Winter in Rome blogger weekend

It’s easy to conjure an image of Paris, New York, or London in the winter.  But what about Rome?  For most people, it’s a city famous for its piazzas, public fountains and other statues that adorn the city; outdoor monuments like the Pantheon and the Colosseum.  It’s a place to have a long, leisurely dinner al fresco and a coffee at a sidewalk cafe.  It’s true – the summertime in Rome is dreamy, and it’s a living, outdoor museum.  In the summer, the days are long, light is gorgeous, and the sky is always clear and blue.  However, it can also be hot, crowded, and expensive in the summer.

Visiting Rome in the winter is like visiting an entirely different city.  There are a number of relatively unknown advantages, such as cheaper stays, shorter (or no) lines, and some activities and experiences that just aren’t available in other seasons.  And it’s still just as beautiful – we might get some dark, rainy days, but more often than not, the weather is fairly mild and the skies are still clear and blue and the city is just as magical as it is in the summer.

For the last 3 years, to take advantage of empty rooms in our hostel, The Beehive, and to make up for the fact that not many people really have an image in their heads of Rome in the winter, we invite around 10 bloggers and social media experts to come and stay and experience #winterinrome. We put together a weekend of activities, tours, walks, and meals – some that we do ourselves and others from friends and colleagues doing interesting things.  The goal is for these bloggers and social media influencers to spread the word (and images) of what Rome is like in the winter – to help promote our city in the off-season.

Our weekend began with an eat-with-locals dinner experience from BonAppetour, a start-up that makes it possible for you, as a visitor, to score a meal at the home of a local.  I’ve written about a previous experience with them and what they do here.

On Friday we started the day with a great food tour in Trastevere, by Eating Italy Food Tours.  Our guide, Domenico, who also runs Tram Tracks, (an unforgettable, live music/dinner alternate reality experience aboard an old tram), took us around the neighbourhood, tasting all kinds of goodies, from supplì, to the best porchetta and pizza bianca ever, to creme brûlée and vin santo at a restaurant whose wine cellar is 160 years older than the Colosseum!

We then did an e-bike tour around the Roman Forum, Imperial Forum and Colosseum with The Roman Guy, who then took everyone out to find the best cocktails in Rome.

Saturday was vespa day with Scooteroma, visiting street art and covering lots of ground.

Lunch was made back at the Beehive by Viola (my 10 year old sous-chef) and I, and then the group headed back out with Personalised Italy to visit San Giovanni and San Clemente.

That night we had our monthly Storytellers night back at the Beehive, with tales of getting “busted”, and then were treated to a Tuscan dinner, prepared by Pamela Sheldon Johns of Poggio Etrusco.


On Sunday we were taken by Context Travel to the Palazzo Massimo, Rome’s best underrated/unknown museum and saw frescoes and mosaics that date back to the 2nd century BC – we’re talking entire rooms of villas preserved in ways that blow Pompeii out of the water.  This museum deserves an entire post not just for the collection inside, but because it’s an amazing example of how certain sites never make the “bucket list” even though they have some of the most important and insightful works inside.

Lunch was hosted at the Gatsby Cafe at Piazza Vittorio, a laid back, hip, vintage cafe on three levels with food provided by other locals such as Panella, Radici Pizzicheria and Gelateria Fassi – all gems in an area that doesn’t get the acclaim it deserves.

For more information, pics or just to follow along with the rest of group, here’s a list of the bloggers and sponsors that participated:

 

Denya Pandolfi  - Grazie a Te  Facebook & Instagram:  @grazieateblog  Twitter: @denyapandolfi

 

Diana Simon  - Browsing Italy & Browsing Rome:  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter:  @browsingitaly @browsingrome

 

Elyssa Bernard - Romewise  Facebook, IG, Twitter:  @romewise

 

Estrella Gomez  - La Casa Bloga  Instagram: @lacasabloga Twitter:  @lacasabloga

 

Jared Chuba - What If We  Facebook: @whatifweblog  Instagram: @what.if.we Twitter:  @whatifweblog

 

Katie Dawes - The Hostel Girl  Facebook:  @thehostelgirl  Instagram & Twitter:  @the_hostelgirl

 

Natalie Kennedy - An American in Rome  Facebook & Instagram:  @anamericaninrome  Twitter: @natalierae

 

Orna O’Reilly - Travelling Italy  Facebook: @orna.oreilly Twitter: @ornaOR

 

Robyn Woodman - Curated Travel  Facebook:  @woodmanrobyn  Instagram & Twitter: @robynwoodman

 

Saskia Balmaekers & Carola Willemsen - Ciao Tutti  Facebook, Instagram & Twitter:  @blogciaotutti

 

Tom Weber -  The Palladian Traveler  Facebook: @ThePalladianTraveler  Twitter: @tompalladioink

 

Trish McNeill - Go, See, Write - Facebook, Twitter: @goseewrite Instagram: @michaelshodson

 

Viola (our 10 year old sous-chef and helper) took many of these shots.  She can be found on Instagram @ristoviola

 

Scooteroma
Instagram & Twitter:  @scooteromatours

 

Personalized Italy
Instagram & Twitter: @personalitaly

 

Context Travel
Instagram & Twitter:  @contexttravel

 

The Roman Guy
Instagram & Twitter:  @theromanguy

 

Eating Italy Food Tours
Facebook:  @eatingeuropefoodtours
Instagram & Twitter:  @eatingeurope

 

BonAppetour
Facebook:  @BonAppetour
Instagram: @bonappetourofficial
Twitter: @bonappetour

 

Gatsby Cafe
Facebook & Instagram @gatsbycafe

 

Pamela Sheldon Johns
Facebook:  @poggioeetrusco @italian-food-artisans
Instagram:  pamela_sheldon_johns
Twitter: @PamelaInTuscany

How to get to/from Rome and the cruise port at Civitavecchia

Civitavecchia (Port of Rome)

 

Civitavecchia Port (commonly referred to as the Port of Rome) is located approximately 70 km north west of Rome on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Besides serving cruise ship lines, there are also ferries embarking to Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, Tunis and Barcelona.

The pedestrian-friendly town sits along a seafront promenade with a lot of nice bars, restaurants and open-air cafes to enjoy. There’s even a small shopping center. If you have a couple of hours to kill, it’s not a bad place to hang out, however, if the major part of a day is open to you, we recommend going into Rome.

ORIENT YOURSELF

Have a look at this aerial map of the port to get your bearings:

Aerial map of Civitavecchia

 

PLAN YOUR TIMELINE

The most economical way to get from the piers to the center of Rome is by train. Figure on a one-way trip costing €5 to 16€ (one-way), and taking about 45 minutes (Intercity trains) to 1.5 hours (Regional trains) between Civitavecchia Station and Rome’s main railway station, Roma Termini. From there, it’s easy to catch the Metro (subway) or buses to reach the city’s main tourist sites. Trains between the two stations run every hour (sometimes two per hour, depending on the time of day). Click here to search for train times and fares.

Important! Don’t forget to factor in the time it takes to get from your ship’s quay to Civitavecchia Station! 

Here’s a breakdown of the drill:

By Rail:

  • Take the free shuttle from your ship’s pier to the cruise terminal.
  • From there, buy a ticket for the Argo bus (departures every 20 minutes) at any bar or newsstand. It’s only a 10-minute ride.

OR

  • By foot. From the shuttle stop outside the entrance of Varco Fortezza, walk 650 meters (9 minutes) to the train station. (See Google Map directions below).

 

 

Private Train Service (cruise customers only)

  • For cruise travelers there’s limited, direct private train service to the Vatican Station (St. Peter Square) from the Port, but it’s seasonal and not available every day. Ask your cruise line for details or click here for more information.

*Note: Local cabs at the port are not permitted to transfer people to and from the Civitavecchia train station.

A TICKET TO RIDE

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve decided to go to Rome by train from the port of Civitavecchia, we suggest you purchase the BIRG Ticket (5 zones). It’s a great value because:

  • it allows unlimited trips on all public transport to and from the port, and all over the city of Rome
  • it’s good from the time of validation until midnight.
  • the BIRG can be purchased right at the station.

 

YOU DO HAVE OPTIONS

While the train is the most convenient and cost-effective way to travel into Rome, if you have money to burn you can choose to:

  • take a taxicab from your ship.

Keep in mind that car and taxi fares start from €130 and upwards (one-way). In addition, they can be subject to traffic congestion and road construction delays.

Whichever way you choose to get there, the Eternal City awaits.

Civitavecchia Port, Prato del Turco, 00053 Civitavecchia, tel: +39 0766.191.6106

Virtual Reality Tour of Rome by LivItaly Tours

I was recently invited to go on a special tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill with LivItaly Tours – special because they’ve added VR glasses/goggles so you can see computer generated recreations of the sites while in them.

We – my 10-year old daughter and I – met with a group of other bloggers at the nearby Caffé Propaganda in the Celio neighbourhood, just next to the Colosseum, where we had a drink and demo of our glasses.

They work with your smartphone through an app you download in advance.  Once at a site, you select it in the app, and it recognises your motion, so as you turn the view changes.

We started off at the Colosseum, talking about how it got its name and the colossal statue of Nero that was once next to it – and that thanks to the VR glasses, we could see again.

Being on a group tour means jumping the substantial line, which even in November was pretty long.

Now, I’ve been in the Colosseum many times, and have had a number of guided tours there too, but for my daughter, despite being born in Italy and living here, this was her first time.  She’s currently studying the Greeks in school, so this was an interesting way for her to connect the dots to the ancient world.  She was full of questions, and our guide, Rachel, was full of answers.  The glasses were appealing to my daughter not only because of the cool/fun factor, but because many of the monuments and ruins from the ancient world require a lot of imagination to see what they were really like, and visualising them with the glasses makes it come to life much easier.

Next we headed up the Palatine Hill, where the emperors had their palaces, and saw over the Circus Maximus, the world’s largest sports arena.

For the final part of the tour, we heading into the Roman Forum, once the downtown of the Roman Empire, and thus, kind of the center of the entire world.

The entire tour probably lasted between 3-4 hours, and we were engaged the entire time.

I’m a big fan of walking tours in general.  There’s a number of quality tour companies in Rome and in general they are all worthwhile – the more you’re able to invest, the more likely you’ll have a smaller group size and a more knowledgeable guide.  Visiting many of these sites on your own, without any additional information or guide, can be an underwhelming experience, so I do recommend doing a tour.

Having the VR glasses was a nice addition too, especially for kids, who can be hard to keep interested.  I also felt that our guide was great with kids too – she was happy to get questions and visibly pleased to be able to answer them in a way that kept more questions coming.

The price of their tours are slightly higher than other similar tours, due to the VR glasses, but you get to keep them afterward, and they work for other sites as well (and for other VR apps).  They also offer a guide that’s full of recommendations that go behind the sites – food, markets, shopping, etc.

For more information, check them out at:

LivItaly Tours 

Skype: livitaly.tours 
Vicolo del Divino Amore 18a, Rome

 

A rant about taxis in Rome

There are many con-artists in many cities all over the world – and I have issues with them all, but there’s a special place in hell that I reserve for the crooked taxi driver who preys on someone who’s just arrived – sleep-deprived and jet lagged – putting a horrible start to their trip with a bitter taste in their mouth that’s hard to remove no matter how good the pasta and pizza.

Now I know a number of taxi drivers and although they aren’t all evil, I’ve had enough first-hand (and second-hand) experience with dishonest (or simply annoying) drivers, that it’s not a case of one bad apple ruining in the bunch – it’s more like a shitload of bad apples and one edible one.

There’s a few common scams that are worth noting when taking taxies around the city:

1.  Putting the fare at nr. 2 or 3 instead of 1 (which is a higher rate used for travel outside the city center).  Many drivers always seem to “forgot” to reset it to “tariffa 1″.

2.  Driving around in circles, jacking up the fare.  This is especially true when someone who doesn’t know the lay of land mistakenly requests a driver take them to an address only 2-3 blocks away. The driver, knowing they have someone on board without a clue, will probably take the scenic route.

3.  Taking a 50 euro bill (for example) and then insisting you gave them a 10 or a 20.  Most people don’t have the stamina to argue this out successfully, even when they know they’re right.

In my experience, these aren’t that common though – not enough to avoid taxis, in any case.  The fare starts anywhere between 3 and 6.50 euro (depending on the time of day and whether it’s a Sunday or holiday), and this changes often enough that it’s better to just give an estimate.   But the city is compact and you can generally get anywhere for 10-15 euro, which isn’t bad if you’re a few people, it’s raining, and/or you’re in a rush.

The Big Scam, though, the one that keeps me up at night with fictional arguments between me and the taxi drivers, has to do with the fixed rate to and from Rome’s airports.  The reason why this scam gets a capital “S” is that it’s made possible by the city itself, out of sheer incompetence, stupidity and (I wouldn’t doubt) a dose of corruption.

Ready for my rant?  Great – here goes:

So, the fixed rate is supposed to be 48 euro to/from Fiumicino and 30 euro to/from Ciampino.  This amount is valid up to 4 passengers WITH bags, any time of day, and to any destination within the Aurelian Wall (essentially the center of Rome).

Here’s some of the petty ways a dishonest driver will try and skew this in their favour:

1.  Driver insists it’s 45 euro/30 euro per person.

2.  Driver asks extra for bags or for nighttime supplement.

3.  Driver insists that this amount is just TO the city walls, and then from there it’s metered.

What’s annoying is that taxi drivers, all parked out in front of the airport, tend to work with a wolf-pack mentality, so if driver A tries to screw you and you go to driver B, they’ll often feel the pressure of the pack to say the same thing to you that driver A said.  For one of them to break off on his own and take you for the actual fare, is an act of rebellion – one that he’ll probably pay for later.

The fixed rate is well documented though – printed on most cab’s side exterior, and there’s a card inside the cab as well that repeats these details, in various languages.  There’s even a map that shows the area that’s considered “within the walls” in orange.

And that’s where my blood finds its boiling point – because the map is wrong.  

The Aurelian Wall was built about 1700 years ago and (obviously) – it hasn’t been moved around during the last millennia and a half.  Most of it is intact, and if you do a search for images for the wall on Google you’ll get a bunch of versions – from the antique to the more modern, showing where the wall is (and has always been).  It’s not really a debate, until you search for a map that shows the area within the walls, in regards to the taxi fare.

My favorite is this one, because it shows the area that concerns one of the densest areas in Rome for accommodation – the area just North of Termini Station (about 2:00 if the orange ring were a clock face).

Here’s another version with the area I’m referring to highlighted:

This was the original map and if googled, can be found on sites that posted it from 2012, when the fixed taxi rate went into effect.

Here’s another one that shows the wall outline, but for some reason excludes a triangle north of Termini:

And here’s what you’ll see in the back of the taxi and on the website of the Comune di Roma:

What happened to the little triangle where there are about 200 hotels?  Was this ancient wall moved?

Whereas the other scams are disputable, this one is institutional.  I’ve actually written the city of Rome, asking for some sort of explanation, and the only response I received was that it would be reviewed.  The person I spoke with didn’t seem to understand what the hell I was talking about anyway.

My suggestions, in light of all this:

1. If you suspect a taxi driver of scamming you, take a picture of their ID number, and the license plate, etc.  This will almost always change their tune.  But please, don’t stop there – file a report here.  If you don’t, you’re enabling them.  Report them.  Otherwise, it’s worth it for them to keep doing it.

2.  Use a taxi app like My Taxi.  It’s free and works well and will have your route established and the fare recorded.

3. If you’re traveling solo, try Scooterino – a ride service app like *Uber but on a scooter.

4.  For airport transfer, book a hired car, called NCC (do this through us or your hotel).

5. Take the train or bus instead from the airport.  It’s quicker anyway.

 

* Uber is heavily fought in Italy and its legality is dubious.  There’s convenience, but prices are higher than taxis and not really worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

BonAppetour – Dining with Locals

Some of the best meals I’ve ever had in Italy came from home chefs, and not in restaurants.  Italian cuisine is the result of poverty + resourcefulness over lots and lots of time to prefect the dishes that remain unique to each area of Italy, and change from town to town, and region to region.   So it makes sense that if you want to eat something really authentic, you need to get something homemade.

I was lucky to recently meet two young entrepreneurs out of Singapore, who started BonAppetour, hoping to capture, and make available to tourists, something that restaurants cannot.  Below is Rinita, one of the founders, on the right, and Alexandra, their local community manager/organizer.

On their site, you can select filters that show you what dinners (and often, classes) are available, and you can read other diner’s comments.  You reserve and pay online and are then basically invited to someone’s home for a kind of dinner party – with the host present.  This makes it not just an experience of the food, but also a way to connect tourists to locals.  It’s not often easy, or possible, to score an invite into someone’s home!  This way, you get a great meal, and the kind of insight that comes with meeting people of different cultures, who are happy to share their knowledge and open up their homes to you.

Our host, Francesca, made us a Milanese-themed dinner of liver paté, ossobuco (veal shanks) and risotto alla Milanese (flavoured with saffron), finished with a kind of tiramisù cream and pavese biscuits.

They seem to have a strong presence in Asia, their stomping ground, but also have many hosts/chefs in France, Spain in Italy – probably the three places most people want to have a home dining experience in.

Just a note though – authenticity is not synonymous with the postcard perfect/stereotypical vision that many people have of their destination.  So be prepared to get out to areas that real locals live in and to perhaps engage in conversations that reflect surprising opinions!

Bonappetour can be found on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram.