(BUS)ted in Rome

8 Jul

Pope Papa Francesco bus ticket Rome


I can’t justify my actions. No matter how I try to find excuses, they need not apply.

You see, I got busted  ‘freeloading’ on the bus in Rome. Not the greatest sin in the world (but a stupid one nonetheless- thanks mum!) 

I will, however, attempt to provide some excuses:

1. Having to buy tickets from newspaper stands (that are never around when you are in a rush) rather than ‘beep’ my pre-loaded oyster card is a hinder.

2. Never carrying cash on me (my deterrent for Rome’s residents with sticky fingers) to pay for said ticket is a factor.

3. The fact that I now consider myself to be your average Gianni (who seems to spend ticket money on espresso because ‘É la crisi’ (the slogan that rolls off every italians tongue in need of an excuse). 

4. Like the notorious characters of many ancient myths circling this historic city, bus ticket inspectors are often spoken of (and feared) but never in a million years are they seen. 

Ticket inspecting looms above every ‘freeloader’s’ head as they bump along via del Corso- sandwiched in sweat- but, being caught is treated like a tragic disease (something they hear about but never imagine happen to them). 

My fatal flaw was taking the empty seat near a window and putting ‘Vasco Rossi’ (#ageditalianrocker)on my ipod- extra loud.  

Like a gazelle stalked by lions, I didn’t stand a chance.

As we pulled into Largo Argentina, I felt a sharp tap on my wrist. I looked up and there was my young (good-looking) italian nemesis. My expression wore my guilt.

I put on my best ‘foreigner in Rome’ routine, but he wasn’t buying it. Nor was I.

After indicating to a sign and gesticulating that a 250 euro fine was due. He dragged me off the bus into his lair of bus inspectors.

*Thick roman accent* “Ah, you must pay 250 euros now..Okay?” 

” I don’t have any money. It’s a public holiday, I thought buses were free.” *cringe at my embarrassing excuse of an excuse*

“You must give me you are card of identitia” *snatches card from hand* (now I know I won’t get away- bugger!)

“I don’t have any money I already told you. I’m visiting Sister Gabriele…… from London.” (I went for the religious reference- failed- then switched to the London reference as italians LOVE London (I usually get: ” Ah you know Fabric? I love that to dance at Fabric”)- failed. Bugger!)

“Okay…so, lady, you come with us to police station. Luca, Luca,(name changed) vieni qua!” *calls over slimy, young co -worker with a pot of grease in his hair and white armani sunglasses, chewing gum erratically, nice cheesy white smile (veneers?)*

My new chaperones decided to parade me around Campo de Fiori for 20 minutes ‘on the way to the police station’, clutching my id card; their trophy, stopping to chat to ‘Gianni’ and ‘Alfredo’ (with me poised in the background as some desperate groupie) and making loud references to POLICE STATION (scare tactic). 

Eventually, I told them I’d pay the fine….. But they had to bring the price down. I figured this would be the same as every italian transaction and there would be some bargaining (and dramatic gestures) involved. 

I dragged them to a cash point. “How much?”

After a brief consultation session, my captors came back. ” 50 euros”

“Fair enough”.

I withdrew the amount and went to hand it to him….but just as I did…I smiled and said: “Scontrino” (receipt)

His face flashed green, then white, then red. “Ummmm, ah look signora, we do a deal. No problems for us, no problems for you.”

Ah, we’re going to do this ‘the italian way’, I see!

“Ok, then. 20!”

“Okay…fine…Mamma mia, questi stranieri!” *dramatic sigh*

I gave him my 20 euro ticket to freedom and he tucked it into his shirt pocket. I took the opportunity to leg it.

“Wait, lady, your ticket!”  

Top Five Things To Do In Rome

24 Apr

Visitors to Rome often ask me what my top five things to do in the Eternal City are. Honestly, there are so many things to do and see that I can never choose. However, what I can certainly give them are things they definitely, absolutely must NOT do.

1. Don’t Stand In The Way

gelato rome italy issues what not to do

Great place to have a gelato

Rome may no longer be the capital of the world (to quote the Lonely Planet), but it is still one of the most historically packed cities….so get out-of-the-way, as some of us are not here to lick gelato’s in the middle of the pavement or stare gormlessly at city maps in the middle of busy piazzas with-mouths-agape. Seriously, move it Gianni. We know, because you’re on holiday you think the whole city cares about you and you are the only tourist that exists in Rome – well, you aren’t and no one does (sorry to kill your Disney tale with a little dose of reality). So move it e sbrigati! Via! *italian arm gesture*

PS. And don’t ask for directions. After helping 20 morons (they must be, because the maps are like children’s books) it becomes a game and I know a few people who purposely send tourists in the wrong direction. Or in a nice roman loop. Or pretend not to speak English and use dramatic arm gestures and a dodgy italian accent.

2. Don’t Be That Sore Thumb (With A ‘Fanny Pack’)

Tourists rome map Santa Maria Maggiore

Oh no…here they come!

Firstly, don’t take those terrible hop-on/hop-off buses. Rome’s ancient buildings are crumbling before our very eyes- especially in such a laid back country that thinks the word PRESERVE is either something sexual or something you do to salami (maybe both in some cases!). Plus, you add to the already congested roads. Rome is the best city in the world for walking; there’s always something to see within a small proximity. Take advantage. 

Secondly, we have an issue with pick pockets. So don’t wear your little tour shirts or caps or ‘knapsacks’ with pride (and say words like ‘awesome’ and ‘oh my god’ loudly if you’re american), because that sh*t is a beacon of hope for these people. Honestly.

Thirdly, the public transport is a mess in this city. It’s not an amusement toy for you to play on and try out for a laugh. Some of us have places to go and people to see…and you’re not funny #justsayin’ PS. If we have our headphones in (like most of the drivers do) *whispers* that’s a sign for you not to disturb us. 

3.Don’t Buy Roses/Umbrellas/Sh*t From The Annoying Street Sellers

harrassment rome italy vendors indian man

You know why?? Because they become more annoying. And suddenly, it’s not just roses anymore. Oh no! It’s cuddly, mechanical toys and squishy pigs and those helicopter, flyy things with bright, flashy lights that hit you on the head randomly in Piazza Navona.

I won’t even mention the fact that most of them are illegal immigrants, oh, and the ‘possible’ ties to the Mafia. Oh, did you think the Mafia only dealt in hard cash, drugs and prostitution… oh no my dear reader, they do squishy pigs too!

4. Avoid Restaurants With Food Signs 

Indian Italian restaurant Rome

Italian? No…Indian? No…Pizzeria? 

I say it all the time…and I’ll say it again. If the restaurant has to show you what it’s going to serve you, it’s best to walk away while you still can (before the owner’s got you by the arm and orders that bottle of ‘house wine’). The stuff they serve you won’t classify as food, but the house wine will classify as nuclear weapon fuel (if you need that). 

But….don’t ask me where you should go. I’m not going to tell you about my local trattoria because you’ll tell someone else and, before I know it, it’ll be on tripadvisor and then they’ll put the prices up due to the influx of American fatcats….and then I’ll have to sit next to them and they’ll want to tell me all about their ‘eye-talian experience, man, cos I love this city’… why do Americans always do that? Every meal is like a meet-and-greet!

Honestly, I had to sit next to this awful tourist trash couple the other night (yes, I’ve coined a name for them. Don’t get me wrong, I have wonderful American friends here but they tend to be from cool places like New York or L.A and don’t talk about their ‘firearms’). Now I didn’t know this man from Adam. He sputtered at me (from across the restaurant), ‘Haw old r yeew?’…’eeeerrmm, over the age of 25′ was my response (cheeky f***er) …’ Well, then you’re too old for Berlusconi, bwahahahahaha!’….*blank stare* ‘Alllllll-righty then’. 

Pizzeria Rome Italy authentic

5. Keep Your Absurdities To Yourself (You Are Not A Tour Guide)

Honestly, the amount of nonsensical historical ‘facts’ I have heard  coming out tourists’ mouths, and this is only from the English speakers, would be enough to power Berlusconi’s (lower) wig dryer. 

An (expat?) american to a tour group: ‘The Piazza di Spagna is called the Piazza di Spagna because so many Spanish people live near the Spanish steps’ #saywhat?

Overheard in a bar: ‘Oh, are you going to the Lazio football game tomorrow? Yes, which stadium are they playing in?..At the Colosseum.’ *double take* #whatthecazzo

A ‘genius’ (or fantasist): ‘Piazza Venezia was built by Berlusconi’ #duringthebungabungaera

Shocked tourist on bus: ‘I spoke English to him and he didn’t understand a word!!’ #cantbeattheoldcolonialists

I could go on…. but I wouldn’t want to annoy you, now would I?

Thank you for visiting Rome…please come back soon *through gritted teeth*

Good Bio Bugs (And Bad Botswana Bugs)

30 Jan

I found a huge caterpillar in my cabbage the other day. After getting over the screaming fit that proceeded, I couldn’t stop smiling.

First, I need to exlain the screaming fit because I can hear everyone (and my mum) reminding me that  I was brought up in Africa and lived on everything that squirmed. I rememeber picking termites off a tree when I was 12 to eat for energy before running 5km BAREFOOT. I was a real African child. 

Anyway, I was once standing behind the bar at a party in the middle-of-nowhere town that I lived in and I felt something climbing up my leg, tickling me as it went.

I was 16 years old and, with all the hormonally intoxicated 16 year old boys running around at the time, didn’t think anything of it. Someone may have had one too many smirnoff ices.

Whatever it was kept moving up my leg and I looked down, only to see the biggest centipede ever! I screamed and jumped, and it jumped. We both landed back on the ground and it ran away. I am still scarred from this event (it probably is too). 

Now, the reason I smiled was because, after living in London for 10 years and not being able to buy fresh fruit and veg ( Yes, I mean fresh, because Tesco apples that remain unripe for 3 weeks and never go off don’t count), I have finally found a great bio market down my road. 

 Organic shop cafe Italy

Mia Market sells seasonal, organic and local produce that is fresh and tasty (and they contain bugs- the nice kind- which means that there have been no harmful chemicals sprayed on them). 

The best thing about the ‘market’ is that it is very well priced for organic produce. I was never able to ‘go organic’ in London, or I’d have to sell my body (like a few of my neighbours do now (#seepreviouspost), though I doubt it’s to buy organic produce.)

italian food vegetables

The shop is also a little cafe and offers lovely, healthy lunches and snacks, offering all that stuff that everyone tells you to eat, but you never have time to cook. You just choose what you want, they weigh it and warm it for you. 

Italy biological food slow food

Along with other organic produce (including wine), Mia Market also has fresh cakes, tarts and quiches, as well as lovely eggs from happy chickens. It is also a great place to relax and have an organic cup of tea if you’re in the area (and want to feel like a happy chicken).

slow food italy

Located on Via Panisperna 225, Monti. To find out opening hours, call them on 06 4782461. Check out the blog: http://miamarket.blogspot.it/


Getting To Know Monti’s Locals

26 Jan

ImageWell, we’ve moved neighbourhoods and we now find overselves residing in the ‘hip’ side of town (apparently). In Monti- translates as mountains.

Formerly known as the ancient city’s brothel area, and it seems things haven’t changed in that department. The local eastern european working girls sit on their scooters on the side of the main road and it is only at second glance you realise that they aren’t waiting for their nonna’s in the hairdresser opposite.

I’ve been told their mother started the family business and it has been passed down (as any traditional trade is in Italy) to her daughters, who stand around with their faces caked in makeup and negotiating prices with passersby.

Around the time when we had just moved and had no internet (for two months- that’s Italia!) I would pass one of the girls every morning on my way to the internet cafe.

I hadn’t realised who, or should I say what, she was yet, as she’d sit on her scooter most of the time and I had imagined she was waiting for someone she knew. Plus, even if I had known, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta (you get the point)…..

Anyway, she had one a lovely pair of flat leather boots, so I walked over to her and asked her where she’d bought them.

To say she nearly fell off her bike was an understatement! Obviously, she wasn’t used to getting friendly with the neighbours. Either that or she thought I was taking the piss. When she realised I wasn’t, she gave me the directions.

After our little encounter, I assumed I must have broken the ice and considering we are sharing the same neighbourhood, albeit in a diifferent manner, I thought we’d be aquinated.

Plus, I’m all for girl power and probably hate men as much as she does, so the next time I walked passed her I said ‘Ciao, come stai?’. She looked at me with an icy face as if I were last piece of proscuitto on the aperitvo plate and said: ‘Lascami stare!’ (Leave me alone). 

It was near the first anniversary of my move to Rome and I was being accused of harrassing (mental picture of myself as a rampant Italian teenage boy) the local brass flute (cockney rhyming slang)! Let’s not even mention the fact that she’s made her ‘office’ my doorstep, and I never had any say in the matter.

So how did I respond? Well, I laughed and remembered what I have learnt living in this country (and how you can only respond to its craziness with three words before you carry on as ‘normal’). As the old expat motto goes: …Only in Italy!

Monti’s Golden Lunch Gem

3 Oct

Where to eat in Rome

While Italy is famous for its food, finding somewhere good to eat in the country’s capital is quite a feat.

In fact, eating badly in Rome is very easy to do. 

Many restaurants feed on the tourist trail and are more concerned with getting your money, serving you an excuse of a plate of pasta and hoping to never see you again. 

A friend’s boyfriend, who works in a restaurant in central Rome, tells some ghastly tales of mouldy, week-old ragu being used for fresh pastas, house wine being sold as expensive stuff and pests in the kitchen (and I’m not talking about the chefs). Every diner’s nightmare!

 As for finding authentic italian chefs/cooks (think fat, old italian mamma in the kitchen using her old mamma’s cookbooks) is a fantasy that has long been extinct. Most of the kitchens in Rome tend to use Sri-Lankans, Bangladeshis or other immigrants that will work for peanuts (and usually don’t hold a certificate in ‘elf & safety). 

There are the hidden rules taught to me by R- avoid anywhere with pictures or photos of food displayed outside, don’t EVER go anywhere with a ‘Menu Turistico’ (no matter how good the deal sounds), always have gnocchi on a Thursday, and never order fish on a Monday (fishermen never go fishing on a Sunday, so it will be old).

With all of this in mind, there is immense pressure to find ‘a keeper’ and become ‘a regular’. And, lo and behold, I’ve managed to do that-I’ve (literally) found my golden donkey! 

eating well in italy

L’Asino D’Oro is ideally located on Via Del Boschetto in the Monti area (minutes from the Colosseum), and is run by Lucio Sforza- as intriguing and distinctive in character as he is in the kitchen. And here, you are guaranteed to taste italian food at its best.

There is no old mamma in the kitchen, but if you’re looking for her, she’ll probably be at the table next to yours

italian chef rome restaurants where to eat 

Since leaving London, I have struggled to find the deals I once thrived on from TopTable, but in this little Roman gem, lunch is a mere  12 euros for 3 courses with bread, a bottle of water and a lovely glass of vino. For the quality of the food, the lunch deal is a steal.

The menu changes daily and the food is always fresh, inventive and surprising. Surprising, in a sense that often things I don’t usually like are served in a way that I find delicious.

Apart from the heart warming dishes (think piping hot, spiced pumpkin soup; rich, chunky meat balls served in a bitter chocolate sauce, souffle-like tortino packed with fresh chicory and riccotta, and rustic, hearty lasagna with a fresh fish sauce),the other highlight of the place is the waiting staff. 

Stefano, with his handle bar moustache, heads the front of house and, though stern and no-nonsense in attitude, will have you feeling like an old friend in no time.

With a golden opportunity to taste italian fare at its best, if you don’t take this one, the only donkey is you! 

where to eat in rome italian food Lucio Sforza

L’Asino D’Oro is also open for dinner (only a la carte), featuring more gamey meats and twists on the traditional italian style. 

Booking is essential (06 489 138 32) and they only accept cash at lunchtime. 

Lost In Vacation

19 Sep

summer holidays capri campagna

Everyone needs a break….and I truly believe no-one understands this better than the Meds.

I was once told by an annoyingly, over-productive colleague (we all have them*sigh*) that the reason “Spain and Italy were going under”  was due to the fact that they  “take siestas every afternoon and two months holiday a year”. To which my response at the time should have been, ‘Hmm, it sounds to me like someone has the right idea about all this’.

This was the first year that I really experienced the Italian summer holiday and all I can say is, next summer can’t arrive soon enough.

Rome and most other major cities in Italy shut down for the WHOLE of August with the shops putting up their ‘chiuso per ferie’ signs, leaving you with no choice but to grab your bikini and head to the nearest beach. 

month of august italy wine pasta shop rome

There’s a lot you can do in 4 weeks. And after experiencing 9 years of premature summer in England, I made sure I did.

The joy you feel waking up to 30 plus degrees celsius everyday cannot be put into words (especially if you were raised in southern Africa). Add the mix of sea and complete relaxation..and the excuse that everyone else is doing it (so, you couldn’t be doing anything else- that gets rid of the guilt) and you get a sense of what it feels like. 

Despite hitting the Amalfi coast on a girls’ holiday, being ‘seen’ on the beach at Forte dei Marmi, discovering Pantelleria for a wedding, taking the family round Venice and exploring Tuscany for R’s work, I realise that I still have so much more of Italy to explore. 

But right now, it’s back to reality. I would even say I am a little relieved to be back in Rome, searching for the new flat, getting involved in the theatre, chasing up work contacts, travel writing and blogging. 

I even managed to get my Codice Fiscale (National Insurance Number) which involved going to the offices very early (they close at 12-30pm, if anyone is looking for advice like I was. Oh, and take a copy of your passport) and sitting for 2 hours until your number is called. They issue it onsite… and then you celebrate, because now you can start existing in Italy and applying for things, like bank accounts and health cards. #everythingyouveneededbutcantget! 

traditional italian food cucina italiana      pasta ragu italian cooking class rome Italy

Something that has really cheered up my summer blues is The Silver Spoon cookbook. It’s something I have wanted for a long time- a thorough, authentic italian cookbook. While we were walking in Milan, I spotted it, in english (finally) and had to have it. 

It’s the size of a small, overfed Chihuahua (you can’t fit it in your handbag), but it is the bible of italian cooking- everything is in there!

It includes all of ‘mama’s’ old time classics, along with some important italian chefs’ recipes and menus, and will keep you sweating over thinly diced onions and hot steaming pots of tripe for the rest of your life (how fun!). 

Luckily for me, R had the joy of carting this brick-of-a-book all the way from Milan to Rome.

But then again, it will be me who has to (try to) work the magic in the kitchen..

Italian cooking cusine best recipe book rome food

Tuscany’s Secret Seaside

17 Aug

italian seaside maremma italy havaianas

Though I am far from being an expert on all things Italian, I have spent a fair bit of my time getting to know the Tuscan region (particularly its wine routes *cough cough*). 

Having said that, I do consider myself to be a bit of an expert when it comes to beaches. I have been to more than a fair share of beaches in my life, enough to know what makes a good beach and what makes a bad beach.

I have laid down my beach towel on many surfaces. From volcanic rocks to pebbles to powder sand from as far away as the rugged coast of Mozambique and the paradise islands of the Maldives (with a couple of days down in Brighton (nice) and the North Sea in Newcastle (not so nice)).

I’ve even visited the beach ‘where they shot Baywatch’- cue my sister, brother and I doing ‘the Pammy Anderson run’ down the shore. So I’d like think I know a good beach when I see one!

For the best beach in Tuscany ( a question I am often asked) look no further than the Maremma Regional Park (Parco Regionale della Maremma), also known as Uccellina Park (Parco dell’Uccellina) in Grosseto.

 The clear water of the Maremma coast holds first place as the cleanest in Italy and that’s where you’ll find the stand-out beach, Marina di Alberese.

tuscan beaches sea rome

August is holiday time in Italy (yes, the whole month!), when most of the big cities shut down and the italians flock to the coast, but due to the four-mile stretch of beach, it never feels crowded here. 

The farther you walk, the fewer people you see, and the fewer clothes they are wearing.

The sea is like a natural swimming pool; translucent, pristine water laps at the golden sandy beach beckoning you to come in for a dip.

The only problem is probably the best thing the beach has going for it- it’s protected status.

This means that parking is controlled and limited. We cued for 30mins to get a space in the 2-euros-an-hour parking- it’s all done electronically (they photography your number plate and you pay on exit). NB: they don’t take debit/credit card. 

The best option is to park at the Maremma Regional Park’s main entrance (parking is 1.2o euro for the whole day), rent bikes from the rental shop there and peddle happily down the wonderful country lanes to the beach.

There are no deck chairs, sun-loungers or brollies on offer, so be sure to bring your own (many of the cyclists strap these to their backpacks, which seems to work well). 

The beach also has a charming picnic area set up for people to use, so it may be an idea to bring a picnic lunch.

Marina di Alberese is around a 90-minute drive from Pisa and Rome Fiumicino airports. 

The main coastal train line passes close by, but very few trains stop at tiny Alberese station. The beach is an hour’s walk away (jump on the bus from Alberese town for 1.20 euro or rent bikes from the Magi store in the town’s main square for the 20 minute cycle).

Italian coastline