Rome’s Keyhole: A Picture Perfect View

First, let me say: Why, hackers? WHY?! Why this site? What do you gain from an attack that takes my little old blog down? 

Thank you to everyone who messaged and emailed– the site is back up and running thanks to the brilliant kids behind Touriocity who kindly cleaned up all the malware for me.  No idea why the site was hacked, but I will do my best to keep it up and running, and 500 error free.

Anyways. Rome.

Rome is full of hidden gems. The problem is, they are not always a secret.  Take for example, Rome’s famous keyhole:
Line at Rome's keyhole

Yep. That is the line. To look through a keyhole on the Aventine Hill.

The thing is, it is kind of worth it.  It is worth the walk, because Aventino hill is one of the quietest and nicest neighborhoods in central Rome.  You can pass by ruins, rose gardens, an orange grove. And once you are at the top, the views are incredible.

The keyhole in question is the most famous attraction in the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta.  If you are willing to wait, and/or if you get lucky and there is no crowd, the trick is to shimmy up to the large but nondescript green doors and get your camera ready.

taking photo rome keyhole

Find the brass keyhole and look through it.  You’ll see a garden filled with arched hedges.

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Perfectly framing St. Peter’s Basilica.

view rome keyhole

See? Perfectly outlined?

Ok, ok. I have SEEN this view many times, but I have never managed a decent photo so here is one via AngMoKio at Creative Commons:

399px-StPetersBasilica_Keyhole

 

Gorgeous.

The view is well planned.  You are looking through the gates of the church of Santa Maria del Priorato. The church belongs to the Knights of Malta, a Catholic religious order.

You can easily walk to the keyhole from Circo Massimo or Testaccio.  The most common route is up Via di Santa Sabina from the Circus Maximus side.

Happy peeping.


Flavio Al Velavevodetto

Here’s what it is like in real life: I stayed at the office until 7 pm, and then had to deal with the unpredictable commute home, at which point I was so tired that I re-heated arrabbiata that I had in the fridge, and sat down in front of my computer once more.

But that is just one day. A Tuesday, no less. One of the less consequential days.

Because this is also real life:

  1. Last night I made cookies made of cookies. Cookie butter cookies ftw.
  2. I live right up the street from Flavio al Velavevodetto.
  3. Sometimes people I know and like make reservations there, and all I have to do is show up and eat well in good company.
  4. Items 1 and 2-3 are not directly related but I was excited on all points.

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Let me give you a minute to practice that mouth full: Flavio al Velavevodetto. Pronouncing it is the first step.  Getting reservations is the important (but not difficult) second step. Getting your order in around bouts of Roman-style service is the third (and slightly more difficult) step.

amatriciana pasta rome

But it is fine. You will get the food.

I mean, my side dishes usually arrive after my main course, but they ARRIVE.

Eventually.

And you can always take the time to enjoy the setting and admire the amphorae behind the glass.  The restaurant is built against the side of Monte Testaccio, an ancient Roman dumping ground for ceramic storage containers.

velavevodetto in monte testaccio

You can also kill some time picking out your wine from the cantina.  There is no option to order wine off a menu, so you should do a walk-thru to check the selection and the prices.

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Plus, it is a good excuse to load up on starters, like the fantastic artichoke- carciofi alla giudia.

carciofi alla giudia

Flavio al Velavevodetto offers a great selection of Roman classics.  We usually stick to pastas, but there are nervetti and coratella a-plenty! If you want to try offal, this is the place.

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There is no such thing as a light meal at Flavio al Velavevodetto, so go when you mean it.  Really commit and embrace the food, service and setting, wrapped up into one very Roman experience.

The ravioli, carbonara, cacio e pepe and amatriciana, are all recommended.

Flavio al Velavevodetto
Via di Monte Testaccio, 97,
00153 Roma, Italy
+39 06 574 4194
Open for lunch and dinner everyday. Reservations recommended.

 

 


Cost of a Taxi to and from Rome’s Airports

Allow me to recount for you a miracle of miracles: Once upon a time, I paid the correct taxi fare from Rome to the airport.

You see, whenever people ask me if I speak Italian, I say I speak enough.  If they push, I clarify that I speak enough to argue… with taxi drivers.  I am always arguing with taxi drivers.

There are plenty of “rules” that “regulate” taxis in “Rome.” These rules and regulations set the starting fare and rates within Rome. Outside of Rome, the rates change depending on the zone.

Rome official white taxi

Finally, rates to and from Rome and the airports (Fiumicino and Ciampino) are set.  But the definition of “Rome” matters.  In this case, it is defined by the Aurelian walls- the ancient city limits.

Rome taxi airport fare 2015

From the center of Rome, the cost for a taxi to go to or from Fiumicino Airport is 48 euro.  (Fiumicino is the main international airport, and is sometimes called Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci airport).

From the center of Rome to or from Ciampino airport is 30 euro. 30. Not negotiable. For the past couple of years, I have had a lot of trouble with taxis at Ciampino (where most of the low cost flights like RyanAir depart from). The drivers there seem to have agreed to up the price, cartel style, trying to say they will only take you to the center for 35 or 40 euro, even when the set price is clearly marked on the taxi door.

However, one morning, not so long ago, we paid even less, because we were technically about 30 meters outside of the Aurelian walls, at Piramide metro station.  The kind-hearted driver used the meter, as he should. He even gave us a receipt for the trip to Ciampino airport:

The true cost of a taxi from Rome to Ciampino airport

The true cost of a taxi from Rome to Ciampino airport

Taxi: €26.40
Not having to argue with a Roman cab driver for once in my life: priceless.

Tip: when you want to take a taxi within Rome’s city center (centro storico), always insist on the meter.  Do not take the taxi driver’s kind offer to take you from Termini to the Spanish Steps for the low low cost of 15 euro.  Use the meter, or find another taxi. An official white taxi, of course.

Remember that it can be hard to flag down a taxi on the street.  Cabs are only meant to stop for a pickup when you call and order one, or from an official taxi stand.  Taxi stands are easy enough to find… but most cabs will pull over if you indicate that you need a lift.

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The Golden Hour in Rome

I have lived in Rome for half my adult life, but there are still days when I round a corner and squee with excitement because it is just That. Damn. Beautiful.

Piazza Venezia at sunset

Jim puts up with me stopping every 2 minutes to take photos “like a tourist” because when I get THAT excited about this city, it’s silly. You can’t be annoyed.

Rome Golden Hour Trajans column

Because it really is so special to walk by buildings that are thousands of years old, that you have passed hundreds of times.

Trajan market Rome

To see these ancient monuments silhouetted against a February sunset is enough to stop you in your tracks.

Roman forum sunset

Familiar streets become a sight to behold.

Rome at sunsetHe knows enough to just nod in silent appreciation, while I ramble on about Rome’s Golden Hour.

Rome streetsGush: complete.

 


Exploring East Berlin in Winter

Other than a food tour, we had zero hard commitments on our Berlin itinerary.

Street art in a backyard area of Mitte This left of plenty of time to explore East Berlin, and hang out in Mitte in particular.

Berlin backyard decorated with hanging flags

The backyard alleyways would be perfect for a beer in summer, but still seemed festive in winter against grey skies.

DSCF9284 street art mitteThe street art and architecture was more interesting than some of the more widely documented sights.

Berlin TV tower

So we wandered and walked in the cold, enjoying a wintery city that we had pretty much to ourselves.

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Ivy covered wall east berlin

ape in front of currywurstdeserted streets in winter BerlinBerlin statue

Berlin TV tower fogBerlin river scene in winterIf you are planning a trip to Berlin, plan Sunday carefully.  Our Sunday turned into a museum day because what we didn’t realize is that most shops and eateries are closed by law until 1 pm on Sunday. (The opposite of Italy, where IF something is open on Sunday it is only open until about 1:30 pm!)

 


Berlin Food Tour

I like things, but I definitely like places more.

For Christmas, I was thrilled to be gifted with a trip to Berlin- a city we have long wanted to explore.

I like exploring, but I like eating more.  (It is one in the same, right?)

I think food is one of the past ways to experience a culture. So the first thing I did was sign us up for a Berlin Food Tour.
A tray of cured meats and bread in Berlin Mitte

We met up with Bastian of Berlin Food Tours at about the exact moment I started to have a massive cough attack.  I was mid-recovery from the Roman flu, which has been rough this year.  But by the second stop, post-kofte made to order in a market square, I had revived.

And… I may have eaten more than my allotted share of spicy salami on fresh pretzel.

Mitte wine shop

Riesling is an affordable white wine gaining in popularity

Riesling in small shops with lovely owners on brisk days also does wonders for the state of one’s constitution.

A fluffy (and delicious) hamburger patty

But Berliner Buletten is really where the comfort food is at.  An impressively fluffy hamburger-meatball hybrid served with hot mustard? I went back to get some more for dinner.

A curry wurst stand

Really though, no trip to Berlin is complete without currywurst.  Jostling in line and eating the city’s signature dish: sausage and a curried ketchup sauce that was conceived in Berlin during the 1940s.

Sausage with curry sauce- a Berlin staple

Goes exceptionally well with dark lagers.

Well. Most German food seems to go well with beer.

dark craft beer

But it wasn’t all meat and beer, we made plenty of stops to satisfy any sweet tooth.

colorful macaroons on a platter

Overall, eating our way through Berlin was a huge success.

Sign reads Eat Berlin at a food shop in Mitte

 

 


This Bar

The American Academy in Rome barDear American Academy in Rome,

Can I move in, please?

xo, Natalie


Rome’s Cat Cafe: Romeow

For the first year I lived in Rome, something was missing.

Of course I had moments of homesickness. I missed my family and my friends.

And I finally realized that I also missed my pets.

rome cat bistro There was no cat cafe in 2010, but soon there was Bacon the cat.

Just one cat. (I made do).

We have since moved Bacon from San Lorenzo to Testaccio, which means that now that Rome DOES have its first cat cafe, I live pretty close to it!

romeow interiorAnd rainy Sundays are scientifically the perfect time to spend in the company of cats, so I wandered over the Ostiense-based cafe this weekend.

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I headed straight to the upstairs seating where I met this guy. He was very interested in being in my immediate vicinity, but not really into snuggling.

cats at romeow

All the cats in the cafe are indoor kitties, roaming the cafe’s cat playground and eating their own natural food.

cat cafe rome

Most are curious/interested in coats.

rome's first cat cafe

All have impeccable taste in home decor and reading material.

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But it’s not just all cats, all the time.  Romeow Cat Bistrot serves up vegan-friendly fare.  So you can get your feline companionship with a side of healthy, raw desserts.

Valentina (one of the lovely founders) is happy to chat about the kitties, the menu and the philosophy.

raw and vegan rome

I opted for a smoothie, which are also slightly difficult to come by in Rome.  Almond milk, bananas and berries in this case.  For 6.50 Euro, the relatively rare treat was a bit pricey but the selection of primi and secondi seemed more reasonably priced.

cats rome bistroRomeow is a good place for a long conversation rather than just a quick smoothie.  I’ll be back next time I want to read or write in the presence of more than just one cat.

Romeo Cat Bistrot
Via Francesco Negri, 15
+39 06 57289203
Tuesday-Saturday 10:30 – 23:00
Sunday 11-16:30

 


Riso Testaccio: Sushi, sides and secondi

I was gone for a few weeks last summer.  It seems that was all it took for the neighborhood to change.

Screaming down Via Marmorata in a taxi on way home from the airport, I caught a glimpse of a modern space.  Despite my attempts to rubberneck, I could not tell what it was or where it came from.  

I wracked my jet-lagged brain– what was there before? Anything? How did I not notice a huge store front coming together?

A few weeks later, we walked by and ran into expat friends who were also peeking inside.

“I thought this was a furniture store,” one confided, while we browsed the menu from outside.

When I realized it was a new restaurant offering various asian cuisine options, I backed away.  Non-Italian food is notoriously bad in Rome, and the few Chinese restaurants I have tried were almost inedible.  This was not a risk I was willing to take.


good sushi rome

However, the urge for diversity in one’s diet can be a strong force, and we found ourselves at Riso recently.

DSCF9234

Admittedly, I waited for a friend to confirm it was passable before I was brave enough to check it out for myself.

We had rolls and fried rice, not being quite hungry enough for a main course.

Wine at risoFunny then that we found room for wine, no?

Riso testaccio interior

The interior is modern and spacious, and though the staff seemed to still be learning the lay of the place, they were attentive.

dinner at riso testaccio

When the craving hit, Riso offered up a break from pasta and pizza…. though I still cannot for the life of me remember what store/garage/restaurant it has replaced.  Riso is safe- no life changing meals, but a good bet when you need a non-Italian fix.

Riso
Via Marmorata 113
+39 06 5750708
Open every day for lunch and dinner

 


Christmas Tea in Rome: Babington’s Tea Shop

I have walked by Babington’s many times.  If you have been to Rome, so have you.

With an unimaginably good location, Babington’s offers tea and light bites right at the base of the Spanish Steps.  You know. Right there.

Babingtons at Spanish Steps

Yep. There.

The tea rooms were established in 1893, with the aim of catering to the English crowd.  In fact, they may be called the Spanish Steps*, but the neighborhood was at one point predominately English.  You will find the Keats Shelley House just a few steps (ha) away.

Holiday cupcake christmas tree

At Babington’s, it is all about the tea, but during Christmastime there is the added charm of a roaring fire place and holiday treats.

entry babington

The location is beautifully designed, and offers a posh retreat in one of the busiest areas of Rome.

Christmas tea

And if you are in need of a last minute holiday gift, they offer mugs and kettles but also tasty tidbits such as jams and even (gasp) maple syrup!

Christmas foods in Rome

If you are craving a bit of cozy holiday charm, stop in for tea and crumpets or scones.  Mmmm… scones…

crumpets

Tomorrow 21 December is really the time to finally check out Babinton’s. Starting at 10 am, the tea shop will host an annual morning of Christmas Carols.  For more information, or to book a table, e-mail tea@babingtons.com.

*The Spanish Steps take their name from the Spanish embassy to the Holy See, which is located on the same piazza.

Babington’s Tea Room
Piazza di Spagna, 23
Roma, Italy
Open everyday from 10 – 21