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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 small 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!
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.
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.
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.