M’s Adventures Rome Food Tour

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.

Look at these beautiful “weeds” at the San Teodoro market.

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).

Sample spreads and dips at San Teodoro market.

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!

Mushroom pizza in the front and a pumpkin pizza sandwich in the back, topped by a potato pizza at L’Officina della Pizza.

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.

Gold bars of gianduia (like fudge nutella) at Castroni.

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.

Budva, Montenegro’s Mini Dubrovnik?

The old town seen from top of the citadel, with the modern city in the background.

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 citadel. One has to pay an entrance fee but it was worth it for the view.

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).

The old city at night. I highly recommend off season as it is very crowded in the summer.

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!

Sveti Stefan from a convenient overlook along the road.

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?

Real Roman Scenes Seen from A Taxi

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.

A beggar. Some will approach you and talk to you.
Typical mode of transport.
For the tourists…
Always luggage.
Selfies…
Lots of dogs here.
A selfie at the forum.

Roman Holiday Advice

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?”

In Testaccio market. Photo taken by a friend.

Eat pizza by the slice.

Go to Fuoco Lento for spaghetti carbonara.

See everything. Take a billion photos.

Walk and walk. Then walk some more.

That’s what you should do.

Happy new year.

The Valletta Street Food and Culture Walking Tour

Sandwich “lunch” stop. The drink was also traditional.

I rarely go on food tours because I prefer to wander around on my own. But the tour I took in Malta was an example of why one should take a food tour.

The tour is not just food. This is the view from the upper gardens where the tour guide explains a whole lot including which films were filmed here.

In Valletta, I joined a tour with the Valletta Street Food and Culture Walking Tour, found by my friend on TripAdvisor. This tour was great. Not just food, but culture, history, and movie locations.

The guide spoke excellent English (it’s one of the languages of Malta) and used a micrphone/headset system so you could always hear her.

It was good value for money, the walking was not too strenuous, and guide was great (guides must be licensed in Malta so they have to know their stuff).

Fried ravioli.

The cost is about $43 per person and for that you get four food and culture stops and three hours of information about Malta.

Horse meat stew.

The guide will ask you to pre-select if you want to try the horse meat.

Cheese and salami plate.

The amounts of food are not overly huge but enough that you will not need to eat lunch.

Coffee stop at a traditional bakery.

At the final stop, you get free beer, an appetizer slate, and a small main dish.

Dessert at the “dinner” stop.

Conveniently, the tour ends in a food hall so you can keep eating if you are still hungry or just want to sit for a while.

Tourist Information for Rome

Rome is a great place to be a tourist. I’m not a tourist, but I get asked a lot of questions… so here is the info, all in one place. Even more info on the official site for Rome. I start with the most “must-do” places and what is nearby. First, COVID rules are on this site. As you can see from the map below, most of Rome is within a two-mile/three-kilometer radius, but you may end up walking ten miles/14 kilometers criss crossing it! Or 28,000 steps, for those counting steps.

Most of the green dots are tourist attractions. From tiramisu to gelato is about 3 miles/5 kilometers.

Vatican City: For the museums (the entrance is on the side of the Vatican) including the Sistine Chapel, buy tickets online. For St. Peter’s Basilica (and to climb up the dome), get in line inside the plaza at the Vatican. Open most days except Wednesday when they are only open for one hour.

Castel Sant’Angelo: It’s a museum, mausoleum, has those angels on the bridge, and you can walk to the Vatican from here.

Coliseum and forum (they are combined as an open-air museum). Buy tickets here on the official site, although there are many tour companies that sell tickets. Most people are okay with the two-hour tour (which can run on, but you can leave). Open 9 am to 7:15 pm every day, with last entry one hour before closing. Times change during the winter. While over here, check out the neighborhood of Monti. It’s up the hill from the forum (above the Colosseum, on the map).

Centro historico/Historic center — Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Spanish steps (which is near Via del Corso for shopping/people watching), Alter to the Fatherland (called the wedding cake — it’s impossible to miss. Also on the piazza where Mussolini gave his speeches, and located between the center and the forum): All free but you may need to get a timed entry for the Pantheon (open 9-7 every day but last entry at 6:30 pm). While you are in this part of the city, try to walk down Old Government Street (Via del governo vecchio), as it is picturesque in parts. I like Forno Monteforte cafe/bakery which is on this street but way down. If you have time, when you are near Monti or Trevi, visit Quirinale, the palace of the president.

Campo de fiori market: You will probably run across this when wandering around downtown. Open from 8 am to 2 pm. Overly touristy, but hey, this is Rome.

Jewish Quarter: It is famous and quaint. There were Jewish people living in Rome before the time of Christ. Look for the small brass cobblestone plaques marking where Jewish people once lived before being taken in WWII. If you need an address to locate it, go to a cheese store called Beppe and His Cheeses, Via di S. Maria del Pianto, 9a/11.

Trastevere: This is an area that was once a separate small town. Now filled with students and artsy types. It’s adorable. These days, it’s too crowded for me, but it’s probably a must-see. Get gelato at Otaleg.

Campodoglio: Is the hill with the Capitoline museum and the mayor’s office. But, I like it for the view of the forum. Free and great at sunset.

Circus Maximus: Free. It’s a huge area that was once a sports area. Near my favorite farmers market. If visiting on a weekend, I would recommend the local zero kilometer market to see the foods (fresh cheese, meats, oil, fruit, and breads — all produced within 68 miles of Rome) available. The market is closed in August.

La Bocca della Verità (address is Piazza della Bocca della Verità 18) – Mouth of Truth: Made famous by the film, Roman Holiday. It’s near the Circus Maximus. Open 9:30 am-5:30 pm. I think it’s free or you pay a small donation.

Keyhole of the Knights of Malta/Aventine hill/orange garden (good for a view and at sunset)/rose garden: The Aventine hill is beside the Circus Maximus. Open all the time and free but especially popular at sunset. The keyhole allows you to see three “lands” — the Knights of Malta’s garden (the Knights of Malta are an independent entity), Italy, and the Vatican. And according to a local, you can also see a fourth kingdom — heaven.

Ask for this place to get to the keyhole and walk down from there.

Borghese museum and gardens: The Borghese Gallery houses masterpieces by Bernini and Caravaggio, among others. Tickets are 27 euro and there is timed entry all day from 9 am to 5 pm (they close at 7). The parks is called Villa Borghese and it is free. It includes the national gallery, zoo, a lake, rental bikes, and so much more. It’s the green lung of the city.

Baths of Caracalla: Open for concerts in the summer. Closed on Mondays.

Baths of Diocletian: Closed Mondays.

Testaccio Market: This market is visited by many food and travel shows. Open 8-4 or so because it also has lunch options.

Trionfale Market: Open 7:30-1:30, located near the Vatican, this is the largest of the produce markets in Rome. There are many local markets all over Rome but as a tourist, you probably won’t visit them.

There are many churches and museums to visit as well especially if you want to see some of the masterpieces in a quieter setting. But, that’s a much deeper level of tourism than your first, second, or third visit. Here are some other things to do on visit two or three.

Via Appia: The famous road is a park just south of Rome (there are many bit os this road outside Rome) and it can be a fun outing.

There are things to do outside Rome as well making for good day trips. Here are some ideas:

Naples for a day (boardwalk, museum for the items from Pompeii, pizza, downtown). I wrote about this here.

Pompeii: Info on how to get there and buy tickets.

Wine tasting lunch at Torre in Pietra: I love this.

Sabine valley wine tasting/olive oil tasting: I also love this.

Plus, as a tourist in Rome/Italy… gelato, tiramisu, wine (ask for the local — Italy has more varietals than France — some so local that they are only grown within a few miles of the place you try it), prosciutto, or pizza, every day. See my list of where to eat.

Now some practical matters.

Money

Euro (each country in the euro zone makes their own euro but you can use them all over the euro zone) is the currency. There are ATMs all over the city. You can also exchange money all over the city. Most places take cash and credit card, but vendors pay a fee for credit card use so I usually use cash if it’s under 25 euro. Most grocery shopping and meals are under 30 euro and I don’t find Rome to be excessively expensive.

Tipping

The general rule is that you do not need to tip in Italy. Americans have a reputation as good tippers so many places will expect that Americans will tip well. But, you do not have to tip at all. Most restaurants will already have included a “service” or “pane/bread” charge to your bill, usually around one to three euro per person. If you think the service was excellent, you can leave a tip of a few euro or ten percent. No one should make you feel wrong for not tipping. Nor for leaving one or two euro. Lots of places like gelato shops, will have a tip jar. You can use that if you want to tip them. Again, no obligation to tip.

In taxis, you can round up to the whole euro. Otherwise no tipping in taxis. At hairdressers, beauty salons, massage therapists, etc., you can leave a tip if you thought they were good. But, it is not expected. Never more than ten percent. If you go on a tour, like food tour, you can tip if you want to, but again, you do not have to.

Transportation

From/To Rome airport (FCO is the airport code because the airport is in the town of Fiumicino about 30 kilometers/18 miles from Rome): There are buses that go direct from the airport to all over the city for as little as five euro. Also, the Leonardo Express to/from Roma Termini train station for 18 euro. Taxis have a fixed rate to the walls of old Rome. 50 euro from Leonardo da Vinci Rome airport and then meter. There are private limo services starting at 50 euro. Read more about this here. The SIT bus stops near the Vatican which is convenient if you are staying in Prati. Most buses and trains connect to Roma Termini.

Getting around: Most of what you will want to see in Rome is within a three-kilometer/two-mile radius. But you may get tired of walking. You can buy a 24-, 48-, 72-pass that will let you use all buses, trains, trams, and the Metro. Some passes also let you get into museums for the same price.

Taxis: Taxis are white and you should not flag one down… supposedly. There are taxi stands all over the city. You can also download the ItTaxi app and order a taxi to your location. Even as a tourist. You can pay with cash or credit card in all taxis.

To travel by regional train (to Naples or Florence, for example), there are two train companies, TrenItalia and Italo. You can download their apps and purchase tickets from your phone. Or buy them at the station, but remember to validate!

Phone Card

While there is a lot of WIFI and you can download maps, but if you want to buy a phone SIM card, TIM sells them for 45 euro for the first month and nine euro after that. So if you are here for more than a week, it might be worth it. Other local companies are Vodafone and Windtre.

Water and bathrooms

The water is free from the fountains. Perfectly clean and cool. Learn how to drink from one of the “nasone” fountains. Bathrooms are harder to find. Generally, you need to use them at a restaurant or coffee bar. Or one of the pay public glass Tourist Info spots you will see around town.

Safety

Rome is safe, also at night. But, don’t let your credit card out of your sight. Wear all your valuables on the front of your body, from groin to armpit. Anything on your back will be pickpocketed. Thieves are the biggest danger. Oh, and the traffic.

Accessibility

Rome is not a place for wheelchair users. It can be done, but there are so many steps and crooked cobblestones everywhere. Mostly, there are stairs everywhere and no ramps.

Language

Italians speak more English than every before. I doubt in Rome that a tourist would need to learn Italian, but a “Buongiorno” is always appreciated. If pressed, use Google translate. Plus, most of the service people in Rome speak English (many are from Bangladesh and the Philippines). Also, there are more tourists in Rome than Italians, so ask another tourist. They probably have the answers, as they are going to the same places.

This photo of the Trevi Fountain was taken last year, empty due to COVID.

Having now lived in Rome for over a year, my conclusion is that Italy is an awesome place to be a tourist. As I learn more practical tips from my visitors, I’ll update this article.

Napoli for a Day

Naples deserves a longer visit, but as it is only one hour away from Rome (in the next region, Campania), it is often done in just one day. Here’s how to do a tour of Naples in one day. To read about the “new city” of Napoli’s 3,000 year history, read here. First, a warning. There is a lot of graffiti in Naples. But only in the central part near the university. The city feels really gritty in those narrow streets.

Take an early train to Naples. The train from Roma Termini goes every hour and takes an hour.

Go to the famous fish market. It is not as picturesque as in the cooking shows, but it’s located near the train station in a “dicey” part of town. I didn’t think it was all that dangerous but maybe it was because it was daylight and the sun was shining.

Go for breakfast in Naples. Try Caffè Gambrinus, on Via Chiaia n. 1, favored haunt for the presidents of Italy, if you want to go somewhere famous. Otherwise, find any local cafe for a sfogiatella (a traditional pastry from the region of Campania) and a coffee.

Visit the National Archeological Museum of Naples (MANN). If you are not going to visit Pompeii, then visiting this museum will give you a chance to see some of the art from the famous city.

This museum has a “Cabinet of Secrets” where they display some of the erotic art from Pompeii. This room is only open until 2 pm, and there is a time limit of five minutes.

Eat seafood for lunch. Spaghetti alle vongole is so famous and it seems like a natural dish to eat in this port city.

Walk the promenade, admire the view of Vesuvius. (or if you are really cheeky and want to include even more in one day, take a drive down the Amalfi Coast or a ferry along the coast.)

Grab a gelato along the way. Gay Odin is a famous chocolate and gelato chain with many locations in Naples.

Eat a famous pizza for dinner. Most restaurants should make good pizza but you can also look for a sign stating that the chef is a trained pizza expert, a “pizzaiolo” — learn about how Neopolitan pizza making is on the UNESCO “intangible heritage” list here.

You can stick to the classic Margharita or branch out. I had a spicy ‘nduja sausage one and it was the best pizza I have had in Italy.

My spicy pizza at L’Albero dei Visconti, where they have two pizzaioli.

Along the way, enjoy some wine. Ask for local wine and discover grape varietals that you have never heard of. But, traditionally, one drinks beer with pizza.

Take the last train to Rome.

Agroturismo – Farm Bed & Breakfast

Italy is famous for its agroturismo, a bed and breakfast on a farm. To qualify as an agroturismo, the farm must actually be a working farm. Many of these places will also have animals. Many are family owned. You can search this site or use other sites, like Google, to find a stay. Some of these farms have a minimum stay and during the peak summer season that may a minimum of a week. Because these farms are actually farms, often someone’s family homestead, the guest accommodations may not as fancy (or air conditioned) as at a hotel.

Wow, Sotto i Sassi, wow.

The concept of an agroturismo was started as a government scheme over 30 years ago, as a way to help the economy and tourism, which is 13 percent of Italy’s GDP. During the pandemic, I have been told, that the quality of the cleanliness has gone up at these farm stays.

Recently, I stayed at two that contrast quite a bit but seem typical of what’s out there.

One of the bedrooms in the apartment “room” that we had.

Sotto i Sassi: Located at Via Castellino 171, Guiglia. Near Modena. You can book them through the usual places like booking, airbnb, tripadvisor, etc. but my tip to you is to whatsapp him (Matteo Bizzini): +39 337 331 802. He speaks English.

The family farm is located up some narrow lanes in the countryside and you may get lost getting there. Use a GPS. And go left around the parking lot with the bench at the end of the road — the road continues to the left but, BUT, do not go up in the field. Not yet. Prepare time to find the place.

Once you get there, Matteo will greet you and help you to your room. The rooms are decorated stylishly like something out of a style magazine. There may be steps. During the pandemic, the breakfast part is a basket placed outside your room in the early morning. The onsite restaurant is not open every night but it’s an excellent restaurant with lots of outdoor (under the trees and stars) dining. The food is so good that it’s a place that people eat here for the food, even if they are not staying at the B&B. Convenient for not having to drive home after dinner, as well. Matteo takes a genuine interest in your stay with him. At dinner, he gave us a taste of his family’s balsamic.

Outdoor dining at Sotto i Sassi.

The grounds are free for walking around and there are some majestic gobstopping views. The air is clean and as it’s the countryside, you can hear the animals in the early morning. Sotto i Sassi is the kind of place that I imagined an agroturismo geared for slightly luxury customers. Lots of photogenic locations, nice bathrooms, kitchens, good food, not so fancy that one can’t figure out how to turn on the light (actually there were a lot of lighting options), but nice enough that you felt that you were staying at a deluxe farm. Some antiques and some modern design. Plus, the personal connection to Matteo, always just one whatsapp message away.

Some of the buildings are Sotto i Sassi.

Then there is the other sort of experience… The sort of experience where you feel like the hosts were gulag forced into exploiting their inheritance to keep it in their family. A place where the hosts are shackled by their amazing farmstead but can’t enjoy it because they are constantly changing sheets in the rooms. Corte Olfino was such a place. Their website makes it look cosy (I have not posted any photos here of this place — it was cute in a tired sort of way — be a bit suspicious of the website photos) and emailing with them makes it seem like they speak English. The couple who run the place look so unhappy. Well, she does. He seems oblivious to how miserable his wife is. She is harassed and stressed looking all the time. If this beautiful farm is her inheritance, I almost feel sorry for her that she can’t enjoy it.

The majority of the customers are German and they give the place a high rating. The place is interesting looking, like a small village, and the rooms are clean. But, the checkin process and accessing WIFI was difficult. I only found the WIFI code because someone left if on a scrap of paper on the table in my room. Some of the rooms are up in a tower from a fairytale and have a dungeon-like lock that makes it quite annoying when tired (mine had a modern key). The breakfast was fine and included the usual cake (yes, the Italians seem to think that tourists eat cake for breakfast), and toast, ham, eggs, and cheese (Is it this that makes them have higher ratings? The hard boiled eggs? The ham? Apparently it’s the price point and the cleanliness). Yes, they have animals including a llama, and maybe this is why people like this place. The prices were around 68 euro per room per night. So not so high. But, the overall prison feel given off by the house-poor owner made us uncomfortable. Also, the rooms had no sound insulation so one could hear everything going on in the neighboring room.

We felt no need to stay and left early. They owners did not seem surprised and did not want to know why (I paid for the whole stay even though we left early, but I wish they cared why we left early). I guess they don’t need my business. I wish them well and hope that they enjoy their farm when the cash cows are not there…

The doors at Sotti i Sassi are a photo-op waiting for you.

A word about air conditioning. A place like Sotti i Sassi doesn’t have it but even during the heatwave of the summer, the rooms cooled down by evening. Corte Olfino had AC but we also didn’t need it.

The season is over so you have six months or so to research where to stay next year.

The Return of the Tourists in Shorts

Aperitivo of Aperol Spritz (the standard) in front of the Pantheon. It almost can’t get more touristy than this.

The tourists are back. Well, primarily, the German and American tourists. The kind that wear shorts. The Romans are so happy to see them. The waiters are perky and filled with enthusiasm after 18 months of no tourism. The Italian government opened up to American tourists back in May and the start was a bit slow (although I saw some within days of the “re-opening” of Italy). But, now, it’s almost July and kapow! They are back! Not like before 2020, but much more than I’ve seen here in the last six months.

A tour group.

It’s been both enjoyable and sad to have Rome to myself without tourists. I think I prefer it with tourists. Even if I don’t really want to go downtown anymore… until winter.

Golf cart tours and tourists in shorts.

While I know that most tourists come to Rome in July and August, it’s much better in February. The weather is better and the skies are blue. Currently they are gray and overcast from humidity.

I Love Olive Oil — Tasting with Johnny Madge

Tomato bruschetta

Tomatoes are juicy and red,
Olive oil is gold and green,
Mozzarella is creamy and white,
And Johnny Madge is keen.

I felt inspired to write a cheesy poem!

Johnny Madge loves, lives, breathes olive oil. He even has “I Love Olive Oil” written on his van. Oddly, that is the least of the reasons to go on his olive oil tour. Sorry, Johnny. It’s not just about the oil.

Imagine living here.

If anyone is a natural at what they do, then it’s the legendary Johnny Madge. Taking an olive oil tasting class with him feels less like a class, and more like you just happen to have a wise friend who is an expert on olive oil… wild plants… wine… life? There are some professors and tour guides who seem scripted in their style of teaching. All respect to them, but Johnny is not one of them. Johnny Madge speaks with the ease of someone who knows vastly more than they are telling you. It reminds of advice a writing teacher once told me, “Make sure you know everything about the character, and then put none of that in your story.” Once in a while you meet people who are more than the product they sell. The fact that he has a British accent just makes everything he says sound more credible. It’s easy to get a crush on him (olive oil joke).

Johnny Madge inside an olive tree.

As I said, the olive oil tasting was a minor part of the day. The whole day was a celebration of good extra virgin olive oil (and the lifestyle that it symbolizes). Johnny Madge has a sensational high rating on TripAdvisor and rightly so.

He will pick you up from the train station in Fara Sabina (a small town about 35 minutes on the regional train line from Rome) in his van which can seat eight. If you drive your own car, you can follow him like the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. The whole day had that fairytale feel to it as we meandered the undulating lanes.

You might wonder what could take so long. The pace is set by the lovely small streets along the neat rows of olive trees, the green hedges, and azure sky above gently rolling country. The tour starts in an olive tree orchard. Johnny will tell you about olive trees, the recent devastating fires, harvesting, and other facts about the trees. Did you know that an olive tree can survive a fire? As you walk around enjoying the clean air of the countryside, he will show wild edible plants like wild fennel, and explain other plants if you ask him (I asked about a seed that I found which it turns out inspired Leonardo da Vinci to invent the helicopter). Or you can wander away and sit in the shade of an olive tree. There are no demands that you pay attention and no exam. No stress.

Don’t drizzle, pour.

After the orchard, he takes you to visit the largest olive tree in Europe. The tree is famous for being large, but it was comforting to meet such an old tree. It is perhaps 2,000 years old but no one really knows. Olive oil trees hollow out making it hard to count rings. When we were there admiring the tree, the owner came out to chat with Johnny. They were clearly friends catching up with each other.

Then back to admire the vegetable garden. All the while, Johnny regales you with stories and anecdotes, pointing out this and that along the way. As a city person, it’s interesting to see Swiss chard growing like a weed. One could feel the pace of life slowing down to that sweet art of doing nothing (a saying in Italian)… the art of enjoying the sweet life.

The mill is entering prime time. They got game.

After this, we went to an olive oil mill, Il Frantoio Saporito, which, with a new store, a new YouTube video, new Instagram account, is ready for primetime. They got game.

Outside the main hangar-size building, there is a metal car scale built in to the parking lot. When the local farmers need their olives processed, they drive their olive-laden cars on to the scale. After the initial weigh-in, the car is emptied of olives. Then the car is weighed again. The client pays by weight. I say client because it turns out that many Italians own a small patch of olive trees and make their own olive oil each year. After the weighing, the olives get cleaned, crushed, and spun. In the old days, the olive mash would be squeezed in reed mats but now, the oil is extracted using centrifugal force. Super high quality olive oil is spun for a mere seven minutes — thus ensuring that minimal heat is created — making it truly cold pressed. Most extra virgin olive oil is spun for 30 minutes. After spinning, the oil is filtered. Olive oil doesn’t need to be filtered but it’s better to avoid the sludge at the bottom of the bottle. Unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age.

There is also something about what can be called “virgin” and “extra virgin” — the “virgin” olive oil is defective. Shocker. I think that he explained that defective doesn’t mean undrinkable. But I wasn’t paying attention… I guess I’ll have to go on another tour. If you want to geek out a bit, read this newsletter. Olive oil’s quality is not based on color. How deep is that? Professional tastings happen with blue glasses.

When we came by, they surprised us with bruschetta (the green is pistacchio paste).

The mill has just opened a shop on site where small bottles of olive oil cost 5 euro and large bottles cost 8 euro. I didn’t get a photo of the shop because I was too busy shopping! They also sell flavored oils, but not garlic flavor (Romans really don’t eat much garlic), and spreads like pistachio with pesto. I think I spent around 90 euros… because I wasn’t sure when I’d get back. That said, the mill will deliver and you can purchase online. I don’t know if it was pre-arranged (despite what Johnny said) but when we visited the mill, they gave us freshly made bruschetta, which had been toasted on the olive tree wood barbecue. I’m not sure it gets better than that, in terms of experiential shopping experiences.

Maybe it was a mirage.

From the mill, we could see our lunch destination, across the valley, past neat green fields, impossibly pretty. Can this be real?

This course was maybe fourth?

Lunch was a leisurely feast of multiple courses including creamy cannelloni beans, crunchy bruschetta with tomato, cheese, golden oven roasted potatoes, yummy lasagne, and not too sweet apple pie. Johnny brought lots of wine to pair, but it was mostly about the olive oil pairings. Every dish had olive oil. At this point, Johnny explained how to taste olive oil and we tried a few straight up. I did not like most of the oil when tasted alone. I preferred the oil on the food. We actually started with olive oil on a chocolate crostini which brought happy memories of my days in El Cacaotal in Lima. I can’t wait to get these food nerds together and watch them nerd out.

Chocolate crostini.

To contact Johnny for olive oil tastings, or to feature him in your documentary or to hire him as an expert (he was in Pasta Grannies! Name drop!), here is how to contact him: Johnny Madge, oliveoil@johnnymadge.com, www.johnnymadge.com, +39 328 339 8479. He speaks English and Italian.

The olive oil tour, including lunch, wine, and olive oil tasting, cost 110 euro per person. The train costs 2.80 euro each way. You can also drive there in 35 minutes and leave your car at the train station or follow him around the countryside.

The vegetarian lasagne made me want to be vegetarian.

The day out was fabulous. Johnny loves olive oil and after a day with him, you might love olive oil as much as Johnny. Or maybe him.

A pomegranate tree in bloom.

If you really want to get an idea of how pleasant the day was (I mean, how olive oil is made!), enjoy this video by the mill again.

I end this with a version of the roses are red poem from Les Mis. We did go a-touring in the countryside of Rome where the pomegranate blossoms were orange and I loved, loved, loved it.

We will buy very pretty things
A-walking through the suburbs.
Violets are blue, roses are red,
Violets are blue, I love my loves.

I have also made a video of my own. Nothing compared to the mill’s… but, enjoy the song by Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli. It’s perfect.

Binge Watching Italy

A shop in Monti, Rome.

If you want to binge on watching videos about Italy, here are some I’ve found. Mostly on food. Mostly about Rome. I will not list all of them as there are too many, but a few that will give you some leads to follow.

Rick Stein is one of my favorite TV chef presenters. The thinking chef’s chef. Here in Corsica and Sardinia.

Alex Polizzi is a British-Italian TV presenter. Here’s an episode from Puglia.

Spaghetti with clams in Rome.

Insider is a channel about food. This host is Italian and in this short video, the topic is Limoncello. There are many other videos from Insider like this one pasta in Bari. Or focaccia in Genoa.

WocomoCook is another YouTube channel that I found. Here is an episode about food in Umbria.

A show on pizza from Munchies.

A vlog channel by expat guys who live in Rome.

Or visiting during lockdown.

Choice TV show on Roman food.

Farm to Table, here in Tuscany.

Two Greedy Italians. Need I say more?

Floyd was a chef who had a good time, this time in Liguria.

Pizza by the slice (taglio) sold by weight is a very Roman food.

If you want months worth of binge watching, Rick Steves provides! Rick Steves has eight hours of free TV shows on Italy alone! He also has free audio tours, apps, books, etc. He is much raunchier on his audio tours! If you want a private guide in your ear, he has those! If you just want to watch him give good advice, watch him here.

Also, many people like Dream of Italy. Here, the host is in Amalfi and Naples.

Italy Unpacked is a more scholarly approach.

Then, there’s this guy is quite wealthy (he is an angel investor and helped start Virgin America) but decided to make a travel show because he didn’t find any that matched his lifestyle. Swish.

Possibly the most famous car in Rome? This is in Monti.

A BBC documentary on Rome.

Another BBC documentary, this one on Sicily.

A great way to learn history is with Tony Robinson. He is a great story teller, here about Caligula.

Reel Truth History makes documentaries. This one on Rome.

So many classical and historical views all in one.

And, if you want to watch people buying A Place in the Sun in Italy

Rome is very proud of their free drinking fountains. Stay hydrated!

Or follow tour guides (and me) on Instagram. More about who I follow in another blog posting.

A ‘bar’ in Rome. Drinking a coffee is a social activity and Romans do it all day long.

A Unique Time To Be A Tourist in Your Home Town

Where have all the beggars gone, long time missing? Maybe the way of the tourist trinket shops.

It’s a sadly unique time to be a tourist. The streets are empty in a way that one just would not have imagined. Normally, over 60 million tourists visit Italy. Due to the pandemic, not only the international, but also the intra-country tourists, are not here. Just the Romans.

I went to the Trevi Fountain and was one of three tourists. Not that there were no people there — there were. But they were working. I went to the Pantheon (well, to the square, as the Pantheon is closed), and finally got begged from. But only from two beggars. I also wonder where the pickpockets go during this time. I did not see any of them either.

At Piazza Navona (the big rectangular one with the three fountains), I finally saw more people. Once the tourists come back, I can imagine that this square will be wall to wall with people. As it was, there were only a few hawkers and they were not too aggressive. One greeted me with a phrase from the Lion King, which did catch my attention. But, in general, the hawkers seemed fairly listless, as they saw no reason to make much effort when there are no cash cows in town. Who knew that one would miss being milked?