Secret Rome: lesser-known attractions.

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Our Rome expert reveals some of her favorite lesser-known attractions in the Eternal City.

ImageSan Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Via del Quirinale 23, 00187

What an architectural marvel San Carlo is! Enter this ingenious little church, by Baroque maverick Francesco Borromini, and you’d hardly guess that the whole footprint was the size of one of the pilasters of St Peter’s (this is why locals refer to it affectionately as San Carlino – ‘Little Saint Charles’). The tortured, bipolar architect twisted lines and space to such an extent that volumes seem to appear out of nowhere in this oval creation, lit beautifully by high windows. There’s a tiny courtyard with perfectly proportioned Corinthian columns. And when the monks are in the mood, they’ll show you their extraordinary library too. For another miniature Borromini masterpiece, visit the vertiginous church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, at Corso Rinascimento 40.

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Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, at Corso Rinascimento 40.

Protestant cemetery

That Keats and Shelley should be buried in this lovely place beneath the shadow of Rome’s only pyramid is particularly fitting: the cemetery is hopelessly romantic. It was my green refuge of choice when I lived just down the road in the Testaccio district. The cemetery grew up here because it lies ‘beyond the pale’, just outside the town walls. Non-Catholics struggled to be allowed a burial in papal Rome, and even after this patch of land was granted to them in the early 18th century, funerals tended to take place quietly, often at night.

Since 1953, this graveyard has officially been known not as the ‘Protestant’ but as the ‘Acatholic cemetery’: Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians… and Antonio Gramsci, founder of the Italian Communist Party, are buried here. But for most Romans, it’s the old name that sticks. Across Via Zabaglia at the south western end of the cemetery is the equally poignant British military cemetery, where a piece of Hadrian’s wall has been brought back to the ancient metropolis.

ImageProtestant cemetery. Via Caio Cestio 6, 00153

San Clemente

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One of Rome’s most worthwhile but least publicised sightseeing treats, this historically-layered cake descends from a street-level medieval and early-Renaissance church, with frescoes by Masolino, via a fourth-century early Christian church to the basement remains of a second-century insula (apartment block), complete with shrine to Mithras. When down here, listen for the sound of running water: an ancient sewer passes close by before dumping its contents in the Tiber. The main church is free, but the two lower levels carry an entrance charge. (Via Labicana 95, 00184)

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TRAVEL MORE FOR A BETTER HEALTH.

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I’M SURE YOU ALREADY KNOW! But just in case you need it, here is a scientific proof from the U.S Travel Assosiation that Travel is seriously good for our health. 🙂 Image

Last month, the U.S. Travel Association, in partnership with the Global Coalition on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, released the results of a research study that showed a link between travel and positive health outcomes. Basically, the study showed that people who travel are healthier and happier than those who don’t travel.

I imagine some of you might be thinking, “I could have told you that.” But it’s useful to have actual data to back up something that many of us in the travel industry know instinctively.

For instance, the study showed that those who travel are significantly more satisfied in mood and outlook compared to those who do not travel (86 percent compared to 75 percent). Further, 77 percent of Americans who travel report satisfaction with their physical health and well-being, while only 61 percent of those who do not travel say the same. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of survey respondents report walking more and getting more exercise on trips than they do at home.

Travel also has cognitive benefits. A white paper released as a complement to the study, titled “Destination Healthy Aging: The Physical, Cognitive and Social Benefits of Travel,” reports that the stimuli associated with travel, including navigating new places, meeting new people and learning about new cultures, can help delay the onset of degenerative disease.

“Travel is good medicine,” explained Dr. Paul Nussbaum, president and founder of the Brain Health Center, Inc. and a clinical neuropsychologist and adjunct professor of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “Because it challenges the brain with new and different experiences and environments, it is an important behavior that promotes brain health and builds brain resilience across the lifespan.”

From Levanto to Lerici (Liguria Italy) – you’ve already decided where to spend your Summer vacations?

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 We’re already thinking about the summer, the scent of the Mediterranean Sea and its unique scenery…so, here is an advice for an unforgettable trip!

An excursion from Levanto to Lerici (Liguria Italy) outstanding and intact scenery of Cinque Terre is a truly unique experience.

Cinque-Terrelevanto-beachfront                 

A bathe in the charming of old colorful towns in a dazzling location as this particular seafront, overlooking hills, steep terrain where the vineyards triumph.
We are in the beautiful location of Cinque Terre National Park, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
The trip starts from Levanto, whose historical center shelters genuine architectural treasures, such as the  Gothic church of St. Andrew or the Municipal Loggia of the 13th century. Along a rocky coastline, which descends steeply into the sea, with tight vineyards  that arise between the rocks, punctuated by small villages where agriculture and maritime blend with rich colors, simplicity and charm.

    Monterosso                   Monterosso_al_Mare-oratorio_dei_Neri-facciata1

First authentic stage of the Cinque Terre: Monterosso al Mare, acclaimed tourist resort, adorned with polished villas and a nice beach . In the old-fashioned village center, where the narrow streets climb up the hill, you can admire the Gothic parish church of St. John the Baptist and the baroque Church of San Francesco, close to the Capuchins convent. Here you will come up, among other beautiful things, with  the literary park named after the the poet Eugenio Montale, chorister of these lands.

       OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                il gigante negli scogli di monterosso 2

Then you arrive to Vernazza, with its awesome marina, around which develops the medieval town, with its distinctive square, you can admire the imposing watchtowers of Genoa and the bewitching Gothic church dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch.

       vernazza_street            liguria_vernazza

A hundred feet above the sea there is Corniglia, perched on the crest of the hill and connected to the beach by a staircase of 365 steps;  you can enjoy a splendid view from here.

      corniglia-cinque-terre-mare             corniglia-vicolo

Will certainly have a strong impact the huge black rock overlooking the sea on which Manarola stands, known for olive oil and wine production, with its colorful houses that give the impression to arise from the steep rock.
The last (but not least!) village in the Cinque Terre, and also the heart of the homonymous National park, is Riomaggiore; a picturesque fishing village, with high and narrow houses  coloured in typical pastel colors, among these narrow alleyways you can enjoy a continous alternation of light and darkness.

    A side street in Corniglia             Corniglia-chiesa_di_San_Pietro-navata_centrale-soffitto

Leaving the protected area, is definitely worth making a detour to Porto Venere.
This popular resort of Liguria region is a perfect illustration of the blend of nature and architecture: from the marina promenade that frames the infinite palette of its narrow houses, the steep stairways and narrow alleys end on the promontory of the Mouths where stands the Church of St.Peter, from the early Christian era completed in the Gothic style.

      Mareggiata Portovenere 2003       Porto_Venere-chiesa_san_pietro4
Also worth seeing is the Sanctuary of the Madonna Bianca, formerly the parish church of San Lorenzo, built in the 12th century in Romanesque style it was later restored and enlarged, and the Doria Castle, a majestic military fortress.

        portovenere2        Port-Town-Portovenere-Italia-1050x1680

 In front of Porto Venere we can find the three islands of Palmaria (where you can visit the beautiful Blue Grotto), Tino and Tinetto, all part of the Regional Park of Portovenere.

    cinque terre isola         laspezia

Then we go straight to La Spezia, where one must visit the abbey church of Santa Maria Assunta, which has an interesting artistic heritage inside; and also worth a visit the Museums of the Italian Navy.

The last stage of this beautiful trip, is Lerici, the so-called Gulf of Poets (the Gulf of La Spezia, chosen by Byron and Shelley for their holidays). The resort is marked by a lots of stair and steps and alleyways and by the imposing military Castle. Not to be missed a stroll along the promenade and a visit to the oratory of San Rocco, with its 14th century bell tower and the church of San Francesco for the valuable works of art stored there.

        lerici marejpg     lerici mare 2

I greet you with a wonderful song by a beloved singer passed away, that was just from these  wonderful places. (local dialect)   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoVxtw5V3GQ

With closed eyes I can already smell the scent of the blue sea..

>>>  If you choose to cruise the Mediterranean, Seadreams can bring you there!
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😉

ORDERING A COFFEE…IN ITALY ;-)

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ORDERING a COFFEE…IN ITALY 😉 

Ordering coffee sounds quite easy but depending where you are, things may work differently. If you are in Italy it will for sure 😉

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In small towns you can usually order your coffee first and pay later.  In big cities it’s normal to pay first and give your receipt to the barista to prepare your drink.  Unless they offer table service, in which case you sit or are seated and wait for your server, of course ordering and enjoying your beverage while standing at the bar is cheaper than sitting at a table.

If you order coffee, you’ll be served an espresso so if you’re used to ordering a drip coffee, try an americano.  Want to stick out like a sore thumb? Order a cappuccino in the afternoon.  Milky drinks are reserved for the morning in Italy, you may get away with an espresso macchiato after eleven but ordering something with more milk will surely peg you as a foreigner 🙂

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But how do you recognize a perfect coffee then? “Must have a creamy brown color, a very fine texture, no bubbles larger or smaller. To the nose – says the expert – the espresso has an intense aroma notes of flowers, fruit, toast and chocolate, all sensations are felt even after swallowing. Taste is round, firm and smooth, while acid and bitter must be balanced “.

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The golden rule is: 25 milliliters in 25 seconds! 

THE TIP – Although not expected, if you get good service it’s ok to leave a little something by rounding up.

The pleasure associated with the aroma of coffee is a mass passion for Italians, who daily consume about 70 million cups of espresso at the bar. The notes to the Italian Espresso National Institute, which promotes Friday 17, throughout Italy, “Italian Espresso Day”, the first national day of espresso and cappuccino. A celebration of ‘tazzurella’ (small cup of coffee  ) which will also be an opportunity to find out if the coffee served at the counter is really a good quality and to understand how to choose the right place for a breakfast with all the trimmings.

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‘I’ll buy you a coffee’ is one of the phrases that you’ll hear pronounced more often. Even if is a wrong sentence: in Italy there is no ‘one’ coffee, but infinite! Because coffee is a cult, it is a categorical imperative, it is a dogma; everybody knows which type they prefer and defend the superiority of ‘their coffee’.

And after you decided if you’re Copernican or Galilean, and you declare yourself as an incorruptible follower of the “Caffè al bar”, the one with the froth on the surface and the creamy looking flavour, get ready, “one coffees” here are almost endless:

Espresso, Ristretto, lungo (Long).
Macchiato hot milk, or cold milk.
In large bowl, in a glass. Double ristretto.
Cold and shaken. Cold, with milk. Cold, with ice. Cold, period.
With a glass of water at hand.
Natural, no, sparkling water.
American (here are a few, though 😉 ).
With cream. Liquid …. or mounted.
With cold milk separately. Correct with grappa or sambuca.
I could go on ad infinitum, and naturally I avoided the regional variations. The Neapolitan coffee is REALLY a religion, and as such should be treated: books, movies, lyrics have sung the praise. And..I have spoken only of coffee from the bar, the coffee at home (the moka), well we’d have to write an encyclopedia then! 😀

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Now that you are sufficiently confused,  do you want to know how I prefer it?

Well, naturally it depends on the time of the day. at this time now.. (which is afternoon on a sunny winter day in Rome)

I will take it Macchiato caldo e con panna, grazie! ^_^ (with some hot milk and mounted sweet cream)  with a little cocoa!

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Here are some words you might find useful in your delicious (for sure!) trip to Italy:

Per favore: Please

Grazie: Thank you

Prego: You’re welcome

Come sta?: How are you (formal)

Buon giorno: Good morning

Buona sera: Good evening

Buona notte: Good night

Birra: Beer

Cibo: Food

Dove siamo?: Where are we?