Moving To Italy: 7 Things I’d Do Differently The Second Time Around

Sadly, I’m not a time traveler. I know that now you all think less of me, and that sucks, but I just wanted to be honest with everyone. But IF I COULD go back in time there are no less than 4,543 things I would do differently. How I went about moving to Italy would  probably be in my top 10 because I could have done it a lot better and my life would have been so much easier for years and year.

Vantage Points

1.I Would Have Learned More About The Culture: Without a solid grasp of the culture you won’t be able to understand your surroundings, to communicate, or to really understand the people you’ll meet, your partner (if they’re Italian) or their family. Americans, more than anyone, will not understand why this is number one or they’ll be like, “they like spaghetti, I get the culture.” The reason that Americans have a difficult time grasping how culture impacts communication is that American communication is really straightforward. Note: This has nothing to do with honesty. Americans can lie just like anyone. Again, it’s not about honesty, it’s about how we communicate. There aren’t a lot of hidden meanings in American communication, there’s no double-speak (unless you’re a politician), and you don’t really need to understand the culture to understand what people are saying necessarily. Sure, there might be miscommunication, like how F used to always tell me, “well, nobody just says what they mean, so I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say.” And I was like, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!? Italy is not that way. Half of what people are saying is hidden below the surface and you have to understand the culture to get it. It’s not because everyone has some insidious intent, it’s just how the culture works. You can learn Italian, you can speak it fluently, but without a very solid grasp of the culture you will still be losing a huge amount of all communication. And, frankly, you’ll just be confused as shit all around. You’re thinking, “cool, I’ll just learn it from my husband or wife or nonna.” No, you won’t. Because they don’t often even know that what they’re doing is cultural or different from you. If you’re about to visit Italy, study in Italy, or move to Italy, you want to start reading, RIGHT NOW.

Resources For Learning About Italian Culture (From my Amazon Store)

2. I Would Have Learned Italian Months Before My Departure Date: Most likely you’re thinking like me and many of my friends who moved to Italy. “What better place to learn Italian than in Italy?” Trust me, no. You will learn Italian in Italy, for sure, and it is easier when you’re hearing it every day, but that first year that you’re there and unable to understand a goddamn thing is frustrating, isolating, and annoying as shit. Plus, people will expect you to speak the language even if you’ve been there for 20 minutes and the pressure certainly doesn’t help. Want to move to Italy? Great! But seriously, spend the money and buy Rosetta Stone, right now. No, you don’t have to buy it from my Amazon store, you can also buy it from Barnes And Noble. And, download Duolingo to your smart phone. The app is free, and even 15 minutes per day will be a lifesaver when you’re lost on an Italian street, unable to find your way home or your boyfriend’s mom is saying crazy shit to you and you need a classy response. You’re probably rolling your eyes at the Rosetta Stone, and so did I, until my roommate in Italy was able to speak Italian like a superstar 3 months into using it while I was barely able to name common household pets. It works. Use it.

Tips For Learning Italian While Still In The US

  • Rosetta Stone
  • Duolingo
  • Watch Italian films with English subtitles at least a few times per week (Sophia Loren films are a great place to start and work your way up to contemporary films).
  • Listen to Italian music, find the words in English, and it will help you memorize them by singing along.

3. I Would Not Have Spent Money On Dumb Shit. You’re moving to a new country and you’ll be tempted to buy 10,000 things before you go. Don’t. Italy has everything you could possibly need. And, their clothes are nicer and often cheaper than in the US. Save your money, get to Italy, and then buy all the shit you’ll need. The one exception might be makeup or skincare if you’re super particular. If you’re picky like me, then maybe you want to bring some of your favorite face stuff. Yes, Italy has great stuff but I like really specific stuff and the Sephora in Italy doesn’t carry any of the same shit that we have in ‘Merica.

4. I would have made it a point to do something new every day. I’m a habitual person. Really habitual. Like, when I wash my body in the shower I do it the same way every single day. When I find places I like, I tend to go there instead of trying new places. I travel a lot but I still tend to quickly find “my kind of places,” and go there. Last year when I was in Prague, I found a cookie shop that I liked and me and F would only buy cookies from THAT place. Mind you, it was the most adorable cookie shop in all the world. But still, I didn’t see any of the other cookies shops because of it. I did the same thing when I moved to Italy. While I definitely did a lot of stuff every year, I often found myself seeking the comfort of familiarity which prevented me from doing as much cool stuff as I could have. If you’re going to be spending a semester, year, or decade in Italy, I’d recommend forcing yourself to do something different at least every week, if not every day. Rent a car and drive around the country, try every cafe in the city, and every restaurant, too. Go tango dancing (I did, and it was SO FUN). The city has a lot to offer. If I could redo my student time there, that’s what I would have done differently. My friend and fellow blogger, Georgette, from Girl In Florence, is super awesome at getting out and doing EVERYTHING. She inspires me to be less boring.

5. Read the newspaper, follow current events, and pay attention. I got involved in this years after living in Florence and frankly it’s just embarrassing. If you live in any country for even a short amount of time it’s simply smart to know what the shit is going on in that country. TheLocal, is a great place to start to learn about what’s happening in Italy, in English. You’ll also look less dumb at dinner parties. For my first two years all that I knew was that Berlusconi was a douchebag. That’s where my knowledge ended and I really just reinforced the stereotype that Americans live in a bubble. You’d be surprised just how much you can learn about a culture, the people, and the history of the country by following politics and current events.

6. When dating, I would have set boundaries a lot sooner. My husband is a total badass but he’s also an enormous pain in the ass. And for a long time when I moved to Italy I forgave a lot based on “cultural differences.” Basically, I wrote off a lot of rude or stupid shit by justifying it in my head as “probably a cultural thing.”

No. Asshole behavior is the same in Italy as in the US. If someone is being an overbearing douche, you can say, “no thanks, asshat.”

Also, I spent years doing that American thing where I’m like, “well, I can’t very well be direct with his family because, geez, how rude. Tee-hee.” No. Italians, with all of their fashion and prettiness, are tough. They’re like bedazzled bombs. These are people who exist without air conditioning while wearing long sleeve button-ups and slacks. Don’t fuck with them. If you allow it, they’ll end you, and then the community widow will bake biscotti with your remains.

Also, Bella Figura. You know how high school girls are in movies where they’re like vicious monsters who are also perfect citizens and super polite in public and also sometimes to their enemies while they’re being horrible? A lot of that exists in Italy. Master that shit. Italians can insult you while smiling from ear to ear and being charming as fuck all the while. If you don’t understand the culture you won’t even know you’re being insulted. Also, if someone is opinionated, push back.  For example, my MIL will show up and be like, “yo, I’m decorating your house orange cause I don’t like how you did it!” And before I was like, “Oh, how kind,” while trying not to vomit. Now I’m like, “No, brown is ugly, no thanks.” And she’ll shrug and go, “ah, ok.” Stand up for yourself, family or friend, and lay down the law. Smile while you do it to add to the creepy factor. If you don’t have your own back, everyone will walk all over you, decorate your house hideously, dress you, and tell you that your dog is anorexic (the vet said he was the only dog of a healthy weight in all of Italy, the land of chubby poodles).

7. Spend more time asking question about others and less time observing them. I like to watch people. It’s a thing I do, often, in life. At parties I’ll usually be the person in the back, getting shitfaced while I uncomfortably stare at everyone. I did the same thing in Italy for a long time. I just watched people like a weirdo stalker instead of trying to get to know people and ask them about themselves, their culture, their family, etc. You can learn a lot about a place by paying attention, but you can learn a lot more by asking a lot of questions and getting to know people and getting their perceptions about their country. Find a language partner, or a cute barista, or bartender, and get to know them. Ask them endless questions about Italy. Maybe have sex with them if they’re into it (yay consent) and then ask them even more questions after the fact or during if you’re into that.

And there you have it! If you could move to Italy all over again, what would you do differently? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!




Guys, we have an emergency situation. As many of you know, F and I are in the US right now. He’s doing an MBA and I’m doing book things. 

However, enough is enough. Aside from Trump, the police shooting black men, and the uprise in outspoken hillbillies, Francesco is starting to scare me. 

I need an emergency jet to get us the hell out of here. My metrosexual husband is getting all “yee-haw,” on me and he needs to be returned to his homeland so he can remember that he’s Italian, superficial, and is NOT capable of mountaineering. We stayed in a cabin once and he considered it “roughing it,” because it was surrounded by trees. It had a jacuzzi. We’re talking about the same guy who screams and runs when he sees a spider. And he asked me if we can bring our pasta maker camping (this is his first time camping). 

Guys, a bear is going to eat him. 

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!


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.


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.


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:


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!


“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.


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: She is currently working on getting the courage to move to Italy and live off arancini, views, and calzedonia tights.