Rome’s Hidden Museums with Context Travel


In the center of Rome alone there are over 100 museums.  They range from the most visited (Vatican Museums ) to the oldest (Capitoline Museums ) to another that many people consider has one of the most exceptional collections of art under one roof. ( Galleria Borghese )

While these museums are definitely worthwhile to visit, the last time I visited the Vatican Museums in 1995 I was so overwhelmed by the hot, sticky crush of humanity that all these years later I’m still in shock over it and have never gone back. Granted, I should probably give it another try, but for now, I’ve got other fish to fry.


There’s something I like about those places that are off the radar and that are not so well known and less well known means less people which is a huge plus for me.  Context Travel’s tours in the public interest offers the perfect opportunity to explore those unnoticed gems in Rome and they started their season with a “Hidden Museums” series.  The series features tours of four museums that are often overlooked and yet full of important and interesting works of art, free of the masses and yet in an easily doable and digestible 1.5 hours.

Their first featured museum was the Centrale Montemartini.  “Gods & Machines” was the perfect title of the first exhibit that took place here at this former power plant turned museum space when it was restored back in the 90’s. Many ancient Roman sculptures from the Capitoline Museums found a home here.


The pieces here are beautiful and the contrast between the industrial and the classical in this art nouveau style building is striking.  There were only a handful of other visitors when we were there and yet so surprising considering what an exceptional and very unusual space it is.

The second tour was of the Museo di Roma in the Palazzo Braschi (the first photo in this post is of the grand staircase).  Palazzo Braschi looks out onto Piazza Navona and was the last papal building in Rome constructed in the late 1700’s and giving it the nickname “the last miracle of St. Peter.”  The museum is full of very detailed paintings of a Rome long since gone and it was fun trying to guess which part of Rome we were looking at before reading the title of the painting.  An unusual touch is the classical music played in the grand staircase leading up to the different floors.

Context’s next Hidden Museums tours will be of Palazzo Venezia in Piazza Venezia on 27 May and the Museum of the Middle Ages in the EUR neighborhood on 24 June.  Tours must be booked on-line and are only €5.  Tours start at 5pm and last 90 minutes.


Climbing a terracotta mountain in Rome

I lived in Panama as a child and I was a bit of a wildish creature.  I spent 6 years barefoot and most of my waking hours were spent without walls – the worst punishment I could receive from my mother was being made to stay inside for the day.  One of the highlights of our neighborhood was a hill that my friends and I dubbed “Clay Hill”.  We played on it a lot and in the rainy season that hill became a slippery, red, muddy mess, but as children do – we were oblivious and we played on despite the mud and the wet.


Unbeknownst to many, Rome has its own “clay hill”.  Monte Testaccio is not really a mountain, but a huge hill made up of the shards and fragments of amphorae dating back to the 1st century BC.  Amphorae were terracotta pots used to carry a variety of products and the ones to carry olive oil were not reusable so they were discarded after use.  These discarded pots are what formed Monte Testaccio.  Estimates of  how many amphorae were deposited on here range from 20-50 million.  I’ve always been curious about this hill and it was great to explore it recently with Katie Parla of Parla Food.

Before the walk up, Katie showed us a bit around the part of the Testaccio neighborhood just surrounding the bottom of the hill.  We stopped by Testaccio’s food market which was moved to its present location in 2011 and which is overlooked by a mural of “La Lupa” – a 20 meter tall depiction of the Capitoline She-Wolf by Belgian street artist, ROA, that was commissioned by the residents of the building.

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During the walk we observed the beginning stages of the dismantling of the Big Bambù installation by artists Mike & Doug Starn at the MACRO Testaccio which had been a beloved part of the Testaccio landscape for the past 3 years.  The MACRO Testaccio is located in what were the former city slaughterhouses.

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From the grounds of the MACRO and the Città del Altra Economia – a fair trade complex also located here – Monte Testaccio from the distance looks like an ordinary green hill. However, its uniqueness is more apparent the closer you get as you can see from this path leading up the hill.


At the top of Monte Testaccio is an iron cross.  For years, the summit served as the final stage of the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) for the Pope during the Good Friday celebrations which now take place at the Colosseum.  Some of the views from Monte Testaccio look out into the area of early industrial Rome in the Ostiense neighborhood and the Gazometro structure that was built in the early 1900’s – now no longer in use.

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On another side of the hill Katie pointed out the birthplace of the football team, AS Roma, the pitch where the team had its first games back in 1929, abandoned in the 40’s and turned into an illegal dumping ground.  Still standing are 4 lights surrounding the pitch and some stadium seating.  You can see the top of the Pyramid of Cestius – Rome’s own pyramid –  in the background.

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As we walked back down the hill what came to mind was “where the hell else in the world could I do something like this?!?”  Rome truly never ceases to amaze me!

Katie’s next visit of Monte Testaccio will be on Rome’s 2,768th birthday on 21 April.

Be sure to visit one of my favorite restaurants in Rome, Flavio al Velavevodetto, built into Monte Testaccio. 

Pasta making for everyone!

I’ll come straight out with it – I hate to cook.  I do it when I have to, but I do it begrudgingly.  In Italy, where it is very easy to head to the local fresh pasta shop, learning how to make my own pasta has never seemed essential.   I’ve also been spoiled by great food made by my husband, Steve, who is an excellent cook. However, in one of those “you can give a man a fish or you can teach a man to fish” moments – I thought it would be a fun evening spent with friends learning how to make this classic Italian food staple.

We often get guests at The Beehive wanting to take a cooking course, but nothing too rigorous.  Walks of Italy’s pasta making course is a great option for someone wanting a short, easygoing class while still learning a delicious and handy skill.

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The course is located on the beautiful rooftop terrace apartment of Chef David Sgueglia della Marra and his wife Barbara. Chef David welcomed everyone warmly and despite his leg being in a brace from a recent surgical procedure,  he still had loads of energy and enthusiasm.  Pre-pasta making started with prosecco and delicious appetizers.  My kind of cooking class!

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Donning our aprons, our stations were already set up – ingredients were laid out and pre-measured.  He told us the portions so we would know for the future and showed us how to mix the two main ingredients.  While there is pasta made with egg, we made the lightest and easiest kind which consists of only two ingredients.  It all starts with a little bit of flour and a little bit of water.

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After we mixed and lightly kneaded our dough – it was wrapped in plastic and set aside for about 15 minutes which allowed us to have a second round of prosecco.

When the dough was ready, Chef David showed us how to use the wooden rolling pin to initially roll out the pasta and then using a hand cranked pasta machine – we rolled the pasta out another 3-4 times until it was quite long and thin.

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With a knife we cut off pieces and rolled between our hands.  Here’s the result – our handmade pici pasta – Marchigiano style.

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The sauce he chose was deceptively simple – olive oil, garlic, zucchini flowers, sausage and saffron which the pici pasta was then mixed into.  In a smaller pan, Chef David’s wife Barbara made a vegetarian version for me without sausage.  It was absolutely delicious!

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Afterward, we ate our pasta which was incredibly light and flavorful and enjoyed some glasses of wine and camaraderie with our fellow students.  The weather was a bit cold to sit out on the terrace, but I can imagine in the spring and summer what a lovely evening it would be to enjoy the fruits of our labor al fresco.

For more information on this pasta making course with Chef David, contact Walks of Italy.

23 March 2015

Yoga near The Beehive

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By Steve Brenner

Visiting the major sights of Rome doesn’t leave loads of spare time – there’s certainly plenty to see to keep your days full, so perhaps taking some time out for a yoga class won’t seem like time particularly well spent.  However, Rome is also very hectic and can be stressful, and if you’re traveling around with a big heavy backpack, or just spent 10+ hours on a long flight, a great way to shed all that is with a good yoga session.

I’m not a yoga fanatic at all – sometimes I consider my “practice” to be rolling out my mat, sitting down on it, petting my dog a bit and then rolling it back up.  But I do appreciate a good class, and they can be hard to find.  That said, I once flew into Paris and took a taxi straight to a yoga class and felt it was an excellent way to start my trip.

So, unless you’re a hardcore yogi and travel with a mat and want to do your asanas in our garden, here’s my recommendation of where to go near The Beehive.

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RYoga is 10 minutes away by foot from The Beehive.  They have a calendar of classes that run regularly.  You can just drop in without any fuss (just make sure you’re not late – in decidedly un-Roman fashion, they are sticklers about that).  At the time of writing this, drop in rate for a 1 1/2 hour class is €20.

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They have a nice changing room with lockers, mats and all the gear you’ll need.  The class I do, a Vinyasa Flow, is conducted downstairs in a small, cozy room.  The quality of the instruction is good, and although I haven’t tested whether the teachers speak English, I’ve heard them ask other students if they speak Italian.  Since classes are small, I assume it would be easy even with a language barrier for a teacher to give more personal instruction.

Via Servio Tullio, 22, 00187 Roma, Italy

9 December 2014

My favorite sandwich shop near The Beehive

By Steve Brenner
For your typical Italian, a sandwich looks something like this:  a dry roll (called a rosetta) with one thing in it – like mortadella.
For variety, it might be prosciutto or salami instead of mortadella.  Maybe it could have a second filler – like a piece of cheese.  Or it might be in a focaccia or ciabatta instead of the rosetta.  But the defining characteristic about sandwiches here is that they are so simple that it can be hard to consider it a sandwich as I know them.  There’s no choice of mustard or mayo (which for the record, I am anti-mayo so this is not a hardship for me), and you won’t find cucumber or sprouts or hummus or any other delicious spreads either.  To sum up, sandwiches can be a big disappointment if you’re not Italian.
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However, near The Beehive, about a 5 minute walk away, there’s a large, daily outdoor market and on the corner before the market is an old-school alimentari (deli) called Fratelli Ghezzi.  Around lunchtime, they get packed with suited Italians from nearby offices who are in the know about this place.  Because here at Fratelli Ghezzi, they have a variety of bread (rolls with green olives, or sesame seeds, or dark crusty slices), and they will make your sandwich to order.  They have rucola, fresh mozzarella from the Campania region, sun dried tomatoes, a great selection of cheeses and I’ve seen Italians here go “totally crazy” and put as many as 3 ingredients in their sandwich – like salmon, rucola and pecorino, or mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes and prosciutto crude.
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Every ingredient you get is weighed out and added to the cost, so there’s no way to know what your sandwich will cost, but mine are usually around €3.50, maybe even €4.  Not bad for a sandwich freshly made and with top notch ingredients.  The staff is friendly, the service is quick and they will even suggest different combinations for you.
Fratelli Ghezzi 
Via Goito 32 (on the corner of Via Montebello

7 November 2014
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