Archive | February, 2012

Roaming In Rome

29 Feb

Rome is the most beautiful city in the world. Ask any taxi driver (actually you don’t have to, they will tell you) that ‘Roma è bella…molto, molto bella.. la più bella’.

I realise taking the average italian man’s opinion could be dangerous, but I have never lived in a place where people seem to be so passionate about their city (or take the time to tell you about it).

And the point is proved to me everyday as I walk to school. I pass through crowds of foreign tourists (following the guide’s flag, or random object on a stick, like sheep) who have travelled from every corner of the world to see this city’s famous sites.

But the more I plant my roots here, the more I realise that Rome’s real beauty is in the little things, not just the ones on their paper maps.

Catholics religion Rome Italy

Though I have been visiting the Eternal city regularly for 5 years now, I am constantly amazed to find something new lying behind a corner of the city I thought I was familiar with.

Whether I it’s an old fountain, covered in moss, hiding a beautifully carved exterior or a building I look up at and notice an ancient latin sign carved into its side that probably meant something important centuries ago.

And to see these things, you don’t need a ticket or a tour guide- do it the italian way: take a passeggiata.

passeggiata /ˌpasɛˈdʒɑːtə/ 

▶noun (pl. passeggiate /-teɪ/)(especially in Italy) a leisurely walk or stroll taken in the evening for the purpose of socializing.

– origin from Ital.

The word reference definition is not entirely correct. Italians take a passeggiata at anytime of day.

You will often see families taking a passeggiata after sunday lunch. And they don’t really socialise, just recognise that you are joining them on a silent quest (even if it is just to work off lunch).

The most important element of the passagiata is in the stroll- it has to be LEISURELY (if you’re from a city you could find this part difficult).

It is all about the experience of the walk, taking in everything around you. And if you’re like me, it will probably involve stopping off for a little apertivo at a cafe.

A lot of italians have their favoured passeggiata routes and the internet has many trails you can follow to take in the best sites.

I have incorportated some of R and my favourite things into ours (well, it’s all about the little traditions in Italy).

Despite not trying all the gelato in Rome, San Crispino’s hits the spot for me and is usually our first stop. The ice-creams are not as colourful as Nicki Minaj’s hair- a common site in Rome (the ice-creams, not Minaj’s hair).
The owner uses seasonal fruit and natural products, plus they are handmade on site.
The house special is the honey gelato, but at the moment I love the dried fig and fresh walnut. It reminds me of last summer in Venice when I had the same flavour gelato three times a day.
Sometimes we grab a panino or two to join us on our stroll.
La Sandwicheria Rome Italy panino
La Sandwicheria is based near the Trevi Fountain. Fresh, not too expensive and they’re typically italian (the sandwiches, not necessarily the staff).
La Sandwicheria Rome Italy panino
So when in Rome, forget the tourist trail and following objects on sticks. Do like the greats- Michaelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci (I’m sure they did it too)- and take a passeggiata!

My Little Swiss Gem

24 Feb

If there is one thing to add to your ‘things-to-do-before-I-die’ list, it has to be a skiing holiday. And yes, this is coming from someone who has only skied about 6 times in her life!

It is an experience (often of opposites) that opens your mind and that you will never feel doing anything else.

Firstly, in one moment you are absolutely freezing on a slope at -12 degrees celsius despite wearing 2 layers of thermals, and the next you are the warmest/snuggest you have ever been sipping a hot wine in a little log cabin bar at the top of a piste.

The adrenalin that you experience when you set off (even at a snail’s pace) down ‘the-steepest-slope-you-have-ever-seen’ in snow-plough is amplified by the tiredness you feel at the end of the day (and relieved when everyone else admits they are also too broken to hit the ski bars!)

The satisfaction you feel after stuffing yourself with raclette or fondue (and yes, they are meals consisting entirely of bread, cheese and potatoes), knowing you’ll work off the extra kilos on the ski route tomorrow.

How close it brings you to your friends/family when they offer you the extra pair of thermal socks off their feet after your boots fill with snow on the toboggan route, and how far apart it brings you when they lose their sledge after you ram them from behind on the steepest slope (teehee).

Not mentioning the delights of the little resorts dotted around the valleys, where it seems like Christmas comes every day in winter, and the little shops/cafes serve the most amazing pastries and hot chocolate.

Crans-Montana is my little gem (though on the pricey side to maintain its exclusive feel or *ahem* as mum would say to keep out the riff raff)..And this is why…

Sitting on a train from Geneva to Sierre, this is the view you get. The Alps reflected in Lake Geneva.

The view from our apartment. Blue, sunny skies and fresh, mountain air on the menu all week.

Breakfast (everyday) ❤

…and dinner (most nights).

The outdoor thermal baths in Saillon are an absolute must. (yes, I was mad enough to take my camera in the water for this shot). Cold head but oh-so-warm body. Plus they have a hamman and sauna village and it’s only £16 for the day.

Valere Castle in Sion with a backdrop of the Alps.

Crepes and La Marmotte beer. It comes from a micro-brewery and is only available in Crans-Montana. (You can choose from brunette, blonde or blanche). I go blonde everytime ;).

The strange coloured eggs in the supermarkets. Are they for Easter? Are they edible? Are the hens feeling ok?!? Help?!?

Real icicles hanging from quaint Swiss chalets.

You know when it’s been a good year for snow.

The sunsets after skiing.

And of course the amazing plane formation…and on my birthday. Surely, they must’ve known?

Saved By The Snow

17 Feb

I’ve always believed that birthdays are not to be celebrated (commiserated?) on your own. They are the perfect excuse to do something iconic with special people. And if you can face them screaming down the side of a mountain in the crispy cold- why not?

So it was decided that this year another ski trip was in order to mark my special occasion. Then the news came in that the lack of snow this year meant skiing may be out the window.

Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing considering my skiing career- or lack of. 

Being born and bred in sub-saharan Africa, I had not seen snow until my late teens and  the closest I had got to a pair of skis was watching the winter olympics on TV- and it looked painful. 

So when R brought me to Crans Montana four years ago and took me to the top of a slope (in rented gear) I burst into tears.

According to him, one should learn to ski the hard way, much like a child learning to swim. Drop them at the top of a piste with the trusting snow plough position mastered and see what happens.

Needless to say, I managed pretty well and by day 3, I was a fan.

But I haven’t taken so well to the ski lifestyle expected by hardcore enthusiasts. I am a huge fan of lie-ins, late starts (after 9am) and half days on the slopes. I also believe in stuffing your face with pancakes and hot chocolates straight after a few runs- that’s half of the fun, no? 

Luckily, the snow gods heard our woes and sided with us and we found ourselves arriving in the quaint resort, making plans to hit the 5km toboggan route after a feast of fondue.  

Five Things

13 Feb

As the snow continued to fall over the weekend, I have never seen Rome hit such low temperatures. Unfortunately, the city comes to complete halt when the first snowflake hits the cobbled streets and it’s best to stay at home. But walking around on Sunday, the sun had come out and the blue sky was back.

My language school started this week (hence the lack of blogging) in my favourite part of Rome. As I walk to school everyday, I get a view of the Colosseum. Our class of six people ( 2 americans, a mexican, 2 Aussies and I) study for 4 intensive hours a day. We have found this gem of a restaurant called Da Valentino that serves the best lunch in town- it’s worth visiting just to see the waitress (a comical, larger-than-life, real italian mama)…

I have never been a fan of tiramisu, but after tasting Pompi’s version I am a changed woman. They even do a banana and nutella tiramisu. R bought these home..and nearly scoffed the lot.

In Italy, when a baby is born, the family hang a big rosette (blue for a boy or pink for a girl) from their front door so that the whole town/village knows the good news. This little Christening shop I found sells the traditional rosettes along with other minute gifts- and sugared almonds.

And finally, what is it with Italian men (particularly macho ones!) and little dogs? R has a friend who is known as the Boss due to his dominant nature , which disappears as soon as he has his tiny pooch in his arms. Here is an example of one I spotted earlier. She is a teapot Chihuahua and her name is Nina ( he cooed in some strange high-pitched voice!)

Five Things

6 Feb

It was a cold weekend in Milano and not everyone was happy about the snow. Leonardo da Vinci in Piazza della Scala seemed a little under the weather.

Lomography’s new gold edition camera has topped my lust list (after the Milan store confirmed my Diana F has died), even though it’s a bit on the heavy side. It’s retro with a touch of bling!

My favourite cocktail of all time is ‘The Marc’ from the Marc Jacobs bar in Milan. They won’t tell me what’s in it, but it beats an Aperol Spritz everytime! If you’re in the area, you have to try it.

Massimo Meda, the three-dimentional artist, in Milan. His showroom is in complete darkness to do his lumo paintings justice, from tropical islands to fields of flowers. Apparently, they are all the rage. As a taxi driver told R once, ‘ You hang the Massimo Meda above the bed. Imagine, you are making love to a beautiful woman in the darkness of your room and then you look up- BAM! You are now on a tropical island making love to a beautiful woman!’

It snowed in Rome for the first time in 26 years over the weekend. Though it meant everything was thrown into chaos, everyone seemed to enjoy it and the neighbours left us a little present.

Robbed In Broad Daylight

2 Feb

{Roberto Coin jewellers in via Vittoria}

It’s not often you find a crime scene on your doorstep- not that anyone would want to find one there- but it seems there is one very near mine!

As I turned into via Vittoria this morning, two roads from the Spanish steps (Piazza di Spagna), I was greeted by a group of policemen guarding the Roberto Coin jewellery shop.

Inside the exclusive jewellers, I could see police investigators asking questions and collecting evidence.

A young ‘agente di polizia’ told me that thieves had robbed the shop in broad daylight at midday yesterday- making off with 500,000 euros in jewels and cash.

Two masked gunmen had entered the shop, while a third stood guard outside, They were described as being a mix of italians and eastern europeans, dressed elegantly and armed with pistols.

Though the men spoke to each other in a foreign language, they spoke to the two saleswomen in English and told them to stay calm while threatening them with a weapon.

The thieves then tied the womens’ hands with handcuffs, while making the owner open the safe and raiding the jewellery.

They made their getaway in a white car after taking the shops cctv recordings.

Police have managed to get images from other cameras in the area showing the car hurtling towards via Babuino.

Flying squad officers responded to the incident. No one was hurt and there have been no arrests so far.

Within an hour of the robbery there was another one. This time on a goldsmiths in via in Arcione- close to the Trevi Fountain.

The owner was distracted and left the shop unattended for a few minutes, when he got back everything was gone.

Speaking to some of the shop owners, the general feel is of concern as these incidents add to a growing list of robberies and attempted raids in the area.

In July 2011, a thief in priest’s clothing was thwarted in a robbery attempt on via Condotti at the famous Eleuteri jewellers, while in 2010 thieves made off with a ring worth 500,000 euro from Cartier.

In December 2011, five masked thieves dressed in police uniform robbed a Unicredit bank at the feet of the Spanish steps, making off with 250,000 euros by metro.

It seems the police have quite a job on their hands. I asked if they thought it was the same group of people targeting the area, but they don’t seem to know.