Metro A Closes for August (Partly)

Metro map for Rome, Italy

Important news: Big parts of Line A of Rome's metro system will be closed in August. And, yes, Rome's metro system has only two lines. So take note!

For work and for construction of Rome's third metro line, Linea C, Metro A has already been closing at 9pm. Here are the new changes for August:

From July 30-August 3, there won't be any service on Line A between Termini and Anagnina. Instead, there will be replacement bus services. (This half of the metro line includes stops at Vittorio Emanuele, Manzoni, and San Giovanni). Until 1:30am, though, there will be service in the other direction, from Termini to Battistini (if you're traveling to Rome, you're more likely to use this side of the line, which includes stops at Barberini, Spagna, and Ottaviano-San Pietro).

From August 4-29, there won't be any service between Termini and Arco di Travertino, a section of the line that includes Vittorio Emanuele, Manzoni and San Giovanni, although that part will operate on Aug. 6, 13, 20 and 27. (They're all Saturdays). Until 9pm every day, the metro will be active in the other direction, from Termini to Battistini, as well as from Arco di Travertino to the end of the line at Anagnina. And on those Saturdays, Aug. 6, 13, 20 and 27, the line will be active between Battistini-Termini and Arco di Travertino-Anagnina until 1:30am.

Whew!

Don't worry, though — the metro doesn't connect lots of major tourist sites in Rome (there's no, say, Pantheon or Piazza Venezia stop… something they're more or less trying to change with Line C), and in the summer, it can be uncomfortably hot and crowded. So here are six alternative modes of transport for those hot Rome days.

 

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Artisanal Beer, Pizza, Fritti and Steak—In One Place

Fritti at Al Grottino in Rome

It's hard to find a good fiaschetteria, or steakhouse, near Rome's center; it's even harder to find an artisanal birreria.

The little-known restaurant Al Grottino is both a fiaschetteria, birreria… and pizzeria. (No, I couldn't believe I hadn't discovered this place until a couple of months ago, either).

Located a 10-minute walk from the San Giovanni metro, Al Grottino looks, at first glance, like any average Roman pizzeria. It's got the red-and-white checkered tablecloths, the bustle of locals, the anything-but-impeccable service. (Don't come right when the pizzeria opens, or you might have to wait nearly an hour for the oven to heat up and your pizza to be made, like I did on my first visit).

Pizza and steak at Al Grottino, fiaschetteria in Rome

And yet… Al Grottino isn't quite the same. For one, they're trying—maybe a little too hard—to seem techno-savvy. Instead of a normal beer menu, for example, you get an iPad to flick through. And, yes, it's a little gimmicky. And, no, there aren't enough iPads for every table, making it a bit less convenient than, I don't know, a real menu. Still, in a town where most menus are still handwritten, it's an interesting (albeit expensive) way to try to set a place apart.

The real reason to go to Al Grottino, though, is for the (cheap!) food. The pizza has fresh ingredients and a thin, charred-just-right crust. The fritti are done like Japanese tempura, a nice alternative to the heavier fry-ups you usually see at Rome's pizzerias. The steak was thick, juicy, and cooked rare, just as we'd asked. Plus, it came with Argentinian-style chimichurri sauce, rarely seen with steak in Rome. Heck, even the salmon-and-pesto bruschetta (a special of the day) was better than we expected.

And when I say the food was cheap, I mean cheap. A pizza margherita is €5; bruschetta, €2.

Salmon and pesto bruschetta at Al Grottino, Rome

The real draw, though, is the beer. Al Grottino has more than 40 kinds, including lots of Belgians, and bottles come with a snazzy ice pouch to keep them cold in the Rome heat.

Al Grottino: the trendiness of artisanal beers and iPads, combined with old-school Roman prices, pizza, and (hmm) service. It might not make sense, or feel cohesive. But when you don't want the gruff traditionalism of, say, La Montecarlo, or the trendiness of Open Baladin, Al Grottino strikes a nice middle ground.

Al Grottino. Via Orvieto 6. Click here for a map of Al Grottino's location.

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This Weekend, Lady Gaga Joins Rome’s Gay Pride Parade


 

This Saturday, Rome hosts a Gay Pride parade unlike any other — because the famous Lady Gaga will be in attendance.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you know that this is a very. Big. Deal. For Rome, and for gay pride worldwide.

Want to see Gaga? Then be at Circus Maximus this Saturday afternoon, where Rome's annual Gay Pride parade ends. (The parade starts at 4pm at Viale Enrico de Nicola, then heads down Via Cavour to Via dei Fori Imperiali and the Colosseum).

And if anyone asks what's wrong with you, spending your time in Rome looking for an American celebrity, you know what to tell them: "Baby, I was born this way."

Update: I've posted the Youtube video, above, of Gaga performing her two (beautiful and way-slowed-down) songs at Circus Maximus. And here's Gaga's 15-minute speech on gay rights.

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Rome’s Most Convenient Beach (And It’s Pretty)

Beach near Rome of Santa Marinella

Romans often say that the beaches near Rome just aren’t that nice. Maybe it’s the New Englander in me, but after visiting Santa Marinella, I beg to differ.

The beach at Santa Marinella, a seaside comune just outside the city, has a couple of things going for it. First off, it’s free. Although that might sound odd if you haven’t sunbathed in Italy before, most other beaches cost you. Stretches of sand are covered in cabanas and chairs, the use of which costs some €10 to €15 for the day — and no, you can’t just park yourself on a towel nearby the chairs and hope nobody will notice. (Che brutta figura!).

Secondly, Santa Marinella’s beach is convenient. Really convenient. You don’t need a car to get there, or to take a train and then a bus, like you do to get to the (admittedly prettier) beach of Sperlonga. Instead, you just hop on the train in Rome from Termini, Ostiense, Trastevere, or San Pietro; 45 minutes and €3.60 land you in Santa Marinella. From there, you can follow the crowds on the 5-minute walk to the beach.

Beach of Santa Marinella, Rome Italy

All that could mean that Santa Marinella, like other city beaches, would be grungy. And it may have been, once. But now, the beach is all soft sand and clear Mediterranean water. And, aside from the odd water bottle left behind after the hordes had departed last Sunday evening, it seemed pretty clean to me.

Just keep in mind that, since the beach is so convenient to Rome, lots of locals go here. So if secluded sunbathing is what you’re after, forget about it, at least on the weekend. And bring your cutest suit — if you live in Rome, it’s all but inevitable that you’ll run into someone you know.

L'Acqua Marina, a seafood restaurant in Santa Marinella, Italy If you’re making a day of it, don’t miss lunch at one of Santa Marinella’s best seafood restaurants: L’Acqua Marina (above). A 10-minute walk from the beach at Piazza Trieste 8, the restaurant is elegant and lovely, the kind of place you could see Ingrid Bergman, who bought a house in town, going for lunch. It’s got plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Sit on the patio for the view over the blue, blue Mediterranean.

While one of the seemingly-pricier eateries in town, costing about 50 euros for lunch for two (including a half-bottle of wine, the shared seafood antipasto, two primi of pasta, and water), it was worth it. And definitely cheaper than a seafood place of the same quality would be back in Rome.

Also, it was just darn good.

Seafood at L'Acqua Marina, a restaurant in Santa Marinella, Italy

Pasta with seafood at L'Acqua Marina restaurant near Rome

Santa Marinella: Weekend crowds, yes… but also seafood, sun, and sand. What more could you want within 45 minutes of Rome?

Want more local secrets on Rome’s best food, sights, and more? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, now available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!

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Enjoy Martedi in Arte… Throughout 2011

Martedi in arte nighttime visits through 2011 to Italian museums

Martedi in Arte — that fantastic tradition where, on the last Tuesday of each month, major state museums in Italy are open and free from 7pm-11pm — is a hit. Such a hit, it's going on all year long.

Here in Rome, participating sites include the Palazzo Massimo (a savings of €10!), a treasure trove of ancient art and sculpture; the often-overlooked, but useful, Crypta Balbi; the Pantheon (always free, but only open so late for occasions like this one); the Palazzo Barberini, filled with gems by Raphael, Caravaggio and more; Castel Sant'Angelo, the papal castle; and the Galleria Borghese, that world-renowned collection of pieces by everyone from Bernini, Raphael, and others.

So mark your calendar: The next Martedi in Arte is May 31. But if you miss it, don't worry. You've got more shots… on June 28, July 26, August 30, September 27, October 25, November 29, and December 27. Phew!

Here's a list of museums across Italy participating in Martedi in Arte.

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From Peanut Butter to Pancakes, Bagels to Burgers: How to Eat Your Homesickness Away in Rome

Cupcakes from The Perfect Bun, Rome

I'm not one to get easily sick of my steady diet of pizza, pasta, and wine — but even I admit that, sometimes, the expats and long-term travelers among us need just a little taste of home. Literally.

Below, some picks for the homesick

American brunch at MamaAmerican-style omelettes, and atmosphere, at Mamà's.  Walk into this new restaurant/enoteca in Prati (below), and you almost feel like you've walked into a brunch place in, say, San Francisco: modern lines, chill atmosphere, and people typing away on their MacBooks (when there's anybody there). They've even got free newspapers and Wi-Fi.

Their menu is a mix of American and Italian; the American-style omelettes (above) are good, although a little greasy. Another American innovation? They're open all day long — from 8am to midnight — so you can grab lunch, partake in the 10-euro aperitivo, or have dinner, too. Via Sforza Pallavicini 19, near Castel Sant'Angelo. 

Mama, new brunch place and restaurant in Prati, Rome  

English/Irish breakfast at the Abbey Theatre. Okay, one clarification: Abbey Theatre food is definitely not for the foodies among us. But, let's be honest, neither is a proper Irish breakfast. Here's where to come when you're just craving an oily sausage, fried egg, and beans on toast (below). (They've also got other U.K. faves here, like Irish stew and "chips"). Or when you just don't have the energy to order in Italian — once you step within these doors, a stone's throw from Piazza Navona, it's rare that you hear that fair language. P.S.: Abbey Theatre is really an Irish pub, so you can always come back for your Guinness fill. Via del Governo Vecchio 51, near Piazza Navona.

English breakfast at the Abbey Theatre

American-style salads and sandwiches at Fa-bio. It's Rome's (brand-new) answer to Chopt: At this hole-in-the-wall a stone's throw from the Vatican museums, you can make up your own huge salad out of a loooong list of ingredients. (And no, they don't nickle-and-dime you: Whatever you want is included in the price). If you're more in the mood for a sandwich, they'll make one of those up for you, too.

The ingredients are all organic, the prices great (you can leave with a whole lunch for about 6 euros). Oh, and they do smoothies. Just give yourself some time if you're coming at lunch hour: These salads are hand-made, so there can be a little bit of a line. If you squint your eyes, between the tiny space, the sound of the Americans around you, and the bustle, you can almost imagine you're in the West Village. Via Germanico 43, near the Vatican.

Huge cups of coffee, and muffins, at Vero Food. This place just opened a few months ago, and it's already making a major splash. They've got it all: American-style sweets (including cheesecake and cinnamon rolls), sushi and salads to go, and, getting some expats most excited of all, American drip coffee. The kind you can wander around the street with in a takeaway cup, sipping as you go until it gets cold, there's just so darn much. Via Marcantonio Colonna 30, in Prati. 

Cupcake from Sweety's Rome Cupcakes — and pancakes — at Sweety's Rome. I've already sung the praises of cupcakes from Sweety's Rome once (above). As promised in that post, though, I did go back for Sunday brunch. It was good — if, at €18 per person, not the best deal in town — but the thing that really sold me? The pancakes. (The rest of the brunch is way more Italian than American, complete with an aperitivo-like buffet). They're light, fluffy, and you get the choice of chocolate or real maple syrup with them. If you go, make sure to make reservations ahead of time; there are only two seatings, at 12:30 and at 2pm. Call 06 48913713. Via Milano 48, in Monti.  

The Perfect Bun, RomeChicken wings at The Perfect Bun. Ah, The Perfect Bun (above). Here's where the waiters all speak English and where the menu tries, so very hard, to be American. It succeeds in appearance (hello, chicken fingers, didn't know you'd made it over to Rome!); in taste, kind of (the hamburgers: meh); in price, not at all (that "meh" hamburger? It starts at €13… and runs up to €25).

The chicken wings (below), though, are like a little taste of home. The place also serves brunch, and is open till 2am, so you can fix that U.S.A. craving at any time of the day or night. Largo del Teatro Valle 4, near Piazza Navona.Chicken wings at The Open Bun, Rome

Bagels at The Perfect Bun's bakery. And guacamole. And more cupcakes. When Josephine's Bakery closed last year, I was bummed. But then The Perfect Bun's bakery moved in. And it's even better. They've got it all: cupcakes, yes, but also scones, muffins, wraps, and bagels. (Bagels! I can't tell you how excited I was to see that. Pictured below). They've even, newly, opened a grocery (!?!) with such American-style staples as ketchup, BBQ sauce, and peanut butter. The prices look way better (like, €3.50 instead of something-like-€8 peanut butter) than the other expat grocery, Castroni.

To top it off, I was told by a reliable, Californian source this morning that The Perfect Bun has guacamole. From the right kinds of avocados, for which they had to find their own supplier. And made fresh every day. Incredible. Piazza del Paradiso 56, near Piazza Navona. The Perfect Bun bakery, Rome

Burgers and beer at Open Baladin. The burger's aren't quite like what you get back home… but close. They're juicy and yummy, the buns are thick and fresh, and they even come with ketchup. (Whoa!). The handmade potato chips are great, too, and you can get them with trendy add-ons, like powdered liquorice. Wash down your taste of Italy-does-Americana with one of Open Baladin's more-than-1oo artisanal beers… all of them Italian. Unsurprisingly, this place gets packed at night. Via degli Specchi 6, near Piazza Navona.

Betty Crocker cake mix, maple syrup, and other necessities at Castroni. Okay, it looks like The Perfect Bun's new grocery store boasts much better prices than Castroni. But until the Bun expands more, Castroni's still king when it comes to getting all those bits and bobs from home — whether home is the U.S., U.K., Mexico, or Japan. They've also got lots of locations, including two in Prati and one on Via Nazionale.

Buono appetito, expats! Any other places you've come upon that taste like home? Please share in the comments! (By the way, anyone else notice how Prati seems to be Rome's new "Little America"?).

You might also like:

For Bookish Expats, Rome's Little-Known English Library

Rome's Coolest, Most Cutting-Edge Ancient Site

Every Weekend in Rome's Center, a Super-Local Food Market

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Rome’s Best Cannoli — and Other Sicilian Goodies

Ciuri Ciuri cannolo, Sicilian cannoli, Rome
It wasn't until I moved to Rome that I learned something very, very important: The sign of a fresh (read: good) cannolo is that the tube is only filled with that delicious, just-cloying enough ricotta mixture when you order it. Not before.

That's just one of many things that Ciuri Ciuri, the Rome-based Sicilian pastry shop, does right.  

You may have had cannoli before, but — unless you've been to Sicily — you probably haven't had cannoli like these. I once met a Sicilian girl living here who swore that Ciuri Ciuri's cannoli were the only ones she would touch between flights home. And, as a confession, I usually find Italian sweets not-quite-sweet-enough. (Hey, I'm American: More is better, baby). That's never a problem with Ciuri Ciuri. (That, combined with the fact that one of their stores is right across the street from me, makes this shop very dangerous indeed).

But no need to stop at a cannolo (with orange slice, pistachios, or chocolate chips, as you prefer). How about something Sicilian and savory, like an arancino? Or something that looks savory but isn't… like this marzipan? (I swear the corn cob tasted like corn. No, I wasn't sure how I felt about that).

Marzipan from Ciuri Ciuri pastry shop, Rome

Ciuri Ciuri isn't Rome's cheapest pastry shop. A cannolo is (if I recall) €2.50, and those three chunks of marzipan above set me back some €8.

But when it comes to tasting a little slice of heaven, who's counting coins?

Ciuri Ciuri has four Rome locations: Monti (Via Leonina 18/20), Celio (Via Labicana 126/128), Largo Argentina (Largo Teatro Valle 1/2), and Trastevere (Piazza San Cosimato 49b). (Click the link for maps). And, by Rome standards, they're open strangely late — till midnight at all locations but Celio, where they're open till 11pm.

Verrrrry dangerous.

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Chinese New Year, Coming to a Rome Near You

We won't sugarcoat it: Rome long has had an uneasy relationship with its immigrant population, including its Chinese residents. Over the past few months, though, from the Palazzo Venezia exhibit comparing the ancient Roman and Chinese empires to the launch of "The Year of Chinese Culture" in Italy, that seems like it's starting to turn around.

How Rome's celebrating the Chinese New Year this weekend makes that attempt at more mutual respect even clearer.

Rome's Chinese population always has celebrated the New Year, of course. But the parades and parties have been at the Esquiline hill — the neighborhood around Termini and Piazza Vittorio often nicknamed "Chinatown" for its plethora of Chinese families and businesses.

This year? Those festivities will take place in Rome's center. It's a recognition not just of the Year of Chinese Culture, but, perhaps, of the sheer size and influence of Italy's Chinese population: The Chinese make up the nation's 4th-largest foreign community, after the Romanians, Albanians and Moroccans.

The top two events are:

Tomorrow, Feb. 5, the Auditorium Parco della Musica will host a performance with lions, dragons, and a drum dance. That's from 6pm-8pm.

And on Sunday, Feb. 6, a Chinese New Year parade will take place at Piazza del Popolo, ending with a firework display. That goes from 6pm-8pm, too.

There are also events nationwide, including in Naples, Turin, Venice, Milan, and Prato.

 

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Every Weekend in Rome’s Center, a Super-Local Food Market

Sunday Campagna Amica food market, Circus Maximus, Rome

Rome has no end of farmers' markets. But for one of its best, you have to head to the covered food market at Circus Maximus, held every Saturday and Sunday. Bonus: It's great for gifts for friends and family back home, too.

Run by Campagna Amica, the market offers only local produce. Even at my neighborhood's fruit and vegetable stand, I can buy apples from New Zealand. Not here. Instead, all the farmers who sell their products at Campagna Amica have to adhere to the "0 km" rule — as in, they're all from Lazio. Not quite 0 km, sure, but way better than the 1,600 km that your average piece of produce takes to get from its harvest to your kitchen. And, of course, that means that the produce you buy is all fresh and seasonal — something that, in turn, helps the environment, economy, and local culture.

Plus, of course, the market's just plain fun. With everything from super-fresh ricotta to jars of delicacies (like a porcini mushroom and black truffle sauce that set me back €7, but was worth every penny), it's a great taste — literally — of all of the foods that Rome and Lazio have to offer. And there are plenty of good gift options to bring back home, from olive oil to biscotti to traditional sauces and dips.

The Circo Massimo market is located at Via San Teodoro 74. It runs every Saturday and Sunday from 10:30am-7pm.

Want to find out about Rome's other hidden gems? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!


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In Rome, Shopping for Vintage Clothes (Updated for 2013!)

Vintage shopping in Rome

For a city that’s as vintage as it gets, vintage clothing stores can be a little few and far between. But it’s hard enough digging through musty leather belts and stretched-out sweaters in search of that perfect military jacket without having to also dig around to find the place you can even dig through to begin with. (With me?)

So, vintage-clothing lovers, women and men, here’s a list to make it simple.

Just remember that, in Rome, vintage doesn’t necessarily mean cheap, at least when compared to the High Street chains. Most of the shops below have dresses that range from €40 to €60, purses from €30 and up. Still, hunting for a bargain—or, at least, for that blouse that nobody else will possibly have—is all part of the fun. 

 

Rack of vintage dresses at Twice, Trastevere, Rome
Dresses at Twice, a vintage shop in Trastevere 

Twice. Trastevere. This is one of my favorites (above): A cute, neat shop with all of the vintage clothes and none of that musty smell. Clothes, shoes and accessories are for men and women, most dating from the 1960s to 1980s. I even found a vintage Chanel purse here in pristine condition; at only €250, I had to ask the shopkeeper if it was real. She assured me it was. I was even sadder to leave it behind. Pretty crazily for a Rome store, Twice also has shopping online (well, sort of: you scroll through the pictures of items and, if you want to buy one, clicking lets you send an email. So far, it’s just of purses). Still, whoa. Via di San Francesco a Ripa 105/A. 0631 050610.

Blue Goose (new!). Monti. A well-edited collection of vintage women’s clothes, bags, shoes, and jewelry, many of them designer, at good prices. Cute little boutique and a lovely owner, too. Opened in fall 2012. (Read more about Blue Goose). Via del Boschetto, 4. +39 0648906738. 

 

Vintage shopping in Rome
Blue Goose, a new vintage store in Monti


King Size Vintage (new!).
Monti. This store’s original location is in San Lorenzo, but this new outpost, opened in fall 2012, is even more convenient for travelers in the center. The collection includes both men’s and women’s shoes, bags, and clothing. There’s definitely an element of treasure-hunting here, but it’s nice that the collection, though big, is displayed in a nice, organized way. (Read more about King Size Vintage). Via del Boschetto, 94. 

 

Cinzia’s. Piazza Navona. Run by the owner, Cinzia, for more than 20 years, the store has a big collection of jackets, dresses, purses and more at reasonable prices (one friend got a gorgeous lizard-skin-like purse for €40). Tourists, students and locals all wander in and out, trying to find the best deals. Via del Governo Vecchio 45. 0668 32945.

That other store by Cinzia’s. Piazza Navona. Nobody ever remembers the name of this secondhand shop on Via del Governo Vecchio, but luckily, it’s so easy to find, you don’t have to. A bit larger than Cinzia’s, it’s also more crammed, with shelves overflowing with leather purses and boots. The prices are comparable, and so are the goods. Via del Governo Vecchio 35.

Bohemienne. Campo dei Fiori. Almost literally closet-sized, this small store feels more like a boudoir (well, if a boudoir were packed with men’s tweed jackets and musty hats along with lovely sandals and blouses) than a shop. Prices are slightly on the higher end. Via dei Capellari 96. 0668 804011.

God Save the Look, Monti, Rome God Save the Look. Monti. Another favorite (above): The collection here is highly-edited, without the heaps of stuff that characterize some of the other shops, but that means you’re all the more likely to walk out with the goods and still not feel overwhelmed. I fell in love here with a salmon-colored 1950s or 60s cocktail dress with a sequined bodice (€65) and a diaphonous white button-up dress from the 1940s (€60). The style here is more classy and trendy than funky and costume-y. Via Panisperna 227A. 0648 25211. 

Pifebo Vintage Shop. Monti. It’s hard to avoid this store if you’re walking around Monti. It has that funky-grandma’s-closet feel, with everything from cowboy boots to sequined blazers hanging up. And it smells a little musty, but the prices are moderate and the selection pretty eclectic, so we’ll forgive them for it. Via dei Serpenti 141. 0689 015204.

Pulp. Monti. Another one of the well-edited stores, this is a vintage store with a trendy, almost punk-rocker streak. The prices are cheap, and the designs are hot. Via del Boschetto 140. 0648 5511.

Shopping lovers, which stores did I miss?

Want to know more of Rome’s vintage shopping secrets (among other hidden gems)? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, now available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!

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