Rome’s Carnival of Horses, for BBC Travel

Roman Carnival
Rome’s Carnival includes lots of events like this one. (Photo: Carnevale Romano) 

The 2013 edition of Rome’s Carnival (or “Carnevale”, if you’re trying to be all Italian about it) kicks off tomorrow, Feb. 2. While it’s easy to mistake for an equestrian event, what with all the horse shows and horse parades and horse, well, everything else, you don’t have to be a horse lover to want to take part in the fun.

In fact, until Feb. 12th, Rome’s going to be hopping with all kinds of family-friendly (and free!) entertainments. Parades? Check. Fireworks? Check. Street performers, concerts, and shows by the Commedia d’Arte? Check, check and check.

Find out more—and exactly what not to miss over the next 11 days—piece for the BBC as their Rome travel blogger, “Rome’s Carnival of Horses,”on what not to miss in Rome’s 2013 Carnival.

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With Revealed Rome and Passports with Purpose, Enter to WIN the Perfect Rome Getaway!

Passports with Purpose fundraiser Rome prize
Want to win the perfect break to Rome—including a 5-star hotel stay, fantastic experiences, skip-the-line tickets to the Vatican, and a ton of travel advice, including an hour-long travel chat with yours truly?

Now’s your chance!

I’m participating in this year’s Passports with Purpose fundraiser. And that means that I’ve put together a fabulous prize package… that one lucky person will win!

The best part? It’s for a good cause.

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Consulting Session Sale (Happy Birthday, To Me!)

Travel consulting for Rome
Since this spring, I’ve been offering one-on-one consulting sessions on travel to Italy

And I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to help people have rewarding, fun trips to Rome. That’s why, for my upcoming birthday (September 14!), I’ve decided to give a small “gift” to anyone thinking of booking a session with me: a $15 discount.

(This isn’t quite as strange as it sounds. You know how, in the U.S., the birthday girl or boy gets treated to dinner and drinks? Here in Italy, it’s the opposite. I’m supposed to treat everyone else!).

So, from now until September 14, you can book a 1-hour, one-on-one consulting session with me for $60 instead of $75. (Note: That does not mean we have to actually hold the session in the next two weeks. We can have it whenever you want it. Next spring, even).

By the way, since I’ve been doing this for a few months now, some clients already have gone to Italy, used my suggestions, and returned. Here’s some of the most recent feedback that’s made me blush:

“Thanks again for the consultation. It made all the difference for us. Whenever we were thinking outside of the box, we’d remind ourselves, “what did Mandy say about this?””

“Dear Amanda, THANK YOU for everything. We really enjoyed speaking with you and found your services exceptional… Thanks so much for that suggestion [for a restaurant in Testaccio]—we never would have found it without you… I can’t thank you enough for all your wonderful suggestions. You are a smart girl to have relocated to Rome! We’re already discussing our next trip.”

How can that kind of feedback not make me feel great?

For my birthday, help me do what I like doing… and book a session! (Here’s more information on what advice, tips and tricks you can get from your 1-hour consulting session).





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See the Colosseum—and Its Underground—Under the Stars

Colosseum now open at night
Looking for another unique way to visit the Colosseum—and its underground? How about at night?

Not for the first time, but now nightly until October 5, Rome is opening up the Colosseum to nighttime visitors. Talk about a more tranquil, and spookier, way to visit Rome's bloodiest and most depressing  most famous archaeological site. 

The catch: because the visit includes the underground, it has to be on a tour led by a Colosseum official, which has its pluses and minuses.* Available times are at 8:20pm, 8:30pm, 8:40pm, 8:50pm, 9:20pm, 9:30pm, 9:45pm, 10pm, 10:15pm, 1o:30pm, and 10:45pm. Booking is required; reserve your spot by calling +39 0639967700. The cost is €20, including your Colosseum ticket.

*Pluses: You'll almost certainly get more information on a tour with an official guide than, say, from a guidebook. Minuses: The official guides do this tour over and over and over, meaning the million-and-first time they give the tour—in other words, when you happen to be on it—they often have very little enthusiasm for the subject left. Also, their English can be middling to poor.

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The Week of Culture in Rome, for the NY Times

At the Palazzo Massimo during the Week of Culture

If you haven’t done so already, get thee to one of Italy’s many state-run museums, archaeological sites, and palaces, most of which are free right now for the Settimana della Cultura! Here in Rome, that means you can get into prize-worthy sites like the Palazzo Massimo (with its ancient Roman frescoes and other goodies, above) for free. The event ends April 22. For more, check out my piece on the Week of Culture over at the New York Times.

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The Colosseum Underground Reopens (Again)

Colosseum underground reopen for Easter
The hypogeum of the Colosseum reopens this Saturday, April 7th. After being closed for nearly six months due to flooding, it's practically an Easter miracle!

(And yes, officials announced today that it will be open in two days. Welcome to Rome).

If you didn't even know that the Colosseum underground was closed, I don't blame you. Lots of tour operators were still selling the underground as if it was. But rest assured: It was.

For more on the Colosseum underground, check out my previous posts. This post looks at the three major ways you can visit the Colosseum underground (all are tours). I also have a guide to how to book the Colosseum underground and a post highlighting what the Colosseum underground is really like.

Happy underground-ing, and Buona Pasqua!

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Christmas in Rome: Some Serious Lights

Christmas lights in Rome

This year, Rome is celebrating Christmas with some of the glitteriest, prettiest lights I’ve seen. Ever. And since that includes the decorations that glitter-bomb American shopping malls and cul-de-sac neighborhoods every year, that’s saying quite a bit.

Here, just a few twinkly tastes of the most Christmas-sy corners of Rome. Photos—and even a couple of short videos—to follow.

Prepare to be dazzled.

Christmas tree and decorations at Piazza Venezia, Rome    Piazza Venezia


Rome Christmas lightsVia dei Coronari

Christmas lights in RomePiazza San Lorenzo in Lucina

Christmas tree at the Colosseum, RomeColosseum Christmas tree

Lights for Christmas in RomePiazza Sant’Eustachio

Christmas lights in RomeNear Piazza Navona

Presepio or nativity scene in RomePresepio at the Church of Sant’Eustachio

Christmas in RomeVia dei Baullari, toward Campo dei Fiori

Christmas lights in Monti, RomeVia Urbana in Monti

Piazza Venezia during Christmas in RomePiazza Venezia, looking toward the Vittorio Emanuele monument

Via del Corso, with Christmas lights in RomeLooking up Via del Corso from Piazza Venezia

Christmas lights in Rome for the holidaysVia dei Condotti

Spanish Steps decorated for Christmas in RomeNear the Spanish Steps

Christmas decorations in RomeThe Fendi store on Via del Corso

Via dei Coronari with Christmas lights in RomeVia dei Coronari

Via dei Condotti on Christmas in RomeVia dei Condotti, looking toward the Spanish Steps


Christmas lights in RomeVia dei Condotti



Christmas-lights-for-web-1
Via del Corso

Church of Sant'Eustachio at ChristmasPiazza Sant’Eustachio, with the Church of Sant’Eustachio in the background

Via Tomacelli at ChristmasVia Tomacelli

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9 Things to Do in Rome at Christmas (Updated for 2018)

If you’re in Rome at Christmas, you’re in luck! As always, there are absolutely tons of ways to get into the holiday spirit.

Here’s the best of what to do in Rome at Christmas. (And don’t miss my ultimate guide to visiting Rome at Christmas!).

1. See the Pope. Over the Christmas season, you’ve got lots of opportunities, from midnight mass (although getting tickets can be tricky) to “Urbi et Orbi” on Christmas Day (no tickets needed). Here’s more on how exactly to see the Pope throughout December and January.

In Rome at Christmas? Why not see the Pope?
Even if you aren’t in Rome at Christmas Day, you may get another chance to see the Pope!

2. Head to a Christmas market. They pop up all over Rome at Christmas. The most famous is, of course, that in Piazza Navona (both at top and below). Here’s a list of other Rome Christmas markets.

In Rome at Christmas, don't miss a Christmas market!
The famous Piazza Navona market, one of the most famous things to do in Rome at Christmas

3. Worship — in English. For years, the American Catholic church of Santa Susanna was the go-to for English Mass. But after being “evicted” by the cloistered nuns (well, okay then!), the community moved in August 2017 to St. Patrick’s Church, near the US Embassy. Once again this Christmas, they’re hosting a variety of Masses and other ceremonies in English. For non-Catholics, the Anglican Church of All Saints’ Church holds holiday services, including the Service of Nine Lessons with Carols, and the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church of Scotland has services throughout the Christmas season. Other churches with non-Catholic services in English during Christmas include the American Episcopal Church of St. Paul’s Within the Walls, the Methodist Church at Ponte Sant’Angelo, and the non-denominational Cavalry Chapel.

4. Go ice-skating. Skate underneath the iconic silhouette of Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo (to be confirmed for 2018 — check here). Other skating rinks in Rome include those at the Auditorium, Re di Roma, Tor di Quinto, and Villa Gordiani.

5. Delve into the tradition of Italian nativity scenes. As well as Christmas cribs popping up in churches all over town, Rome boasts both a museum of more than 3,000 of them and, over Christmas, an exhibition of 200 presepi from artists across the globe (now in its 41st year). Here’s my New York Times piece on where to find presepi in Rome. (The article’s old, but the information’s still good).

Christmas lights in Rome

6. Check out the Christmas lights. Decorations are getting more ambitious every year, with gorgeous twinklings (and light projections, and jumbo screens) lighting up not only the heart of Rome’s centro storico, but even Termini, EUR, and the Fiumicino airport. Don’t believe me? Check out my photo post of the prettiest lights and decorations in Rome at Christmas!

7. Hear some holiday music. The internationally-renowned academy of Santa Cecilia hosts several Christmas choral concerts in December.

Pandoro at Christmas in Rome

9. Enjoy delicious Christmas sweets. Bakeries are brimming over with yummy holiday offerings like panettone, torrone and pandoro (above). If you’re in Rome at Christmas, make sure to taste the goods. It’s the one time of year that even Italians  over-indulge in the sweet stuff!

Also: the 5 most overrated things to do in Rome, how to start planning your trip to Rome, and 11 etiquette mistakes not to make eating in Italy.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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Yes, You Can Buy Colosseum Underground Tours Online. But It Remains Closed

Colosseum underground, currently CLOSED

In mid-October, the Colosseum announced it would keep the hypogeum and third level open through the end of December. And then, just a few days later, it announced that, actually, the underground was closing—thanks to the flooding of the delicate underground area.

Let’s make one thing clear: Since late October, the Colosseum underground has remained closed. There has not been any announcement about when, or if, it will reopen this winter. [Update, April 5 2012: Colosseum officials just announced that the underground will reopen this Saturday, April 7].

But if, having done some research online, you’re confused about if that’s actually the case, I don’t blame you. Here’s why: You can still “buy” the underground tour online.

Different tour companies offer tours of the Colosseum underground. The first, Walks of Italy—which I freelance for—immediately stopped selling its VIP Colosseum tour, which included the underground as well as the third tier, Forum and Palatine, as soon as the Colosseum’s underground closed. In other words, you can no longer book the Colosseum underground tour on their site.

Confusingly, however, Dark Rome is still selling the Colosseum underground tourand in their tour description, there isn’t any mention of the fact that the underground is currently closed (and has been for weeks). (Like Walks of Italy, their tour also includes the Palatine, Forum and the rest of the Colosseum). Even when I clicked all the way through to the checkout to buy the tour, there was no mention that the underground is closed.

To be fair, the underground could reopen, even in the next few days… maybe. But continuing to sell the tour as if it’s exactly the same, for €89, without a single mention that the underground is currently closed and no plans have been announced for its opening? Hmm.

To make sure I understood correctly, I emailed Dark Rome to ask if it was possible to book the tour to see the Colosseum underground for this coming week. The reservations agent replied quickly, telling me that yes, the tour was still running, although due to flooding, the underground would be closed.

I asked if the price of the tour was the same.”If you book this tour, we will refund 12% of the price of the tour after you have taken the tour. This is because we are unsure when the Underground will open,” she responded. But in a following email, she added, “This refund is only due if you take the tour and the Underground is closed. If the Underground is open you will not be entitled to a refund.”

So. Book now, and if—big surprise!—the underground is closed, something you’d have no idea of from their description, you get just 12% of your €89 back. Or about €10. After you take the tour.

Right.

You also can “buy” the underground Colosseum tour with Viator (which—can we finally clarify this?—is NOT a tour company, but a tour consolidator, one that sells lots of other companies’ offerings. In fact, I am 99% sure that this tour is the same one as Dark Rome’s). This description, too, makes it sound as if the underground tour is just fine and dandy. Even worse, the most recent comments that show up don’t mention that the underground is closed (at least they do on Dark Rome’s site). It’s sold as an “upgrade,” costing you, once again, €89.

Then there’s Tickitaly, which, from what I understand, sells the tour with an official Colosseum guide, charging more simply for the convenience of booking online. They’re still selling the underground tour, too.

At least, however, they have this paragraph: “Please be aware that it’s possible the dungeons may not be able to be visited. Recent flash flooding in Rome meant that the underground areas of the Colosseum were closed and as yet there is no firm news on when they’ll reopen—we expected it to be days, not weeks, and the authorities will give us no hard information. It’s usually the case that when something changes we’ll be given just a few hours notice and with this in mind we are still taking bookings for these tours, given that the upper levels are open and the dungeons may be open. We do not offer refunds if the underground areas are closed (for security reasons or due to flooding after heavy rain). Your guide will, nonetheless, give a full explanation and history of the subterranean zones.”

So… be aware. Even if you can “buy” this tour online, that doesn’t mean that Dark Rome, Tickitaly or anyone else has a secret access pass to get you into the flooded areas.

Underground-seekers, take heed. It’s tough to trust marketing these days.

Addendum: I thought long and hard about writing this, especially with the choice to include the names of the agencies in question. However, for purposes of transparency and delivering the most useful information to my readers possible, I’ve made it a policy on my blog to always include names of the places I’m writing about, including both places I love… and those that I think treat tourists unfairly. I don’t think vagueness serves anyone, least of all travelers trying to get a handle on a foreign city.

Finally, I’ve been following the Colosseum underground from the moment it opened. I have, for better or worse, helped create the buzz around it that there is. So I feel a little responsible for the marketing hoo-ha that’s ensued—and also feel that it’s my responsibility to expose when that marketing isn’t 100% honest. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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