Travel

Naples on New Year's Eve: How to Survive Spending Capodanno in Napoli

Naples on New Year's Eve: How to Survive Spending Capodanno in Napoli

For my first post of 2018, I want to share how I spend New Year’s Eve or Capodanno this year in Naples. Naples, which happens to be one of my favorite cities in Italy, is well-known for its crazy NYE celebrations. No where else in the country do people celebrate as hard or as long as they do in Napoli. 

Places to Visit in Rome: Campo de' Fiori

Campo de' Fiori is one of Rome's most ambiguous spaces. This piazza in the center of Rome, close enough to both Piazza Venezia and Trastevere over the river, fulfills a variety of purposes for people in the city. Its history dates back to ancient times and its most prominent figure, a statue of the man killed for disagreeing with church canon, dominates the center of the square. During the day, Campo de' Fiori hosts a large food market with Italian products, fresh produce and flowers. At night, the many restaurants and bars surrounding the piazza fill up with tourists and locals. If you're visiting Rome, it's definitely a fun area to check out between trips to various monuments and long walks in the center.

History

Campo de' Fiori translates literally into "field of flowers". In the middle ages, this square was actually a meadow, but later was transformed into a main commercial center of Rome. Shops were set up all around the area and the connecting streets all are named after various professions (hat-makers, vinegar producers, tailors, etc.)

Campo de' Fiori was also Rome's execution grounds where criminals and church dissenters were hanged or burned to death. In fact, there's a statue in the center that honors the famous figure of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican Friar and philosopher/scientist. Because he disagreed with Church teachings on geocentricity (all planets and the sun revolve around the Earth) and other major Christian concerns, he was tortured and burned at the stake in the middle of this square. The statue was later erected by the freemasons as a form of apology and remembrance of where the Church's past wrongdoings.

To this day, Campo continues to be a center where people gather together, albeit with a less grim atmosphere.

Campo de' Fiori
Campo de' Fiori

The Market

During the day (Monday-Saturday mornings), Campo de' Fiori acts as one of the few vegetable markets in the city center. While prices are higher than you might find at other markets further outside the city, it's a fun experience to walk through the stalls overflowing with beautiful, fresh produce and interesting Italian products.

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You can find everything from oil, wine and spices to artichokes being shucked by hand and locals haggling with shopkeepers.

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I've picked up small bits here for dinner later and a bouquet of flowers from one of the many flower stands near the fountain.

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If you're looking for a quick snack, there are options for fresh squeezed orange juice and fruit cups, while at many of the bars surrounding the market you can sit down and have a coffee and snack.

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Nightlife

If you're looking for an authentic Roman nightlife experience, Campo is not your place. This square is full of tourists (notoriously American) and study abroad students who drink to excess on overpriced, poor quality drinks. You might have luck grabbing a quick glass of wine or beer from one of the lower-key spots, but if you're interested in a nice night out with a less insane atmosphere, try out the neighborhoods of Monti, San Lorenzo and even parts of Trastevere.

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On the other hand, if you're homesick and want to find other travelers, this square is a great place to meet people who speak English. Just make sure not to come here every night of your stay!

For more information on Rome's other markets, check out this list of great vintage markets in Rome here. For other shopping recommendations, I have a roundup of where to shop in Rome here

Trastevere Neighborhood Guide: What to eat, drink and do in Trastevere

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trastevere neighborhood guide
trastevere neighborhood guide

One of Rome’s most famous neighborhoods, Trastevere is piece of ancient Roman life in the center of the city. It’s location (on the other side of the river) from the rest of Rome’s historic monuments creates an atmosphere of a town-within-a-city. And while it has more than its fair share of tourists and study abroad students, there are also hidden areas to this neighborhood where locals have lived for decades and small quirks that make it a spot in Rome not to be missed. To help you steer clear (for the most part) of the tourists traps, I've created a Trastevere neighborhood guide with a list of my recommendations for places to eat and drink and things to do.

To Eat

Trastevere is known as a foodie destination in Rome, hence why there are so many food tours dedicated to this neighborhood. It’s almost impossible to choose favorites among its many restaurants, aperitivo spots and bars, but you won’t go wrong by heading to one of these spots.

trastevere neighborhood guide
trastevere neighborhood guide

The Roman Food: Da Enzo

It's a classic for a reason. I've talked about it a lot in the past but Da Enzo is one of my Roman classic faves at this point. It's a *bit* touristy but still serves amazing local food. Try the cacio e pepe, carbonara, coda all vaccinara and DEFINITELY get their tiramisu with a nutella surprise. Make sure to call at least a couple days ahead, otherwise go around 9:00 when the first wave of diners leave.

trastevere neighborhood guide
trastevere neighborhood guide

The Pizza: Ai Marmi

There are a lot of pizza options for you but I really enjoy heading to Ai Marmi for a quick pizza and fritti when I'm hungry and just don't want to commit to a full dinner. You get to see the pizzas being made right in front of you and can get a generous meal for a deal.

trastevere neighborhood guide
trastevere neighborhood guide

The (Gluten-Free) Pizza: Mama Eat

While I haven't been here, I'm dying to try their gluten-free or lactose-free pizza. Having food allergies or intolerances is very difficult in Rome, but at Mama Eat they have a separate kitchen for gluten-free food and the pizza is supposed to be quite good.

The Trattoria: Il Duca in Trastevere

A Trastevere standby, Il Duca gives you everything you need from a Roman trattoria. The carciofi (artichokes) are everything.

The Gelato: Old Bridge Gelato

Some decent gelato in the heart of Trastevere.

trastevere neighborhood guide
trastevere neighborhood guide

The (Better) Gelato: Il Teatro del Gelato

Some great, organic and locally sourced gelato from across the bridge.

To Drink

Aside from its culinary specialities, Trastevere is one of the nightlight hubs in Rome. You’ll find a lot of Americans here (especially in the most popular piazzas and roads) and even some locals as well. It’s definitely more appealing to younger crowds and those looking to go OUT. Bar hopping is very common, and there aren’t many club options in this neighborhood.

trastevere neighborhood guide
trastevere neighborhood guide

The Craft Beer: Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà

If you like beer and are in Rome, you go to Ma Che Siete. My boyfriend claims it is one of the best beer shops in Rome with about 15 rotating beers on tap with superior "delivery mechanisms". The other would be Open Baladin.

The Aperitivo Hotspot: Freni e Frizioni

Where the cool people go to drink and smoke outside. Inside you'll find a full (vegan-friendly) buffet for their aperitivo. Great cocktails and atmosphere.

The Wine and Meat Bar: La Prosciutteria

There are several of these located around the city and they are serve decent wine, alongside great meats and cheese boards or sandwiches. Go for a glass bottle and enjoy some great Italian products.

trastevere neighborhood guide
trastevere neighborhood guide

The Cocktail Bar: Alembic # Ak bar

Edgy; trend; instagrammable drinks.

To Do

Talking a walk around the neighborhood is my first recommendation but after you’ve maxed out on your daily steps, here are some other options.

trastevere neighborhood guide
trastevere neighborhood guide

The Nature Option: Botanical Gardens

A short walk from the hustle and bustle of popular Trastevere, the Orto Botanico of Sapienza University is a beautiful place to wander. The gardens are lush and a nice way to get away from everything in the center. 8€ entrance.

trastevere neighborhood guide
trastevere neighborhood guide

The Religious Relic: Basilica di Santa Cecilia

This gorgeous basilica is dedicated to St. Cecilia, patron saint of music. It has a gorgeous fresco, a buried ancient Roman house and remarkable catacombs that you pay €4 to visit. Another perk of heading here is that you get to see the less touristy side of Trastevere, where things are slightly calmer.

trastevere neighborhood guide
trastevere neighborhood guide

The Hangout: Piazza Trilussa/Piazza Santa Maria di Trastevere

Head to one of Trastevere's main piazzas (Piazza Trilussa or Piazza Santa Maria di Trastevere) to sit outside, drink a cheap bottle of wine and listen to street musicians. In the warmer months there's always a crowd of people mingling and you can really experience Roman nightlife the local way.

The View: Gianicolo

Gianicolo is Rome's second largest hill and offers a great view overlooking the Roman skyline, reachable by stairs from Trastevere. Head up here in between meals or drinks to watch the sunset because the view is worth it.

trastevere neighborhood guide
trastevere neighborhood guide

The Activity: Outdoor movie

Head to an outdoor movie in the summer. Natalie has some great tips on outdoor summer events in Rome and this open air cinema seems like a lot of fun. Note that films are shown in Italian.

trastevere neighborhood guide
trastevere neighborhood guide

This definitely isn't an exhaustive list, but it's one that I'm constantly adding to and testing out ;) Keep an eye out here for future updates on Trastevere and new neighborhood guides for other parts of Rome!

Rome's Rose Garden: The perfect day activity in Rome

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Rome's rose garden is absolutely beautiful and even more special because it's only opened for a limited time in the spring. I've been trying to get to the gardens for years, but always missed the month or so that they're open for. No more! I went with my visiting friend and had a lovely time wandering through the rows of rose bushes and checking out the pathways that surround the garden, enclosed by rose arbors. If you're a fan of gardening, beautiful flowers, or parks, this stop is a must-see in Rome. Rome's Rose Garden

Overall Experience

Walking into the garden is a beautiful experience. Everything smells lovely, you're surrounded by greenery and beautiful flowers, intertwined with the winding garden pathways. The garden boasts over 1,000 different species of roses so there's plenty to see if you're at all interested in flowers. Over the Italian Stone Pines, you can make out glimpses of Circus Maximus and Rome's skyline. In one garden, there's a pergola and low hanging tree that invites you to climb it. On the other side of the road, you can walk the perimeter of a second garden under an arbor of roses and take a long break on one of its many benches.

Rome's Rose Garden

Just like the orange gardens, Rome's rose garden is perfect for a quick snack and glass of wine (maybe a nice rosè ;) ). You can bring your own food in, find a seat and spend hours talking with friends or just enjoying the scenery. It's right in the center of Rome and yet you feel a million miles away. I highly recommend, 10/10.

Rome's Rose Garden

Special Occasions

While we wandered the gardens, we saw a couple of parties going on. While I couldn't find any official information online about hosting events in the gardens, I think informal gatherings like the ones I saw would be perfectly fine. Go with your group, dress up and take pictures among all the different rose bushes. Finish up with wine and snacks and you have the recipe for a perfect aperitivo.

Rome's Rose Garden

Information on Rome's Rose Garden

I just missed posting this in time—unfortunately the rose garden is closed for 2017 but for future plans, I would definitely recommend checking it out if you have a free afternoon. While these dates may change depending on the year, it's typically open from April 21 to June 19, everyday from 8:30-7:30. The garden is very close to the Circo Massimo metro stop and an easy way to spend an afternoon in Rome (especially because it's FREE to enter). You can continue your way up and check out the Orange Gardens along with the secret keyhole that looks through a garden to St. Peter's dome. For more information, check out Rome's official tourism site here.

Rome's Rose Garden

 

 

Visiting the Amalfi Coast: Why Ravello should be on your list

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While I’ve written previously about the Amalfi coast (what to do in Positano, how to get to the Amalfi Coast, where to stay), I only touched briefly on the beautiful town of Ravello. Because it doesn’t have access to the beach, many people skip over Ravello and head only to Positano, Amalfi and Sorrento. I think that for this very reason (a slightly smaller number of tourists) you should check out Ravello on your next trip to the Amalfi Coast. Here are some of my reasons why to visit Ravello when you're going to the Amalfi Coast. ravello

The trip up

The trip up the mountain from Amalfi to Ravello isn’t an easy one. When I went with my friend, we tried to wait for one of the regional buses but it never came and we ended up hailing a private tour bus as it drove past us, which I wouldn’t recommend. But if you take your time and stop for the view along the way, it can actually be quite enjoyable. Our B&B owner also told us that there’s a nice walk up a small path (vs. the main road) that takes you through private land and vineyards. I’ll definitely take this way up next time, but be prepared for somewhat of a hike as those stairs are killers. Otherwise, you can always call a taxi.

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The view

While all of the Amalfi Coast has gorgeous views, Ravello is another story. It sits high up on a mountain and overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea and the other towns along the coast. I didn’t get a good look at it during the day but at night it was amazing. All of the lights are visible along the entire coast and you can see absolutely everything. Go for the quick climb and stunning photos.

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Full of boutiques and artisan shops

Ravello, and the Amalfi Coast in general, is well known for their artisan products. This small town was full of ceramic shops, art galleries and stores with beautiful handmade products. It’s so nice to walk around and shop before lunch or dinner and you can find a great souvenier for your trip.

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Delicious restaurants and aperitivo spots

Ravello has some fantastic restaurants and cafes. Walking around, we saw so many different locations and almost all of them had outdoor seating. I had a real treat yo’ self moment with my girlfriend and had a fabulous dinner on the very top balcony of Hotel Palumbo. It really stood out in terms of location, atmosphere and quality of food, but there are so many options that it’s hard to choose a bad spot to eat.

ravello

 

More so than even the town of Amalfi itself, Ravello is a great stop along an Amalfi Coast tour and something that I wouldn't miss. Its higher elevation gives it a special feel and makes you feel like you're a million miles away from the real world. Perfect for anyone on vacation or just wishing to get away for a bit...

For more info about the Amalfi Cast, check out my other posts here:

Where to Stay in Amalfi: B&B Punta Civita

Things to Do in Positano (in a day)

How to Get to the Amalfi Coast (from Rome)

Travel Umbria: Day Trip to Spello, Umbria

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If you search, "most photogenic towns in Umbria", Spello comes up in the top ten. For such a small town, there's definitely a big group of people on the Internet who love it and extol its virtues. While taking a weekend trip in the region of Umbria, I fit Spello into an afternoon, after seeing Assisi. You could also do a day trip to Spello, from Rome, which is easier by car, and possible by train. If you're heading out to the campagna, Spello should be on the top of your list of things to see in Umbria. day trip to Spello

Why go to Spello

Whereas other cities in the region of Umbria have many sights to see, including major cathedrals, museums, and shops, Spello is a small town on top of a mountain. Its location makes it very picturesque and fantastic for anyone interested in photography or seeing small-town Italian life. It's also in the region of Perugia, which like all of Umbria, has amazing wines. There are tons of small beer and wine shops along the tiny streets, with outdoor seating and fresh, farm-t0-table food.

day trip to Spello

There's really not much to dislike about this town, but it is very quiet and relaxed, so maybe not suitable for an entire weekend trip. As a stop along a larger Umbrian tour, I found it a perfect resting point and spot to eat a delicious lunch before driving back to Rome.

day trip to Spello

How to get there

Like most things in Italy, getting to Spello by car is probably the easiest way. In an hour and 45 minutes, you'll be at the top of the mountain and can park outside of the city walls. From there, walking is necessary and enjoyable.

If you can't rent a car or find a friend who has one, there's also an express train from Termini Station in the center of Rome to Foligno, that takes about two hours. From Foligno, you can easily take a 5 minute local train to Spello or call a cab for the 15 minute drive.

day trip to Spello

What to do

Spello is a town that deserves to be taken slowly, by enjoying glasses of wine outside and long walks through the center. It's all on a hill so you definitely get your exercise for the day walking around, but the views are worth it. I took some small side roads to see what else there was besides the main road (where most of the restaurants are located). There's also a path all the way up to the top of the mountain where most tourists go for the amazing panoramic view.

day trip to Spello

You need to set aside some time to eat in Spello because all of the food and wine there are absolutely amazing. We went for drinks and an aperitivo type meal, but a full lunch or dinner would be equally as great. Things to try are pasta with cinghiale (wild boar) ragu, porcini mushrooms, and any other pasta of the day. We got a full board of cheeses and meats that were meant to be paired with the wine and the overall experience was unbelievable. I still think about their cherry marmalade that they served with the cheese...

day trip to Spello

When ordering wine, definitely ask your waiter for recommendations. They have some amazing locally-produced wine in Spello that you can't find anywhere else in Italy. The reds are particularly good and local, which is what we went for.

day trip to Spello


There you have it— why this tiny, but surprisingly well-known town became one of my favorites in Umbria. Spello's great for a day trip or a weekend getaway. I love the entire region because I think it really has it all. Beautiful scenery, super friendly people, historic towns and truly some of the best food I've had in this country. I've also written a weekend guide to Umbria and a post about one of my favorite cities in the region, Urbino. I'd be interested to know, do you prefer smaller towns like this, or the heavy-hitters like Rome, Florence and Venice?

day trip to Spello

Reaching 100 Posts: My most popular posts for the past year

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When Monday rolled around and I clicked “post” to my Top Tips for creating a travel journal, I was a little surprised to see the number 100 pop up on my WordPress site. After 10 months of blogging, I’ve written and published 100 posts on my blog, something that I never thought I would say. Writing 3 times a week hasn’t always been easy with my constantly changing job in Rome, especially as I try to fit more travel in. I’ve had to find tiny moments in my day to take pictures, write content and do maintenance on my blog and social channels. I learned how to create a website, market myself and do mysterious coding things that I still won’t pretend to fully understand. It’s taught me a lot and I’m so happy to have a very thorough overview of what my life in Italy is like for the future.

To celebrate my 100 posts, today I’m sharing what were my most popular posts and my personal favorites. Going back through my archives is always a treat because I can see just how far this has come. Thanks for reading and supporting me in my love for all things La Vita Roma.

Most Popular Posts

  • Termini Market: Termini’s New Mercato Centrale— Back in October I covered the opening of a new gourmet food market in Termini Station, with food stands from famous Roman restaurants. Obviously a lot of people want to find decent food around the station (because previously there was nothing) and I still love this market!
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  • 72 Hours in Rome: Weekend Travel Guide to Rome—This guide took me a while to put together, if only because of how limiting having only 72 hours in this beautiful city is. After some hard cuts, I came up with a full, enjoyable itinerary for a weekend trip in Rome that’s very helpful for anyone new to the city.
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  • Travel in Italy: Urbino, Le Marche—This one might be because of the beautiful photos of Le Marche that I included, but its one of my favorites too. My trip to Urbino with my sister and boyfriend was short but very sweet. We took a road trip through the center of the country and found some amazing scenery along the way. Urbino’s a lovely city and somewhere that I highly recommend!
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  • Best Pizza in Rome: Emma Pizzeria—last, but certainly not least, my post about Emma’s as the best pizza in Rome definitely got some attention. It’s not famous among other bloggers or best of lists for Rome, but in my opinion, it takes the cake. Emma’s ingredients and quality of their pizza result in something that I want in my mouth at all times. Still the best, after 1.5 years of searching.
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My Favorite Posts

It really wasn't easy to choose my favorites from (over) 100 posts, but I gave it a shot. Here are my favs:

  • The Best Views in Rome: 6 great spots for pictures—This post combines my love for Rome, photography and high places. I’m obsessed with taking photos from above and love city skylines. These places in Rome are very special to me because of the memories I made there.
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  • What I miss most about the US—Thanksgiving is always hard for me to be away from family and especially in a country where they don’t celebrate it. Easter and Christmas are approached with a lot of fanfare but Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays to spend with family, is mostly overlooked. Here I shared the things, both random and important, that I miss most about home. Brunch, pets, and basic American conveniences top the list.
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  • My Favorite Italian Instagrams—I love Instagram and Italian accounts are my favorite to follow. They gave me inspiration when I was living in the US to travel and now they give me great ideas for eating and traveling within the country. These are the people who have inspired me and who I look forward to seeing content from on a daily basis.
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  • 2016 in Review: 2016 Travels —traveling is always fun in the moment, but I always love looking back at pictures from trips and talking to people about where I’ve been, either in Italy or outside! This post was my roundup of long vacations and weekend trips that I’ve taken over the year and it was so fun to put together.
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  • Where to Find the Best Gelato in Rome—back in the summer of 2016, I had so much fun researching for this roundup of best gelaterias in Rome. If you can find something better than a hobby that enables your love for gelato and pizza, let a girl know because I haven’t found anything better for it than blogging.
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Finally, as a bonus, here is the first post that I ever wrote from my site, 5 Reasons Why You Should Live Abroad. I still stand by these reasons and have only found more over the past 100 posts. If you’ve got this far, congrats! And now you have 10 more articles to check out…

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Travel Journal Guide: Reasons and tips for keeping a travel journal on your next trip

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A travel journal is the most important thing I pack in my suitcase when I travel, from anything from a weekend away to long international trips. It has led me to be more serious and intentional about my vacations and journeys. When I reflect each day about how my trip is going, anything different that’s happened and what I’m surprised about, I’m always grateful for it when I’m home looking back at what I’ve written. It’s a great way to plan our your trip before-hand and there are so many different methods to use. Here are some key reasons why having a journal might work for you and a quick travel journal guide with tips. travel journal guide

Reasons to keep a travel journal

  1. Remember more: without taking notes about what I’ve done on vacation, my trips easily slip by me. When people ask, “So what did you do?”, even a week after a trip, it’s hard to remember the small details about my days. With a travel journal, you can take notes of your activities, what you ate, people you met and things you learned on your trip, to remember for years to come.
  2. Reflect on what you learned: different cultures can teach us so much, which is why traveling is so important for everyone. But sometimes we can let what we learn go by, without recognizing it and acknowledging it. I try to write about my mistakes, what made me uncomfortable in another culture and what I found surprising. Reading your entries after your trip helps the reflection process as well.
  3. Stay inspired at home: Aside from being used while you’re actually traveling, keeping a travel journal can help you maintain that wanderlust mind frame even during your life at home. So many people wish they could travel more or look to travel as an escape from reality, but simply having this mentality of looking for new things everywhere you go (even if that’s in your hometown) can really be a positive influence.

10 Tips for your Travel Journal Guide

travel journal guide

  1. Keep a physical journal. Having a notebook to write in is a huge part of travel journaling. it’s very therapeutic to write things down and you can also include other types of media if you like. If you’re the type of person who hates handwriting or needs to cut down on luggage, you can try this online journaling app.
  2. If you have a bullet journal, add your travel journal into your bullet journal and index it! That way you don’t have multiple different journals from trips and you can keep everything together.
  3. Start your travel journal at home. There are plenty of online prompts for travel writing. You can journal about topics like the reasons you’re going, what your expectations are, and what you have planned. This is also a great place to record your pre-trip research and keep it all together (things to do, restaurant recommendations and sights to see are all things you want to research before you leave).
  4. Include your itinerary in your travel journal, to keep all of your flights, accommodations and other activities that you’ve planned in advance together. This allows you to see each day laid out and map out your plan from there.
  5. When you journal at home, include your packing list as well. Notes about the weather and your activities will help you decide what to bring in your suitcase.
  6. Keep a food section in your journal and write down your favorite (or least favorite) dishes and where you found them. This is super helpful for giving recommendations later or just jogging your memory about a specific trip.
  7. Write daily while you’re traveling. This tip is super important because you’ll never remember things like you do on the first day. By taking some time each day to record what happened, you have alone time to be intentional about traveling and won't let each day fly by with the rest.
  8. Keep photos from your trip, postcards, doodles, ticket stubs and anything else that will remind you of special moments. While my journal is very simple, you can get as creative as you want with this and even make it into a sort of scrapbook.
  9. Include your daily highlights and ask for those of your travel companions as well. My boyfriend doesn’t love me asking him for this all the time, but it’s so fun to compare what I loved and what he did in one spot.
  10. Reflect on your trip and write about how it affected or even changed you, when you’re back home. This journal is very personal, and the more inside your head you get, the more valuable it can be to you later. I have journals from a couple years ago that I love looking back on, because I shared my emotional standpoint alongside daily activities.

That’s it! For my tips on journaling in general (because I am a true believer) check out my post on how to bullet journal. I also loved the following posts about reasons why to keep a travel journal  and this super handy post with ideas for what to include and free printables .


p.s. This is my 100th post on this blog! Thanks to anyone who's read along my journey so far and who's encouraged me to keep going. It's become something super important to me and a great way for me to share my life over here with friends, family and even strangers online. I'll have a post up on Friday about some of my favorite all-time posts and great moments since starting my blog in August 2016. 

What to See in Rome: Castel Sant’ Angelo

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Walking down the bridge towards Castel Sant’ Angelo, you're greeted by 10 angels holding instruments from the Passion, designed by Bernini. The castle overlooks the Tiber River and Vatican City, with amazing views from the top of the fortress. Along with its beautiful views of the city, it’s located conveniently close to St. Peter's (a nice two for one deal, if you will) and is full of its own history as well. For a fun and easy sight to see in Rome, with some amazing pictures at the top, check out Castel Sant’ Angelo on the other side of the river. Castel Sant' Angelo

History

Originally commissioned by Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for his family, Hadrian’s Tomb was one of the many monuments he erected in Rome and outside the city (one being Villa d’Este). It was later converted by the popes into a castle and military fortress. During this time, the church also used it as a prison and it held many famous Roman prisoners and dissenters of the the Catholic Church. To this day, there’s a passageway from the Vatican to Castel Sant’ Angelo for the pope to escape by.

Castel Sant' Angelo

Now, the castle is open to the public as a museum and can be explored from within. The outside grounds, ramparts, libraries and art displays are all available for visitors.

Views

Castel Sant’ Angelo was once the tallest building In Rome and the views from the top of the tower are still amazing today. You can get a great look at St. Peter’s dome and the Vatican, as well as the Tiber river and across, into the center. It has a 360 degree view and walking around the circular structure gives you plenty of opportunity for photos.

Castel Sant' Angelo

There’s also a nice cafe at the top of the castle where you can grab a coffee with a view. The window tables go quickly though, so get there early to snag the best spot.

Castel Sant' Angelo

Itinerary

In my 72-hours in Rome Guide, I recommend fitting Castel Sant’ Angelo in with the Vatican for an afternoon in the neighborhood of Prati. It’s a lot to fit in, doing St. Peter’s and the castle in one afternoon, but some shopping on Via Cola di Rienzo and snacking in the area at Mondo Arancina, Gelateria La Romana, or a full lunch at Arc Angelo make it more manageable.

Castel Sant' Angelo

However you want to fit it in, Castel Sant’ Angelo is located close enough to the center to combine it with a wide variety of activities.

While it’s not the most beautiful monument in Rome, this castle has collected loads of history and stories over the centuries, making it an intriguing place to visit. The photos at the top are also worth the price of admission.

Is Castel Sant’ Angelo a must-see for you? Or are other monuments taking precedence over this one?


Castel Sant’ Angelo

Lungotevere Castello, 50, 00193 Roma

Ticket office: +39 06 6896003

Ticket price: €10, €5 for reduced

Hours: Monday-Sunday 9:00-7:30

Hidden Gems of Rome: The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Testaccio

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Other than the famous monuments in Rome, this city has so many peculiar and special hidden spots. From hole-in-the wall restaurants and speak-easies, to hidden keyholes and historical hidey-holes, the Eternal City is full of secrets. In the trendy neighborhood of Testaccio, you can find plenty of these. The Non-Catholic Cemetery, also known as the Protestant Cemetery, is a great example of how past greviences and segregation have led to a beautiful refuge for current citizens. Its impeccably-landscaped grounds are the final resting place of many non-Catholic foreigners who spent their last days in Rome and were forced out of mainstream cemeteries for this one. Non-Catholic Cemetery

Nowadays, this area in Testaccio is a beautiful example of Renaissance sculptures, has hundreds of flower and plant species, and is a great option for a peaceful walk or relaxing in the adjacent park. The history and setup of the Non-Catholic Cemetery both contribute to its status as a hidden gem of Rome.

History

For years the Roman Catholic church discriminated against people of different religions. Being anything besides Catholic was a sure way to ostracize yourself from the community and draw a lot of attention. In fact, Protestants in Rome *audible gasp* were not allowed to be buried in the same cemeteries as Catholics. This became a problem for foreigners living in the country and when they died, they were put together with others from different denominations in the “Non-Catholic Cemetery” on the outskirts of Rome. Over time, the city has expanded and this resting place of shame has become a beautiful refuge from the city-center in the quieter neighborhood of Testaccio.

Non-Catholic Cemetery

Layout

The cemetery is a 5-minute walk away from the Piramide metro stop and is very easy to find. After walking past the enormous Egyptian pyramid outside the metro (and wondering what city you’re actually in), you follow the wall until you reach the entrance.

Non-Catholic Cemetery

Once inside, the cemetery sprawls out ahead of you, with tiny paths between the gravestones that wind throughout the space. You can spend your time here, reading very old English names on the stones and admiring the perfectly-maintained gardens, or check out the enclosed church that’s on the far right of the cemetery. Either way, the path eventually leads you to the opposite side, where you can duck out of the cemetery and into the small park they have surrounding the great pyramid.

The park gives you a nice view of the monument and as a bonus, you can entertain yourself by looking at the many stray cats from the cat shelter beneath the pyramid. For limited hours, the cat sanctuary is open to the public and you can spend time petting  some of Rome’s famous stray cats. You can also choose to donate in the “for the cats” box that hangs outside of the shelter door.

Non-Catholic Cemetery

Inside the smaller park, you’ll find The Non-Catholic cemetery’s most famous grave, John Keats. Keats, his companion and infant son, and well as Percy Shelley, are all buried in the cemetery. The beautiful gravestones also have bits of poetry inscribed on them in English, which definitely differentiates this cemetery from the many others in Rome.

Non-Catholic Cemetery

After you’ve seen the park and garden areas, there are public restrooms available and a donation box on the way out. The cemetery foundation asks for small, voluntary donations from everyone who enters for upkeep of the beautiful cemetery. It wasn’t always in such great shape and only in the past couple decades have the gardens and park been looked after so well.

Non-Catholic Cemetery

From the cemetery, you can continue on towards the heart of Testaccio, with its many food options (restaurant, market) or head back to the metro and the neighborhood of Ostiense.

Information

More information can be found at the cemetery website here. Its hours are Monday-Saturday, 9-5 and on Sunday they close early at 1 pm. 

Non-Catholic Cemetery

Via Caio Cestio, 6, 00153

 

Day Trips from Rome: Tivoli and Villa d’Este

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Tivoli, and its various villas like Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana, is always a popular day trip from Rome. Only 45 minutes by car and one hour by train, it’s an easy trip with beautiful surroundings, great historical spots and a nice way to escape the busy city for a bit. While I’ve been there a few times, this weekend I went to Tivoli and also made it into Villa d’Este, a villa with gorgeous gardens and perfectly landscaped grounds.

Description of Villa d’Este

villa d'este

Once you get to Tivoli and take a short walk around, you’ll notice that many of the signs are pointing you to Villa d’Este. This villa is a famous example of Renaissance gardens and the beautiful homes of Rome’s kings and nobles. It’s an official UNESCO world heritage site, described in flowery terms as follows:

The gardens of the Villa d’Este are among the earliest and finest of the giardini delle meraviglie and symbolize the flowering of Renaissance culture.

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In essence, the villa is beautiful and it’s aboslultey lovely to take a walk around, look at the many amazing flowers, fountains and examples of Renaissance art.

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Tips

  • wear comfortable shoes because there is a lot of walking up and down stairs. The villa overlooks the entire garden area and the grounds seem to cascade down the further you go. This all means that eventually you’ll have to make the hike back up to the exit.

villa d'este

  • be prepared with a camera to take stunning photographs. More so than inside the city, Villa d’Este is one of the most photogenic places I’ve been
  • Consider getting an audio guide (€5) or doing background research before going in. It’s easy to get lost among the villa’s rooms or in front a fountain, with no idea what its history or significance it. Otherwise, just go into it purely to enjoy the view.

villa d'este

  • Do be prepared for closing times and holidays where the villa is closed to visitors. All information about the hours and schedule can be found here.

Tivoli

Once you’ve gotten to the villa and are tired of all the astounding natural beauty, take a quick walk around the town of Tivoli. There are plenty of places for a great panino or pizza, and definitely some great gelato around as well.

villa d'este

All in all, Tivoli gives you a nice look at smaller town outside of Rome and is perfect for a day trip. The journey there and back gives you an opportunity to look at the ancient aqueducts that are still up or pick up some farm produce alongside the road.

villa d'este

Tickets to Villa d'Este are €8 full price and €4 for a reduced ticket. You can purchase them ahead of time, but usually the line isn't too bad. The first Sunday of every month, the villa is free for all visitors but will be more crowded.

Places to see in Rome: Campo de’ Fiori

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Campo de' Fiori is one of Rome's most ambiguous spaces. This piazza in the center of Rome, close enough to both Piazza Venezia and Trastevere over the river, fulfills a variety of purposes for people in the city. Its history dates back to ancient times and its most prominent figure, a statue of the man killed for disagreeing with church canon, dominates the center of the square. During the day, Campo de' Fiori hosts a large food market with Italian products, fresh produce and flowers. At night, the many restaurants and bars surrounding the piazza fill up with tourists and locals. If you're visiting Rome, it's definitely a fun area to check out between trips to various monuments and long walks in the center. unknown.gif History

Campo de' Fiori translates literally into "field of flowers". In the middle ages, this square was actually a meadow, but later was transformed into a main commercial center of Rome. Shops were set up all around the area and the connecting streets all are named after various professions (hat-makers, vinegar producers, tailors, etc.)

Campo de' Fiori was also Rome's execution grounds where criminals and church dissenters were hanged or burned to death. In fact, there's a statue in the center that honors the famous figure of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican Friar and philosopher/scientist. Because he disagreed with Church teachings on geocentricity (all planets and the sun revolve around the Earth) and other major Christian concerns, he was tortured and burned at the stake in the middle of this square. The statue was later erected by the freemasons as a form of apology and remembrance of where the Church's past wrongdoings.

To this day, Campo continues to be a center where people gather together, albeit with a less grim atmosphere.

campo de' fiori

The Market

During the day (Monday-Saturday mornings), Campo de' Fiori acts as one of the few vegetable markets in the city center. While prices are higher than you might find at other markets further outside the city, it's a fun experience to walk through the stalls overflowing with beautiful, fresh produce and interesting Italian products.

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You can find everything from oil, wine and spices to artichokes being shucked by hand and locals haggling with shopkeepers.

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I've picked up small bits here for dinner later and a bouquet of flowers from one of the many flower stands near the fountain.

campo de' fiori

If you're looking for a quick snack, there are options for fresh squeezed orange juice and fruit cups, while at many of the bars surrounding the market you can sit down and have a coffee and snack.

campo de' fiori

Nightlife 

If you're looking for an authentic Roman nightlife experience, Campo is not your place. This square is full of tourists (notoriously American) and study abroad students who drink to excess on overpriced, poor quality drinks. You might have luck grabbing a quick glass of wine or beer from one of the lower-key spots, but if you're interested in a nice night out with a less insane atmosphere, try out the neighborhoods of Monti, San Lorenzo and even parts of Trastevere.

campo de' fiori

On the other hand, if you're homesick and want to find other travelers, this square is a great place to meet people who speak English. Just make sure not to come here every night of your stay!


For more information on Rome's other markets, check out this list of great vintage markets in Rome here. For other shopping recommendations, I have a roundup of where to shop in Rome here.

San Marino: Le Marche's Sovereign Nation

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If you thought Vatican City was the only independent nation inside of Italy’s borders, you’d be wrong. But up until a few weeks ago, I had absolutely no idea that this tiny country existed. Located inside of Italy’s Le Marche region, this mountain top castle town overlooks the Adriatic Sea. It’s made up of a small surrounding town, three castles at the top of the mountain and 360, panoramic views everywhere you look. During our quick Italian road trip, we visited San Marino using the nearby city of Urbino as our base and hit it up on our way back to Rome. Here’s some of the history, what to do and what to expect in San Marino.

History

San Marino is interestingly enough, the third smallest country in Europe, with a highly developed economy, no national debt and more vehicles than citizens. It was first recognized as independent from Italy in 1631 by the pope and has operated as a separate entity from Italy from that point on. All of this explains why the tiny country has such a different feel to it compared to the surrounding Italian region. The Sanmarinese people have been independent for a long time and they are proud of it. They’ve managed to keep an effective republic government and wealthy economy, mostly due to the many tourists that stop here on their way through Italy.

San Marino

Things to do

Before getting to San Marino, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of what to do there. We really enjoyed our drive up the mountain and of our group, everyone kept remarking how the scenery and atmosphere of the town felt somewhat more similar to Germany or Austria.  Some of the signs were in English and there wasn’t a small-town Italian feel to the big companies and factories we saw on our way.

San Marino

When we arrived at the top of the mountain, we had to park our car and walk the rest of the way. We immediately started following a hiking trail up the hill to the top of the mountain. Luckily, we were all wearing sneakers so we didn’t have problems with the terrain, but it is a bit steep in some places and you should wear something that works for both nature and town activities. Along the path, we stopped so often to take pictures of the beautiful view that we got vertigo a couple of times because the cliff was very steep and not sectioned off with a fence or railing. If you’re bringing kids, be careful on the trail and make sure you have enough adults to keep an eye on them! Along the path there are three castles, each larger than the one before. You reach the final castle by crossing over a bridge and climbing to the very top, where the pictures and views are stunning. You can see the mountains of Le March in the distance with the Adriatic Sea directly behind the castle.

San Marino

After you’ve taken your fill of pictures, the path leads you down into the small town that makes up “San Marino” and you start seeing the numerous tourist/souvenir shops that service the country’s many visitors. We skipped all of those and also opted to wait for our lunch, because all of the restaurants and caffes we saw weren’t very appealing. There doesn’t seem to be much of a local scene in the historic center so anything you buy or eat won’t be that great. There were plenty of weaponry shops and interesting products being sold, assumedly because it is a country separated from Italy and its laws.

 San Marino

After a quick walk through the town and people watching in a sunny piazza, we walked back to the car and drove off of the mountain!

San Marino

What to expect

  • A disney world-like feel
  • Cliffside caffes with great views
  • Swords, guns and other weapons
  • Souvenir shops with candles, pottery, tea and other food products
  • A cleaner feel than the usual italian city
  • People who understand English and slightly higher cost of living
  • All of the selfie sticks and cameras you could ever want

San Marino

If you’re already in the region of Le Marche, I think a visit to San Marino is worth it solely for the pictures and views from its mountain-top castles. I wouldn’t make a trip out of this alone however, as the town itself didn’t offer much more than an afternoon’s worth of activities. We fit it in with Urbino the day before and then stops along the coast including Rimini on our drive back to Rome. Waiting for a piadina (Itlaian flatbread) for our lunch instead of eating in San Marino was a good call, as we were able to get a great lunch and pay a third of what we would’ve in the previous city.

What characteristics make you excited to visit a new city? And would you consider visit San Marino as a new country on your list?

Travel in Italy: Urbino, Le Marche

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urbino When most foreigners think about the Italian countryside, they think about Tuscany, maybe Umbria if they know the country well. Before coming to live here I had no idea how much diversity Italy’s various regions represent. Vineyards in Umbria, beaches in Tuscany, mountains in Abruzzo. The center of Italy is culturally diverse and rich in history and food traditions.

One region that I didn’t have much experience with was Le Marche. I knew it was in the center of the country but didn’t realize how many unique landscapes it holds. After driving through the Apennine mountain range, you come to rolling hills and fields as far as you can see, until reaching the eastern coast and the Adriatic sea. We managed to make an overnight road trip out of it, with plenty of stops for food and photos along the way.

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Today I’m sharing some pictures and information about one of my favorite cities in Italy, Urbino, before going on to share about Abruzzo (Tuscany) and San Marino (it’s own little country within Italy!)

What we saw: the city of Urbino

I had the good fortune of having a friend study abroad in Urbino, while I was studying in Rome. I went to visit her once, before we left for Oktoberfest and I still remember that short trip. While I was only there for a night, I was stunned when we walked up a hill and entered the walled city by how beautiful the views were. I haven’t seen anything like the amazing landscape of this region before. Because you’re at a high elevation, you can see for miles around and the land is generally clear of trees because it’s so heavily cultivated. It makes for great views and amazing, locally-grown food.

Urbino is a walled medieval city that has its own castle and ramparts surrounding it. You can’t take any cars into the city (unless you’re a resident) so we parked and walked inside after arriving late at our bnb. Because we went in around dinner time on a weekend, the city was very quiet at first. As we walked closer to the center, through twisting alleyways and under stone arches, we found the city center where many people were out in the piazza having drinks and enjoying Saturday night aperitivo. My sister and I were charmed by the smaller city size, cute shops and restaurants, while my Roman boyfriend was wondering how anyone could ever live in a city so small. Before eating, we walked around and visited some of the tourist shops on the main road (Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi) where I found an amazing blend of tea, bits of pottery, and a fabulously helpful shopkeeper who reminded me how nice Italians outside of Rome can be.

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What we ate: Cresce, gelato, wine, meats, and cheese

The food in Urbino was absolutely amazing and consistent with the rest of Le Marche. Every meal we had on our trip was tasty and affordable. In Urbino, we asked our shopkeeper friend for reccomendations and she sent us to Il Girarrosto. This was a classic trattoria with great house wine, an open fire for roasting the porchetta and other meat, and a great selection of food. Because we ate a (very) big lunch in Arezzo, we went for a salumi platter, with sides of straccitella cheese, the local piadine and of course a liter of red wine. While of course the salame and prosciutto were amazing, we all really loved the crescie, a flakey, warm flatbread native to Urbino. We topped it all off with a quick gelato to go on our walk back down the hill.

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Where we stayed: Ca' Vernaccia B&B

Our Airbnb, Ca' Vernaccia, was charming, with a fantastic view of the countryside. We were only a few minutes outside of the main city and by car it wasn’t difficult to get to. Off of the main road, we took a smaller dirt road down to the bnb where we rfound the guest rooms separated from the main house with the restaurant and breakfast area. While breakfast was included with our room, they also had the option to do a tasting meal at the b&b’s restaurant which is known for its truffle dishes and has a relatively low price for all four courses. The room was nothing special, but it did fit three comfortably and we had a separate bathroom and kitchen if we wanted to cook in the apartment. The only negative note were the two stink bugs we found in our room but with the proximity to the outdoors, some wildlife is only to be expected I guess.

Urbino

Near the b&b is where we took my favorite photos form the trip because the lighting and backgrounds were so beautiful. I lost count of the times I asked Edoardo to stop the car so I could get “one last picture”.

Urbino

If you made it this far, you must either really love Italy’s hidden gems, or be a member of my family. But all of this just goes to show how passionate I am about finding off the map places and enjoying all of Italy’s amazing regions.

So, have you ever been to the fabulous region of Le Marche? Or another area outside of Italy's main cities while traveling here?