Bad food is a crime! The new head of the Food Police has reports of tourists in Rome are getting ripped off. Watch the MB trio go undercover to collect evidence and show you what to look out for to avoid falling into a tourist trap.
We get asked a lot about safety and whether any areas in our cities should be avoided. We generally give one of two standard answers (there’s a short one and a long one), both of which try to make one important point – that there is not the same degree or level of malicious, violent crime in Europe as in other parts of the world.
The main crime to look out for is getting robbed, which happens not at gunpoint or knifepoint, but by pickpockets who roam around and look for people they can catch unaware (which is relatively easy when you’re staring up at a famous, historic monument). This is more of a nuisance than a danger – in that, personally, you won’t be threatened. But if you get targeted, and they get you – it can ruin your day, your whole trip, or maybe more.
The two defenses against this crime are:
1. Don’t carry around anything valuable. Or at least, don’t have it anywhere accessible.
2. Know what the thieves look like, and avoid them. If necessary, even shoo or give them a shove. Often they are children (sad, but easy to defend yourself against).
The following picture was taken in Rome, near the central train station Termini. When I first came to Rome, I was used to seeing many ethnic groups in large cities, and I was surprised at how the Romans considered anyone who was not Italian, or a tourist, to be a thief. Very racist, and hopefully that viewpoint has changed over the years. But what was more odd was that they could tell, by looking at someone, that they weren’t Italian. Now, after more than a decade, I too can see it immediately, but for the tourist, this will be a hard distinction to make. I don’t believe that anyone foreign and not a tourist is a thief, but recognizing who “doesn’t belong” is part of recognizing who is up to no good.
For example, look at this picture. What do you see?
Two women standing on the sidewalk, right?
Look again. See the cardboard? That’s the thief’s prop of choice. They use it to distract their partner’s hands that are going in your pocket.
Check out the look on backup girl’s face.
She’s scanning, searching, for a target. If you know what to look for, you can see it a block away.
And these dudes? You think they’re just standing around, letting the belly get some fresh air?
Actually, yeah. No idea what’s up with that. Probably best to stay away from them too.
Below is an amazing video by Bob Arno, a pickpocket expert who goes undercover to the pickpocket capital of the world – Naples – getting footage of how these thieves operate.
I have spent some time recently dog-sitting for a friend who lives in the historic center of Rome, and I can tell you that after 8+ years of living in Rome dog-less, walking around the city with a dog is a completely different experience than walking around the city on your own.
We do receive on occasion (maybe once every couple months) an email from somebody who is traveling with a dog and wants to know if we have any properties that will accept pets (in fact, we just got an email about that this week). Usually they live in other parts of Italy or Europe and are traveling by car; their trips tend to be a little longer and not just a “city break” for a few days in a European capital. So here are a few things you should know if you plan on traveling with your dog (sorry cat lovers, we just haven’t received any requests to bring cats!).
1. Only bring your dog if you have to and/or feel it would be in its best interest. If you have somebody reliable at home who can pet-sit, that’s probably the best bet. Traveling with a pet can make things more expensive, complicated, and tiring. (It’s your vacation! Wouldn’t you rather sleep in, instead of getting up at 7am because your furry friend needs his morning wee?) For some dogs, traveling could also be traumatizing– spending long periods of time in a car, overstimulation from too many new things, crowds of people, new smells, bits of food on the ground… you are taking your dog out of its comfort zone when you travel!
2. Only bring your dog if it’s well-behaved. If he is aggressive with strangers or other animals, bites or snaps, barks a lot, has potty-training problems, jumps on everybody in sight (even if he’s just trying to be friendly!), or is out of control, please DO NOT bring your dog with you. This will just cause grief for you, the people around you, and your dog himself.
3. Yes, we do have properties that will accept dogs. Most don’t, but some do. Owners usually take it on a case-by-case basis and decide if they want to accept a dog or not (sometimes it might depend on the size of the dog — understandably, there is more acceptance to smaller dogs — or they might need reassurance from you that the dog is not going to destroy the place). Generally speaking, multiple-room B&Bs or guesthouses will not accept pets, because there will be other guests staying who might be allergic to or otherwise bothered by them. Private apartment owners tend to be more flexible. Of course, if we do find a place that will accept your dog, keep in mind that any damage done by your dog will be paid for by you! That means if he chews something up, or pees on something, you will be paying for the replacement or repair of that item.
4. It would be a good idea to book a place nearby a park or other green area where you can walk your dog. That’s actually not too hard in Rome. Rome has quite a few big parks (Villa Borghese, Villa Pamphili, Villa Celimontana, Parco della Caffarella, etc) and there are also lots of tiny little parks in most neighborhoods which will at least give them a patch of grass to do their business on, sniff at, and play in. Staying somewhere near the Tiber river (which is most of the historic center, really) is another great option as you can take your dog down the steps to the riverbank and walk them there, where there are few people around and plenty of space.
5. Keep your dog on a leash. This is very important in a city like Rome. You don’t want your dog taking off and running across a busy road or getting lost in a strange place. And you don’t want him getting away from you and doing something naughty (say, jumping up and licking a tourist’s ice cream cone… or worse?). Follow the rules — I have seen signs in parks specifically saying to keep dogs on a leash, only to see dogs galore running around leash-less. Don’t do this: play it safe and you’ll avoid a fine, or a confrontation.
6. Scoop the poop and watch where your dog pees. Sadly, you’ll see dog poo all over the place here, especially in residential neighborhoods. But don’t do as the Romans do in this case: clean up after your dog. It’s against the law not to, it’s common courtesy, and remember: you could be the one accidentally stepping in it on your way back. Storefronts pose a special problem for those not used to walking their dog in a big city; especially the storefronts in the historic center. There are many, many stores in the winding streets of the historic center, mostly open-front or with doors open, and here they will often display items outside, sometimes on the ground or at dog-level (say, shoes or books). Male dogs especially will want to stop and mark everything in sight. Be vigilant about where they lift their legs: walls are OK; storefronts or front doors of apartment buildings are not!
7. Rome is a dirty city with a serious litter problem, and your dog will be eating random garbage off the ground. There’s not really a way to avoid this (unless you have a rare dog who’s not food-crazy). Bits of vegetables on the ground left over from the outdoor markets; gelato cups tossed on the street with a few last licks of melting ice cream in them; pieces of bread meant for pigeons; garbage bags with old food sitting on the side of the street waiting to be picked up — your dog will try to eat all this and more. Be prepared to watch with an eagle eye and drag your dog away from whatever delizia he smells if necessary; even then, he’ll still manage to eat stuff you don’t want him to.
8. Now on to the good stuff… a lot of businesses are more dog-friendly than they would be elsewhere. Of course you should always ask first, but many coffee bars will gladly welcome your dog in with you while you stop for a cappuccino or a sandwich, provided he behaves himself, of course. (Sanitary regulations just aren’t as strictly observed as they are in many other countries!) There is one coffee bar in my area that happily greets all their furry visitors and brings them a bowl of milk to slurp on. Obviously you won’t bring your dog into a supermarket or an indoor restaurant, but in Rome many restaurants and bars have outdoor seating and your dog will be welcome there.
9. You will meet a lot more people than you normally would if you’re walking around with a dog. In a week of dog-sitting, I probably ended up stopping and talking to more random people on the street than I would in a year dog-less. Somebody talking on a cell phone actually ended his conversation to pet the dog and ask me his name and breed. Walking on the Isola Tiberina (the pedestrian island in the river near Trastevere), I met five rough-and-tough Romanian fishermen who wanted to play with the dog and give him one of the fish they’d caught. Late on a Saturday night, a rowdy group of drunk Roman teenagers around Campo de’ Fiori stopped to fuss over the dog and scratch his ears. The point is, most people like dogs. I have seen even the grumpiest-looking face melt into a smile and stop to give the dog a pat on his head. This is great if you want to feel part of the culture, stop and talk to locals, and practice (or pick up!) some Italian.
Normally I eat breakfast in our cafe at The Beehive. I try to avoid what my wife and I call “The Cornetto Challenge” - which is essentially the stuffing of one’s face with processed white sugar, and often times margarine, in the form of a pastry known as cornetto. Tastes good, but it’s Instant Regret. Plus, those empty calories leave you hungry again in about 10 minutes.
The other day though, our cafe was closed due to some plumbing problems in our sink, so I decided to stop over for a cappuccino at Bar Fondi on the corner of via Milazzo and via Magenta, owned by a friend, Marco, who also owns the Rome Metropolitan Guesthouse 2 blocks away.
I have to say – if you’re near Termini Station in the morning and have some time to kill before your train, and don’t know where to stop for a coffee and pastry, this is the place. In the 20 minutes I was there, at least 100 other people were in agreement. There were about 4 boxes of pastries with a variety of fillings – chocolate, jam, cream, or with combinations including our personal favorite – crema and visciola (cream and sour cherry). The orderly queue started at Marco who took breakfast vouchers from nearby hotels and barked out the coffee/drink orders to the 2 baristas.
“Un altro cappucino! 2 espressi! Caffe latte con crema di caffé! Aggiungi un altro cappuccino!”
It was crazy – but it was working. I don’t know what memorization system they use to make sure all the coffees were actually made, but they did, and it flowed seamlessly.
As always, I am amazed that in a city that isn’t known for speed and efficiency that the coffee bars epitomize all that is so lacking here in other public sectors. Bar Fondi is no exception.
Piazza Vittorio, south of Rome’s main train station, Stazione Termini, is an area that is often scoffed at by Romans and regarded as dangerous by tourists. The area has been called Rome’s Chinatown, and reviewed on travel forums and in guidebooks as the “seedy and dangerous” side of the city. In our opinion, these views are oversimplifications. True, many of the streets are gritty — especially via Giolitti as you head toward Santa Maria Maggiore from Termini and via Gioberti which runs parallel to the station, but apart from some bruttezza (ugliness), nothing threatening. Yes, there are many Chinese, Indian and other Asian and African immigrants in the area — Rome needed a break-up to its homogeneity. On the flip side, and not as noticed by visitors, are residents in the area such as musicians like the amazing Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio and many Italian yuppies: professional architects, designers and artists. Piazza Vittorio is a convenient area for tourists with a subway stop on the red line/Line A metro, close proximity to Termini station and with lots of accommodation options – most of which are easier on the budget than the historic center. As with anywhere, if you know where to look, there are gems. Here are a few well-known food gems that are guaranteed to improve your perception of the area.
The original Roscioli bakery dates back to at least 1824 (cited by a census conducted by the Vatican) on via dei Chiavari, 34 near Campo dei Fiori and is still within the Roscioli family. In the center they have a few other locations — a restaurant and a salumeria. There is another Roscioli on via Buonarotti, 48, just south of piazza Vittorio heading toward via Merulana. I’ve heard it’s no longer owned by the Roscioli family anymore, but whatever connection they had to the original has made its mark. They make amazing bread and pizza, have a coffee bar, and a cafeteria-style food bar. The staff is super nice and friendly.
Located just off piazza Vittorio on via Principe Eugenio, 65, is one of the oldest gelaterie in Rome, the Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi. Founded by Giacomo Fassi in 1880 as a little kiosk that sold ice and beer, it was turned into a gelateria by his son Giovanni in the 1920s and is no longer run by his children, instead having grown into a kind of franchise with their famous “san pietrini”. www.palazzodelfreddo.it
One of our favorite restaurants in Rome is Trattoria Monti, owned and run by the Camerucci family from Le Marche and brothers Daniele and Enrico can often be found in the front room as the head waiters. A small, intimate place located on via di San Vito, 13 between piazza Vittorio and piazza Santa Maria Maggiore. You will find them in just about every reputable guide or blog ever published on Rome.
With a modern, contemporary feel to it, it’s enough to make it a special night out, but not too pricey to break the bank. They have a great wine list, and will make spot-on suggestions for you if need be. They always have seasonal specials off the menu, and in the years we’ve been going there we’ve never had a bad meal. This place is always full so you’ll definitely need to reserve for both lunch and dinner times. Make sure to order one of the flan/tortino antipasti to start, and end with the amaretto semifreddo for dessert. Tel. 064466573.