Saturday, September 27, 2014

Some Tips for Seeing Rome

Rome, the Eternal City: it's filled with art, history,and Italians!  To navigate this city well do your homework. Here are a few of my best tips, not necessarily in any order.

  • Research what you want to see, then make a workable plan.  Rome can be exhausting, it's noisy, and chaotic, but it's worth all of that.  
  • Hire private licensed guides for the big stuff.  This will save you time in line, and will also save you the headache of trying to figure out where you are and which way to go. All licensed guides have passed tests. they know their stuff, and they get front of the line privileges at the Colosseum, Vatican museums, and other historical places.  The groups are usually no more than 6 to 8 people and it is worth every penny. 
  • The companies I've used have been, and  Context is a bit more high end, giving you art historians at the Vatican museums, and Archaeologists at the Colosseum---well worth the money.  The Roman guy hires licensed guides as well, and all are passionate about their subjects.
  • Don't plan too much in one day if you don't have to. Remember that eating here is also something that needs to be savored just like the sights.  Maybe do a tour in the morning, lunch, a rest period (be Italian for goodness sake) and then an evening tour/or walk-about if time is short.  If you can plan one tour per day, that's the best of all worlds, because there are so many places to walk and experience.

  • Download apps and find great blogs.  My favorite is  Elizabeth is an author, married to an Italian, and her blog has lots of great info, but for the best info, download her app Eat Rome.  (If you are going to Florence and Venice she has done those apps as well---can't wait for her book Eat Rome)  Every restaurant recommendation has been spot on.
  • Download Viber to your smart phone to keep in touch with home.  Free text, and phone calls from WIFI
  • I like to rent a short term apartment while I'm here.  Rental agencies abound, as well as,, and  The benefits?  You can spread out, you have a place to come back to and have a rest, and your are living with the locals.  

  • Download the Uber app for your smart phone.  The cars are clean, the drivers are courteous and they can cost less than taking a cab, plus you don't have to worry about having enough cash on hand; it's all done electronically and NO TIPS.  
  • Use public transportation if it's close.  The Metro here is a great deal and easy to navigate;        3 Euro for an all day pass.  It goes to a lot of attractions: the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (which is covered in scaffolding right now), Piazza del Popolo, St. Peter's, and Eataly

  • OK, Americani, this is how the rest of the world sees us:  overweight, wearing shorts and tank tops into sacred places, baseball caps, sneakers, no style, and arguing with shop keepers and wait staff because they don't speak YOUR language---it's THEIR country, make an effort. A simple buon giorno,buona sera, and Grazie, are all appreciated.  You are a guest here, act like one. 
  • What to pack:  If you are planning to have dinner with the Pope or Prime Minister then by all means pack that suit or cocktail attire.  Pack light, you will be buying things to take home, and that suitcase will get heavier and heavier as your trip goes on. For the most part, Italians dress casually, when they are outside of work, but they have style, so no running shoes at dinner, but find some comfortable walking shoes (Ecco, Munro, Mephisto, Dansko, Clarks, Aldo) and definitely pack them. Pick a neutral wardrobe color, black/grey/beige, and then accent with color--maybe a gorgeous silk scarf, cashmere sweater, or Murano glass necklace.   Cobblestones are hard on the knees/hips/and feet so be careful and watch your step---last year I broke my leg on uneven pavement, walked around on it for 2 weeks, went home and was put into a boot till I left to come back to Italy.  Learn from my mistakes. 
  • I tell people that the treasure of Italy isn't the art, history, culture, food, olive oil or wine, it's the people.  Make an effort to know them, and you'll find that treasure.  Buona Notte from Rome.

Deruta, Maioliche Nulli, and Lunch at Il Chicco Di Grano

Most of us have seen the traditional rooster pitcher from Italy.  These ceramics are call majolica and although many towns are famous for their majolica, Deruta is the big daddy.  Elizabeth Minchilli wrote a fabulous book about Deruta, and although it's currently not in print, she blogs about her favorite places here.
Five years ago, Dr. C. and I stopped at Maioliche Nulli to buy some ceramics from Deruta. Rolando and Goffredo hand throw and hand paint each piece that they make, many are numbered pieces. None of their designs are stamped, or machine painted.  This is a shop where the artisan (Rolando) greets you at the door, and then invites you down to his workshop.  My friend Char has been visiting from Cincinnati, and Rolando tutored her in making a bowl on the potters wheel.

I couldn't believe Char had never done this before, as Rolando said, un'artista!  Nice job!  After we'd made our purchases and arranged to send them back to the states we were asked if we were going for lunch in Deruta.  We asked where he would recommend, and Rolando said, he would accompany us. 
We followed him to a country inn, and we had an amazing lunch at Il Chicco di Grano.

Pasta filled with ricotta and pear with a pork sauce
Farro salad, pecorino fresco, arugula, pancetta and olio

Beef with smoked scamorzza cheese and roasted potatoes

Macedonia di frutta

Biscotti with Vin Santo

A family appeared to be having a celebration while we were there, we were the only Americans in the house.  Our waiter Tito took really good care of us, and it was a delight to meet Carla the chef.  Born in Rome, but living in Assisi, her food is exquisite.  

Carla on the left

The restaurant is part of an old country house that has been converted into  agriturisimo apartments.  You can stay here, and eat well, or you can stop by as we did.  The grounds are lovely, and I could picture the family that was having lunch there staying there to celebrate an anniversary, or special event.  

After that awesome morning and afternoon, we toddled off to Spello to sit on the terrace, until the rains sent us inside.  
Grazie to Rolando and Goffredo Nulli, at  Maioliche Nulli, and to Tito and Carla at Il Chicco di Grano for a lovely day in Deruta.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lunch at L'Officina della Bistecca

 After a great weekend in Florence, soaking up the art at L'Accademia and L'Uffizi, as well as having some amazing meals, it was time to head home to Spello, but we decided to make a detour to Chianti and have lunch at Dario Cecchini's in Panzano.  Chianti is a beautiful region of Italy, rolling hills, planted with acres and acres of grapes and olive trees.  Panzano is out in the countryside, and although it's a sweet little town, the attraction here is the famous butcher, his macelleria and his restaurants.

Last year, my friend Kellie and I did the Macellaio per un giorno, following the butchers around, all day, and then finally eating lunch at about 3 p.m.   It was a great experience and I'm indebted to Dario and his wife Kim, Ricardo (photo below) and Nicola Trois for the experience, as well their amazing staff who helped us along the way last year..

Ricardo was in charge while Dario was gone on Monday
Today, we were going to have the 7 course beef lunch, which is an incredible amount of food, and it is amazing.  I'm going to let the photos do the talking for me, but you will not find better food in Tuscany.  Buon appetito!
Danielle, serving Sushi di Chianti----best steak tartare ever

Tomasso, Maestro of the Grill

La Cucina

Tuscan beans

They call this the butter of Chianti, it's lardo mixed with Dario's special seasoning

Simonetta's olive oil cake
Mille Grazie to everyone at L'Officina della bistecca for a memorable afternoon.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Italian TV

I have stated on more than one occasion that I don't watch a lot of TV, we don't have a DVR at home, and I think if we did the stress of knowing that I needed to watch all of those shows would make me nuts.  Here in Italy, I do turn it on because I get to hear the language, plus it's so entertaining.
What's on, you ask?  For one thing a lot of old US shows, like NCIS, Law and Order, CSI, the Dukes of Hazard (you haven't lived till you have heard Boss Hogg in Italian!) and old movies.  So far, I've seen Madame La Farge knitting in front of the guillotine in A Tale of Two Cities mumbling in Italian, Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, and several war movies I don't recognize.

Then there are the Italian Shows, lots of game shows which I don't understand at all, and then there are the shows like Paperissima, which is like the worst of American's Home Videos and if you look closely, most of these are Americani.
And then there are the food shows, the usual contests between two chefs, and then Top Chef Italia, in which one of the judges is Joe Bastianich, and American....go figure.

As I have stated before, I love the Italians, and I love the drama and the musicality of their language.  There are variety shows on, and the usual suspects like "The Voice" or some iteration of that contest, as well.  All in all, it's a lot more entertaining than what we have in the US, and I really don't miss the 24 hour news cycle.  Here they deal with what's for dinner, and don't belabor points that have been made or debunked.  Ironically Silvio Berlusconi, their disgraced Prime Minister still owns the TV here, sort of like Rupert Murdoch.  For now, I wish you a buona giornata. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On the Street Where I Live

A friend asked me to take some photos of where I am living, so I'm going to show you the area that I'm in, the apt. isn't ready for photos just yet. Every morning I climb these stairs to my terrace, and have coffee.

This is the view

My apartment is the bell tower of an old convent, and this is the cloister, which I have access to as well

These are the stairs leaving from the front of the house

Turning left out of the house, I head up the hill.  There is a small restaurant across the way from the apartment, but I haven't been there.

A few of the alleyways on my way to the top

This is the piazza in the center of Spello---somehow I flipped a switch and got black and white---very Godfather-like

The piazza is the heart of the town, and people hang out on the benches, and watch the world go by

Spello is medieval, and at night if there were torches in the lights you would believe that the Huns were ready to ride up the hill.  Beautiful in the day time and at night, I love it here anytime.  The internet here is very slow, so uploading photos takes forever...I'm posting more on my Facebook professional page, so check me out over there as well.  Buona notte!