Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Italian Obsession with Cleaning, Part II

You may recall our last piece on the Italian obsession with keeping an immaculate home. Today I could not help but snap a few pictures as I caught my neighbor in the act.

Here's how it all went down. It's 7:30 AM on a rainy and dreary morning in Rome. As I wait for my coffee to brew, I stumble over to the window and see that my neighbor, a true creature of habit, has her yellow gloves on and is meticulously cleaning between each fold of the window shutters. She does this EVERY morning at 7:30.

Even while it is raining she cleans those bad boys, despite the fact that the rain will only bring down more dirt and soot onto her windows which she will annihilate tomorrow, I have no doubt.

 Did I mention what time it was??

Ah, and five minutes later, downstairs from Mrs. Clean, two of the cutest little old ladies I have ever seen were learning out their windows to gossip while it continued to drizzle down on this Roman street at 7:40 in the morning. Another day in Rome has begun my friends. Live and let clean...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A visit to charming Montefioralle

Nestled in the heart of the Chianti countryside, high above the nearby town of Greve is the cutest little walled town called Montefioralle. This ancient fortified city is one of the oldest in the area and still retains its initial walls.

The tiny village, mostly free of cars, drips charm at every twist and turn. It's what you picture when you close your eyes and think of Tuscany.

Crumbling, old, mismatched stone walls in hues ranging from beige to gold to brick red; winding cobbled pathways, with curved gateways, which reveal welcoming wooden doorways with pots and pots of colorful flowers spilling out over the entrance; miniature-sized windows framed in shutters and shrouded in intricate lace curtains which dance slightly in the breeze.

Over the years, the village has belonged to the Ricasoli, Benci, Vespucci and Gherardini families. As you wander the area, keep your eye out for a 'V' and a wasp carved into stone above one of the doors depicting the house where Amerigo Vespucci lived. Don't miss a visit to the gothic church of Santo Stefano, which has been restored and houses many pieces of notable artwork.

Though the village has a restaurant, it is the perfect vantage point from which to enjoy a picnic lunch perched on one of its stone walls, while enjoying the surrounding postcard views of lush vineyards and olive groves.
Or, for those wanting a bit more exercise, there are walking paths and hiking trails which pass by villas, farmhouses and old churches. Greve is about a 20 minute walk and further afield, Panzano can be reached by way of back roads.

And if you are into Sagre (festivals paying homage to food), visit in mid-March for The Sagre delle Fritelle, which is a celebration of fried rice balls.

No matter what time of year you visit, don't forget to bring your camera - you won't want to miss capturing the picturesque houses, village or views of Tuscany that you'll find here.

Robin Locker is a France and Italy travel consultant, freelance travel writer and photographer who hopes to one day realize her dream of living La Dolce Vita in her beloved Italy. She writes about travel for MNUI travel insurance and on her own site, My Melange" She is addicted to social media - you can follow her on Twitter @MyMelange.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Underground Rome

Everyone loves Rome; I guess that’s why all roads lead there and bring zillions of tourists each year. However, what many of them don’t realize is that there is so much more to this ancient city than the street-level archaeological sites they visit, such as the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
The Eternal City is actually an underground labyrinth of antiquities, some revealed and many yet to be uncovered. Intrepid travelers should know that many of them are also accessible and oh, so much fun to visit. In a city that is over 3,000 years old, it would be impossible to list all of the underground treasures, so here are the top 3 of Underground Rome, at least in this wanderlust woman’s opinion:
  1. Crypta Balbi – is a small museum with a wealth of offerings into the dark ages of Rome’s history. It is actually a working archaeological site. You enter at street level, leaving modern life behind, and descend into centuries of ancient life, complete with insula (Roman apartment buildings); a lime kiln, ancient bathrooms and more. It is right near the Trevi Fountain. Many artifacts are housed in the street-level museum but you will need a guide to take you through the subterranean archaeological site, so inquire at the ticket window. It is well worth the visit. (By the way, it is a recent discovery by Roman standards, having only been unearthed in 1981 and open to the public twenty years later. It is called the Crypta Balbi because at one time it served as the Theater of Balbus, one of Caesar Augustus’ most important military advisors.)
  1. Church of San Nicola in Carcere – this is an unassuming church on Via del Teatro Marcello. From the outside you see some old columns and crumbling walls and it may appear to be any old church. Ah, there is your first mistake. This church was built on and in the site of the Forum Holitorium, the ancient food and oil market of Rome. The outer columns actually date from the 3rd century B.C. and the ruins in the back church yard are equally as ancient. The columns are the remains of the Temple of Juno and now built into the walls of the modern day church, which is about 400 years old. Below ground are bits of the Temples of June and Spes. There have been reports of a church on this site since the third century although the commemorative plaque on the current church dates from 1128 A.D. You are allowed to enter and go below the altar. This was spooky and quite mysterious for a Catholic school girl who didn’t think anyone but priests could enter below the altar or sacristy. Once down there, peak through the windows which lie between the ancient columns. It is a strange view of how layers of history lie just below the surface of everyday life in Rome.
  1. Vatican Necropolis (a/k/a – Scavi) – this is the ancient necropolis under the Vatican and admission is reserved to a select few each day (unless you’re on one of the lucky When in Rome tours). You descend under the most notable church in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica, through 16 centuries of history, viewing ancient paths and tombs, seeing preserved frescoes, until you come upon what is believed to be the grave of St. Peter. If you want a sneak preview before your Roman adventure, the Vatican offers a great virtual and interactive tour on its website.
Solo Traveler Tip – all of these sites except the Vatican Necropolis are open during the evening hours and will give the single tourist something to do in this city with so much to offer.

Lisa Fantino is an award-winning journalist and attorney and the creative force behind Wanderlust Women Travel (and soon Wanderlust Weddings). She also writes travel features for MNUI Travel Insurance and blogs as Lady Litigator.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The New Boy in Town

Yesterday as I was leaving my office, I noticed there is a new "boy next door" to me. Tall, dark, great smile, well dressed. Sadly, this is no Italian Stallion. It is a 6 foot tall hot dog. That's right folks, Mr. Hot Dog has moved into the vacant shop next door, right on Via Cavour a stones throw from the Roman Forum. Will it survive where others have failed? Only time will tell. His menu is strictly hot dogs, of all shapes & sizes.

While I can't imagine passing up good Italian food for a hot dog while sightseeing in Rome, I suppose there are some who feel there is never a bad time for a weaner.
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