First Time On Surviving In Italy?

Your First Time Here? STOP. This is not a traditional travel blog. If you’re offended easily or struggle with sarcasm or irony you should skip my website and watch this instead. Also, I swear ALL THE TIME and ramble on about the capybara. You still there? Winning! I’ve Put Together Some Of My Most Popular Posts For You To Start With:

LIFE IN ITALY

21 Ways To Survive Being An Expat 

Why Everyone Should Live In Italy At Least Once In Their Lives

Christmas In Italy 2013: The Time The Blowdryer Ate My Mother-In-Law’s Head

13 Things That I’ve Learned From Marrying An Italian Man

17 Signs That Italy Might Make You Crazy Or Homicidal

Italian The Hard Way

10 Reasons That I’m Surprised That Someone Married M.E.

In My Husband’s Family, Leaving The Table Is Like Announcing You’ve Eaten A Child 

TRAVEL ITALY

7 Best Things To Prepare You For Italy

Dining In Italy: How To Avoid Making An Ass Of Yourself

Rome With Rick Zullo

Travel Bologna With Sarah Dowling

5 Steps To A Non-Conventional Night In Florence

A Weekend In Chianti

Vacation Apartments In Florence: How To Overcome Writer’s Block (Or Just Hang Out).

Travel To Saint Vincent, Italy, For Poker, Hot Springs And A Hot Time

MOVING TO ITALY

Moving To Italy: Studying And Living 

Frequently Asked Questions: Jobs, Immigration, Circumcision, Love

31 Reasons You Would Be Better Off In Italy

How To Move To Italy

 

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Sarah Goes to Siena: Episode I: The Perils of Packing

HELLO ALL! This total badass Sarah contacted me a few months ago via email. Sarah is moving to Siena for school and asked if I’d be interested in sharing her journey with all of you awesome readers. My answer: Hell yes. And? She’s a great writer to boot. This series will follow her from her voyage from the US to Italy and her experience as a student in Siena. I’m REALLY excited for this series because who doesn’t want to follow someone’s new and amazing journey into newness? Plus, all of you who live in Italy or made the same journey know that it’s bound to be hilarious and super fun. Stay tuned every two weeks for a new installment of Sarah’s journey. Enjoy!

THE PERILS OF PACKING 

Packing is probably the least glamorous part of travel. While browsing all the beautiful travel sites out there, the process seems so simple: lay out all these pretty clothing items, take cute Instagram pics of you doing this, then magically all of it fits perfectly in your bag. You forget nothing, and then boom you’re on your way and you have everything you need and you dance through fields with butterflies and small adorable animals.

For anyone who is not a travel magician who writes about these things for a living or anyone, who like me, is fondly referred to by friends as “a mess,” the packing process is slightly more complex. Luckily I have packed for trips to Italy a few times now and done my reading and learned lots things.

As I mentioned earlier I am a complete mess, this means that often times my suitcase also becomes one big hot mess. This leads to sad things like obscenely wrinkled clothes, misplaced underwear, and a mingling of dirty clothes and clean clothes. To remedy my messiness, this time I am going to try using packing cubes to organize my clothing and other various items. These help to prevent messiness on long trips by compartmentalizing your stuff so that you just have to flip through bags instead of taking all of your clothing items out and having to refold them and put them back in. Also you know where everything is (ideally) and that is a win in itself.

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Packing cubes, hopefully the best organizing tool yet

What exactly you are going to pack is also kind of important. For the most part, despite what a lot of places want you to believe, what you pack really depends on you. This means that you can make packing into an introspective journey and ask yourself “What do I need in my bag?” or you could just know that flats hurt your feet and that maybe you shouldn’t pack those as your intended walking shoe. On that a few things that you should definitely bring regardless of the length of your trip or who you are and what you need, you should definitely bring: walking shoes because cobblestones want to kill you and your feet, a shirt that covers your shoulders so that you can visit cool old churches without being confused when an old Italian man runs up to you and starts making weird gestures and speaking rapidly in Italian in an attempt to communicate that you need to cover your shoulders with a scarf, SUNGLASSES because it suns everyday, also on that note bring sunscreen too especially if you are pale like my poor ginger self.

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My adorable cat Luna helping me pack by wrinkling all of my clothes with kitty love

Blending in is also something people are often concerned with when packing to visit Italy. I personally like blending in because then you are more likely to get shopkeepers to speak to you in Italian so you can practice and you get a more interesting experience, also most importantly you are less likely to be targeted by scams and pickpockets. Personally I have a decent amount of trouble with blending in because I am a ginger. There just aren’t many gingers in Italy. I usually try to keep count of how many Italian gingers I see. After traveling all over the country for two weeks multiple times the highest my count has ever gotten is about twenty five. However for those who have a slightly less red and freckled coloring, wearing solid colors more on the neutral sides of life (black, white, grey, denim, etc) and being dressed on the nicer side will usually do the trick. Personally I think what’s more important is your attitude. If you look confident even if you are not sure of yourself at that moment you are less things will work out much more smoothly. This is really important because although style can be generalized and mimicked if you have a confident attitude you will fit in much better regardless of what you are wearing.  However I still would not recommend wearing neon under armor shorts and a matching sweatshirt and confidently yelling “WHERE CAN I FIND A HAMBURGER AROUND HERE?” if you want to blend in in Italy.

Packing a carry-on is probably my preferred form of chaos as I feel like I am close to reaching the point of perfection in this area. My carry on also holds some of the most important things for my trip that I absolutely cannot forget. For instance bringing at least three to four days worth of your prescription medications with you or bring it all because if you get delayed, or they lose your bag for a little while you want to have that with you. Some more basics that should not be forgotten, glasses/contact case/solution, phone charger, outlet converter, any important electronics that you don’t want to be broken, some form of entertainment, and whatever you need to sleep, be it ear plugs, a neck pillow, medication, etc.

Also something I would recommend is if you bring a reusable water bottle on a plane most of the time the flight attendant will fill it up for you so you have a nice bottle of water at your seat instead of a little cup that will spill. Be smart and pack one that you know doesn’t leak so that unlike me you will feel clever and actually be clever instead of feeling clever and then discovering that your whole carry-on is soaking wet by the end of your journey.

One more, quick note about carry-ons and important things to bring, first off bring your passport, secondly chose a designated and secure spot in which to keep it the entirety of your travels. If you have a specific pocket where you put it and make sure you put it back there any time you have to take it out for security and customs it will save you a lot of stress. My friend was once yelled at by German airport security when he misplaced his passport in his bag and held up the customs line searching for it.

I am currently down to two days to pack for my upcoming two-month trip. As I am an anxious packer I have already had my packing nightmare for this trip. This time I dreamed that I arrived at the airport without a suitcase, which was completely terrifying. However now I feel like as long as I do better than that it will be a successful pack.

I look forward to updating you all on the failures and successes of my current packing plan in the near future! Ciao a tutti!

About the Author:

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Sarah is a college student with a minor Italian obsession. She is spending the summer studying Italian language and other interesting things in Siena. She loves cats, old things, pizza, and sarcasm. You can learn more about her crazy self and antics on her Instagram. (@gingersarahb)

 

Children In Italy vs The US


As you guys know, Francesco and I don’t have kids of our own yet. (Or of someone else’s. We haven’t stolen them, either). Mostly because pregnancy scares me, almost as much as squeezing a giant creature out of my vagina. If you ask me, birth and childrearing do not even remotely invoke the fear they deserve. Aside from the coin-toss that is pregnancy, will I be deathly ill, or feel like a goddamn queen, there’s the whole “ouch my vagina,” birth and the “I hope I don’t die,” birth. If all of that isn’t scary or weird enough, there’s that whole commitment thing. Once you birth the baby, is it healthy? Is it not? And if it IS healthy, is it an asshole? Will this kid grow up to volunteer at homeless shelters or will it be banned from school zones? Am I raising a Dolly Parton or a Donald Trump?

I think about this a lot. Probably too much. Also because there is a whole additional layer of having children for me. I’ll have mixed babies, Italian, American, Persian, and they’ll grow up multiculturally between Italy and the US (I grew up in a multicultural family, so yay, that’s fun). I spend a lot of time analyzing other people with kids and observing cultural differences between the American kids I know and the Italian ones. I both like, and loathe, elements of both cultures. And with my in-laws in town (sister in law, her husband, and their kids) it only seems to be appropriate to chat about some of these differences. I’ll be generalizing, of course, so try not to implode.

1. Risk.


American kids are raised to take more risks. We grow up playing in the dirt, finding insects, riding bikes, rolling around on the floor with a 100 pound dog, river tubing, and, in the west, a ton of camping and hiking among wild animals. 

Pros: Americans kids are bold and daring. They’re not afraid to take chances and later in life that risk-taking behavior is great for their career. They’re not scared to put themselves out there, try new things, or start a business.

Cons: Americans can be really fucking stupid teenagers or when they’re college age because they aren’t afraid of taking risks. This is bad when you have some independence and haven’t emotionally developed. They’re seriously, embarrasingly, dumb.

The Italian kids I know are seriously discouraged from risks of any kind. No going barefoot on grass, in a river, no rolling around with dogs, no running around the forest and inspecting bugs. Being reckless or getting dirty are usually punished harshly. Sometimes to a super crazy extent i.e., sweating is even discouraged for fear of illness.


Pros: Teenagers take less risks. You don’t see teenage Italians being nearly as reckless as teenage Americans.

Cons: Italians take much less risk as adults in terms of career and business. Also, being afraid of even the smallest risk can be incredibly boring. Let’s be honest.

2. Independence

Americans pride themselves on independence. We have babies and are like “okay, grow up now baby.” My mom basically had me and then I had to chew through my own umbilical cord and then make my own bottle after I killed another baby with my bare hands for its onsie. Jokes. But, truly, I was expected to dress myself by two, by five I could easily help my mom a bit with chores, and by nine I made my own lunches and watched my younger siblings.

The pros: American kids are really mature and capable. That independence carries into adulthood and allows kids to feel safe and confident on their own.

The cons: We tend to only think about ourselves. In developing independence we don’t develop interdependence and we give very small fucks about our family a lot of the time.

From my experience, Italian children are not allowed any form of independence at all until much, much later. I’ve seen plenty of Italian 9-year-olds in strollers and I’ve seen people still dress their 7 year olds. 

The pros: Very interdependent and family oriented which is great. They rely heavily on mom, and family, and they freely give back to the family, too.

The cons: That heavy reliance on the mom can be really difficult on the mother who, generally, works full time, does all of the housework, all of the cooking, AND most of the parenting. Plus, it can carry well into adulthood and become a Mammoni situation where at 30, they still can’t take care of themselves at all.

3. Diversity


The United States is a multicultural country. Kids are used to other people being different from them, they’re used to different kinds of food, the idea that people might be of different ethnic groups, religions, etc. I am NOT making the argument that in the US people are less racist, but that children are used to differences on some level, even kids who grow up in hillbilly cities. Most of the kids that I know are from really diverse families. Like me!

Pros: Kids grow up with the idea that people are different from themselves and it’s okay.

Cons: Can’t think of one

Italy is not a multicultural country. It’s very homogenous with most of the population being Italian, catholic, etc.


Pros: Everyone is the same! Yay! All of your friends did communion, there is a strong sense of tradition, and everyone loves pasta! It’s fun to sit around and talk about sameness. I’m not even being sarcastic here, it’s actually cute to watch F sit around with friends while all of them talk about their identical upbringings. It reminds me of like black and white t.v. shows in the fifties.

Cons: Differences are not widely understood or even accepted among children. The smaller the city, the more, “Yee-haw everything that isn’t like me is bad.”  My niece uses me for show-and-tell. Like, “hey look guys! My aunt is a FREAK. Listen to her speak in tongues. Also, she eats food that isn’t pasta and it’s DISGUSTING, probably.”

4. Discipline

The Americans that I know all discipline more or less the same way. Quietly, with crazy mean glares, and long term guilt and disappointment. Whether or not you choose to spank goes about 50/50, but regardless, the above is pretty much across the board. If you’re at a restaurant and your kid is being an asshole, an American will often try either 1) reasoning 2) glaring or giving a “you’re dead to me,” staredown or 3) will remove the child to either talk with it or beat the crap out of it. My mom used to take me to the bathroom to spank me before returning me to the table. In any given restaurant you’ll see American parents quietly glaring at their children who are expected to silently sit at the table for any given duration if they’re older than 1.

Pro: Kids are less irritating as shit in public.

Cons: I’m not sure if it’s fair to make kids act like adults. I don’t have kids so I have no idea but I remember being a kid and it was super boring and kind of torturous.

I’ve seen Italian parents scream shamelessly at their children for the entire restaurant to hear. The parents screaming can often be louder than any noise the child could have possibly made. Also, Italian children are not expected to be silent because Italians accept, usually, that children are children and should not be held to the same standards as adults. If you’re in the south, you’ll also see parents hitting children in public along with screaming at them. I haven’t seen that in the US since the 80’s. In Florence and the north, I’ve never seen anyone publically hit a child or yell at them. The kids are just kind of doing whatever.

Pro: The whole restaurant can join in on the fun of publically shaming a child. Kids are really resilient to screaming and to discipline in general. Italians are pretty difficult to embarrass. I like that.

Con: People like me who enjoy quiet have to listen to people scream at their children in public. Also, the kids will sometimes come to your table, dump your salt all over it, then leave. And the mom will be all like, “I’m sorry, he’s a child,” and I’m like, “FUCK YOUR CHILD.” But I only say it in my head.

5. Appearance

Americans often give zero shits about what their kids look like. I have wealthy friends whose children look like Mogely from the Jungle Book.

Pro: When appearance isn’t a huge deal the kids might grow up to be less superficial.

Cons: Your kid looks homeless and smells like pee, dudes.

Italian parents care obsessively about their child’s appearance. Children dress like they’ve just walked out of a goddamn catalog and it’s pretty adorable.

Pro: It’s fucking adorable. And, when they grow up they dress well. I really like that my husband doesn’t wear basketball shorts and tank tops as outfits. He looks nice all the time, and eye candy is awesome.

Cons: Even toddlers are superficial as fuck. You’ll here three-year-olds criticizing people’s weight, what they’re wearing, and just being judgy as shit. “She looks hideous, she should wear this,” sounds terrible coming from a child. Or anyone. It’s just mean.

7. Nudity

Americans are puritan. The very idea of nudity seems to send our entire country into a rabid frenzy. Even when it comes to children. We demand that children “cover themselves,” as if they’re adults. Little girls, oddly, cover their imaginary boobies at the beach. It’s weird for little girls to wear bikini tops at the beach. She’s two, dudes, she doesn’t have boobs yet. And if she does, get her ass to the doctor asap because she is obese as shit.


Pro: Not sure.

Con: Sexualizing children by expecting them to cover their bodies the same way we do adults.  What exactly are they hiding? People get weird about 1-year-old babies here. “QUICK! AAAAH! HIDE IT’S BABY BUM.” Also, body shaming. Really, why is it such a big deal for children to “hide,” their bodies? And, in my opinion, even demanding adults to cover up to the extent we do is weird. I mean, you can find nude beaches all over Europe and nude parks in Germany and NOBODY IMPLODES. It’s just boobs and balls, guys. And don’t even get me started on breastfeeding. Boobs are made for babies, guys. You will not die from seeing a boob. YOU WILL NOT. Sure, I don’t want to be grocery shopping next to some guys free swinging dong, but we also take it waaaay too far in the U.S. I mean, peeing on the side of a road can land you on the sex offender list here. As if raping a woman and pissing are even remotely similar offenses. Stop being crazy.

Italians are pretty modest in how they dress. Much more modest than we are in the U.S. in a lot of ways, however, nudity is not a big deal. At all. When you go to the beach you’ll see naked children all over the place and rarely does anybody put a top on a little girl until she hits puberty and actually has something to cover up. Even then, you’ll see women go topless on occasion because they don’t want to fuck up their tan with shitty lines. And women will take a boob out any time to feed a hungry infant (cause that’s what boobs are for). It’s totally not a thing.


Pro: Nudity isn’t a shocking horror for the population. Kids aren’t ashamed of their bodies and they seem to fully understand that they’re children, therefore innocent, therefore not required to wear clothes in the same way adults are. Infants can get fed without a suffocating towel over their tiny faces, or the smell of some old lady’s ass wafting into their tiny nostrils from a  bathroom stall next door.

Cons: No idea. Seems kind of awesome to me.

 

 

An Alternative Guide To Rome: Going Off The Beaten Path

You don’t want to be one of those tourists – paying €10 for a pizza in a restaurant near the Trevi Fountain, and ordering off a menu that comes in six languages. Pizza is great, but it shouldn’t cost €10. The Trevi Fountain is great too, but there’s so much more to see – fascinating Roman ruins and underrated art galleries that attract a fraction of the visitors they deserve. It’s easy to avoid the crowds in Rome, and if you go off the beaten path, you’ll get to see some of the most interesting parts of Rome, while paying less, eating more authentic food, and mingling with the locals. 
I’m not an expert, but I’ve experienced Rome as both a tourist and an expat, having lived here for nearly three years. The advice below is the same advice I would give to any friend that came to visit me in Rome, especially if they were planning a more unconventional holiday. The people who think they’ve “done Rome” because they’ve seen the usual sights (the Colosseum and the Vatican) have no idea what they’re missing… 

Roman History 

Everyone knows about the Colosseum. Everyone knows about the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. But you probably don’t know about the House of Augustus, which remains one of the ancient city’s best-kept secrets, mainly because it’s not open to the public. This villa on the Palatine was the private residence of the emperor Augustus and his wife Livia. I recently went on a guided tour of the House of Augustus with Through Eternity (disclaimer: I also work for the company), and felt quite smug as I was whisked past the tourists in the Palatine, and guided into the labyrinthine ruins of the emperor’s house. There are stunning, brightly coloured frescoes everywhere, depicting theatrical masks, magical architecture and mythological scenes; the vivid frescoes in Augustus’s study are some of the most beautiful paintings I’ve ever seen. Visiting the House of Augustus is a rare opportunity to see well-preserved Roman art in its original context, rather than a museum or art gallery, and there’s something rather special about standing in the bedroom of an emperor. 


A very different imperial residence is occasionally open to the public. The Domus Aurea, Nero’s pleasure palace, was famous for its luxury, and infamous for the decadent parties that once took place there. At banquets petals fell from the ceiling, allegedly suffocating one unlucky diner. After Nero’s death, subsequent rulers tried to pretend the Domus Aurea had never existed – Vespasian covered up the lake by building the Colosseum – but large parts of the palace have survived. The Domus Aurea was rediscovered in the 15th century when a man tripped, fell in a hole, and found himself in the vast, frescoed rooms of Nero’s palace. Although some of the artwork has been badly damaged over time, a visit to the Domus Aurea these days is still an atmospheric experience. When it’s not closed for restoration work, you can book a guided tour of the Domus Aurea, and wear a safety helmet that makes you feel like an adventurer (or at least an archaeologist) for the afternoon. 

The Baths of Caracalla are some of the most impressive ruins in Rome, but most tourists probably aren’t even aware of their existence. A walk past some uninspiring office buildings belonging to the UN leads you to the unexpected sight of some towering Roman ruins – the remains of enormous baths built in the 2nd century. Although the Baths of Caracalla have appeared in films – La Dolce Vita and La Grande Bellezza – and are famous for the opera productions that take place in the ruins every summer, they still remain something of an undiscovered secret for the majority of tourists. 


A lot of the most interesting Roman history is buried underground. Whenever you go in a church, see if there’s a subterranean section you can explore. The most amazing church in Rome is undoubtedly San Clemente, which sits on top of a labyrinth of ruins (underground churches, medieval frescoes, a mithraeum and even a river). Santi Giovanni e Paolo was built on top of some beautifully decorated Roman houses, while San Nicola in Carcere cleverly incorporates the architecture of three Roman pagan temples. Join Roma Sotterranea for special visits to more obscure underground sites, which are usually closed to the public.

Museums and Art Galleries 

In addition to Rome’s most famous museums (such as the Vatican Museums and the Capitoline Museums), there are countless smaller museums that are criminally underrated. I’m always amazed by the lack of crowds at Palazzo Massimo. Despite a central location and a priceless collection of Roman statues, mosaics and frescoes (including the stunning garden frescoes of the Villa of Livia), no one seems to go there. 

Centrale Montemartini is similarly overlooked. A power plant on Via Ostiense serves as the extension for the Capitoline Museum’s Greek and Roman sculpture collection, and in this unusual museum you’ll find marble gods juxtaposed with heavy machinery. For more Roman statues in a more traditional setting, visit the 16th century Palazzo Altemps. It’s a shame that the tourists flooding into nearby Piazza Navona are unaware that the museum houses an impressive collection in beautiful surroundings. A highlight is the 3rd Ludovisi Sarcophagus, which vividly depicts a violent battle between Romans and barbarians. 


Villa Giulia, the National Etruscan Museum, is one of the best museums in Rome. It’s a little bit off the beaten path, as it’s nowhere near a metro station, but you can take a pleasant stroll through the gardens of the Villa Borghese to reach it, enjoying the sensation of leaving the city behind. The museum has a vast collection of Etruscan art and artefacts, which offers a fascinating insight into the mysterious lives of the Etruscans, a pre-Roman civilization. 

Lovers of Renaissance art should head to Palazzo Barberini, which has paintings by Raphael, Tintoretto, Titian and Bronzino, to name just a few. Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes is one of the highlights, along with Raphael’s seductive portrait of his mistress, La Fornarina, and Guido Reni’s portrait of Beatrice Cenci. Aside from the art, check out the famous spiral staircase by Borromini, and the underground Roman temple dedicated to the god Mithras (only accessible on a guided tour).

Restaurants and Nightlife 

There are plenty of nice, reasonably-priced restaurants and bars in the centre of Rome, as long as you steer clear of places right next to famous monuments, and you don’t have to travel to the depths of suburbia for an authentic Roman meal. 

However, it’s worth venturing beyond the edges of the tourist map every now and then. Testaccio, while hardly a secret, is still much less touristy than central Rome, and it’s here that you’ll find some of the best Roman food. Try Da Remo or Il Grottino for some proper, thin and crispy Roman pizza, or pick up a trapizzino at Trapizzino – it’s a kind of sandwich made with baked dough, and stuffed with traditional meaty fillings like tripe or tongue (there are vegetarian options too). Da Felice is deservedly famous, but if you want excellent Roman cuisine without having to book, try Da Bucatino for the classics, or the cosy La Fraschetta. One of my favourite meals in Rome is La Fraschetta’s cacio e pepe with cicoria, with focaccia fresh from the oven, and the restaurant gets extra points for its Caravaggio-themed decor. 


The areas south of Testaccio, Ostiense and Garbatella, are becoming increasingly cool, and there’s a great choice of places to eat and drink. Porto Fluviale specialises in organic wood-oven pizzas, while La Maisonette Ristrot, which is located in a 1920s house, makes a refreshing change from typical trattorias. Sipping cocktails in the garden, in the shadow of a gigantic, DNA-shaped bridge, the centro storico of Rome feels like another country altogether. 

If you’d rather mix with students than tourists, go to San Lorenzo, a neighbourhood north of Termini. It’s particularly lively at night, and there’s a great choice of cheap bars and pizzerias. Go a little further north to Piazza Bologna and you’ll find the slightly bizarre Coffee Pot (a Japanese-Mexican restaurant and bar with a live DJ) as well as some more conventional drinking spots. Locals in the know head to Momart, a bar that does a very generous aperitivo – not just crisps and nuts, but as much pizza and pasta as you want. Just make sure you get there early.

Pigneto still has a slightly dodgy reputation, and you can probably expect to be offered drugs, or (if you’re a woman), catcalled at least once. But if you’re with a group of friends, taking the tram from Termini could lead to a fun night out, as Pigneto has a buzzing nightlife and is 99% guaranteed to be tourist-free. The isola pedonale of Via del Pigneto has lots of bars (and hipsters). Popular drinking spots include Cargo and the tiny Mezzo, a vermouth and cocktail bar. You’ll find some good restaurants in the back streets; Qui Se Magna serves generous portions of traditional Roman cuisine, while Margarì does great Neapolitan pizza. Combine wining and dining with live music at ‘Na Cosetta, which hosts regular jazz and swing concerts.

If all of the above suggestions are still too mainstream for you, head further east to Torpignattara. The ethnic mix is reminiscent of the area around Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, but in Torpignattara you’re much less likely to bump into tourists. In fact, the only non-Romans who find their way here are the ones who have been escorted by local friends, keen to show a more authentic side of their city. At Betto e Mary there are no menus – your waiter will rattle off the list of dishes in Italian, and then sigh heavily if you ask him to repeat anything – and there’s a strict “no formal clothes” policy. Good luck!

Greenery

“I just really need to see some trees.” After a few months of living in Rome, my flatmate was missing the greenery of New Zealand. Although umbrella pines are everywhere, big green spaces can be harder to find. The exception in the centre is the Villa Borghese, which is lovely, but it can get crowded at times. 

I told my flatmate to go to Villa Doria Pamphili, a much larger park on the edge of the city centre. It’s great if you want to go jogging, or if you feel like escaping the noise and crowds of the city and getting a bit of fresh air. In the north of Rome is Villa Ada, another large park which hosts a popular music festival in the summer. 

The Parco degli Acquedotti is a park with a difference. As the name suggests, it’s dominated by lengthy Roman aqueducts, and although it’s only a short distance from the centre of Rome, in parts it feels like the countryside. You might even see some sheep.


Cycling down the Appian Way is one of the loveliest ways to escape the city. This Roman road once stretched from Rome to Brindisi, and you can still walk/cycle/ride a horse along the section near Rome. The road is lined with cypresses, tombstones and fragments of statues, and if you explore the fields nearby you’ll find the ruins of Roman villas. On Sundays the Appian Way is (mostly) closed to traffic, and as you get further away from the city, you’ll have parts of the road to yourself.


The Protestant Cemetery is probably the most peaceful place in Rome. Percy Bysshe Shelley said that “it might make one in love with death, to be buried in so sweet a place”, and he was later buried there himself. Many visitors come as part of a poetic pilgrimage, as fellow Romantic poet John Keats is also buried in the cemetery, along with a few other noteworthy writers and artists. You might think that hanging out in a cemetery would be a bit depressing, but the Protestant Cemetery has a strangely serene atmosphere. Bring a book, find a bench in the shade, and enjoy this haven of peace and quiet, just on the edge of the city centre.


Where to stay

Staying near Termini obviously has its advantages, but for a more authentic experience, try staying in a neighbourhood outside of the city centre. Rome is actually fairly small, for a capital city, and if you avoid the centre you can get the best of both worlds – good quality accommodation at lower prices, with easy access to the main sights.

The neighbourhoods that I recommended for food/nightlife – Testaccio, Ostiense, Garbatella, San Lorenzo, Piazza Bologna and Pigneto – are also worth checking out for cheap accommodation. You might get a good deal on Airbnb, or find some alternative hostels. The public transport in Rome is notoriously unreliable, but you can usually depend on the metro, and Testaccio, Ostiense, Garbatella and Bologna are all near metro stations. San Lorenzo is technically near Termini, but it’s slightly awkward to get to.

If you want to go a bit off the beaten path, but you’d like somewhere that’s quieter at night and well-connected, look for B&Bs in San Giovanni or Re di Roma. They’re mostly residential neighbourhoods, and there’s less in the way of sightseeing, but they’re conveniently located on the metro line (A), and the Colosseum is walking distance. Prati, the neighbourhood north of the Vatican, is more upmarket, and as long as you keep your distance from St Peter’s, you can avoid the crowds.

Author Bio:


 Alexandra Turney lives in Rome, where she works for the tour company Through Eternity. She writes about life in Rome on her blog, Go Thou to Rome.

Spoonful of Sugar By Lucy Williams

Hello, all! I’m happy to introduce this lovely guest post by Lucy Williams for you to enjoy. It’s a beautifully written piece of flash-memoir that I absolutely love. Don’t forget to comment below and share if you’re feeling fancy.

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Hung-over on the bed, but without having been to sleep yet, I force myself to check the time. It’s 3:57am. The side street below my window refuses to sleep either.

Rickety bikes rattle along below, carrying their intoxicated mounts to safety like trusty steeds, homeward bound. The youngsters flowing home along the cobbled river is a sight welcomed by the baker on the corner of Via Matteucci, who half an hour ago exhaustedly turned his key in the lock of his pasticceria door to start making the dough for the day ahead. It’s at this time of night, in his secluded stone doorway, that he hopes to make a little cash-in-hand profit from these students’ wine-induced craving for fresh strips of garlic and rosemary infused ciabatta, still soft and doughy in the middle and half the price of what they will cost them when they officially go on sale in a few hours.

Sleep is on its way, clouding my vision and thoughts until I succumb to its beautiful nothingness. After being awake for this many hours it must surely arrive soon.

It has been one of those days for making list upon list, mistake upon mistake, and handing over more and more money. A day of wearing lots of layers and not having the warmth of someone else’s knowing eyes penetrating them. A day of free beer and telephone cards to reach those who really know me. A day of blurred photographs and of folding paper. A day of looking ten years ahead. A day of putting an extra spoonful of sugar on the foam of my cappuccino, while looking at my watch to work out how long I need to wait before I’ll be dissolving a sugar cube over my absinthe with Federico, when I will be able to lose track of time in the mesmeric cloud of whiteness swirling through the liquid below. A day of playing music too quietly, and of piling boxes high against the wall, filling them with packets of snapped willow charcoal. A day of imagining material on every surface, and of wanting to stop pretending that I know how they feel. Of being the last to go to bed again.

In this gap before the night closes and the day begins, it feels as though it can only be me and the baker who are still awake. The sound of him opening the door to let the heat out of his floury prison floats up to my window, followed shortly by the smell of fresh pizza dough, and I realise that I don’t have to be asleep to have my sogni d’oro here in Italy.

An hour soon gets swallowed up in my thoughts, and the air is now so still that I can hear the baker rest his sweaty weight against the stone wall outside, methodically wiping his forehead before he lights the first cigarette of his shift.

When he resumes his work after this first break the sound of the trays scraping against the oven is my cue to give in to sleep, as it won’t be long before the first customers will be leaning on his counter and I will have stayed awake into a new day. He will greet me tomorrow as I cycle passed and he will be thinking about how lucky I am to have had a full night’s sleep, utterly unaware of how many hours we have spent awake together at night.

As the North Italian sun starts to trickle into the bedroom, I am pleasantly surprised to notice that today the view of the neat orange terracotta rooftops through the mess of curtains has become as familiar and comforting to me now as one of the green hills back home. Every day, as I witness the darkness turn into dawn, I momentarily expect to see Welsh countryside appear but the usual disappointment is less today.

After my time in this special country, I am going to go home and know what I am going to do in the morning. I won’t confuse day and night. I won’t have unpacked bags in the corner of my room. I’ll answer my calls and be outside ready to meet them. I will see doing nothing as a worthwhile thing to do with you. I’ll have just one book in my bag. I’ll redo what I tried to do when I was continually drunk, and start to know what happened and when. My earring will not hurt after a day in the wind. I will be happy doing all the things that they think I’ve done. I will close the back cover and let someone else write their name now.

Author Bio:

Lucy lives in Wales and spends her time as an Italian Translator, Technical author, and Creative Writer. She is particular interested in the translation of culturally-bound humour, crossing boundaries through literature, subtitling, and writing for therapeutic purposes. She has poetry published by The Emma Press, and Hysteria, and was recently a judge for the Hysteria Short Story competition.

She is a freelance travel writer for Looking for Italy where she gets to spout off about how amazing Italy is. Here is an article about why you should shut your computer down and book a flight to Naples right now. She also documents her own travels on her creative writing site: www.lucyrosewilliams.com. She is currently working on getting the courage to move to Italy and live off arancini, views, and calzedonia tights.

As We Speak, The Sounds

As we speak, Francesco is lying in the backyard bleeding to death. At least, that’s what I’m imagining since I left him unsupervised with a weed-whacker. You would think that his life calling was to be in lawn care. I’ve yet to see another human being who looks as happy as Francesco does while doing yard work. Seriously, drive by our house on any given day, and you might find him out front, shoving the old ass lawnmower unevenly across the yard as happy as a crackhead who just scored a free rock. As energetic as one, too.


I’m inside trying to calm Oliver who hates machinery like you wouldn’t believe. In Florence, he’s attacked the sides of the street-cleaner trucks-twice. He attacks lawnmowers, weed whackers, as well as non-motorized monsters such as brooms and rakes. He fucking hates rakes. And for no reason. Nobody has ever attacked him with any of the above and he’s never had a bad experience, yet, you’d think that in his past life he was a survivor of Maximum Overdrive (haven’t seen that movie? Lucky.) I’m not sure what goes through his mind, but he becomes instantly rabid as soon as we take the vacuum or any other contraption out. He paces, he stalks, and once the monster comes to life, he lunges. OR, he runs and jumps into the arms of whoever isn’t next to the shitty, scary thing. I’ve tried to figure out the root of his fear to no avail because the thing about Oliver is that since he grew up in Italy, he’s not afraid of loud noises. And he’s never had a bad experience. He just innately believes that those things are evil. Or maybe he sees them as evil, autonomous, alien objects out to kill his family. Probably. Since he also becomes jealous when I talk to my plants (read: He runs over and dives on top of them). And yes, I talk to plants. And anything else that can’t get away from me (that’s probably the root of Oliver mental duress).


Update on Francesco: He’s not dead apparently. But it is super windy and he’s now raking things into our compost bin.

I’m still inside watching him through the back window. And celebrating by myself with inner monologues of “yay,” because….

I FINALLY FINISHED MY GODDAMN BOOK.  CAN I GET A WOO-HOO! And someone, please, drink a bottle of wine for me. With me. Everyone just drink. 

Check out the dirty manuscript picture on instagram, here. Thoughts on the title?

For those of you who are new here: A book that I’ve been writing (I know, I’m scared of the idea, too), not one that I’ve been reading. That would be a lot of enthusiasm for reading a book. Unless you just learned how to read and it’s your first book ever. In that case, it’s exactly the right amount. Oliver is celebrating, too, by howling incessantly at the backyard where Francesco is practically tap-dancing across the grass with a rake. It’s like broadway back there, that’s how much goddamn enthusiasm he has right about now. It’s like a musical, only instead of music it’s just the sound of me typing, and my yappy ass dog trying to save Francesco from himself.

What are your sounds right now?

 

 

Top 7 Weirdest Rituals In Italy

Everything in Italy is a weird ritual from blessing babies, to Mary’s flying through the air and chasing down a crucified Jesus, to ironing sheets. Seriously, a whole lot of weird going on. Since I don’t have all of the time in the world to go through ALL of them, I’ll have to settle for the top 7 weirdest rituals in Italy.

Baptism: When my niece was baptized I remember standing at the church door just thinking that the entire thing was objectively kind of weird. They basically put my infant niece in a wedding dress (like they were marrying her to Jesus), walked her up to the front holding her on the left side like a football (right side for boys) for good luck, strapped a garter belt on her head, and then handed her off to the priest who looked slightly drunk, and dangled her in the air all Lion King before dumping water on her and pissing her off. 

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Death: My husband told me that when his grandpa died they held the viewing in his house, so, there was just a dead grandpa hanging out, in the house, for days. It seems like the kind of thing that might traumatize kids. I asked him what would happen if someone was hit by a car, or otherwise mangled, “would they bring them into the living room to just like, hang out, so you’d be watching jeopardy with your uncle trying to ignore the fact that his head had been lopped off. How does that work?” He stared at me and walked off, probably to find a therapist for his ptsd. 

Another weird death tradition is that in the older generations widows wore black for the rest of their lives. In my old neighborhood of Campo Di Marte, an entire group of widows would hold hands and walk around the block together clad in black, like a little cluster of sad rain clouds.

I read that rich Italians from way back used to hire a “wailer,” to come and wail at the grave of the diseased. I’m not sure if that’s true but it brings to mind a lot of questions like, how does one get that job, and are there different prices for different levels of loud mourning? Twenty-bucks for weeping, thirty for crying, and fifty for an extremely loud ugly cry?

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EASTER: Easter is when shit really gets weird in the boot. My family takes a sticky ass jam jar to the church to fill it up with holy water. Back at the apartment for Easter lunch my MIL will dip rosemary into the jar and splash it around the table. Once she threw it in my face and screamed, “baptismo!”

In Florence they basically blow up a cart. I read that it’s done to celebrate the First Crusade, which is kind of shitty since it’s basically the celebration of murdering hundreds of thousands of muslim men, women, and children (maybe they could rethink this one?), in Prizzi in Sicily they have the Dance Of The Devils where people dress up as devils and harass people in the street. In Sulmona, Abruzzo, a statue of the Madonna is marched in. When she apparently lays eyes on the dead Jesus, she is sprinted across the square to him. During the sprint, her black cloak falls off and doves fly out.

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Exorcism: The movie, The Exorcist, scared the living shit out of me when I saw it. I don’t even like the “E,” word, which immediately brings to mind an evil teenager crab-crawling across the floor, throwing up pea soup, and smashing her va-jay-jay with a cross. Nuh-uh, no thank you. So, you can imagine my horror when a friend of ours in southern Italy casually mentioned that he and his girlfriend had gone to their priest for an exorcism due to their recent stint of “bad luck.”

1973, THE EXORCIST

Reading Coffee Grounds: Most of the worlds traditions are actually pagan because as much as organized religions have historically tried to get rid of it (covering it up or renaming old traditions), our world is rooted in our ancestry, which was earth-based. So, as much as Italians are Catholic, they’re super, super pagan. Almost all of their traditions date back to the roman pagan times and a lot of the older generation, especially in the south, still practice a lot of pagan rituals. Like witches. My husband’s grandmother, for example, used to read coffee grounds in the bottom of cups and predict good or bad luck in the future.

Ironing Sheets: This isn’t a REAL ritual, but since every female Italian person I know does it with dedication and an almost religious fervor it basically could be. They’re REALLY into ironing sheets. And towels. They’re really into cleaning in general. Except for those nasty Italian women who lived in our old Statuto apartment before we did. Those assholes and their two-hundred ferrets were gross.

Throwing Salt: Recently Francesco was making pizza and he spilled some salt on the ground. He quickly pinched some from the salt bowl and threw it over his shoulder.

“What the shit are you doing? Are you planning on vacuuming after this?”

“Huh? Oh. Bad luck,” he grinned.

Apparently, Google says that this comes from the idea that spilling salt is bad luck, and the devil is always standing behind you, so throwing salt over your left shoulder (into his eyes), distracts him from causing trouble. Which seems wildly illogical to me. Everything that I’ve heard about the devil (mainly from my terrifying mom who has never learned how to be delicate in the delivery of terrifying information), dictates that he’s a super scary asshole. It’s probably best not to piss him off by temporary blinding him. Right?

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If there are any other strange rituals that you find particularly interesting in Italy, I’d love to hear about them! Tell us about them in the comments below. And, don’t forget to share this post, and share the weird.

AAAAAAND, THIS IS A C.O.S.I Post! Check out what my brilliant blogging friends from around Italy had to say on the same subject!

Rick’s Rome: Ridiculous Rituals In Italy/Under The Puglia Sun

Sicily Inside And Out: Culture Shock In Sicily

Sex, Lies, and Nutella: Coming Soon

An Englishman in Italy: Coming Soon

Girl in Florence: Coming Soon

 

 

 

SPRING BREAK ITALY: AGRITURISMO ECO-TRAVEL EDITION

 

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Years ago one of my good friends and I rented a car and drove from Florence south towards Salento, Naples, and Capri. I’d just started dating Francesco at the time so we stopped on the way to have lunch with him in an agriturismo in Cassino. I met his best friend, Fusco, who seemed concerned about the hunting knife in my purse (mostly for cutting canvas cause art student, but also because rapists…chop chop), and also worried about my mental stability when I kept referring to a donkey as a “tiny horse.” I get it, my sense of humor takes some getting used to (but seriously, it’s basically a little fuzzy horse with derpy teeth). The agriturismo where we had lunch was surrounded by a garden and a small farm. Where, apparently, all of our food came from which was fine for me because I ordered a vegetarian meal. Yay, pasta. As a parting gift Francesco sent me off on my weekend vacation with a vat of local honey and an entire wheel of some kind of hard cheese. An. Entire. Wheel. It was sweet and also the single weirdest thing a guy has ever gifted me. “Enjoy your trip. Here’s a block of cheese.” Ever since, I’ve been in love with these charming little places. 

Farm to table isn’t incredibly uncommon in Italy which is awesome because the produce you get is fresh, ripened on the vine, full of vitamins, and tastes like delicious bursts of orgasmic awesome in your mouth. Plus, it’s better for the environment, the culture, and Italy’s economy. Eco-travel, baby, and I’ve been all about it lately. Why? Well, because in a global world like ours everything is mass produced from fifty countries away, a persistent global culture (Starbucks, McDonalds, Hilton) is permeating the fabrics of every society and the places we love to visit, to explore, to enjoy because they are different, are vanishing (example, Starbucks in Italy. WTF? WHY!? You don’t need a goddamn mochacchino that bad, buddy). The best way to help places retain their amazing individuality is with conscious travel. Let’s face it, if we want to vacation in an American Italy, we can just go to New Jersey, otherwise, let’s appreciate the real, legit Italia and revel in its weird magic. 

So, how does eco-tourism work? Basically, you just travel in a more badass way than usual, a more authentic way. Instead of resorts, you experience the real country and meet actual local people who feed you local cuisine. Sounds nice, right? Totally is. Trust me, you’ll be so into it. 

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STAYING AT AN AGRITURISMO

In spirit of March and spring break, I give you a mini guide to eco-tourism via an agriturismo in Italy. You’ve still got time to plan a super fun, authentic vacation and stuff your gorgeous face with some farm to table freshness.

AGRITURISMI IN ITALY

Agriturismos are absolutely epic. They’re usually situated in places where you’ll be completely submersed in local culture, food is grown on-site (often organic, including wine, honey, and olive oil), and most are owned by families who will often make all kinds of cultural excursions or activities available to you. The architecture of these places is another bonus, they’re usually old, charming, and made out of large rocks (in a good way) and romantically rustic. It’s what most of us think of when we picture Italy. Why are they more Eco than hotels? They use less resources, food travels a closer distance (usually ten feet away), the smaller gardens are better on the soil with more sustainable farming practices, and you’re interacting more with local culture. Also? Did I mention romantic? Cause they will make your panties (or boxers) drop. Seriously, I stayed with Francesco in a farmhouse in Tuscany that had a fireplace in the room and gooood lawd. 

Places you definitely want to check out:

This monastery in Umbria on ecobnb

This gorgeous farmhouse in Marche

Hundreds of farmhouse options for every region to fit every budget on agriturismo.it

A list of even more fantastic agriturismo accommodations

Book your trip, a weekend, a week, a month, and let me know how it goes or if you have any questions, put them in the comments below! Been to a really great agriturismo in Italy? Share it below!

THIS IS A COSI POST! CHECK OUT THESE AMAZING POSTS BY MY BLOGGING BROTHERS AND SISTERS: 

Rick’s Rome: Favorite Spring Destinations in Italy

Girl in Florence: http://girlinflorence.com/?p=12562

Sicily Inside & Out: An Early Easter in Sicily

Sex, Lies, And Nutella: Food Traditions That Win Easter