You can buy a lovely Frascati Superiore for about €6 to €10.  I highly suggest tasting wines from Umbria, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige and Basilicata as well.

While you are in Rome, you can sample many wines from a variety of regions when you visit the local enoteca-wine bar.  Many of them have wonderful list of wines by the glass that will allow you sample wines from all over Italy.  Join a wine tasting, vineyard tour or join a market walk.  Get to know the real Italy or real Rome by tasting it.  Food and wine producers and experts are more than happy to share their knowledge with you, you just have to ask.

Cin Cin!!

 

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. When she is not leading cultural and culinary tours in Rome, she is at home writing her wine blog, www.tastingrome.blogspot.com, hanging out with her Roman husband and 10 dogs and cats, in the kitchen or tending to her olive trees and garden.  

25 April 2012

Coffee break in The Beehive’s neighborhood

The Beehive’s cafe offers vegetarian and organic homemade breakfast goodies – eggs, oatmeal, granola, toast, etc.  Our coffee and teas are fair trade and our milk – cow, soy and rice – are also organic.  Since everything is made to order and there is only one chef working at a time – our cafe epitomizes slow breakfast.

If you need or want a faster alternative in the morning, just a couple of blocks away from us is Bar Fondi.  They serve pastries and coffee with speed and efficiency since they cater to a lot of the B&Bs and guesthouses in the neighborhood that offer breakfast vouchers for their guests.  It’s quite a crush in the morning, but it moves quickly.

Entering Termini train station from The Beehive side is another option – VyTa bar.

There you will find pastries and coffee and at lunch and in the afternoon there are also sandwiches, salads and pizza by the slice including focaccia delivered from the excellent Roscioli bakery and cookies from the local kosher bakery, Mondo di Laura.  There’s also free wi-fi.

Other VyTa bars can be found in the central train stations of Milan, Naples and Turin.

 

 

19 April 2012

How to do nothing in Rome

Guest post & photos by Toni DeBella

In my everyday life I am somewhat of an “over-planner”.  I like to know when and where I am going far in advance.  However, when it comes to spending an afternoon in Rome, I prefer to let my day just unfold instinctively and naturally.  When in Italy, I prefer to improvise.

 Sweet Nothings 

 Italians  have asay ing: “il dolce far niente” (the sweetness of doing nothing), but I wonder if it’s possible to be in one of the great capitals of the world and actually not do anything.  I am about to test the veracity of this expression and set out into the Eternal City in hopes of answering the question: Is it possible to do nothing in Rome?

 Piano, Piano (Slowly, Slowly)

Walking is one of the best ways to pass time while doing nothing special. Rome is perfectly situated for kicking around all day on its ancient, uneven cobblestones.  I didn’t have a destination in mind, nor did I bring a guidebook nor street map.  I was a blank slate, ready to improvise away!

 

Today I started out from Stazione Termini (the main train station) and walked over to and down Via Nazionale to Piazza Venezia.  Because it’s Sunday, Via dei Fori Imperiali is closed to motor vehicles allowing everyone to stroll freely from the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (also known as the Vittoriano) to the Colosseo unassaulted by honking taxis or buzzing Vespas.  A quiet walk into tranquil nothingness.  I ventured back up Via Dei Fori Imperiali, heading for parts of town undiscovered and unscheduled.

 

By zigzagging through the narrow, winding streets, I avoided the heavy foot traffic and loud buses and ambulances.  I loved translating the meanings of the beautiful and evocative street signs carved into the sides of old buildings along the way. 

 

Some streets are named for things (Vicolo dei Venti, Alley of the Winds and Via della Pace, Road of Peace), some for artisans (Via dei Cappellari, Hatmakers Street), some after famous people (Via Cesare Balbo, Via Garibaldi) and others after Cities (Via Napoli, Via Firenze).  Don’t be afraid to duck around corners and peek into alleyways – you never know what small treasure or grand masterpiece you might bump into along the way.

 

Time Flies When you are Doing Nothing

Much of Rome’s main sites are jam-packed into the historical city center, so quite a lot of territory can be covered in one afternoon.   For instance, today I encircled the Colosseum, glanced at the Roman Forum, walked along the Tevere (Tiber), waited in a long line outside a bakery in the Jewish Ghetto, “window shopped” at the Campo dei Fiori (in the past a place for flower sellers), observed artists paint on PiazzaNavona (read more about Painters in the Piazza here),

 

 

ate lunch in a centuries old portico, cruised past the Pantheon, made a wish in the Fontana di Trevi, people-watched on the steps at Piazza di Spagna, sipped espresso in front of Bernini’s statue of Triton at Piazza Barberini, marveled at one of the great intersections at the corners of Via delle Quattre Fontane and Via del Quirinale,

 

then finishedup at the famous church,Santa Maria Maggiore, where Gian Lorenzo Bernini happens to be buried.   Now I am just a few blocks from the start of my journey at Stazione Termini where I can grab my train back to Orvieto.

 

Idle in Rome?

In answer to thequestion: When in Rome, is it really possible NOT to do as the Romans do?  I don’t think so, but I wonder if perhaps one shouldn’t take “il dolce far niente” too literally.  Could it be that Italians aren’t actually suggesting one strive to do “nothing” as much as it’s a manifesto for living with more intention, savoring the simple moments and allowing life’s rich experiences to sink in and permanently imprint in our memory?  If that’s the case, my day in Rome was not about nothing – it was in fact really all about something.

 

Toni DeBella divides her time between San Francisco and Orvieto, Italy and writes about the adventures on her blog, Orvieto or Bust (www.orvietoorbust.com) – a collection of stories and articles based on her experiences of Italy, travel and life in a small hill town in Umbria. 

2 March 2012

Getting married, Italian style

Guest post by Tiffany Parks

Photographs by Luca and Antonella Cappellaro www.fineartwedding.it

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Update:  This post was originally written in 2012.  As of June 2015, Tiffany and her husband Claudio are expecting their first born due this summer.

They say that difficult journeys make the destination more rewarding, and when it comes to getting married in Italy, this is doubly true. Saying “I do” in Italian is not an easy task. Oh, it’s beautiful all right, and incredibly romantic and charming, but it’s certainly not easy. Particularly if one member of the couple is not Italian.

When my Italian husband and I began planning our wedding, I had already been living in Rome for five years. I was an official resident and what with permessi di soggiorno, work visas and the unavoidable marche da bollo (tax stamps), I thought I’d seen the worst of Italian bureaucracy. I had no idea.

Turns out, Italians are terrified of bigamy. Bigamy in Italy is what terrorism is in the US: a constant threat to be prevented at all costs. And so, I lost track of the number of times I was required to swear under oath that I was not already married: at my embassy, in front of witnesses, in a signed affidavit. I even had to drag in two friends and they had to swear I’d never been married.

Then there’s the run-around. This is a brilliant Italian invention that is a great way to spend your free time (because brides-to-be have so much of that) and get to know the obscure lines of the public transport system. The run-around consists of going to one office to pick up a document, paying the fee for it at a second, filling it out at a third, signing it with witnesses at a fourth only to submit it at a fifth. Repeat ad nauseum with any number of documents.

At about this point, you start towonder why you didn’t opt to wed in the US, where couples giddily skip into the city clerk’s office two weeks prior to the big day to pick up their marriage license, prepared why they wait. One-stop wedding shopping. Instead you look over at your haggard fiancé and think to yourself, “Do I really want to marry this person? Enough to go through this hell?” And you know he’s thinking the same thing about you. But by that point, you’re in too deep. You’ve sat through Catholic marriage school and learned all about the rhythm method, the bans have been posted on the church door for the requisite two Sundays, and you’ve bought so many marche da bollo, you can forget about that down payment on an apartment. There’s no turning back now; you’re in this together.

And somehow, even though it seemed impossible, the day arrives. When you finally make it to the altar, exhausted but elated, with your partner in crime beaming at you, all the fees and hassles and lines and endless documents only make the day that much sweeter, for what you had to overcome together to get there.

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And the rest is a bonus, but what an amazing bonus! The day of our wedding the sun shone so brilliantly it seemed as if the heavens had been cracked open. Besides a few posies, the church needed no decoration. Bernini, Vasari and Sebastiano del Piombo had already taken care of that. As rice rained down on us, Rome was at our feet. It seemed that with just one leap we could land on the Palatine Hill. A walk through the narrow cobblestone alleys of Trastevere, the very first streets we walked down together, saw our first jaunt as husband and wife. Photos were snapped under festoons of drying laundry and explosions of bougainvillea that matched my scandalously pink shoes perfectly.

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Our guests were welcomed by the sinewy façade of a converted monastery by Borromini. A rich soprano voice intoned an immortal Puccini melody on a terrace with the hills of Rome in the distance. The rest was a haze of improvised brindisis, sequined dresses, scrumptious food, teary speeches, frenzied dancing and infectious laughter. The magical end of a long and at times nightmarish journey was, ironically, the beginning of an exciting new one.

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Tiffany Parks fulfilled a life-long dream by moving to Rome over seven years ago. She hails from the glorious Pacific Northwest in the US, and has also lived in Boston and Montréal where she studied classical singing and opera. She now works as both a tour guide and a travel and culture writer and is working on her first book, an art mystery for young readers. She can be found musing about the wonders of her adopted city on her blog, The Pines of Rome. www.thepinesofrome.blogspot.com

14 February 2012

Snowy Rome

photos by Alina Goroaia

We’ve been experiencing some incredible weather phenomona in Italy this past year – the most recent being the unbelievable amount of snowfall that has come down in central Italy –  Tuscany, Umbria and most surprisingly of all – Rome.  Rome hasn’t had a major snowfall in 26 years and some parts of Lazio (the region Rome is located in) haven’t seen this amount of snow in well over 50 years.  These weren’t just a few flakes, but a virtual winter wonderland which came as even more of a surprise after an unseasonably warm start to the winter seasonHere are some images captured by Beehive staff member, Alina Goroaia.  More snow is being forecast for tomorrow…..


A view of the Colosseum

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A view through the Arch of Septimus Severus in the Roman Forum

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The Roman Forum under snow

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Walking on the Lungotevere road, too icy for the sidewalk

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Along the Tiber River – Roma spelled backwards  – cute!

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Detail on the Vittorio Emanuele bridge

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These scooters aren’t going anywhere!

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Confused seagulls on the steps of St. Peter’s

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Nun and snowman in St. Peter’s square

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8 February 2012

Baking bread at The Beehive’s cafe

Guest post by Beehivereceptionist & cafe chef –  Francesca Ruffo

photos by Beehive receptionist – Alina Goroaia

Bread is one of those things which for some of us is essential – a source of nourishment and even a comfort food.  In The Beehive’s cafe we like to make our bread from scratch, by hand, using a variety of organically grown flours and seeds.

We have a wonderful book of bread recipes which Linda and Steve bought to inspire and motivate us when we first made the switch, several years ago, from buying bread at a local bakery to baking it ourselves in the cafe. These days, my colleague Gianluca and I have got it pretty much down pat, but it is still nice to take the recipe book off the shelf and consider a fresh ingredient or different method for our daily breakfast loaves.

The beautiful thing about home baked bread is that it never tastes the same way twice as it’s not possible to replicate all conditions precisely. Gianluca and I, over the years, have developed our own styles of baking our Beehive loaves. Gianluca, for instance, likes to use olive oil in his dough and loves to add seeds. He is also a big fan of no knead bread. I, on the other hand, like to knead and feel the quantity of liquid, helping to form the elasticity and precious bubbles. I prefer to mix our manitoba flour base with different flours, my favourite being spelt which gives the crust and toast a great flavour. Our bread is always vegan and we also bake gluten free bread and try to have it available when we know that there may be gluten intolerant guests staying with us.

When we first made the shift to baking our bread for the cafe we used a bread machine. Being a purist I was secretly glad when the machine died as it could not keep up with the demand we had for fresh bread.  Rather than buy another machine, we decided to start making it by hand. In general, we bake a pair of loaves at the end of each cafe shift for the next day’s breakfast, or if I am working at reception in the evening I will bake in the evening for the next morning – letting the perfume of baking bread drift through the whole Beehive!

The oven we use is a small domestic oven, about half the size of what many people have in their own homes. It is super simple and just does the job we need it to do, baking our bread and cakes without any fancy gimmicks.

We love to have the smell of freshly baking bread, chocolate cake or other goodies drifting through The Beehive. It makes our place feel homey and it gives us a chance to connect with guests and have them feel as at home, as we feel working here.

27 January 2012

Jenifer Vinson – The Beehive’s massage therapist

I strongly believe in the mind body connection and taking care of yourself physically while you are traveling is just as important as making sure you get to see all the sites and galleries in Rome that you’ve been dreaming about.  Many travelers suffer a lot physically – not only from a change in diet and the stress of air travel, but also from the practicalities of essentially carrying your temporary home with you – either literally on your back or struggling with a suitcase.  In Rome physical discomfort can be exacerbated by lugging your bags on and off trains, down cobblestone streets and in the summer – doing all this in the heat of the city.

Not many of our guests realize massage therapist and personal trainer, Jenifer Vinson, has her own little cozy space downstairs at The Beehive near our lounge.  For the past several years, Jenifer’s home for her private practice has been at The Beehive where she gives massage to our guests as well as her own permanent resident clientele.

Jenifer is an American who grew up studying ballet in her hometown of Tallahassee, Florida.  She later earned an MFA in Dance from Florida State University.  She then studied dance in New York City and received a BA in Humanites at FSU.  Jenifer is a graduate of New York’s Swedish Institute, College of Health Sciences and is a New York state-licensed Massage Therapist.

Recently, I asked Jenifer a few questions about her personal history with massage as well as her life in Rome.

How did you become interested in doing massage?    Being the one dancer in a family of three talented (but less flexibile) tennis players must have pricked my interest in loosening up others.  My teenage brother would ask for help executing a rather jarring abdominal exercise where I’d hurl his legs towards the floor (forcing him to catch his heavy legs with his ab strength).  I was always trying to get him to slow down and stretch his super tights legs.  Around fellow dancers in college  — folks who already stretched — I’d massage their shoulders and feet while we chatted after classes and rehearsals.    A fantastic massage therapist in Tallahassee was helping me with the excess tension in my back at that time,  and it felt natural to do the same for others.  I guess you could say I slid effortlessly into the role of caretaker and teacher.  By the time I started the Swedish Institute’s massage program I was quite used to massaging friends, and I’d been teaching dance and exercise for many years.

Any suggestions for how travelers can avoid back or neck trouble?     Yes!  Only pick up children or bags with a straight back and bent legs.  Brace your suitcase against your legs when going up stairs.  Stay balanced – frequently switching your rolling suitcase from left to right so you’re not holding the same twist for too long.  If carrying bags on your shoulders, try to balance your load.  On the airplane, get up frequently during your flight and make gentle circular movements with your ankles, shoulders and neck, both for your comfort during the flight and so you don’t hurt yourself taking your suitcase from the overhead compartment.

What would you say to someone who thinks it’s too indulgent to get a massage while they’re traveling on a budget?   Oh it’s maintenance, not indulgence:)  Your legs have never before stood on so many marble surfaces!  Pinch pennies instead by refilling your water bottle for free from Rome’s excellent fountains (the “nasone“) and by eating sandwiches or pizza picnic style or at the local tavola calda rather than having every meal at a sit-down restaurant.

 

How long have you lived here and what brought you to Rome?   I first came here in 1999 to live with my boyfriend (who’s now my friend, ex-husband and occasional client).

 

What are some of your favorites in Rome – places to go, things to do, restaurants?  I love the walk up Salita di Grillo in a part of the Monti neighborhood that’s uphill from Trajan’s Forum, and the walking up the Campidoglio stairs at night (then taking the less conspicuous stairs to the left down to Via Fori Imperiali.)  When I meet friends out we enjoy the older wine bars in the Monti neighborhood or other parts of the historic center.

Plans for the future?   I still need to see Sicily and Sardegna, and then a year or at least a summer working  in Berlin interests me.  I want to see Holland and Ireland as well…….and the parts of France I haven’t seen, but I’ll never move there as I can’t approximate those tricky vowel sounds.

 

Jenifer can be found at The Beehive, via Marghera, 8, by appointment, just ask at our reception or call 0644704553.

Her rate for an hour massage is €45 and Beehive guests receive a special rate of €35. 

She can also be reached directly at 3395399550 or jenifer_vinson@hotmail.com

11 January 2012

Getting to The Beehive from Fiumicino Airport by train – step by step

Updated 31 March 2017

The Beehive is conveniently located to Termini train station, but we often forget that many of our guests don’t have any idea just how close.  In addition, visitors unfamiliar with the area or train travel in general may find using the train and the arrival a bit intimidating – Termini is a large, loud and chaotic mess even for those of us who are used to it.

Several summers ago, my then 11 year old daughter, Giulia, showed how painless it can be to take the train in the opposite direction – from Termini to the airport, and essentially, you just need to do it in reverse to get to The Beehive.  In this post, I hope to show you how fairly straightforward it is to get from Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) airport to Rome’s Termini train station on the Leonardo Express airport train to a friendly face at The Beehive.  (Arrivals from Ciampino airport will be another post).

The first direct train from FCO to Termini leaves at 06:23am and leaves every :08 :23 :38 and :53 minutes past the hour.  The last train to Termini is at 23:23/11:23pm.

From the baggage claim at Fiumicino you want to follow the signs to the trains. To trains sign at FCO

It takes about a 10-15 minute walk (depending on your baggage situation and walking pace), and several escalator rides to get you to the train departure point.  When you arrive, you’ll have several options to purchasing a ticket – ticket offices, tobacco shop or self-service machines.  My suggestion would be to use the self-service machines.

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The machines are multi-lingual, quick and easy to use, you don’t pay an additional service charge like you do at the ticket offices and you usually don’t have to wait or wait very long to use one.  It accepts credit cards (with chip and with PIN) as well as cash in euro.  The price is €14 each for a one way ticket.  IMPORTANT:  Please remember to stamp your ticket at these green and white ticket validation machines before boarding the train.  They do control tickets on the train and you will be fined €50 if it’s not stamped.

The journey from Fiumicino to Rome’s central train station Termini takes 30 minutes.  The train USUALLY arrives at Platform 24 if you are lucky which is close to the main gallery, but sometimes it does disembark at Platform VERY FAR AWAY so note that this can change at the whims of Trenitalia.  If you are at the far away platforms, please note you’ll need to walk for about 10 minutes or so to the main gallery.  Do not take stairs or escalators leading down to the basement.

If you are lucky and get off at Platform 24, you’ll see this sign for the binario (track) number 24 and a slight ramp which leads you into the arrival/departure hall.

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You want to continue going straight – passing the hall and into the main gallery which is full of advertising and many shops.

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The station has 3 main entrances/exits, and with the train tracks behind you, take the exit to your right which is the furthest exit from Platform 24.  So walk confidently towards that exit – you’ll pass many tempting little shops which continuously change, but in either case you might be inclined to have a little break on your way to The Beehive.

***IMPORTANT: Unfortunately, pickpockets heavily target Termini train station.  It is VERY IMPORTANT that you keep an eye on your belongings and do not allow anyone to help you with your luggage or if you are alone – to try to distract you from your belongings by offering to help you while another team member opens up your purse or backpack.  Ladies, please do not have totes (unless they are zippered) or other open bags with you in Rome.***

When you arrive at the large open exit – across the street you’ll see on the left corner a book shop called Don Bosco and on the right corner Bar Trombetta.  IMG_7436

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With the station exit behind you, continue walking straight ahead on the Don Bosco side of the street.  This is our street – via Marghera.  You can see the street name on the Don Bosco building.

The walk is only 2 blocks, about 5 minutes from this exit.

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This is the view of Termini from in front of our door.  As you can see, we are very close to the station.

It’s a non-eventful walk and soon you will arrive to this corner where there is large yellow building with a yellow wall.  Behind that yellow wall with the trees and vines is The Beehive – you are almost there!

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Cross the street and soon afterward, you’ll notice on your left a silver door, our sign and the #8.  Please do keep in mind that numbers across the street do NOT match with the numbers on our side of the street.

Press the buzzer on the wall to your right, soon you’ll hear a click – push open the door and there in front of you are our colorful wooden fish and our Welcome sign.

Up a couple of steps and through the door and you’ll be cheerfully greeted by our manager Yuli (pictured here) or one of our other friendly faces – Francesca or Steve.

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After you’ve done it one time, you’ll see how easy it is to get from the station to The Beehive, your home away from home in Rome.

6 January 2012
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