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Category: Rome

Orvieto – An Unforgettable Day

A stunning 14th-century cathedral, Etruscan caves, world-famous wine, and a town surrounded by Tufa rock, towering above the Italian countryside.

If you haven’t been to Orvieto yet, go. One of the most picturesque towns in Italy (and there is stiff competition), this beautiful city has enough sights and experiences to make it well worth a full-day or even two-day visit.

We only went for one day this time, so the following will be an itinerary if you don’t want to do an overnight. However, for an unforgettable overnight experience, I recommend booking a room at La Badia, the 12th-century Abby turned hotel that lies amidst acres of countryside at the bottom of the hill. This 4-star abode has been frequented by celebrities from across the world, but inside you will feel like you personally discovered your own peaceful, rustic, romantic getaway in one of Italy’s most visited small towns.

11 a.m: We arrived by train (about an hour from Rome) in the late morning and took the Funicular that is right across the street from the station to the top of the hill, into the old town of Orvieto. Surrounded by walls, the town is emblematic of the Etruscans, who always built their cities high up and surrounded like a fortress to protect from evil invaders (like the Romans). The Etruscans were also known for their development underground. Caves and passageways have been found throughout the area, where Etruscans would store wine, weapons, statuary, and build rooms for the dead. If you are interested in seeing some of these tombs, you can visit the largest Etruscan Necropolis near Civitivecchia and outside of Tarquinia.

At the funicular, we had a taxi take us to Orvieto’s majestic church that crowns the town and glistens in the sunshine as if made with fine gems and paved with gold. Sitting on one of the stone benches in front gazing at the masterpiecesof it, we craned our necks to take in its majestic glory. It is truly one of the most beautiful churches in the world, and alone is worth the visit to Orvieto. We then went inside and paid a nominal fee to see the masterpieces, among them The Last Judgement by Luca Signorelli. It is a different experience to see these paintings in situ, as they were meant to be shown rather than in a museum, and you can create several wonderful church tours in Italy that will be better than visiting some of the most famous museums.

 Yy<<<y baby typing

^was left there on purpose. While I was writing the draft for this, my little one crawled up and started typing on the keyboard, which I couldn’t bring myself to erase.

1 p.m: Small towns in Italy shut down during the hot afternoon hours, when workers go home to eat delicious lunches and then rest for a bit before returning to work, so take advantage of the quiet and do the same. We ended up at a touristy spot, where the prices are inflated and the food mediocre. However, we enjoyed a delicious glass of Orvieto Classico wine. This wine is famous world-over and the restaurants here usually have the best years on hand. Another famous Orvieto wine is Est! Est! Est!. The story behind the name derives from a German bishop’s quest for the best wine as he was making the long journey to see the pope. He sent a prelate ahead of him to search and received a message when the servant reached a nearby commune called Montefiascone and the message read Est! Est! Est! (here it is, here it is, here it is!).

Street in Orvieto

3 pm: I wanted to see the Etruscan caves in Orvieto and there are a couple of ways to do this. There is the official cave tour, which lasts about 45 minutes and you can buy tickets for it at the cave tour center right across from the church. However, because they are long winding tunnels, I wasn’t comfortable carrying my baby down there, so I skipped it (my husband went though and really enjoyed it, as they explained how the caves have been used throughout the centuries after the Etruscans). However, I did enjoy the second option, which was a tour of a private Etruscan cave. The owners of the restaurant La Buca di Bacco discovered Etruscan caves underneath their property during an archeological dig and Etruscan cavethey invested a lot of money into making them tourable and beautiful. Carving Etruscan statuary inside and showcasing some of the relics found there, they have turned this into a must-see for tourists in Orvieto. There is a fee to participate in the tour, but it is worth it. They also used to serve several course meals down in the caves for certain tour groups (my mom runs a tour company and we enjoyed many a meal down there, with candles flickering everywhere and wine flowing). Now, they only serve tour Inside Etruscan cavegroups upstairs, but you can still participate in the cave tour if you call ahead or stop by the shop and talk your way in.

4 pm: There is an archeological museum right next door to the church – it’s not going to blow your mind away, but it is a nice, small museum with some Etruscan treasures. They also have rooms with Etruscan paintings on the walls, which look just like the tombs. It won’t take you very long to go through here and when you leave head left for a stunning view of the countryside and the aforementioned La Badia hotel.

La Badia nestled in the countryside

La Badia nestled in the countryside

Orvieto is also famous for its hand-painted pottery and there are also beautiful stores along the old streets, so take some time to shop and just enjoy the atmosphere of this ancient town before heading back to Rome!

 

 

5 Great Aperitivo Places in Rome

As I have mentioned in previous posts, discovering Italy’s aperitivo scene is a little bit like discovering El Dorado. All of a sudden your dinners aren’t limited to pasta and pizza (living in Italy spoils you a bit, where these otherwise delicious foods become a chore to eat) and you’re opened up to a whole new world of food variety without having to commit to one dish. Plus, it can be much cheaper and you can eat earlier, yet still be part of the ‘scene’ instead of going to a non-aperitivo restaurant and sitting alone with the few other pale tourists who aren’t used to Italy’s late dinner hour.

Now the deal with most aperitivi places is you only pay for your drinks and then a buffet is included. Some places (as we found out only after a large bill) also charge per dish at the buffet so just check ahead of time. Also, I am only listing places that are baby-friendly. There are much trendier spots in Rome to see and be seen, but are too crowded and loud for a child (or children).

That being said, here are some of my favorite aperitivi spots in Rome.

Fancy Schmancy

La.Vi. : We happened upon this place right off Rome’s famed Via Condotti after I made my mom visit the ‘Church of Souls in Limbo.’ (NOT recommended. It is a room with a few books and those books have hand prints on them. But I digress…)

Now, being somewhat of a budget traveler, meaning I would only pay a lot for a meal if it really offers an incredible experience, I would not go here for regular dinner. It is expensive. It also isn’t the cheapest aperitivo joint, but the food is good, the wine is amazing (at least my mom liked it) and the fruit drink they put together for me was delish (tons of fresh fruit that I requested all blended together into a creamy heaven). The drinks are straight up 15 Euro each and they come with a free all you can eat buffet.  The great part is that because this is usually a pricey restaurant, the food is actually really good and much better than some of the other buffets. From quiche to broccoli to pasta and fish, it is a great spread and will fill you up. So, for 15 Euro (assuming you have only one drink here), you get a great meal in a beautiful ambiance. Plus, you might meet some interesting people.

Cheap and Juicy

Baylon Cafe: Though we lived in Trastevere for more than a month, we only discovered this place in the last two weeks. But, boy did we become regulars. One reason is (when the juicer is working) they have delicious fresh juices (i.e. lots of greens with a little apple, etc). Also, their buffet is pretty varied, so you can enjoy a variety of vegetables, traditional dishes like eggplant parmigiana, protein-packed goodies like chick peas, and some fresh options like salad. Plus, the price is great. As with many places, you pay for your drink and the buffet is free, but the drinks here are affordable and delicious. The minimum is 7 Euro per person, so opt for the more expensive glass of wine since you will be paying for it anyway. Cocktails cost a bit more but this place is SO hipster that they won’t disappoint you with their cocktail making skills. If you google aperitivo spots in Trastevere, you will see countless sites toting Freni e Frenzioni. It is the oldest aperitivo spot in town and gets very crowded, but there are only a few tables and it mostly caters to teens who don’t mind sitting on the concrete in the sun to eat some cheap food.

Food With a View

Vivi Bistrot: My mom loves to spend time in the most scenic spots in Rome (scenic = expensive). I love to eat cheaply. Vivi Bistrot fits the bill for both. This restaurant is built into Palazzo Braschi, a restored palace and museum, and the tables look out onto Piazza Navona. The cost of a drink is about 10 Euro and includes the buffet, which has hummus, ricotta cheese, little sandwiches, pasta salad, and some fresh veggies. Here, they also make non-alcoholic cocktails, but for those who want a little fizz, they have fruit-laden prosecco spritz cocktails, which are tasty and refreshing. Compared to what you will pay at any of the restaurants in Piazza Navona, this is a much cheaper way to enjoy the view without forking out a lot of money for mediocre food.

 Quality and Wifi

Compagnia del Pane: Let’s be honest: sometimes you just want some tasty food and free wifi. We are back in Trastevere with this restaurant and I should say first: what it lacks in ambiance (kind of like a Panera Bread but not as big), it makes up for in freshness and quality. Certain nights of the week, the restaurant lays out a spread of bruschetta, cheeses, breads, and meats. For around 10 Euros, you can fill up and enjoy a great glass of wine. CdP boasts quality ingredients and specially sourced spreads. Having enjoyed many a lunch here, I can attest to it also being a delicious pit stop throughout the day. The only catch is they don’t offer the aperitivo buffet every day, so you might want to check ahead of time.

A Holy Snack

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Cajo e Gajo: Again, in Trastevere, and not an aperitivo buffet like the others. Here, you pay for a drink (a glass of wine costs about 4 Euros) and they bring out a spread of little pizza bites, french fries, chips, olives, and crackers. So, it isn’t exactly dinner fare, but for a cheap snack, it is a great place to visit. The added bonus, and one of the main reasons it made it on this list, is it sits in a square that hosts a building owned by the Vatican. That also means that sometimes the pope swings by, as happened one day when we were sitting there. So not only do you get an inexpensive drink with snacks in a beautiful square, but you might get a chance to see Pope Francis himself!

 

 

 

 

The Appian Way to a Perfect Family Day – Rome

Baths of Caracalla, a 2,500 year-old road, magnificent villas, and a picnic to boot.. here is our itinerary for the Appian Way day.

Despite having to been to Rome probably a dozen times in my life, I had never visited the Appian Way – probably because it is out of the way. But, I am happy to report that this 2,500 year-old ‘Queen of the Long Roads’ is not only worth discovering, but it is a must-see. And, with a little planning, we found that we could create the perfect day on the Appian Way (no, I never tire of the rhyme).

Now, first off, a little history. This road isn’t just any old road.. it is the beginning of ‘all roads lead to Rome.’ Built in 312 B.C. by Appius Claudius, it is the first long road that allowed Roman troops to really start conquering all of the lands around them. Extended over the centuries, it witnessed the incredible rise and fall of the Roman Empire, as well as served as more than just an avenue for transport. In 71 B.C., after the slave revolt led by Spartacus, 6,000 slaves were crucified and the crosses carrying their bodies lined the road for miles. Sorry, a little gruesome, but not at all an unusual punishment back in the day.

But, you don’t have to picture that particular scene when you head to the Appian Way. We mainly marveled at the villas, imagined ourselves marching down this road thousands of years earlier (not to our demise), and relished in the undiluted history that graciously embraced us as we went back in time.

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Morning: Rise and shine! We woke up fairly early to avoid spending too much time in the afternoon heat and headed out the door, baby strapped to my body. We caught the bus from our apartment in Trastevere to the Circus Maximus, where we glimpsed a view of the imperial palace atop Palatine Hill before making our way to the Baths of Caracalla. The baths are amazing for a couple of reasons: almost nobody goes there, so you can really walk among the ruins and let your imagination run wild;  it is included in the combo ticket that also allows you to see two villas on the Appian Way (we will get to those next); it is an incredible structure and once served 6,000 bathing Romans a day, who also did their exercise there, engaged in political discussion, plotted against their enemies, and so on.

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Mid-Morning: After seeing some of the beautifully preserved mosaics and the enormous walls at the Baths of Caracalla, we caught a taxi (about 10 Euros) to the old part of the Appian Way (Via Appia antica). There are many ancient buildings you can see along the road, which extends for miles, but since we had a baby and I am a firm believer in less is more while traveling, we limited ourselves to a couple of sights and opted for a more relaxing experience. The ticket for the Baths of Caracalla include entrance to the tomb of Cecilia Matella and Villa dei Quintili, and our plan was to do both of these, but because of Italy’s belief in very long lunch breaks and the heat, we ended up doing just Cecilia Matella, which was beautiful. The truth is, you can see most of the villas and tombs from the road, and there really isn’t a need to buy entrance tickets to any, unless you are dead set on looking at more mosaics.

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Noon: Along the road, there is a little restaurant that also has sandwiches and salads to go. We picked up a couple of sandwiches, bottles of water, and fruit cups, and wandered until we found a good place to picnic. Now, what we ended up doing is not officially allowed, but again, this is Italy. We saw a beautifully manicured lawn filled with statues, benches, and a small villa, and decided to hunker down there for our little picnic. Innocently spreading out our blanket and food, we played with the baby, took pictures, and happily ate before the groundskeeper came and informed us that this wasn’t actually a public space for picnics. It ended up being the grounds to a museum and the Appian way information center, which turned out to be quite convenient. But, what I love about Italy is the groundskeeper waited until we had finished our picnic and even spent time playing with the tot before asking us to pack up. No doubt he saw us earlier, but who can resist a cute little family enjoying some quality time outdoors? Certainly, not Italians. In case you don’t want to kicked out, a little further down the road there is a park, where you can legally picnic and play.

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Afternoon: We leisurely walked down the road, took in some of the sights, and then randomly hopped on a bus (there is only one out there) that took us to an even more random road from which we found a taxi and headed back home.

In a nutshell: The Appian Way is magnificent and if the weather is cooler, you can spend even more time out there than we did. The Villa dei Quintili looks incredible, as do so many of the other sights. So, come with good walking shoes and get ready to explore, wander, and get lost in time. The road is very bumpy (made of big rocks) so I would not recommend a stroller. Baby carriers are the best!

 

 

 

 

Rome: A Family Day with Trajan and Hadrian

Trajan’s Forum, the temple of Venus and Roma, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Pantheon – spend a day with Emperors Hadrian and Trajan as you discover Rome.

I love themes. I feel like they add structure to an otherwise chaotic sightseeing day. So, depending on how much time you have in Rome, you can use this as a one day guide or do it easily in half a day, following another perfect day itinerary in the other half. With a baby in tow, I decided to make this a one day tour, leisurely making my way from one sight to the next and taking ample coffee and water breaks in between.

Trajan and Hadrian are part of what is known as the ‘Five Good Emperors,’ but that certainly doesn’t mean they were sweethearts during their reign (i.e., Hadrian had his chief architect killed because he disagreed with Hadrian’s design for a new temple). But, compared to their predecessors, they emerged with a better reputation. Plus, they were great conquerors as well as helped take care of the poorer Romans, so we will accept them for what they were.

trajan2 hadrian

Morning(ish): Hearing that the museum at Trajan’s Forum wasn’t very crowded, we took our time before heading out, since we didn’t fear long lines. And, we came to discover there were NO lines, because most people head to the Roman forum and forgo this archeological treasure. The best part of the museum is that it is built within the markets, so at every point you can walk out amongst the ruins virtually alone and take wonderful photos of Rome. Almost every emperor wanted to build their own little forum and this was Trajan’s, majestically capped with Trajan’s column, which depicts famous battle scenes from his epic triumph over the Dacians (modern day Romania) as it towers almost a hundred feet above ground. We wandered through the stalls, where ancient businessmen would sell their wares, climbed up through the various layers, and took panoramic shots over the market and Rome.

trajan's forumphoto 1-1

 

Mid-Morning: After the leaving the museum, we wandered across Via Fori Imperiali (the main road) and gazed upon the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Roma (across from the Colosseum, towering above the Roman Forum). No need to go inside the forum for this, we just took a look and tried to imagine it when it was built: the front of two temples back to back, Venus facing the Colosseum and Roma facing the forum. This was Emperor Hadrian’s vision, as he was also an architect, and also the building that led to his architect Appolodorus‘ death (note to self – never disagree on building designs with an emperor, ‘good’ or not).

Tempel der Venus und der Roma und Turm von Santa Francesca Romana

Noon: As I was sightseeing with my very Italian mother, this was about the time I was forced to sit and enjoy a coffee break. Relaxing and people-watching are as important to experiencing the Italian way of life as wandering through ruins, and why not do it with a real view? Though they are pricier than other coffee shops, we sat outside one of the restaurants directly across from the Victory monument, and looked at this more modern-day, gleaming white, Roman style structure while sipping some cool drinks and taking the baby out to play. Drinks usually come with a few snacks, so we also packed in a few carbs before heading on our merry way.

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Afternoon: I could never, ever, ever get tired of looking at the Pantheon. The most perfect building in the world, one which has inspired architects through the ages, it is also the most preserved of any ancient building still in existence. Initially commissioned by the great General Marcus Agrippa under the reign of Augustus, it was actually rebuilt by Hadrian after one of the several fires of Rome destroyed it. So, you are gazing upon the newer version, but don’t worry – it is still almost 2,000 years old. We walked in, enjoyed the cool air and the perfect symmetry, before heading over to another carb-lovers delight: gelato at the world famous Giolitti gelateria. (Ok, you need to know what my husband has now dubbed ‘the giolitti’ or ‘pulling a giolitti.’ You will find here that many Italians do not obey lines.. so go ahead and try to stand in line for your gelato with the Germans and the Swedes, while you watch hordes of families walk right to the front. Then, learn quickly and ‘pull a Giolitti’ yourself to really get the Italian experience. It’s wrong, I know, but feels oh so right).

pantheon

If you like Nutella, try the gelato version of it, and then basically don’t eat for the rest of the month because God only knows how many calories that puppy has in it. Oh, and definitely ask for the panna (whipped cream) – even as a non-lover of panna, I find it tastes amazing.

Mid-Afternoon: After a good gelato cool down, make your way to Castel Sant’Angelo (a bit further away, so you may want to take a bus or cab). This was also designed by Hadrian and finished by his successor to hold the ashes of the late, great Hadrian. It was later usurped by the Catholic Church (as was the Pantheon, hence why it was preserved). If you are tired, just take a look from the outside. If not, enter, climb the stairs and enjoy a nice view of St. Peter’s Basilica.

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A Perfect Day With a Baby in Rome – Galleria Borghese

This is the first of my Perfect Day in Rome series, which can also be found under the ‘Perfect Day In’ tab at the top.

There are so many amazing sights in Rome that sometimes it can get overwhelming. Depending on how much time you have, you obviously need to prioritize what you want to visit. However, I strongly recommend putting the Galleria Borghese at the top of your list, as you will find room after room of priceless art, including Caravaggio’s more controversial paintings that were initially commissioned by the Vatican but then not used because of how he depicted certain biblical characters (Caravaggio was famous for using prostitutes and fishermen as models, rather than nobility). That didn’t bother Cardinal Scipio Borghese, however, who filled his magnificent palace with some of the most incredible art the world had ever seen.

Now, it’s on display for you to enjoy.

We found that this private art gallery isn’t as easy to enter as the others, so you will have to do a little work by reserving tickets ahead of time on their website. You can also call to reserve your tickets, which will save you the online service fee, but you will likely get frustrated when nobody answers, which is often the case. So my suggestion is to cough up the extra dough, reserve several days ahead of time, get there a bit early, and make it a perfect start to a perfect day by entering stress free.

Getting to the Galleria Borghese can also be a bit tricky because it isn’t around the major tourist sites. However, you can try your luck with the Roman bus system, ride a bicycle, or cab it. If you are with kids, I suggest a taxi. Riding a bicycle in Rome is a bit like Russian Roulette and you don’t really want your Roman holiday to be your last holiday. Buses function, but don’t count on them being on time and they are often very crowded.

So, with all that being said, here is a rundown of our perfect day in Rome at the Galleria Borghese.

Morning: We reserved our tickets via the gallery’s online booking system for 11 a.m.  I am not a big fan of having to be somewhere early in the morning, especially now that I have a baby. (Check out my ten tips for traveling with a baby to find out why). So, after leisurely waking up at about 8 a.m. and feeding the little one, we headed out to our favorite nearby cafe for a cappuccino and a cornetto. We always sit down to enjoy our breakfast (it usually costs extra), but you can also do as the Italians and enjoy your espresso (simply called cafe in Italy) and sweet treat at the bar to save some money.  Afterward, we stopped by a little grocery store and picked up the necessities: a bottle of screw-top wine, a baguette, some cheese nibs, fresh olives, fruit cups, a bottle of water, and some plastic cups and plates. Since we stopped bringing the stroller around Rome when we realized the elevator in our apartment wouldn’t fit it, we brought a backpack for the food and blanket and the tot traveled in our Ergobaby.

Mid-Morning: Finally, around 10:15 a.m., we grabbed a taxi and made our way to the gallery. Since there are strict reservation times, I didn’t want to chance being late, so we ended up being very early. That was fine though, since some street musicians were around to entertain us and we could gaze out on to the expansive Borghese gardens while waiting. About 15 minutes before our reservation time, we went in, showed them our printed out tickets (there are many internet points where you can pay a small fee to print your ticket or you can use your hotel), and gave our backpack to coat check. We then entered the gallery.

Going Through the Gallery: Carrying a baby was easy, but if you have smaller children who can walk, I would suggest holding their hands the WHOLE time. The statues here are not encased in glass, so better to keep curious little hands occupied. When we entered, we made our way through the gallery with everyone else who reserved in our same time slot. However, afterwards, we realized we could have quickly made our way to the end when entering and then walked back through the gallery to the beginning and been alone the whole time, since the exit is the same as the entrance. When we go back we will probably try that, as it would be amazing to have the gallery rooms to ourselves. Still, they limit the people, so it is never as crowded as the Vatican museums.

Beware of swooning as the palace itself is magnificent. A few of the must-sees include:

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Bernini is the master of Baroque and you will find his creations all over Rome. While his name may not be as familiar to you as Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, you will leave with an unforgettable impression of his work.

Afternoon: Upon leaving the Gallery, we noticed a trolley parked outside and hopped in. Of course, we had no idea where it would take us, but eventually the conductor came by to collect 3 Euro per person and took us through the gardens, which are enormous. This is super fun for both kids and adults, and a welcome relief for your feet after the museum tour. The conductor officially makes only a few stops, but remember, this is Italy. You can always make a little request and if you are nice enough, they will usually grant it. I wanted to go near a little lake in the garden where we could rent boats, so he dropped us off nearby and told us we could just hop back on when we were finished.  So, we made our way to the lake, spread out our blanket and food, and enjoyed our lunch under the shade of trees. Afterward, we left the baby with my mom, and my hubby and I enjoyed a romantic little boat ride for only 5 Euros (you get about 20 mins, which is more than enough since the lake – rather pond – is small). On our way out, we noticed there was also a restaurant nearby, so if you don’t feel like a picnic, this is another option. Enjoy the rest of the park – there are statues and temples everywhere. For kids there is also a carousel, gelateria, and playground.

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Late Afternoon: ahh… we were gloriously tired, so we took a taxi back to our apartment to enjoy a long nap and read up on some of the amazing art we had just had the pleasure of viewing.

Evening: Relaxed from our nap, we freshened up and headed out for dinner. After being in Rome for several weeks, we discovered our favorite ‘dinner’ was actually an aperitivo. Many restaurants offer an aperitivo, which is usually a free buffet with the cost of a drink, and you can taste a variety of food on the cheap. Another plus for families with children – this starts at 6, so you can eat early, eat a lot, and enjoy a lively atmosphere with the locals. Afterward, we went to one of our favorite gelaterias, Flor, which is on Campo di Fiori, and then made our way to Piazza Navona, where we gazed upon another Bernini masterpiece, the Fountain of the Four Rivers. While devouring our gelato, we quizzed each other one which rivers each of the statues represented and then later Wikipedia’d it to find out who was right (I’m pretty sure it was me).

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