Changing the World

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”  – Margaret MeadCHANGING THE WORLD

Why travel?  Why pick such an uncertain way of living? Why do we want to be vagabonds and go against the social norm of being settled?  My feet keeping moving me forward and forever changing the paths I take in life. Over the last few months I have been pondering why I travel, what do I want to take from it and what I want to give to this world. With technology we have made the world a smaller place to live in, yet our understanding of each other has never seemed further away. We, unfortunately like generations before us, live in a time of turmoil and unrest. Our media has turned into a circus act and seems to only wants to give us cheap thrills rather than actual information we can use. They provide us violence, fear, and hatred twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. According to the media the world has become more dangerous and more corrupt than ever. The media does not want us to travel; they do not want us to visit and learn about the world. They want us to live in fear of the world; we should sit on our couches so they can force feed us negativity and leave us with the feeling of hopelessness about the world we live in.

Villa d'Este

I believe there has been no greater crime in mankind than the propaganda that keeps people hiding in their little boxes afraid of the big bad world. I am sorry, but it’s bullshit and I’m angry about it. To hell with the 24 hour news cycle, to hell with people who do nothing but bring fear and violence into our homes, to hell with them all! The world we live in is great, we should not be forced to fear an idea of impending doom but should be given the idea of hope and for all of us to dream and work for a better tomorrow. Yes, this world isn’t perfect and we can’t fix all it’s problems but that won’t stop us from trying.

This world is no more dangerous now than it was in the past; we just happen to be more aware of it. The world is a dangerous place; there will always be danger and we have to accept that. This danger however, should not stop us from seeing the world.  The amount of information we have access to can help us be aware of the places we are going. We can take preemptive action to help protect ourselves as we go out and travel. The world is too beautiful and too grand not to go out and explore. We should celebrate the world and the differences between us because that is what makes us beautiful and so fascinating.

The Russian River

So what am I going to do? First I am not going to allow the news to influence what I believe about this world.  Ashley and I are going to go out into this world and show people how important it is for us to travel. It is important for all of us to learn and come to understanding with other cultures.  I want to interact with people and learn about their culture and the way they live their life and I hope they will want to, in return, learn about my way of life and culture. I want to give the world hope; I want to fight back against this blanket of negativity that has been brought upon this world. We need to be outside with our hands raised in joyous celebration for being so blessed to live in a world that is so diverse. I want to explore and understand all this diversity. I do not believe that it is enough to connect through just media, it is more important to go out to visit and talk to people in person.  Get up and interact with a new culture in person, make a personal connection.

Travel and the people who travel can change this world for the better.  Instead of spreading hatred and fear, us travelers can spread peace and understanding. We can show people that diversity should not be the cause of conflict but should be the cause celebration.

Endless Arches at Ta Prohm

Every time I step foot into a new place I’m overwhelmed with questions for every person I meet. During our 6 year trip I want to learn and understand the world and then share the stories of other people. I believe most travelers have this same drive.  As travelers we belong to our own culture and I believe it is this culture that it is important to saving this world. What we acquire as we travel are stories of the world and these stories come with a responsibility when you are a travel blogger.  Our responsibility is to nurture these stories and spread them around like a wildfire and bring understanding and acceptance to this world.  Exploration is in our nature as humans; throughout history there were always souls that lust for travel and adventure.  We are the next generation of travelers for the history books and it is our job to bring understanding and that is why we are traveling the world. The need to learn is what drives us and we are willing to go to the end of the world. This world is beautiful and it deserves to be explored and to have stories passed face to face not just through the web.

I can proudly stand up a say that the world is not doomed and I believe that mankind has not come close to show how wonderful our earth and its people can be.  As bloggers, it is our jobs to go out and fight for this world and our right to walk among new cultures without fear but with the yearning for knowledge. We can change this world and we have the power to go out and show people the world is not a bad place but a place that should be loved. This is our world and I’m not ready to give up on us just yet. So go and learn and fight for understanding and peace. Go out and talk to people and show people that there is still good in this world. I sure know that is what I am going to be doing.

Alex and I at the Orange Garden

This may sound crazy but over the next six years this is what we want to prove; the world and its people are good and not only that but they are also welcoming, helpful and curious.  We want to travel the world, meet new people and learn about their culture. No one culture is the same but in the end we believe that everyone wants to live a happy and fulfilled life.  Our six year round the world trip is to share how wonderful the world is.  No one should live in fear because this world is wonderful and has so much to offer.  

Roman Neighborhood Guide: Piazza Navona and The Pantheon

Neighborhood Guide-Piazza Navona, Pantheon

The area around Piazza Navona and the Pantheon is probably one of the most trafficked areas of Rome.  Part of the Centro Storico, or the historical center, this is the heart and soul of Rome bordered by the Tiber on one side and connecting to the Vatican via the Ponte Sant’Angelo, a beautiful pedestrian bridge with angels designed by Bernini and leading to Castel Sant’Angelo.  Piazza Navona and the Pantheon are located in the northern half of the Centro Storico with Campo dei Fiori neighborhood dominating the southern half of the Centro Storico.  There is so much to see, do and EAT in this area that we just had to share our favorite things about this neighborhood.

Archway to the Centro Storico

Eats

Osteria del Pegno

Located on Vicolo di Montevechhio

We have literally written an entire article on this restaurant and I do not have much to add except for the fact that you have to eat here.  If you visit Rome and do not eat here you are crazy! I have had some of the best meals of my life here.  Their ravioli in an orange cream sauce with saffron and zucchini blossoms can seriously change your life (it convinced me I like squash blossoms after all) and even their fennel salad with oranges was heavenly.  I cannot stress how amazing this restaurant is enough.  It may not be “traditional” Italian cuisine but damn it is good and made the Italian way with simple good ingredients.

 

Cul de Sac

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Cul de Sac is another restaurant we have talked about before in our Rome City Guide and it keeps popping up because it is an outstanding enoteca or wine bar.  The wine list is a BOOK and just a few pages but a massive book which covers all regions of Italy.  I wish I knew then what I do about Italian wines now, because I would have definitely taken advantage of the wine list more.  Go out of your comfort zone while you are here and order a wine you have never heard of; I guarantee you have not heard of most of them on the list anyways since Italy has an obscene amount of grape varietals.  This restaurant does not only have stellar wine but they also have amazing food.  This is the restaurant if you want to try the roman specialty tripe, but if you are not feeling that adventurous their lasagna is one of the best in the city.

 

Bar Amore

Located on Via dei Banchi Nuovi – A continuation of Via del Governo Vecchio

I have a soft spot in my heart for Bar Amore.  I used to visit this bar almost daily for my cafe e panino.  This bar makes one of the best panino in the city because you can customize it.  That’s right people, a build your own panino shop in Rome.  I took full advantage of this by always ordering the same thing, a tomato and mozzarella panino…….  And by advantage I mean not at all but it was/is SOOO good.  They do have a wide range of ingredients you can put on your panino including brie, artichokes, prosciutto and more.  If you are looking for a great panino place and you are near Piazza Navona search this place out.  Just beware it fills with UC Rome students around lunchtime 😉

 

Pizzeria Baffeto

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Are you looking for authentic pizza in the heart of Rome and like waiting in line?  Then you need to head to Pizzeria Baffeto.  It might be weird that I am mentioning lines but to this day this is the ONLY restaurant in Rome I ever saw with a line before it opened.  I have had to wait for Cul de Sac but nothing compares to waiting in line for Baffeto.  Things have eased up a bit since they opened up Baffeto Due but I prefer the wait.  Baffeto also has the most perfect location for me; across the street from Abbey and next to Frigidarium.  Baffeto specializes in Roman pizza larger than your face.  They only serve pizza and jugs of wine.  The pizzas range from the traditional Margherita to the Diavola with spicy sausage but perhaps my favorite one is the pizza fagioli, which is a basic margherita pizza with cannellini beans added on top.  It may sound strange and I was certainly skeptical when my sister ordered by my god is it good.  There is just something about the creamy cannellini beans and the cheese and sauce that is so simple but so good.  Even if you are indifferent about pizza (which who is?) at least head to Baffeto for the atmosphere.  The tables here are jammed packed into a two story building which during the summer spills out into the streets.  Service is quick and no frills and you can hear all the waiters and cooks yelling at each other across the restaurant.  It is quintessentially a Roman restaurant.

 

Il Clan

Located on Via Sora

Il Clan is the perfect restaurant when you need to relax from all the chaos of Rome and God forbid eat something other than Italian food.  Il Clan is the only Brazilian restaurant in town, that I know of anyways, although there is an Argentinian restaurant not too far away (never been though).  This is the perfect spot to relax amongst the bright colors that decorate the restaurant and indulge in a caipirinha or two…. They do not have an extensive menu but what they do have is fresh and authentic.

 

Tapa Loca

Located on Via di Tor Millina

Tapa Loca is, as you may have guessed, a Spanish tapas restaurant.  It is just down the street from Piazza Navona and is a great spot to drink sangria on a hot summer night and eat a ridiculous amount of paella.  Alex and I made the mistake of ordering one between the two of us and had leftovers for days!  It didn’t help that we ordered a bunch of appetizers as well.  This restaurant has a fun vibe and is a great place for a large group of people. Think pitchers of sangria 🙂

 

Insalta Ricca

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

We have mentioned Insalata Ricca before in our Trastevere Guide but as there is another location near Piazza Navona it seemed worth noting.  I went here a LOT when I was a student at UC Rome as it is just down the street.  My roommate and I would always split a pesto pizza and a greek salad…. and a liter of wine.  It is Italy after all!

Liter of Wine at Insalata Ricca

 

 

Mimi & Coco Panini Shop

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

I am not a huge fan of Mimi & Coco’s restaurant, I find it a bit overpriced for what it is, but I do love their panini place just down the street.  Their panini are open-faced sandwiches and are more like pizza then panini.  My favorite is, per usual, the caprese.  The bread is a bit like focaccia and they just pile on the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and then grill it up on a panini press.  I love to grab the sandwich and walk to either Piazza Navona or the Pantheon and just sit and enjoy it.  This is perhaps one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon in the heart of Rome.

 

Smoothie Place

Located on Via di Tor Millina

Ok we cannot remember the name of this place but it is part gelato shop and also smoothie shop.  It is the only place that we know of in Rome that serves smoothies and after all those carbs sometimes it is nice to have some fruit that is not ice cream.  They have smoothie combinations and you can also build your own as well.  This store is located just off Piazza Navona and looks slightly touristy but is awesome!

 

Frigidarium and San Crispino

Located on Via Governo Vecchio and Piazza della Maddalena respectively

Gelato

These are HANDS DOWN my all time favorite gelaterias!  That is a bold statement, I know, but I am not taking it back.  I talked about both of these places in my 5 Reasons Why I Love Gelato post but they deserve a second mention, mainly because I wrote that article almost 2 years ago.  Frigidarium is my go to for traditional Italian gelato.  You get the basic flavors here but they are sooo good.  I am obsessed with their canella (cinnamon) and their raspberry sorbet.  San Crispino is the place to go to hunt down seasonal gelato.  I love their white peach sorbet and the Sicilian honey gelato.  They switch the flavors up a lot and always have something amazing.

 

 

Drink

Abbey Theater

Abbey

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Abbey will always have a special place in our hearts because we met there of course!  Actually that is not it at all (although we did meet there).  Both of us had been going to Abbey before we met each other and it is our favorite expat bar.  This is place where we always felt welcomed.  If it had been a rough day and we were just sick of Rome this was the place we would go to unwind.  Plus they had awesome chicken curry.

 

Bar del fico

Located on Piazza del Fico

Bar del Fico is a hole in the wall Italian bar.  While I have never eaten here it always gets rave reviews but it is a great spot to pop in for an evening drink.  The atmosphere is lively whether you grab a table outside or inside.  You will always find locals here, playing chess usually and egging each other on, which can be rare in such a heavily touristed area.  This is one of the greatest bars to catch up with friends and spend a relaxing Saturday night.

 

Fluid

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Fruit Cocktails at Fluid

Clearly Governo Vecchio is one of my favorite streets in all of Rome and Fluid is my favorite aperitivo bar.  The cocktails here are top notch especially in a city that doesn’t have a huge cocktail scene, although I hear that is changing.  Plus I am all for a place that charges 7euros for a cocktail and then you get unlimited food.  They will occasionally serve pineapple with drizzled nutella; I never knew how good that could be until Fluid.

 

Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe

Located on Piazza Sant’Eustachio

Sant’Eustachio is a cafe in the heart of Rome that has been around since 1938.  Today’s incarnation looks almost similar to the original cafe with even the paving and furnishing the same as in 1938.  They are known for the caffe d’elite and the shakerato.  Sitting at one of the 6 tables at Sant’Eustachio is like stepping back into Rome’s past.

 

See

Piazza Navona/Ruins of Diocletian’s circus

Alex Strolling Through Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is probably the most popular square to visit in Rome.  Whenever I imagine the square I am filled with romantic notions of artists selling their wares while couples take romantic strolls and academics debate Bernini’s famous fountain.  And in truth you do get this along with hordes of tourists.  I tend to avoid Piazza Navona during the summer during the day but love to spend hours here in the evening.  Rome is so hot during the summer even at night that it is lovely to spend time near the fountain (personally I think the sound of falling water makes it feel cooler, mental air conditioning…).  I love staring at all the different angles of Bernini’s fountain especially the statue which faces Borromini’s church as the two were bitter rivals and this played out in Bernini’s art.

Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain
I love how the figure is shielding his eyes against the horror of Borromini’s church

 

Another reason I love Piazza Navona is because the history behind the famous piazza is so much more than just the Baroque period of Bernini and Borromini.  If you head around to the north of the piazza on the outside you can see the ruins of the Stadium of Domitian which was built in the first century CE.  Today Piazza Navona still retains the same shape as the original stadium that was used for foot races.

 

Pantheon

The Pantheon

I have stated time and time again but I will say it again, The Pantheon is my favorite building EVER.  The fact that Hadrian rebuilt it in 126 CE and people still do not know how he built the dome amazes me!  I love all the history of the building and except for the fact that it is now a church it was left relatively untouched from the Roman times.  Also if you have a chance to visit during Pentecost a stop in to the Pantheon is a must as they throw rose petals from the ceiling.  This is one of my favorite memories from our time in Rome.

 

Bernini’s Elephant

Bernini's Elephant in Rome

Located on Piazza della Minerva

Bernini’s elephant in front of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is just one of the delights this church holds.  I love that Bernini carved this white elephant.  I am not sure why I love this little statue so much but it seem like such a whimsy addition to a city filled with high art.

 

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Located on Piazza della Minerva

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is a church with an excessively long name which means the Church of St. Mary above the Temple of Minerva.  Throughout the city of Rome churches were built over pagan sites.  This was mainly to encourage pagans to convert to Christianity, the logic being that people do not like to change their routine so they will continue to go to the same site even when the religion changes.  While you can no longer see the remains of the Temple of Minerva, who also goes by the Greek name of Athena, the church is still worth a visit.

 

Before you head into the church and after you have spent time admiring Bernini’s elephant take a look at the plaques that are on the right hand side of the building.  The plaques mark the height of the flooding of the Tiber River.  Before the huge embankments were places along the Tiber, the river used to flood annually and covered much of the Centro Storico.  It is amazing to think that the river used to flood all the way to this church.  It is about a ten minute walk to the river from the church.

Christ the Redeemer by Michelangelo
It looks much better in person than through the grainy lens pf my iphone 3 – Yup you read that right. I took this photo about 2.5years ago…. Clearly was not preparing for a life of blogging

 

The church also has a beautiful statue inside, Christ the Redeemer, which was carved by Michelangelo in 1519.  The statue was carved for a private patron who lived near Santa Maria Sopra Minerva but there were actually two versions of it carved as the first was abandoned when a black vein was discovered in the marble.  The first version was placed by Metello Vari, Michelangelo’s patron, in his garden and the second completed statue was placed inside the church.  The first statue was actually lost from the early 1600s to 2000 when it was discovered in a sacristy in Bassano, just outside of Rome.  This statue was famous during its time and was described by a contemporary as having knees worthy more than the whole of Rome.  Those are some pretty bad ass knees…

 

Ruins at Lago Argentina

The ruins at Lago Argentina are interesting because they have literally built a traffic hub around them.  Several bus lines, tram lines and a major road all surround these ruins which are below the surface.  I think it is always worth it to brave the traffic to cross the street and view the ruins.  The ruins date back to the Republican period of Rome and include four temples and the ruins of Pompey’s theater.  Julius Caesar was assassinated at the Theater of Pompey in the curia and it is thought that this site is part of the ruins of Largo Argentina.  The ruins also act as a cat shelter for the homeless cats of Rome of which there are many.  So you can hang out with some kitties and check out ruins.  Who needs cat cafes?

 

Do

Via dei Coronari

Via-dei-Coronari-1

Via dei Coronari is a quaint little street with hundreds of little local shops.  This street is where I pick up all of my Christmas gifts as I can always find something unique here for family and friends.  It is also a great place to take photos of quaint Roman streets.  There are cute little cafes, spots to grab gelato and sit on the stairs, and a range of boutiques and vintage stores.

 

Glass store

Located on Via dei Coronari

We for the life us cannot remember the name of this store but we absolutely LOVE it.  Alex and I discovered this store while we were wandering Via dei Coronari and it is our favorite store in Rome.  The owners actually makes their own glass for all of the jewelry and home decor in the shop.  While it may not be the famous murano glass, it is locally made and each piece is unique.  The store owners are so amazing that when Alex and I went in there with a picture of what Alex’s mom wanted from the store and they didn’t have it, they made it for us there on the spot.  If anyone visits this glass shop or knows the name of it we would love to know!  We love this place and want to give them proper recognition!

 

Vintage shopping

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

All along Via Governo Vecchio from Abbey to Bar Amore there are adorable vintage shops just filled with treasures.  I loved popping into these stores in between classes to check out what they had.  While it is possible to find some deals at these stores be prepared to shell out a pretty penny if you really want some amazing vintage pieces.  Either way it is always nice to pop in and see some more modern Roman history.

Street Corners of the Centro Storico
This is Rome. Beautiful street corners with bags of trash next to them…. It is a beautiful AND a living city with highs and lows

 

So there you have it, our tips and recommendations for the northern half of the Centro Storico from Piazza Navona to the Pantheon.  This is such a wonderful area to take in the history and the daily life of Rome.  While it can be touristy there are still many authentic roman places to eat, see and shop.

 

 

My Biggest Regret About Living in Italy

My Biggest Regret While Living in

Every time I mention that I lived in Rome for two and a half years (that half is really important) people generally respond with “Oh you must be fluent in Italian then?” and then I must guilty reply “Well, actually….No”.

 

This is by far the biggest thing I regret about living in Italy.  How did I live in Rome and have a life there but not speak the language?  Yes I could get by.  I could have a basic conversation, order food (which is truly important) and identify all the food in the grocery store but I couldn’t go farther than that!  I could go ahead and give you all the excuses that I used while I lived there for not learning the language better:

The Romans always respond in English.

All my Italian friends speak better English than I do.

I am an English speaking tour guide

 

The truth is though, that I was embarrassed.  I was embarrassed about how bad my accent was.  I was embarrassed about how little I knew.  So instead of confronting this and studying and learning I chose to do nothing.  Looking back on this I realize now what a HUGE mistake this was.  I missed out on a lot of opportunities to get to know the local Romans more and to learn even more about the city that I love to hate but love so much.

I cannot describe how much I love this city but also how much it frustrated me.  Perhaps if I had known the language better I would have been able to interact with our neighbors and feel more accepted.
I cannot describe how much I love this city but also how much it frustrated me. Perhaps if I had known the language better I would have been able to interact with our neighbors and feel more accepted.

I always suggest to people to learn a little of the local language before they travel somewhere.  It helps to know hello, please, thank you to get by and show the locals that you are trying.  Language can open up so many doors while you are traveling.  It is such an imperative thing to learn before you go anywhere and I dropped the ball.

 

Alex and I plan on returning to Italy and to Rome in the near future and I am trying to rectify this mistake.  Nothing will change the fact that I did not learn Italian while I lived there but hopefully by the time I return all those Rosetta Stone lessons will have worked.  I want to talk to locals about their traditions, their life and learn more about this beautiful country.  I don’t want to be held back because I am embarrassed about not knowing the language.  Fear never gets anyone anywhere.  After all what’s the worst that can happen if I mispronounce something?


The goal for 2015 is to become fluent in Italian.  
Soon I will have much more free time on my hands and I can study more.  I will become FLUENT.  Internet and dearest readers I need you to help keep me accountable.  It may not be December 31st yet but I am already planning my resolution and I will not fail this time!

When Travel Becomes an Addiction

Travel Becomes an Addiction

I am addicted to travel.  Most people would say that is a good thing; I often say it is a good thing.  The problem with addiction is that it has withdrawals.  Alex and I have been in the same country since November and it is eating at my nerves.  No matter what we do: fun day trips to places we have never been, longer road trips to the Pacific Northwest, planning a round the world trip, it isn’t enough.  It doesn’t replace being on the road and having the freedom to do what you want.  All I want to do is recklessly drop everything and leave; be done and gone and start a life on the road.  A life where I can do what I want.

 

I know that kind of life won’t be easy.  I will have to rely on myself to fund my journey and stretch that dollar just a little bit farther to survive, but I know that I can do that; I have been through this before and ended up making a life for myself in Rome.  There will not be a steady income coming in (unless this whole blogging thing pays off), I won’t have a home to escape to when all I want to do is rant at the world; it will be tough and challenging.  But maybe that is what I miss.  I need something to challenge me.  Today the most difficult thing I did was take out the garbage at work and I was stressed over it!  That is absolutely ridiculous.  And I stressed over it because I didn’t want to be at work, I wanted to be on the road.

 Walking Along the Pacific Ocean

So of course those are the withdrawals kicking in.  I live in an amazing town, I have a fairly decent job where I feel useful about 70% of the time, and all I do in my spare time is go to awesome restaurants and drink a lot of wine for free (one of the benefits of being in the wine business I suppose), so what do I really have to complain about?  Well my answer is “It is because I am not in Paris” or “I haven’t been to Machu Picchu yet” or “So what if I can order Belgian beer here, I would rather be in Brussels”.  This sounds super whiney and it is.  I get that.

I am plainly indulging in being a spoiled little brat about travel right now.  I realize that I have been able to have opportunities that others have not.  I am lucky that I have parents who support me no matter what.  I also am incredibly thankful for the life I do have.  I have a good life but unfortunately I also have had the opportunity to travel and I am no longer content sitting still and being in one place.

Travel is an addiction and I am hooked.  It seems that I will never be able to settle down.  There is always somewhere else to see, somewhere new to go.  Travel caught me in her web and perhaps I will never be happy in one place.  Maybe I will never be able to settle down.  Sometimes that thought frightens me, maybe I am not meant to find a home, a place to settle down in.  I thought it was Rome but of course that two year mark hit and I needed change.

I needed change so much in Rome that I became depressed.  I developed severe back and shoulder pain and for the first time in my life I had panic attacks.  I couldn’t handle being stagnant and I was even traveling all the time while in Rome.  It is something I cannot explain.  I rebelled against the city; I couldn’t stand the noise, the traffic, the judgmental looks on the bus (you try wearing sandals before June 21st), and the stupidest little things that would crop up during the day.  It seems kind of ridiculous now when I look back on it but at the same time these little things are cropping up again.

The Hagia Sophia
I am becoming restless and unsettled.  Although this time around I know what is coming and I know how to fight the withdrawals a little better.  The circumstances are different as well.  When I realized that Rome was not working out, it was a dream crumbling around me.  Rome was always the end goal after I graduated college.  I saw myself living in Rome for the rest of my life.  This time around it is different.  Healdsburg was always a means to an end; it is a great town and has been a wonderful experience living here but the round the world trip is what is in our future.  Now I just need to concentrate on the fact that we are going to be leaving, this life is just temporary (and not a bad temporary at all) and soon we will be on the road.  

So what if travel is an addiction?  Hell I have been addicted for a while now.  The withdrawals can be trying but it will all be worth it in the end.  Travel is always worth it in the end and I will never regret the choices I have made to allow me to travel but there will always be a restlessness in me.  The curse of the wanderer I suppose.

Roman Neighborhood Guide: Campo dei Fiori

Campo dei Fiori (1)Campo dei Fiori has the lucky and unlucky distinction of being at the tourist heart of Rome, halfway between Piazza del Popolo in the north and the Coliseum in the south.  I doubt many of you have visited Rome and not passed through this famous square, especially if you had the opportunity to study in Rome.  Campo is a thriving market during the day and then the center of study abroad nightlife once the sun goes down.

Photo courtesy of the Guardian
Photo courtesy of the Guardian

 

The name of the square itself means field of flowers because during Roman times this square was constantly flooded creating a lovely meadow here.  In the middle ages however, the square took on a darker history and became a center for executions.  The history of these executions still lives on in the giant statue that dominates the square.  The man is Giordano Bruno and he was a Dominican priest, a mathematician, philosopher, and he wrote over 20 books in his short lifetime.  Unfortunately he was all of this during the reformation and counter reformation which was not the most liberal of times.

Looks a little bit like a Star Wars character, huh?
Looks a little bit like a Star Wars character, huh?

 

He also decided to write some inflammatory statements about the nature of Jesus and the fact that Mary could not be a virgin because Father and Son are never equal therefore Jesus was not God and Mary was not a virgin.  Blasphemy!  So the church obviously had it out for him.  They finally caught up with him in 1523 and tortured him until they finally sentenced him to be burned at the stake in February 1600.  Yes that is right, they tortured him for 7 years to recant his writings; he was some stubborn bastard.

Perhaps you can tell how stubborn he was by the fact that he has a statue commemorating him, a heretic.  The statue was put up in 1889 after Rome was unified with the rest of Italy and the church lost its political power.  The secular government approved the statue to be placed where he was burned and coincidentally Bruno’s gaze is directed straight at the people who executed him, the Vatican.

While the square has an unhappy history today it is a lively place to gather in the heart of Rome and the surrounding area is also as well.  It is also very well connected to the rest of the city with most buses and trams stopping near the square.

Here are our favorite places in and around the neighborhood of Campo dei Fiori:

Eats

Osteria da Fortunata on Via del Pellegrino

Osteria da Fortunata is perhaps one of the most authentic and legit Italian restaurants we have found in Rome.  We have eaten at a lot of amazing places but this one takes the cake in terms of authenticity.  You know when you imagine a small hole in the wall restaurant where the grandma is making pasta in the back while her grandson takes orders; well you have found it here.  The menu changes daily based on what ingredients they found at the market and they only make a small selection of dishes.  The only problem with this restaurant is that if you show up later, when most Italians eat, they may be out of certain dishes, but everything is so delicious it won’t be a problem.  I promise.

Rosso Pomodoro on Via Largo di Torre Argentina

Could this Neapolitan pizza look any better?  If you are a thick crust person in a city of thin crust head to Rosso Pomodoro
Could this Neapolitan pizza look any better? If you are a thick crust person in a city of thin crust head to Rosso Pomodoro

Rosso Pomodoro is located just outside Campo dei Fiori and is a great chain restaurant.  It might be weird to be suggesting a chain restaurant in Italy but this place is great.   It is one of those restaurants where you only see Italians eating there.  Italians generally do not eat at chains so this one is a good one people.  They specialize in Neapolitan cuisine and they have great pizza, obviously. The best part of Rosso Pomodoro is that they have a side to go window next to the theater.  It is a great spot to grab a lunch and enjoy the ruins across the street or head to Sant’Andrea della Valle and enjoy the people watching.

Obika in Campo dei Fiori

obika mozzarella bar

Normally I would not recommend eating in a main square but this seems to be the neighborhood for contradictions.  Obika is a mozzarella bar, that’s right a MOZZARELLA bar.  If you want fresh mozzarella, burrata or smoked mozzarella this is your place.  They get it fresh from Naples everyday and offer it in a wide variety of preparations.  Here you can have fresh burrata with prosciutto di parma or you can dig into their homemade lasagna made with the best cheese in the world.  The restaurant has a cool modern vibe and on gorgeous nights you can grab a table out on the piazza and soak it all in.

Panino Place next to Baffetto 2

So we cannot for the life of us remember the name of this place but it has amazing panini.  They let you build your own so you can make any combination.  I am pretty traditional/have no imagination so I usually stick with the classics like mozzarella and tomatoes or sometimes I add some prosciutto.  Alex likes to get a little more creative and adds all the toppings including truffles….. Who doesn’t like truffles?  It is definitely worth checking out.

Open Baladin on Via degli Specchi

Open Baladin

We have talked about Open Baladin before when talking about our favorite beer places in Rome but thought it was worth the mention again.  If you are looking for a great place that specializes in Italian microbrews than this is your place.  Also they have insanely good garlic fries, occasionally you just need a break from Italian food.

Drink

Aperitivo in Campo dei Fiori

Aperitivo at Baccanale
Aperitivo at Baccanale

The square is a great place to grab an aperitivo, in part for all the options but also for the people watching.  There are plenty of options of aperitivo in the square but one of my favorites is at Baccanale, located on the corner of the square when you enter from Corso Vittoro Emanuele.  They have an awesome selection of food, both hot and cold, so that is always a plus.  The drinks are good too and reasonably priced.  If you miss out on aperitivo hour don’t worry they also have a panini to go window for those late night hunger attacks.

Ponte Sisto

Another great hangout spot is actually the Ponte Sisto bridge between Campo dei Fiori and Trastevere.  Here you will find locals and expats alike wandering the bridge, meeting up for a drink or staking out a spot for a beautiful view of the Vatican at night.  This is definitely a great way to bridge your nightlife in Rome too, start with dinner at Obika then head to Ponte Sisto to meet up with some friends; migrate to Piazza Trilusa for some seated beer drinking and then pop on over for some chocolate shots.  Perfect evening 🙂 Just keep your wits about you on the bridge; it tends to attract pickpockets and drug salesmen.

See

Palazzo Farnese

Courtesy of Myrabella from Wikipedia Commons
Courtesy of Myrabella from Wikipedia Commons

Palazzo Farnese is located just behind Campo dei Fiori and used to be the city palace of the Farnese family.  Today the building is actually the French Embassy; the building was rented out to the French by Mussolini at the very low price of 1lira a month.  When the Italians switched to the euro the price rose by 2000% and they now pay 1euro a month for the building.  In the piazza surrounding Palazzo Farnese there are two identical fountains designed by Bernini which are affectionately coined the bathtubs due to their well bathtub shape.  The tubs are actually from the Baths of Caracalla whose ruins are just south of the Circo Massimo and were designed by Bernini to look like they were floating.

They totally look like bathtubs right?
They totally look like bathtubs right?

 

Via Giulia

Via Giulia and Michelangelo's arch
Via Giulia and Michelangelo’s arch heading towards the Tiber

Via Giulia is the street just behind Piazza Farnese and is absolutely picturesque with its overhead bridge and dripping ivy.  The street was originally conceived by Pope Julius II as a grand redevelopment of Rome, especially in the medieval center.  Pope Julius II hired Bramante to build the road and it actually runs in a straight line, which is somewhat of a miracle in Rome.  Unfortunately like most grand projects in Rome this one was not completed and even the bridge, which was designed by Michelangelo, is not completed either.  It is still a beautiful street to explore and keep an eye out for the Madonelle, or the paintings of the Virgin Mary placed all over to protect the streets.

*Note the water fountain just behind Piazza Farnese on Via Giulia is probably the only fountain in Rome I would suggest NOT drinking from.  One it looks all green and scummy and it also has lead pipes…..

So there you have it our suggestions for the neighborhood of Campo dei Fiori though there is plenty more to explore here.  Don’t be afraid to just pick a small alley and wander down it.  The medieval streets in this area were meant for exploration!  Have you spent time in Campo dei Fiori?  What were your favorite places?

How I was Able to Fund My Life in Rome

How I Funded My Life in Rome

Moving abroad is great fun until you realize that you blew through $3,000.00 in less than two months.  Or maybe this doesn’t happen to you but it certainly happened to me.  When I moved to Rome I was sure that I was going to be fine with $3,000.00; I would get a job right away (I sort of did, but Pub Crawl commissions are kinda crap, especially when pub crawls are illegal in Rome), I would get an affordable apartment (I lived in very expensive hostels for about 2 months), and I would totally make it on my own.  While I did make it on my own it took a little creative financing before I landed my cushy tour guide job.  My first year in Rome I held a series of odd jobs and had a little luck (aka crashing at Alex’s apartment) but here is how I did it.

I took a selfie in Rome that is how I excited I was to be finally in the eternal city
I took a selfie in Rome that is how I excited I was to be finally in the eternal city

When my money first ran out, thank you World Cup 2010 and Abbey Theater for playing all the games and feeding me alcohol, I turned to trusty Craigslist to find a job and an apartment.  I was lucky enough to find both.  I moved out of the worst hostel I have ever stayed in (the runner ups are all in Rome, avoid hostels like the PLAGUE in Rome) and into a very nice apartment with a nice, if a little eccentric, roommate and his 2 chipmunks, yes I said chipmunks.  I also succeeded in finding a short term job babysitting for an American family on holiday for 2 weeks in Rome.  Best find ever, no offense to Europeans and this may have been only my experience, but Americans appreciate and pay babysitters A LOT more.  I made enough in those 2 weeks to pay the security deposit on my room and my first month’s rent and still live, granted my rent was not that much.  I took care of 3 kids whose bedtime was 8pm and I arrived at 6pm.  I cooked them dinner and got them ready for bed and then had the rest of the evening for myself.  It was fantastic, especially since while kids like me it is not always mutual.  Unfortunately this job only lasted a week and then it was time to look for another job.

 

So I turned to Craigslist again in search of another job.  I found another babysitting job for a ½ French, ½ Italian family who wanted me to spend a month with them in the countryside of France, 2 hours away from a major town, and we were to leave in two days.  Obviously my parents were suitably worried when I told them about this opportunity but after a phone call or two we were squared away and I was off to France for a month.  This was perhaps one of my more interesting and yet boring job experiences in Europe.  For about the first week it was interesting to be in this extremely small French town and I was the only American there.  Sadly everything closed around 10pm and I got off at 11pm.  I did love exploring this town and made any excuse to take the kids out to walk around so I could snap photos and just explore.

Any excuse to explore was alright with me.  We went blackberry hunting a lot.
Any excuse to explore was alright with me. We went blackberry hunting a lot.

However after a month of speaking only to the family you are working for and two of those people are under the age of 10, it can get a little old.  I definitely was not totally prepared for how my whole life would revolve around this family.  I had no freedom, unless I got up before 10am (which if you know me never happens) and I was off at 11pm.  Occasionally I was lucky enough that we ate dinner at the hotel I was staying at and was off by 9:30 or 10pm but this was rare.  I soon realized that being an Au Pair was definitely not for me but soon enough we were back to Rome and my job went from 10am-11pm to 3pm-7pm, much more manageable.  I ended up babysitting for this family for the rest of the year but once I returned to Rome after Christmas I did decide to not work for them anymore.  By my calculations I made about 2euros an hour in France since they just paid me a bulk sum and then once I was back in Rome they were unwilling to pay much more than 7euros an hour.  Considering the American family had paid me 20euros an hour this was not ideal.  The only way I survived and did not immediately jump ship was that Alex and I were sharing a room and the roommates did not charge me rent for the first couple of months as they were under the assumption that I would eventually move out.  Suffice to say this did not happen and they were stuck with me for the next two years.  Sorry guys 🙂

Stuck with me, at least they seem happy about it :)
Stuck with me, at least they seem happy about it 🙂

When I came back to Rome after spending Christmas at home I knew I needed a new job, so once again I turned to Craigslist and Wanted In Rome, which is a great online resource in Rome.  Soon after I arrived back in the city I lucked out and found a job teaching English to little kids.  I had done this before when I studied abroad and while I didn’t love it I knew it was a good opportunity.  I was responsible for teaching several different children, some in groups and some one on one all over the city.  It was draining to say the least.  I don’t know whether I just got stuck with the wrong kids or I am a terrible teacher but this was a very trying six months of my life.  It could possibly have been the fact that most of my kids were no older than 6 years old.  A 4 year old does not want to come home from school and then learn English, I can tell you that.  My favorite children were the ones who chewed up the coloring pages I gave them and spit them on me.  It was awesome, I am never having children :).  I think we can safely say teaching is not my calling and I was very happy when my six months of teaching ended despite the fact that it left me jobless once again.

 

While I was teaching I was also flyering for a small bar near Campo dei Fiori from 10pm-1am trying to get study abroads to take part in an open bar.  This job was mind numbingly boring and cold.  February is not the time of year to stand outside and try to convince people to take part in an open bar until 1am.  Pretty soon my best friend became my flask.  The upside of this job is that I actually was paid hourly and a commission which is unheard of in the world of flyering, as I was going to learn that summer.  I also ended up meeting Russian through this job and he definitely is one of my best friends from Rome, so I guess we can all thank Pantarei for that happy circumstance 🙂  I worked at this bar till about May when the bar switched owners and they starting going after the Italian clientele and not study abroads and the Italians were definitely not interested in an open bar.

 

Flyering in the cold is tough work
Flyering in the cold is tough work

After teaching and flyering I was a bit lost as to what to do for money.  Alex was leaving for the summer and I was just kind of stuck.  That is when I was introduced to flyering for Vatican Tours.  You know those annoying people who pester you to skip the line to take a guided tour of the Vatican?  Well I was one of THOSE people.  I am so sorry if I ever bothered you in line, I promise it was out of desperation and an empty bank account.  This was probably the most soul sucking and depressing job I have ever done.  You live on commission and things are so screwed up: tours get delayed or the groups swell to 40+ people so that even if you are able to convince someone to skip the line they usually end up leaving in disgust because they wasted more time waiting for the tour than actually in line.

I am so sorry if you were one of those people I bugged summer 2011.  Please understand it was out of desperation only
I am so sorry if you were one of those people I bugged summer 2011. Please understand it was out of desperation only

I felt so awful every time I convinced someone to skip the line even though I needed the money.  This was a low point.  My parents even gave me some money to go to the Cinque Terre for a weekend to chill out because I was so stressed!  Thank you Mom and Dad!  Thankfully, as I was about to give up on ever finding a job I liked the skies parted and I got a full time babysitting job that actually paid a decent wage!!

This was a huge deal for me.  I was pretty depressed from all the flyering and this babysitting job was a godsend.  I ended up spending 3 weeks with Arianna (mom) and Illaria (daughter) in Sperlonga, one of the most beautiful beach towns in Italy.

Not a bad town to babysit in
Not a bad town to babysit in

Then when we returned in the fall I began to babysit in the afternoon and then it was at this point when I finally got a call back about a tour guide position!!!!  You can imagine my happiness and joy!  I was hired by Dark Rome, a fantastic tour company (I am only slightly biased), and started work right away.  This job was what I moved to Rome for and it was everything I could have ever wanted.  I learned so much about the history, culture and art of Rome especially about the time periods that I did not study in college and will always be grateful for that opportunity.  It may have been a struggle to get there but it was all worth it in the end.  To be able to take people on tours of the Coliseum, the Borghese Gallery and Pompeii is an experience I will never forget.

Ready to try out my Borghese tour on Alex
Ready to try out my Borghese tour on Alex


Working odd jobs and trying to support myself in Rome was definitely a struggle and to be honest I am not sure I would have been able to cut it without Alex’s help but I was determined to make life in Rome work for me.  Living and being a tour guide in Rome was something I had dreamed about since my first visit to Rome when I was 17 and being able to actually make that a reality was something I am eternally grateful for.  While I may no longer live in Rome I will always be thankful for the struggle that I had to go through to make my dreams come true and always to Dark Rome for taking a chance on me.

Roman Neighborhood Guide: Trastevere

Trastevere

As you wander the streets of Trastevere cobble stone streets twist and turn through narrow alleyways like a tedious argument. People rush by; hopping from one bar to another, walking down the streets with Peroni bottles in their hands and laughing with friends. Tourists and residents alike, sit outside enjoying one of the many restaurants that occupy the narrow streets. The summer night is alive and vibrant. The Piazza’s are filled with people looking up at Santa Maria in Trastevere or sitting on the steps gazing out at Ponte Sisto enjoying a warm Roman night.

Trastevere, the neighborhood across the Tiber and once occupied by the hostile Etruscans, is now occupied by bars, restaurants, piazzas, and a few universities that hide in this maze of medieval architecture. At one time, not to long ago, this neighborhood had a giant “do not go” sign on it from the guidebooks. Gypsies and other ruffians occupied the streets picking the pockets of careless tourist. Now gentrified, the neighborhood is one of the most exciting and thriving spots in Rome. Trastevere is where the locals and the international student population come to hang out on the weekends.

Streets of Trastevere
Streets of Trastevere

Why would they not though; Trastevere is a beautiful neighborhood that has something special for everyone to enjoy. The food is fantastic, there is always somewhere to eat no matter where you look, whether the stomach is just feeling a couple slices of pizza or a full Italian meal at Tony’s. The kind of places that don’t have a real name and write your bill on the table and add it up there in front of you.

The nightlife is young and new with great small bars filled with locals and reasonably priced drinks. You can start your night off with a “felice ta” shot that wakes you up with some fire and then end the evening with a delicate and sinful chocolate shot. If you want a more relaxed night pick up a few bottles of peroni and sit on the steps of Piazza Trilussa in front of the Tiber river and knock back a few tallboys or sit around the fountains and use the cold water to keep your beers chilled or go fresh and get a couple of fresh fruit rum cocktails.

The morning after your  night in Trastevere shake off the sleepiness and take a stroll down to San Calisto and have a coffee and maybe even a quick gelato or sit and watch the locals play Scopa. Then wander into Santa Maria in Trastevere around the corner or get lost in the side streets and find something new. Welcome to Trastevere, the neighborhood across the river.

Wandering Trastevere
Wandering Trastevere

Here are  a few of our favorite spots in Trastevere but spend time exploring because the best part of this neighborhood is finding small local places around every corner. So here are a few things to get you on your way.

The patio at Bar San Calisto where regulars and tourists all people watch on a hot day. Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor
The patio at Bar San Calisto where regulars and tourists all people watch on a hot day.
Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

There may not be anything better in the world then sitting down and having a cappuccino (as long as it is before 2pm, then after that only espresso is acceptable) while watching the morning pass by. Bar San Calisto is, in my opinion, the best place to grab coffee in the morning and relax. This is a local place, Romans of any age come here to hang out throughout the day. Coffee in the morning, espresso and gelato in the afternoon and a couple large Peroni beer at night. It is a staple of the Trastevere neighborhood.

The facade of Santa Maria in Trastevere Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
The facade of Santa Maria in Trastevere
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

This guide is mostly for food and drink but Basilica Santa Maria in Trastevere is one stop I feel like everybody has to to stop by and it is just next door to Bar San Calisto. Truly it is a 30 second walk from the bar and you cannot miss it since it is the main attraction in the piazza. The basilica dates back to the 340’sCE  and is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Rome. It is a quick pit stop and not a bad one at that. You must go inside and check out the beautiful architecture and art that covers the walls of the Basilica.

Afterwards go outside and sit on the fountain and have a beer and do some people watching.  After coffee and some walking around, it is time for some lunch and Insalata Rica is one of the hot places to go as a student for lunch. Insalata Ricca has great food and some of the best salads you can get in Rome if you are feeling like you have had too many carbs in your diet. Even if you don’t want salad you can have pasta and more. This is a great place to come for a nice light lunch with some wine. The best part about Insalata Ricca is that it is an affordable lunch.

Carlo Menta is a traditional Trastevere neighborhood restaurant. Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor
Carlo Menta is a traditional Trastevere neighborhood restaurant.
Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

I’m sure you have heard the saying that you “got something for a steal.” Well this saying fits perfectly with this next place. Carlo Menta is the best deal in town when it comes to food and especially pizza. I tell people all the time that if you are spending more than 5 euros on a restaurant pizza then you are spending too much. One can get a full sized pizza bigger than your face for under 5 euros here and it is fantastic. On a weekend though, this place gets packed so you might have to wait a bit. The place has tons of food besides pizza and all of it affordable and great. Also do not let the tourist menu scare you, it is the exception to the rule.

You cannot miss Tony's as you walk down Viccolo da Cinque.  It is a loud and riotous place and its tables and umbrellas stake a huge chunk of the road. Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor
You cannot miss Tony’s as you walk down Viccolo da Cinque. It is a loud and riotous place and its tables and umbrellas stake a huge chunk of the road.
Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

Now Trastevere is filled with restaurants especially on Vicolo del Cinque, one of the main streets in the heart of Trastevere. Tony’s or Hostaria del Moro is one of the staples of this street. The place is packed with locals and tourist, it is a popular place and it is extremely Roman. I’ll give you a hint, get the fried Calamari and the Lasagna al Forno they are the best I have ever had, the lasagna is also the largest we have ever had. Now all their food is pretty spectacular and their Vino da tavola is not half bad either.

A standard fruit cocktail from Bum Bum di Mel Photo courtesy of ApertiviaRome.it
A standard fruit cocktail from Bum Bum di Mel
Photo courtesy of ApertiviaRome.it

After dinner, Trastevere is the neighborhood to be in; it is chock full of bars and young people hanging out, drinking on the steps or congregating by their motorinos. Bum Bum di Mel is a great bar in the heart of Trastevere that features fresh fruit cocktails. They have barely any space and you have to take a number to order but their berry caprioskas are worth it.  They are perfect on a hot night during summer where you can hang out in Piazza trilussa or in front of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Cheers to drinking beer in Trastevere
Cheers to drinking beer in Trastevere

Grabbing a beer at either Bir e Fud or Ma Che Siete Venuti Fa (which are across the street from each other) is a perfect opportunity to meet with some local Romans and try great microbrews from Italy. Italy is not known for their beer scene but these pubs are perfect for the beer starved in Italy. You can either hang out in the pubs or venture out into the streets. If you find yourself in Rome in the summer definitely head down to the Tiber where bars line the river and you can get a small break from the heat.

The home of the Chocolate Shots. Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor
The home of the Chocolate Shots.
Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

The perfect end to a night in Trastevere is to head to the chocolate shot bar, officially known as Rivendita libri cioccolata e vini, on Vicolo del Cinque just up from Tony’s. They offer a variety of shots in chocolate cups with whip cream and sprinkles on top. Could there be anything better?  

If you are planning on spending a few nights in Rome we have a few other restaurant recommendations that are a little “higher end” than Tony’s. Tony’s is a wonderful example of an Italian causal osteria but if you want to enjoy a true Italian ristorante than these would be our picks: Spirito in Vino and Le Mani in Pasta are located right next to each other on Via dei Genovesi which is south of Viale di Trastevere. They are both fantastic but entirely different. Spirito in Vino focuses on slow food and actually cooks up some ancient recipes as well, such as a slow roasted pork shoulder that Julius Caesar’s friend and chef used to prepare. Their wine cellar also dates to 80BC, which is 100 years older than the coliseum. They encourage people to go down and check out their cellar which an awesome experience; where else in the world are you going to be able to casually stroll into an ancient site like that?

Wine from the Cellar at Spirito in Vino
Wine from the Cellar at Spirito in Vino

Le Mani in Pasta is right next door and focuses on homemade Italian cuisine. When we were there Alex had a phenomenal steak in a red wine sauce and I had a filet of sea bass crusted with roasted potatoes. It may not sound like a traditional Italian meal (although Osteria del Pegno also does a fantastic sea bass crusted in roast potatoes) but it was so good and they also have all the classics, especially a lot of pasta dishes with TRUFFLES.  Truffles can be found in a lot of cuisine all over Italy, although they are most popular in Tuscany and Umbria, but I always try to eat truffles when I can.  Take advantage of it while you are here!

Another great restaurant in Trastevere is called Taverna Trilussa, located just off Piazza Trilussa, and it specializes in Bucatini Amatriciana. Bucatini Amatriciana is a traditional roman dish of bucatini pasta in a spicy tomato sauce with guanciale or pork cheek. They serve it at Taverna Trilussa straight out of the frying pan which they cook it in.  If you eat one dish in Rome and aren’t feeling adventurous enough to try the Tripe alla Romana at Cul de Sac it has to be Bucatini Amatriciana.  It is a classic and in a country where the cuisine is so regional you won’t find it outside of Rome, so eat it while you can.

Taverna Trilussa is fantastic but do not expect a cheap meal.  Dinner here adds up! Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor
Taverna Trilussa is fantastic but do not expect a cheap meal. Dinner here adds up!
Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

There are so many fantastic restaurants and places to drink and mingle with locals in Trastevere.  A visit to Rome would not be complete without at least one meal eaten here and at least a few hours wandering the streets and getting lost.