The wonderful meals you can enjoy in Italymight not be around forever. Between globalization, a farming crisis, and the demand (particularly by tourists) for out-of-season products, the way Italy makes and consumes its food is changing. Just check out the relatively-sudden prevalence of grocery stores (there are three within a 5 minutes' walk from me) or the crowds that pack the (yes, few and far between, but still existing) McDonald's in Rome for proof.
The same way you'd think twice before tossing garbage into the street, think about how your choices of restaurants and foods might impact the (culinary and natural) environment around you. Katie Parla gives some excellent tips for how to be a conscientious eater — in Italy, or anywhere.
If you've been wondering why more stores and restaurants seem to be closed than they should be in Rome, it's because ferragosto is nearly here.
Ferrogosto — the period when Italians go on vacation, officially starting August 15 — is rooted in ancient tradition. In 18 B.C., Emperor Augustus, Rome's first emperor, instituted the feriae Augusti, or Augustan holidays. Adding to summertime festivals already celebrated, like the Consualia on August 23, the holidays celebrated the end of major agricultural work. Horse races were held; work set aside.
Two thousand years later, the holiday's origins may have dissipated — but the tradition itself continues, under the only slightly-different name of ferragosto. Italians leave the cities and flock to the seaside, taking two, three, even four weeks off work. The result for those of us left in Rome, and for tourists? Seeing door after closed door on local shops, restaurants, and drycleaner's, all with the sign "chiusa per ferie."
Sad that Rome's many summer events are coming to an end? Don't fear — autumn brings a new roster of events. And from September 3 to October 29, the Vatican museums will be open at night.
If the September heat and crowds are getting you down, just book at the Vatican's online ticket office, print your voucher, and go. Since few people have caught on, the museums are usually almost completely empty. It's a much calmer, and cooler, way to take all the art in.
The details: The museums will be open each Friday from 7pm to 11pm (last entrance 9:30). Yes, fewer galleries will be accessible, but you'll be able to see all the greatest hits — including the Raphael rooms, Gallery of Tapestries, Gallery of Maps, and, of course, the Sistine Chapel. As for reserved tickets during the day, the cost is €15 (€ 8 reduced, including students and under-18s: college students, bring an ID), plus a €4 reservation fee.
And if you're planning a spring trip to Rome, don't worry. The Vatican Museums at Night should return in April through July, as it did last year. Stay tuned.
Even with the best English-Italian dictionary, some Italian words baffle. Like tabaccaio. "Tobacco shop," sure. But what else is going on in there — and why does everyone seem to think it's so useful?
First, make sure you have the pronunciation right: "ch" is hard in Italian, so it's tah-back-ee or tah-back-aye-oh, not tab-atch-ee. (One poor tourist confessed to me the other day, "Oh no! I've been saying 'tab-atch-ee' for years of coming to Italy!")
Second, a tabaccaio is not just a tobacco shop. Yes, you can get cigarettes there — but you can get a bottle of water, gum, and likely postcards, batteries and international calling cards, too.
Most usefully, it's where you can get tickets for public transport. At the counter, just ask for "un biglietto per l'autobus" or "due/tre/etc. biglietti" (the ticket works for the bus, tram and metro); it's €1 per ticket. You'll also see Italians using the tabaccaio to pay their electric or phone bills and to "top up" their pay-as-you-go phones.
When you're looking for a tabacchaio, just scan your street for the telltale blue sign with a white T. Just remember that many tabacchi, especially outside of the tourist centers,close during lunchtime and around 6 or 7 at night.
It might just be the best event in Rome, at least in the summer: On every night until September 1, the Tiber River’s banks come alive. More than a kilometer of stalls line the river—each one a shop or cafe, restaurant or bar.
If you’re a shopping, or strolling-and-people-watching, kind of person, the possibilities are endless. On my last walk through the festival, called Lungo il Tevere Roma, I perused jewelry, bought fistfuls of dried figs and kiwis, sipped a mojito in a swanky bar, and even watched one of the last World Cup games.
Compared to Rome’s other culinary options, I wouldn’t recommend having a full meal at the festival. But for a walk, a drink or a snack, it’s a nice, breezy change from the rest of Rome. And despite the crowds of Romans there, the prices are pretty similar to what you’d get elsewhere in the city.
Who ever said Italy's Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities was behind the times? On July 1, they launched an iPhone application to help tourists, and archaeologically-engaged locals, find their way around the city's top sites.
Called the i-Mibac, the application offers information about opening hours and prices, as well as an expert's overview. Most exciting, though, is that you can book your tickets straight from your iPhone — particularly helpful at sites like the Colosseum, where the line can stretch around the block. The app can be downloaded, for free, at the apps store. Right now, it works on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, but the ministry says it's working on making it available on other smartphones, too.
There's one question I often get in Rome: Is the water — especially from all those, yuck, public fountains — safe to drink?
The short answer: Yes. And it tastes good, too.
Rome's never been a city limited in water usage, as I wrote in my recent Guardian piece. By the first century A.D., thanks to the aqueducts, the city had 1,000 liters of water available per person, per day. Today, there are 500 liters available. Per family. Still, though, more than enough.
And lots of that water still freeflows out through the fontanelle (little fountains) placed around the city. (You might also hear these fountains called nasoni, after their nose-shaped spigots). The water's brought in from outside the city. It's safe. Fresh. Super-cold. So do as the Romans do: Save your €1.50 and refill your water bottle at the nasoni. There are 2,500 in the city, so you shouldn't have trouble finding them.
One last tip: If you plug up the end with your thumb, the water will spurt out of a handy hole on the top, providing you a makeshift water fountain. See, modern Romans are good engineers, too! Well, sometimes.
For those of you in Rome who don’t live under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that the saldi — or sales — have arrived. And for those visiting, you might be wondering what all of the excitement, and the overcrowded stores, are about.
Unlike in, say, the U.S., Rome’s stores don’t have to tend small sales year-round. Instead, they have big, city-wide sales twice a year: post-Christmas, and July.
The first few days of the saldi can be crazy. The already-overworked-and-underpaid salespeople (seriously: I went into a popular shoe store the other day where there were 10 shoppers and just 1 worker, who had to get the shoes, make the sales and ring everything up by herself) are even more frantic. The line to try clothes on at Zara, always long, gets longer. The wait to get the attention of a salesgirl at Sisley, usually tough, becomes all but impossible.
But, but, but. The sales DO tend to be pretty good (often up to 50 percent off). And if you can’t bear to brave the crowds right away, don’t fear: The saldi will go on for another 5 or 6 weeks. They’ll keep cutting prices, too. Just remember that with a bunch of discerning Italians having come in before you, the good stuff will probably be gone.
When the temperature’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit (as it already is in Rome) and you need to get somewhere, the thought of taking the sticky, crowded, sometimes-completely-unventilated metro or bus is just unbearable. And a cab’s just cheating.
From best to worst, 6 alternative ways to get around Rome — while staying cool. (And no, not necessarily the “wow, you’re really awesome” kind of cool).
6. Walking. Sometimes, the simplest solution is the best. Rome is not that big. So. Just. Walk. Bring a big bottle of water (you can refill it at any of the nasoni, or little fountains, around the city). And please forget the backpack: It’s hot, bulky, hot, and really, when was the last time you were in a city and so far from civilization that you actually needed that emergency pack of granola bars? Also, it’s hot.
5. The scooter, or as the Italians say, motorino. Zipping around on a motorino with the wind whipping your face is pretty much meant for warm days. You can help your local-cool factor by donning big, dark sunglasses, unnecessarily revving up the engine at brief stops, and saying “Ciaooo, ciaoooo” to local passersby.
There are, however, numerous downsides. Like the scary, scary Rome traffic, which means that I do not recommend this for those who have just arrived in Rome and are still having trouble timing how to cross the street. (Seriously. I am not liable for any accidents you or your loved ones may have if you don’t heed this advice. My lawyer agrees). Also problematic is the difficulty, for women, of wearing a skirt or dress and not blinding every poor person we pass, not that Roman men really seem to mind. If you feel like you are mature, cautious, skilled, sober, and insurance-policy-protected enough to rent a motorino, check out Bici & Baci or Treno e Scooter for rentals.
4. Biking. It’s easy to get a bike in Rome: You can either rent one from a shop, or take advantage of the city’s new bikesharing program. There are 19 kiosks around the city, and the price is just €.50/hour. Just stop by a ticket office at a major metro stop, like Termini, for a bikesharing card. It’ll cost you €5, but it’s good for 10 hours of riding. Pass that card over the post that your desired bike is locked to, and presto! Your bike is released. It’s like magic. There isn’t any magic, though, that will save you from the aggression of Roman drivers, so please reread my caveat to #3. Seriously.
3. Hop-on, hop-off boat ride. Those who do this seem to think they’ll be getting a tour of the city. While I haven’t done one myself, I can’t imagine that would be the case; not only are the tours taped, but the Tiber is walled–meaning you can’t see hardly anything. So why do it? Well, solely for the purposes of getting from Point A (like Ponte Castel Sant’Angelo) to Point B (Ponte Risorgimento). The vessels for some of the boat lines even have air-conditioning. Woo! Check out the Hop-On, Hop-Off Cruise in Rome for information.
2. Walking… with your own personal cooling system. I wasn’t aware until Googling “personal cooling system” just how many of these there are. There are water-filled neckbands. Cooling shirts. A hand-held electronic cooling device. Even something known as a “belt mister,” which promises to envelop you in a mist that will drop the temperature around you by 30 degrees. This belt also promises to be “inconspicuous”…because oh, yeah, walking in your own cloud of cold mist is just something you were born with.
1. The Segway. You don’t get up to speed on these things, which eliminates the speed-equals-breeze quality of #5, or really get to go that many places, which you can with #2, 4, 5 or 6. When you’re on the street, you’re a slow-moving traffic menace, and when you’re on the sidewalk, you’re a complete annoyance to every pedestrian trying to get somewhere. (I dub you “speed bumpkin.”) Also, don’t buy it when people say how safe it is: I met a woman the other day who’d twisted her ankle when she briefly forgot how to stop it, the Segway went faster, and rammed her into a car. (Okay, okay, I guess nothing can be completely fool-proof). While on the Segway, though, you are, at least, able to stand completely still and still toodle through the city. In terms of laziness, it’s like one step away from armchair traveling. To really “up” the cool factor, bring along your personal cooling system. For more information, Google this on your own. That’s how against Segways I am.