Tag Archives: Italy

(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!”  


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!

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

Head In The (Swiss) Clouds

3 Aug

Swiss cheese wine producer vines

Returning to the land of la dolce vita after a brief visit to neighbouring Switzerland, that coincided with the National Swiss Day celebrations, its easy to envisage the land of mountains and lakes as wonderful a place to live. 

It’s not just the moreish Swiss cusine, the crepes, the fondues, the raclette, that make it pleasant.

 Nor the fact they have the best of both worlds seasonally- fresh, crisp winters with snow and sun on the slopes (perfect for skiing) and warm summer days with a freshness that makes any sport activity pleasant. 

But what the Swiss have is something very unique in the modern world we live in.  

They have a pride for their country and their neighbour that is admirable. Their politeness just makes them more likeable.

And why shouldn’t they? As well as breathing the freshest air and drinking the cleanest water this globe has to offer, they don’t have a eurocrisis hanging over their heads and their neutral status has done them a world of favours. 

I am also particularly fond of  the non-human Swiss inhabitant- the red squirrel. 

When I lived in the UK, I went for years only seeing (american) gray squirrels, despite the reds being native to Britain.

Golf crans montana swiss nature mountains

On pointing this out to a lovely old Swiss lady, she told me a story that encapsulated everything I love about the place. 

Many years ago, when she first moved to Crans Montana, the baker from the village’s delicatessen arrived at her door and asked if she would like freshly baked pastries to be delivered early in the morning for breakfast (as they do only in Switzerland).

She thought it was a great idea and ordered 10 pain au chocolats/croissants to be left at her front door for each morning and arranged to pay him at the end of each month. 

On the first morning she was delighted to wake up and open the front door to warm, crumbling pastries perfect for the family to dip into their choloat chaud. 

But on the second morning she woke up to find 9 pastries in the delivery box. The next morning there were 7. 

And from then on, she woke up to varying numbers of pastries,- sometimes 8, sometimes 6- but never the 10 she had initially requested. 

At the end of the month, she went to pay the delicatessen, but never mentioned anything about the missing pastries. 

I asked her why and she replied that she didn’t want to be impolite or imply that he had done something wrong. 

“Maybe he didn’t understand what I had asked for and I wanted to keep our relationship on good terms.”

So, she kept waking up to her diminishing pastries.  

Then one evening, she decided to wake up extra early the following morning to get to the bottom of her bittersweet dilemma. 

The next morning, she waited until the baker had dropped them off and then she swung open the door.

And there, on her doorstep, was a group of red squirrels raiding the breakfast pastries and scampering up the pine trees, clutching her pain au chocolats and croissants in their little mouths. 

Five Things

26 Jul

Tuscany…ah, Toscana!

Just the sound of it makes my entire body sigh and all my muscles relax. And I know I am not the only person who sees this region of Italy as a retreat for the mind..and the soul…and, of course, the palate…

Having spent the last week reclined in a beach chair in Capalbio with a glass of vino in hand, I thought I would bring you my best bits from the Maremma part of Tuscany.

Seaside beach italy lake Grosseto Burano Lake

Lago Di Burano.

Sometimes referred to as the Walt Disney Lake, this mass of water lies in a WWF protected area near Capalbio Scalo.

As well as being picture perfect, it  is also home to hundreds of animals. It seems the area’s pheasant population has found its utopia. The birds march around the area en mass without a double barrel insight. 

Italy bird life hunting grosseto

While driving back home near the lake one evening, more than 30 wild boars (the babies were so cute) ran in front of the car and into the reeds without batting an eyelid. We were left stalled and stunned – in a cloud of dust!

Italy tuscan markets

Terra  Etrusca

This little biological agriturismo (farm/shop/restaurant/hotel) is our first pit stop on arrival in Capalbio.

The little market shop is run by a lovely old Tuscan lady, the fruit and veg are always seasonal and fresh from the surrounding fields. Plus they do a wonderful organic red wine for 4 euro a bottle.

Grosseto Bio market capalbio

The restaurant is true to the agriturismo‘s belief : bringing you organic fare from farm to fork.


italy tuscan countryside

Summer daze.

There’s n0 better time to be in Tuscany than in the summer when you can see the fruit growing on the trees.

This may mean you’ll have locals wandering into your garden for a ‘chat’ and leaving with a bucket of your finest figs (especially when they discover your italian is shaking and you don’t realise what you’re agreeing to). 

Italy organic food

Freshly picked figs from the garden. 

italy tuscan coast seaside rome aperitivo spritz

The Spritz

Despite being a Venetian custom, there is nothing comparable to having a spritz on the beach after a hard day of catching the rays or swimming in the (very clean) sea.

eating seafood beach tuscany

La Selva. 

The place to have a plate of seafood and a glass of crisp, cold white wine. Before or after basking in the glorious Tuscan sun. 

Milano- O Mia Bela Madunina

16 Jul
Lomography milan photography italy

Photo: Lomography store, Milano

Milan has been my ‘second home’ for over 4 years.

During this time, I have been lucky enough to hang around with some very authentic Milanese paesani (you know who you are)- which has given my life in the city both a positive and a negative edge. 

Positive, because I now know some pretty cool places to go/ some pretty cool people to know/ I am now a great scooter partner – and I also know all the italian swear words AND when to use them!

Negative, because I have no idea where these places are or what they are called.

I have become a vessel that is transported around Milan’s hotspots like a sort of foreign toddler being led astray. 

I am totally incapable of  locating anything other than the house where I am staying and the Duomo.

So while R. has been working in Milan for the past  2 weeks, I decided to invest in a map of the city (not just any map… a 3D map, that’s right), and armed with a posse of italians, stake out some of my favourite places/things to do in Milan, so I can finally know what I am talking about and fulfill my role as a ‘real expat’.

1. See The Duomo

 The Duomo has been a huge dilema in the milanese part of my life.

Ladies take note: you will not be allowed to enter if you do not have trousers on or if any part of your shoulders are showing.italian military russian girl

I have been turned away countless times by the Italian Rambos on the door due to my inappropriate dress sense (though I was not dressed like the lady above).

My advice would be to take a wrap or cardigan in your bag.

After your trip inside the Cathedral, see if you can find the mistake on one of the Duomo’s main doors.

statue mistakes italy

2. Climb The Duomo

Though I don’t often see it recommended on travel sites, climbing up onto the roof of the iconic italian Cathedral is a must-do. 

The entrance is located to the left of the Duomo entrance and there is no dress code.  

It costs 7 euros to climb the stairs, but if that sounds a bit daunting, you can always pay the  12 euro option to take the lift. 

climbing the duomo

Once you reach the top, it is spectacular (especially in the summer), and you can see the gothic features in all their glory. 

architecture duomo roof italy

A path leads you around the roof through the arches, so you can take in the view of Milan from all sides. (I don’t think this would be allowed in the UK with all the health n’ safety laws)

roof of cathedral in italy  

3. Eat Pie & Drink Coffee

cakes tea iced coffee il forno d'Americano

I know what you are thinking. ‘How could you recommend an American coffee shop in Italy- the home of the espresso?!’ 

Here’s why. Every lunch time The California Bakery (via Largo near the Duomo) is packed out with Italian suits, donne-that-lunch and local students grabbing a New York style bagel or Club Sandwich. 

While, I prefer to lunch the italian way, I really recommend the establishment’s cakes, milkshakes and coffee as an afternoon treat. 

Their vast selection of cakes and pies are freshly baked in-house everyday.

They have a cute seating area in the back garden- and they serve brunch on a Sunday. Perfect.

PS. The iced coffee is amazing.

baked cheesecake milkshakes apple pie


4. Ride An Old School Tram 

Milan’s tram operations started in 1876 and the city has the second biggest tram network after Turin.

Milano Italy public transport

Many of the old trams are still in operation around the centre and they are very easy to use to get around. 

Plus, rather than the metro, they provide you with an opportunity to view Milan as you travel. 

Having grown up in the middle of nowhere in Africa, taking the train or tube was not an everyday occurance for me- never-mind travelling on a tram. 

So, I am particularly fond of taking the old style trams (or standing and staring as they drive past). 

old fashioned opera house milan

5. Drink At Anny’s

Bar Anny in Milano is one of those bars that is retro without even trying to be retro. 

Aperitivo Milano panino best bar

Forget your *bling-bling* Armani and Prada bars, Anny’s is Milan’s aged rockstar- it’s had years of experience at being cool and now it just comes naturally (in a vintage kind of way). 

The story goes that it came to life in the 70’s, was then closed down for a period (its rehab years), before being opened up again, looking exactly as it did in the old days- just a little bit more scruffy and with a bit of an edge. 

It is the best place to have an aperitivo (it has to be a Negroni- Milan’s choice of drink) and a panino in the evening. 

Cocktails Milan happy hour

Enzo will look after you prefectly – though, a little heavy handed as is the traditional way. 

Your panino will be chosen for you if you show the smallest sign of having difficulty making a decision.

He’ll also keep your Negroni coming and all at a very decent price…what more could you ask for!

Aperitivo traditional bar Milan

La Dolce Sweeter

20 Jun

I am not a cake person.

You would think that living in the-land-of-the-cream-teas for 9 years would have made me lust for the spongey stuff. But it was not to be so (don’t judge me)!

That’s not to say I don’t harbour a sweet tooth…I just believe it hadn’t been unlocked until a trip to Paris which made me a life-long friend of the pâtisserie.

Ooooh,the pâtisserie! Land of the delicate macaroon, baked custard tart and everything with a posh raspberry ripple through it.

I had heard about the Paris ‘places’, saw the Paris ‘places’ and got the T-shirt about the Paris ‘places'(and a few extra kilos to go with it).

But, no-one told me about the Rome ‘places’…until I stumble across one.

Imagine, on your way to work everyday, you had the unfortunate luck to walk past this. 

coffee shop in Rome cake shop cakes fruit tarts

Marinari Roma patisserie fruit tart torta di nonna

Well, naturally, I soon started rewarding myself with a daily treat from my new discovery- the wonderful world of the italian pasticceria ‘Marinari’. 

fruit tart italy libya rome cake shop

Founded in 1950 by a Tuscan baker, Cav. Malvino Marinari, whose motto was ‘customer first’ (well, he gets my vote), the shop is now run by his daughter Amber, who sticks to her traditional roots. 

The cakes are too beautiful eat and ooze class, even the Barbie birthday version that had me reminiscing about the 90s- and my mum’s attempts (they were very good, of course!).

Rome italian baker birthday cake little girl

They also do the usual pick n’ mix-a la-pâtisserie, including sugared almonds and pignoli amaretti (amaretti biscuits covered in pine nuts). 

bakery in rome italy coffee shop

The lovely lady behind the counter will wrap your treats in a gold box with delicate ribbon and pink paper, so that they arrive home in perfect condition.

bakery in rome italian coffee shop

And, saving the sweetest news for last, they serve traditional (to-die-for) italian ice-cream in the gelateria next door – for dessert, of course. 

The shop is on Corso Trieste ( a 15-minute ride on the 80 express bus from outside the Rinascente on Via del Corso).  http://www.pasticceriamarinari.it

rome bakery patisserie marinari