As my time in Rome draws to a close, I realized that I had not visited many of the areas that were once part of the Roman Empire, especially those that were once behind the Iron Curtain. Back in August, I decided to make it the “Fall of the Iron Curtain” and draw back the curtain from the top in Estonia down to Albania. I did not succeed.
If you are a map geek like I am, try looking at Vox’s active map as it shows the rise and fall of the Roman empire. Rome was vast and when I did visit parts of the former Roman empire, I did in a plane ride what would have taken a Roman more than 20 days. That was in modern day Albania. In Roman times, modern day Albania was known as Illyria or Epirus, on the coast of Dalmatia and Macedonia. It was very Greek. One can visit Greek temples in Albania, and it seems like someone invested a lot of money on roads in the area around them.
One of the reasons why I visited Malta was a curiosity to see the influences of the Roman world. In modern times, it can be hard to recall that the Romans looked up to the Greek empire as an ideal. But, in places like Sicily which was part of Greece (Magna Greca) for hundreds of years, one can see the Greek influence in Italy. Italy has only been a unified country for 150 years. The Roman empire lasted about 900 years.
In places like Tirana, the modern capital of Albania, it is hard to see traces of the Roman empire. Except perhaps in the faces. In Montenegro, it seemed quick obvious that it was once a Roman area.
The town of Budva looks much like towns in certain parts of Italy. In contrast, the people are giants compared to Italians.
But, back to Albania. The people there were not giants. The contrasts of rich and poor were quite apparent in Tirana. There were many non-touristy things about Tirana. But, if one escapes to the sea, then one can see why it is compared to northern Greece. Another odd thing I noticed were the men wearing headbands. Then I realized that they had hair implants. I guess this surgery is very cheap over here. The food was good in Albania. Fresh seafood and surprisingly good sushi. The most striking thing about Albania is that Mother Theresa was from there.
In terms of tourism, Albania has the potential, with Greek temples, good beaches, cheap bus and taxi options from the airport, and some English speakers. BUT, 90 percent of Albanians smoke. This will keep the tourists away.
In conclusion, I did not make it to all 20 (or so) iron curtain countries. Looking at the map, I realize that I have already been to many of the far edges of the Roman empire. More from my adventures next time.
After having more than 30 visitors in the last year, I thought I would share my “food tour” of Rome. This is an addendum to my “Tourist Information for Rome.” While I recommend going on a tour with a professional guide as they are worth it because it is a rigorous test and it takes two years to pass the test to be a licensed tour guide. Not sure what the regulations are for food tours. But, maybe you want to do one or two things, in which case, you can try some of my suggestions. Many of these places are mentioned in my list of Roman restaurants to try.
Go to three markets to see three different markets: where normal Romans shop, the touristy version, and zero kilometer (everything produced from within a 100 km/68 mile radius of Rome). I recommend going to Trionfale, Campo de’ Fiori, and the San Teodoro (Campagna Amica Circomassimo) farmers market. I wrote about local markets earlier. Trionfale is the large central market and you will experience real normal Romans doing their shopping. Campo de’ Fiori will bring you into a mix of what was once a real local market now overrun by tourist tat vendors (limoncello, spice mixes etc.), and San Teodoro (only open on weekends) will show you a yuppy farmers market where many social media influencers can be seen filming. But, ignore them and hone in on that fact that everything, from olive oil, cheese, meat, wild greens, bread, honey, pasta, and wine, was made locally.
Markets are open Monday-Saturday from 7:30-2, generally. The San Teodoro market is only open on weekends (closed all of August) from 8-3. If you want to go when it is quiet, try 9 am. If you love the crush of old ladies in housecoats cutting in front of you in line, go at 11:30 am. I do not recommend going after 1:30 pm, as the vendors are hangry at that point (they have been up since 4 or 5 so not in the best of moods at 1:30 pm). If you want to go to another “real” market, try a local one or Esquilino. For a market with a combination of local, touristy, and influencer plus with more restaurants, try Testaccio.
Trionfale, Via Andrea Doria (near the Vatican so you could do it on your way).
Campo de’ Fiori, Campo de’ Fiori (it is a plaza).
San Teodoro, Via San Teodoro 76 (near the corner of the Circus Maximus, around the corner from the Mouth of Truth, and behind the Palatine hill).
Testaccio, Via Aldo Manuzzio 66B (but any taxi driver will know where it is — say, “mer-CAT-oh-test-AH-chi-oh”)
Grab breakfast at the market. Or explore and eat at a bakery or coffee shop. The “cornetto” (croissant) is a normal breakfast food, but so is pizza. Any “forno” sign you see is a bakery. Buy a piece of white pizza (no cheese and no toppings other than salt and oil) and enjoy that or get something more substantial.
Forno Monteforte is my favorite Italian bakery/cafe. Via del Pellegrino 29. You can sit down and people watch. This is the place for you if you like classy elegant types of places.
L’Officina della Pizza, Via Cicerone 22: Not only the most delicious and varied pizza “al taglio” (by the slice, but really by weight), but they also make fantastic house sliced potato chips. They only have high tables but you can take your pizza to Piazza Cavour which is nearby and eat your breakfast there. Or eat it while walking and let the olive oil run down your hand. Yummy!
Stop for some gelato. Gelato can be eaten any time of the day from 8 am to after midnight. It is not dessert. It is a separate thing. I like Gunther’s but Neve di Latte is also good. Otaleg in Trastevere is one of the best in Rome and they make the best sorbetto (non-dairy sherbet/sorbet).
Osteria del Rione, Via Basento, 20 (near Villa Borghese): This place is a real local place located in a basement. They have an extremely limited menu (basically what Bruno, the owner, tells you he has), and a set menu for 10 euro. The food is always good and “on point.” The only downside is that this place is mostly a lunch place so go at 12:30 to get a table.
Fuoco Lento, Via Flavia 63/65: Old school waiters, outdoor seating, never had anything bad here (But I would avoid the proscuitto as it is house cut and too thick for my liking). It’s my “go-to” place. Open on Sunday night as well. Outside the touristy area so much easier to get a table.
Saltimbocca, Via di Tor Millina 5, is on a small street off Piazza Navona so if you find yourself down there, you could go here for lunch (even at 3:30 pm) for an authentic Roman experience.
Then do some food shopping. Go to a wine tasting. Or olive oil tasting. Or cheese tasting. If you go in to a cheese shop, they will usually let you try their cheeses.
Beppe and His Cheeses, Via di S. Maria del Pianto 9A (in the Jewish Ghetto so a good anchor for your visit to the area of Rome that had Jewish people 500 years before JC). This shop/restaurant will vacuum pack your cheese so you can take them with you. The last time I was there, I sampled seven cheese, including one they put on a piece of bread, and they gave us a glass of Prosecco… it’s a fun place. Also, sells pasta and many other delightful things. Take a sturdy bag with you.
Castroni, Via Cola di Rienzo, 196/198: Visit this emporium and buy gianduia gold nuggets. There are other branches of this store but I like this big one. This is also a place where you want to take a backpack or other sturdy bag as you will invariably buy many things.
Colline Emiliane, Via degli Avignonesi 22 (near Piazza Barbarini): This place makes delicious food. It is the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna (Bologna, Modena, Parma, etc.). Small and with no outdoor seating. But, they have a window where you can watch the pasta being made fresh every day. You have to call to make a reservation. It is a very popular place so I recommend walking past one night and making a reservation for the next night.
Tratteria Valentino, Via del Boschetto 37 (in Monti): great local place on a side street in Monti. Near Quirinale palace. Hidden in plain sight because they kept the old facade from when the space was a ice shop. (Not to be confused with Trattoria da Valentino on Via Cavour, which is also fine.)
MiVa, Via Ezio 23. This is a bit out of the way (although not far from the Vatican) and they make excellent food with modern offerings but NOT molecular cuisine. There may be foam but it will play a supporting role, not be the WHOLE dish.
I list other places but these places are currently on my “Rome in Two Days” food tour when people visit… which are doing a lot…
Also, check out my Instagram @madventures.me to see what I’m up to on the daily.
As my time living in Rome draws to a close, I decided to travel to see other parts of the former Roman empire. One such place was just across the water in Budva, Montenegro. Budva was part of ancient Greece and it became part of the Roman empire in 200 BCE (150 years before Caesar, 200 years before Jesus).
If you want to avoid the crowds of Dubrovnik, visit Budva in the off season. I recommend staying at La Villa boutique hotel. Be silly and enjoy yourself making your own Game of Thrones video clips. Even if you have never seen GOT, Budva will charm you.
The old town of Budva is a walled medieval city sitting on a peninsula in the harbor of Budva. It’s a tiny walled town with paved streets that match the same taupe stone buildings. Most of what one can see today in the old walled town of Budva was build in the 15th century CE (500 years ago).
Montenegro is part of the European Union. If you enter by land from Albania, the border crossing may take you over an hour. Once we got on the road, Budva was only a couple of hours away (if you land in Albania), mainly because there is a stretch of road that is not highway. One gets a nice “local” route, bumping through neighborhoods and increasingly beautiful views. It all seems like potential for commercialism. Budva seems to be all resort hotels and construction, which contrasts so nicely with the old walled town. The staff at La Villa gave us good advice to park in the public parking and pay for a day pass (minimum is two day pass at 20 Euro) because otherwise the rate is per hour!
On your way in or out, visit the other towns of Sveti Stefan and Bar. Sveti Stefan is another tiny jewel of a town. It was bought by a private resort so no longer open to the public during tourist season. Can you imagine?
The quality of the photos is not high as most of these are shot from the car. Rome is not always beautiful. It is also a place of beggars, homelessness, trash, food banks, traffic, and always, the one eternal thing is tourists.
So you are visiting Rome for a vacation? And you want my advice? I wrote about tourist information back in May but here is a reminder of what I would tell you if you asked me, “Where should I eat? What should I see? What should I do in Rome?”