Summer Jazz Concerts at Rome’s Villa Celimontana (Updated for 2013)

Jazz band at the Villa Celimontana summer series, Rome
If Rome's other summer events—including its festival on the banks of the Tiber River and its outdoor pool near the Colosseum—aren't enough for you, make sure you check out the nightly jazz concerts at Villa Celimontana.

[Update, 2013: In a total travesty, the historic festival was canceled last year and not renewed this year. The reason: lack of funds.]

Villa Celimontana is one of Rome's loveliest public parks. Once the 16th-century estate and villa of the Mattei family, it's also strewn with the remnants of ancient temples and palaces, including columns, statues and a temple altar. There's even an Egyptian obelisk inscribed to Ramses II that came from the
hill's Temple of Isis (and, originally, from Heliopolis' Temple to the
Sun).

Issues of archaeological sensitivity aside, there's no better place for summer concerts. The venue is small enough to get a good glimpse of the band and has excellent sound and lighting, not to mention a handful of restaurants and bars. (They're a little pricey, but not insane). As the sun sets over the cyprus trees, the breeze kicks up, and the music begins, there might be no better way to enjoy a Roman summer night.

Doors open for the concerts at 9 each night, and the music begins at 10:10. To get your ticket for one of the more popular concerts, or to grab a seat at the table at one of the venue's restaurants (which lets you order snacks, drinks and even a meal), be there on the earlier side. The concerts will run every night until September 4. Tickets usually cost €9 to €12, but more popular bands can cost up to €25 — check in advance. The schedule for upcoming concerts includes the Brazilian band Toquinho (July 31), pianist Aaron Goldberg (August 3), Italian blues band Blues di un Re Minore (August 20), and American singer Diane Schuur (August 30).

For more information about the concerts, click here (official website is in Italian). For a map, click here. Entrance to the concert is on Via della Navicella, number 12.

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Day Trip to Spoleto, an Umbrian Hilltop Town

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Umbria is the undiscovered Tuscany. It has the rolling hills, medieval towns, excellent food, and artistic treasures of its next-door neighbor — but, thanks to the fact that Frances Mayes’ book was not “Under the Umbrian Sun” (although that does have more of a ring to it), tourists haven’t discovered it. Yet.

One of Umbria’s loveliest towns is Spoleto. First settled in the 5th century B.C. by the Umbri tribes, who built the fortified walls that you can still see there today, the town isn’t just beautiful; it’s rich with history.

Rocca Albornoziana in Spoleto, Umbria

Want to see ancient Roman remains? Spoleto boasts two ancient theatres and a bridge, the Ponte Sanguinario, so-called because of the killings of Christians that took place in the theatre next door. How about medieval sites? You couldn’t miss the imposing Rocca Albornoziana, a 14th-century castle, if you tried, nor the Ponte delle Torri — a striking 13th-century aqueduct that might have been built into ancient foundations (shown above).

And that’s not to mention the surprising number of medieval churches for what feels like such a small town. Most notable among them is the Duomo of Santa Maria Assunto, completed in 1227.

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But the Duomo’s biggest claim to fame is actually Renaissance-era: the frescoes of Italian great Filippo Lippi (right), painted in the 1460s to commemorate scenes from the life of Virgin Mary. (Lippi is buried in the church, too).

Finally: I think it’s worth noting that Spoleto boasts some particularly good dining, including one restaurant that a friend of mine likes so much he’ll drive to Spoleto just to eat there. It’s called Il Tempio del Gusto, located on Via Arco di Druso, 11. Information is available on the restaurant’s website.

The easiest way to get to Spoleto is by train: it takes just 1.5 hours, and costs €7.45 for a second-class ticket, one way. Check for times and prices at www.trenitalia.it. If you’re lucky enough to have a car, Spoleto’s a 1.5- to 2-hour drive to the north. For a map, click here. For more information about Spoleto, click here.

 

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The Best Summer Festival in Rome (Updated for 2013)

Best summer event in Rome

Summer festival along the Tiber in Rome

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. 

For more information, check out the Lungo Il Tevere 2013 festival’s website. The fun starts every night around 8pm, and runs from Ponte Palatino north to Ponte Sisto. Click here for a map.

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Got an iPhone? Now, an App for Rome’s Archaeological Sites

iphone app for Rome
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.

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La Notte di Caravaggio: On Saturday Night, Art for Free

Boy with basket

There may be no artist better suited to the night than Caravaggio — the tormented Baroque painter famous for his dramatic, almost theatrically-lit paintings.

And on Saturday night, Rome is offering up its Caravaggios to the public. From 7pm on Saturday, July 17 until 9am on Sunday morning (yes, all night), four different sites will be open and free: the Borghese Museum (right now, ordinarily a €10.50 entrance), with its "Boy with a Basket of Fruit" (above), "Sick Bacchus," and "Madonna of the Snakes," among other pieces; the Church of San Luigi in Francese, home to Caravaggio's first major commission, the three frescoes of St. Matthew; the Basilica of Saint Augustine, with its Madonna of Loreto; and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, with its Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion of St. Paul (open only until 1am).

Just be prepared for a queue at the Borghese, where Romans are most likely to flock… although the later you go (or the earlier Sunday morning), the more likely you are to to have the museum to yourself.

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Less than an Hour from Rome, Ostia Antica’s Ruins

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Ostia Antica, the ancient town just 20 miles from Rome, might not have the dramatic past of its Vesuvius-vanquished neighbors to the south. But if your interest is in getting a feel for the daily lives of the Romans, not the notoriety of a particular disaster, then head to Ostia Antica.

Before being abandoned in the 9th century, the ancient Roman city had 50,000 inhabitants. Today, the vast site is chock-full
of the remnants of houses, restaurants, and bars. There’s even a hotel. It’s still two stories tall — and you’re still allowed to climb the ancient stairs to the second floor.

Picture 365Like other high-quality ancient sites, if Ostia gives you one thing, it’s the sense of how little times have really changed. Not only could visitors to town stay in a hotel (with the more expensive, seaside-view rooms those on the higher floors), but they could walk across the street for a tipple at the bar and restaurant. Here’s an image of that bar, left, complete with the marble shelving for various bottles and, above it, a fresco depicting exactly what the restaurant served — an ancient predecessor to the current menus with photos you see in Rome today. (Although, avoid those).

And you can get a sense of ancient advertising. Take this shop, its floor a black-and-white mosaic of fish and seafood. What was this shop? The fish-monger, of course.

You can get to Ostia by taking the Metro, line B, to Piramide, then following the signs to the Roma-Lido station. From there, you can get the train to Ostia Antica, using the same metro ticket. For a map, click here.

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Nuovo Mondo: The Best Pizzeria in Testaccio

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Most guidebooks to Rome vaunt Da Remo as Testaccio’s best pizzeria, noting its big crowds and classic Roman pizza. Well, okay. Da Remo’s pretty good.

But if you’re heading out to Testaccio anyway, my advice: Go to Nuovo Mondo instead.

I had a capricciosa on my last visit there, and it was great. The crust was thin and crispy, the ingredients fresh, and the sauce almost-perfect, if a little uneven. And if you’re looking to get a table within the first fifteen minutes (not a likelihood at places like Da Remo), well, there were still empty seats by 9pm on a weeknight. And (again, pretty shocking for a pizzeria), the waiters were actually friendly. Okay, maybe it was because I was a single woman, eating alone — a rare thing in Italy. But still.

If that weren’t good enough, the bill was even better: €12 for a pizza, three fritti, and water.

The downside is the decor. With somewhat awkwardly low plastic chairs outside, bright orange tables, and motel-style prints decorating the walls inside, it’s no-frills. The place looks like it hasn’t been redecorated in the 45 years it’s been around. But with pizza this good, it doesn’t need to be.

Nuovo Mondo. Via Amerigo Vespucci 15. Closed Mondays. For a map, click here. Note: If you’re visiting Rome for the first (or even second, or third) time, the prospect of getting out to Testaccio (a working-class neighborhood south of Circo Massimo) might seem a little daunting. But it’s easy. You can take the “B” line metro south and get off at Piramide, just 2 stops from the Colosseo stop. Or grab the 3 or the 75 bus, which also stop in the Colosseum area. From there, it’s a short walk to Nuovo Mondo. And the neighborhood’s always lively and feels safe, even at night.

 

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Can You Drink from Rome’s Water Fountains? Really?

Is the water in Rome safe to drink?

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.

[Update, 2013: And just in case you did have trouble… there's now an app for finding fountains in Rome's city center! Oh, how things have changed in a mere couple of years.]

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.

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Rome’s Saldi Are Here, Rome’s Saldi Are Here!

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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.

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