Out and about in Rome – Frascati

Villa

Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati

Continuing with a desire to expand our horizons away from the heart of The Eternal City we decided to “Do as the Romans Do” and go to Frascati for the day, or more particularly for lunch.

Frascati is a small town located about 30 minutes by train from Rome. It is a favourite amongst the inhabitants of Rome to get away from the heat in summer or for an evening meal. Judging by the number of teenagers that shared our train ride it’s also a favourite place to get away from your parents on a Saturday afternoon.

After a late breakfast we caught the metro to Rome Termani and decided to walk around the up and coming Monti district which is located near the station.

Making us acutely aware of how much the world had changed in recent months each metro station had members of the army inside with hands on their machine guns. I’m pretty sure that they are not there to stop fare evaders!

imageMonti was once a poor area but is now quite trendy. Just the place for people like us. There are new modern bars and coffee shops and for the first time in months we saw food that was not just Italian . I saw a coupe fo Indian Restaurants and had instant cravings! Monti is also home to sone very trendy boutiques that immediately caught my favourite person’s eye as well as my daughter’s back in Australia with the benefit of WhatsApp.

There was lots of browsing in the boutiques but no purchasing. Continue reading

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Out and about in Rome

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

It is so easy to get stuck in Rome and not venture far afield. There is quite literally something amazing at every turn. An ancient ruin here, a church there and of course an obelisk always nearby. There is also some of the best shopping you’ll find anywhere.  The days whizz by with visits to the Colosseum, Vatican, Roman Forum, walking through the gardens around the Villa imageBorghese …

In our case this has meant that in previous visits to Rome we haven’t ventured very far, however this time we made a decision to venture a little further afield. This meant looking at the guidebooks for that section towards the back of the book that says something like Day Trips or Excursions. It will never say what to do when you’ve seen all there is in Rome as that is just not possible!

So with a steely resolve we ventured to the back of the guidebook and settled on Ostia Antica for our first foray out of Rome. It’s about 25kms from Rome and easily accessible by Metro and Train.

Ostia Antica is a port city that it is said dates back to the 7th century BC. A town whose fortunes rose and eventually receded just as the sea did, such that by the 9th century it was abandoned. It’s a port city that is now some kilometers from the sea!

With the entrance fee paid and our guidebook purchased at the site in hand we were ready for what turned our to be something very special. After just a few minutes at Ostia Antica we wondered why there is such an obsession with Pompeii. Perhaps it’s Vesuvius?  Continue reading

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Naples, Italy – Pizza

We were sitting in our hotel in Venice thinking about the last part of our trip, at that stage still a couple of months away, when I found a  post on pizza in Naples. That sealed our decision to go to Naples!

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We planned to stay 4 nights and stayed 6. It could easily have been more but that’s for another post.

Naples is a big city with attitude and that’s evident as you venture into the domain of the best pizza you’ll ever eat. Continue reading

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Palermo, Sicily – Take it slowly

Arriving in Palermo you quickly become aware of its relationship with the sea. It’s a port city and infact that is why it was settled by the Phoenicians in the first place. Wherever you are in Palermo you feel close to the sea.

You also quickly become aware of the North African influence. It’s evident in the date palms, architecture and the food.

Santa Maria dell' Ammairaglio & San Giovanni degli Eremita

Santa Maria dell’ Ammairaglio & San Giovanni degli Eremita

Through our two previous visits we’d seen the city highlights but with more time on this visit we were able to take it slowly. Walking the streets, seeing the people going about their daily lives is the best way to experience a city such as Palermo.

As you walk you quickly come to the realisation that traffic lights are really only guidelines and that you are taking your life into your heads each time you cross the road. I’m not even sure that the Nuns are safe crossing the roads in Palermo! You also realize that large cities with lots of cars can survive without traffic lights every 100 metres.

Taking the time to immerse yourself in Palermo allows you to build a picture of the city. It enables you to move past the perceptions you might have from the books you’ve read and stories you’ve heard. In three visits we haven’t seen anyone gunned down although the memorials, such as the city airport name, Falcone-Borsellino,  are reminders that the city does have a dark underbelly. Falcone and Borsellino were both judges murdered by the mafia in 1992.

We compartmentalised our visit. Arriving by bus lunchtime Saturday, we caught a taxi to our hotel. Being the only non Italians in our shared taxi, we were the last to be dropped at our hotel and were charged about 50% more than what we’d been told was the norm – that unfortunately is what happens in cities like Palermo. You can stress about it or shrug your shoulders – the latter keeps the blood pressure down. The hotels are wise to this and have arrangements with taxi companies or private drivers for fixed fares to the Train Station and Airport which help.

Our hotel was located in the more residential part of the city and a short walk to the main shopping boulevard , Via della Liberta which houses Prada, Max Mara at the upper end and becomes more mainstream as you approach the older part of the city. Visiting in sale time means there’s always a bargain to be had and with the effort the sales’ staff put into selling my favourite person a winter coat, I’d say things are pretty grim in retail! A walk down this street and a meal in one of the local restaurants is a way to gently ease yourself into Palermo.

We also went back to a favourite cafe Continue reading

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Piazza Armerina, Sicily – Oh, you mean Villa Romana del Casale

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The recently renovated  Villa Romana del Casale and its mosaics often feature on the itinerary when visiting Sicily and with good reason. What often doesn’t get included is a visit to the nearby town Piazza Armerina which in my view is another of Sicily’s hidden gems.

A day trip to Villa Romana from Siracusa by public transport involves an early bus or train to Catania and then a bus to Piazza Amerina. The general advice in Sicily is to take the bus option as they are generally considered more reliable. Once in Piazza Armerina it is necessary to arrange a transfer or shuttle bus to Villa Romana about 5 kms away.  We arranged for a transfer from Central Sicily Tours (the number one tour operator in Piazza Armerina and only one) to Villa Romano. As prearranged Roberto was there to meet us at the bus stop, a good thing as we timed our visit to coincide with a cold snap – it was 1.5C when we got off the bus and raining. The previous day’s snow was still on the rooves of the buildings.

image A web search of Puzza Armerina will probably tell you all about Villa Romana, as will a visit to Trip Advisor. They don’t in my opinion do justice to Piazza Armerina.

It is a town that doesn’t seem to have been afflicted with the Sicilan concrete obsession. The older part of the town was spared post WW2 concreting due to its being overlooked for development in favour of Enna. As a result a visit to Piazza Armerina provides a chance to see the old town as it was.

The town has many churches and piazzas. A number of the churches are not open but the works of art have been carefully removed and transferred to a gallery near the duomo.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of tourist infrastructure with the number one Trip Advisor restaurant being a small family owned bar in the middle of town, Cafe des Amis which is “famous” for its arancini but should also be for having the cleanest toilets in Italy!

Piazza Armerina is a lovely town which will I’m sure eventually be discovered.

Duomo Piazza Armerina

Duomo Piazza Armerina

However, the true reason for our visit was to go to Villa Romana, Continue reading

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