St. Paul Outside the Walls: One of Rome’s Less Seen Basilicas

As one may expect, Rome does not lack in the church category.  All types and sizes up to the best know, St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican.  However, there are three other major basilicas in Rome:  St. John Lateran (first among the four for being the oldest), Saint Mary Major (Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore), and St. Paul Outside the Walls (Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura)As the term “major basilica” implies, they are of high importance to the Catholic Church and any other basilica is just “a” basilica or a minor basilica.

As with St. Peter’s and St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls was built is on top of the site where St. Paul was buried.  The original church was built in the fourth century and it got built on and modified up until the nineteenth century when a fire destroyed a good bit of it and it got reconstructed.  The modifications it went through in those 1400 years were done for different reasons:  fortifying it against potential invaders, repairing damage, beautifying it, or simply making it larger.

Of the original church only a couple of things remain (the triumphal arch with its fifth century mosaics, and part of the apse).  But it was other details that grabbed my attention.

First, was the images of all the Popes right above the top of the columns.  It really gives a great sense of the longevity of the Church.

Rome, St. Paul, Outside The Walls, fuori le mura, major basilica, Catholic Church, St. Paul's chain, colonnade, travel, photo, Italy,

Popes’ likenesses on the friezes

Second, how uninviting the exterior is (at least on the sides), hiding the interior beauty of this church.

Rome, St. Paul, Outside The Walls, fuori le mura, major basilica, Catholic Church, St. Paul's chain, colonnade, travel, photo, Italy,

Exterior of the basilica

Third, to me it seem a different style of architecture for a church.  I suppose this derives from the fact that its design goes back to a very old design even if it was modified through the centuries.  So it may not be a design that is odd but one that I am not familiar with.

St. Paul Outside the Walls, facade, Rome, Italy, Catholic Church, major basilica, statue, mosaics, photo, travel

The facade and statue of St. Paul

St. Paul Outside the Walls, facade, Rome, Italy, Catholic Church, major basilica, statue, mosaics, photo, travel, colonnade, columns

Colonnade to the side of the basilica’s facade; note the garden that sits in front of the facade.

Fourth, the colonnade inside the church (around 80 columns is pretty spectacular.

Rome, St. Paul, Outside The Walls, fuori le mura, major basilica, Catholic Church, colonnade, travel, photo, Italy,

The beautiful colonnade and what I assume are marble floors

Fifth, the stucco ceilings which are so beautifully decorated.

Rome, St. Paul, Outside The Walls, fuori le mura, major basilica, Catholic Church, travel, photo, Italy,, ceiling, stucco

Some of the beautiful ceilings at SPOTW

Rome, St. Paul, Outside The Walls, fuori le mura, major basilica, Catholic Church, travel, photo, Italy,, ceiling, stucco

Some of the beautiful ceilings at SPOTW

Finally, the altar and the tabernacle on it are beautiful crowns over the tomb of St. Paul.  One can take a few stops down to see the chains that held St. Paul prisoner in Rome.

Rome, St. Paul, Outside The Walls, fuori le mura, major basilica, Catholic Church, travel, photo, Italy,, tabernacle, mosaic

Tabernacle at the altar, and, in the background, mosaics dating from the 13th century

Rome, St. Paul, Outside The Walls, fuori le mura, major basilica, Catholic Church, travel, photo, Italy,, tabernacle, stucco ceiling

Top of the tabernacle and the ceiling in the background

Rome, St. Paul, Outside The Walls, fuori le mura, major basilica, Catholic Church, travel, photo, Italy,, St. Paul's chain

St. Paul’s chains

St. Paul Outside the Walls is away from the beaten path of central Rome that most tourists stick to but it is an easy subway ride from that part of Rome.  Whether due to your faith, your interest in architecture, simple curiosity or only trying to get away from the crowds, it is well worth checking out.

What lesser known bits of Rome have you visited?  Any recommendations?

Monticchiello: Charm in the Middle of Tuscany

A few years ago, in one of my trips to Italy, we spent a few days in Tuscany.   We opted to rent apartments in a small mountaintop town called Monticchiello, a charming place, sandwiched between Pienza and Montepulciano (lucky folks!!!).  Montecchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, food, pasta, truffles, Palm Sunday, photos, travel, exploring

We truly lucked out:  the town was quaint, quite small, and its location was central and offering greats views. The place we stayed at was an awesome building a few hundreds of years old (but, the landlady mis-led us in terms of it sleeping all of us – I ended on a cot by the dining room).

apartment, Tuscany, La Toscana, Monticchiello, Italy, Italia, travel, lodging, accommodation, photo, old, stone

What a real person’s room looked like in that apartment!

A meal to remember

One of its gems was the only restaurant up there, aptly named Osteria La Porta (the gate).  There was a wait so we went to stand outside.  Not a few minutes later, the owner came out with a bottle of wine and five glasses for us to entertain ourselves with, courtesy of the house.  Yea, like THAT would happen in the U.S.!  We immediately knew we were at the right place.

La Porta, foodie, food, restaurant, Monticchiello, delicious, pasta with truffle, Italy, Italia

THE right place!

And we were not disappointed.  We made it inside and began studying the menu.  However, the waiter advised us that the pasta with truffle was very special.  That was a plate with no meat of any sort.  Just fresh pasta, fresh truffles, and a trickle of plain butter sauce.  I decided that if it was being recommended, I ought to try despite its lack of meat or any veggies I normally like (mushrooms do not fall under that category).  It was simply a superb dish.  I can safely say top 5 ever eaten by me without any fear of exaggeration.

La Porta, foodie, food, restaurant, Monticchiello, delicious, pasta with truffle, Italy, Italia

5 very happy campers

A special coincidence

We traveled to Italy during Holy Week which led to a few opportunities for good timing to happen.  Such was that Sunday at Monticchielo:  we were there on Palm Sunday.  We went to church that Sunday and it was neat to hear Mass in Italian.  But  bigger surprise awaited us:  the procession around town.  All 40  or 50 of us followed the priest around this neat little town.  I normally don’t spend enough time researching places to find out if there are local events that could be of interest – I just explore once I get somewhere.  Maybe I have missed some things with this approach but, I have to say, it makes running into these local situations so much more fun.

Monticchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, Palm Sunday, Church, Catholic

The faithful getting their palms before the procession

Monticchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, Palm Sunday, Church, Catholic

The priest leading the procession

Monticchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, Palm Sunday, Church, Catholic

Walking down the narrow streets of Monticchiello

Monticchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, Palm Sunday, Church, Catholic

Headed back in to the church at the end of the procession

What experiences have you had were you as pleasantly surprised while traveling?  (Except the part about me in a cot next to a kitchen!)

Photo of the Week: Viewing Venice from my Window Seat

Venice, Italy is such a unique place.  It is almost out of Disney’s mind.  But it is not.  It is truly unique and a sight worth seeing once in your life.  I have been fortunate not only to have seen it, but to have been there twice.  It can be a maddening place with the crowd of peers (read:  fellow visitors) but it is also a great place to get lost to get far away from the tourists.

In my second visit there, I actually flew from the U.S. direct to Venice.  And that gave me this incredible bird’s eye view of my destination from my window seat.  Forget jet lag, this sight can restore anyone’s energy!Venice, Venezia, Italy, Italia, landing, airport, travel, photo

Photo of the Week: Two Sides of the Coin

While visiting St. John Lateran in Rome, Italy, I ran into a group of tourists posing in front of the basilica (it is one of the four main basilicas in Rome, along with St. Peter, Santa Maria Maggiore and St. Paul Outside the Walls; however, it is the oldest and actually has the highest rank of the four).  Could not resist to capture -and share- the two sides of the “coin” I ran into…St. John Lateran, Rome, Italia, Italy, Roma, tourist group, photo, Canon EOS RebelSt. John Lateran, Rome, Italia, Italy, Roma, tourist group, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The Timeless Capitals: Rome, Athens, Cairo

I have traveled to a good bunch of countries and hope to add more over time.  Most of the time, that means I have visited their capital cities even if briefly.  Rare is the case where I have not visited a capital city of a country I have been to.  Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic come to mind.  Tanzania does too, now that I think about it, since Dodoma -not Dar es Salaam- is its capital.  I thought it would be cool to do a series of the capitals I have visited…  Let’s start with the timeless!

The timeless capital cities

One cannot argue that there are cities that are timeless.  Many are not capital cities.  But as the theme is capital cities, I will pick three that are timeless fully aware that I am stating the obvious given the choices:  Rome, Athens, and Cairo.

Just thinking about the “youngest” one of these goes back a couple of thousands of years.  Mind boggling.  )Of course, there are much younger capital cities that I could call timeless too.)  Going to any of these can be daunting with all the possibilities to explore the ancient, the old, and the recent (say, last 200 hundred years??).

Athenas – Atenas – Athina

Athens may be the easiest to navigate in terms of this but it still requires time to learn all about it.  It also merits exploring the “recent” not just the old or ancient.  In any of these cities, one can get stuck just on the archeology or history “touring” and miss the vibrant cities they are now, their history notwithstanding.

Acropolis, Athens. modern Athens, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The modern outskirts of Athens towards Piraeus

Acropolis, Athens. modern Athens, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

A juxtaposition of modern Athens and old Athens

Rome – Roma

Rome has such depth that one could just focus on the Roman Empire period, or just the food, or just the Catholic, or just the modern life – and spend weeks on any of the topics.  A first visit to Rome can really consume one in the key sights to be seen – and that is OK, no reason to stress about it.  But either carve out time for, or plan to return for, diving in to the other experiences.  And don’t worry, Rome is eternal so it will all still be around for your next visit!

Pantheon, Rome, Italy, Panteon, Roma, architecture, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

The old: Pantheon

food, carbonara, Italian food, Rome, Italy,  food porn, Olympus

The food: Carbonara – my favorite dish to have in Rome!

Olympus, St. Peter's at night, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, architecture, night time

The Catholic: St. Peter’s Square at night

Tourist, Pantheon, Rome, Italy, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

The visitor: Is this a Roman look-alike soaking in the incredible Pantheon?

Cairo – El Cairo – La Caire – Al-Qaherah – القاهرة‎

About Cairo, what I can safely state is that it is one complex city!  For someone not used to large cities in countries where one doesn’t speak the language or one is not familiar with the culture, it can be overwhelming.  I felt that way on my first day there during my first visit.  And then you start walking around, sensing the vibe, having contact with the friendly locals, and the city opens up differently than expected.  Yes, there are key sights to be seen – the “musts,” but in Cairo, as in other places, the best part is the “experiencing,” not just the touring (I am not an anti-touring snob, just a proponent of experiencing!).  I believe it totally change what Cairo is in our minds to become more immersed (to the extent one can in a one week visit…).

Pyramids, Cheops, Giza, Cairo, Egypt, travel, architecture, ancient Egypt

The “musts”: The Giza pyramids

Cairo, Le Caire, Egypt, shisha pipe, hookah, chilling, experience, travel, photo

The “experiences”: At the Grand Bazaar


These cities are timeless for their longevity and history yet they could also be grouped into other categories in this series.  I preferred placing them in the timeless group as they serve witness to the development of civilization, to the evolution of how we humans operate, and to the great achievements of the past while yet being alive in this modern world – not just being city-museums.  So go and explore these timeless capitals!

tourists, Italy, Canon EOS Rebel, baby carrier

Tourists enjoying a timeless capital: Rome!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these cities if you have visited – or how you envision them if you have not!

Photo of the Week – A Church on Rome’s Tiber Island

Last year during my one week in Rome, I did the usual when in cities as incredible as eternal Rome:  walk, walk, and walk.  Sometimes with a clear objective, sometimes just meandering and seeing what the walking will uncover.  On this gray day, we found ourselves crossing the Ponte Cestio into Tiber Island as we aimed generally speaking for the Trastevere district (south of The Vatican) where we knew we would find awesome food (and sure did!).
On Tiber Island we walked past the Basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola (St. Bartholomew of the Island).  The tower on the back dates from the 12th century, its current facade and the overall church were reconstructed in 1624 after many decades (and likely centuries) of damage, wear, and tear, as any old respectable structure may be allow to suffer from…  But the original church dated from the 10th century!

In any case, the gray skies made for a phenomenal backdrop and contrast to the basilica making it a favorite pic of mine!

San Bartolomeo, St. Bartholomew, Tiber Island, Rome, Italy, Roma, basilica, church, ponte cestio, ponte cistio, photo, travel, Olympus, religion

The Highlights of Food and Wine in 2012. Mostly Food.

2012 will be remembered by me for many reasons.  Certainly the travel I did in 2012 ranks up there as do the many fun memories with family and friends.  But another memorable aspect of 2012 will be the food and wine!  Here is a small tour of the most memorable ones… mostly food…

BBQ anyone?

At Salt Lick, outside of Austin, Texas, the year started with some phenomenal BBQ!

Salt Lick BBQ in Texas

Wine, wine, wine

A few wine tastings with friends and some touring allowed me to cover a lot of ground here!  Virginia and Moldova stand out as unexpected wine places for me.  While I was not able to bring a lot of wine from Moldova, Virginia was a different story!

WIne from Virginia's wineries: Pollock, Cardinal Point, Barboursville, King, Veritas

All but one of the bottles I bought in VA!  The state can thank me later.

Deliciousness from Moldavia

As far as I understand, northeastern Romania and Moldova are known as Moldavia.  The region was an independent/autonomous state between the 14th century and the 19th.  I could see quite a few similarities between the two modern areas when I visited Iasi (Romania) and Moldova.  One of the similarities I saw was in the food.  My favorite dish was pork and mamaliga (a sort of polenta).  And my favorite dessert papanași (papanash; a fried pastry stuffed with jam and soft cheese).  I could eat these every day (an almost did!).

Mamaliga (polenta) and pork - typical food dish from Moldavia, Moldova, Romania

Mamaliga (polenta) and pork – typical food dish

Papanași papanash from Romania

Papanași (papanash)

A homestyle wine tasting

One of my favorite events is the quarterly wine tasting with friends.  Our Frog’s Leap wine tasting (normally, we do not focus on one winery in these tastings) was outstanding and the food was a large part of that.  After looking at the following pictures, could you disagree?

Cheese and crackers always good for a wine tasting

Cheese and crackers couldn’t be absent!

Lobster dip from Costco served in cucumbers

Lobster dip served in cucumbers

Chocolate bomb anyone?

I got to try one mean chocolate dessert at The Oval Room, across Lafayette Square from the White House (which I also got to tour this year!).  This picture  -no- no picture, can ever do this magnificent monument to desserts justice…

Chocolate S'more Bomb from The OVal Room in Washington, D.C. smore

Chocolate S’more Bomb with cookie crumble and salted caramel

Mofongo from Puerto Rico – in Tampa!

I have written about having great Cuban food in Tampa but over Thanksgiving weekend, I went for my favorite Puerto Rican dish:  mofongo with fried pork chunks!!  MMM!!!

Mofongo from Puerto Rico in Tampa, Florida

Paris, oh, Paris

Forget the fancy restaurants and all that frou-frou stuff.  Paris has awesome small “mere-et-pere” type of places with deliciousness galore.  I am lucky to be an eternal Paris visitor and past resident.  This allows me and my friends to enjoy these little-known places whenever I visit.  However, I still enjoy discovering a new unpolished jewel, like the place in Montmartre where I had this delicious potato-and-egg-topped salad (along with a mini carafe of red wine!).

Potato and egg salad in Montmartre

Of course, Paris’ chocolate houses are a must – and a tour of them should be de rigeur unless you are allergic to the stuff!  I always stop by to enjoy some of Paris’ finest chocolate crafts.

Chocolates and macarons from Paris' finest Jean-Paul Hevin

Italy.  What can I say?

No words are needed when it comes to Italy and food.  Here are some of the images from my visit there in April (discovering new and re-visiting old places).

Suppli fried rice ball from Rome, Italy

Suppli fried rice ball – mmm!!

White wine from Italy with Campo de Fiore reflected

I love how the Campo de Fiore is reflected in this glass of wine

Bucatini all'Amatriciana in Rome, Italy

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Carbonara and red wine in Rome, Italy

Carbonara rocks!!

Coffee in Rome, Italy

Coffee the AM I arrived… dropped our luggage at the apt and went out for breakfast. SO. GOOD.

Rome, Italy food:  artichoke, buffalo cheese, tomato, basil

My plate full of our appetizers on our first night in Roma

Sweets from Rome, Italy


Gelato in Rome, Italy

Sublime gelato

Year end:  always a time for food!

For Christmas eve (Nochebuena), I cook the traditional Cuban meal.  Instead of showing a beautiful serving plate or bowl with the end result, I decided to leave the end result to the imagination and show you the work in progress.  I love making my black beans and Cuban pernil!

Cooking Cuban black beans

Cooking Cuban pernil for Christmas eve (Nochebuena)

Now good food didn’t end on Nochebuena.  On our day trip to the charming southern towns of Newnan and Senoia, we had some really good southern food (always comfort food!) right at the square in Newnan.  Those sweet potatoes were outstanding!

Country fried steak, green beens and sweet potatoes - great southern food

The year ends

The year went away like the dessert from this plate – it leaves me wanting more.  What a year it was!

Empty dessert plate

A Year (or the World?) Ends… Either Way, I Travel

Well, today is the day the apocalypse was to happen.  I guess a few hours are still left so maybe I shouldn’t count my eggs just yet.  BUT, if the end did happen, guess what?  I can still blog from purgatory and you KNOW that would be an incredible travel story.  Just hope it is not one of being stuck there forever, like when I was stuck in Europe because of the Icelandic volcano (which did turn out well) or someone else’s horrible travel story.  Also, if the world did end, purgatory looks a lot like my house (and if the world did NOT end, I need to make some minor changes at home…).

So the end of anything usually calls for some reflection and be it the end of the world or the end of the year, I feel like reflecting on my very busy 2012…

A Texas tweetup in January

January saw me taking what felt like a bold step – to travel somewhere to meet people I met online.  At first that has an almost dirty sound to it, doesn’t it?  But I had been talking on Twitter with these three folks for many months and they were clearly people I would enjoy meeting in person and exploring with.  So off to awesome Austin, Texas for the Texas tweetup!  There I met in person @kirkcole, @L_e_a_h, and @LolaDiMarco.  Unfortunately, a severe cold hit me on the day I traveled so I was not able to partake in all the activities but enjoyed a good day’s worth of laughing and eating in Austin!

Photo of people reflected in the fender of a car

Can you find the Austin tweetup fab 5 in the picture?

Normal in February – and other months

Traveling to DC for work permeates every month this year so my normal continued in February.  Recovered from the Austin tweetup and post-Christmas parties in January, February was time to relax and be home (or in DC). Over the year, I got to check new things in DC that I had not explored yet in the last year.  Doing the White House tour was a long-time bucket list item that I finally made happen.  I continued exploring and enjoying many of the DC’s finest hotels like The Mayflower, the Sofitel Lafayette, and the Renaissance on 9th St.  DC is a wonderful town if you get out and explore.  Its many beautiful brownstones and local eateries are a joy to explore.

March Madness:  Mile High Skiing

The traveling continued in March – this time a great ski trip with dear friends to Vail and Breckendridge, two places I had been dying to try for many years.  The trip did not disappoint and neither did my skiing, not having skied since Valle Nevado, Chile in the Andes in 2010.  Vail and Breck WILL be in a future ski trip for me, I can tell.  The bowls of Vail where incredible:  one bowl, then another one behind it, then another.  It seemed to never end!

Statue of skier in Vail, Colorado

How thoughtful! Vail had a statue of me at the base of one of the slopes!

Amicci en Italia and diving into eastern Europe in April

April finally brought about the “long”-planned trip to Italy with two sets of great friends.  Though mainly focused on Rome (a city I love re-visiting), a side trip to finally see Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast was built into the itinerary.  It did not disappoint, especially our guide in Pompeii, one of the preeminent experts on Pompeii!.

But I took advantage of being on the other side of the pond to add another iconic destination I had never explored:  Dubrovnik, Croatia.  Its tiled roofs and architecture combined with the natural setting of its location made it a magical place for me.  Of course, ever eager to see more, I decided to get further into eastern Europe while in Dubrovnik by doing day trips into Bosnia & Herzegovina (Mostar) and into the beautiful mountains and bays of Montenegro!  These day trips were short, obviously, but they definitely opened the appetite to see more of these countries and this part of Europe.

View from up high of Kotor Bay in Montenegro

One of the ridges that divides Kotor Bay into 2 bays in Montenegro

Re-charging, re-connecting, and exploring Chicago

May saw a second tweetup, this time in the Windy City since we were eager to connect with other travel bloggers we had been chatting with for awhile.  The Windy City tweetup had a little bit of everything:  from French goodness (courtesy of the Sofitel Water Tower), Charlie’s Angels, boat tour, fallen traffic lights (not our fault!), doughnuts, cold coffee, good food, drinks (repeat), and the mob.  It was a very fun weekend indeed meeting @workmomtravels, @travelingted, @jettingaround, and @elatlboy in person.

Posing in front of the Bean in Chicago at Millenium Park

Being tourists at The Bean

More fun with fellow travelers and good learnings

In June, TBEX, a travel bloggers conference, held its North America conference in Keystone, Colorado (very close to Breckenridge where I’d just been 3 months before; who knew I would be returning to the area so soon!).  Besides the interesting learnings, the reception at the mountaintop on Friday night and the ensuing party at the pub at base (free!) really made the weekend a lot of fun and a good time to meet others who share the travel bug and re-connect with others.  Among the great folks I met (too many to list all!):  @BlBrtravel, @stayadventurous, @captainandclark, @lazytravelers, @budgettravelsac, and @travelrinserept.

A trek with a purpose in Romania and a true relic of the USSR

Romania had been a mysterious place that I had always dreamed of seeing.  Not because I knew I would love it but it just called to me.  A wonderful opportunity came my way to do a hike in the Transylvanian Alps with Trekking for Kids, a non-profit seeking to bring improved lives to orphaned/at-risk children around the world.  We worked with the orphanage and just “were” with the kids before and after a hike through some beautiful landscapes around Brasov – we even saw castles other than Dracula’s!  An experience I will never forget every which way, including it was my first multi-day hike ever!

Sphinx-like rock in the Bucegi Mountains near Omu Peak, Romania

Who knew there was a Sphinx atop the Transylvanian Alps (near Omu Peak)??

Since I was headed that way, I decided Romania (more precisely, the town of Iasi, Romania’s cultural capital) would be a great springboard to explore Moldova.  So with my great guide, I explored churches, monasteries, towns (including the capital, Chisinau), and wineries in this little known former Soviet socialist republic still working to undo decades of horrible communist dictatorship.  I am SO glad I made the time for this unpolished gem at the edge of eastern Europe!

The trip ended with a one-day, two-night in awesome Paris, my home away from home in Europe.  Always love re-visiting my favorite areas and still finding new things to enjoy!

Time with Family in Tampa on my sister’s birthday in August

August also included a trip to Tampa where my family lives – always good to be with them, and enjoy good Cuban food and TLC!  I had just been there in June (when I visited the impressively set-up Dali museum) but my Mom turned 70 while I was in Romania and my sister was hitting a milestone birthday of her own in August so I just HAD to go and celebrate with them!

Rest in September

In September, I took a break from travel.  Well, non-business travel… But read on, the year of travel is not over!

Architecture and Wine:  Tuscany or Bordeaux, you say?  No, Virginia in October!

I finally succumbed to friends’ suggestion that I explore Virginia wine country with them.  I had been wanting to do this for a long time but other travel got in the way.  I took advantage of being in the DC area for work to go ahead and spend a weekend with them in wine country.  And got out RIGHT BEFORE Sandy passed by!  As you can read in my writings about this central part of Virginia, Monticello, Charlottesville and the countryside are filled with early colonial history and architecture as well as delicious wines.  And there are close to 200 other wineries in the state to be found and explored!  I was glad to have this opportunity to see more of my own country and other places will be in my sights in 2013 (like Michigan and Wisconsin thanks to friends from Chicago who write about these places!).

Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day

Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day

OK, now I rest ‘xcept for Thanksgiving in November

So, my fun travels wrap up for the year save for visiting family again in Tampa where I discover yet another new place for good Cuban food!  Someone STOP the madness! 🙂

I reflect back on the year and I am amazed at how much I have been able to see of places I have always wanted to see.  And this is setting aside the twenty-something weeks of work travel to DC!   The bucket list shrinks and yet I add new places I learn about.  I consider THAT my most important key performance indicator – a never-ending travel bucket list!

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and the best in 2013 for you and yours!

Photo of the Week – Entrance to the Ill-Fated Town of Pompeii

Pompeii was a normal town in ancient Rome.  Lots of good business due to its place by the sea on the way to Rome.  Fast and fun place for the sailors who enjoyed the pleasures it offered.  Until that fateful day that destroyed the town and created history…

As I entered Pompeii from where the old shoreline used to be (it’s further away now) and walked up the ramp, I wondered how many people had been running down this main entrance to the city, hoping to make it to a boat, hoping to save their lives on that day…

The path leading into the town of Pompeii, Italy from the shoreline

Photo of the Week – A Beer Goes to Rome

I came to Rome in a barrel.  Ready to see the eternal city.  It was dark all the way.  I was in good company.   Then we felt a tapping sound.  Just twice.  Then it went quiet.  A day later, I felt pulled away.  I saw light!!!  I decided to sit and bask in the light.  Since I was in Rome, I HAD to have my picture taken.  Hope I looked alright after all that travel.  I didn’t feel refreshed but I felt refreshing, if that makes sense.

A glass of beer, a Peroni, in Rome's Campo de Fiore


(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)

Rome Is to Be Enjoyed – 2 Sites That I Did

Rome has an endless amount of sights to see, places to visit, and walks to take – it is near impossible, lest you are a travel guide company, to document all that there is to see and almost just as impossible to cover all the ground.  At least not when part of your goals for the trip are to chill some as well.  That was me. Here are two places I enjoyed in Rome:  a mix of must-sees and places where I just sat and relaxed.  Hopefully, this will give you ideas or validate what you have read in the travel guide!

Do you have places in Rome that you like to and relax in?  Please share!

Campo de Fiore

I had not seen the Campo de Fiore (field of flowers) before.  It was not as great a piazza as I expected but it certainly allowed for two of my favorite things when I am in Europe:  sitting in an outdoor café sipping my favorite beverage (house red wine in this case) and watching life go by (read:  people watching).  The flower and other stands were mostly still there though they began coming down as we were there.  The buildings in the piazza and the surrounding streets definitely had character and a walkabout the area is well worth it.

Campo de Fiore, Rome, Italy

The crowds taking in the sun & sights

Campo de Fiore, Rome, Italy - a lonely flower

A table waiting for users and a rose waiting for admirers…

A basket of bread in a café at the Campo de Fiore in Rome, Italy

Bread waiting for its consumers…

Kiosk in the market at Campo de Fiore in Rome, Italy (Field of Flowers)

Some of the goods in the stands

It was at Campo de Fiore where I met the golden beer who told its story

The Trastevere Area

This part of town, across the Tiber from old Rome, as the name suggests, is trendy, charming, and chock-full of places to eat, drink, and walk around.  The southern part of it has some really neat alleys and buildings.  We ate at a place called Caccio e Pepe in a pedestrian part of the area (  We called ahead since there were 6 of us and our table was ready and waiting.  We enjoyed the food and the casual atmosphere of the Osteria.  The Trastevere also has a couple of churches worth visiting.

Crossing the Tiber on the Ponte Cestio in Rome, Italy

Crossing the Tiber on the Ponte Cestio

Doorway in the Trastevere in Rome, Italy

Doorway in the Trastevere

Typical alley in the Trastevere in Rome, Italy

Typical alley in the Trastevere

Santa Cecilia in the Trastevere in Rome, Italy

Santa Cecilia in the Trastevere, a very old church in Rome!

Of course, this walk around the Trastevere ended up in food… There is always good food in Rome to be found whether on your own or with a food tour!

(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)

A Foodie Tour in the Testaccio Neighborhood in Rome

In Rome, once again, we enjoyed Italian cuisine (carbonara, mi amore!), wine, gelato, architecture, history, and watching people (tourists and locals alike).  It seems like those are reason ENOUGH to go to Roma!  Nothing like Rome to appreciate cultural diversity and food delights!

When I travel with friends, I don’t just travel with anyone.  I travel with folks who love wine, food, exploring, and chilling – like me.  One of my friend’s is a personal chef and she and her husband are big foodies (and so will be their baby one day!).  Before the trip, they looked for opportunities to sample food beyond lunch/dinner.  They found an awesome food tour in the Testaccio area of Rome, an area I had not explored or had even heard of before.  The tour is organized by Eating Italy Food Tours, founded by a native from Philly.  Domenico, also from Philly, was our tour guide that day and he was definitely the right guy to show us around!  (Check them out at .)

We arrived to the Testaccio area after passing a pyramid by a cemetery.  Rome’s city walls seem to have been built around it.  I had no idea there was a pyramid in Rome!  It is called the Pyramid of Cestius as it was built as a tomb for a guy with that name.  What was incredible to me is that it was built 10-20 yrs BEFORE Christ.  It is incredible!

A pyramid in Rome, Italy

The food tour took us to the cemetery on the side of the pyramid which used to be where foreigners were interred in Rome in the not so distant past.  It is referred to as the Protestants’ or the Englishmen’s cemetery.  One of its most famous “eternal residents” is the poet Keats who died very young (I did learn something, see??).  You must be wondering when am I getting to the food.  So am I.  So let me get back on track.

Rome Testaccio food tour

The route and targets of the tour

We started at the old local market which is marked for demolition in the very near future as they have built a brand new place for these folks.  Sounded wonderful until our tour guide told us the vendors’ rent will be doubled which will likely put a few of them out of business.  Yes, the old market wasn’t a beacon of perfection but it definitely had charm!  Among the things we sampled was real mozzarella di bufala made by a lady named Lina – now I know how real mozzarella di bufala is supposed to taste like!!  Here are some of the sights at the market:

Food market at the Testaccio

This fish guy has been there for decades and his son and grandson now work with him.

Food market at the Testaccio

Whose legs are those? It’s rude to put your feet out the window!

Cheese, eggs and wine at the food market at the Testaccio

All sorts of goodness! (Where’s the chocolate??)

Horse meat at the food market at the Testaccio

Carne Equina – an interesting stand…

After the local market, we meandered towards Volpetti which, as soon as I saw the sign, I recognized from an Anthony Bourdain episode I had recently watched!  Volpetti is this piece of heaven on Via Marmorata, near the Pyramid.  All sorts of cheeses, balsamic vinergars, cured and dried meats like prosciutto, etc.  We got to sample (as we did everywhere in this tour) and my favorite was the San Daniele prosciutto (vs. Parma prosciutto – which was still good!).  The San Daniele had a certain tinge of sweetness that I enjoyed.  Needless to say, we loaded up on some goodies for that evening’s dinner (we decided there were too many good things not to devote one dinner in the apartment to them!).  Prosciutto is worth reading about and sampling – here is a quick overview of this delicious piece of ham:  An another that covers the difference between pancetta (bacon) and prosciutto (ham):

Prosciutto at Volpetti in Rome

Goodness at Volpetti

Right after Volpetti and further down Marmorata, we stopped at Barberini’s were the pastries all were calling my name, winking at me.  Not being a cultural chauvinist, I understood they were tempting me.  Of course I accepted the morsels we were given to sample including tiramisu in a tiny cup made of chocolate (modeled here by my friend Chris):

Food market at the Testaccio

A nice array of pastries at Barberini

On our way to further destinations in the tour, we passed a hill called Monte Testaccio.  If you don’t know any better, you walk right past it.  It has vegetation and was behind a fence when we hit upon it.  However, our tour guide stopped to tell us about it.  Folks, it is not a real hill that mother nature (or Mother Nature, lest lightning strike me) created.  In the old days, and I mean, the OLD days, people used amphoras to store and carry things.  However, when they were used for olive oil, the amphoras were not really re-usable for long.  So, they would break them up and pile them on what became a hill over time.  Vegetation grew and the hill – someone discovered – would offer in its innards a great place to store wine at the perfect temperature!  So in old days (not OLD days), small caves were built for this purpose.  It no longer seems to be used for this but remains a great witness to how the old Romans did things.  The area has become trendy with nightclubs while still hosting traditional trades like butchers.

After a little meandering, we next came to 00100 Pizza where we were in for a real treat:  suppli – a cheesy fried rice ball that was a foodie’s dream.

Suppli from our food tour at the Testaccio


As our mouths continued to water, we made it to the place, Da Bucatino, where we would have a traditional Italian lunch centered around bucatini, a thick and hollow spaghetti-like pasta (not common here in the States) in amatriciana sauce (my favorite red sauce).  I did my best to clean the plate though all the sampling along the way was competing for space in my stomach!

Finally, after the day of sampling great cheeses, meats, pasta, and the like we ended up at a neighborhood gelato place called Giolitti. It has been there since the early 20th century.  A place where the gelato and the panna are all homemade – true artisans!  What a difference a homemade makes.

So, a little more off the beaten path than the Rome that most tourists see (including me in my first 2 trips there), yet a stone’s throw away from all those places, the Testaccio area offers not only great food but a different scene with history and charm to along with it.  Don’t miss it next time in Rome!

Other things I enjoyed in Rome:

What other lesser known areas of Rome have you seen and would you recommend them to others?

(Photos taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)

%d bloggers like this: