Infiorata: The Flower Festival of Genzano di Roma

Every year in June, Genzano turns to flowers.

Genzano di Roma infiorataGenzano di Roma is a town in the Castelli Romani- the hills outside of Rome.  The infiorata that the town puts on display always follows the weekend after Corpus Christi. This year, that means the painstakingly arranged designs are in place now, until Monday 15 June.

flower designs Genzano

The intricate designs take up a major thoroughfare, and always follow a theme. In 2015, the designs focus on environmental themes, such as biodiversity and protecting the earth for future generations.

Flowers genzano

Genzano is an easy day trip (by car) from Rome. So easy, in fact, that it really makes sense to add a side trip to Nemi, which is just across the lake.

With a major street converted into a carpet of vibrant flowers, expect crowds and escape the heat with plenty of gelato.

genzano flower festival


For more information (in Italian), visit the Comune di Genzano di Roma’s website.



Stopping for Saints: Religious Procession in Testaccio

We came back from Castel Gandolfo sunburned and satisfied.

Slowly, slowly, we walked back from the metro and towards home.

Then we heard the music.

Religious procession testaccio

Tomorrow is a ponte – a bridge.  That is the day off you take between the weekend and the actual holiday, which is on Tuesday.  So it is a kind of jerry-rigged four day weekend and there are plenty of people everywhere.

This, however, was not about the first long weekend of summer.  It was about Testaccio.

Testaccio Rome Parade

It was about life on a Sunday in a changing neighborhood in Italy.

But not so changed that anyone would dream of forgoing a procession for the patron saint.

Holy Mary Procession in Testaccio

“Brava!,” he yelled when I took a photo.  Proud. Proud of this neighborhood, and of this responsibility, to carry Mary through the streets.

Religious procession in Rome

“Evviva!” The crowd yelled and cheered.

Virgin Mary streets of Rome

The children waved.  The neighbors hung Ave Maria banners out their windows.

parade TestaccioWe stopped and joined for awhile, and then continued home.  Still sunburnt and more than satisfied than ever with our little corner of the world.


Spring in Rome: The Rose Garden by Circo Massimo

This is it. This is the two weeks of year when the weather is absolutely perfect and the air is full of possibility.

Spring in Rome.

circus maximus rose garden

Everything in Rome has turned green again, and while the pollen is wrecking havoc on allergies, the blooms are glorious.

roses circo massimo

And one of the most glorious places to be is Rome’s rose garden – the Roseto Comunale.

roses june romeThe Roseto was once Rome’s Jewish cemetery, but when the cemetery was moved in the 20th century, the space overlooking Circo Massimo was transformed into a municipal garden that is open to the public during May and June.

roses in rome

The garden contains over 1,100 varieties of roses, and is a great vantage point to take in the Palatine hill.

rome roses may

Remembering the site’s heritage, all of the pathways are organized into the shape of a menorah.

rose garden rome

With free entry, it is the perfect place to wander or rest up for a few minutes on a bench. To escape the city, in the middle of the chaos, and to savor spring in Rome.

aventino roses

Especially at sunset.

rose tunnel rome

Adding to the sweetness, the garden is just a few minutes walk away from the key hole, and is an easy jumping off point for exploring the rest of Aventino hill.

roseto comuale romaFor 2015, the garden is open until 14 June, every day from 8.30 am-7.30 pm. (Closed May 16th for Premio Roma – the annual rose competition).


Exploring Underground Rome with Rome is Easy

Whenever we have visitors, I direct them to stop by Basilica San Clemente after their trip to the Colosseum.

It is incredible, I tell them. 2000 years of history in one building. An ornate church from the Middle Ages, built on top of a 4th century church, built on top of a 1st century home/government building/temple, just around the corner from the Colosseo.

Colosseum from San Clemente

The thing is– I had never been there! It has been on my list for years, but I always seem to have something else going on. So when Rome is Easy asked if we would like to explore underground Rome with them, I jumped at the chance and dragged Jimmy out of bed bright and early the very next day.

We met Nicole at the Colosseum, and walked over to San Clemente.

The inside of the church is gorgeous. Intricate mosaics, incredible floors, crazy ceilings… so many styles mashed together that it was hard to know where to look.

San Clemente roma*There were no photos allowed inside, but to give you an idea, here are some shots from wikipedia.

We got up close to examine the naturalistic design in the religious depictions within the alter’s golden mosaic.

mosaic roma san clemente

But it is really downstairs where you get a sense of all the layers of history. Some of the oldest Christian frescoes are mixed with Mithras symbols and temples.

My default idea of weekend Roman fun is markets and sunshine and vino, compared to dissecting two millennia of history– but this was a fantastic way to start a Saturday.  Nicole carefully walked us through each layer of the church, a knowledgeable but casual chat.

When we had happily explored San Clemente, we hopped in a cab to catacombs on the edge of Rome.

Catacombs in Rome

After collecting the key to the catacombs from a helpful nun, we were winding down into an extensive system of underground tunnels.

We quickly would have become lost on our own, but Nicole expertly navigated the catacombs, explaining they were used by early Christians in Rome, and that the land was likely donated by a Roman noblewoman sympathetic to their persecution.

Some of the earliest surviving depictions of the virgin Mary can be found here, along with the tombs of two early popes.

Santa Priscilla catacombs

This underground side of Rome was one that I have never seen before.  Below this chaotic city is a whole other layer of history waiting to be explored and we were so lucky to be invited to experience this with such a helpful guide.

For more information on the underground tour, and a ton of other private tours, you can be contact with Rome is Easy.

Things I Have Been Consuming Instead of Blogging

2015 is hectic, in the best possible way.  We have it jammed with travel and even a couple life milestones.

So in between all of that, dealing with hackers, and forgetting to pay my hosting service (oops), I have turned to food and drink rather than blogging.

So here is where I have been and what I have been up to, with links to much more dedicated bloggers where possible.

Carlsberg in Copenhagen

Carlsberg in Copenhagen for my birthday.

Ragu in BolognaRagu (and Tortellini in brodo, and ravioli, and many other good things) in Bologna.

Suppli in Testaccio

Supplì at Trapizzino. My favorite 1 euro snack in Rome.

Sofie's bread

Sofie’s bread.

Cheese from Gregorio

Unbelievable cheese from Gregorio.

Clams and monks beard from BrocolettiVongole and agretti at Broccoletti.

Pizza with mozzarella crudo at Emma

Pizza margherita with mozzarella cruda (of which the cheese was good but the pizza was… not) at Pizzeria Emma.  I have tried Emma a few times, and hoped it would get better but I am losing a bit of faith.

Cheese from Beppe'sCheese platter and Georgian wine with Sarah at Beppe e i suoi formaggi.

Pizza margherita at Da Remo

Pizza margherita at Da Remo, our neighborhood standby, with visiting family.

Dunkin donuts in DC

Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee during a whirlwind trip to DC, because it is weird what you miss as an expat.

Guiness in IrelandGuinness in Ireland, in a thatched-roof pub overlooking a river, next to the small stone church where I will be married in 88 days.



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:




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.


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.


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!)