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

How to get to Rome from Fiumicino airport
If you’re coming to Rome from abroad, you’ll probably be landing at the Rome Fiumicino airport. And by the time you get off your flight, you’ll be jet-lagged, exhausted, and anything but “switched on.” No matter how excited you are to be in Rome.

That’s why you have to have an idea of how you’ll get from the airport to your Rome hotel before you land. Because otherwise, that taxi driver who (illegally) approaches you at the terminal to offer you a ride, when your hands are full of bags and you’ve realized your phrasebook Italian isn’t enough to ask someone where you should go, might seem tempting.

Less so 80 or 90 euros later.

Luckily, getting from Fiumicino into the center of Rome by public transport is pretty straightforward. You just need to know what your options are in advance!

Nota bene: If you have a ton of luggage, I’d recommend booking a transfer or taking a taxi. That’s because, when you get into the city on your train or bus, you’ll probably have to transfer to another form of public transport. Not only does that often involve some walking, but even at some metro stations—like the Colosseo metro stop—there’s no escalator or elevator whatsoever, only stairs. And if you’re in three people or more, it’s a no-brainer: splitting a taxi winds up being almost as cheap as the train.

The tourist train “Leonardo da Vinci Express” train

How to get to Rome from Fiumicino airport
The Leonardo da Vinci Express takes you right to Termini—which can be a good option, but isn’t always the best

The train station at Fiumicino is located within short walking distance of the baggage claim. Just follow the signs for the train station, or ask anyone at the airport. Most travelers planning on taking the train into central Rome opt for the Leonardo da Vinci Express train. It goes directly from the airport to Termini station, making no stops, and takes half an hour. (From Termini, you have to get to your hotel on your own, however—and if you opt for a cab, it’s likely to be another €10 to €15. So always consider whether it’s just cheaper to take a cab or transfer directly from the airport, instead!).

Because it does go to Termini, unlike the other train, then if you know you need to take the metro line A to your hotel, this is a good bet. Still, locals know better than to take the Leonardo da Vinci. Why? Because it costs €14 each way—and, instead, you could just take…

The regional train (treno regionale)

The normal, regionale train leaves from the same station at Fiumicino, also takes a half an hour, and costs just €8 each way. However, it doesn’t go to Termini. Instead, it makes several stops in Rome, including at Stazione Ostiense—probably the most useful if you’re staying in the centro storico. 

To get from Ostiense station to the center, either hop a cab outside the station or follow the signs for the metro; a 5-minute walk brings you to the Piramide metro stop on the B line. From there, it’s two stops to the Colosseo metro stop or four to Termini, where you can switch to the A line.

If you’re staying in Testaccio or near the Colosseum, are planning on getting a cab from the station in Rome to your hotel anyway, and/or are on a tight budget, this is a good bet.

The bus

Several buses run from Fiumicino to the city center. They take a little under an hour, depending on traffic, but are a cheaper option than the train. They include the SIT bus shuttle, Terravision bus (run by Ryanair), COTRAL bus, and ATRAL-Lazio bus. Each costs about €5, each way, and most go right to the Termini train station.

The taxi (with, yay, a flat rate!)

How to get to Rome from Fiumicino airport
You could always take a taxi…

There is a flat rate to go from the Fiumicino airport to the city center: €48, including all luggage and any extra charges.

As soon as you get in a taxi at the airport, therefore, make sure your driver does not run the meter and only pay that amount at the end. It is illegal for your driver to charge you more.

By the center of Rome, by the way, I (and the city of Rome) mean anything within the Aurelian walls. So if you’re staying anywhere near Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, or Colosseum, you’re good. If you have any doubt about whether the hotel is in the centro storico, ask your hotel in advance; if it’s outside of the historic center, your driver has the right to run the meter and to charge you supplements instead of the flat fare. (And probably will).

Booking a transfer in advance

Finally, you can, of course, book a transfer with a company in advance; there are a million and one Rome transfer companies (and tour companies that offer transfers). The price is generally €65 and up, but if you don’t want to deal with the stress of making sure a taxi won’t screw you over, and you just want to be able to relax knowing that a driver will be waiting for you, with your name on a sign, right when you get out of baggage claim, then this is the option for you.

Uber

Yes: the app taking over the world’s cities has made it to Rome (much to the consternation of taxi drivers). Although the basic idea of this ride-sharing app is similar to other cities, there’s one big difference. Rome doesn’t offer UberX or the other lower-priced services; it only has the higher-end services: UberBLACK, UberLUX and UberVAN. That means that, often, taking an Uber is as expensive as (or more expensive than) taking a taxi. But it also means that drivers often aren’t “normal” people picking up some cash on the side, but rather professional drivers, which is a benefit. From Ciampino airport (which has WiFi, so you can book an Uber using the Uber app on your phone when you arrive), it should be about €40 into the center, although, as always with Uber, it depends on pricing and availability at that time. (You get a fare estimate before you book). Update, October 2017: The legal status of Uber in Italy has been changing as of late — it was banned in April, then re-legalized in May — so before you count on it, double-check by Googling it online.

Coming from Ciampino airport, instead? Here is how to get to the Rome center from Ciampino.

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How to Avoid Being Pickpocketed in Rome

How to avoid pickpockets in Rome
Crime in Rome is very low, especially violent crime (which includes mugging). And pickpocketing? It’s not something you have to be paranoid about. Really.

That said, it does happen—just as it does in Barcelona, or Paris, or Istanbul. And there’s no quicker way to ruin a vacation than to reach into your pocket and discover that your wallet’s been lifted.

Just remember that some pickpockets are very talented. Once they’ve picked you as their target, you can kiss that wallet goodbye. The key is to not get picked as their target to begin with.

Here’s how.

Forget trying to “not look like a tourist”

Dressing like an Italian

Even if you dressed like this girl, something else would still give you away

Unless you’re a gifted style chameleon and already have a wardrobe of Italy-bought items, you won’t look like an Italian. And even if you are wearing something lifted from an Italian fashion blog, something else will give you away—your hand gestures, your haircut, even your smile. That’s before you open your mouth and start speaking English, or Italian with a foreign accent.

So while it feels nice to blend in as much as possible, know that you probably won’t be able to “pass.” Not to mention that people who regularly encounter tourists—from waiters to tour guides to, yes, pickpockets—will be especially attuned to being able to tell if you’re a tourist or not.

It’s not a bad thing. It’s just a fact.

But do try not look like a clueless tourist…

Some items of clothing will mark you as not just a tourist, but one who hasn’t traveled much. And that can make you a particular target. I’m talking about the classics here. The big white sneakers. Fanny packs. Sweatsuits and sweatpants. T-shirts printed with “I LOVE ROME”.

Fairly or not, these items aren’t just interpreted as “I’m a tourist”; they’re interpreted as “I’m a tourist, and I’m on my first trip abroad ever!”.

Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.

Or to act like one

How to avoid being pickpocketed

When you’re focusing on your photo op, keep your wits about you

Put simply, you should always be aware of what’s going on around you, especially if you’re in a very crowded area or a very quiet, dark one. For example, here are some things not to do:

  • when getting that perfect photo, don’t focus on your camera so much that you wouldn’t notice someone coming up behind you
  • at an outdoor restaurant or cafe, don’t leave your purse dangling off the back of your chair, or sitting on the ground next to you
  • don’t get so engrossed in a conversation with a friend on the bus that neither of you notice the person taking the opportunity to lift a wallet out of your purse

I’ve seen all three of these situations happen. Every time, they could have been avoided.

Know the classic tricks

If you’re in a crowd and you’re suddenly, inexplicably shoved, that’s a red flag. As you catch your balance, your hands go up (away from your purse or pockets), you stop paying attention for a split second… and it’s the perfect moment to lift your wallet.

Or, if you’re on a metro or bus that’s packed to the gills and someone forces their way on—despite there being clearly no room at all on the bus—that could be a trick, too. Of course, lots of people try to shove on. But if you see someone squeeze on and then continue to work their way through the bus, despite the crowd, that’s a sign of something fishy.

Another classic pickpocketing trick: Boarding the metro right before the doors close, grabbing a wallet (perhaps with the shove-and-surprise move), and then exiting just as the doors are closing.

Finally, be aware when you see a group of several people (usually, unfortunately, Roma), begging on a street or along a crowd. There will be a child or two, or a cardboard sign, or sometimes both. Stop to read the sign, and a child gets you from your back pocket. Turn to the child, and someone’s pickpocketing you while using the sign as cover.

Clearly, you can’t know every trick in the book. And—since it isn’t likely you’ll encounter these scenarios on one or two trips to Rome—you don’t have to.

But if something strikes you as “off,” like someone jamming their way into a bus or knocking into you, trust that instinct.

Choose a purse or moneybelt that makes a pickpocket’s life hard

Look: I don’t think it’s necessary to have a moneybelt in Rome. It always strikes me as a little paranoid, as well as inconvenient—every time you buy a gelato or a museum ticket, you have to reach down under your shirt or pants and take out cash? (Without making the people around you think you’re about to expose yourself to them?). And if you’re in a high-risk situation, what’s to stop someone from pickpocketing you at that moment?

Still, we’re talking about the best ways to deter pickpockets here. And wearing a moneybelt can be one of them.

As long as it’s the right kind of moneybelt. One that goes over your clothes is useless. It’s really useless if it’s back-facing, like a fannypack. Front-facing, it’s still not much better than having a wallet in your front pocket or a purse over your shoulder. The most secure kind goes under your clothes (but then that inconvenience factor comes into play).

Otherwise, a purse or wallet can be fine. Wallets should always be carried in a front pocket, not a back pocket. In certain (crowded) situations, be sure to keep your hand on the pocket with the wallet in it.

Purses should have a zip top; no outside pockets (at least that you put anything important in); ideally a separate, zipped compartment inside for your wallet; and should still be carried at the front of your body, with your arm over the top, when in a potentially “high-risk” situation (see below). (I’d much rather you had someone like my guy Armando Rioda make you a purse like this here in Italy, but if that’s not in the cards, something like this cheap leather tote or this cute red Coach purse would work great).

As an aside, my wallet’s been lifted from my purse once in Rome. It was five years ago, when I was visiting before I moved here. And I’d made every mistake in the book: I had a big purse with my wallet lying right on top of everything else, everything was unzipped and open, and my purse was on my back, and I wasn’t paying any attention.

Don’t carry ridiculous amounts of cash

I just read a moneybelt review saying the traveler safely carried around €800 in cash on their trip. I guess that speaks highly of the moneybelt… because that’s an absurd thing to do!

I get it: You want to minimize the amount of ATM fees by taking out a lot of money at once. And you’re worried you won’t find an ATM when you do need cash. But you’re in a city. There are lots of ATMs everywhere.And I’d rather spend $5 or even $10 extra per transaction to not have to worry that, if something happened, I’d be out €800.

At the very least, don’t carry that much on you because, when you’re going into your moneybelt to take a bill out of that thick wad of cash, people (and potential pickpockets) will see that you’re Mr. Moneybags.

Perhaps the most important tip: Remember that context is key

Porta Portese market in Rome

At crowded markets like Porta Portese, be especially aware

You could make all of these mistakes while sitting on a bench in quiet Piazza Farnese, or looking at a mosaic in the Palazzo Massimo, or while sightseeing on the Palatine Hill, and—most likely—you’d still leave with your belongings intact. That’s because, although you should always be aware of your surroundings, these types of situations—where you’re in an uncrowded area, especially one where you have to pay to be there—are ones where you can generally let your guard down.

When you have to be careful is when you’re 1) in the tourist crowds and 2) it’s easy to access you (and your pockets) and leave, all without 3) much monetary investment on the pickpocket’s part.

So while you can relax a bit in the Sistine Chapel (seriously, what pickpocket wants to pay €15 and, if he’s caught, be stuck in an enclosed space?), do be especially aware at the Termini train station, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Porta Portese market, and Colosseum. Also be highly cautious on crowded buses and subway trains.

Finally, relax

Is it more likely you’d be pickpocketed in Rome than in a tiny town in Vermont or Utah? Yep. Is it still really unlikely anything bad will happen to you? Definitely. In the three years I’ve lived here, I’ve never had a problem, despite taking public transportation constantly and often being in crowds.

So be aware, but relax. Pickpocketing isn’t the only way to ruin a vacation—pickpocketing paranoia can, too!

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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10 Ways to Save Money While Living in Rome (And While Traveling, Too)

Rome can be expensive to live in...

If you live in Rome, then you know: It can be expensive. Especially for those converting from another currency. But believe it or not, there are ways to save money while living in Italy.

And so, for expats, students, and others who are here for the long (or long-ish) term, here are ten money-saving tips. Note that some of these tips, like how to save on airfare, are also pretty useful for short-term travelers to Italy!

Have any other tips for how to live in Italy on a budget? Please share in the comments!

1. Take advantage of points schemes for your cell phone, grocery store, and more

Sign up for Vodafone One, for example, and you can earn points and get free minutes. (In the past, I’ve participated in a summer promotion that matched whatever ricarica I added to my phone, and another one where I was allowed to always call one phone number for free). Ask about loyalty cards at your grocery store. Even sign up for a loyalty card at stores like Sephora, if you shop there. It all adds up.

2. Make friends with your local grocer, pizzeria-owner… and everyone else besides

Become a regular at your cafe in Rome and save money
Yes, being a loyal customer can help you save money in the States, especially when it comes to things like airlines. (More on that later!). But it helps you even more in Italy. Why? Because everything here is based on who you know. And because, unlike in the U.S. or England, even (and especially) the smallest family-run establishments tend to, ahem, adjust their prices depending on whether they consider you a friend. Make one local pizzeria, restaurant, fruit and vegetable stand, or shoe cobbler your favorite, and you juuuust might notice that, by the third or fourth time you return, little charges will be knocked off your bill, the total will be rounded down, or you’ll get free items thrown in for free.

3. Sign up for Groupon

When it comes to a lot of things online, Italy’s a bit behind. Not so with Groupon. Groupon.it, the (duh) Italian version of the site, is pretty sweet. There are different deals every day (with usually five to ten daily in Rome), often 50-80 percent off of the normal price. You have 24 hours to grab it before it goes.

What’s available to buy, you ask? Everything from computer hard disks, to weekend breaks in Italy, to haircuts, to medical examinations. There are also lots of dinner deals, great for the expat who wants to try lots of different restaurants in Italy but doesn’t want to burn through all their cash. (Just always cross-check the restaurant with a site like DueSpaghi to make sure it doesn’t suck). The medical stuff (everything from dental cleaning to breast exam to laser surgery) can be a great way to save on necessary procedures.

  A Groupon deal in Italy One of my fave Groupon purchases: two nights at this castle, with lunch, dinner and a tour, for €200… for two people

And I don’t think I’m alone when I say that my friends in New York make me particularly jealous when they brag that they can get a great $25 mani and pedi, or a $30 hour-long massage, in the heart of town. In Rome, the prices are twice that—and with a euro symbol, not a dollar sign, in front of them. But with Groupon, I’ve gotten everything from 3 hour-long massages for just €39 total to a manicure, pedicure and facial for €19.

The one hitch is that to sign up for Italian Groupon, you need an Italian address (of course) and a way to pay that’s linked to that Italian address. If your credit card is linked to a U.S. account, though, don’t worry: Just sign up for PayPal and use that when you buy something. Even if PayPal’s got a U.S. address on it, Groupon can use it to pay for your purchases.

4. If you’re eligible, get a student card

Italy is big on youth and student discounts. Often, you need to be an E.U. citizen to take advantage—but not always. The Vatican museums, for example, cost €8 instead of €15 for all students who have an I.D. And you can get a pass for all of Rome’s public transport for €18 per month, not €30, with an I.D. if you’re under 26, as long as you’re a “resident” in Rome. (This means, though, that if you get checked, the checker could ask for your permesso di soggiorno as proof, although no one has asked me for mine yet).

To prove your “youth,” you need an ISIC card. Getting one is so easy, I kicked myself for not having done it earlier: All you need is a passport picture and €10. Obviously, you’re also supposed to be a student (I was taking language classes at the time), and you have to tell ISIC where you’re studying. Not that they seemed to check… or particularly care! You can do this at the CTS at Corso Vittorio Emanuele 297.

5. Know what to buy outside of Italy

Some things are cheaper in Rome than back home (public transport, Italian wine, ubiquitous  ruins free for the gazing). Some are more expensive (basic pharmaceuticals like Tylenol, contact lens solution, certain beauty products and moisturizers, peanut butter, cans of Coke). Figure out what you can live without (I haven’t ordered a Diet Coke with a meal since moving to Italy, for example, and as a bonus, I’ve found I’ve completely lost the taste for it), and for what you can’t—like lens solution—consider bringing some from home.

American candy, expensive in Italy!Don’t want to give this up in Rome? It’ll cost you

But that doesn’t mean you should have friends or family send you the cheaper goods by mail. Lots of things have a tendency to get hung up in customs (if they make it at all!), and you’ll have to fill out a bunch of paperwork and then pay a lot of money to claim your package. (One friend of mine had to spend about $50 to retrieve an Easter basket of candy her mother sent her). If you can’t buy it while you’re in the States and bring it over yourself, in general, don’t have anyone send it to you.

6. Be careful with your credit cards in Italy

…and no, I don’t mean in terms of the usual, “always pay them off as you go” advice. First of all, remember that few places in Italy accept credit cards. And that even if a restaurant does, technically, accept them, that means the transaction is fully registered and taxed—so you have a higher chance of getting a “break” on your bill, and of making friends with the owner (see tip #2!), if you pay in cash.

Secondly, know that most credit cards charge you an “international transaction fee” for using your card abroad. One of the only ones I know of that doesn’t is Capital One. So when I have to use a card in Italy, that’s the card I reach for. (Although I’d love if Capital One had some competition in this regard!).

7. Save on all those airfares back and forth from Italy

One of the expenses that stings the most is going back and forth to your home country. First, forget the old method of just using a couple of U.S.-run sites, like Expedia, to do your booking. Sure, look at Expedia—but also look at Vayama and Mobissimo, where I’ve found some of my best luck yet on fares.

Secondly, sign up for any loyalty programs you can. If you’re planning on spending some time in Italy, those fares back and forth will add up.

Third, carefully choose what credit card you buy your airfare with. Thanks to its international transaction fees, I would never, for example, use my Citicard to buy anything from an Italian vendor. But I do use it frequently for online purchases from U.S. companies (like Amazon to buy for books for my Kindle) even when I’m abroad. And right now, through September, Citicard gives me 5% cash back on any travel or airline purchases. So you can guess how I’ll be buying my Christmas plane tickets home.

Fourth, keep watching your fare even after you’ve bought it. Most airlines let you do a flight change if the price drops. Most charge, but it can be worth it: Virgin charges $75, United $150, and Delta and US Airways $250. So if the price drop was more than that, give them a call to get your money back.

8. Tip like an Italian…

Tipping in Italy is always a touchy subject, but let’s be clear on one thing: Italians tip less than Americans. A lot less. We’re talking about rounding up to the nearest euro, not throwing in an extra two or three dollars, for a cab ride. We’re talking about rounding up on the bill at a restaurant and maybe putting another euro or two down, only if servizio wasn’t already charged. We’re talking about not tipping the person who cuts your hair or does your nails.

Yes, it might make you cringe at first, but Italy is a completely different system. Many Italians aren’t even happy about seeing Americans tip a lot, because that changes the local culture, and changing the local culture to be more like what you’re used to “back home” is the definition of invasive tourism. Part of living somewhere is adapting to the local culture. The local culture is not a tipping one. So instead of tipping 20 percent on a restaurant bill, save your money—and use it to return to the restaurant a second time.

9. …shop like an Italian: during the saldi!…

The saldi, a great way to save in Italy Even if Italy’s prices seem high the rest of the year (jeans for €60? Really, Zara?), that’s just because everyone is waiting for the saldi, that wonderful twice-annual tradition where every store in town slashes their prices. Generally taking place for six weeks, once around New Year’s and once in mid-summer, it’s the perfect time to stock up on clothes. It’s also when you should consider making pricier purchases, like leather boots, handbags, computer items, even a mattress. 

10. and try to eat and, well, live like Italians

At the risk of painting an entire culture with a broad brush, in general, Italians don’t eat dinner out every night, but cook (wonderful, big) meals for their families. They don’t drink, and they definitely don’t make a habit of shelling out for €10 cocktails at bars. So, when in doubt, take a cue from the people living around you. They’ve figured out how to live in Italy without going broke. You can, too. Really truly.

When in Rome, save like Romans save!

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Crypta Balbi, a Rome Museum with an Underground Secret

Part of the underground of Rome's Crypta Balbi, a national museum of Rome

It’s probably the most-overlooked museo nazionale Romano — but for a history buff, or someone simply trying to wrap their head around Rome’s many, many years of evolution, the Crypta Balbi deserves a stop.

The museum’s big claim to fame is that it stands on remains of the Theater of Balbus (13 B.C.), and you can still go down and see the ruins, today hidden beneath the modern museum (above). While that’s cool — and, after such neat underground experiences as the columbarium of Pomponio Hylas or the Mithraic temple beneath the Circus Maximus, I’m aware I might be a bit jaded biased — it wasn’t, for me, the best part of the Crypta Balbi. Particularly as the signs for the underground section were rudimentary and confusing, making it near-impossible for anyone but an archaeologist to be able to figure out what was what.

So why go to the Crypta Balbi?

In all honesty, because it’s the first museum I’ve found that lays out what the historical center of Rome looked like in ancient times, in the Middle Ages, and through to today. With accompanying artifacts.

No, it’s not with cutting-edge technology. But those maps and pictures? They’re pretty darn helpful. Now, when I walk past the Largo Argentina or by the Theater of Marcellus, I have a much, much clearer image in my mind of what not just particular buildings, but whole neighborhoods, would have looked like. (Below, the Crypta Balbi area in the late-antique and medieval periods). Map of Crypta Balbi and ancient Rome in Museo Nazionale Romano

Map of Crypta Balbi and ancient Rome in Museo Nazionale Romano
The artifacts in the museum, meanwhile, are actually much more extensive than I’d expected, with artifacts like the Forma Urbis Romae, a 60-by-45-foot marble map of the city that Emperor Septimius Severus mounted in the Forum to help 3rd-century visitors to the city. (Today, obviously, only fragments remain. But it’s still cool to see).Forma Urbis Romae, marble map of ancient Rome, in Crypta Balbi, Rome

Despite its treasures, the Crypta Balbi isn’t a particularly large museum. And that’s kind of nice. It means you can easily see the underground, look at all the artifacts, and wrap your mind around ancient Rome in about an hour and a half. And, after a day at the Vatican or an afternoon at the Palazzo Massimo, don’t discount the merit of not being exhausted after a museum trip.

The Crypta Balbi is open daily from 9am to 7:45pm, except Mondays. The ticket (€7 full, €3.50 reduced) is valid for three days at not only the Crypta Balbi, but also the Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps, and Baths of Diocletian. It’s located at Via delle Botteghe Oscure 31. Here’s a map of Crypta Balbi’s location.

 

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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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Going to the Amalfi Coast? Please, Don’t Buy the Coral

Coral jewelry sold in Sorrento, Amalfi coast, Italy
After visiting the Amalfi coast this week, I was struck by the amount of coral jewelry being sold — and the number of tourists buying it. It didn't seem as if anyone else saw signs like that above, proudly proclaiming "Genuine Coral," as a problem. But it is.

Why shouldn't you buy (genuine, unfarmed) coral, whether from the Amalfi coast or elsewhere? Let's count the ways.

1. It's not even from the Mediterranean. Most visitors seem to think that the coral making up those pretty blue, red, and pink necklaces comes from the Bay of Naples. But at least two-thirds of coral jewelry sold  on the Amalfi comes, instead, from the Pacific. Why? Because the Mediterranean is already largely depleted of its reefs… thanks to overfishing. And while the Pacific currently has more coral, its resources are quickly running out, as well. 

2. Coral is not a rock, or a plant. It's an animal. Coral is alive — at least, before it's fished. It belongs to the same animal group as jellyfish and sea anemones. Each single animal is called a polyp; together, these polyps make up a colony. They excrete calcium carbonate for protection, which makes up their exoskeletons. So what you are wearing around your neck is, literally, the skeleton of these creatures. (Yuck).

3. It's an animal that supports a full 25 percent of other ocean animals. More than 4,000 species of fish alone depend on coral, living in and among its handy nooks and crannies and feeding on the other creatures that live there. Coral reefs make up the world's richest and most diverse type of marine habitat. And they provide the backbone of a whole ecosystem that, without them, can't exist.

Think of coral reefs like a rainforest: If you wouldn't buy the harvested wood of an endangered tree that supported 25 percent of all rainforest animals, don't buy coral.

A thriving coral reef
4. Coral reefs are pretty important to people, too. They naturally protect coastlines from storms, erosion, and tsunamis; they provide millions of people worldwide with the fish that they rely on for meals. An estimated 500 million people worldwide require coral reefs for their livelihoods.

5. To get the coral, many Mediterranean harvesters still use dredging. That's illegal. Dredging, which means dragging nets along the seabed, takes absolutely everything in its path. Once dredged, coral reefs simply don't recover. They're deader than dead. The practice has been banned in the Mediterranean since 1994, but it's still done.

6. All of that important coral is disappearing. Fast. In the Mediterranean, red coral harvests have plummeted by 66 percent from 1985 to 2001. That's not because jewelers have turned to more sustainable practices; it's because hardly any coral is left. Worldwide, one-quarter of reefs are irreparably damaged, while another two-thirds is at serious risk of being lost.

I've scuba-dived in damaged reefs before, and there's no overemphasizing just how big the difference is between a dead reef — white, abandoned, without a single living thing — and a live reef, teeming with colorful fish and plant life. It's heartbreaking to think that 25 percent of reefs that were healthy just several decades ago have now slipped into the former category.

7. Once it's gone, coral ain't coming back, at least anytime soon. It takes a coral reef an entire year to grow from 1 to 3 centimeters horizontally and 1 to 25 centimeters vertically. And, of course, that growth can only happen in an area that's being undisturbed by practices like trawling. That means the coral reefs in existence are pretty old; the Great Barrier Reef, for example, started growing 20,000 years ago.

The reasons to think twice before splurging for coral go on and on.

Yes, it's worth keeping in mind, too, that the coral fishers and jewelers in the Amalfi depend on coral for their livelihoods. And it is a practice they've been following for hundreds of years. But before millions of tourists visited the Amalfi coast every year, the demand simply wasn't there for coral on the same level it is now. So the trawling wasn't at the same level, either. Many reefs still thrived. Not today.

So while my heart goes out to those who say they have to harvest coral to put food on the table, it's those workers, too, who might want to invest in more sustainable practices. Because at this rate, they'll all be out of a job in twenty years.

So please: Don't buy the coral. If you're looking for a souvenir from Sorrento or Positano, go for that limoncello instead.  

Positano, Amalfi coastYou can find a better souvenir of your time in Positano. How about a pretty picture instead?

For more information and to see what else you can do to help, check out:

Reef Relief, a nonprofit devoted to saving the world's coral reefs

Miss Scuba's article on the different types of coral and how coral harvesting is harmful

The Earthwatch Institute's section on coral reefs

The resources and information at the Coral Reef Alliance

 *Photo of coral reef in center of article taken from Wikimedia Commons.

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Eight Tips When Planning a Trip to Rome

If you don't think about what time of year you're coming, you might end up here during ferragosto. Goodbye, shopping and fine dining!

Yes, your passport’s important. But that’s not what I mean. As much as many people seem to plan their trips to Rome down to the detail, there are some mistakes that can be easy to make… from using TripAdvisor for restaurants to coming during ferragosto. Below, eight items to keep in mind while planning a trip to Rome.

1. Bring your student ID. If you’re a university student, bring your I.D. card with you. It’s true that this gets you fewer discounts than it does in more student-friendly countries like, say, Greece, but it does get you a discount at the Vatican (€8 instead of €15) and can come in handy elsewhere, too. If you’re an E.U. citizen, also make sure to bring an I.D. with you whenever you’re sightseeing: You lucky Europeans get discounts at almost all of Rome’s sites, including the Colosseum, forum, and Borghese Gallery.Everything's closed during ferragosto... so don't come then!

2. Don’t come in July or August Think about what time of year you’re coming. Yes, little Johnny gets the summer off from school. But so do everybody else’s kids, so this is when the hotels are full (and pricey), the Colosseum’s packed, and you have to stand on tiptoes to get a look at the Vatican’s Laocoön. Not to mention that it’s hot, sweaty, and in August, Romans celebrate ferragosto — meaning that the city’s best restaurants and family-run shops are closed. (For proof, see photo above). Scheduling limitations are understandable. But if there’s any way to sweep away to Rome in June, or better yet, spring break, fall, or Christmas, you’ll have a much more relaxing, rewarding experience. Little Johnny will thank you.

3. Do your restaurant research… Understandably, a lot of people come to Rome and think, “All these restaurants serve Italian food. They MUST all be good!” Sadly, that’s not the case. You would wind up eating in a tourist trap if you showed up at Times Square hungry and confused (I know I have…), and you will wind up having the same experience in Rome. Not might. Will. It’s a tourism-based city, and lots of restaurants take advantage of that, shoveling their customers terrible, microwaved food along with a gut-wrenching bill.

So if you’re spending any amount of time thinking about what museums and sites you want to see in Rome (and who doesn’t?), then do yourself a favor: Use some of that time to think about where you’ll eat, too. You’ll be spending at least two hours a day dining, three or four if you’re doing it the Italian way.  You don’t want to feel like those hours, or euros, are wasted.

4. …but don’t do your restaurant research on TripAdvisor. Yes, TripAdvisor is good for some things. It is not good for restaurant recommendations, at least here in Rome. It’s too easy to play the system — aggressively asking clients to post 5-star reviews, having cousins and siblings put up fake reviews, etc. I’m not casting any aspersions on the restaurants that are listed as Rome’s “best” on TripAdvisor. But. Suffice it to say that I’ve never heard of most of the TripAdvisor top-15 (Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, a local favorite, and Babbo’s, which is pretty good for the value, aside), among anyone claiming to be a “foodie” or even “very enthusiastic eater.” And those restaurants have never, ever come up as recommendations to me from any Roman or expat friends in all the times I’ve asked.

But the bad news continues. Also be wary of guidebooks, since as with all restaurant scenes, things change quickly here in Rome, and guidebook-info is often at least a year behind. (Not to mention that as soon as a restaurant winds up in a guidebook, it often starts resting on its laurels). For proof, just check out my post on Ristorante Montevecchio. In 2007, it had a glowing review from NPR. But three years is a long, long time in the dining world.

If you do your research, you can have pizza like this. Formula Uno, RomeSo what do you do? Well, research elsewhere — preferably in recent newspaper articles like, okay, mine, and on good Rome-food websites like Katie Parla’s www.parlafood.com. I’ll also be adding more and more restaurants to the “Food and Drink” part of this site, so stay tuned.

5. Think ahead of time about taking a tour. Because if you’re interested in the concept at all, what will happen is this: You’ll get to the Colosseum. You’ll see the line. Some nice-looking 20-something holding a clipboard will stop you and say “Hey, do you speak English? Do you want to skip this twenty-three-hour line?” And before you know it, you’ll be hustled into a tour that, well, might get mixed reviews, to put it nicely.

Instead, do your research in advance and think about what you might want to take a tour of. (The Vatican can overwhelm visitors, and those companies worth their salt arrange for you to skip the line; the Forum can seem like a pile of rubble without a knowledgeable guide; an evening city walk can help you get your bearings). Then book it. Done. You don’t have to think about it again — nor do you have to get swept into a group of 50 with a barely-English-speaking guide, all because you didn’t book a well-researched company in advance.

6. If making a strict itinerary, know your closing dates. I never fail to be saddened — and surprised — by the number of visitors who come to the Vatican Vatican museums on Sunday, expecting to waltz right in. Why do these downtrodden hordes surprise me? Because the Vatican museums (including the Sistine Chapel and Raphael rooms, of course) are always closed on Sunday. (Except for the last Sunday of the month, when it’s free, but that means the line snakes for miles and miles, so….).

If you’re planning your sites day by day, make sure you know what will be open when. If you can’t find out opening dates for a museum/restaurant/site through a quick search online, give them a call on Skype. Also, remember that if you want to go to the Borghese Gallery (and you should! It’s lovely!), you must reserve in advance.

7. Don’t get a RomaPass. Necessarily. A lot of visitors do this ahead of time because it seems like a great idea: Once you activate it, your first two entries to sites are free, the rest are discounted, and you get free public transport, for three days. Sounds pretty great, right?

Before you spring for it, though, consider which sites you’ll be going to first — and if “skipping the line” is worth it. (The only RomaPass site that tends to have a long line is the Colosseum). A RomaPass costs €25. Let’s say you’re coming to Rome and you’re doing a Colosseum tour with a company that lets you cut the line. So instead, you immediately do the Capitoline museums (€7.50 saved) and the Palazzo Barberini (€5 saved), neither of which have lines that I’ve ever seen. In the next three days, you would have to take the bus or metro six times and hit up three more sites that charge you entry for the card to even pay for itself. (Are you even going to three more sites that charge you entry? Most top spots, including the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Basilica, and other churches, don’t have an entry fee. Plus, the RomaPass does not include the Vatican museums, a €15 entry).

You also don’t have to buy a RomaPass in advance: If you decide you want to buy one once you get here, you can purchase it from any of the ticket desks of the participating sites or from ticket desks at some metro stops, including Termini, Spagna and Ottaviano.

For a RomaPass FAQ, click here; for a list of the museums it includes and their respective discounts, click here.DSC_0103

8. Forget the traveler’s cheques. Or, at least, don’t go too crazy: They’re nice insurance, but can be way more of a hassle than they’re worth. Bringing a big wad of cash and expecting to change it when you get here is a bad idea, too, only because any of the money-exchange places you find will give you a “you-must-be-kidding” (and not in a good way) kind of rate.

Easier: Bring a couple of ATM cards and use them when you get here. (At least one will work. Really.) For bigger purchases, use a credit card, like Visa’s CapitalOne, that doesn’t bang you with a surcharge for international fees. Both options will give you the “High Street” exchange rate, not the rate that some guy with a storefront and some pretty currency symbols came up with.

Just remember two things. First: Credit cards are accepted far less often in Italy than they are in other countries, including the U.S. and U.K., so you should always have cash on hand. Second: To be on the safe side, make sure you call your bank and credit card companies in advance to inform them that you are going abroad, so charges that they see won’t be the nefarious workings of some Roman scam artist.

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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6 Alternative Modes of Transport on a Hot Rome Day

DSC_0036crop
When the temperature’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit (as it already is in Rome) and you need to get somewhere,  the thought of taking the sticky, crowded, sometimes-completely-unventilated metro or bus is just unbearable. And a cab’s just cheating.

From best to worst, 6 alternative ways to get around Rome — while staying cool. (And no, not necessarily the “wow, you’re really awesome” kind of cool).

DSC_02016. Walking. Sometimes, the simplest solution is the best. Rome is not that big. So. Just. Walk. Bring a big bottle of water (you can refill it at any of the nasoni, or little fountains, around the city). And please forget the backpack: It’s hot, bulky, hot, and really, when was the last time you were in a city and so far from civilization that you actually needed that emergency pack of granola bars? Also, it’s hot.

5. The scooter, or as the Italians say, motorino. Zipping around on a motorino with the wind whipping your face is pretty much meant for warm days. You can help your local-cool factor by donning big, dark sunglasses, unnecessarily revving up the engine at brief stops, and saying “Ciaooo, ciaoooo” to local passersby.

There are, however, numerous downsides. Like the scary, scary Rome traffic, which means that I do not recommend this for those who have just arrived in Rome and are still having trouble timing how to cross the street. (Seriously. I am not liable for any accidents you or your loved ones may have if you don’t heed this advice. My lawyer agrees). Also problematic is the difficulty, for women, of wearing a skirt or dress and not blinding every poor person we pass, not that Roman men really seem to mind. If you feel like you are mature, cautious, skilled, sober, and insurance-policy-protected enough to rent a motorino, check out Bici & Baci or Treno e Scooter for rentals.

4. Biking. It’s easy to get a bike in Rome: You can either rent one from a shop, or take advantage of the city’s new bikesharing program. There are 19 kiosks around the city, and the price is just €.50/hour. Just stop by a ticket office at a major metro stop, like Termini, for a bikesharing card. It’ll cost you €5, but it’s good for 10 hours of riding. Pass that card over the post that your desired bike is locked to, and presto! Your bike is released. It’s like magic. There isn’t any magic, though, that will save you from the aggression of Roman drivers, so please reread my caveat to #3. Seriously.  Bikers

3. Hop-on, hop-off boat ride. Those who do this seem to think they’ll be getting a tour of the city. While I haven’t done one myself, I can’t imagine that would be the case; not only are the tours taped, but the Tiber is walled–meaning you can’t see hardly anything. So why do it? Well, solely for the purposes of getting from Point A (like Ponte Castel Sant’Angelo) to Point B (Ponte Risorgimento). The vessels for some of the boat lines even have air-conditioning. Woo! Check out the Hop-On, Hop-Off Cruise in Rome for information.

2. Walking… with your own personal cooling system. I wasn’t aware until Googling “personal cooling system” just how many of these there are. There are water-filled neckbands. Cooling shirts. A hand-held electronic cooling device. Even something known as a “belt mister,” which promises to envelop you in a mist that will drop the temperature around you by 30 degrees. This belt also promises to be “inconspicuous”…because oh, yeah, walking in your own cloud of cold mist is just something you were born with.

1. The Segway. You don’t get up to speed on these things, which eliminates the speed-equals-breeze quality of #5, or really get to go that many places, which you can with #2, 4, 5 or 6. When you’re on the street, you’re a slow-moving traffic menace, and when you’re on the sidewalk, you’re a complete annoyance to every pedestrian trying to get somewhere. (I dub you “speed bumpkin.”) Also, don’t buy it when people say how safe it is: I met a woman the other day who’d twisted her ankle when she briefly forgot how to stop it, the Segway went faster, and rammed her into a car. (Okay, okay, I guess nothing can be completely fool-proof). While on the Segway, though, you are, at least, able to stand completely still and still toodle through the city. In terms of laziness, it’s like one step away from armchair traveling. To really “up” the cool factor, bring along your personal cooling system. For more information, Google this on your own. That’s how against Segways I am.  DSC_0035crop

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Five Rules for Finding Rome’s Best Restaurants

How to find the best restaurants in Rome - don't eat here!
It can be tough to simply stumble across great restaurants in Rome, a city that's thick on the ground with mediocre, overpriced dining options. And so, to eat at the very best restaurants in Rome, it's always advisable to have a list of recommendations with you (and to make reservations in advance).

But what if you just want to eat well, avoid Rome's worst dining options, and not spend tons of time researching and booking restaurants? Then just keep these five rules in mind. With these tried-and-true ways to find yummy food, even without a guidebook, who knows… you might even stumble across a trattoria you never would have discovered otherwise!

1. Get away from the uber-tourist centers… or at least be aware that the closest you are to, say, the Colosseum, the harder it'll be for you to find top-notch nosh. There are some nhotable exceptions to this: The local favorite Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, for example, is remarkably close to the Roman forum for having such darn good food. But while the family that runs Taverna has the pride and business acumen to keep their food delicious and their prices moderate, not every restaurant so well-positioned will do the same. Especially watch out for the areas right around the Vatican and the Trevi Fountain, which are veritable food deserts.

2. Run, don't walk, away from that oh-so-friendly host trying to get you to come inside. He seems nice? He speaks English? He's telling you you're beautiful and your husband is a lucky man? That all means one thing: His food's not good enough for people — most notably Italians — to come in on their own.

3. A tourist menu can be okay. Yes, if it's posted on the door as "MENU TURISTICA: 10 Euros for appetizer, pasta, and wine!", you might be in trouble. But if you go inside and are handed an English menu, don't worry. Most restaurants do this these days.

4. Never look for a place to eat at 6pm. Or 7pm. Or anytime before 8. As a general rule of thumb, if it's open that early, it'll be catering to tourists: Italians never eat before 8:30.

5. Trattoria, hosteria, taverna…meh. Any difference there once was between these has pretty much slipped away. Just remember that a birreria is more a place for fried food and beer, and that most good pizzerias aren't open at lunch.

Finally, remember what you're looking out for: That hole-in-the-wall place that doesn't even look like a restaurant on the outside, but when you walk in (remember, at 9pm), it's bustling with Italians. Eat only at gems like these, and you're guaranteed to have some of the best food in Rome.

You might also like:

Crimes and Other Nefariousness: Rome's Top Scams 

Where to Eat in Rome's Most Touristy Areas

Can You Drink from Rome's Water Fountains? Really?

 

 

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