Which Rome Airport Is Best to Fly Into?

Which Rome airport is most central?

Having trouble figuring out Rome airport is best to fly into—or which airport is most central? I don’t blame you. Rome has not one, but two, airports—Fiumicino (FCO) and Ciampino (CIA)—and they’re both international. So how do you decide between them?

First of all, keep in mind that you may not have to decide. If you’re coming straight from the US or Canada, your flight will land at Fiumicino. Easy.

But if you’re coming from Europe or elsewhere, you may have the option. Here’s how to decide which Rome airport is best to fly into.

Fiumicino is the main international airport (but still not enormous)…

Both airports serve airlines from all over. But when people talk about Rome’s “international” airport they usually mean Fiumicino, Rome’s main international airport. If you’re flying an airline like Alitalia, American Airlines or British Airways, you’ll be coming into Fiumicino.

Still, compared to international airports like London Heathrow, Fiumicino isn’t huge. There are four terminals, three of which are in the same building; only one, Terminal 5 (which serves passengers coming from the US and Israel), requires a short shuttle bus to get to. I find the size to be nice. It’s small enough that it’s always very easy to find someone after they’ve landed (and to navigate yourself), but large enough that it has some nice shops while you’re waiting for your flight. And I don’t know about you, but I’m always glad that I don’t have to walk 30 minutes from the gate to the exit.

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What is the Weather in Rome Really Like? (And How to Pack for It)

Want to know the weather in Rome, Italy? You could obviously just check out the forecast. (Not that that’s necessarily that reliable). But you’ve wound up here instead, so I’m guessing you don’t want to know the Rome weather coming up in the next few days — you’re looking further ahead and curious what, say, the weather in Rome is usually like a few weeks or even months from now.

Maybe you’re trying to decide when to come to Rome. Or you’ve already chosen your dates, and you need to know what to pack.

Although I resisted writing a post about weather in Rome for a while (compared to all of the incredible art and unknown museums and underground ruins and gelato gelato gelato the topic just seems so… banal), I get asked about it enough that it seems like it’s time.

So: here’s what to expect, season by season, in terms of the weather in Rome. And what this means in terms of what to pack and prepare for.

(PS: If you are looking for the weather forecast in the near future, two of my go-to sites are Weathercast and Accuweather).

Weather in Rome in… summer (spoiler: it’s hot, and they’re not that into a/c)

This is when things get nice and sweaty. Temperatures peak in July — that’s when you’re looking at an average high of 88°F (31°C). (While the average low is a comfy 62°F/17°C, if Rome ever hit that temperature in July, I’m pretty sure it’s while I was sleeping). It’s also the driest month of the year, with less than an inch of average rainfall. August is about the same — plus you have the double-whammy of the uber-crowds and that it’s ferragosto (read: when many restaurants and shops close as locals, reasonably, flee to the seaside). If you can swing it, June is milder and less crowded, especially earlier in the month.

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Italy in 30 Days

03-italy-scarf.w529.h352.2xThis month, New York Magazine is taking a little trip to Italy, with stories every day on the trials, tribulations, myths and magic of la bella vita. I'm excited to be contributing ten (count 'em… ten!) different pieces throughout the month. I'll be updating this post with the links as they publish. Enjoy!

Ciao, bella: 15 lessons from my life in Italy. How does living in Italy change you? Oh, let me count the ways…

Three pasta recipes to impress your Italian lover. Yes, you can recreate those amazing pastas you had in Rome, at home. How do I know? Because if I can do it, anyone can. Here's how.

From Italian nutritionists: Eat cookies for breakfast. In moderation, of course. That, and how to fit gelato, pasta and cappuccino into your diet, straight from the mouths of Italian dieticians. You're welcome.

To Rome with love: Six hidden-gem neighborhoods refreshingly free from tourists (for now). Even devoted readers of Revealed Rome will find some surprises. That's a promise.

Wild, medieval, non-touristy Umbria: A brief tour. It's my favorite region in Italy. Here's how to get started on exploring it — whether in a day or seven.

Naples: Less garbage, just as much to love. Not everyone falls in love with Naples, a city almost as maligned in Italy as it is abroad. I did. Here's why (and why it might deserve a stop on your next Italy trip).

Is your olive oil lying about its virginity? (It might not even be Italian!). My Q&A with intrepid investigative reporter Tom Mueller on an industry so scandalous, profits from fraudulent oil are on par with those from cocaine trafficking — and on why you should care.

Why won't Italians have cappuccino after dinner? Plus: can colpo d'aria (a hit of air) really give you a neck pain? And does a digestivo really help you digest? I talk to doctors to get to the truth behind eight rules that many Italians insist you follow — because otherwise, you might getsickandDIE.

Want real Italian food? Skip these seven dishes. From spaghetti and meatballs to fra diavolo, some of the plates most beloved by Little Italy neighborhoods across America are all but impossible to find in the motherland. Here's why, and what to order instead.

The mayor shouldn't have gone to Capri this summer. Here are five other Italian islands I'd have sent de Blasio that are every bit as stunning as the glitzy isle, but far more under the radar.

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How to Get from Ciampino Airport to Rome (Updated for 2017!)

Now you can go to the top level of the Colosseum in Rome

Need to get from Ciampino airport to Rome? Yeah, you could take a taxi. But unless some serious stress and/or getting ripped off immediately on landing in Italy is your thing, you probably won’t want to.

Luckily, there are lots of other ways to get from Ciampino to Rome. They’re easy, fast, and much cheaper than taking a taxi or transfer. All of these options get you into the Termini train station; from there, you can jump on Rome’s metro (either the A or B lines), take a bus, or grab a cab (from Termini, it shouldn’t be more than €15 at the most to get to another part of the city center).

(Note: This information has been updated as of July 2017).

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Rome Neighborhoods: How to Know Where to Stay

Neighborhood in Rome

Pick your neighborhood carefully if you want to enjoy scenes like this one!

Figuring out the neighborhoods of Rome can be a little confusing. Even though it’s a big city, most tourists spend most of their time in the centro storico—and that’s where most hotels are, too. But simply looking for accommodation in Rome’s historic center isn’t enough, because the center is divided by neighborhoods, some of which feel pretty different from the next.

So you’ll need to know not only that you want to stay in the historic center… but which neighborhood to stay in in the centro storico, too.

First of all, you need to know what is the centro storico.

Technically, the centro storico is the area of Rome that’s bordered by the 3rd-century Aurelian walls and by the mura gianicolensi, which include the Vatican walls. Unfortunately, there aren’t many good maps online that have the walls clearly delineated. This is one of the best I could find.

Centro storico of Rome

Map of the historic center of Rome and the Aurelian walls

The thin, black line running around the entire center is the Aurelian walls. (You can find it by looking at the square marked “Castro Pretorio” in the upper right-hand part of the city). Although the neighborhood and monuments are all ancient Roman, you can get some perspective by looking for the Colosseum (a little ring almost right in the center), Circus Maximus (to the southwest of the Colosseum), and the Tiber.  This area—which includes not only the Colosseum and forum, but the Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, and Vatican—is the historic center. And if you’re staying in Rome, this is where you’ll probably want to stay.

Now, for the neighborhoods. (I recommend opening a tab with Google maps and keeping it handy so you can refer back and forth!).

The heart of the centro storico

Spanish Steps in the heart of the historic center

In the heart of it all: the Spanish Steps area

This isn’t technically a neighborhood, but I’m using it as shorthand for the central area that most people think of when they think “Rome”—the triangle with Piazza del Popolo in the north, the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain to the east, and the Pantheon and Piazza Navona to the west. This stunning area is where most people want to stay. Of course, it’s also where hotels are the most expensive, where the streets crowd with tourists and shoppers, and where 99% of restaurants are overpriced and mediocre. On the other hand, every corner looks like a postcard. Hey, you win some, you lose some!

Via Veneto, Piazza Barberini and Repubblica

The winding Via Veneto is famous for its hotels—although most seem, at least to me, to be huge and overpriced. Meanwhile, the rest of the northeastern corner of the historic center, especially near the Barberini and Repubblica metro stops, feels like a big city. For the most part, forget cobblestones and quaint churches; this is where the buildings are tall, the streets wide, and the passersby businesslike.

Termini and the Esquiline

Although some hoteliers diplomatically call this neighborhood “Monti,” anything from Piazza Vittorio Emanuele to Santa Maria Maggiore and northeast to the Termini train station is, more properly, the Esquiline hill. In general, the neighborhood here tends to feel gritty and look grungy. This is where you’ll see immigrants hawking counterfeited purses, homeless people huddling in corners, and garbage littering the street.

It’s also home to many of Rome’s cheapest hotels, hostels and B&Bs.

The area tends to be perfectly safe—Rome is, as a whole, much safer when it comes to muggings and violent crimes than pretty much any city in America, as well as Dublin, London and Paris—but it may not be what you imagined when you first pictured Rome. Also keep in mind that, while it may seem very convenient to stay near the train station, and while that means this area is well-connected by metro and bus, it’s not within easy walking distance of most of the major sights, like the Pantheon and Piazza Navona.

Monti

Monti neighborhood Rome

The main piazza in Monti, always a popular hangout

In ancient times, this rione was the red-light district, home to gladiators and prostitutes (Julius Caesar even moved there to show he was “one of the people”). Today, it’s a gorgeous little neighborhood filled with medieval palazzi, cobblestoned streets, and an eclectic mix of traditional trattorie and hip boutiques.

If you want to stay here, look at the area bordered by Via Nazionale (to the west), Santa Maria Maggiore (to the north), the Colle Oppio park (to the east), and the Roman forum and Colosseum (to the south).

Celio

Celio neighborhood Colosseum

The Celio neighborhood, just near the Colosseum

Further southwest of Monti is Celio, another rione with a strong history. The couple of blocks right around the Colosseum tend to be touristy and busy during the day, but the rest of this area, which stretches southeast to the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, feels quiet and residential.

Aventine

This hill, just south of the Circus Maximus, is home to some of the loveliest streets and homes in Rome. Its small size and exclusivity mean there are few hotels and B&Bs here. It also doesn’t feel like it’s “in the middle” of anything, thanks to its greenery and the fact that it’s at least a 15-minute walk to most of the major sights.

Forum Boarium

This neighborhood is really a sliver, tucked just to the south and west of Circus Maximus. The neighborhood has some wonderful sights—including the Church of San Giorgio in Velabro, the Arch of Janus, and the Church of San Nicola in Carcere—and it’s just a three-minute walk to the Jewish Ghetto and Piazza Venezia. It’s also tranquil, lovely and off the beaten path.

Campo dei Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto

Jewish ghetto

Ancient ruins in the Jewish Ghetto

From Piazza Venezia to the Tiber, you’ve got beautiful ancient ruins, the Jewish Ghetto, lively Campo dei Fiori, and my favorite piazza in Rome, Piazza Farnese. This district has the atmosphere (and history) of the area around Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, with one-third of the crowds.

Trastevere

Trastevere

A typical scene in Trastevere: laundry hanging!

Just over the Tiber from Campo dei Fiori and the Ghetto is Trastevere, an atmospheric district that, today, is as likely to be home to American study-abroad students, expats and wealthy Italians as the working-class and bohemian Romans who once lived here. Still, the neighborhood remains charming, with lots of corners and tiny streets where life is still lived much as it would have been decades ago.

Prati

Prati neighborhood

A street in Prati

If you find the center of Rome’s centro storico too confusing and chaotic, consider Prati. This area around the Vatican, just over the river from sights like Piazza Navona and Piazza del Popolo, was laid out in the 19th century, so its grid system and wide boulevards look more continental and, well, organized than the rest of Rome.

While the area right around the Vatican museums and St. Peter’s is extremely touristy, once you get a little farther away, authentic restaurants and the rhythm of daily life in Rome abound. It’s also easier to find cheaper accommodation here.

Testaccio

Monte Testaccio

Monte Testaccio, which gives its name to the neighborhood here

Just south of the Aventine, the Testaccio quarter is one of the least touristy in Rome—and has some of the best restaurants and bakeries in the city. The ancient area, which gets its name from “Monte Testaccio,” a hill that literally was created because it was a dump for ancient Roman amphorae, can feel more modern and gritty than the center of the city. But it’s perfectly safe, cheaper than the center, and convenient: Thanks to the metro and lots of buses here, you’re just 5 to 15 minutes away from Trastevere, the Colosseum, and the heart of the historic center.

Also: six of the best trattorias in Rome, how to act like a local and where to find that perfect souvenir or gift in the city.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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Spending August in Rome? Plan Your Attack

Ferragosto in Rome
I've written before about ferragosto, the August holiday when shops shutter, restaurants close, and Italians flee for the hills (or beaches). 

But it's time for another reminder.

That's because I think there's a big misconception about ferragosto: Primarily, that it's only a couple of weeks long, and that it starts on Aug. 15. In reality? Every business owner (and family) decides when to take their holiday, and for how long. So I've seen closures ranging from mid-July to early August, from early August to early September, or for just a couple of days in mid-August. (The popular restaurant shown above, Checchino dal 1887, is closed from Aug. 5 to Sep. 3, for example). 

How much you'll be affected by ferragosto also depends, very much, on the neighborhood you're in. The area right around the Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona continues to hum with activity. But center's more "authentic" quarters, particularly Monti, Testaccio, and Trastevere, are starting to feel like ghost towns. And since those tend to be where the city's best restaurants and most interesting shops are located, that's a challenge for travelers.

So if you have to come to Rome in August (or early September), be prepared to have a plan of attack.

Here's a good listing of restaurants open in August 2012 from Katie Parla and another from Tavole Romane, and here's a general guide to what to expect in Italy in August that I wrote for Walks of Italy. And, just so it's not all doom-and-gloom, here's a much more optimistic post from the lovely Kathy McCabe on why she actually likes traveling to Italy in August (crazy, Kathy, crazy!).

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How Italian Food Conquered the World: 5 Fun Facts

Italian food

Italian food as it should be: fresh, simple, and in-season

I just finished a must-read for any lover of Italian, or Italian-American, food: How Italian Food Conquered the World, by John Mariani. A thoughtful gift from my mother, the book explores how Italian food went from being completely unremarked-on by 19th-century travelers… to a global phenomenon.

Here were five of the most interesting facts I found.

For most of the 20th century, Italians had terrible wine 

Wine in Italy wasn't always great

Vineyard at the Valle d'Aosta, Italy

Thanks to sharecropping, a farmer gave most of what he grew to the landowner. Hardly any of his land was left for grapes—plus, the vines had to compete with other crops for nutrients. "There simply was very little demand for fine wine in Italy for most of the 20th century, and the destruction of land wrought by two world wars only made prospects dimmer," Mariani writes. 

Of course, things changed—but later than I'd realized. 

In the 1970s, Lucio Caputo, the Italian Trade Commissioner in New York, pushed the American media to discover Italian wines, and pushed Italian wine-makers to improve their product. Only in the 1980s did most winemakers start using smaller, 59-gallon barrels instead of the 264-gallon guys (having seen it first in California!). They also started switching over from the wooden barrels they'd used for decades, which oxidized the wine.

In 1970, Italian wines represented just 18.4 percent of the U.S. import market. By 1980, they constituted 55 percent.

Until the 1970s, it was impossible to even find an Italian cookbook in English

Pasta alla gricia, unknown to cookbooks

Authentic dishes like pasta alla gricia: completely missing from Italian cookbooks

Crazy, right? Although "Italian recipes" showed up in some American cookbooks, they were generally Italian-American, if that. One "Italian" entry in the 1971 New York Times International Cook Book: "veal roast with frankfurters." Even France's "gastronomic bible"—Larousse Gastronomique—included a paltry section of Italian dishes in its 1961 translation. (And that section included some real travesties. Like that macaroni should be boiled for 15-20 minutes and should be dressed with nutmeg, Gruyere and Parmesan cheese).

All of that changed, or started to, only in 1973, when Emilia-Romagnan immigrant Marcella Pollini wrote The Classic Italian Cook Book. For the first time, mainstream America was introduced to the traditional principles of authentic Italian cooking. Pollini, for example, "insisted on using good olive oil—not readily available then—buying fresh ingredients in season, making homemade broth, and using the best Parmigiano-Reggiano… She also reminds readers that Italians always enjoy two courses at a meal, but neither need to be large in proportion, the way Italian-American dishes so often were."

Right on.

There are even more non-Italian "Italian dishes" than I thought

I knew dishes like spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmesan weren't Italian. (I've written about the confusion between Italian and Italian-American food before). But Mariani brings up a couple of others I hadn't thought of, and one that frankly surprised me:

  • marinara sauce: This sauce wasn't even included in a book of Italian cooking compiled by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in 2009. Somehow, though, it gained traction as a pop-culture reference in America by the 1930s. 
  • pasta primavera: Made with a stomach-turning mixture of pine nuts, tomatoes, string beans, frozen peas, and broccoli, this dish was invented by the wife of the owner of Le Cirque, who tossed it together to feed a couple of guests during a trip to Canada. Le Cirque's owner refused to make it in the restaurant, saying it would "contaminate" the kitchen. 
  • penne alla vodka: I forgot this existed until reading this book. "The vodka, of course, had no flavor at all, so it was usually marinated with chile peppers and blended with tomato and cream," Mariani notes wryly. Not Italian.
  • veal alla valdostana: A huge veal chop, stuffed with prosciutto and Fontina cheese, and doused in mushroom sauce. I spent 2 months living in the Valle d'Aosta this winter, and I can safely say I never saw this dish. 
  • tiramisu: This one surprised me, because I do see it on menus at (non-touristy) Italian restaurants today. And, okay, technically it was invented in Italy: It was first created at a restaurant in Treviso in the 1960s. But it remained virtually unknown throughout Italy all the way until the 1990s. When the Italians caught on to the fact that was wildly popular at restaurants in the U.S. …and added it to their own menus.

FedEx brought Italian food to America—literally 

Black truffle Umbria Gubbio Italy

Fine Italian foods, like this black truffle from Umbria, were hard to get to the U.S. before FedEx and DHL

In 1984, FedEx started its first routes to Europe. DHL soon followed. This was huge. As one Italian restaurateur had moaned in 1983, "most Italian ristoratori lose sleep trying to import the best possible items from Italy. To talk to us about truffles when we pay $400 a pound and when they arrive, 50 percent must be thrown away because no reliable freight service can guarantee delivery from Italy in two days? We buy French fish or black truffles because they arrive on time." 

Now, all of those hard-to-get ingredients could be delivered within 24 hours.

But it didn't solve everything. Tony May, on the board of the Culinary Institute of America, said that despite FedEx and DHL, a region's great local products didn't wind up abroad. You still had to visit Italy to find proper, regional cooking.

Alice Waters made (real) Italian food popular in America

Farmer's markets Italy

In-season produce sold on the street in Naples, Italy

When Waters opened the famed Chez Panisse in 1971, she rocked the culinary world. Why? Because her approach was different: begin with good ingredients. It seems obvious now, but it wasn't then. Cooks at every kind of restaurant in America, including Italian restaurants, "wanted the same ingredients, in or out of season, every day of the year, even if they were packaged, frozen, or canned," Mariani says.

In the meantime, tourists to Italy were fascinated by the street markets there, where the fish had been caught that morning, the beef was grass-fed, and the vegetables in season. 

And la nouvelle cuisine was getting trendy. Proponents "encouraged innovation but, more important, asked cooks to consider the health and nutrition of their patrons, shorten cooking times, avoid unnecessary complication, learn techniques, use the finest and freshest ingredients, and return to regional cooking. Taken together, these guidelines were already in force in kitchens throughout Italy." Ta-da! An Italian food revolution. 

Bonus fun fact: Did you know the USDA keeps Italian meets out of the US?

Italian meats that were banned by the USDA

Prosciutto in Emilia-Romagna—not allowed into the U.S. until 1989!

Prosciutto was banned for export to the U.S. until 1989. Mortadella and Speck were outlawed until 2000. Other meats, including cotechino and zampone, are still banned today.

The reason? "Ostensibly to protect American livestock from trichinosis and hoof-and-mouth disease, but primarily to protect U.S. pork producers from competition," Mariani writes.

Go figure.

Want more tips about eating (and more) in the Eternal City? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, now available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!


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Can’t Find a Favorite Italian Dish in Rome? Here’s Why

Neapolitan pizza margherita, Naples The short answer: The dish either isn’t Roman — or it’s not Italian.

Food culture in Italy is extraordinarily regional. So, particularly at local, non-touristy restaurants, you won’t find the same cuisine in Rome that you would in Bologna, Florence, or Venice. In Rome — or at least at Roman restaurants — you won’t find risotto (Milan and the north) or thick-crust pizza (Naples and the south), for example. (Yes, that means that pizza as good as the one in the picture above won’t exist just anywhere in Italy!)

While that has downsides, I, for one, tend to think that’s pretty cool. It makes the experience of traveling around Italy even richer and more rewarding. It also helps provide that the food you eat is made in a way that’s been time-tested by the same locals serving it up to you. And it helps ensure that those recipes use fresh, local ingredients.

On top of that, though, though, there are some foods that you could comb all of Italy for and still not find. Except, of course, in the kinds of restaurants that dish up mediocre, microwaved food at inflated prices… to tourists and tourists alone.

Why? Because these foods aren’t Italian. They’re Italian-American.

What dishes do I mean? Here’s a list of five Italian dishes that people expect, but will find much more easily in Chicago or New York than Italy.

1. Lobster fra’ diavolo. This was served for the first time in New York City in 1908 — and using Maine lobsters! Don’t expect to find the dish, which features lobster in a red sauce (sometimes spicy, sometimes not), while you’re in Italy.  

Instead try: pasta all’arrabbiata, pasta with a Roman sauce of tomatoes and red chili peppers that make it “angry” (hence the name arrabbiata). Peperoncino, or red chili peppers, used in fra' diavolo and pasta arrabbiata Like hot pepper? Don’t worry: There’s no end of ways to make your eyes stream in Italian cuisine.

2. Chicken or veal parmesan. Nope, not Italian. What is Italian, or at least southern Italian, is melanzane alla parmigiana, or what we know (roughly) as “eggplant parm” — eggplant fried and layered with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan, then baked. Using meat instead, and throwing it on top of pasta, was an invention of Italian immigrants in the United States and Canada.

As with most Italian-American cuisine, chicken and veal parm probably came about as a way to show how much more Italian immigrants could suddenly afford in the New Country. Back home, most subsisted on cheap foods like polenta and black bread in brine. (Have you seen that at your local Olive Garden? Didn’t think so.) After all, meat and pasta were expensive. But now, with their newfound American wealth, these same peasants and laborers could write back home and say Hey, guess what we cooked, parmigiana made with veal! And served with pasta!

Thus, chicken and veal “parmesan” — and lots of other meat-and-pasta dishes besides — were born.

Instead try: If you’re in Sicily or the south, melanzane alla parmigiana.

3. Spaghetti and meatballs. This, of course, is the Big Daddy of all Italian-American dishes. It comes from the same idea you saw with chicken parm: two symbols of prosperity, together in one dish. This was also a dish that, as early as the 1920s, was specifically — and erroneously — marketed to Americans as Italian. (So if you thought it was authentic Italian, you’re in good company!)

An Italian ragu Warning: In Italy, this (delicious!) dish is probably as close as you’ll get to spaghetti and meatballs.

Instead try: Hitting your meat and pasta notes separately, such as by ordering a pasta all’amatriciana (a Roman pasta with a red sauce of tomatoes and guanciale) and, if you can find them, separate polpettine di carne (meatballs).

Bent on combining lots of meat with lots of pasta? Your best bet will be a Tuscan or Umbrian ragù — but, with very little or no tomato and lots of minced-up meat, onion, celery, and carrot, it’s not the sauce you’re probably thinking of! If you’re in Bologna, definitely try pasta alla bolognese, but steel yourself here, too: It may be redder than an Umbrian ragù, but still uses lots of meat and only a little bit of tomato paste. (In other words, it ain’t like the bolognese back home).

4. Garlic bread. The whole idea of smothering bread in either olive oil or butter with lots of garlic was invented in the U.S. in the 1940s, if not before. A similar version is known in Europe, too… in Romania.

Instead try: bruschetta al pomodoro, toasted bread, often rubbed with a bit of garlic (but not nearly what you see with garlic bread!), then piled with tomatoes and some extra virgin olive oil.

5. Olive oil to dip your bread into. It’s just not done in Italy, partly for the reasons I once wrote about in “Eleven Etiquette Mistakes (Not) to Make at an Italian Meal.” In short, you’re supposed to use your bread while you’re eating to mop up the sauce, not eat it before the food arrives. And, secondly, the flavor of olive oil is broken down by light and heat — the two things it’ll be exposed to if it’s just sitting on your table.

Instead try: mopping up your sauce with the bread, and enjoying olive oil as it appears on the other dishes.

Also: my favorite trattorias in Rome, where to find the best gelato and how to pack for any season.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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How Safe is Rome, Really? (Updated for 2017)

Police sign in RomeMany visitors to Rome ask — worriedly — about crime in Italy’s capital city. They wonder if they can walk around safely at night. If they can carry a purse without it getting snatched. If they can relax on their vacation. (After all, doesn’t all the graffiti around alone mean the city is lawless?)

The first part of the answer: Like any city, you need to be aware in Rome. It’s an urban area. There are lots of people, not all of them stand-up characters. Don’t walk alone down unlit streets, be aware of your surroundings, don’t carry lots of cash on you, know the country’s emergency numbers.

But. Before you bemoan leaving the safety of San Francisco or Dublin or even Omaha, Nebraska for Rome, a little perspective on how worried you really should be… based on the statistics.

(A caveat here: I know that crime statistics aren’t perfect. I know that there are issues with crime reporting and with how to analyze the numbers. But I think some solid numbers are more helpful than yet more anecdotal evidence, which is already pretty plentiful on travel forums and elsewhere on the internet — and can be risky, since of course a traveler is much more likely to post about a mugging than to post about not having been mugged).

First, let’s take the most violent of violent crimes. According to the European Union’s statistics-gathering wing, from 2005 to 2007, Rome had 1.32 homicides per 100,000 people. That makes it a city of fewer murders per capita than some two-thirds of Europe’s other capital cities, from Dublin (2.4 homicides) to Prague (3.25), London (2.25) to Paris (1.49). Other cities with higher murder rates in Europe than Rome include Belfast, Amsterdam, Brussels, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, and Madrid.

And yet, remember: Even in those European cities, you’re still better off than you would be, statistically speaking, in most urban areas back in the States. Of the 70 biggest cities in the U.S., only one has a lower murder rate either than Rome’s or than the average for European capital cities in general. (I’m looking at you, Plano, Texas, with 0.8 homicides per 100,000). While Prague’s 3.25 murders sounds pretty bad for Europe, it’s still doing better than Seattle (4.1), Omaha (9.7), San Francisco (13.6), New York City (6), Anchorage (7.7), Chicago (15.7), or Boston (11) — to name just a few. And then there’s our nation’s capital, whose homicide rate, at 30.8 per 100,000, is almost thirty times higher than Rome’s.

(Update, April 2017: All of the reports I originally linked to in this piece have moved and, of course, these statistics from the 2000’s are out of date. However, most recent statistics for Italy via Istat seem to show things are getting even better: There are 0.7 homicides per 100,000 people in Rome as of 2015. That makes it safer than Venice (1.1 homicides per 100,000), Milan (1), Turin (0.8) or Naples (3.9). While I can no longer find data comparing different European cities, in the US, the FBI still collects crime rates per city. The 2015 data — the most recent available — shows that US numbers remain grim in comparison to any European city, including Rome. There are 3 homicides per 100,000 people in the city of Seattle, 10.6 in Omaha and 8.6 in Anchorage, for example. And as The Economist reported in 2016, out of the 50 cities in the world with the highest homicide rates, all are from Latin America and the Caribbean — except for South Africa and four cities in the US, led by St. Louis, with nearly 60 homicides per 100,000 people.).

Okay. So that’s that for murders. But what about other crimes?

Here, the statistics get a bit tougher to find. Petty crime — like pickpocketing — is particularly difficult. I think these robbery rates by European country, though, are pretty telling. (Robbery includes mugging and bag-snatching, but not pickpocketing). In 2007, Italy had 74,130 robberies for its roughly 60.4 million people, or 122 robberies per 100,000 people. That’s higher than, say, Ireland’s 2,173 out of 4.47 million, or 49 robberies per 100,000 — but still a lower crime rate than England and Wales, for example, with its 84,706 robberies translating to roughly 156 robberies per 100,000.*

Then again, that same year, only fourteen of the U.S. states and D.C. had a lower robbery rate than Italy. And once again, many of the U.S. rates are jaw-droppingly higher than Europe’s — including in Nevada (270), Indiana (124), Maryland (236), New York (161), and Texas (162). The biggest offender? Washington, D.C., whose 724 robberies per 100,000 people make it almost ten times more dangerous than Italy.

(Update, April 2017: In 2014, the most recent year available, Italy had 58,345 robberies, or about 97 per 100,000 people; Ireland had 2,648, or 58 per 100,000, and England and Wales had 50,236, translating to roughly 89 robberies per 100,000. Robbery in the U.S. remains much higher, including, again, in states including Nevada (217.5), Indiana (107), Maryland (164), New York (120) and Texas (116). In D.C., that number is an astonishing 556 robberies per 100,000 people.)

Sensing a theme here?

Of course, you have to keep one thing in mind: As a tourist, you are more of a target in Rome, at least for on-the-street property crimes like muggings and pickpocketing, than Italians are. And while you’ll probably be just fine, taking precautions, like using a money belt, might not only make you safer — but simply help you feel more comfortable.

(Update, April 2017: Pickpocketing, always the one thing tourists really had to watch out for in Rome, has been increasing slightly in Rome in the last few years, as is noted by the U.S. Department of State.)

So. In sum, do you have to be alert and aware of your surroundings in Rome? Yes. But do you also have to be when you’re traveling in Paris, or Madrid, or London, or even you’re back at home in Dublin or Boston or Omaha? Absolutely.

In some cases, even more so.

(Update, April 2017: Of course, these days, it also should be noted that one threat that wasn’t as major when I first wrote this post is a threat of terrorist attacks, of the type seen in Orlando, Brussels and Paris. Always be on your guard and alert for anything suspicious, including in iconic areas like the Colosseum and on public transport).

Stay tuned for a future post on Rome’s most common scams and crimes and how to stay safe in the city.

Want more tips and tricks to exploring Rome? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!

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Bus and Metro-Related Questions in Rome, Part Two

Tabaccaio, where you can buy bus and metro ticketsI recently posted on whether tourists to Rome should use the city's public transport (short version: I think yes). For many, though, being told that Rome's buses and metros are fairly frequent, reliable, and cheap is all well and good, but how the heck do you actually use them?

And so: Some top questions — and answers — about Rome's public transportation.

Where do you buy a ticket? You can buy your ticket — which combines unlimited bus rides and one metro ride from 75 minutes after validation — at any tobacco shops or metro stations. Some bus stops, like the one at Largo Argentina, also have ticket machines. Some buses do on board, as well, but I wouldn't count on it. I've posted previously on how to find a tabaccaio and what else you can buy there.

Should I get a RomaPass? What are my other options? The RomaPass is easy and convenient: For €25, you get two free site entrances, discounted entrances elsewhere, and unlimited public transport, for three days. But as I've written before, it's not for everyone, even when you consider that it lets you "skip the line" at sites. 

If you're getting the RomaPass primarily to save on public transport, meanwhile, you're making the wrong choice. You have other (and cheaper) options, all sold by the city at the same locations as the normal €1 tickets. For €4, you can get an unlimited ticket for a day. €11 gets you an unlimited ticket for three days (that's less than half the cost of the RomaPass). And if you're staying for a week, you can spring for the €16 ticket, good for seven days.

Why didn't anyone check my bus ticket? Because they don't do it that way here. Instead of checking your ticket when you get on the bus, instead, Rome will (very occasionally) send guards onto buses at random stops to check all the passengers for their tickets. If you don't have a validated ticket, you get a fine. They used to do the metro this way, too, but that system changed a few years ago.

I had a ticket and when the bus was checked, I got a fine! Why? First, bad luck! Checks seem to happen very, very rarely — I take the bus once or twice a day, and I've been checked only twice in the past year.

The reason why your ticket wasn't sufficient, though, is probably because you didn't validate it. That means running it through the yellow machine on the bus as soon as you get on. (The metro does this for you when you feed your ticket through). The machine stamps your ticket with the time; if it's been 75 minutes since validation or if the ticket was never validated at all, it's, well, invalid. Otherwise, everyone would just carry the same ticket around and use it over and over and over.

If someone tries to give me a fine, should I pay it on the spot or wait? If you're unlucky enough to have screwed up the time, failed to validate, or plain old forgotten to buy a ticket — and get checked — you'll probably be given an option by the guard. You can pay €50 in cash on the spot. Or, you can fill out a form to get a fine sent to you at your home address, to the tune of €100.

The offer of cash-in-pocket seems a little sketchy. But it's not. It's even written on the sign with ticket prices that you should see when you get on the bus (in Italian). My best guess is that they have the two separate fees because they know that, if they send you a fine at your home address, it will most likely 1) not ever arrive or 2) not ever be paid by you, who's returned back to your foreign home country and will never be forced to deal with said fine…and, most likely, not even be forced to deal with it even if you returned to Italy, even to live. By offering you the cash option instead, at least this way, they know they have the money.

Why doesn't the metro run to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and other sites that seem like they'd be pretty useful? Rome's working on building metro Line C, which will go closer to some of those sites. In general, though, Rome's lines A and B skirt the centro storico. That's primarily because it's too tough archaeologically: Whether you're walking around Piazza Venezia or the Pantheon, you have an ancient city from 10 to 20 feet beneath your feet. It's pretty hard to build a metro line there, particularly with entrances, without disrupting all of those archaeological treasures. 

   Bus stop sign, Rome How can you tell at the bus stops what the bus route is? With difficulty! Romans know Rome pretty well — and the bus stops were designed for them, not for tourists. So instead of a handy bus route map at each stop, you get, instead, a somewhat-befuddling list of the names of bus stops. (Shown above).

Sometimes, this can work out. Piazza Venezia is a stop that's usually listed as "Venezia" or "Piazza Venezia"; "Aracoeli" takes you there, too. But Piazza Navona is rarely "Piazza Navona" (look for "Rinascimento," instead), and if you get on a bus to "San Pietro", you might wind up pretty darn far from St. Peter's Basilica — instead, the closest stop is the one called "Cavalleggeri." And if you want to get to the Cavour metro stop, don't get on a bus with a stop called "Cavour." That'll take you over near the Vatican.

Confused yet? 

The best way to use the buses, therefore, is to plan a route — and have a bus number in mind — in advance. Unless you know Rome fairly well, just wandering around looking for a bus with the stops you want can be an all but impossible way to get around.

So how do you plan a route or figure out what bus you want in advance? Ah, here it gets simple: Go to www.atac.roma.it. Put in your starting point (in the "da" box) and destination ("a"). Click "vai," and your route is planned out for you. Bus numbers and all.

Anything I missed?


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