Tag Archives: Rome

Celebrating Italian Holidays – L’Immacolata Concezione

A year ago Joe and I were living in Rome and focused on packing to head home to Maryland.  I was intent on enjoying our last few weeks especially the Christmas decorations that were magically appearing around Rome.  Not wanting to miss any new displays I would take a daily stroll around 4:30 pm to see the new lights that went up the day before.

Christmas Lights, Piazza Navona, 2012
Christmas Lights, Piazza Navona, 2012

Now and again I would cajole Joe into coming along.  Fortunately this was the case on December 8, 2012.   I think maybe we had read somewhere that this was a big day in Rome but as we approached the Spanish Steps we knew something really big was happening. There were barriers, carabinieri, and police everywhere.  It was about 2:00 pm and as we walked down Via Condotti we found out that Pope Benedict XVI would be arriving to pay homage to the Virgin Mary by making a pilgrimage to Piazza Mignanelli, to pray and leave a floral wreath, in an annual tradition dating back to 1958.

We suddenly found ourselves at the bottom of the Spanish Steps standing just behind the barriers set up around Bernini’s Fontana della Barcaccia “Leaky Boat”.   Thankfully we had dressed appropriately, gloves, hats, scarves, as it was one of the coldest day’s we had experienced thus far.

Piazza Spagna, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 2012
Crowds around Piazza Spagna, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 2012

After a few hours of waiting we heard the wail of the sirens and the huge roar of cheering crowds as the Pope’s motorcade wound it’s way down Via Condotti.  As luck would have it the lead car turned left as it approached the Piazza Spagna and rounded the fountain on our side of the barrier.  We were about 10 feet from the side of the Pope’s car as he passed by.  Joe cheering and me madly taking photos.  An unbelievable day toward the end of our journey.

Pope Benedict XVI, Rome, 2012
Pope Benedict XVI, Rome, 2012

December 8th, as well as being a Catholic holy day (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) is also a national Italian holiday, with all public offices and schools closed.  Shops however, remain open as it is generally seen as the official start of the Christmas shopping season.

For those of you who find yourself in Rome in the coming days, especially on December 8, I highly recommend that you walk over to the Spanish Steps around 3:00 pm and get a glimpse of Pope Francis I and enjoy the holiday spirit of Rome.

Fall in Rome – Chestnuts “Castagne”

Piazza Navona, Chestnuts, Rome, 2012Piazza Navona, Roasted Chestnuts, Rome, Fall 2012

Fall is one of my favorite times in Rome.  Cooler weather, less crowded, amazing colors, and seasonal specialties including Ricotta Romana, newly pressed olive oil, and chestnuts!!

Strolling through the city on a cold day with a thick scarf around my neck and a warm paper cup full of roasted chestnuts certainly made me feel Roman.

One note fall is the time to eat chestnuts not spring or summer.  They seem to roast chestnuts 12 months of the year at the more popular tourist destinations in Rome.  Do yourself a favor and save the 2 to 5 euros in spring and summer as the chestnuts will not be enjoyable.

Dome of St. Peter's, Rome, 2012Dome of St. Peter’s from Ponte Sisto, Rome, 2012

Chestnuts in season are used to make some incredible seasonal foods including gelato, castagnaccio – a dense flat cake, and candied chestnuts.   Additionally throughout the region there are many chestnut festivals which offer a great excuse to take the train to the surrounding countryside.

Cooking Roman Style – Papacelle Ripene di Carne (Stuffed Peppers with Meat)

Cooking Classes in Rome, 2013Chef Andrea, Cooking Classes in Rome, Trestevere, 2013

One of the most rewarding experiences you can have in Rome is takeing a cooking class.   Meeting liked minded foodies from around the globe and preparing and sharing a meal is enormous fun and hopefully an adventure that you will bring home and share with your friends.   WARNING: It can be addictive!

On my fourth class with Chef Andrea we prepared a menu of stuffed figs, homemade cavatelli with pesto, stuffed peppers, sauteed cauliflower, and a pear torte.   My favorite recipe from this particular class is below and fairly easy to make.

Cooking Classes in Rome, 2013
Papacelle ripene di carne (Stuffed peppers with meat)

Ingredients to serve four people:
  • 1 lb ground meat (70% beef and 30% pork, ground and minced) Use prosciutto sausages if you can find them, if not use plain unseasoned sausages (casings removed)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup/100g parmesan cheese grated
  • 1/2 cup/50g edamer cheese grated
  • freshly chopped parsley
  • 3oz leftover bread soaked in milk (crusts removed)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 4 to 6 peppers depending on size (in class we used papacelle which are smaller and flatter than the bell peppers we most often use in the states.  Try to use peppers such as this or other peppers that are in season where you live – Note: smaller sized peppers are better)
Instructions
  • Heat oven to 350°F / 180°C
  • To prepare the filling mix sausage, parmesan cheese, eggs, grated cheese, leftover bread soaked into milk, salt and pepper.  Mix all the ingredients well and set aside for a good half an hour to let the flavors meld.
  • Wash the peppers and cut a small hole in the top around the stem, saving the piece you cut out.  Clean out the seeds, rinse and set aside
  • Stuff the peppers one by one and place onto a baking dish, replacing the small piece you cut from each pepper on top.  Add a little bit of water and extra virgin olive oil to the bottom of the pan to avoid burning the peppers.
  • Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the peppers, until cooked all the way through.  Turn the pan carefully in the oven once or twice to ensure even cooking all the way through the peppers.  Serve hot.   Buon Appetito!

Stuffed Peppers, Cooking Classes in Rome, 2013 

How Many Caravaggio’s Are There in Rome? – Creating Your Own Walking Tour

Caravaggio, San Giovanni Battista, Galleria BorgheseSan Giovanni Battista (1609-1610 ca.), Caravaggio, Galleria Borghese, Rome

I am not sure there is an exact answer to this question.  Art being what it is there are always new discoveries and works that for years have been debated as being attributable to one artist or another.  However if we take Wikipedia as our authority the answer is 27.  Two of these are in private collections leaving 25 to be visited.

There are many many more of Caravaggio’s works in Italy proper including Cremona, Florence, Genoa, Messina, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Prato, Syracuse and Vatican City.   Additionally many of the worlds renown museums have a Caravaggio within their collections.

As many times as I have been to the eternal city I have never seen all twenty five paintings by Caravaggio but I have certainly made an effort to see many of them.   If you are looking for an adventure for yourself, for visitors, or for your family,  setting out to see all of Caravaggio’s works is one of the best.  There are many adjectives to describe his work as well as the painter himself.  Neither Caravaggio or his paintings are polite but both are intensely moving and leave you thinking.

Many times on visits to Rome I think about something I am interested in: Bernini statues, oblesiks, fountains, remnants of the ancient aqueducts, places in Rome featured in movies – and then I set off to see as many of them as I can.  This is a great way to learn about the history of the city, become more familiar with the city, and discover all sorts of new favorite destinations.

Be adventurous and create your own walking tour!!

Capers – One of My Favorite Ingredients

Wild Caper Plant, Vatican City, 2013Wild Caper Plant, Vatican City Walls, 2013

I suppose I never gave much though to where capers came from except to say off the shelf of my local Italian Grocer.   In the back of my mind I thought in some way they were related to olives and must be cultivated in the same way.  Well, I have certainly been learning a lot on this trip to Rome!

The discoveries that await you in Rome are multi-layered to say the least.  On a recent walk around the walls of Vatican City I was amazed to discover that one of my favorite ingredients for cooking, capers, grows willy-nilly in the cracks and crevices of just about every surface in this city.  Just look up as you walk pass by a stone wall, under an arch, or as you visit some of the most famous landmarks in the Eternal City.  You will undoubtedly see a caper plant.  All these wild capers are not looked upon with favor as they wreak havoc on the surfaces in which they grow, however I certainly find them intriguing!

Off The Beaten Path – Rome, Cinecittá – “The City of Cinema”

Cinecitta', Set of HBO Series Rome, 2013Set of HBO Series Rome, Cinecittá, Rome, 2013

A short Metro ride (Linea A) from the center of Rome brings you to the legendary Cinecittá Studios, literally “The City of Cinema”.   Founded in 1927 and inaugurated by Benito Mussolini the studios are the birthplace of thousands of films including more than 50 Academy Award winners such as Roman Holiday (1953), Ben-Hur (1959),  La Dolce Vita (1960) ,Cleopatra (1963), Gladiator (2000), Gangs of New York (2002), and well known series such as HBO’s Rome (2005-2007).   The entire complex comprises an area south of Rome larger than Vatican City.

Since its founding Cinecittá has been home to well known directors such as Federico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni, Francis Ford Copolla, Martin Scorsese, and Roberto Benigni.

Stage 5, Cinecitta', Rome, 2013Famous Stage 5, Cinecittá Studios, Rome, 2013

The tour of the studio is both self guided and then in small groups with an english speaking staff member who will take you to the back lot.   I recommend scheduling 3 hours to enjoy the exhibitions, the back lot tour, and the book shop.  You are encouraged to take pictures and the guides are happy to answer your questions.   A very special “off the beaten path” glimpse of the Italian movie and television industry!!

Statue from Movie Gladiator, Cinecitta', Rome 2013Prop from Academy Award winning film Gladiator (2002), Cinecittá Studios, Rome, 2013

Celebrating Italian Holidays – Ferragosto

Emperor Augustus, Via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome 2013Emperor Augustus, Via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome, 2013

Assumption Day on 15th August is when all Italy, or so it seems, stops work to celebrate.

What Italians are actually celebrating on that day is actually quite interesting because the festival has elements of both the ancient and Christian worlds.

The term Ferragosto is derived from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (Augustus’ rest), which is a celebration introduced by the emperor Augustus  in 18 BC.  The present Italian name of the holiday derives from its original Latin name, Feriae Augusti, “Festivals or Holidays of the Emperor Augustus”.

The popular tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose during Fascism. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime organized hundreds of popular trips through the Fascist leisure and recreational organizations, and via the setting up of the “People’s Trains of Ferragosto”, which were available at discounted prices.  The initiative gave the opportunity to less well-off citizens to visit Italian cities or to reach seaside and mountain resorts. The offer was limited to the 13th, 14th and 15th August, and comprised two options: the “One-Day Trip”, within a radius of 50-100 km, and the “Three-Day Trip” within a radius of about 100–200 km.   For many families, it was only during these trips that they saw the sea, mountains, and Italy’s many artistic marvels for the first time. Moreover, since the trips did not include food, the connected tradition of the packed lunch arose.

The Roman Catholic Church celebrates this date to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—the actual physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorruptible body into Heaven. Before the Church came into existence, however, this holiday also included honoring of gods—in particular Diana—and the cycle of fertility and ripening, during the time of the Roman Empire.

Weekend Markets – Rome

Market at top of the Spanish Steps, Rome, 2012
Market at top of the Spanish Steps, Rome, 2012

It took me a few trips to Rome to finally take advantage of the many weekend markets.  Partially because these markets don’t occur in the same place and you have to know the schedule to take advantage of them.  I have listed some of my favorites and by no means are these all of the markets.  I encourage you to share any markets that you have found and enjoy.  Spending a weekend morning wandering the many stalls is one of my favorite activities.  Getting to and from the markets is also a wonderful way to discover new rione of Rome.  A special thanks to my friend at the American Embassy in Rome who guided me to many of these incredible markets!!

Ponte Milvio Market – 1st Sunday of every month.  Located just next to the Ponte Milvio Bridge north of the city.  Accessible by taxi or the # 2 tram from Piazza del Popolo.  This is one of my favorite markets not only due to its location along the river and near the bridge but for the wide array of antiques, old prints, rugs, jewelry, silver, glass, linens, and objet d’art.

Porta Portese Market – Every sunday.  Located next to the old gate Porta Portese in Trestevere this market is HUGE and gets very crowded.  If you are looking for kitchen items, new and used clothing, dvd’s, small electronics, shoes, and knick knacks then you will love this hodge podge of vendors.

Verdi Market – 4th Sunday of every month.  Located near the Borghese Gardens.  This market is not to terribly large and has some very good quality antiques, linens, furniture, rugs, prints, books, housewares, ceramics, silver, and jewelry.   I highly recommend going if you can.

Borghetto Flamino Market – Every Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm.  This market charges a nominal entry fee of 1.60 euros.  Antiques, vintage clothing, handcrafted items, vintage signs – postcards – jewelry, unusual items.

How Many Obelisks Are There in Rome? – Creating Your Own Walking Tour

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome 2012My favorite obelisk is located in front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva near the Pantheon

As many times as I have been to the eternal city I have never seen all thirteen obelisks (8 ancient egyptian and 5 ancient roman) – Rome harbors the most obelisks in the world.   If you are looking for an adventure for yourself, for visitors, or for your family,  setting out to see all of the obelisks is one of the best.

Many times throughout my stay in Rome I would think about something that I was interested in: Bernini statues, Caravaggio paintings, fountains, remnants of the ancient aqueducts, places in Rome featured in movies – and then I would set off to see as many of them as I could.  This is a great way to learn about the history of the city, become more familiar with the city, and discover all sorts of new favorite destinations.

Create your own walking tour!!

Modern Italian History – Royal Family, House of Savoy

Coat_of_arms_of_the_King_of_Italy_(1890)

The House of Savoy (Casa di Savoia) formed in the early 11th century, through gradual expansion, grew from ruling a small county in the Savoy Region to eventually rule the unified Kingdom of Italy (1860-1946).  Ruling for 85 years the four most recent monarchs include Victor Emmanuel IIUmberto IVictor Emmanuel III, and Umberto II. The last monarch ruled for a few weeks before being overthrown by a Constitutional Referendum, and a new republic and government was then proclaimed.  Both Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I are buried in the Pantheon.  Today’s descendants are a lively cast of characters who occasionally appear in the papers.