The Best American Brunch Spots in Rome

Where to find American brunch in Rome
Yes, you can have pancakes like this in Rome… without making them yourself.

Sometimes, you don’t just want brunch in Rome. You want American brunch in Rome. You know. Pancakes. Eggs. Bagels. Filter coffee.

That can be pretty tough.

Finding brunch in Rome isn’t the part that’s hard. Like cupcakes and cocktails, brunch is what all the cool kids in Rome are doing (or consuming) these days.

And, like cupcakes and cocktails, even though some of the cool factor of brunch stems from it being a US import, it’s often not quuuuite done American-style. In fact, most Italian brunches offer up a spread that just like a noon-time aperitivo, with pastas, salads, meats, and cheeses. (And maybe some couscous or farro, if we’re getting really fancy).

But when you’re homesick hungry for American brunch, that just won’t do. Here are three places to head to instead: my three favorite spots for American brunch in Rome.

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50 Signs That Rome Is Really Home

What’s living in Italy really like? Here are some of the ways you’ll know when you’ve lived here for a while—and that Rome has changed you (…for better or for worse!).

1. You walk into oncoming traffic without blinking. And you’re impatient with others who don’t do the same.

2. You know that living in the “Ghetto” isn’t dangerous or cheap. It’s luxurious. And expensive.

Ghetto ruins for web
The “Ghetto.”

3. You set aside whole afternoons for tasks you used to think of as simple, like mailing a package or getting passport photos taken. (Every once in a while, these tasks take 15 minutes or less. When that happens, you’re so astonished, you waste the next two hours by calling your friends to tell them about it, anyway).

4. Foods you used to find normal, like chicken with pasta or carbonara with peas and cream, now turn your stomach.

Carbonara in Rome
This, my friends, is what a carbonara should look like.

5. You don’t go outside with a wet head—not because you really think you’ll get the colpo d’aria (and die!), but because you can’t stand the looks from everyone around you who does think you will.

6. Wi-Fi and bagels are a big deal.

7. Ancient ruins and Renaissance art are not. 

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The Best Swimming Pools in Rome

Swimming pools in Rome
Want to take a dip without leaving the city? With Rome’s swimming pools, no problem

Want to go for a swim this summer in Rome? Even if you haven’t picked a hotel with a pool, you’ve still got some options.

One great pool is local favorite Piscina delle Rose. For €16 for the day (cheap for Rome… as you’ll see in a moment), enjoy full access to the Olympic-sized pool, which gets crowded with Romans, and their kids, on hot summer days. As well as being cheap, the siwmming pool has the added benefit of being in the bizarre and off-the-beaten-track, but still convenient, quarter of EUR. To get there, take the metro’s B line to the EUR Palasport stop (just 15 minutes from Termini, less from the Colosseum) and you’re right there.

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Rome’s English-Speaking—and American-Style—Hair Salon

English speaking hair salon in Rome
Post-cut with my favorite (English-speaking!) hair stylist in Rome, Rick

Looking for a hair salon in Rome… where the stylists speak English, the cuts are great, and the prices are moderate? Easy: Head to Noi, conveniently (and oh-so-classily) located right at Piazza del Popolo.

I discovered Noi when I first moved to Rome. My Italian was nonexistent progressing. Needless to say, I lacked crucial hair-salon vocabulary like “No, I don’t think a mohawk would suit my bone structure” and “Please put down that peroxide bleach—I said I just wanted a trim!”. Anxious that I’d wind up with a shaved head or worse, I broke my rule of doing-Rome-like-the-Italians-do… and sought out the city’s most popular English-speaking salon.

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Living La Dolce Vita in Rome (Or, Stomping On Your Daydreams)

Dolce vita in Rome - real or not?
La dolce vita in Rome: Is it for real?

People often have the impression that life in Rome is all about la dolce vita. By focusing just on food and travel, art and history, my blog, and others like it, encourage that idea.

But after four years of speaking to starry-eyed strangers about life in Italy, it’s time to come clean.

Living here can be over-the-top wonderful. There’s no arguing that it has some serious advantages over almost anywhere else. (The history! The food! The language!). Because I happen to adore those particular aspects of life, I’ve been the happiest here that I’ve ever been.

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Rome’s Carnival of Horses, for BBC Travel

Roman Carnival
Rome’s Carnival includes lots of events like this one. (Photo: Carnevale Romano) 

The 2013 edition of Rome’s Carnival (or “Carnevale”, if you’re trying to be all Italian about it) kicks off tomorrow, Feb. 2. While it’s easy to mistake for an equestrian event, what with all the horse shows and horse parades and horse, well, everything else, you don’t have to be a horse lover to want to take part in the fun.

In fact, until Feb. 12th, Rome’s going to be hopping with all kinds of family-friendly (and free!) entertainments. Parades? Check. Fireworks? Check. Street performers, concerts, and shows by the Commedia d’Arte? Check, check and check.

Find out more—and exactly what not to miss over the next 11 days—piece for the BBC as their Rome travel blogger, “Rome’s Carnival of Horses,”on what not to miss in Rome’s 2013 Carnival.

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Rome’s Coziest Cafes with Wi-Fi

Cafe-in-Rome-with-wifi

Looking for a cafe in Rome that’s cute, cozy… and has free Wi-Fi?

You’re not alone. As much as it might seem like I spend 99% of my time shopping, dining out, traveling, and otherwise enjoying la dolce vita, I also work. A lot. And every once in a while, the idea of spending one more day staring at nothing other than my laptop and my office wall is enough to make me consider going back to (shudder!) the real world.

Which is why I’ve made it a priority to seek out the best, friendlist spots in Rome that have Wi-Fi. And that won’t kick me out, or make me feel uncomfortable, if I hang out there for three or four hours straight (keeping myself nourished with a steady stream of coffees, of course).

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Gifts for Culture Vultures, History Nerds, and Art Lovers… with an Italian Twist

Looking for the perfect gift for that culture vulture in your life—someone who's loves history, art, engineering, cinema… or even opera? Here are some top gift ideas, with an Italian twist!

There are options here for those who live in Italy and those who don't, so whether you're an expat or an Italy-lover abroad, give them all a read. (This is part of a series of holiday gift guides!).

Gifts for ancient history buffs

Book gift for ItalophilesYou can't "get" ancient Rome without understanding Caesar. So give the aspiring Roman historian in your life Caesar: Life of a Colossus, possibly the most-comprehensive-yet-still-readable biography published of the Big Guy written in the last couple of decades. 

You don't have to be particularly interested in ancient history to be curious about Cleopatra—minx, stateswoman, and strategist. Stacy Schiff's new, compusively-readable biography Cleopatra: A Life balances juicy stories with a modern take.

One of the most dramatic stories in ancient history has to be the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius of 79 A.D. The documentary
Pompeii: The Last Day brings it to life with hair-raising dramatizations (and, of course, some history).

It's not all factual, but the BBC/HBO series Rome got a lot of things right, including the colorful, gritty atmosphere of Rome in the 1st century B.C. It's also a well-done, dramatic miniseries, one that will keep any ancient history buff addicted for hours. 

Ideas for art, architecture, and engineering lovers 

This art supply store in Florence dates back to 1342—and (this is even more amazing) it still sells paints, papers, and other supplies with formulas dating back to the Renaissance. Whether the artist in your life would like parchment skins for illumination and calligraphy, handmade paper for watercolor and sketching, or Renaissance-era paint pigments (lapis lazuli, anyone), Zecchi has it all. And you can both order items, and pay, online—and have them shipped abroad. Check out the Zecchi store online here.

Art programs in Italy

Children at one of Arte al Sole's programs; photo courtesy of Arte al Sole

If you're lucky enough to live in Italy, and if the art-lover in your life happens to be a child, then check out some of the fantastic programs offered by Arte al Sole. On Dec. 17 through 21, at St. Andrew's Church in Rome, they're running holiday workshops, in English, that take kids (aged 5-13) on an exploration of how Rome has celebrated the holidays, from antiquity up to today. They cost €40 for a one-day workshop or €70 for a two-day workshop; contact Shannon at shannon@italiakids.com or +39 3402140897. Other cool options, and gift ideas, for kids include summer sessions, like five days at the casale of Fontanelle where kids learn about glassblowing, weaving, and more.

Make your own mosaic

Give the gift of mosaic-making, using traditional Byzantine techniques!

Okay, this is a fun one. If you know someone who
loves the ancient art of mosaic, you can give them a mosaic kit to make their own… shipped from a mosaic workshop in Ravenna (the world capital of mosaic!). Small mosaic kits (making mosaics that are about 6 inches by 6.5 inches) are just €16, medium mosaics (about 7 inches by 9 inches) are €23, and large mosaics (8 by 10 inches) like this one, right, a reproduction of a mosaic at the Piazza Armerina in Sicily, start from €30. (There are lots of more modern patterns, as well). And yes, the owner has confirmed that she can ship abroad, including to the U.S.

Know someone who's fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci? You've got lots of interesting gift options. Ross King, the writer behind Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling and Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture—both of them must-reads for any lover of art or architecture—just wrote his latest: Leonardo and the Last Supper. It's gotten predictably excellent reviews, and sounds great. Otherwise, I'm itching to watch Da Vinci & Mysteries of the Renaissance, which has Emmy- and Golden Globe-award-winning episodes on Da Vinci, Copernicus, Kepler, Michelangelo, and more.

If your Leo lover is more of an engineer type, giving a model kit of one of da 
VinciVinci's designs—like his paddle boat, armored car and aerial screw (the helicopter's precursor)—is a fun option. (Seriously, check out how cool that is to the left!).

If you have a serious art history buff, then you can't go wrong with a gorgeous book like History of Italian Renaissance Artwhich looks pretty even on a coffee table.

Gifts for movie buffs

No classic film or Rome lover's movie collection is complete without Roman Holiday (clip shown above), the 1953 film starring the gamine Audrey Hepburn and dashing Gregory Peck. The same goes for La Dolce Vita, the Fellini movie that put the Trevi Fountain—and Anita Ekberg—forever in the international imagination.

Other musts for movie buffs: The Bicycle Thief (a 1948 film consistently rated as one of the best movies of all time), Il Postino (the Academy Award-winning 1995 film), and Cinema Paradiso(the gorgeous 1988 film that won the Best Foreign Language Oscar). Oh, not to mention Life is Beautifulthat heart-wrenching yet somehow-uplifting Roberto Benigni film that won the Cannes Grand Prize and the Oscar for best foreign language film.  

Il divoAnd while Italy's film industry might not be what it used to be, the country is still producing some top-quality movies. Keep the movie-lover in your life up-to-date with the best international films with, say, Il Divo, Paolo Sorrentino's acclaimed drama that's been described as "The 'Godfather' meets 'Nixon.'" Or Gomorrah, the disturbing, gritty, and all-too-true 2008 smash hit on the Mafia's hold on Italy. Or Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di Ferragosto), a sweet, funny 2010 film from one of the writers of Gomorrah. Or Nanni Moretti's famous The Son's Room, which won Best Picture in Cannes in 2001. 

And the list goes on!

Ideas for opera aficionados 

If the opera buff in your life can't get to La Scala… then seeing Verdi's La Traviata Special Edition in Blu-Ray, a top-quality recording of the entire opera, performed on stage, at La Scala in 2007, is the next best thing. Or if you think they'd rather be at the Arena of Verona, there's the 2011 Blu-Ray DVD recording of Puccini's Tosca, filmed of a production at the atmospheric, ancient theater. At less than $10 a pop, they're way cheaper than actually attending these operas (even closer to home!)—not that your gift recipient has to know that.

Another great option is Tutto Verdi Highlights, which includes arias from some 20 Verdi operas, all performed by the Teatro Regio di Parma.

Obviously, a CD of Italian opera can never go wrong. Especially if it's Pavarotti

Weep, Shudder, Die is a funny, accessible intro to understanding, and loving, opera; Ticket to the Opera is a super-comprehensive guide to 100 of opera's most famous works, with recommended recordings.

If you just want to go with the opera-ticket route, then check out the hundreds of opera listings, all over the world, on StubHub

Liked this gift guide? Make sure to check out my gift guide for food and wine lovers and my spotlight on gifts from the anti-Mafia organization Libera Terra!

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Gifts with a Conscience: Spotlight on Libera Terra

Libera Terra anti-Mafia cooperativeLibera Terra, an anti-Mafia cooperative in Italy, is inspiring, courageous, well worth supporting… and a great source for Christmas gifts.

No, really.

Libera Terra

Volunteers working a confiscated vineyard in Puglia

As everyone knows, Italy has a problem with organized crime. Libera Terra is one of the few, and bravest, grassroots organizations fighting it. Since a law was passed 13 years ago, saying that property acquired illegally be given to the community, more than 4,500 villas, farms, and other properties have been seized and returned to the people.

Libera Terra, which means "Free Land," sprung up from this law. The cooperative works the seized lands to produce (organic!) oil, wine, pasta, preserves, and other goodies; some of the agriturismi are available to stay at overnight (what a cool way to both delve into the local culture and support a good cause!). And each year, they run international community service camps, and they also often organize demonstrations and awareness-raising events against the Mafia's influence.

Think that sounds pretty cool? Me, too. 

And the good news is… you can support them. And give some cool gifts (including, maybe, to yourself). At the same time.

Here are a few ways:

Give organic, Italian foods and wines

Libera Terra wines, a great gift for those living in ItalyRemember how we talked about all of those gifts that would be great for foodies? Well, add this one to the list. Libera Terra sells all-organic, specialty Italian-food items–like Gragnano pasta, limoncello, marmalade made from Sicilian oranges, taralli, and wine. The prices are extremely fair, too (think €8 for a half-liter bottle of extra virgin olive oil, or €2.75 for a bag of Pugliese tarallini). 

If you don't want to pick items individually, right now, Libera Terra offers several beautifully-packed Christmas gift box options, including the large gift box (12 items, including wine, for €45), the medium gift box (6 items, including wine, for €26), or this set of three southern Italian wines (€23). 

You can place an order at the online Libera Terra shop; unfortunately, they only ship within Italy. Or, if you're coming to Italy, you can buy goods at one of Libera Terra's botteghe across the country. The newest was just opened in Milan last weekend; there are also stores in Florence, Pisa, Turin, Genova, Naples, and Palermo, among other cities (here's the complete list of Libera Terra shops). In Rome, the store, which is called "'La Bottega dei sapori e dei saperi della Legalità,"  was actually the first one opened in Italy. It's located at Via dei Prefetti 23; call +39 0669925262 for more.

Give the gift of travel—and a stay at an agriturismo in the land of The Godfather

Agriturismo run by Libera Terra

Portella della Ginestra, an agriturismo in Sicily run by Libera Terra

Know anyone traveling to Sicily—or planning to travel yourself? Then give the gift of a stay at one of the agriturismi run by Libera Terra. 

Agriturismi are, in my opinion, Italy's best-kept accommodation secret. These are farms, usually with separate guesthouses, where you can stay overnight. Usually, you have the option of a home-cooked dinner and breakfast. I've stayed in more than 100 of them, and the experiences have ranged—but I haven't had a single negative one. And contrary to misconceptions, no, you're not expected to help out on the farm or with the cooking, and no, you don't have to stay for a week or longer–often you can stay for just one night!

So I'm pretty psyched that it turns out that Libera Terra runs their own. And not only do they have two… but they're both in the Corleone province, made famous, of course, first by real Mafia bosses—and then by The Godfather's Vito Corleone. Pretty powerful stuff. 

You can see their program of agriturismi in English here. Notable is that at each of the two agriturismi, Portella della Ginestra and Terre di Corleone, all-organic food is prepared with Slow Food principles. Both are near nature reserves, and the Portella della Ginestra is adjacent to a horse-riding center. Prices—starting at €70 per night, including all meals—are pretty darn good.


Agriturismo run by Libera Terra

Dining room at Terre di Corleone

Finally, if you know anyone who's free Dec. 27-29—or if you are—there's a special "Weekend in Palermo" offered by Libera Terra. The escape includes two nights at a hotel in Palermo and visits to the Libera Terra-run farms on the Corleone land, all in a small group of just 12 to 15 participants. It's €198 per person.

Give a membership, including a subscription to Libera Terra's magazine

Narcomafie magazine of Libera TerraShow your support—and stay up-to-date with what's going on with the fight against criminal networks in the world—by becoming a member (or buying a membership for someone else!). It costs just €1 for a membership for those under 18 and €5 for young people between 18 and 25. For those over 25, it's just €15 for a year-long membership, including the magazine's 12 issues sent in PDF form, or €30 for those who want the magazine sent in print.

The magazine, Narcomafie, is in Italian, and the print issue only appears to be sent within Italy; however, if you live abroad and speak some Italian, I'm sure they'd be happy to PDF you the files for the cheaper membership fee!

Donate to Libera Terra

Not in Italy right now, but really, really like the sound of what Libera Terra is up to? Then donate! All you need is a credit card, and every little bit helps.

Please note that all photographs in this post are used courtesy of Libera Terra. 

Check out my Italian gift guide calendar to make sure you don't miss a good idea!

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The Story of One Artisanal Outfit in Rome

Artisans shops in Rome

An all-artisanal outfit from Rome

This summer, I decided I needed two new pieces: a comfortable dress that I could wear as easily to the beach as to dinner. And a new wallet, since my old one was falling apart.

Instead of turning to a chain or department store, as I did in the past, I headed to two of my favorite Rome artisans. Each one handcrafted me exactly what I wanted… within just a couple of days. And the prices were reasonable—especially considering how much you'd usually pay to be personally involved in a piece's design.

Artisanal shopping in Rome

Now that's what a shopping bag should look like…

First: the wallet. For those who've followed my artisanal shopping adventure in Rome, it might come as no surprise that I headed straight to Armando Rioda.

I chatted with my buddy Vinicio Reggi, one of the owners, as we figured out what kind of wallet I wanted. He handed me several they'd already made to help me figure out size and style; when we had the basics figured out, he started sketching on a piece of paper. "You could have an extra pocket here, if you want," he said, drawing, "and the credit cards here. How many slots for them would you want?".

When we had the design figured out, it was time to choose the leather. He pulled out one bolt after another—camel, dark blue, red, black. I said I wanted dark brown, and for that, he had the perfect choice: a dark brown leather that was stamped to look like alligator skin.

When we'd finished designing my ideal wallet, he said it would be ready in just a couple of days. At the end of the week, I went to get it… and couldn't have been happier with the result.

Wallet from Armando Rioda

(The other leather options I had)
Leather from Armando Rioda

(Nice extra touch: the silver wheel)
Leather in Rome

(Going artisanal means attention to detail: the interior is lined with nubuck leather)
At Armando Rioda

(With Vinicio and his work of art: my new wallet!)

Obviously, I was pretty pleased. 

Next stop: finding a simple, travel-friendly dress. For that, I headed to Le Nou, located on Via del Boschetto (one of the best shopping streets in Rome!).

As usual, the store was sparse: just a few dresses and shirts hung on the rack. But the patterns change frequently here, and this time, I saw exactly the design I wanted. When I tried it on, it fit perfectly. (If it didn't, one of the two seamstress-designers who runs Le Nou assured me they could alter it to my measurements—at no extra cost).

The only problem was the color, a light green that didn't exactly complement my olive skin. So, instead, I was directed to a few bolts of cloth, and told to pick whichever one I wanted. I went with navy blue.

Bolts of cloth at Le Nou

(Bolts of pretty cloth at Le Nou)

I left my name and phone number, and the girls told me they'd text as soon as the dress was ready. Less than 24 hours later, I received a message. The dress was finished. Simple and classic, it was exactly what I'd wanted. The cost? €35.

Dress from Le Nou for web

One of Le Nou's designers-dressmakers with the result

I told you: You've gotta love Rome's artisans.

The details from outfit photo, at top: Handcrafted wallet from Armando Rioda, €200. Handmade dress from Le Nou, €35. Handmade suede espadrilles from Barrila Boutique, €59. The process of being involved in the design of a piece you're buying, and of supporting Rome's artisans? Priceless. 

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