Monday, December 14, 2009

Berlusconi attacked by figurine-wielding madman at Milan rally

Who knew I would one day feel sorry for Silvio. My friends, that day has come.

I wonder if his ex is laughing now. What a year for Silvio. More on the Italian Prime Minister's scandals here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Papal Christmas Fashion

I wonder if B16 will wear this creepy hat at Christmas this year. Bets, anyone?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Scenes from an Italian Bathroom

When in Rome, squat as the Romans do.

Believe it or not, this is one of the nicer public bathrooms you will find in Rome. Here are the criteria I use to make that judgement:

1. toilet paper is supplied

2. Toilet brush is only slightly brown

3. There is a sink (not visible in photo) with running water and soap

Rome is not the city of plush public restrooms. Rather, it is the land of practicing the Crouching Tiger, hidden dragon pee. No toilet seat to be found. And don't be surprised if you get charged 30 or 50 cents to use one of these bathrooms either.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Your Way, Right Away, The Roman Way

Top ten reasons to live in Rome:

There are now ten Burger King locations in and around Rome. If the thought ever crossed my mind to move away from Italy, the option is now off the table.

I love the ad for the new Bacon Caesar Steakhouse sandwich, but I would never order it because the whopper cheese is and always will be my tried and true BK burger of choice.

Took this photo during a When In Rome Tours housecall at a hotel near Via Nazionale this morning, where this newest location just opened.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

If you want your house cleaned properly, ask an Italian.

Italians are the biggest neat-freaks in Europe, according to a recent reportbuyer poll. This comes as no surprise to me at all, given how for years I have felt nothing short of inadequate when it comes down to it. While I like to keep a tidy house, and even have household help to assist a few times a week, somehow there is always a hairball (from the dog-I hope) in the hallway or laundry basket that has spilled out onto the floor.

When I visit Italian friends I just sit and admire their spotless floors, sparkling appliances, and clean-as-a-whistle windowframes, doorframes, shutters, you name it. A few friends have admitted that if you open up cabinets or drawers, all hell breaks loose as toys, clothes and other incriminating evidence spill out all over the place. Yet still they manage to keep up with the appearance of an impeccably clean casa.

According to the study, Italians clean their house (not tidy, CLEAN) four times a week. There are very few things I manage to do four times a week. Cleaning the house, sadly, is not one of them. Hence it will be a long time before I get my house in gear and challenge any of them to a Betty Crocker clean-0ff.

On another note, the obsession with cleanliness does not count once the threshold to the outdoors has been crossed. At least in Rome, the streets are still a public dumping ground. The north of Italy is a bit less dirty, but still covered with graffiti and trash.

Study results from

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mafia Crocodile

Anyone who has seen the great mob hits like the Godfather, The Sopranos, Goodfellas, etc knows that Italian mafiosi will go to great lengths in the name of extortion.

From the $600,000 horse head in the bed of Godfather character Jack Woltz to the baseball-bat beatings dished out by the likes of Tony Soprano and friends, when it comes to making someone pay up, common sense should tell you that you don't want to mess with these guys.

In modern Italy, the mafia remains a reality but a subdued one that is often talked about but rarely actually seen. Once in a while, it rears its ugly head and when this happens, it does make headlines. Recently a 5.5 foot Crocodile was discovered near Naples in the home of a Caserta known mobster while police searched for arms and other implicating evidence.

According to the police, the crocodile is capable or snapping off a man's limb (or worse) with a single bite. Presumably the mobsters would take the animal along on occasions where more traditional money collection methods failed.

The suspect has now been charged with illegal animal posession, and the "pet" has been taken to an animal rehabilitation center.

photo care of elvis santana

Friday, September 18, 2009

When in Rome, Do as the Romans. When in Ghana, PLEASE Don't Poop on the Beach

Imagine you are sunbathing on this beautiful beach when a couple of guys stroll by, stop, squat, and "drop some friends off" on the sand next to you. Don't laugh, this could happen to you!

Most Africans are understandably not concerned with working on their tans. Despite the fact that the ocean is beautiful and the sand soft, the beach is there for taking the occasional swim, sometimes sleeping, and yes, public crapper.

Since they put up these signs (don't you love the visual?) the situation may have improved mildly, but there is still a ways to go. Must remember to think of this next time I start complaining about the public bathrooms in Italy.

Sorry for the segue from our usual When In Rome subject matter. I couldn't resist.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Italy: History, Food, Culture, and Toxic Waste?

The news from Italy today is by no means good. The associated press has reported that a shipwreck has been discovered off the coast of Calabria containing 180 barrels of toxic waste. The waste is believed to be tied to the Calabria Mafia , known as the 'Ndrangheta. According to the AP article, former mobster Francesco Fonti has told authorities that the 'ndrangheta has made millions of euro by sinking ships of radioactive waste on behalf of Northern Italian companies since the laws surrounding waste disposal became increasingly stringent and costly to comply with.

While this toxic discovery is truly bad news, it suggests that there is probably even worse news. Where there is one, there are probably many. Who knows how many ships full of radioactive material have been sunk in Italy without ever being detected? Since searching for them is extremely costly and difficult, we may never know. In the mean time, the radioactive waste will seep out into the water, make its way into the food supply of the ocean life and subsequently our own. Cancer, birth defects, and a whole slew of known and unknown dangers could result. In other words, our children (and most likely we too) are screwed.

image © Copyright Chris Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Gucci of Balsamic Vinegars...

Bertani balsamic vinegar that has aged for 40 years.

Amazing. The kind of stuff that makes me think why on earth did this sit in my cupboard for 3.5 years before I finally opened it and drizzled in on some fresh strawberries... Next will be over vanilla ice cream.

This is the kind of thing I would really miss if one day I didn't live in Italy.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

If Thoughts Could Kill?

I am experiencing a horrific sense of guilt today. Last night as I was winding down after a long day, I turned on the TV and started watching an Italian variety show. After about 30 seconds the old man who was hosting the show failed to keep my interest and I said to my husband, "this guy really needs to retire, he looks mezzo morto (one foot in the grave)". Today, I turn on the news and WHAM, Mike Bongiorno died of a heart attack this morning.

What the _ _ _ _ ?!

He may have been old, and he may have seen better days, but Mike Bongiorno earned his reputation as the "Quiz King" of Italian TV and will be missed greatly. I on the other hand must be careful what I think about...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Swine Flu Claims First Italian Life

The Focus news agency reported today that a 51 year old man from Naples is the first Italian victim to die of Swine Flu (H1N1 virus). Although the man's identity is being kept private, the Cotugno hospital did report that the man had pre-exisiting pancreatic diabetes and cardiac myopathy which aggravated the swine flu symptoms and eventually led to pneumonia and a staph infection which he did not recover from.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, the 51 year old man had lived with his mother and had not traveled abroad.

Despite talk of possible school closings, schools in Italy are scheduled to open as planned around the fifteenth of September.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Shoe Man of San Giovanni Market

At the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano intersection, right alongside the start of the Via Sannio street market, there is a truck. Inside that truck miracles happen.

Though I pass this truck just about every day, sometimes multiple times per day, it wasn't until today that I started to think maybe it is actually very creepy. You see, there is a nice old man who owns the truck and repairs shoes inside of it. Whether it is a strappy sandal emergency, a stiletto heel busted on the Roman cobblestone streets, or just some good old fashioned sole searching, this is your man. He'll fix any shoe quickly and cheaply. This is part of the beauty of Italy, we don't just throw things out because they are broken. There is a fix for everything.

If only I could get past the part about the dozens of little dolls and barbies attached to the grill of his truck...must ask him about the meaning behind the doll collection on of these days. Boh!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Me vs. Rome City Hall: VICTORY!

With the amount of complaining I do about the ghastly bureaucracy in Rome, I think it is only fair to give credit where credit is due. This morning I left the house at about 10:00, fully prepared to spend an hour or two in line at the municipal building only to be told that I was missing some paper and should come back.

Rather, there was only one person ahead of me, and when it was my turn I was assisted (as always, from the other side of a bulletproof glass with a tiny circle through which I would squeak out my request) by a lovely young woman who helped me correct the few errors on the form I
had to submit, and within 15 minutes or so I was out of there with my signed, stamped (Italians love stamps) and approved documents.

I must say that it being August in Rome and most Romans are still on vacation had something to do with the fact that it was all so quick and easy, but still. I have nothing but love for Italy today. Except of course that it is 100 degrees today!

Worth mentioning, the fan you see in this picture actually dates back to the founding of the Roman Republic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Do Italians Think About American Food?

I spend a lot of time writing about Rome and Italy travel. Today I got to thinking about What Italians think of the United States when they visit. Mainly, what they think of American food. I was a bit shocked at some of the opinions I got.

For example, here are a few of the top choices published by a reputable Italian travel blogger:

Denny's: "One of the best places to get fast food. Excellent and abundant burgers and sandwiches, an ideal place to have lunch".

Hooters: "Generous portions, excellent service provided by scantily dressed girls, great buffalo wings"

Taco Bell: "The best of tex-mex fast food, tacos, nachos, quesadillas, watch out, some are spicy!"

Pizza Hut: "If you absolutely must have a pizza, this is a great solution. Very cheap, huge portions, but obviously nothing like a real Italian pizza-thicker crust and instead of tomato sauce they use ketchup..."

Sbarro: "Cant miss this place, it has a huge Italian flag for its sign. Great salads and cold pastas, good pizza by the slice".

I could never quite put my finger on what the problem with Pizza Hut's tomato sauce was...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rome, where tiny cars park illegally amidst graffiti paradiso

If one photo could describe Rome, this is it:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Victor Hugo on Old Friends

"My coat and I live comfortably together. It has assumed all my wrinkles, does not hurt me anywhere, has moulded itself on my deformities, and is complacent to all my movements, and I only feel its presence because it keeps me warm.

Old coats and old friends are the same thing."
-Victor Hugo

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When it comes to European borders, Italy lies South

It is always nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of Rome and explore new places. This year my destination of choice was Brussels, Belgium. Aside from a much cooler place to spend August in Europe, flights from Rome are frequent (and in our case, free) with low cost airlines such as Ryan Air, not to mention that Brussels is a great base to explore other top European destinations such as Paris, Brugges, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and a handful of other neighboring cities.

There are no borders when flying between European countries. You don't even need a passport, just a national ID card will do. The European Union truly has united countries into one giant European Nation. However, one mustn't be misled into thinking that all European countries are made equally, because the differences that lie across each border can be astounding.

It's no secret that between Northern and Southern Europe there are vast differences. Northern Europe is known for its cool climates, booming industries, intelligent city planning, and reserved characters. Southern Europe boasts its warm climate, world renowned food, sluggish economies, and colorful people. Still, the differences I found on this trip were unsettling.

After living in a city like Rome for ten years, the things that jump out at many tourists (filthy streets, graffiti, rude people, ripoffs, poor organization) no longer bother me. One becomes exceedingly patient by living here thanks to a survival mechanism which teaches us to just "let it go", or find another place to call home (which many do). I can now spend an entire morning in line somewhere only to be told by some rude Italian bureaucrat to come back tomorrow, I carry around toilet tissue and handsoap because I am fully aware that most Roman bathrooms will not have any, any I don't mind when the cashiers throw my change down on the counter instead of placing it in my hand. I find all of these challenges to be minor inconveniences that one tolerates in order to live in a city as wonderful as Rome is.

Unfortunately, when it comes to my children an angry mama bear takes over my usually cool and composed self, and she is is just a bit less complacent than I.

The other day in Brussels I asked my aunt if there was a park nearby where I could take my three year old to burn off some energy. Sure, she said. The neighborhood park is quite close and not bad for kids.

NOT BAD??!!!! If this is not bad, I really need to see what good looks like. This park was the most amazing play space I have ever seen. Physically and mentally stimulating with more than 30 different activities, sand all over the ground so the kids can play barefoot, and best of all, completely free. While my daughter played and ran herself ragged, I started to wonder why nothing like this exists in Italy. As it became clear to me why not (within days it would be covered in cigarette butts, graffiti, trash, and otherwise defiled), I got downright mad.

Why can't Italy get her act together?! This country has 80% of the world's artistic and historic patrimony, yet on the list of most visited cities it is 5th, lagging behind France, Spain, and even China. If only the astounding amount of money we pay in taxes each year went to cleaning up Italian cities and making them friendlier places for tourists and natives alike, Italy would be number one on that list, where she belongs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Campania: Home To Italy's Craftiest Con Artists

Italy's Campania region is home to some of the country's most prized historic and natural patrimony such as the lost City of Pompeii, the stunning Amalfi Coast, the Island of Capri, the list goes on and on. Interestingly enough, it is also home to some of the worlds craftiest con artists.

It seems as though the world has Italy on the hot seat this month. Between Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's sex scandals, threats of kicking Italy out of the G8, and the story about two Japanese tourists being charged 900 Euro for lunch in a Roman restaurant when the actual bill should have been closer to 200 Euro, it sure seems true that when it rains, it pours (and sometimes in Italy, it even hails)!

To make matters worse, today in Avellino, (a suburb of Naples and city of origin of Tony Soprano, protagonist of the acclaimed HBO series "The Sopranos") A 62 year old woman was brought up on charges of aggravated fraud when police found her jogging with her dog. Since when is jogging at 62 against the law in Italy, you might ask? It is when you have been collecting a 100% invalidity pension for decades. In addition to jogging, locals say she is out every day ploughing her land and farming. Not bad for a 100% disabled woman, hey?

Just a few miles away in Caserta, according to the Sole 24 Ore newspaper today 200 individuals comprised of police officers, town mayors, and other city officials are under investigation for partaking in a widespread con which led to inflated and illegally issued traffic fines. Automatic speed detector devices were rigged to increase the amounts of fines issued, the personal information of those to whom fines were issued was compromised, and the local authorities are accused of lining their pockets with the profits.

Is it something in the water? Why is Italy known for the mafia and con artists almost above all else? Luckily Italian cuisine, fashion, and artistic patrimony help to tip the scales back into a more respectable position. All in all Italy never fails to amuse or surpise, and that my friends is part of what makes it so wonderful.

Update: The speed cameras around Caserta are now under sequester by Carabinieri, more here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

When In Rome, _ _ _ _ as the Romans Do

I am always delighted when a package arrives on my Roman doorstep. Note that I have been here so long that I no longer say "a package from home", as for some time now, home is Rome.

A dear friend sent me a belated birthday gift. This is a friend who always knows exactly what I need (even why I myself don't know). The package included a book which from the title alone, I knew I would enjoy. So far, the pages of "Drink, Play, F@#k" by Andrew Gottlieb are quite entertaining.

"While purchasing condoms in a foreign country is much less embarrassing than doing so at home since you probably won't bump into your fifth grade English teacher in the checkout line, it is still an uncomfortable process. Especially if they're not on display and you don't speak Thai. You haven't really played charades until you've mimed what you need a condom for to a seventy year old druggist on the Phi Phi Islands."

All this talk about condoms got me thinking about how Italy measures up. While Rome and Italy in general for the most part rate poorly when it comes to overall organization and practicality, I must say that finding condoms is pretty easy, at any time of the day. Though there are no 24 hour mini marts, and pharmacies close for siesta every day, all day on Sundays, and basically for the entire month of August, still they do not leave frisky Romans in the lurch during their moment of need. Outside just about every pharmacy in the city there is a handy condom dispenser, with (count'em) seven different varieties of prophylactics.

Perhaps the abundance of condom machines all over the place could be the reason why Italy manages to keep it's population growth at zero for decades now (well, that and the fact that many Italians live with their parents until well into their 30's and 40's-who needs birth control when jealous Mamma is around)?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bargain Shopping at Castel Romano Outlets

Ok so I know how lucky I am when part of my job is to go and research upcoming events and things to do around Rome and then report back on them. So naturally I was more than happy to go check out this outlet shopping centre outside the city I had heard about. It's called Castel Romano and its only about 15km south of the Roman suburb of EUR. Not having a car, I hadn't had the chance to visit but yet. This week, with the summer sales on my mind, once I found out about the shuttle bus leaving from piazza barberini and only costing 21 euro, there was no stopping this shopaholic.

Not only are there big designer names like Cavalli, Valentino and D & G, but also Levis, la Perla and more Italian labels such as Pinko and Motivi. I found the shops to be especially good for womens wear, shoes and accessories. Oh, and did I mention shoes? I practiced the utmost restraint and only bought two pair (flip flops don't count, naturally). Had I known there is a "kiddie parking area" (that's right, you go there and park your kids with babysitters in a play area while you shop) I would have brought the little people (and probably stayed longer and spent MORE as a result. All the more reason to come back again my friends!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Italian Nuns Make a "Habit" out of Breaking the Law?

Given the public backlash recently surrounding nuns and whether they have been granted too much freedom to act and do as they please, this most recent headline struck me as particularly interesting.

Let me set the scene for you as I envision it (naturally, based on the reported facts).

Three nuns are sitting around the convent and being pious when news that Pope Benedict XI has fallen in the bath and was taken to the hospital. The oldest nun, presumably the "boss" at her ripe age of 78, shouts "Fire up the Ford Fiesta, we've got to go"! Sister Tavoletta, 56, obeys the order and within moments the nuns peeled out and headed towards the Papal chalet at Les Combs. Tavoletta must have really put the pedal to the metal, because when local police stopped here, the "flying" nun was clocked at 120 mph (190 km/hr)!

After being handed a 375 Euro fine and having her license suspended, she vows to contest the fines. Presumably, the Vatican will foot the bill for Italy's top attorney for auto related lawsuits.

Out of curiosity, I wonder if that police officer now fears what might await him when his time comes and he marches up to the proverbial gates...perhaps he too might be handed a few violations?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Becoming Italian

Some of you may remember our recent controversial report about the Italian fear of drafts and other illness-provoking phenomena such as the evil eye, ice cold drinks, sleeping near open windows, et cetera.

Yesterday, as two kind Italian men performed the herculean task of mounting two giant air conditioners in my apartment, I could barely contain my excitement. Finally, after ten years in this country I would spend July and August with 24,000 BTU's of arctic cool air blowing down on me and my loved ones. I found myself giggling when any time I got too close to the stream of air coming out of the machine while holding my 6 month old baby, one of the men would shout "Signora, attenzione!" (Watch out, the air will hit him)! I humored them and moved away before they pulled out their telefonini and called the department of child services on me.

A few hours later, when all was said and done and I sat down to work at my desk (conveniently located nice and close to the air conditioner), within minutes my neck began to hurt. It became stiff, sore, and sent a chill through my whole body. Panic stricken, I grabbed that handy remote control and hit the off button with a quickness while contemplating the possibility that against all odds, I was truly becoming Italian.

Follow our blog to find out how the story unfolds as temperatures soar to a scorching 34 this weekend!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

New Italian Anti-Immigration Law Stirs Public Debate

A new law passed on Thursday July 2, making illegal immigration a crime in Italy.

With the exception of heads of school and doctors, Italians are now required by law to report the presence of illegal immigrants. Violation of this law is now punishable by hefty fines of up to 10,000 Euro and even imprisonment for up to 3 years for those in violation. The government has asked for "citizen patrols" to enforce the new law.

No public services such as health care or education are to be granted to babies or children whose parents do not legally reside in Italy.

A petition against the law has been drafted by activities including Moni Ovadia, and those who wish to add their names may do so here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Roma, a love/hate saga - part one

I am truly lucky to live in Rome. Of all the places in the world, I am so thankful that I can actually call this one my home. That said, from time to time this city can really get a girl down. Here are 5 reasons why today was one of those days.

1. Why bother even trying to keep a decent looking car in this city? Some insane Roman driver is inevitably going to come along and plough into it.

2. Would it REALLY kill them to just put my three items in the bag for me and send me on my merry way?

3. Is that toilet ACTUALLY broken, or are they just too lazy to have to stock it with toilet paper and soap (let alone clean it). I suspect the latter.

4. Hold it right there!! Was I just served a Hot Dog with my 8 Euro aperitivo?? Toss me an olive, a crostino, ANYTHING but a hot dog.

5. Somebody give these kids a double espresso!

Guess what, I feel better already. Back in love with bella Roma and finished whining (at least for today).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer in the City

Judging from the heat in Rome over the last few weeks, the summer is well and truly here. Of course I had noticed the increase in tourists everywhere around Rome which is great as along with the tourists come all the great events and festivals that the Comune di Roma and other organisations put on. A few of these super events which are certainly on my to do list for the summer are the following:
  • Under the Shade of the Collosseum; this is a fantastic setup, they have a great pool here which you pay around 10 euro to access for the whole day... heaven during those hot days in Rome! They are also holding concerts, cabaret, games, cooking shows and my favourite of all Italian things- spettacoli! Which is basically just any kind of show, but throw in a load of glitz, glamour, sequins, a lively sweaty male host and a few scantily clad lady sidekicks, in Italian they are called Veline.
  • The song of the sirens, from Oh Brother where art thou 'Go down to the river to pray' comes to mind when I think of all the goings on down along the Tiber, though you need to change pray to play! First of all there is a beautiful outdoor cinema set up in front of L'Isola Tiberina, which then turns into a cool bar for hanging out with all the film types.
  • Then just all along the riverbanks there are cocktail bars and stalls selling all kinds of magical goods! There are 13 refreshment rooms for every taste, from exotic food to the classic pizza. The website promises a full fun packed itinerary of cultural events throughout the summer, catering for all age groups and interests and the best thing of all its all for FREE!
  • At some stage this summer I hope to get a bit cultural and head to the Baths of Caracalla for an outdoor opera, from what I hear the setting and production are truly amazing.
  • Another great event this summer is Roma vintage, its a pool and party but with a difference its all about nostalgia so it is 70's and 80's themed, so expect games and deco to come from those eras. There is also a children's area and food.
  • Trastevere also has its own mini festival called Noantri Festival, definitely worth checking out if your in Rome during July.

I love that there is so much going on this summer, Rome always has something new up its sleeve! So now I just have to find the time to fit all these events and spettacoli in....

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Italians in America (and their peculiar eating habits)

There are some very interesting cultural differences between Italians in Italy and "Italians" in America. Americans of Italian descent will still call themselves Italian, regardless of whether they have ever been to Italy, can speak a word of Italian, or can even pinpoint it on a map.

I have always found the culinary differences between growing up in an Italian family vs. an Italian-American family quite peculiar. First let me give you a bit of background. Dad is a FOB (fresh off boat) Italian living in America. Mom is a third generation Italian, born and bred in the states but still "proud to be Italian".

Now for a closer glimpse at what Sunday dinners were like with the two families, using sample menus to show just how much things change as Italians "Americanize".

Dinner with Paternal Grandparents (Nonni)

Primo: fresh handmade pasta with tomato sauce (never store bought, made with fresh tomatoes when in season. When not in season, made from the jars of tomatoes that were harvested last season and stored for the winter)
Secondo: cotolette di pollo (not to be confused with "chicken parm")
Contorno: steamed artichokes stuffed with bread crumbs, parmigiano reggiano, parsley, and a hint of garlic
Contorno 2: Green salad with sliced fennel, tomatoes, salt, olive oil, and balsamic or white wine vinegar.
Dessert: fresh fruit
finale: espresso

Dinner with Maternal Grandparents (Grandparents):
Appetizer: nothing
Primo/secondo/contorno (that's right, all one one plate at the same time): Spaghetti (cooked about 8 minutes too long) with meatballs, Kraft Parmesan cheese in a green can shaken over said spaghetti, the ribs that were cooked in the "gravy" (aka red lead or tomato sauce), a few slices of scali bread with butter, and a garden salad with creamy Italian dressing.
Dessert: Boston cream pie

What's the bottom line? After first coming to live in Italy, I will admit there was a period where I turned my nose up at Italian food in America (and annoyed the hell out of my family). Then I decided to apply the ever valid saying, "When in Rome...".

Moral of the story? Chicken broccoli ziti may not be Italian whatsoever, but if you manage to not overcook it until it's mush, it's not actually that bad.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to the Vatican: Groped on bus 40

These days you cant get much for 1 euro but I always thought that in Rome the metro and bus price being fixed at 1 euro was 1 great value for residents and visitors alike, though an unpleasant experience on a packed bus this morning makes me think that one Italian male traveller was getting a lot more for his euro than the rest of us!
As a single female traveller you hear of the stories of men rubbing themselves up against you on an overcrowded bus, but naively I always thought that these were just urban myths or just that the girls in question had picked up the situation wrong, that the man had merely bumped into them as the bus took off.
Well I stood this morning whilst riding the holiest of buses, the number 40 which brings you straight to The Vatican from Termini train station. As The Vatican is so popular you can imagine how busy this bus gets, so there my friend and I were on our way to work on the packed bus and by stop 3 it had become totally full so we were all standing very close to each other. At this stage I had no where to move and I also realised that the man behind me was slowly rubbing himself off me!!
I obviously assumed it was my imagination getting the better of me and tried to ignore it but it only got a bit more persistent and as I could not move I tried to rearrange my bag to form a barrier.
Bag = worst barrier ever! As soon enough he had shoved that out of his way and was back to rubbing himself against me again! Being a polite Irish girl and not wanting to cause a scene I just went red as a cherry and started to mumble awkwardly to my friend, then faking a coughing fit I finally managed to get into a spot where he could not get me.
My friend was able to confirm that he was in fact being a perv and it was not my mind being overactive, but seeing as she was a polite Irish girl too and her Italian is not the greatest, to try help me she had given the man a few filthy looks. It turns out this only encouraged him as no sooner had I got out of his way he began to move his attentions on to my friend!
Needless to say as soon as we could get a seat we took it and thankfully did not have to put up with Mr Perv for too long.
This certainly wasn't the first time this has happened to anyone and I am sure it wont be the last.. I know since I have told people this story I have been hearing many more of the same theme back.
So men back off ....that euro bus ticket does not entitle you to a Lap Dance!!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Greener Rome? Taxi-Bikes to the Rescue!

There is an interesting new player on the Rome tourism scene this month. Three wheeled bici-taxi (taxi-bikes) are now scattered throughout the city, offering one way and hourly service throughout the eternal city.

The initiative is one aimed at sustainable mobility and eco-tourism, started as a collaborative effort between government authorities and an association that provides employment opportunities for former convicts (is it me or does there always have to be a connection between Roman taxis and convicts?).

The project was initially aimed as a free service, no official fees although tips were accepted. Now however it does seem that three-wheeled former felons are charging up to 30 Euro per hour for a private tour on these bikes. Still, for two people sightseeing in Rome, it's not outrageous. The bikes can pick up tourists and drop them off right at Rome's famous monuments, even those which are in pedestrian-only areas.

The bici-taxis will now begin a pilot test to last until the end of the year. At that time the city will decide whether the project should be allowed permanent funding.

Stay tuned for our follow up once we give these pedal-pushers a try!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Feeling Frisky in Rome

They say that Paris is the most romantic city in the world but after spending a few months in Rome I am going to have to set the record straight and tell you all that I think Rome is now taking over as the most romantic city...sure you can't spell romantic without ROMA!

Everywhere you look in Rome you see couples canoodling on corners of romantic piazzas. On Wednesdays the Pope even gets in on the romance and invites newly wed couples to come join him for a papal blessing and of course there is the famous bridge of Ponte Milivo where young lovers show their undying love by locking a padlock to the lamppost and throwing the key into the Tiber river below.

This city is made for Romance with street sellers selling roses to happy couples of all ages, you can easily walk through the city and stumble across star-crossed lovers kissing on benches or waiting for a bus. Romance does not die out with age either. Recently on my way back from the Vatican I saw a couple easily in their 80's hand in hand walking along the street and every now again they would stop and give each other a little kiss!

With PDAs(public displays of affection) as far as the eye can see I know where this single girl is going to throw her two cents....into the Fontana di Trevi that is, as the local folklore goes throw one coin into the fountain if you want to return to Rome and two into the fountain if you want to find love in Rome!!


Rome has been the backdrop of hundreds of films. From classics such as Roman Holiday to modern depictions of Ancient Rome such as the HBO series ROME, the Eternal city certainly has an impressive resume when it comes to film locations.
Obviously there is elevated media involvement now surrounding films such as Angels and Demons which bring high profile celebrities such as Tom Hanks to Rome for filming and often for premieres as well. The same kind of frenzy seems to be going on over filming of "New Moon" the second film in the "Twilight" book series by Stephenie Meyer. I read the first book, and will admit that while written for a teenage audience, it is addictive!
There is all kinds of buzz on the streets in this town now about how the cast and crew will be here any day now for filming. While the set is supposed to be in Montepulciano, just yesterday I was walking down a random Roman street and saw a movie set with a traffic scene being shot. I got all excited until I realized it was just another bad Italian TV show in the works. I'm still on the lookout though. If that handsome vampired named Edward pops out from behind the bushes, I won't put up a fight!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tourist "DONT'S" Part One

No matter where you are in the world, keeping up with appearances is important. Let's face it, first impressions are lasting, and we live in a society where beauty is worshiped. This is especially true in Italy.

Now the last thing anyone wants to do is get caught on camera with their trousers down. Or even sagging. To protect this tourist's identity, our photo will not reveal the subject, but let this be a lesson to us all to check for plumber's crack before wandering around Italy's most popular monuments! You never know when you might find yourself on candid camera!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rigorously Italian Pork...

The Swine Flu continues to claim victims around the world, with over 4,000 infections and more than 50 confirmed deaths. People everywhere are taking precautions much like those suggested for avoidance of any other airborne flu, ie washing hands, avoiding contact with people with flu-like symptoms, remaining in well-ventilated areas, etc.

According to the American Center for Disease Control, the swine flu cannot be transmitted through food. I think the Italians have yet to accept this assertation, judging from the pile of expiring pork I saw in the supermarket yesterday underneath a big sign that reads "Rigorously Italian Pork" (or rather, "strictly Italian". After snapping this photo, I took a chance, bought some seriously cheap pork chops and had a nice dinner. Most importantly, I'm still alive to report about it.

In all seriousness, here's hoping they contain the outbreak before it claims more lives.

Monday, May 11, 2009

How a Crazy Roman Vegetarian Marred an Otherwise Perfect Mother's Day

To finish what was a truly lovely mother's day spend outside Rome at the lake, on the way back to the city we decided to stop at the "Festa dei Vegeteriani" being held at Piazza Re di Roma along the Via Appia. With two kids and the world's cutest mutt in tow, we had a walk around the stalls, admired the cute puppies being given away, cringed at the awful pictures of animal abuse, tasted some disgusting kamut crackers with seitan spread, and wished (if only for an instant) that it weren't sooooo hard not to eat meat.

There is a playground at the park, and our little one was itching to run around a bit so we made our way into the park. As dogs aren't allowed inside the childrens play area, we tied him to the fence, just by the playground entry where we could keep an eye on him.

Everyone was having a grand old time when suddenly one of the animalisti left her stall and decided it was time to shake things up. She made her way over to us and asked if that was our dog. We kindly replied yes, it was. She "suggested" that we move him to where we were standing so that he would be able to see us. I politely explained to her that dogs are not allowed in the childrens park. She continued to insist that we bring him over, or leave the park. Nothing I said made this woman budge. That's when I said "he's my dog, I'll do as I see fit with him, ok?" She turned and headed out of the park, but instead of going back to her stall, she proceeded to begin UNTYING my dog to take him away! What nerve!

After diffusing the situation, taking back my dog, and sending the wild woman on her way, I got to thinking. Was I wrong? Would it have been better to leave my dog at home alone while the family goes out? Does he really mind being tied up while the kids are at the park, or if I have to make a stop to buy milk? I don't think so.

Come to think of it, if you're reading this wild woman, maybe someone should tie YOU up! Keep your hands off my mutt and worry about how you can sell something better than those rancid seitan sandwiches. Grrrr....

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The REAL Angels and Demons

The Gods of Fashion vs. Graffiti Vandals

I started out on a morning walk today. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and it was just an all around lovely morning. As I turned the corner to admire one of my favorite window displays (you know, the kind where even during the summer sales there isn't an item under 600 Euro to be found) I was mortified to see how the block had been defiled. Right there next to Burberry, Prada, and Gucci sat a giant wall of graffiti.

Now Rome is no stranger to graffiti. In fact, the origins of the practice point back to Ancient Rome and Pompeii, where inscriptions have been found on many of the ancient ruins. In Ancient times, it would have been easy to discern what kind of message the graffiti was there to impart. Today, it seems to me that it is just plain senseless.

Surely some will argue that it is a form of art, it goes deeper than writing on walls, and so on. No matter what it stands for, I see it as nothing more than vandalism. ESPECIALLY in such close proximity to Gucci. Shame on them!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Italians Embrace Doughnuts (and bagels too)!

While on a brief pit stop along the Italian highway this week, I was surprised to see more American food influence than ever before. On the countertop where all the lovely espressos, cappuccinos, caffe macchiatos, etc were being served, there was a giant box of doughnuts. Mind you these were plain sugar coated doughnuts, but still dougnuts. As I look just beyond the counter, there is a giant billboard ad for bagel sandwiches! OK I'll admit this is partly a dream come true for me,but a bit scary too. What could be next? Super size cokes? Chili burgers? Should we be concerned?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dodge the Human: Hit by a Roman Taxi!

Walking around Rome can be a dangerous activity, the pedestrian crossing rules don't seem to apply to Italian drivers, if you are on them you are lucky if the cars stop to let you cross and don't expect the motorini to, they just play dodge the human! A recent run in with a cab just goes to show you that even standing still on the streets of Rome should be done at your own risk...

There I was standing by a taxi rank the other day taking in the the awesome view that is St Peters Basilica, only to have a cab come speeding out of the rank, swerving to avoid the group of students that had just walked into the piazza and in the process he managed to clip the back of my foot with his tyre. Crippled with pain I did not get a chance to run after the cab and all the other drivers at the rank, claimed to have no idea who he was so the evil taxi driver just got away with it and I was left with a nice swollen ankle and colourful bruises to prove that standing around on roman streets, especially near cab drivers is a dangerous pursuit. My advice is stick to the sidewalk - at least there you are hopefully safe from the crazy roman drivers!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Take a Number!

Well readers, spring is in the air! Along with spring come tentative plans for summer travel. Given the fact that my little family just welcomed a new member, I thought I'd better get cracking on the passport situation in order to be ready to fly when the time comes.

Some online research told me I'd need a birth certificate. No problem, I thought, let me head to the town hall and grab that. I woke up bright and early, bundled up the baby and headed over to the neighborhood circoscrizione.

First things first, TAKE A NUMBER said the grouchy signora at the "welcome" desk. I wish I had brought rubber gloves, the number machine looked like something out of a horror film. I hit the button, hoped that I took the right one (directions in Italy tend to be ambiguous), and then put some sanitizer on my little fingers. When they finally called my number, I gave them my request form and was told that the birth certificate would take 40 days to procure. WHAT?! 40 days seemed like a long time, but hey we are in Italy, pazienza!

After our 40 day wait, I headed back to pick up the blessed birth certificate. Guess what, CHIUSO! Closed, come back tomorrow. Ok, what's one more day. Indeed, the next day the heavens parted and yet another brush with the devil known as Italian bureaucracy had been successfully dealt with!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

8 reasons to Love living in Rome

After all that has been in the news of late I thought it was time I penned a few thoughts of cheer... 8 reasons why I love being here.

1. The Gelato ! Who out there can deny it . Here in Rome is where my taste buds are spoiled for choice ... there are so many flavours, and from my 'research' each place has its own signature one that keeps patrons coming back for more, here at Roberto's place you can sample a rich pure chocolate with just a twist of chili. These flavors entwine together to make the perfect bite. All of his ice cream is made in this little place pictured here. I used to come here almost every day when I lived in this part of Rome.

2. The Gelato! OH did i say that already ... "squisito" that's how to say delicious in the Italian language. Say it aloud and you feel it . It is a beautiful word.

3. Summer balmy nights, when a stroll around almost every corner brings us to the ice cream which is still being scooped out at midnight.

4. I love the fact that I can be a tourist every day and then go home to all my comforts: pure bliss.

5. Villa Borghese ... a charming , grand park located in the centre of Rome , a stone's throw from Piazza del Popolo where anyone and everyone can find a place to sit alone on a bench reading or daydreaming. It's a perfect place to stroll leisurely or take a brisk speed walk along the many pathways and little roads.

6. One of my favorites is hiring a bicycle built for four and taking a 'drive' on a Sunday afternoon around Villa Borghese with my family, stopping only for .... an ice cream.

7. If I need to stay indoors for a few days , that my "holiday" isn't lost or wasted ... the Colossem still waits for me.

8. I couldn't let this go by without saying that the best way to start the day off is with a coffee and cornetto . What better place to live, to love to live ... than here in Rome.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

When In Rome - Word Origins

What's all the talk about doing as the Romans do? Is that really a good idea?? Sometimes I wonder. In any event, about 1600 years ago, St, Augustine traveled to Milan after having been in Rome. When he realized that the Milanese did not fast on Saturdays as the Romans did, he had a talk with St. Ambrosio, the bishop of Milan who answered: "When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday, when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the customs of the Church where you are". This phrase was then adapted to become "When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done" as written by Robert Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy. Eventually the widespread phrase evolved into "When In Rome, do as the Romans do".

More interesting word and phrase origins here

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Romancing Rome

Living in Rome one can pretty much anticipate being flirted with by Roman men, who are renowned for their expertise in the art of romance.

That said, I was not surprised when one morning while waiting for the bus I caught the steady gaze of an Italian man. There was little conversation between us as I told him "non parlo Italiano molto bene" (which roughly translates: I don't speak much Italian). He was then surprised when I made mention of my Italian husband. But a true gentleman he was when he helped me onto the already overcrowded bus.

Not wanting to let go of my hand, he let me know that he was soon going make his departure from the bus and we said our goodbyes ... he implied for a kiss ... and than he was gone.

So it's still here, the "romancing Rome" I wonder if that gentleman's day was a little brighter as a result of his flirtation? Maybe that is why in his 70 plus years of life he still continues the romancing.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Streets of Rome ..."The sidewalk struggle"

In Rome there are sidewalks that are practically non-existent, where my umbrella would scrape against the side of the buildings just to avoid hitting the cars parked along the street. So when I was told about the large sidewalks here in Ostia Lido (sea port of Rome) My mind conjured up pictures of delightful strolls pushing my baby about in my extravagant purchase " top of the range" pram, but just eight weeks after our arrival here that pram took an early retirement and now sits permanently inside our front door playing perfect hostess to all manner of things.

Though there are some decent sidewalks here; like for example the boardwalk a few kilometers down towards the port of Rome itself, it is brand new and on a sunny day can be a nice way to unwind after pranzo (midday meal). But the majority of sidewalks on my daily school route make the 2.5 kilometer round trip seem like an obstacle course. Tree roots jut through the concrete to resemble miniature volcano's , these can even continue into the roads. And other sidewalks are broken , pieces of it missing making my footing unstable and clumsy.

Two perfectly good sidewalks that just didn't meet, so yet again I was forced to 'struggle' , balancing my pram on two wheels in order to cross over.

Now the season is cold and wet and my baby travels 'economy class' in a small lightweight stroller that gives little protection against these harsh elements. I still have to struggle across uneven damaged sidewalks dodging tree roots, pot holes, and other small annoyances!

Spring will be here soon, things are improving... the two 'perfectly good' sidewalks now meet. Work began just a few days after taking a photo of that scene...did perhaps someone notice me that day...

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